Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gems: Brilliant Blue Sapphires – Sparkling Imagery

A novel of fiction should immerse a reader into a world full of amazing characters overcoming obstacles, growing as humans and perhaps being victorious, but that world must be painted for the reader. Scenes should be vivid. Whether you are writing science fiction, fantasy or a Young Adult novel, good imagery is a must. Imagery is the formation of mental images. This can be achieved using similes, metaphors, and personification.

A simile is a figure of speech where two unlike things are compared using “like” or “as”.
Example: The principal stood proud at the top of the steps like the Statue of Liberty, welcoming the students on the first day of the new school year.

A metaphor makes a comparison without using “like” or “as”.
Example: Her eyes were shinning beacons of bright light, expressing her hope for their futures.

Personification takes a non-human item and gives it the attributes of a human.
Example: The open doors welcomed the students as the first bell warned them that they had five more minutes to make it to their homerooms.

Imagery combined with good use of the five senses can make the world your characters are in come alive for the reader, but be careful not to overdue your descriptions. Remember that your readers are intelligent people. They are able to form a full mental picture from just a few well-planned sentences. As you read the example below, think of the mental images you get.

Martin quickened his steps through the tall trees, his booted feet crunching over fallen leaves and twigs as he got closer to the sound of rushing water. The freezing mist fell on him like confetti on New Year’s Eve almost as if to congratulate him for clearing the trees and coming upon the swollen river. His elation turned to frustration as the foaming water laughed, taunting him with its depth and width.
He sat on a moss-covered boulder and gazed up into the rapidly dimming sky. At least now, the helicopter might spot him. That is if they hadn’t given up for the day. Martin folded his arms to try to stay warm and glanced around, willing his mind to stay sharp. Spotting some fallen branches at the base of a large tree, he jumped off the boulder and dragged the slimy limbs closer to the rock where it blocked the wind. The branches were probably too damp to light on fire, but hope bubbled up from within him and with trembling hands, he flicked the lighter on and prayed for a miracle.

What kind of trees did you see? Pine trees, redwoods, or another type? How steep was the river’s bank? Did Martin see gray clouds in the sky as he looked up? All of these details where probably formed into your mind’s eye and I did not have to spell it out for you. Someone might see different trees than you did, but unless the types of trees are integral to the story, it is not an important detail. Naturally, there would be some clouds in the sky because there was a mist falling. I did not have to describe the clouds.

Imagery is a great tool to use to show the reader what the environment is like without having to tell them. Notice the absence of the words “were” and “was” in my example. I was able to paint a picture of the forest without having to tell my readers what they should be seeing. I just let them experience it along with my character.

I had a hard time understanding the idea of imagery until I read an article by Stephen King in a writer’s guide that I had picked up at a thrift store. In fact, the short story that I recently posted to this blog started out as an exercise in imagery after reading his article. I have done searches on the internet and so far, I have not found articles or websites that stand out as excellent when dealing with this subject. If you know of some good sites or have some wisdom to add about imagery, please comment to this post.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gems: Point of View Like a Jeweler’s Loupe

How does a jeweler view his gemstones? He uses a jeweler’s loupe. It’s through that lens that he inspects the gem. Point of view is the writer’s loupe and like the jeweler’s loupe, the writer’s lens can be of different magnifications. How the writer sees the story and puts it down on paper, determines how the reader will see the story. Basically, there are three types of points of views and variations within those three: first person, second person and third person.

First person is achieved by using the pronoun I. This is not my favorite point of view to read or to write. I find that it limits my imagination and does not let me get close to the other characters. This point of view is popular with the Young Adult crowd, which is my genre of choice for writing, so I know I am in the minority.


If I have to sit behind Vinnie Trecelli all year in English, I think I might go crazy. Does that guy ever wash his hair or does he just get up and dip his head in hair gel every morning? Either way, he’s not the person I want to stare at the back of right before lunch every day.


Second person uses the pronoun you. I have read a few stories that use this point of view and as a child, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that used this point of view. It is rare to find a good book with it though. I am sure they are out there and if you have a good recommendation, please leave a comment about it.


You slowly come to as the brakes on the Greyhound bus screech in protest and the bus comes to a full stop. Rubbing your eyes, you sit up and get your first look at the dark city of Los Angeles through the dirty travel worn window. You are the last one off the bus, and your heart pounds in your chest because you have no idea where to go from here. Freedom to do what you want comes with a price and now, you’re thinking that living with mom and Dalton wasn’t as bad as you thought. You hesitate on the last step until Dalton’s angry and insane eyes flash through your mind.


Third person uses pronouns such as he, she, it, or they. This is a very flexible point of view and I use it often in my own work. There are a few different styles of third person: subjective, objective, omniscient and limited.

I prefer to write in third person limited. My current book, that has been submitted for publication, is in third person limited and only in the point of view of the main female character, but I will often switch the point of view character from chapter to chapter or in some cases I might switch them for scene to scene.

For a more in depth look at the different types of third person points of view, you can click here.

Example of Third Person Limited

Helen kept her chin up as she stepped out of the principal’s office and walked down the hallway to her locker for the last time. She did her best to ignore the other students. Many of them she had thought of as friends until this morning.


How should you choose which point of view to tell your story in? My best advice is to start writing the story in a way that you feel comfortable. If later, you find that you need to get the reader closer to the main character, but you are in third person, you can always go back in editing and change the point of view. Or if you start in first person and find that you want the reader to know what the other characters are thinking or you want scenes where the main character is not around, you can always go back and edit and revise to change the point of view. That is the beauty of our craft. Nothing is set in stone and when it comes to point of view, we can change what lens through which we let our readers see the story unfold.

One important aspect of point of view, especially when in third person, is to make sure that you do not confuse your readers with headhopping. Some writers can get away with this technique, but most of us cannot pull it off decently. This is when you are writing in one character’s point of view and without warning, you switch to another character’s view point.

There is nothing wrong with having multiple viewpoints in a novel. In fact, I personally think it gives depth to a story. The key is to decide when the time is right for a different character’s point of view. As I begin a new chapter, I ask myself which character will have the most to think or see in the chapter, and that is the point of view I use. I may decide that another character would be better to have the point of view after the chapter is written and go back and change it.

I will admit that I had a problem with headhopping when I first started writing fiction. It is a common mistake and one that is easy to train yourself out of. It just takes practice. I have found two very good articles on headpopping.

Suzanne Hartmann’s article on point of view shifts. While you are there, check out the nine other articles on common mistakes new writers make.


Edittorrent headpopping vs. multiple points of view

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gems: The Gold Chain or Prose and Narration

Prose and narration are the keys to holding a story together. In my own writing, this is where I really had to study. Prose is the ordinary everyday written language that we use in fiction to describe what is going on. My biggest challenge has been toning it down. There is a balancing act to writing prose and I often fall off the fence, writing too many adjectives or adverbs and getting carried away with the flowery language.

I do not know about you, but my main goal when writing a work of fiction is to make the words fall away from the page and have the reader seeing the story in their mind’s eye. I want them to live it, to be there in the thick of things and to forget there is an author at all. As an artist, this is something that I think many writers struggle with in the beginning. We want to be recognized as brilliant writers, but truly, the most brilliant writers are those that make us forget they are even there.

Yes, you want to have a voice and you want to set the tone of the story, but I truly think less is more. That does not mean that your narration needs to be boring. There are so many aspects of prose and narration that we can discuss that I am going to explore them separately in their own articles.

Let’s start with tense. No matter what tense you decide to use in your story, it is important that you be consistent throughout. The most common tense for writing prose is past tense. It is a comfortable tense for the reader who is used to it and is an effective tool for making the words on the page disappear in the background and letting the story play out in the reader’s mind. Past tense is used for narration and present tense is used for dialogue.

Some factors for determining what tense to write should be taken into consideration. First would be what you feel comfortable writing. Second would be what point of view you are writing in and third, what works overall for the story you are telling.

Grab some books off your shelves and determine which tense the writer used and notice how consistent they are.

Example of past tense in third person point of view:

Sybil kept her eyes focused on the stage before her and tried her best to ignore the boy sitting next to her in the dim theater. She’d slipped into the auditorium after the play had already started and not wanting to disturb the actors, she’d sat in the first available seat she could find. With a frustrated sigh, Sybil frowned and fought the urge to turn his way, knowing that he continued to stare at her. Next time, she would pay more attention to where she sat.


Example of present tense in first person point of view:

I don’t know why she doesn’t like me, but I don’t like her either. She acts all high and mighty, but I didn’t ask her sit next to me. My best friend’s rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game gets my attention, and I try not laugh. Poor Roger. He got suckered in to doing the play. If I were him, I would have come down with a bad case of laryngitis or something. There’s no way I’d get up on that stage and make a fool of myself that way.


What tense do you use most often in your prose and narration? And with that, what point of view do you tell your stories with? In the next article, we will discuss points of view.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poetry. An Elegy Poem. Goodbye, Puppy Love

One way to kick start creativity is to do something different. If I find myself getting blocked or frustrated with my fiction writing or if the editing process starts to get me down, I will stop what I’m doing and research a form of poetry that I have never written.

I thought I would take a break from my gems series and share my latest attempt at poetry. The elegy form caught my eye and I decided to give it a try.

An elegy (not to be confused with eulogy) is a poem of mourning. The subject can be a person, thing or idea that has been lost to the poet somehow. It consists of three parts. Grief and sorrow, praise and admiration, and consolation and solace. Stanzas are usually four lines of two end rhyming couplets. I chose to write my poem with ten syllable lines and one stanza for each part.

Goodbye, Puppy Love

Sections of me died one hot afternoon.
Shadows held court over me, drenched in gloom.
Forever, life was over in my mind.
I mourned the loss; his love never to find.

Would my heart ever soar to heights so grand,
And passion swell ‘til I could understand?
Would my eyes ever be blinded to faults,
And stomach tie in knots and somersaults?

The pond is tiny and the fish are big.
The bait is still ripe; the worms I must dig.
From the bonds of childhood I have now fled.
Puppy love behind and real life ahead.

If you write poetry, what are some forms that you prefer to use? Do you like poems that rhyme or are you more attracted to non-rhyme?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Notice! I Am Moving.

My husband bought me my own domain name and got me set up with a wordpress blog that forwards to it. I LOVE all the things that can be done with wordpress themes. Wordpress has a handy tool for moving all posts from another blog over to them, so I've done that with all posts here. I plan to continue posting here for a few more weeks.

The new site is

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Good dialogue is essential to a great work of fiction. With it, an author can reveal to the reader who the characters are without having to tell them. We can give characters unique ways of talking, certain phrases they like to repeat and have the characters interacting with one another. Like the moonstone, dialogue should be smooth and should reveal important information that furthers the plot.

From the very beginning of my writing career, I have had little trouble in the area of dialogue. I hear the characters in my head and write their dialogue just as they talk. It comes so naturally to me that I had to analyze some of my work to find out how I actually do it that makes it flow and seem real.

Despite having read dialogue over and over again in books, what I didn’t have down naturally was the punctuation. Enough of the format was imprinted into my mind that I could remember that the quotes go outside the end punctuation, but my end punctuation and when to capitalize and when to not capitalize tags tripped me up. A speech tag is the part before or after the words spoken, such as he said or she said.

When I realized that I had been doing something wrong in my dialogue punctuation, I searched the internet and found a lot of drawn out and confusing web pages about it. I did find one site that explained the punctuation so simply, with easy examples, that I was able to get it and within two days, I had wiped out all my habitual mistakes. Now, when I am editing for new authors, I send them this same link: Dialogue Punctuation Made Simple.

There are a few things to remember when writing dialogue. There must be a new paragraph each time another character speaks. When three or more people are in a scene, use speech tags or action to indicate who is speaking. When having a long scene with dialogue, mix up where speech tags are and have action tags that give the reader a visual of where the speakers are and what they are doing so you can avoid the talking head syndrome.

Example of dialogue

Four-year-old Jack held the delicate sand dollar up to show his older sister. “Is this candy?”

“Candy?” asked Brooke as she took it from him. “No, it’s a sand dollar.”

“Oh,” Jack said, “is it a vegetable?”

“No, it’s not a vegetable.”

Brooke sat down on her beach towel and placed the sand dollar on her knee. Jack plopped down in front of her and ran his fingers through the warm sand.

“Is it a fruit?”

“No. It’s not food. This is the skeleton of a dead animal.” Jack’s little gasp and wide eyes made Brooke giggle. “Why did you want to know?”

Jack sighed and in a small, sad voice said, “Because I licked it.”


Some people find it helpful to write out only the words spoken in a scene of dialogue and add in the tags and actions later. The most important thing is to play around with dialogue until you feel comfortable writing it and it is believable speech. When in doubt, read the scene out loud.
If you have some tips or suggestions about dialogue, a question or a comment about this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gems: You Want the Ruby, Not the Garnet. Homophones.

While we are on the subject of new writer mistakes, let me embarrass myself and admit that I had a problem with homophones. Homophones are a group of words that have the same pronunciation but are often spelled different and have different meanings. You can think of it as the difference between a ruby and a garnet. Rubies and garnets look the same, but one is a harder stone, often more clear and more rare. If you paid the price of a ruby for a garnet, you would not be too happy. The correct homophone is the ruby while the other is a garnet, which is not quite good enough.

The wrong homophones can be found in the work of novice writers, can slip past more advanced writers and can often irritate editors. The best way to avoid the mistake is to gather a list of homophones, adding more and more as time goes by, and to study them.

Below, I have listed four of the most common sets of homophones that I was guilty of confusing and that I encounter when proofreading for newer authors. The great thing about these four sets is that after you have studied the differences and the more you write and proofread your own work, these will no long be a problem for you.

Your, you're

Your is the possessive form of the word you.
Example for your: Is that your dog?

You're is the contraction of you are.
Example for you're: I think you're going to be late.

It's, its

Its is the possessive form of the word it. And like the word your above, it does not need an apostrophe.
Example for its: The dog wagged its tail.

It's is the contraction of either it is or it has. It is a contraction, therefore it needs the apostrophe.
Example for it's: It's cold outside.

There, their, and they're

There: I don't want to go there.
Their: Their house is up for sale.
They're: They're going to have to move soon. (They're: contraction of they are.)

To, two, and two

To: They want to go to the store.
Two: She has two children.
Too: That is way too much ketchup for one hot dog. OR He likes candy too.

With the first three sets, I believe there is confusion because in most cases an apostrophe is used with a possessive.
Examples: The cat's eyes glow in the dark. I put Mark's jacket in the closet. I went into the restaurant's kitchen.

Naturally, we want to put an apostrophe on all possessives. I found it helpful to lump all the possessive pronouns together to look at. Mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, ours, its. Then I found it helpful when editing to stop at words like it's, you're, they're and asked myself if they still read correctly as it is, you are, and they are.

There are many homophones and I still mix some of them up. I have reduced the amount of mistakes by simply studying a list of homophones found at this website.

When I write a word that I know is a homophone and I am in doubt about which one to use, I simply google the word and read the definition.
What are some of the homophones that you mix up? Do you have any tricks, tips or websites on how to beat the homophone trap?

Next up, dialogue.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gems: A Strand of Shiny Grammar Pearls of Wisdom

Not being a daring person, I was nervous about the idea of sharing my stories with family, much less strangers. My desire to improve finally outweighed my bashful nature and I sent a story to a new internet friend. I was not worried about being critiqued as much as I was just nervous about whether they would like the story or not. I am so glad that I took that first step.

The day I got my story back with comments and red marks is a day I will never forget. I learned a few things about myself that I think have helped me get to a point where I had a complete manuscript that I felt was worthy of submitting. I learned that I had a thick skin and that I could take constructive criticism, I found out that I am very teachable, and I rediscovered my love of research.

My beta started her critique off with kind words and praise for my story ideas, but she pointed out some basic and common errors that many new writers make. She did not spend a lot of time educating me on the mistakes, but she put me on the right path by describing what the error was and giving me a quick example of how I could fix it.

I had some interesting grammar mistakes, and I am still learning to master many of them. For some reason, I overuse commas or put them in strange places. I had some fragmented sentences, I over used adverbs and did not know the correct order for adjectives or the rules about when commas should be used with them.d

Determined to get these things right, I searched online and found some great grammar resources.

Guide to Grammar and Writing: A great place to learn grammar and take quizzes.
The Perdue Online Writing Lab
Grammar Girl: I recommend subscribing to the daily emails.
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: Plenty of quizzes to take after you learn something new.

Some aspiring writers who are reading these articles might be asking themselves why I am starting my series by discussing the technical side of writing. My answer to that is simple. If you want to be a carpenter, you need to get familiar with the tools. If you want to be a baker, you need to know how to measure. If you want to be a writer -- one that has a chance of getting published -- you need to know the tools of your trade. Grammar is one of those tools. If you try to submit something with poor spelling, grammar, or formatting, be prepared to get rejection letters.

If you have some pearls of wisdom, comments or questions, please leave a comment to this post. I would really love to add to my list of grammar sites to recommend, so if you have a favorite, please comment and tell me what it is. I would love to know what your common grammar mistakes were when you first started writing.

In my next installment for this series, we will explore dialogue punctuation and homophones.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Introduction to My Hunting Gems Series

In September of 1982, my parents gave me a diary for my tenth birthday. I started writing in it nightly. To this day, I can’t make out some of the words, but it was filled with the goings on of my young life. Every year after, while I was in school, someone gave me a diary for my birthday. Looking at my last diary from when I was seventeen, I am ashamed to say that I still can’t read some of the words. Of the ones I can read, many of them are spelled wrong and it takes a bit of thinking to figure out what I was trying to write about.

In August of 1985, I opened a spiral notebook, meant to be used as school supplies, and wrote my first poem. Over the years, the pile of poetry-filled notebooks would grow to number about twenty. Scattered amongst the angst-ridden poems were short stories or the beginnings of ideas for longer novels.

In the summer of 1985, my mother noticed and read the beginnings of my first novel attempt. It was handwritten on loose lined paper. As always, it was hard to read because of my poor penmanship and lack of good grammar skills, but she saw potential there and brought home a manual typewriter from work. I was so glad that I had taken typing in school.

In the fall of 1987, my parents bought me a word processor, complete with a printer. I painstakingly typed in my novel and then finished it. The freedom to cut, copy, and paste was so great that I spent much time trying to make it better. Unfortunately, the disks that I had kept the novel on got lost when I moved out of the house, but that first attempt gave me the writing bug.

In May of 2007, I sat down in front of my computer, opened a blank notepad file and started to type. As I wrote the story, I realized a few things.

1.) My grammar had not improved.
2.) My punctuation for dialogue was all wrong.
3.) My storytelling abilities were lacking.

I made the decision to stop writing and learn as much as I could about writing before I started the novel again, though I did continue to write practice stories.

I started my search by using the internet. What I found was scattered bits and pieces. It was like treasure hunting, finding gems amongst the sand and debris that litter the web.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's Going On

I have a conference to go tonight. I'm really looking forward to it. Friday should be the most fun as it's all day with a nice break between morning and evening. I have plans for lunch that includes having a few people over to my house. One of them approached me last night and asked for me help looking over her novel. I feel honored that she'd ask. She heard that I had written a book.

My husband has asked me to write an e-book about writing. :) I'm gathering notes and ideas for it now and it should be fun. So, look for topical posts here in the near future about different aspects of writing and the different stages.

Besides the sequel to Works in Progress and another fiction book that I am writing and now the e-book, I've been wanting to put together another non-fiction book. My husband is amazing person. He's humble and he loves God and I believe that because he lets the Spirit lead that God allows some wonderful things to happen when he witnesses to others. I'm going to compile the stories and organize them by theme for chapters and then see about getting it published. I know the book would only be interesting to those who feel it's important to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus commanded us all to do, but I think it will be a blessing to those who do read it. Not because of my great talent as an artist, but because the stories themself are so wonderfully amazing. I know my husband read a book by a great preacher, Dr. Jack Hyles, where he told some amazing stories about people that he'd witnessed to and that really encouraged my husband.