Monday, April 26, 2010

Please welcome Edie Melson, our new Book Doctor


We're excited to introduce our new book doctor, Edie Melson!
Edie, thank you for joining us and being willing to donate your time to help writers improve their craft.

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Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for life’s stories. She loves to share her 16+ years experience in the field of writing through mentoring and teaching others. She began as a technical writer in the 80’s and quickly moved into freelance writing, a perfect fit for someone who loves new challenges. Numerous articles and devotions, including those for Focus on the Family, Crosswalk.com, Christiandevotions.us, Inspiredmoms.com as well as Bible studies have flowed from her pen to her audience.

She also has a thriving copy writing business with multiple clients and teaches others how to write for the internet with an emphasis on SEO/keyword formatting. She began sharing her knowledge of the writing industry with other writers in 2001, by starting a local writer’s group, The Christian Writer’s Den, with colleague, Vonda Skelton. They have also co-directed and taught an annual writer’s retreat since 2002 and are members of a weekly, fiction writers critique group. From March of 2009 through March 2010 she worked as Managing Editor for Centered Magazine. She has a popular writing blog, www.thewriteconversation.blogspot.com.

She’s a member of several professional writing organizations, including The Christian Pen, The Christian Writer’s View I and ACFW, where she serves as the Editor for the Southeast Zone Newsletter and staff reviewer for Afictionado Magazine. Married 29 years to husband, Kirk, they have raised three sons.

Please welcome Edie, everyone. We're so happy she can join us!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Researching Publishers

What publisher are you targeting?

The first time I heard that question, my reaction was “Anyone who wants my book!” I suspect several of you feel the same way. We’ve all heard the stories of authors like Frank Baum and Madeleine L’Engle who received dozens of rejections before finding a publisher. They obviously didn’t write for a specific publisher.

Two thoughts: As a writer, I’m not in the same class as Baum and L’Engle.

Second thought: To quote an old adage, if you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.

As authors, we’re supposed to know our audience. We also should know our publisher. But how?

Ideally, we have a publisher (or a “short list” of potential publishers) in mind before we begin writing. Let’s start with some easy differences between publishers: Length? 1st or 3rd person? Number of POV characters? Genre? Flipping through a few books from that publisher and studying the market guide will answer most of those questions.

Once you’ve identified a publisher that you believe might work, the hardest work lies ahead of you: read their books. If the publisher has a book club, subscribe for several months up to a year. . .and read all the books. If they don’t, obtain several books by different authors in your genre. What feeling do you get for style, conflicts, characters? If you write angst-ridden fiction and the publisher focuses on light-hearted romance, your story probably won’t fit. When reading, pay as much attention to the publisher as you do to the author.

Once you’ve read enough from a particular publisher, you get a sense of what they are looking for in a manuscript. For instance, what sets apart Barbour’s Heartsong Presents, Harlequin’s Love Inspired/Historical/Suspense, and Summerside’s Love Finds You from each other? How has each publisher distinguished itself from the other and found a thriving market in their overlapping genres? The answers may surprise you.

The same basic story might fit any of those publishers, but you will have a better chance of selling it if you tweak your story for their specific audience.

I read Heartsong books for years before I made my first sale. I have yet to sign on the dotted line with any publisher other than Barbour, but I am getting close. Within the past year, several publishers I have studied extensively have asked for manuscripts. One has even penciled me in for 2012. So I’m a living testimony to the fact it works.

Have you ever experienced this yourself? Let us learn from each other.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Define Foreign Words in Prose

If you decide to put foreign words in your fiction, it's best to italicize it the first time, but after that, leave it alone/don't italicize it.

When defining the foreign words in our prose, it's best not to stop everything for the definition.

Here's an example of what not to do:

He swung the parma. A short curved sword.

It's obvious that the writer it "telling" us what a "parma" is. Blaaack! All this does is remind our readers that they're "reading," pulling them out of the story by creating a speed bump.

Here's how to do it instead. The following keeps the story moving forward and doesn't stop the action.

He swung the parma, the short curved sword sliced into the enemy's armor.

See how we've defined the word "parma" without stopping the pace, without holding up the action? I love it when writers do this!

In the following example we have a Native American boy who is half white, speaking/thinking in Cheyenne.

He tied the knot fast and rubbed his hand along the soft fur. The skins would make a good muff for Grandmother this winter. He’d seen many white women wear them; they looked warm and his heveŇ°kemo deserved the best.

Notice here how we define the word "Grandmother" in the last line of the text.

Here's more:

He could still feel Mamma's hand in his. Could feel her letting go as the soldiers pulled her away. Could feel her stola ripping as he clutched it. All he had left was the shredded fabric from her dress still in his hand.

Here we know that stola means dress.

Another:

Titus ordered the new slaves to stand in the center of the atrium next to the impluvium. David ran his hand along the smooth edge of the large marble fountain that collected rainwater from an opening in the roof.

And another:

After the slaves were led away, and she was safe from being seen by Grandfather, she crept into the tablinum. She slipped through the heavy crimson curtain and into the small room between the atrium and the indoor courtyard.

She held her breath when she saw Grandmother and Aunt Fabia kneeling before the shrine. Usually they prayed in the morning.

Notice here how tablinum is defined in two paragraphs. The first by saying it's a small room between the atrium and the indoor courtyard. The second by showing what it's being used for: they're kneeling before the shrine. So, the reader sees that it's not only a small room, but it's a room with a shrine and where people pray.

Last but not least:

Before Grandmother could respond, Alethea slipped through the curtain on the other side of the tablinum and entered the peristyle. Flowers filled the indoor courtyard with a sweet fragrance. She especially liked the jasmine and breathed in its scent as she wandered between the plants and marble statues, following the patterns of flowers in the colorful mosaic on the floor.

This not only defines the peristyle, it shows us what it is.

Notice in all these examples how the writer also captures the emotion of the character/scene, rather than just stating a word's definition.

So, if you have foreign words in your manuscripts, have fun with them, don't just define them. Get creative, make them "move."

Tip: This can also apply to difficult words in children's fiction.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Story Structure: Sagging Middles

Last week, someone asked on the American Christian Fiction Writers loop, "what's the deal about story structure?"

A story must have a beginning, middle and an end. Tracy Ruckman addressed strong openings in her January 10th post.

But the vast middle of the story ... that's where the reader can be bored. Even the writer can get bored, wondering if the story is any good, and if she'll ever finish it. A few tricks I've found:

(By the way, if you want a good example of how to maintain tension through a story arc, watch a season of the television show 24.)
  • As soon as one problem is resolved, present another one. In the manuscript (Bride to Love) I just submitted to the editor, the hero isn't certain if he will be able to grow a crop during the Year of No Summer. In the second half, he knows he'll have a crop--but he battles the heroine's father over unfair prices.
  • The new problem may take off at a different angle from the previous one. In one of my unpublished books, set during the Montgomery bus boycott, the pastor hero agonizes over how to support the boycott. After he comes out in support of the boycott, his church--and his family--kick him out. A shift of story line.
  • The new problem may be worse than the previous one. Multi-published and respected author Susan Page Davis uses this approach. "I like the light-at-the-end of the tunnel analogy, although it's not original with me. 'When you think you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, you realize it's a train coming toward you.'" Escalate the tension throughout the middle.
  • Hold off on resolving the main conflict of the story too soon.

What have you found, whether as a reader or a writer, that maintains your interest throughout a book? If you are struggling through the middle section of a book, maybe we can brainstorm some solutions together.

Darlene Franklin

For anyone interested in a free copy of one of my books, enter book drawings at darlenefranklinwrites.blogspot.com and barbara-lukow.blogspot.com.