Monday, October 29, 2012

In face of the oncoming storm

Reading material. I have Margo Berendsen to thank for a
couple of these suggestions.
We have all our preparations down to a science now. This will be the third heavy, power-loss-inducing storm to have hit us in two years, and the one with the most warning. Our list of supplies: coffee, pre-ground with no-refrigeration-necessary creamer; water, to drink and in the bathtub for flushing purposes; alternative light sources, matches/candles and battery powered lanterns; emergency radio for, you know, emergencies; blankets and reading material (see photo).

We decided to try to act normal while waiting for this newest weather threat to pummel us within an inch of our lives. I keep hoping the predictions are all worst-case-scenarios and that we're actually going to be completely fine. Denial much? Sigh...

Normal for us is pretty subdued anyhow. But with Halloween right around the corner, it was pumpkin carving time. We broke out the unconventional tools (a wood carving set and a seam-ripper were the most useful implements) and spent the evening whittling away.

If you've read this blog much over the past year, you might have picked up on the fact that I'm a Doctor Who fan. So this year's pumpkins have a theme from one of my favorite episodes: Blink (season 3, ep. 11).**

Doctor #10... my second favorite Doctor, but there are a
lacking of #9 stencils out there, sadly.

Noah's completely terrifying rendition of a weeping angel

The two together on the porch.

I would have taken a better picture of the two of them but it was late, it was chilly, and there may or may not have been a horrifyingly huge spider sighted in that general vicinity earlier in the evening. I was nervous!

I hope you all have a happy Halloween! And here's hoping that the storm decides to be kind. Please no prolonged power outages!

**Every minute spent carving was one LESS minute spent obsessing over the weather channel and the path of this ridiculously slow and threatening behemoth of a storm.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Preparing for the on-coming storm

First! Audible books and Neil Gaiman have partnered together to produce a free scary audio book. You should go download it for two reasons. #1) it's Neil Gaiman! He's amazing. #2) For every download of this FREE audio book, Audible will donate $1 to educational charities at This whole event is in honor of All Hallow's Read... a new tradition NG started of giving scary (but not too scary) books to kids for Halloween. (Didn't I say he's amazing?)

Now... It seems to be a new tradition for this area of the country to get pounded by a huge storm on or around Halloween. When you add the frenzy of preparing for NaNo to the frenzy of preparing for an actual (possible) storm... life can feel a little more than hectic.

Last year, a crazy freak snowstorm hit on Halloween.
All the heavy wet snow on the trees last year

Our power was out for a week. I started my NaNo novel that year by hand in notebooks... and then I resolved to complete it that way, but I lost my resolve somewhere close to the end... I was already spending time re-writing/typing the handwritten stuff into the computer to help me visualize my word count... it was too much!

This year it looks like I may have to start out by hand again! I'm going to hope not. Good ol' hurricane Sandy is threatening, though... and it looks like whatever comes our way it's gonna be a whopper! **scrambles around for candles and that hand-crank radio**

I haven't prepared a whole lot in recent days for NaNo. I did some initial prep-work in August, mapping out scenes and briefly sketching characters. I'm afraid if I do too much I'll mess with the magic. Part of the fun for me is the not knowing. But, that said, I need to have a clear idea of where I'm going with it this year. The first half of November and a trip to California are threatening to provide some serious distraction.

How do you psych yourself up for NaNo?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updates and rainy days

Today I'm cross posted over at CT Chapter - EFA, a blog run by the Connecticut chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association. My recent post on beats in dialogue is the newest post up there, which you've probably all read. I encourage you to check out the blog, though! There are some great posts from some talented people.

In daily life, fall continues to soldier on here in the Northeast. The days are chillier and darker. The cygnets have all gone, but one. I'm not sure what he's waiting for. Soon the great white winter will be upon us.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Something Else Important About Beats in Dialogue

A few months ago I wrote this post about dialogue tags. I have heard (and read) so many different opinions since then re: dialogue beats and tags, their usage, and what makes a good scene. I felt like it was time to ponder the subject again.

The general feeling is that if dialogue in a scene needs the tags, it's poorly written; that writers should aim for conveying emotion through the characters' words instead of spoon-feeding it to the readers in the narration. It is the mark of an insecure writer that he feels the need to give you information that should have been conveyed in the dialogue, to make sure the reader understands that his characters are emoting or what the scene is supposed to reveal. Trust the reader to figure out what the dialogue "means". And after having a couple of critique partners review it, if they point out that a run of dialogue really is too obscure, then take the time to re-write. Beats are easy to add where they are needed. It's harder to extract them, I find.

In the book "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and David King, the authors suggest:
"It's best to replace only a few of your speaker attributions with beats. A beat after every line of dialogue is even more distracting than too many speaker attributions. What you want is a comfortable balance."
I tend to agree with that sentiment. Too many tags or beats in a run of dialogue can throw off the momentum of the scene so much that the readers forget what the characters are talking about by the end of the page!

I don't think that all beats and tags are bad. I do think a writer needs to choose her beats wisely and make the most of them. First she needs to understand the anatomy of the scene she is writing: What are the key emotions at play here? How fast is the exchange between characters supposed to feel? What else is going on in the scene? and Which actions are important to the development of the scene?

And now, because examples in real life are always fun, I'm going to borrow from J.K. Rowling to illustrate my point. What I love about Rowling is that she's not perfect. But her characters emotions are perfectly conveyed.

Excerpt from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban":
"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" Hermione screamed.
Lupin let go of Black and turned to her. She raised herself off the floor and was pointing at Lupin, wild-eyed. "You-- you--"
"--you and him!"
"Hermione, calm down--"
"I didn't tell anyone!" Hermione shrieked. "I've been covering up for you--"
"Hermione, listen to me, please!" Lupin shouted. "I can explain--"
Harry could feel himself shaking, not with fear, but with a fresh wave of fury.
"I trusted you," he shouted at Lupin, his voice wavering out of control, "and all the time you've been his friend!"
"You're wrong," said Lupin. "I haven't been Sirius's friend, but I am now--Let me explain..."
"NO!" Hermione screamed. "Harry, don't trust him, he's been helping Black get into the castle, he wants you dead too--he's a werewolf!"

Excerpt from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix":
"There is no shame in what you are feeling, Harry," said Dumbledore's voice. "On the contrary... the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength."
Harry felt the white-hot anger lick his insides, blazing in the terrible emptiness, filling him with the desire to hurt Dumbledore for his calmness and his empty words.
"My greatest strength, is it?" said Harry, his voice shaking as he stared out at the Quidditch stadium, no longer seeing it. "You haven't got a clue... You don't know..."
"What don't I know?" asked Dumbledore calmly.
It was too much. Harry turned around, shaking with rage.
"I don't want to talk about how I feel, all right?"
"Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human--"
"THEN--I--DON'T--WANT--TO--BE--HUMAN!" Harry roared, and he seized one of the delicate silver instruments from the spindle-legged table beside him and flung it across the room. It shattered into a hundred tiny pieces against the wall. Several of the pictures let out yells of anger and fright, and the portrait of Armando Dippet said, "Really!"
"I DON'T CARE!" Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. "I'VE HAD ENOUGH, I'VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON'T CARE ANYMORE--"
He seized the table on which the silver instrument had stood and threw that too. It broke apart on the floor and the legs rolled in different directions.
"You do care," said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. "You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it."

These two scenes illustrate very different emotions. Characters in both scenes do a lot of yelling, but the timing of the dialogue is the key to the emotions in each scene. In the Prisoner of Azkaban scene, the urgency of the scene is conveyed by quick back-and-forth dialogue. If you remember the same scene in the movie, there are a lot of actions that the characters take (i.e. looking to and from one another; Hermione steps in front of Harry to shield him from Sirius and Lupin; Lupin reaches out to implore Hermione to listen). None of those actions are portrayed in the dialogue, because to add them, while giving you a physically more accurate description, would take away from the momentum of the scene. The readers can just as easily imagine the action as they read the dialogue.

In the second scene, from the Order of the Phoenix, the dialogue progresses much more slowly. The emotion  in this scene does not come from a rapid-fire exchange (although Harry does do a fair bit of shouting), but from Dumbledore's slow and calculated responses. The deep feelings of regret and care for Harry that Dumbledore expresses come to light through his patience in allowing Harry the space to explore his own emotions. The pace of the dialogue allows much more room for beats of character action (all taken by Harry, a detail that is also telling...). But more than that, each beat has a purpose, shows the emotion rather than telling it (more often than not).

As a writer, understanding what your characters are going through and how they would respond to one another in a scene can mean the difference between capturing the readers' hearts and getting lost in the details. The right beats in the right places give meaning to the words spoken and emotions felt by your characters, allowing the reader to peek through the windows in their souls.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNo 2012 is coming!

That count-down clock to the right is starting to make me nervous! And I'm the one that put it there :) NaNoWriMo is at hand! I am, I'd like to think, prepared this year. A first for me. I have a notebook of character sketches and scene summaries that I've been accumulating over the past month or so.

In the past I have just had a vague idea to carry me... even the first year when I was finishing a novel I had started in high school... You'd think I would have had enough time to sculpt that idea, but nope. I'd been hiding it under my bed for 15 years. Sigh.

Part of me is a little bit nervous that all this planning is going to steal the magic out of my experience... and part of me wonders if I'll stick to the plan at all. That's what I love about NaNo, though. Anything can happen, and does happen!

I don't know if you need motivational tools to keep you on track with your word count, but Write or Die is my very favorite one to keep me from procrastinating. I highly recommend!

What about you? Pantsing or Plotting? What are your secret weapons for pulling off your word count daily? Any special tips?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"In My Mind"

Today's theme song... I keep playing it over and over again. Sigh... love. Lyrics below:

"In My Mind"
(feat. Brian Viglione)

In my mind
In a future five years from now
I'm one hundred and twenty pounds
And I never get hung over
Because I will be the picture of discipline
Never minding what state I'm in
And I will be someone I admire
And it's funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened
Maybe I've just forgotten how to see
That I am not exactly the person that I thought I'd be

And in my mind
In the faraway here and now
I've become in control somehow
And I never lose my wallet
Because I will be the picture of of discipline
Never fucking up anything
And I'll be a good defensive driver
And it's funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened
Maybe I've just forgotten how to see
That I'll never be the person that I thought I'd be

And in my mind
When I'm old I am beautiful
Planting tulips and vegetables
Which I will mindfully watch over
Not like me now
I'm so busy with everything
That I don't look at anything
But I'm sure I'll look when I am older
And it's funny how I imagined
That I could be that person now
But that's not what I want
But that's what I wanted
And I'd be giving up somehow
How strange to see
That I don't wanna be the person that I want to be

And in my mind
I imagine so many things
Things that aren't really happening
And when they put me in the ground
I'll start pounding the lid
Saying I haven't finished yet
I still have a tattoo to get
That says I'm living in the moment
And it's funny how I imagined
That I could win this, win this fight
But maybe it isn't all that funny
That I've been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it's funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it's funniest of all
To think I'll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be

Fuck yes
I am exactly the person that I want to be

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Here is a useful list of words that editors and writers need to know. This list comes directly from The Copyeditor's Handbook, the textbook for the copyediting certificate program I'm enrolled in on-line. (It makes me self-conscious, so many rules! But hopefully it will make me a better writer and editor).

Commonly confused homophones. (def: homophones are words that  are pronounced identically or quite similarly but that are spelled differently. e.g. to, two, too; there, their; etc.)
accept - except
adverse - averse
affect - effect
allusive - elusive - illusive
ascent - assent
baited - bated
bazaar - bizarre
canvas - canvass
capital - capitol
censure - censor - sensor
complement - compliment
disc - disk
discreet - discrete
eminent - immanent - imminent
ensure - insure
gorilla - guerrilla
grisly - grizzly
hoard - horde
incidence - incidents
mantle - mantel
palate - palette - pallet
rack - wrack
review - revue
troop - troupe
undo - undue

The differences between the definitions of these words are often as subtle as the difference in spelling or sound. Sometimes, though, the meanings are wildly different, and getting them mixed up can cause a lot of confusion!

What other homophones do you know? Take a few minutes and look up and learn the definitions of each of these words... the more you know, the better you'll be at your craft!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do what you love

I spent the day editing today. I can't even tell you how good that feels. It's someone else's manuscript, of course. But oh, the absolute joy to be working on something that I enjoy and for someone who values my input and advice.

Seriously, y'all. If you can find a way to make a living doing what you love, do it! Let me rephrase. Find a way to do what you love for a living. It's worth scraping by for this. I promise.

I'm off to help N figure out what he loves to do now.

Acadia last month

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

IWSG! To be or not to be...

Hi everyone! It's the first Wednesday in October. That means it's time for Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by ninja captain, Alex Cavanaugh. Anyone can join, so hop on over to the IWSG page and sign up!

This week I wanted to talk a bit more about self-doubt. It's at the root of the majority of insecurities we writers feel. At least, I think it is. :)

Recently, I've been shooting for boldness and calling myself a writer, an editor, an artist in public. (I know, egads!) And people believe me! Which... is what I want for them to do. Because it's true! But... it's been a little disconcerting... not hiding it anymore.

I always kept it to myself, this writing, editing, and art, because I never felt like those identities were true about myself even though I write, edit, and create art daily. I still have this self-talk that says "You're a hack and no one will ever believe you can do what you say you can do." But... I'm choosing not to believe that voice anymore.

It is thrilling, finally allowing myself to believe in me. I find that I'm a lot less blocked creatively. I'm taking more personal risks, enjoying myself more, having more productive days. Still... it leaves me feeling a little insecure these days... Ironic when confidence makes you insecure, eh? I take it a day at a time. I'm not sure what I'll do when I run up against failure again. Hopefully I will not crumple as quickly this time.

I think this IWSG has been a big contributor in raising my confidence in myself. So... thank you, everyone! I'm sure I'll be back here next month with a black cloud of doubt again.

Does anyone else have any trouble with identity this way?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Good Morning, October! When did YOU get here?

It's OCTOBER! That means Halloween is coming! And so is NaNo! *scrambles around for that one notebook with all her novel notes for this year....*

To be perfectly honest, I'm a "pantser" when it comes to NaNo (that's National Novel Writing Month, in case you didn't know. The whole month of November is a creative party! 50,000 words in 30 days! Check it out!). By "panster" I mean I just hop in with no plan, just a vague idea and the motivation to create something. It's actually how I approach MOST of life, come to think of it. Ha... well, there you go... that explains a lot.

Anyhow! This year, I'm going to be visiting my super awesome friends in CA (and staying with amazing awesome Leslie) during the first 14 days of NaNo! Eeek! There's no way I can pants it this year if I want to make the goal. I'm going to have to be a PLANNER! *shudders in fear and chagrin at the thought*

Luckily, I have an idea already! Woot! Having an idea is half the battle right there. What's better is that I've already started note taking... dare I say it... outlining (!!) even. My goal is to have the whole story mapped out by October 31, to not forget my laptop when I get on the plane on November 2, and to get up and write every morning at Leslie's, just like I would if I'm at home... only with more dedication to knocking out words quickly because I wanna hang out with her, too, and not spend all day staring at the computer screen. Write or Die should help with that.

It's ambitious and I'm not sure if it will work out at all, but that's the plan so far... here's hoping! I can't NOT do it this year, though. I like the idea too much :)

Anyone else out there taking the NaNo challenge this year? To be honest, I can use all the support I can get, but I give support equally! Lemme know and sign up, sign up, sign up! Then make me your NaNo buddy! My handle is (of course) fairbetty!

Ok, now here's some random art that I've done in the past couple of weeks... just for fun :)
A new raven :)

Dream Girl with stars in her eyes
Doctor Who fan art