Archive | June 2013

Thesaurus or Dictionary?

A thesaurus and a dictionary. Two of a writer’s best friends. As someone who tends to use the same words over and over again, I would often turn to the thesaurus to find alternatives. It’s a great tool, but I recently read an article that opened up a whole new idea for me. An idea I just had to share!

In my very first book, one of my beta readers remarked that I used the word “surprised” too much. So, I did a word search, and highlighted all my ‘surprised’ entries. I’m too embarrassed to say how many times I’d used the word. Picking up my thesaurus, I found the alternatives: upset, taken unaware, astounded, astonished, bewildered, shocked, confounded, startled.   Not too bad. Gives me some options.

But, let’s go a step further. Pick up the dictionary. Definition: to bring to light by some sudden, unexpected action. When you take that extra step, you can use the definition to further the meaning in your sentence.

Example: She was surprised by his incredible good looks. Hmm…okay sentence, but a little flat.  So, how can I make it better? I could go the thesaurus route: She was astounded by his incredible good looks.

Or, take the dictionary route: Her eyes widened. His incredible good looks were completely unexpected.  Better.

So, how about the word, incredible? Thesaurus: unbelievable, improbable, impossible, ridiculous.  Dictionary: so remarkable as to be hard to believe.

Playing with the same sentence, it can now become: She was astounded by his unbelievable good looks. OR: Her eyes widened. His good looks were so remarkable, that she could hardly believe he was real. They were completely unexpected. WOW!  Fun, huh?!

Since I read the article, I’ve had more fun playing with my sentences than should be allowed. In fact, I recently changed a sentence where I used the word “playfully” to “in a teasing way.” A simple fix, but it made a big difference in the flow of the sentence.

I have the paper book version of both the thesaurus and dictionary, but having the ability to use them in my Word program has me spoiled. If you ever write a sentence that simply isn’t working for you, have some fun. Pick out the words that don’t seem to flow, and look them up. You’ll be amazed at what you can do with a sentence!

On a side note, my grandson was disappointed when he found out that the thesaurus was not a book about a new type of dinosaur. But, he loves words, and even at age five found it to be “fun.”  That’s my boy!!

Write On!!

Nathan-art6

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a Name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name would still smell as sweet…

My favorite version of “Romeo and Juliet” is Franco Zeffirelli’s version. I think I was once madly in love with Leonard Whiting. (Side note…I couldn’t understand why as an “older” woman I found Zac Efron so attractive, until I realized just how much he looks like Leonard Whiting!)  I’ll never forget sitting in the movie theater when I was in the ninth grade, bawling my eyes out even before either of the star-crossed lovers had taken their lives. However, I knew what was coming and couldn’t help myself! I got a lot of strange looks in that theater. I still wish Juliet would have woken up before Romeo took the poison! (Can’t help myself. I like happy endings!)

Another favorite movie of mine is “Shakespeare in Love.”  Again, about the writing of Romeo and Juliet. However, at one point, William was calling his play, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate King’s Daughter. (Or something like that!) I’m not sure about you, but “Ethel” completely changed the “ring” of her name. Took away some of the romantic feeling. I hope I’m not offending anyone in the blog world named “Ethel”. (Not my intent).

What I’m getting at is that your character names are very important. You may think that just pulling a name out of the sky, or creating something “cute” and “original” is the right answer. Sometimes it is.  In fact, I’ve been known to close my eyes, point a finger to my keyboard, and then choose a name based on whatever letter my finger touches. Most of the time, I choose my names carefully.

If you’re creating fantasy or new worlds, then you have more freedom. However, if you are doing historical fiction, you need to do a little more research. What names were popular during the time period you’re writing about? Also, depending on the nationality of the character you’re writing, that will also play a big part in your name choice.

I was recently writing a character who I described as having dark, curly hair that stuck out beneath his hat. He was a big man with dark skin, and a bad temper. So, in order to give him a proper name, I researched what nationality of people had those characteristics. Then, I searched for surnames in that nationality and found one I liked. (At that point the ‘point the finger at the keyboard game’ came in handy!)

How differently would you think of “Gone with the Wind” if the hero and heroine were Gertrude and Hector? Frankly my dear…

Have fun, and write on!DRWGF120110821P1020510w-M

 

And They Lived Happily Ever After…

How important is a happy ending?Cinderella

If you’re a writer of romance, then you should easily be able to answer that question.

When I began writing, I didn’t understand the difference between “women’s fiction” and “romance.” I read a blog that explained it quite well, and though I won’t go into as much detail, here it is in a nutshell: Women’s fiction may or may not have a happy ending. Romance must! Any woman who picks up a novel that is placed in the romance genre, believes that what she is reading is safe. That no matter what trials and tribulations the hero and heroine go through in the course of the story, it will have a happy ending and they will be together. This is not necessarily the case for your supporting characters, but the main characters need to have their “happily ever after.”

I’ll never forget when I was plotting out one of my first stories, and had decided on an ending. I was in my car, driving to work, and when I arrived there I had swollen, red eyes, and a horrible headache! Reason: I had intended to have my heroine die in the end. It all made sense. It was how the story was progressing. But then, after talking to my sister, (who is one of those readers who reads the last few pages of a book before she reads the entire thing), I decided it was best to keep my heroine alive and well.  Great choice! And, it opened up the opportunity for a sequel. Hard to do when your characters are dead.

I also had a revelation when plotting another book. A secondary character was doomed to die. After writing the scene I had a migraine from sobbing so hard! I had a wise young man, (who happened upon the conversation I was having about it with my co-workers), ask me why I was writing it that way if it made me so sad? He kind of shrugged and said, “It’s not in print yet, is it?” When I said, “no,” then his comment was, “So what’s the problem?  Change it.”  Such simple logic! So, I changed it, and it resulted in a much better story, and a sequel!

You may think that if a reader knows that the characters are going to end up together, then what’s the fun of reading the story? The fun is the journey. If you can make their journey fun, exciting, gut-wrenching, and let’s not forget, romantic, then your readers will love you and your books.

Write on!

And they lived happily ever after...

And they lived happily ever after…

 

 

Learning From Others

My grandfather used to say “I’m no spring chicken.” He also used to tell me that he probably wouldn’t be on this earth much longer. The first time he told me that I believe I was about ten years old. He was 60, and lived to be 101.  Oops!  I’m telling my age now!239140774108_0_BG

I was blessed that he lived a long life because I learned a lot from him. Not long ago when we were moving, I came across some old cassette tapes that he made for me. Instead of letters, he would record cassettes and send them from Illinois to my home in Idaho. Hearing his voice always cheered me, and his tapes were full of wisdom and humor. When I found the long-forgotten cassette and put it in my archaic tape player, I cried like a baby. Not only was his voice on the recording, but my grandmother also made a reluctant “appearance” on the tape.

I wish now that I had recorded all the information he told me when we traveled across Illinois and he showed me where he grew up and stories of how his family came to America. My love for history makes me wish I had the foresight to at least take notes.

Lesson learned. Pay attention. Take notes. Learn what you can from people who have lived and done things you’ve never done before.

That applies to my journey now.

Years back when I was performing in a summer theater group, I met an incredible tenor by the name of Robert McPherson. If you get a chance, go out to you tube and pull up his rendition of the National Anthem. Amazing… Anyway, I told him once that when I heard him sing, I wondered why I even tried. He sings effortlessly, and beautifully. His response to me was something like, “Don’t discount your own talent. Everyone has something to offer.”  So, I kept singing too.

And now, I can apply that same wisdom to my writing venture. I wrote previously about the “Self-Doubt Monster” and this ties into that. Every writer is unique. We all have different voices and different stories to tell. Don’t discount your own talent.

When I first joined Music City Romance Writers, I remember being in awe of the published writers in our group. I still am. I also remember the first time I asked Trish Milburn to sign a copy of one of her books for me. I was nervous asking, but she graciously signed, and has never been out of reach as a fellow writer. In fact, I’ve not met one person in our group who looks down their nose at anyone. If anything, it’s just the opposite. They embrace new writers and willingly pass on their knowledge and share their writing journey.

It’s a pleasure to be a part of a group that lift each other up instead of back-biting and trying to climb over one another. Unlike some jobs where people can viciously try to claw their way to the top, we are helping each other get there, and rejoicing when someone has success.

I hope that I can be encouraging to new writers and that all the things I’m learning can be passed on.

Write on!MCRW Natchez Trace 2013 018

The Self-Doubt Monster!

I am my own worst enemy.

Do you believe those words? Do you beat yourself up on a regular basis with horrible, “I’m not good enough” thoughts?

STOP!

And…I’m speaking to myself as well as I am to anyone reading this blog. I believe that most creative people have some insecurities about their ability. Part of that comes from the constant competition that we’re up against. We strive to do something that is unique and eye-catching, so that we will stand out from our competitors.

But here’s the little secret that I was told years ago by a man named William (Bill) Badalato. (He is a Hollywood Producer who I happened to meet in Idaho years ago.  That’s another story…) Don’t take rejection personally. Actually, I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but for some reason, having him tell me that, made it stick. I still have to remind myself of those words on a regular basis.

At that time I was working as a commercial actress and voice-over talent. I had auditioned for some “B” movie, and though I made it through the first rounds of auditions, I was dismissed after the second rounds. Reason? My height. Nothing to do with my acting ability, but all of the men they were casting were around 5’8″ tall. At 6′ myself, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wasn’t what they were looking for. Not for that movie. (In hind sight, that was a good thing).  But that rejection didn’t discourage me from auditioning for other things. In fact, when I moved to Nashville, my height paid off when I was cast as a LasVegas showgirl in a music video.

And now that I’m pursuing a different area of creativity, I know that I need to apply the same words to my writing. My work is not going to be the perfect fit for every agent or publisher out there. And I know that not every reader will like my kind of stories. But I know that there are people that do like them, and that I will find them a home. I will beat the self-doubt monster down with a stick if I have to. And most importantly, I will keep on writing. I love what I’m doing, and I’m pouring my heart into it.

That being said, if someone criticizes your work, take what they say, review it, and give it consideration. I’ve made great strides forward by listening to what people have told me and learning from others who have succeeded in this business. Some things you may decide have no merit, but other things may be just what you need to push you over the top. Don’t be afraid of criticism, and try your best not to take it personally.

Some things you can’t change. (Like your height!) But some you can. I thought that my writing was great when I first started, but boy did I learn that I had a lot to learn! And, I’m still learning. I hope I keep learning new things for the rest of my life.

Write On!!DRW_D300_200901021690__DSC3034_hdr