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Plot, Plot, Plot! It’s All About Plot.

Mistakes

I don’t know about you, but I am a visual learner. Show me once, I got it. For me traditional learning, reading and comprehending, are a challenge.  So I decided to read a popular Indie book to see what it had that mine did not. Trust me, this was not my usual reading material. In fact, first speed-read through, I found I could still blush — frequently.

In that first read I also noted some of the mistakes I had been so solemnly warned about in all my writing classes. Adjectives galore, long drawn out ending, telling instead of showing and big words that I had to look up. So what made this a best seller, outside of the obvious titillating factor of sex?

There was just something that caught my interest, and held it because I had to go on to the sequels to find out just how it was going to end, blushing the entire time of course. I spent a few days working it over in my mind. Finally I saw it. Plot of course. It had those elements we all strive for. It had two people with a huge problem to work through that seemed insurmountable. You wanted them to be together, but could they overcome the huge chasm of differences between them.

It was a plot woven artfully. Forget the vehicle of big words, adjectives or long drawn out ending. It was a good story. Plain and simple. An unusual problem with a dark character who had hidden goodness. A flawed heroine with an innocent heart who worked to pull her hero from the dark. That is what attracted me and prompted a second read through.

I’ve always liked character driven plots. This was character plus. Just as there have been other popular books that have been criticized for poor writing but have been so popular they became movies.  I have found the same formula again and again. No matter how “poorly” written by my instructors standards, they had the most important element, PLOT.

I’m not advocating  pushing aside good grammar and sentence structure, or all the other trappings of a finely written piece.  I still fiercely believe in editing to the max.  But in my journey to understand what makes a good book, this was an eye opener. A given. Without plot, no matter how finely written, you have nothing.  A fancy cart without the horse isn’t going anywhere.

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Birthing a Book

Writers

After having two children, I thought I would never have to suffer the birthing process again, then I wrote a book. Just like producing offspring, the actual conception was fun, interesting and entertaining. During the “pregnancy” I did rewrites, added chapters, rearranged and dreamed of what my offspring would accomplish. Then began the actual birth.

A labor is thought of in three stages. The body readying the muscles, softening tissue for the baby to come down. Then there’s the engagement in the birth canal, and the final stage of pushing. An edit is similar. There is the restructuring of plot and story line. Then the grammar checks and at last, the line edit.

With each editor’s comment, correction, and suggestion, the pains intensify. My poor husband sits by my side patiently listing to each rewrite as I read them aloud. I do this in order to ‘hear’ my mistakes. When he tires of it I call family and friends, until, mysteriously they no longer answer when I call.

Oh the pain! Cutting my favorite tidbits. Rewriting, rewording, reworking chapters. Tightening the theme. Balking then relenting to my editors careful direction. My weary husband holds on, trying to ease my discomfort with food, chocolate and copious amounts of coffee. I hear him whisper on the phone, “No, she’s not there yet,” when people call.

Finally, it’s time to push. At this point I want to give up, quit and never write again. Then in a growl of pain, it’s delivered, much to my exhausted family, friends and husband’s relief.

In the after glow of a job well done, I look with wonder upon the new arrival. In gratefulness I can recognize my editors skill, my family’s support and my husband’s love. And just like that dewy-eyed new mother, who swears she will never do it again, a few years later, I find myself facing another child on the way.

Oh when will I ever learn!

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How Do You Critique Nicely?

ImageThis is one of my favorite Facebook posters, because it is me in so many ways. For years I’ve battled a ferocious temper, instant impatience and lack of empathy. I could be Queen of Road Rage or Superman of Sarcasm. Yet, I try hard to control it so that I can be a beneficial member of society. So when an acquaintance asked if I would read their book and review it on Amazon, I eagerly jumped in to help. I regretted this within the first four paragraphs of their book.

All the beginner’s mistakes times twenty. I profess not to be an editor of any sort. I know my grammar mistakes and plot holes drive my ever-patient Editor to drink, so who am I to rate someone else’s book? Easy, I’m also an avid reader. I instantly know if it’s readable material. 

What captures my interest? Smooth, easy to read writing. Unusual writer’s voice. Different descriptions.  Solid characters. Interesting plot. But most of all, proper sentence structure and grammar. If I have to stop and go back to read something, or ponder over what the author means, you’ve lost me. I don’t care how good the story plot is, I have to be able to read uninterrupted to actually be in the story and escape there. I want no bumps to cast me back out into the real world, thinking, “Huh? What was that?”

I actually get mad. It’s like going to the movies and having someone kick the back of your seat while you are trying to get into the show. I also feel, as an indie author myself, I have to be better than best, so I can compete and look competent  If I’m going to go up against the big boys, I had better have my best game forward. This also helps my fellow indie partners to build a platform of trust with our readers. Instead, a book poorly written, reflects on all of us..

So what should I do? Tell this person off? Point out all of their flagrant, erroneous problems like adjectives in every dialog tag, or POV shifts, or mixing past and present tenses, or the many, many typos? Do I berate them for wasting the money to self-publish and making indies look bad for shoddy work? No, that would only hurt and discourage. I’ve been in this writer’s shoes. How do I gently direct them towards hiring an editor before printing?

I turned to my trusty Editor and she gave the most wonderful advice: “You tell them that there are two aspects to being a writer: craft and talent. You think they have great talent, but they need to work on their craft. Highlight the strong points. Give them good resources that don’t take too much of your time to explain. I think James Scott Bell has a good book on POV, if I remember right, and refer them to a simple grammar book like Grammatically Correct or any of the Grammar Girl books. Someone like that probably won’t hire an editor, but they might invest the time to learn.”  (quote by Chryse Wymer)

Now you know why I think she is the best in the world! An excellent and wise approach and that’s exactly what I decided to do. I don’t know if this author will take the gentle suggestion, but I’m hoping they will. For the sake of their book sales, their readers and all of us indies who are struggling to get a foot in world of publishing. .

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Instant Edit

Windswept Hearts Book Cover
Hindsight is always 20/20 and quite amusing. Though at the time going through it wasn’t so funny!

Gosh I was naive when I wrote my first book! I did all the right things. Made note cards to keep track of characters. Outlined feverishly. Checked plot, made sure it was correct and authentic in all aspects. Interviewed a lawyer, a cattle rancher, a doctor, etc., to get every detail right. Then I took a six month break, came back and edited. I had neighbors, family and friends read it. Took all feedback in a polite, mature fashion. Then I was ready for the editor.

I hired a freelance editor, Chryse Wymer, who I had worked with briefly on another project. I liked her style and knowledge. If she made a correction she pointed out why and gave references to back it. I learned a lot from her and especially liked her respect and patience towards my work.

Just knew she would be amazed at my book. I could hardly wait for her glowing praises, and most importantly, I knew we’d have it done in a month. (I can hear some of you laughing, be nice!) Five months later I was much wiser. Short version – I cried, pouted, re-wrote every chapter, and lost any shred of pride I had left.

In traditional publishing your book goes through several editors. One will check for plot problems, one will do a line edit, another may handle the grammar. Poor Chryse did it all. I swear she is working towards sainthood. Our first run through was just about plot. The story I thought was the best I’d ever written, was simply the caterpillar. Her comments were funny and to the point. When I opened her first page of edits I about fainted. The entire first chapter had to be re-written.

After the plot edit, we started the grammar edit. Won’t even talk about that. All through it she urged, suggested, held my hand, and was spot on. Then came the final edit, the line edit. If I had thought I had seen a lot of red before it was nothing to what I saw now. One morning I remember getting up and ranting at my poor husband that here I was arguing over what imaginary people did or did not do! One chapter beginning I re-wrote in a snit, and it came out to be one of my best! Patiently my editor helped me mold the final product into a wondrous butterfly of a book.

So in humble retrospection, I would like to warn any new author. There is no instant edit. If you want the best work ever, be prepared for a bone-breaking, pride-stomping, difficult and long journey. Take heart, in the end if you do the work, you will have a product comparable to a publishing house production. And an editor who is thankful it will take you another year before you write another book!

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Susan Engle – Horsewoman and Author

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and knowing Susan Engle from the Missouri Fox Trotters Horse Breed Association. A very out-going, gentle, fun loving person, she leaves an instant impression that leaves you smiling. Recently I read her new book and couldn’t wait to share this with everyone.

From her childhood “pony” days, to her eventful re-connection with horses in retirement, Susan Engle has kept her humor and love of fine equines. Fate brought her to become a companion to two young Missouri Fox Trotters. She discovered you are never to old to learn, or ride in her on-going adventures. Meet the author of Susan Fox Trotter – A Seasoned Curvy Cowgirl’s Journey from Ker-Splat! to Riding Bridleless – at any of the links listed below. Enjoy!

Susan FoxTrotter links
Author Page -Read the reviews!
http://www.amazon.com/Susan-Engle/e/B009H9RDGO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Kindle page- read the reviews!

http://www.facebook.com/SusanFoxTrotter Susan FoxTrotter book page
Susan’s Viewpoint – Blog of Current Stories of Life with Susan FoxTrotter

http://mofoxtrot.com/viewpoint/ Susan is riding and dealing with book four right now, Lucky Star. Book two, The Just Right Horse is currently in progress.. Book two is about JR. Read about all Susan’s experiences with her horses from the late 90’s up to the present! The books come from these blogs.

Susan Engle Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/susanfxtrt
For the Horse Facebook page where an active list of horse events with Tony and Jenny Vaught are listed. Susan FoxTrotter is the administrator. Ask to join!

http://www.facebook.com/groups/forthehorse/
Rick Lamb interview with Susan FoxTrotter on 9/22/12- http://www.thehorseshow.com/listen.aspx
Join the SusanFoxtrotter Life!

Amazon.com: Susan Engle: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle
http://www.amazon.com
Visit Amazon.com’s Susan Engle Page and shop for all Susan Engle books and other Susan Engle related products (DVD, CDs, Apparel).

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End of the Journey

Winner-180x180
November 2012 is not a month I will be forgetting anytime soon.

I attempted my first blog tour, Blog Blizzard, with twelve very brave authors. It was a whirlwind of learning. Three weeks into it, my computer decided to crash. This put my tight schedule in quite a turmoil, but we all bounced back and the blog tour continued. As I would arrange, paste and promote each author, I would read about their work and lives. Some were quite entertaining, and yet through it all, I saw a common thread for all of us. We love to write.

A big thank you to the following intrepid experimenters for allowing me to learn while promoting them.
Ann Swann – http://www.annswann.com
Rebekah Roberts – http://www.RebekaRoberts.net
Sara Barnard – http://www.sarabarnadbooks.com
M.J. Kane – http://thiswriterslife-mjkan.blogspot.com
Mylnda Price – http://www.melyndaprice.com
M.O. Kenyan – http://www.mokauthor.wordpress.com
Hillary Seidl – http://www.hillaryseidl.com/
Erika M Szabo – http://www.doktorszaboerika.com
Christina Ow – christinaow.wordpress.com
Carmen DeSousa – http://www.carmendesousa.com/
Doug Simpson – http://dousimp.masi.net
Bernadette Marie – http://www.bernadettemarie.com

Of course, while doing this I also took on the National Novel Writers Month challenge of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. I must say, I thought it would be a peice of cake. Oh, what a fool I was! Yet, again, it turned out to be a tremendous learning experience. I humbly thank my family who put up with all of my craziness during the month of November. Without them I would have never attained what seemed at times the impossible goal of 50,000 words in an understandable format.

So as I get ready to Deck the Halls, and celebrate Christmas, this month seems tame and peaceful after last months whirlwind of endeavor. Thank you to all of you that have stopped in and visited my blog and guests this last month. You are appreciated as well.

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Blog Blizzard presnet Ann Swann – Author

To Write or Not to Write?

C’mon . . . is there ever a question?  Everyone who wants to write should write.  We know that.  So why is it we sometimes do everything in our power to not write?

Example:  “Good morning!”  I’m speaking to my dogs Bonnie and Rocky, and the Supreme Ruler, Maggie, the cat.   They summarily lick my hand; bump the back of my bare knees in my So-Many-Books-So-Little-Time nightshirt, or totally ignore me and sit by the door waiting to be let out into the morning sun.

I head for my biggest vice, the iMac, wiggle the mouse, click on email, let the cat out, and stumble toward the Mr. Coffee while one hundred sixty-two emails load up.  “My,” I say to the assembled doggie crowd.  “It’s only eight a.m.  Someone’s been busy!”  I belong to several online writer’s groups (and a couple of real-life groups) so I always have a ton of emails . . . makes me feel special even though most of them are simply buy-my-book promos from other authors.

Tossing the dogs a peanut butter flavored doggie biscuit, I pop a tart into the toaster and swallow a vitamin capsule with an old Flintstones jelly glass half-full of with-pulp OJ.  Yum!  Okay, that’s my nod to nutrition.

Nibbling my tart, I scan the headlines of my paper-newspaper (yes, I’m a throwback, I can’t say no when they call me each year to renew, even though it’s gotten so thin the carrier has to roll it with a super-fat rubber band to give it a little heft and keep it from blowing right out of the driveway when he speeds away).  Next, I work the daily Jumble, ink smiley faces beside the easy words, frownies beside the hard ones, and then leave it open for my handsome hubby, Dude, to look at tonight when he gets home from work.

By this time it’s 8:30, maybe 8:45 if there was actually something interesting in the paper or if I stopped midway to play my turn in one of the dozen games of Words with Friends on my iPhone, so I take my second cup of coffee back to my desk and settle in to write.  Except the Supreme Ruler is looking in the window at me with that exasperated you-have-one-second-to-get-that-door-open-before-I-release-all-the-wrath-of-Cat-upon-your-head look.

I let her in and then she has to have a dollop of cream in her special ramekin, which has to be carried to her bathroom and placed upon the counter out of reach of the scrounging horde of dogs—all two of them.  I tried placing it on the kitchen counter one time, which would have been much quicker and easier and still out of reach of the horde, but Her Royalness didn’t go for that, thank goodness, because what was I thinking putting her on the same surface where I lay my Poptart each morning?  Ewww!  She walks around in her own poop for crying out loud.

At last, I sit down in front of the Mac and get to those emails.  About 70% are simply click and delete (I’ve seen them all before), but the rest are personal and actually require a reply or at least a closer look.

It’s now 9:30 closing in on 10:00, and I still have to check the blog, Twitter, Triberr, Goodreads, and my Facebook author groups that post ads for me and vice versa.  I love these groups.  All those lovely book covers, and book trailers . . . it’s easy to get lost in that indie forest.

Around noon I wander back to the kitchen for a diet Coke, a handful of Wheat Thins coated with cream cheese and jalapeno slices, and take the snack out back to the patio just to stretch my legs and the muscles in my lower back—I’ve been sitting at the computer for over two hours and haven’t written a single word except for emails, blogs, and tweets.

The weather is so lovely I think about how nice it would be to have a sleeping porch so I could take a nap without the help of those pesky mosquitoes and horseflies.  But how could I be sleepy?  I haven’t actually done anything!  Which reminds me, I really need to get dressed and brush my teeth.

It’s almost 2:00 by the time I finish my snack, play a few more WWFs on the iPhone, do a bit of lackadaisical grooming, slip on a pair of old capris and a cotton shirt, and head back to the computer.  Now, what to write?  I studiously ignore the 43 new emails that have come in since before lunch, and I don’t even think about looking at Facebook, okay, maybe just a peek to see if my daughter has posted any new pics of the grandkids.  No, no that can wait . . . must write!

I pull up my Work in Progress, a romantic suspense called Stutter Creek, hit Option-Command G to go to the proper page and . . . oh, yes, here we go, I was working on the scene where the serial killer is closing in on our protagonist.  Need to make it scarier . . .

Chewing the end of a Sonic straw to help me concentrate—I gave up smoking twenty years ago—I let my mind wander into the scene . . . but those darn little email numbers keep popping up so I do what I always do to help my mind focus, I get up and do some housework.  Sweeping and mopping are always good, rhythmic chores that seem to release my grip on reality, and I love the fact that I am actually doing something constructive while I construct the scene.

It works!  While the floor dries, I dash back to the computer and slash at the keys in a frenzy to get the creepiness down on “paper” before it melts away.

And now it’s six o’clock and time for the Dude to get home.  Where has the time gone?  I stand up and rub at the small of my back, amazed that five pages of fairly good material have materialized in front of me.

Wow.  Not bad for a couple hours work.  Just imagine if I’d actually started writing at 8:00 this morning.  I could’ve had the book finished like, yesterday!

Website: www.annswann.com

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