Our Imperfections

We are continually reminded of our imperfections. No matter what we do, someone always tells us how we did it wrong or how we can improve on it. As writers, we live our life learning from our imperfections. In other words, we learn from critiques. Some of us are lucky enough to be part of critique groups that help us polish those imperfections in our efforts to get published. We sign up to read and during one night, we get over 20 critiques of our writing. Listening to other authors explain what needs tweaking is a painfully valuable experience as any author will tell you. Reading our manuscripts in front of a group of writers can be nerve-wracking, but once it's over, we realize it wasn't so bad, and as a matter of fact the information we get moves us one step closer to our dream – publication.

The read-alouds are quick critiques, but contest entries are the ones that take longer. If you ever judged a contest or been the recipient of a judged-manuscript you know it takes more time to respond to one. You have a score sheet, written comments, and if you are lucky the judge placed comments on your actual manuscript.

I came up with an idea – why not have a mini-critique with a shortened form that is used for the contest entries and yet a bit more formal than a meeting critique with has no real format?

Here's what I see as possible: before the mini-critique session each author should fill out a form that outlines important information for the reader.

  • Audience
  • Time period
  • requests

Mechanics – what needs work the most?

Opening hook – did you want to read on?

Hero – Do you get a sense of the hero and is he sympathetic?

Heroine – Do you get a sense of the heroine and is she sympathetic?

GMC – goal, motivation, conflict – Are the clear for both the hero and heroine?

Use of dialogue – is the dialogue used to move the story along?

Setting – do we get a clear sense of the setting and time period?

POV – is the point of view clear and is there the transition clear?


 

Just as in a contest, these categories can be given a point value – from 1-5 with 5 being the highest. If the readers can fill this out quickly and just add a few comments before the actual critique session, the author would get a better sense of what is missing.

If we had this type of format for mini-critiques, then when it came time to submit for a contest or to an editor or agent, we would be better prepared for the comments on our imperfections.

Oh, and one final note on our imperfections – some of them, just some of them, are what make our writing unique. Some of them people love. Some of them people hate. In the end, you have to decide which imperfections you want to fix and which ones you want to keep.

The Fit Writer

Writing is a solitary and sedentary life. We spend an inordinate amount of time before our computers writing. We sit on our bums and type away before computer screens for a good majority of the day using our imaginations and our fingers. Unlike many other jobs out there, we do not get up and walk about for hours upon end. We do not interact face to face with people on a constant basis. We interact via our computers through social networking, instant messaging, skype, and text messages. We may even pick up the telephone and speak to someone on the cell phone, but most of the time, we are in one place for a long period of time. We all know this to be true.

A while back I was a personal trainer (I know this was another lifetime for me). One of the things I noticed happened to many women who came to see me was "splatter butt". This was the ever expanding area of their bottoms due to sitting for prolonged periods of time in a chair. We all know what it looks like. Well, we don't know what OURS looks like because we refuse to look down there, but it exists. It's that part of our anatomy we refuse to see until we are walking along with a friend or loved one and suddenly see our reflection in a window. Then we cringe because we realize we have now inherited the dreaded "splatter butt".

So how do we keep fit? How do we get rid of this awful addition to our bodies? I have read some writers have constructed desktops for their treadmills to combat this. Quite clever if you think about it. Personally I am not coordinated enough to accomplish such a feat so I have to resort to actually putting down my laptop for a set amount of time each day and moving my patookus so I do not get the dreaded "splatter butt". I even created a workout routine for fellow writers so they would avoid this happening to them.

Just out of curiosity – tell me what you do each day to keep yourself fit. Post a comment to say what you do? Do you walk? Run? Do fitness tapes? Do you "Dance with the Stars"? What keeps you from accumulating the dreadful "splatter butt"?

What Type of Heroine are You?

There are several types of heroines. I was entering a contest the other day – Hearts of Denver and they have a prize for the Unsinkable Heroine. Everyone has heard the story of the Unsinkable Molly Brown.  If you haven’t heard the story, you may have seen the movie with Debbie Reynolds where she plays the lead character – a woman whose husband strikes it rich and she is traveling on the Titanic when it sinks. Her pluck and heroism is the stuff of legends today. Even in the more recent movie – Titanic, Kathy Bates played the woman who could not be brought down, no matter what the snobs of high society did to her, she always remained optimistic and stayed true to herself. So I ask - what type of heroine are you?

Many years ago when I first started writing I read a book called The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines – Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.  When Tami Cowden signed my book she wrote “Write your characters with love!” The book is well-worn now with post-its marking different sections for me, but one thing still remains clear to me today – many of our heroines do not fall into just one category, but are a combination of different types. I remember when I first read it I thought – wow, I am the Boss.  I tend to be overly confident, a bit blunt at times, definitely a workaholic, and competitive. Although I have to admit I don’t like to think of myself as competitive, I do like to win but not at the risk of hurting others. This is where I take on characteristics of other types.

My heroines are take-charge women. They do not like to rely on men and refuse to ask for help if they think they can solve the problem on their own. For several of them, this attitude is a result of their past – a hurt done to them or a family member which colored the way they see men and others in society. For example, Nina had na├»ve views of love until the man she fell in love with was a married man. Once she learned the truth she did not trust men and vowed to make a way for herself in life without leaning on a man. She became an excellent shot, learned to defend herself by taking fencing lessons, and could ride a horse better than most men in the county. Most men shy away from a woman like her because she is too much of a challenge. No man wants to marry a woman who is strong-willed and independent. Of course, this characteristic of Nina’s becomes her conflict. When she does fall in love with the hero, how can she let down her guard and let him see her vulnerability? In her eyes, this is a weakness. This also gives the heroine the arch she must travel in order to find her “happily ever after”.

I was watching Gone With the Wind the other day and thought about Scarlet. She spends her youth playing on men’s affections and pretending to be a weak, helpless female to garner their attention. In reality, she is anything but a helpless female. She is calculating and cool. Much like her mother, she is the power behind the man. She could not marry a man she manipulates and love him because she does not respect that man. Through the book and the movie we see her grow as a person. She learns to not hide her strength from the men in her life. The one person she still manipulates with her feigned weakness is Ashley. Because of his Southern gentleman mentality he cannot resist coming to the aid of a female in distress. The one man who sees through her actions is Rhett. When he finally proposes to her he does so with a great line – “why don’t you try marrying for fun?” She laughs at him, “fiddle dee dee, fun for you, you mean.” But Rhett counters by telling her she married a boy and old man. Perhaps she should try marrying a man closer to her age. In Rhett she finally meets her match. They do love each other even though she still thinks she loves Ashley. That school-girl crush lingers. In every other area of her life she can handle anything. The falling of the South, the devastation of Tara. The death of her mother and father.  Even the death of her daughter. She gets back up and continues to fight.

I may write historicals, but my heroines have more modern sensibilities. They are ahead of their time. They do not shy away from speaking their minds. They are not afraid to fight for what they want. They most definitely will fight for the people they love. When I write I think about women I admire.  Women who were not afraid to go against the expected and fight for what they want.  They were also not afraid to be soft and gentle when they wanted. I may be a Boss in many areas of my life, but I am also a Nurturer, the Seductress, and the Free Spirit. I can be the Librarian and the Crusader as well. The only person who has ever seen every aspect of me would be the hero in my life – my husband. After all, the only person the heroine is every comfortable showing all sides to would be the hero.

If you want to read a good book on the hero and heroine, look up this book by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders.  You won’t be disappointed and then let me know – which heroine are you?

Show, Don't Tell

Show, don’t tell is a mantra I have heard ever since I was young.  Even as a child learning to write in a classroom I remember my teachers telling me “Show don’t tell”. As a child we are told to add adjectives to enrich our writing.  So we add them – almost to the point of ad nauseum. For example we were told to write “The small white dog ate the dry brittle bone”.  This is just adding adjectives.  Not once do I show you what’s happening.  All I am really doing is describing what I see but not really bringing it to life.  So, how can I make this better? What exactly does it mean to show not tell? Time for a little exercise – I want you to show me, not tell me.  Post your best way to show me the following statement in less than 400 characters:
The girl sat at her desk staring at the teacher.
Make me want to turn the page and read more.  You have until Monday, May 9th at midnight. I’ll announce the winner the next day.  Good luck!