Friday, April 24, 2015

Top 3 Dangers of Reading

Have you heard about the 8 year old Canadian girl who was told by a bus driver she may no longer read books on her bus ride home from school? Yep. Not even kidding. Apparently he thinks it's dangerous.

He claims that it could be harmful to other students because they might want to see what she's looking at. They might even stand up to get a closer look. Shoot, she might even poke her eye out if he has to slam on the brakes and the book nails her in the eye. Seriously. I'm not making this up, folks. Check it out here.

Sounds like a bunch of nandy-pandy nonsense to me, but it did get me to thinking . . . is it ever a problem to stick your nose in a book?

Top 3 Dangers of Reading

Loss of Innocence
There have been times when I've picked up a book without vetting it first, and in this day and age, that's a bad idea. Graphic scenes can never be un-read once you've allowed them into your brain. It's always a good idea to consider what you're going to read before you read it.

Radical Escapism
Sure, every book you read pulls you away from reality for awhile. At least it should. That's the job of an author. But radical escapism is more like an addiction. It's using books to medicate, to run away from life's problems. Granted, this isn't very common, but it is a danger for some.

The Mr. Darcy Syndrome
What red-blooded woman wouldn't want a Mr. Darcy in her life? That's not a danger. That's a desire! The problem comes in when fictional characters become the standard for real-world relationships. Newsflash: Darcy was a made up dude. Expecting humans to measure up to characters puts unrealistic expectations on them, which leads to disappointment, and ultimately to broken relationships.

Now that you know the dangers, slap on a helmet and be safe out there, kids.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

10 Mistakes Writers Make on Their Websites

I was trolling around the interwebs the other day, as I am wont to do when it's FREAKING SNOWING IN APRIL. Sorry for the shouting. Anyways, I came across this site titled The Five Biggest Mistakes Writers Make on Their Websites. So with a keen killer cat curiosity (yeah, say that five times in a row really fast), I decided to not only peruse that page but also do a search and destroy mission to find out what makes a good writerly website and then compare that list to my own site. And guess what? I'm taking you along on my in-depth journalistic mission . . .

MISTAKE #1: NO BIO
Score! Indeedy doody, I do have a bio on mine. Chalk one up for me.

MISTAKE #2: NO SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Ooh. Epic fail. I lose that point I earned.

MISTAKE #3: NO CONTACT INFO
Gimme that point back. You can definitely contact me.

MISTAKE #4: LACK OF WELL WRITTEN CONTENT
What I have is written as well as I can possibly pump out. The problem is I don't have a whole lot of it. I'm thinking that's a half point.

MISTAKE #5: BUTT UGLY
While my graphics aren't all fireworks and unicorns, my site is tidy and book related. That's gotta count for something. Score one.

MISTAKE #6: NOT USING CLEAR CALL TO ACTION BUTTONS
Grr. I'm back one. I don't have any call to action buttons . . . but I do have a plan to remedy that by adding in a newsletter button.

MISTAKE #7: FORGETTING TO LINK BUY BUTTONS
Bingo! Got my point back. I link to Amazon for all my books

MISTAKE #8: HAVING MUSIC ON AUTO PLAY
This one super annoys me. I hate it when I visit a website and music starts playing automatically . . . especially if I'm at someplace like a library and it blares on. So this is a point in my favor because I don't have any music on my site.

MISTAKE #9: FOCUSING ON YOURSELF INSTEAD OF THE READER
There's got to be some takeaway value at your site or the reader feels slighted. Ding-ding-ding. Point for me. I've got book club kits as downloadable freebies.

MISTAKE #10: TOO BLOGGISH
Okay. I'm a little guilty of this one. I need to clean up my home page and delete some old posts on there. Subtract one.

Total: 3 1/2

So, I guess I've got a little authorly website renovations to make. What's your feedback? What do you like to see on an author's site? Leave any additions in the comment section.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

5 Keys to Unlocking Great Writing

I spoke for nearly three solid hours today about a seventh-grade English class I'll be teaching next fall. What did parents want to know most about? Grammar. As if grammar is the end all and be all of an English class. What's up with that?

Lots of people believe there's safety in grammar because it fences writing in. Gives writing rules and boundaries. Lays out a checklist where you can just tick off each tidy little box and bammo! Instantaneous good writing.

Yeah. Not so much. That line of thinking works well for left-brainers, science geeks, math nerds and such ilk, but here's the deal . . . you can't reduce great writing to a list of "Do This, Not That" because writing is subjective and standards change.

Sure, it's a given that some grammar is needed. Sentences must flow and make sense. Spelling mistakes and basic punctuation needs to be mastered or the reader will give up trying to decipher the words. But other than that, delving deeper into sentence diagramming isn't going to make you a more marketable writer. In fact, in a recent study at York University there was no evidence found that teaching grammar helped pupils aged 5-16 write more fluently or accurately.

So, if grammar isn't the key to great writing, then what is? Learning to grab the reader by the throat via powerful storytelling and beautiful word choice. How is that accomplished?

5 Keys to Unlocking Great Writing

1. Read.
Exposing yourself to literature of all sorts broadens and improves your own writing.

2. Re-write.
James Michener once said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." Editing and polishing kicks your writing up a notch.

3. Write tight.
Kill verbosity. Ain't nobody got time for that.

4. Be real.
Write like you speak and think. That's your voice. That's believable.

5. Be fearless.
Take chances with your writing. Mix it up. Don't care about what others or the market may think.

There you have it . . . and you'll notice grammar isn't in the list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fictionary

Do you ever pick up a book and are reading along, lah-de-dah-de-dah, when whammo. You wonder if you've suddenly contracted Alzheimer's because you sure as heck don't remember if Hector is the uncle and Hewie the nephew, or vice versa. Or you feel like an idiot because you have no idea what a rantipole is and you're pretty sure every 5th grader knows the definition. Don't sweat it, folks. Have I found an app for you!

Fictionary is an online app to help you with book specific characters and terminology. Now you can enjoy your stories without confusion and it's all spoiler free. Here's how it works . . .

You simply select a word in your e-reader and Fictionary pops up a definition or short bio of the word or person. If you still don't get it, or want more info, you can pull down an entire screen with gobs of clarification.

It's a relatively new site so there aren't a ton of books to choose from yet. HERE are the books/authors they feature, which are mostly classic, young adult, fantasy or sci fi. You can request a particular book for them to put up next. Doesn't mean they'll do it immediately, but hey, at least they listen.

Fictionaries are free and work on all Kindles and some Android ePub apps. So go ahead and swallow your pride. Sometimes it's hard to admit you don't know what a needy mizzler is.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Loosening the Rules Corset

If you want to get published, never, EVER:
- Write a story in more than one or two points of view,
   and heaven forbid you should use four or more.
- Open a scene with a character looking in a mirror.
- Use hokey dream sequences.
- Kill off one of the main characters.
- Start with a prologue because everyone knows
   prologues are old school.

And those are only a few naughty no-no's on the ol' verboten list. Here's the deal, though . . . of the rules I've mentioned, I've broken every one of them in books I've gotten published. I know. Right? What good are rules if schleps like me laugh in the face of the rule gods and still get published? How come some writers can get away with these shenanigans?

One word: story. It all has to do with a breathtaking story. If you capture the reader's attention, grab 'em by the throat and ramp up their heart rate with an oh-my-sweet-pickled-pineapple-I-MUST-read-the-next-chapter kind of intrigue, then you can break rules left and right and get away with it. Whoa. I think I might've broken a rule or two in that sentence.

The bottom line is that if you listen to every editor/agent/expert/mother-in-law out there, you'll be so confined by do's and don'ts that your creativity will die an ugly death. Write your story, in your voice. Sure, go ahead and listen to the rules. Know what they are. But don't live, eat and breathe them. Readers and publishers crave freshness in storytelling, and sometimes that happens by flipping the bird to rules.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gratitude

In thanking God for everything,
you are protected against discouragement in everything.
Fear won't stand a chance,
pride will be shut out,
because gratitude has a way of expanding,
pushing away bitterness and discontent.
And it all starts with three simple words:
Thank you, God.

Friday, April 17, 2015

5 Common Word Conundrums

All I remember from high school Spanish is how to say, "I broke my leg." That may come in handy should I decide to run the bulls in Pamplona, but otherwise, not so much. I'll stick to English, thank you very much. But even English has its glitches, and today I'll shine the spotlight on five bugaboos that even the most seasoned writer can mess up.

Weird not Wierd
This one throws me every stinking time. But not anymore. Here is a handy dandy way to remember the correct spelling of weird . . .
WE (we) IR (are) D (deadly) to tiny, baby kittens.
And every time you spell it wIErd a tiny baby kitten gets punched in the head. Don't be a brute. Save the kittens.

Then vs Than
Honestly, I don't understand the mass confusion surrounding these two words. Nevertheless, I'm here to help.
THEN is used for time: First I stole a car and then I crashed into a cop.
THAN is used for comparison: I'm much better at stealing cars than escaping from handcuffs.

A Lot not Alot
This one's easy. Alot isn't even a word. You wouldn't write abunch or ateensyweensybit or awombat, so never, ever, EVER write alot as one word because it's two words.

Effect vs Affect
I've stumbled over this grammarly log a time or two. Effect is most often a noun (we won't go into technicalities--an editor's got to earn his keep somehow) and affect is a verb. That means if you can substitute another verb where you've stuck this word, then you ought to be using affect.
Example: As an awkward adolescent, bullies affected me in junior high.
                As an awkward adolescent, bullies affected kissed me in junior high.
Kissed can work in the second sentence, albeit not logically, but even so, you'd use the word AFFECTED not effected.
Example: What effect did bullies have on you as an awkward adolescent?
                 What effect kisses did bullies have on you as an awkward adolescent?
See? That made no sense whatsoever, so the word remains EFFECT.

It's vs Its
If you have trouble with this one, I don't blame you. How many times did a grammar teacher rap your knuckles for forgetting an apostrophe to show possession? Yeah. This one flips that around. You DON'T choose the apostrophe to show possession in this case. You only use it to make a contraction for it is or it has, so if you can add in those words and it makes sense, then the apostrophe word is the one for you.
Example: It's always a good day to ride a unicorn.
                It's It is always a good day to ride a unicorn.
Makes sense, so the apostrophe choice is the winner.
Example: The unicorn is fun to ride because its mane is silky smooth.
                 The unicorn is fun to ride because its it is mane is silky smooth.
That does NOT make sense, so the non-apostrophe usage is the right choice.

There you have it. Go forth into the wide, wide world of writerly sports and kick some grammarly butt!

 
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