Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Can I Handle?

You may have guessed from the photo that it's a GIRL {Zoe Bree}! And as my "little one" grows, I'm discovering something... there's a whole lot less space in there for food.

It's been a painful couple of weeks as I figure out how to eat less... more often.

Funny. Life's been teaching me the same thing. Take small bites out of projects. Just because I don't have time to FINISH a writing project doesn't mean I can't START or ADD to it now.

So take that 10 minutes you have now -- today -- and make it count. Eventually it's going to add up to a rather large product -- one calorie... err, word, at a time.

BJ Hamrick writes for teens and for you at www.Real Teen Faith

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unleashing Your Inner Critic

Last week one of our loyal Scribble Chicks readers requested a post on the art of critiquing. So being the obliging "chicks" that we are, I'm dedicating today's post to precisely that. :)

It's funny because long before I even knew what the proper term was, I've been a lifelong evaluator of all things entertainment. Even when I was a kid, I wasn't afraid to tell anyone what I thought about a specific song, movie, book, you name it.

So I guess it's pretty fitting that penning my thoughts on pop culture is the bulk of what I do as a full-time freelance writer. In fact, I still remember my first review that was published in the now-defunct 7Ball magazine like it was yesterday. My editor at the time, Chris Well (who I still write columns for to this day in Family Fiction), had assigned me a 400-word review of The Elms' The Big Surprise. And being the diligent burgeoning talent that I was (ha ha), I worked on this piece for four days—editing each and every word to perfection.

But I was still 300 words over...so I had to trim the fat some more. And more. And more. And then, at long last, I e-mailed the article to him.

A few days later, it showed up on my desk, practically bleeding red ink. See, even though I had opinions, I still had a lot to learn about the art of critiquing. So I wisely reviewed his edits and filed them away for the next time.

Thankfully, there was much, much less red ink when I reviewed that Newsboys' album.

See, the thing about critiquing is, it's not enough to have opinions. But that is a great starting point. Once you have your point of view all worked it, it's time to defend it. Why do you feel the way you do? If it's a movie, for example, why did it charm you (or fail to do so). Did the story have emotional resonance? Were the actors believable? Was the direction even remotely inspiring? These are the kinds of questions you ask yourself when you're evaluating art of any kind.

Then in your unique voice (and yes, this is crucial for being a memorable reviewer), you set up why you feel the way you do about said movie. And as tempted as you may be not to want to ruffle anyone's feathers or hurt anybody's feelings, it's absolutely essential to tell the truth. Now of course, that means I have to keep my sarcasm in check because there's a right way and a wrong way to tell the truth. But a little snark from time to time isn't necessarily a bad thing...as long as you aren't mean-spirited.

Being a good critic also means knowing your audience. If you're writing for a teen publication, you want to be able to speak their language. Plus, knowing who's reading also helps you tailor your commentary to what they're wondering about. Case in point: My readers at Crosswalk.com are wanting to know whether a film has any redemptive value or is appropriate for the entire family. So I make sure to cover those points with each and every review in some way...

As far as being a critique partner (something our reader was also wondering about), that's a proverbial horse of a different color. Unlike being a reviewer of entertainment, you're helping a fellow writer out. Yes, some of the same principles apply (like being honest, but appropriately so), but mainly you're wanting to be a friend, a cheerleader in what's a very time-consuming process, namely writing a novel.

So when someone asks for your opinion, it's important to speak the truth in love. But more than just giving a gut reaction, supported with compelling reasons for why you feel that way, it's great to have some constructive ideas of what he/she could do differently, too. If they have a shred of a good idea, that'll give him/her something to run with, so they can eventually be well on their way to getting their work out there to the masses.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holla back!

Hey guys!

I had some new author photos taken recently! Go to my personal blog when you get a chance and vote for your favs. (the girl gave me about 70 edited photos on a disk, so I have plenty to choose from!) I only posted some of my favs on my blog. These will be used for my website, blog, marketing, promotions, bookmarks, business cards, etc. Would love to get feedback! www.betsy-ann.blogspot.com (on yesterday's post)Remembering I'm marketing for both Young Adult novels and my contemporary romance.

That said, what do you guys want to talk about? We haven't had any reader questions in awhile. What's on your mind? We can make today's post a progress-report post of sorts. Chime in on the comments and let us know where you're at in your novel! Or what conference you're planning on attending this year, or what steps you're taking to pursue your dream.

Holla back! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer writing

Is it just me or does everyone have trouble staying inside and typing away on a dimly lit computer when the weather is absolutely BEAUTIFUL outside?

I have the hardest time working in the summer. I've tried taking my laptop outside, but then I just get distracted with the sun and the fun outdoor things I'd rather be doing ("Let's go to the zoo!!!"). So, I've started setting aside time for writing (i.e. nap times), and when Nathan gets up, we head outside for some Vitamin D.

It's kind of like bribery for myself.

What are your summer writing plans? Anything you hope to accomplish before fall?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Filter Words

First things first, the good news is, I've been M.I.A. because I've been writing. It's practically summer movie season, so I've been spending the majority of time holed up in a dark theater and then once I'm back home, I'm critiquing what I saw.

Not a bad gig in the least, especially when you happen to love movies. But between the length of said movies and the commute from my side of town to where the theaters are, I haven't had much spare time for blogging, let alone working on my novel.

But now that I've wrapped up my Pirates of the Caribbean review, I thought I'd venture back to the lovely Scribble Chicks world and share a little something I learned about writing this week...

See, no matter how long you've been a published writer/author, whatever, you're still always learning something about your craft. And when I was checking out one of my favorite blogs, Write it Sideways, I read all about the dreaded "filter words."

Now I've always known you're supposed to avoid the likes of "to see" and "to realize" because they were "active-enough" verbs, but I didn't know they had an actual moniker, namely "filter words." So to pass along what I've discovered, I'm linking to the post about the sheer hideousness of said filter words and how they can weaken your fiction.

Happy writing to one and all,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some not-so-newbie mistakes...

Not sure if all of you know this, but I run an editing/critique service through my website (http://www.betsystamant.com/). So far, I've had several clients of varying strengths and weaknesses, all of which have held great promise! Not yet have I gotten a submission where I had to say "uhh, I can't help you" ;)

Working with new authors prompted me to start googling "common mistakes in fiction writing" to see if my clients were typical, and if the struggles I had when I was first starting out were typical. (and found some were and some of mine were...not. hahahah)

I came across this website with these fabulous tips that I thought I would share today, to help us brush up on some basics. Because sometimes, even veteran authors can get lazy and make the below mistakes, when we KNOW better.

There are more points made on the site (http://www.how-to-write-a-novel.net/common-fiction-writing-mistakes.html) but I wanted to focus today on the first three. Below are the points and the website's content for each. I'll chime in with my point of view afterward in bold.

•No Hook

Where's the Hook? Ever read a book that makes you yawn by the end of page one? Yeah, me too. Usually, I'll try another page or two, but if the author hasn't gotten to the tension by then, I give up. So, rule number one: make sure you have a hook. Start at a point of drama or tension. Drop us off the cliff into the conflict on page one, or we'll walk!

Betsy here - This is a BIGGIE. Because just like the writer said above, if the story isn't interesting, we're not going to care. Not the agent, editor, or later, the reader. So be sure to start your story with a bang. This doesn't mean a bomb or a dead body or something huge (unless you're writing suspense/thrillers, then go for it! hehe) but it just means something relatable, something interesting, something to make the reader ask questions and want to learn more and turn pages. That is the #1 goal - to turn pages. Never forget that. Sometimes as authors we're tempted to start the story with a lot of backstory, feeling the pressure to introduce the character we know and love so well to the reader, who doesn't yet know or love them. But remember, the reader will get to know the character through the book's journey. Think snippets!

•No Hero

Who's In Charge Here? Along the same lines... have you read any books that start with a meandering description of the room or the scenery, maybe with an unnamed character somewhere on the tapestry that's being woven, but otherwise "lifeless"? Right. Mistake number two. Not introducing your hero or heroine right away. Within one or two pages max. Or, if you want to live dangerously - and you can do it well - show us your antagonist right away, instead. Plotting something devious or committing a crime. Remember, dump us into the action.

Betsy here - the above is great advice. I love when suspense/thriller novels start with the bad guy's POV. SO exciting! But the same point can be done in romance or YA or historicals or whatever - the point of introducing us to a key character in the story RIGHT AWAY. A few lines of opening description can be fine, but put your hero/heroine/antagonist IN that scenery. You might be able to wax poetic for two pages about the beauty of the rolling, floral-coated hills, but you know what? No one's going to care if there isn't a hunky hero riding a horse through those flowers or a bad guy crouching in that bush with a gun or a heroine strolling over those plains...

•No Motive

Why Did She Do That? I'm sure you've seen the next of the common fiction writing mistakes, too. You're reading along, minding your own fantasy when out of the blue, your favorite character turns 180 degrees south when she should have been going north. Don't be caught with your character's pants down. Make sure they have a motive for their actions. Or we're going to toss that book aside for the next episode of our favorite TV slop.

Betsy here - This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine when reading, and one I'm super careful with in my novels and extra hard on with my critique partners - STAY TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. If your character is super timid and shy and hates crowds and attention, then for heaven's sake, don't put her on stage with a microphone and have her entertaining the crowd on karaoke night! Now, it'd be one thing if her friends tricked her on stage or she was trying to break free of her fears, and got up there and totally choked - that's staying true to character! Putting our characters in their worst nightmare is a big part of fiction writing and successful conflict.

Also, don't get me wrong - there comes a time in a LOT of books where its part of the character's journey to branch out and do something scary for them. But that change needs to slowly occur throughout the book, needs to be a journey - not a third chapter revelation. Does that make sense? Make it real. Make it relatable. If you were overcoming a fear in real life, odds are you'd work up to it and take baby steps and make small goals along the way to get there. So would your characters...

That's it for today! I'd love to hear what you thought of these points. Do you struggle with them? Any questions? Scribblechicks are here to help! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Surprises You Most?

I’ve been surprised a few times in my life. There was the time a California agent called and asked to represent my book. There was the time the two pink lines popped up on the most expensive piece of plastic I’ve ever bought. And there was the time I took a laxative and a sleeping pill on the same night.

Sometimes life surprises us. But you don’t have to tell Alexis Dunbar that. She arrived at her Florida home last week and was greeted by who else -- the F.N.A. (also known as the Friendly Neighborhood Alligator). Turns out the seven-foot granddaddy crept through the doggy door and made himself at home on Dunbar’s cool tile floor… possibly for several days.

Dunbar eventually stopped screaming, helped her boyfriend block the alligator in the bathroom with a patio table, and called the authorities.

I don’t know how long it will take Dunbar to recover from the shock, but she may need a few sleeping pills. The good news is she probably won’t need a laxative for some time.

All kidding aside, though, the writing world is not exempt from surprises. So tell us this week: What surprised you most about writing? Was it the lack of pay? The difficulty in breaking in? The time needed? Or just the awesomeness of feeling the accomplishment of having completed something? We want to hear about it!

BJ Hamrick writes for you and for teens at www.realteenfaith.com.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Big FAD truth of it.

Well, guys, as I'm sure you've heard by now, Blogger had a few technical difficulties last week, so if some of you left comments on Betsy's Wednesday post, there's a good chance they got eaten by cyberspace (including mine! Ha!). So, if you've got conference questions for her, you might want to repost them!

Thanks for all your great feedback about novellas versus novels! It's always fun to hear how different people write. I'm a big time nerd - I find it pretty fascinating that one plot can be written a million times by a million people and somehow it ends up with a million different stories. (Case in point: Beastly. I'm hoping to see the movie version soon!)

I have a confession to make: I really have gotten into couponing. I always tried to be good with coupons and sales and watching different prices, and up until recently I was one of those generic-only shoppers.

Until I came across this thing called "Extreme Couponing". And now, it's a TLC show (which actually scares me because I'm a little worried all these manufacturers are going to stop putting out such high-value coupons!). It's really becoming a fun game and I can see how you can get a little addicted to the thrill of finding a good deal.

So, basically, I'm a cheapskate nerd. :)

Couponing is definitely a hot fad right now. It's amazing to me what kind of fads we can get caught up in as Americans - anyone remember pogs? Beanie Babies? Stirrup pants? (I saw a pair of those in the store a few weeks ago. HEAVEN HELP US.)

Fads don't just exist in the retail world, though. They are very prevalent in writing too. Can I get an "Amen" for the Amish book craze? Ha! :) It seems like we are on a constant whirling path of ins and outs - everyone's writing chick-lit, everyone's writing suspense, everyone's writing 1800's books, everyone's writing Westerns.

I was at a conference a while ago and I sat down to talk with a publisher. The poor lady was slumped over her desk and said weakly, "Please, please, please tell me you write something other than a modern take on Indiana Jones! I've seen five of them this afternoon!"

So. Does that mean fads are a bad thing?

I'm so curious to see what you guys think about this!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Conference excitement!

So who is going to the 2011 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September in St. Louis?

Registration is NOW open at the ACFW website (http://www.acfw.com/) and is the cheapest now that it will be. Prices will go up later and way up at the door. Remember, the sooner you register, the best chance you will have at getting the appointments you want with your agent/editor of choice. The appointments are made on a first come first serve basis.

Trust me, if you're debating on coming this year, please DO IT. Bite the bullet, whip our your wallet, call your dad, start a fundraiser, whatever it takes ;)

I can guarantee you that you will come away from this conference refreshed and renewed and inspired (and probably jet lagged and tired and on info-overload but seriously, in a GOOD way!)

Who here on Scribble Chicks attend conferences regularly that can back me up? I just can't express to you how invaluable this experience is, whether it's your very first conference ever or your 10th. The worship time, the fellowship with other writers who are weird just like you (wink), the depth of knowledge you receive at workshops and late night chat sessions, the networking with editors and agents, the new friends you make, the yummy hotel food and super comfy beds, the chance to pitch your current WIP story to a real live agent or editor in person!! (scary, yes, but SO HELPFUL - trust me, putting faces with names gets you out of the slush pile...!!)

I'm so excited about September, and this is my 6th writer's conference, 5th for ACFW. (I once attended a ClassServices conference in Texas YEARS ago that helped connect me with the ACFW) I wouldn't have missed any of the ACFW conferences if I'd had the choice.

So....Who's with me?????? :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

I had a fab reader write me and ask if I could talk about the differences in writing novels and novellas - yay for great questions!

If you want the basic answer, a novella is just a short novel. :)

BUT. I have been working on my first novella and let me tell you - I think it's a lot harder writing novellas than full-length books! I'm used to having around 80,000 words to develop my plot, figure out who my characters really are and let them play around. It's like being used to the ocean and then being told to stay in the shallow end of a pool.

The biggest difference in writing a novel versus a novella, in my opinion anyway, is learning how to pace the story. When you get down to it, the plot, the characters - those don't change radically from novel to novella. But the ebb and flow of the story changes drastically. In a novel, you usually have a plot that goes something like this:

Beginning - tiny conflict - resolution - minor conflict - resolution - MAJOR conflict - NO resolution - catastrophic conflict - final resolution

In a novella, you're limited to about 15,000 to 20,000 words on average. It would be very quick conflicts if you included each of those plot steps.

Instead, you might have something that looks like this:

Beginning - minor conflict - resolution - MAJOR conflict - final resolution.

Short, simple, but still with some conflict because like I had drummed into my brain at writer's conferences, conflict is what creates a story. (Side note: Conflict does NOT have to mean a car gets blown up, a person gets dismembered or a monster a la Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker has to appear. Conflict can be as simple as your main character's toaster breaking that morning. Granted, if you were Frank or Ted, you'd probably have the toaster explode killing all residents inside. ;) )

Have you ever written a novella? What did you think was the best/worst part about it?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Taking the time to celebrate...

On Scribble Chicks, we often post about the craft of writing, how to handle the fears and insecurities that go with pursuing a writing a career, and the like. We discusses finances and challenges and how to handle bad reviews or harsh critiques or the people who discourage us from our dreams.

But rarely do we just sit back and celebrate being a writer, and that's what I want to do today!

First piece of good news - I finished my YA novel (Addison Blakely - Confessions of a PK, Barbour Books, January 2012) a MONTH before my deadline! YAY!!!!!! Talk about celebrating. This was a big deal to me as you all know how many other responsibilities I've been juggling as of late. Right now, I'm finishing up my final read-through and getting it to my agent to review ASAP. Then we'll turn it in to my editor about 2 weeks before deadline. That was my goal, as I wanted to make a good impression. :) I'm so excited! Then its time to immediately jump into writing my new contract for Love Inspired, a photographer story releasing April 2012 called HER FAMILY WISH.

Second piece of good news - my August 2011 Love Inspired release, FIREMAN DAD, is now up for pre-order on Amazon! I hope some of you will order it now, then be happily surprised when you get your book in the mail in early August after having forgotten you did so. hehe. ;) You can also see the cover on Amazon, which I posted for you below.

What do you think?? :)

Let's celebrate today! Not just me, but you too! What goals have you reached lately? What progess have you made? What block have you pushed past?

We deserve a little feel-good today, I think!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Day The Music Died

Thanks to Veggie Tales, Pandora Toddler Radio Channel, and my uncle butchering the words to the song "Firework" all this last week, I think I would be a very happy camper if music just died.

All of it.

Think about it. I'd never have to sing "Barbara Manatee" during a messy diaper change again, never have to croon "The Wheels on the Bus" over a screaming baby in the car, never have to have the same country song (compliments of my husband) stuck in my head ALL. THE. LIVE. LONG. DAY. ever again.

It would be magical.

And quiet. And maybe, just maybe, I could get some writing done. I could sit down in the silence of nap time and just let the words flow through my fingers without worrying that I'd look down at the screen and see the chorus to "Oh, Where Is My Hairbrush?" written in the dialogue.

B.N. (Before Nathan), I could write all day long. I would wake up, put on some clothes, eat breakfast, start writing, write, write, write, get a sandwich, write, write, write, then have time to work out and take a shower before my husband got home. I'd clear 3000 words in a day and still have had time to do the laundry, make a lasagna and repaint my whole house.

Now, my husband gets home and asks me how my writing went and how much I got done and my answer is usually this: "25 words."


Sometimes, not everything is going to go EXACTLY as it should to lead to the best writing environment out there. Sometimes, you might have to write over the chorus of French Peas singing in your head, might have to shut your eyes to the disaster that is your house and just start pumping out words.

And might I suggest turning on a contemporary station on Pandora Radio?