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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: craft, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 352
26. Nomad Soul :)

 Hola amigos!

I've been a long time silent; I apologise.  Since my last post in June(ish) I've been happily homeless in a non-serious-honestly-I'm-not-going-to-die way, & mainly doing Epic Shit.  At the moment I'm being an au pair in Somerset, but in the next few weeks I'll be moving again, either Devon to live with some donkeys, or to Bath to work in a youth hostel.  I'm putting together a project that should pull all my chaos together but for the moment I'm working on illio work as a nomad soul, which is very liberating.  Still open for business, just you never know what you'll hear in the background when you give me a call ;D

Here are a few bits & bobs I've been playing with since I left anyway.  Being around kids makes drawing them much easier.

Oh, this is Prolombious, I made him with an eight year old & a lot of scrap wool.  He's a magical wooly mammoth who happens to be an excellent singer, but trips over his very long trunk a lot.  This unfortunately damages his singing ability a little, so we're trying to figure out a better long-term solution for this than just tying a bow in the end of his nose.

:) xxx

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27. Mended Patchwork

Stained Patchwork

My first instinct, when I saw these stains, was to freak. No, I knew it wasn’t blood. But markers are NOT allowed in bedrooms in our house! Especially not in bedrooms furnished with handmade patchworks! Especially not with mystery markers that may not be washable!

When I calmed down, I thought about my options. I could try to get the stains out, but with the mystery markers, there’s no telling what would happen. I saw visions of a splotchy pink stain covering half the duvet.

I finally decided to cut them out and replace them with appliques.

Mended Patchwork

I like the results. I’ve been interested lately in mending that’s meant to be attractive, not invisible. Annekata has done several posts about beautiful mending, like this one. There’s a word in Japanese (wabi sabi) for the imperfect beauty of objects with a history. You’ll get the idea from this wabi sabi Pinterest page. It’s full of the most beautiful mending you’ve ever seen. I love to watch fibers age and weather.

For more of my patchwork projects, including more pics of this one, click here.

I’ve been working on a new dress. So far, so good, if I can just master the zipper. Crossing fingers.

Still reading Quiet and also This One is Mine by Maria Semple. Looking forward to the Austenland movie next month!

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28. Summer Journal: Shadow Puppet Theater

Shadow Puppet Theater

My kids created this after seeing something similar on the ending of an episode of Curious George. See, TV isn’t all bad. The theater is basically a box with one side cut out and covered over with a sheet of white paper.

Shadow Puppets

The other shape with the cat (above) is an airplane. Of course.

Shadow PuppetsThey used chopstick pieces as holders. I’m loving the cardboard factory that is our dining room right now. Each package that enters the house is eyed as building material.

Our five-year-old wants to make a ball (sphere) of cardboard. Hmmmm……which gives me an idea…..

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29. Child’s Linen Shorts

Boy's Linen Shorts

I had enough leftover fabric from this dress to make something kid-sized, and my boy said he’d be up for some new shorts. So many store-bought kids’ shorts seem thick and bunchy at the waist, so I thought I’d make him some that looked sharp but felt light and comfy.

I used Made by Rae’s free basic pant pattern, which I also used to make these. I gather the pattern is no longer available in that format. Rae does, however, have a new graded pants pattern (Parsley Pants) for sale. It looks to be similar, with maybe more bells and whistles and definitely way more sizes. I have to say she does an awesome job of explaining and tutorializing, so I’m sure you’d be happy with her pattern. The original was a perfect beginner project.

For the shorts, I followed the directions for flat-front shorts with front and back pockets. It was really so easy. The pockets were lots of fun (no, seriously, I mean that), and in the last photo you can see the lining, made out of a thrifted men’s shirt. Oops, I see threads that need trimming.

Red Linen Shorts

Oops again, I didn’t adjust the sizing enough. Rae’s original pattern was for 3T, and I was making them for an almost-six-year-old, so, I should’ve known better. Oh well, no harm done. I added side panels.

Linen Shorts

Voila! Now they fit. They must be comfy, because he wore them to play tennis the other day. I do love linen.

For more of my sewing projects, click here.

P.S. Currently reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Fascinating.


2 Comments on Child’s Linen Shorts, last added: 7/24/2013
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30. Going Dark

I read two very dark stories in the same week. They were different genres: dystopian YA versus contemporary mystery. Both featured damaged protagonists. One kept me glued to the page. The other found me skimming to see how it ended without engaging me along the way.

The first was Julianna Baggott’s Pure. The dystopian setting is depressingly bleak. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people have been fused to objects. Her world-building through choice of details made the story interesting and kept me reading. I can’t say I enjoyed it. It was tragic all the way through with no happy moments. The third person omniscient narrator traveled between co-protagonists, Pressia and Partridge, at a remove. The verbal camera also encompassed secondary characters that never fully came to life. They served as pawns to move the story forward. I never really felt a connection to the main characters, though I felt sympathy for their plight. None of the information reveals about how the story world developed were surprising. The terrible choice the heroine made at the end was treated almost clinically. I didn’t sense the anguish she should have felt. The ending was left open for a sequel.

Writers interested in learning more about world-building and unique vision should read Pure.

The second book was Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Her rich, narrative voice made the story fascinating to read. The protagonist is a child damaged by the murder of her family (allegedly by her brother). She was sympathetic yet tragic. I could appreciate why she turned out the way she did: a thief, a liar, a user. The story’s theme about exploiting the murder of others is strong. Flynn addressed the way survivors are cast into the spotlight and quickly forgotten and the macabre people who fixate on murders. The question of whether her brother committed the murders or not kept me turning pages to get to the truth. Four credible suspects were presented. The verbal camera moved between brother Ben, via third-person close up, the mother Patty via third person close up, the protagonist Libby via first person. In the end, the mystery was solved. I didn’t like the alternative last minute fifth suspect. There is one weird deviation to his POV at the end which didn’t add anything for me.

Writers interested in captivating narrative voice and page-turning, effective information reveals should read Dark Places.

You can learn as much from what you disliked about books as what you loved about them. Read both.

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31. Self-Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Tada! I finally worked up the nerve to finish this dress, after lots of fear over working with silk. It’s got plenty of flaws (ahem, wonky tonky hem), but I’ve gone ahead and declared it wearable because…I like it anyway. After all that work, I’m not resigning it to the closet.

The silk (crepe?) was gifted to me by a friend who was moving. The original color, blue-grey, was a bit too pale for me, so I overdyed it (click here for before and after). That was over a year ago!

I cut the pattern out way too big, I think overcompensating for fit issues in my first Anda, which was a wee bit snug in the booty. So then I had to cut the silk version down, but  when I finished, the sleeves stuck out in the oddest, ugliest way. I’ve since learned how to use bias tape better—-that might’ve been the problem. Great bias tape tutorial here at Collette Patterns.

I cut off the sleeves and used the bias tape as a facing, which worked much better.

Silk Anda Dress

I’ve worked on the hem some since these pictures were taken, and I will keep tweaking, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to be just so. I’m okay with that. I found another tutorial at Collette Patterns about rolled hems, but it’s too late to re-do this one completely.

I have to say, working with silk really is tricky, but I think I learned a few things, and I’d try it again. If you’re sewing with silk, another helpful resource is Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch. She offers helpful silk sewing tips here. Now I need a tutorial on ironing silk. I swear, I did iron it before these photos were taken.

Pattern: Burda Anda, with modifications

Sandals: gift from my friend (via Vietnam via Texas via Germany)

Necklace: a gift from my in-laws.

Photographers: my kids (5 and 9) Didn’t they do a great job? My primary photographer was, um, watching golf and could not be disturbed.

For more of my sewing, check out this link. This was my third Anda, the second being a linen colorblock one. I’m sure I’ll make more Andas, but I think it’s about time for me to move on to something else.

Have a great weekend! And oh, if you’re into Instagram, I’m finally actually using it, so you can find me there at emilysmithpearce. I’d love to see you there.

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32. Do the stories find us, or do we make the stories?

A recent RadioLab podcast about improv got me thinking about where stories come from.

The two comedians featured in the podcast, TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, have a show that I'd call extreme improv. Most improv shows start with the audience shouting out elements of the improv, and the comedians riff from there. Like, "there's a hippo in the room!" or "you're at the beach!". But TJ and Dave start from nothing, every single show. They stand on the stage and just stare at each other. Finally one says something, anything, random. And they take it from there. Every show is different. When they walk out on stage, they have no idea what they'll do or say that night. 

Shoot, isn't that just like writing a novel? The only difference is that you don't have anybody to stare at and create with. It's just you, and the laptop, and the void. When you first sit down, you don't know what you'll write. Sure you might have an outline. But really? You can't predict what's going to flow out of your fingers. 

A lot of pressure, right? The interviewer asked TJ and Dave, "why aren't you afraid you will look for this story... and nothing will occur?". They laughed, and one admitted, "Is that a constant fear? Yes. Absolutely."

But they have a fantastic way of dealing with that fear, one that I think every writer should try. They tell themselves the story they're telling is already out there. "It's already happening," one of them said. "It's not our job to make it." They imagine that right before they begin, the stage is filled with characters. The lights come up and one story is frozen on stage. That's the one they'll tell.

Isn't that enchanting? 

"To think of the show as it's already set and all I have to do is stay out of the way takes a huge pressure off," they said. "I'm along for this excellent ride."

That also made me think of another Radio Lab podcast ("Me, Myself and Muse"). Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of EAT PRAY LOVE, talked about ideas looking for a home. If you ignore them, they might go somewhere else. 

She's really saying the same thing. Artists don't make the story. It's already out there. So our job is actually to capture the story, claim it, and get it down on paper or on the stage.

I love this idea, particularly as I'm working in my 40-days-of-wandering mode. So I'm off with my butterfly net and laptop. If I'm lucky, I'll catch myself a really good story. 

Here are both RadioLab episodes, if you'd like to listen to them from this blog entry:

Radiolab Presents: TJ&Dave:

Me, Myself and Muse:

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33. Monday Muse: The Sea Otter Classic––Redefine your limits


This Monday I’m inspired by the Sea Otter Classic bicycle races I went to over the weekend at Laguna Seca. There’s a motto FOX, a bicycle shock manufacturer, has––Redefine your limits it’s a fabulous way to start this week. Thinking about what’s beyond our limits. It’s something I like to write about. My characters try to redefine their limits. But, it’s not something I’ve really thought about lately in terms of myself.

What’s beyond your limits?

All of the riders were an inspiration, especially my daughter’s boyfriend, an enduro bike racer. The racers’ dedication and love of the sport is a joy. It’s fun to think about what lies beyond the things I think I can handle. That there might be something more I might try. Something more difficult than I ever thought I could ever pull off. I’m going to redefine my limits this week. I need the extra encouragement to meet deadlines, for sure. But creatively I think I’ll adjust my writing shocks so that I can navigate some steeper, gnarlier trails than I’m used to. Take more risks and thrill in the zesty downhill ride.

What’ a limit you want to redefine?

What I’m listening to as I edit this morning: Could I’ve been so blind by The Black Crowes


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34. Opening and Closing Lines

Opening lines are difficult to craft well. That’s why they should usually be left until the revision layers. Why, you ask? Because you could spend a year of Sundays trying to craft the perfect sentence instead of writing the rest of the manuscript.

Opening sentences are crucial in Chapter One. They give your reader a taste of what is to come. They are worthwhile in the rest of your chapters if you are willing to invest the time. A good opening sentence raises a question or poses a challenge the reader can’t walk away from.

Closing sentences are equally important. They are what keep your readers turning the page to read one more chapter, then another and another until they reach the end. The final chapter’s final line should stick with your reader, offering them one last finger lick of deliciousness to polish off the fiction plate. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples from books on my To Be Read pile. Which would you read first?

The Devil’s Bones, Larry D. Sweazy 

Opening Line: “Tito Cordova sat on the porch steps, staring at the barren tomato field and empty migrant shacks across the road. Everyone had left for Florida, or Mexico, to spend the winter. He hugged his knees to his chest, trying to keep warm.” 

Closing line: “Welcome home, Tito. Welcome home.” 

We start with Tito; we end with Tito. The story comes full circle.

Never Tell, Alafair Burke 

Opening Line: “It has been twenty years, but at three-fourteen this morning I screamed in my sleep. I probably would not have known I had screamed were it not for the nudge from my husband — my patient, sleep-starved husband, who suspects but can never really know the reasons for his wife’s night terrors, because his wife has never truly explained them.” 

Closing Line: “George had said not all questions needed to be answered, but maybe some questions didn’t need to be asked. Maybe she was still getting to know herself after all.” 

We begin with an unanswered question and end with the thematic statement that not all questions should be asked.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn 

Opening Line: I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.

Closing Line: I didn’t want to meet him, and I didn’t want to introduce myself. I just wanted to be some woman, heading back home to Over There That Way.

We begin with a ghoulish description. The ending sentence probably makes sense once you've read the book. It would have worked better for me if it had also been suitably ghoulish. However, both lines are in the main character's unique voice.

The Sounds of Broken Glass, Deborah Crombie 

Opening Line: He sat on the steps of the house in Woodland Road, counting the bank notes he’d stored in the biscuit tin, all that was left of his mum’s wages. Frowning, he counted again. Ten pounds short. Oh, bloody hell. She’d found the new stash and pilfered it again.

Closing Line: He felt as if he were sleepwalking. Slowly he picked up the envelope, lifted the unsealed flap, and eased out a single sheet of paper. It was a letter of transfer. And his chief superintendent had signed it.

This book begins with backstory and ends with a line offering a view into the main character's future. The last line works better for me than the first, though the first line hints at a problem.

The Other Woman, Hank Phillippi Ryan 

Opening Line: “Get that light out of my face! And get behind the tape. All of you. Now.'"Detective Jake Brogan pointed his own flashlight at the pack of reporters, its cold glow highlighting one news-greedy face after another in the October darkness.

Closing Line: Jane smiled as she picked up her tote bag. I have a story to cover. “They obviously made a mistake.” 

The opening and closing lines are uttered by different characters but reference the eagerness of reporters.

Read through your completed manuscript. Write down the first and last lines of each chapter. Are they intriguing? Can you make them stronger?

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35. Why retreats matter

at Kindling Words West 2011On Sunday I'll be flying to New Mexico for the Kindling Words West retreat. I can't wait.

Retreats have always been an important part of my writing. When I lived in Florida, I went on a few with writing friends--to the beach and to a cabin in the woods. My critique partner and I have had our own cabin and house retreats, too. And then there is Kindling Words, which I can't recommend highly enough. 

I like retreats for a few reasons. The first is that I typically get a ton of work done. I revised an entire draft of DROUGHT at Kindling Words West, one year. But even more important is the chance to talk about craft and life and creativity with other writers. We are so often stuck in our own little holes, without face-to-face contact with other people who are the same flavor of crazy. Social media helps, but you can't beat sitting down to dinner with four other authors. We don't always "talk shop"--we might talk about someone's chickens, or our favorite television shows, or the best places to hike. But there is always an undercurrent of understanding and belonging. At retreats, I get to hang with my tribe. That nourishes me.

Retreats also give me the chance to be entirely my creative self. I don't have to wear my work hat, or my mommy hat (thought I miss my kid tremendously), or worry about any other Grownup Necessity. I can play. I can be the same core self I've been since I was five or six. Sometimes I forget that girl is in there. 

But a retreat always brings her back. 

I'll be sure to post a retreat report upon my return.


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36. Pass the Parcel and Polymer Bead Party Favors

Polymer Clay Beads

Can you say it three times fast?

Sorry I haven’t been around much in the last week or so. Now that a certain girl’s coronation birthday weekend week is over, I’m coming up for air.

We did it, folks. We survived a sleepover birthday party (plus days of other celebratory activities) and lived to tell the tale. I’m not exactly sure how she hypnotized talked us into the sleepover. All told, it went pretty well, though, and thankfully, the girls got along.

One highlight of the party was “Pass the Parcel,” which our daughter learned from her British (and half-British) friends in Germany. It’s really a fun, sweet game, and you can organize it so that everyone feels like they’ve won.

Basically, you have a small prize wrapped up in layers upon layers of wrapping paper. You pass the parcel around while music plays, and each time the grown up stops the music, the person holding the parcel gets to unwrap a layer. Ideally, each layer holds a tiny prize (in this case, Jolly Ranchers) and there’s at least one layer for each player.

We got distracted a bit while wrapping our parcel, and some layers—oops!—were empty. Nevermind, the girls were gracious and divided the candy evenly at the end.

At the center, we placed a collection of polymer clay beads and linen string, so each kid could make a necklace, bracelet, or key chain thingy. I had them pass the bead collection around and let each child choose a bead until they were all gone. Thankfully, there wasn’t much fuss about who got what colors. They’re all pretty, right?

Then each child strung the beads into the desired shape. So fun.

My kids and I had made the beads months earlier, with no thought of a party. I was inspired by this lovely post, which includes instructions, but I couldn’t figure out a way to string them in a way that suited me, so they sat around for months. I think I’ll try making some for me again—we have more clay.

Anyway the beads were a hit, and the activity was just enough—not too long, not too frustrating. We may have to make “Pass the Parcel” a party staple!

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37. Linen Colorblock Sundress

Linen Colorblock Dress

Here’s one of many projects that has been mostly finished for a long time. It’s finally wearable! It’s based loosely on the Burda Anda pattern, like the one I made here.

As with my previous version, I petitified it using existing clothing as a guide. This version is color-blocked, obviously, with no sleeves. I used a top from my closet to guide armhole sizing. I lowered the waist a bit and used elastic on the inside, rather than an outer drawstring casing like the pattern calls for.

I also used the bias tape as a facing rather than as an exposed detail. The tutorial for doing this with the Sorbetto top was very, very helpful and applicable to any number of projects. It’s not as tricky as it might sound, if you’ve used bias tape before. I’m beginning to get the hang of the bias tape thing. It’s really handy once you get used to it.

Lastly, I made a self belt, a little wider and shorter this time than last.

The reddish linen came from the bargain booth at the Hannover, Germany Stoffmarkt last June. The cream-colored linen was a remnant given to me by a friend. Earrings by Claire’s, circa the dark ages, and the wooden beaded necklace was a gift from my Granny a bajillion years ago. I want to say she picked it up on a trip to Israel.

I have to say I’m pretty happy with the dress. Think I’ll wear this one a lot. I’ve almost finished another Anda-inspired dress, if I can find my sewing scissors, so hopefully I can share that soon.

If you want to see some of my other sewing projects, click here.

Linen Sundress

2 Comments on Linen Colorblock Sundress, last added: 5/22/2013
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38. Casting Mayberry

When I was a child, I loved watching the Andy Griffith show. It was a sweet situation comedy about a small town sheriff keeping the peace in rural North Carolina. The setting was bucolic. The cast was full of benign well-meaning people occasionally beset by antagonists passing through or creating problems for each other.

Let’s take a look at the functions of the different characters. 

The protagonist was the widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor. He had a shrewd mind hidden behind a good-old-boy smile. That was his secret weapon. The antagonists always underestimated him. His role was that of caretaker to a town full of people too innocent to protect themselves. His weakness was that he was too nice, bordering on enabling.

This was apparent when dealing with his sidekick, Barney Fife. Bumbling Barney meant well, but was often more of a hindrance than a help. He occasionally redeemed himself by luck rather than skill.

Andy’s Aunt Bee acted as the sweet voice of reason, but she occasionally got it wrong and this offered mild interpersonal conflict.

Otis, the town drunk, was usually a hindrance or complication to solving the story problem.

Floyd, the Barber, was the town gossip with feathers for brains. His tidbits of information sometimes helped and sometimes hindered.

Opie was Andy’s son and often posed important thematic questions. He occasionally got into trouble.

Goober and Gomer Pyle were goofy gas station attendants who innocently interfered. Their station was the portal to the town.

Andy was occasionally given a love interest who offered interpersonal conflict based on the occasional jealous pang or misunderstanding.

The antagonists were a series of moonshiners and petty criminals passing through. Once in a while they dealt with a real criminal (bank robber).

The characters not only offered local color, they were the source of interpersonal conflict. They aided or impeded and sometimes brought trouble to their door.

Andy’s genuine love for them kept him motivated to save them from their own folly and the bad guys who passed through.

There were no special effects, no guns blazing, no brutal murders. Sheriff Taylor was a loving but firm disciplinarian with Opie (and the rest of the town). Mayberry was a sweet place to pass a summer’s evening full of genuine love and kindness.

I doubt storytelling will ever return to that level of innocence, but the world could use a little country comfort these days. 

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39. YA Indie Carnival: Pssst…how long is your book?

Words, words and words

Words, words and words (Photo credit: Arslan)

How long should a book be?

It’s so personal! As a reader there are times where I love to get lost in an epic and don’t care how long a book is. There are times when I just want a quick read, and that usually means a smaller word count. I am a very slow reader. Extremely slow. So slow that may parents tried to give me speed reading classes when I was young. Isn’t that sweet? But, it just made it all so much worse because I didn’t enjoy reading anymore. As a girl I wanted to read short books. The experience of reading shorter novels made me feel more successful as a reader. I don’t have that criteria any more as an adult. But, I do remember how I felt when I was a girl. Maybe that’s why I write on the short side of most recommended word counts for YA. As a reader and a writer, I’ve been interested in the rise of the novella.

The story I want to tell always dictates how many words I’ll write. I try to honor the story and what it needs so that I’m able to tell it in the most unique, compelling and emotional way.

It’s so interesting in this era of 140 char Tweets, novelists are focused on thousands of words. I believe that the “shoulds” of word count are fading away as indie publishing takes hold and as the production costs of printing a book isn’t the single driving force behind the decision (more words=more pages=more expensive to manufacture). Since people are reading novels on electronic devices more and more I think the physical count of a book will become less of a concern. It’s all about the reader’s experience. When I buy a book, I expect it to be a certain kind of experience. I expect it to help me forget my world for a little while and get me wrapped up in another one. Length is part of the expected experience. As a writer, it’s all about knowing my readers and giving them an experience that they love so much they’ll be back to read some more.

I rarely read that the length of a book is a deal breaker for a reader. If the story’s good, I don’t care how long or short it is. Of course price is a big consideration. I’m a fan of offering shorter works, like novellas for free.

What’s your take on novel length? My fellow carnis weigh in here :

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy 16. Melika Dannese Lux, author of Corcitura and City of Lights

1 Comments on YA Indie Carnival: Pssst…how long is your book?, last added: 6/19/2013
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40. 2013 06 07 Convincing Arguments

There was a point in a work I was critiquing where a character completely changed her stance on the solution to the story problem without intervening scenes showing how or why. This is not the kind of plot twist you want to offer your reader. A good plot twist is set up long before it happens. 

Let’s take a stroll back to beginning composition class to figure out how to illustrate a convincing change in character motivation. 

When we first learned to write a paper, we had to come up with a thematic statement. We then came up with an outline listing key points to support or refute the thematic statement. Under each key point, we used paragraphs to expand each point. 

How can you apply this to your plot? 

Decide what the matter to be determined between two characters is. Perhaps Dick wants world peace and thinks if people worked together we could achieve it. Ted wants world destruction. He thinks the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the majority of humankind and start over.

The scenes between Dick and Ted should reflect, in word or deed, skirmishes over this deep divide. Don't beat a dead horse. Every encounter should contribute another point to the argument. This is true whether you are writing a Romance or a Thriller. In a romance, every encounter between protagonist or love interest should reflect something that brings them together or drives them apart.

In once scene Dick makes a point. In another scene Ted makes his counter point. Each encounter they have is an attempt to sway or force each other to adopt the opposite way of thinking. A different point is driven home each time.

This does not mean they make blatant clumsy pronouncements on a soapbox. Rather, everything they do and say in those scenes is motivated by their need to prove and enforce their point. Dick may believe that Ted can be swayed. Conversely, he may know that Ted cannot be swayed but must be stopped so Ted does not sway more people to his side of the argument or take action, such as nuclear annihilation, to achieve his goal.

Ted's scenes illustrate why he wants humankind destroyed. Ted may think Dick is a hopeless dreamer. Dick may drive home a few points that make Ted reconsider.

Dick's scenes address the reasons humanity should be saved. A few scenes could show him questioning his stance. Yet, it is Dick’s belief in the innate goodness of mankind that eventually gives him the tools or the access to stop Ted’s nefarious plan.

In scenes that follow them individually engaging with secondary characters should also support or refute the thematic argument. Secondary characters should have a stance on the topic and their behavior should illustrate the goodness or evil of humankind.

Ted may be surrounded by like minds, but perhaps one or two characters are on the fence. One of these characters could end up working against him. Perhaps Sally’s shenanigans reinforce Ted’s argument that humans are innately evil. She could be his poster child for why the world needs to end.

There will be friends that fight alongside Dick to save mankind. There may be a secondary character that is on the fence. Perhaps he or she encounters Sally and wonders if Dick is fatally naive. Jane could have a perilous dilemma of her own and her self-sacrifice illustrates Dick’s point that humanity is worth saving.

A secondary character’s arc could reflect one side or the other as they interact with tertiary characters.

The audience is satisfied when the hero wins and the antagonist fails. However, an ending could come down on either side of the thematic argument, creating an up or down ending. An ambiguous ending could reflect that there are shades of gray or no correct answer to the thematic question.

Whatever the outcome, stories with underlying thematic arguments are satisfying reads. When every character has a stake in the story, the reader cares what happens next. When each scene ties in to the thematic argument, you have a tight story.

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41. Priming the Pump

Your characters enter a scene. Something happens, preferably conflict. Now, stop and ask yourself, "What primed the pump?"

Hopefully one conflict scene leads to another conflict scene, but what if you are moving from one POV character to another or a great deal of time has elapsed in between scenes?

After you write a scene, take another look at it and consider what primed the pump. No one enters a situation as a blank canvas. 

1) What was Dick doing or feeling immediately prior? 

It may be obvious if Dick is moving between consecutive scenes. Whatever happened in Scene 3 primes Scene 4. A plot hole occurs when something happens in scene 3 and is never addressed again. You don’t have to waste a lot of page time explaining what happened in between if it isn’t essential. However, if Dick was upset in Scene 3 and is perfectly calm when we see him again in Scene 7, then something happened to diffuse his mood. You should probably reference it with a line of dialogue or interiority during the opening transition paragraph of the new scene.

2) What is each character’s mindset as the scene progresses?

Every character entering a scene has thoughts and feelings. Are they having a good day or bad day? It affects their receptiveness. Whatever happened in prior scenes could have bearing on the current scene. Conflicting emotions and situations prime the conflict pump. If Jane is happy and Dick is angry, they could trade moods quickly.

3) Has your scene been properly set up? 

Have you brought up an important point that you let lapse? Are the characters conflicted over something that makes no sense because you forgot to mention it in a previous scene? You may have cause and effect plot holes. If so, you have some revision to do. Beta readers or critique partners can be invaluable in catching these. My groups calls it the "read the book in my head, not the one on paper" syndrome.

4) Where does your scene take place? Why? 

Settings are often bland and add nothing. You add value when you set the scene in a place that heightens tension. It has to be logical and organic. Don’t do it because “the script called for it.” If your couple is having an argument at home in the kitchen, it is realistic but is it interesting? Is the kitchen the best place for the argument? Can you make the setting more awkward for them? Say, a PTA meeting or on a crowded bus ride home?

5) Who is present? 

You can have intense dialogue between two characters while they are alone. You add tension when they are striving to not be overheard or are wearing forced smiles at a formal function surrounded by family or coworkers. When two people are focused on each other, the crowd has a way of disappearing. They sometimes forget that other ears are listening. Being overheard can create future conflict. Having to behave decorously can force them to resume the conversation at another time, thus priming the pump for a future scene.

Consider not only the timeline of your story but how the timeline of the conflicts prime the pump. What happens immediately before can be as important as what happens during and immediately after.

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42. Cardboard Rocket Ship

Cardboard Rocket Ship

Hey folks! I didn’t mean to be gone for so long. End-of-year activities completely knocked me off course in the last weeks.

Meanwhile, my five-year-old came up with this project. He designed the whole thing, directing me to cut the box into specific shapes and getting me to help him put it back together with duct tape. It’s a rocket for his Lego guys.

Cardboard Rocket Ship

He often has cardboard construction projects going on, but this is by far his best yet. Next up, the two kids are working together on a shadow puppet theater. Hopefully I can share that soon.

As busy as we’ve been, I’ve found a few minutes here and there to finish up a few of my own projects that were alllllmost done, so I hope to show those to you, too.

Sadly, I did not finish my novel revision on time (my personal deadline was the end of preschool). But, I’m stealing all the minutes I can to keep working. Having a deadline definitely helps, even if it’s already passed me by.

What about you? Have you made any summer plans of things to do with the kids, or for yourself? We started making a list of fun things to do together. What’s on yours?

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43. What Dan Brown Does Right

“Ha!” you say. “Dan Brown is a hack. He doesn’t deserve his millions of followers.

He head hops, shows instead of tells, dumps info, layers the adverbs, and has clunky descriptions.”

All of that may be true, but he does several things that you should emulate to make your thriller thrilling.

1. Use the treasure hunt or bread crumb mystery skeleton.

2. Employ the chase.

3. Place your protagonist in danger.

3. Start the timer.

4. Include obscure historical facts and theories that intrigue your readers enough to want to know more about them.

5. Raise controversy. Nothing spawns sales like someone asking for your head.

6. Add a love interest.

7. Introduce an unusual protagonist.

I read Brown’s earlier books, Digital Fortress and Deception Point, before I read The Da Vinci Code.  Both were solid suspense thrillers and I hope they make them into movies. As much as I love Langdon, the follow-up books have gotten progressively weaker. I keep reading them in the hopes of regaining that original thrill.

It was the controversy of The Da Vinci Code that made Brown headline news. However, controversy comes with risks. Be sure you can withstand the heat of the fires they set to roast you.

And, if you aren't willing to raise your level of craft, be prepared to be picked apart. Darling Dan is thumbing his nose all the way to the bank, but it wouldn't kill the guy to perfect his prose. Please, for the love of Fibonacci.

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44. Cashmere Patchwork Blanket

Patchwork Blanket

Sometime in the last few months I got it in my head that I wanted a cashmere blanket. Like, really wanted one. I think maybe I started obsessing when I was paging through Handmade Home and saw all the cozy, cozy stacks of blankets. I just wanted to curl up with them. I didn’t want to fork over the money for cashmere, though, so I started scheming. Could I possibly find enough thrifted cashmere to make a blanket?

Sometimes it’s hard to come by, but lo and behold, there was a bumper crop of cashmere at Goodwill this fall. Some of it was in perfect condition, in my size, with classic lines. What?! I washed those and put them in my closet.

The rest of it, the out-of-fashion, the holey, the wrong sizes, I cut into rectangles (excluding the holey bits) after washing it. I added in a few washed and shrunken merino sweaters, too, to round things out and make the blanket a little bigger.

Recycled Cashmere Blanket

In all I used six sweaters for the blanket. It went together pretty quickly, and the kids were very excited to help place the pieces. Everyone was already fighting over it before it was even done.

Cashmere Blanket

I had planned to lap the edges, but kind of forgot that plan until midway through. Oh well. Next blanket, maybe. I already have some cashmere pieces waiting.

Cashmere Sweater Blanket

Personally I like all the little weirdnesses of sweater pieces, the rolled edges, the seams and ribbing here and there. And it’s kind of nice to have a “smooth” side and a “wrong side.” I like them both.

For sewing the pieces together, I used (I think) a regular machine needle and upped the stitch length a bit. I had no problems with it. If you want specific instructions for sewing a cashmere sweater blanket, check out Betz White’s book Warm Fuzzies.

Random: love loved this fire and ice birthday party over at elsie marley. Almost makes me want to live in a frozen place again.

Also, has anyone been watching Parade’s End on HBO? I can’t fully follow the storyline, but wow, the clothes are incredible!

And lastly, next week I’ll be introducing you to a friend of mine, artist/ photographer Dawn Hanna. So excited! Her work is drop-dead gorgeous.

Okay, folks. Have a great weekend.

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45. Do authors need more negative feedback as their career progresses?

A recent Freakonomics radio piece about negative performance feedback got me thinking about what sort of critiques authors need for their work.

According to Freakonomics, people who are just starting in a career or position need positive feedback more than anything else. It helps to get them invested in their work, and it boosts their commitment to the task--which they need. That made me think of the large critique groups that many writers belong to, when they are first getting serious about their work. While you can get very valuable critical feedback in those groups, I think they mostly function as a place to get encouragement about your writing, and the inspiration to keep going. And that's perfect... when you are new to writing. 

But once people have committed to a career and they've seen success, then their needs for feedback shift, according to the radio piece. They tend to wave off positive feedback. Instead they need negative feedback (or as the corporate world prefers to call it, "performance feedback") to improve. Without that feedback they might not progress. I think that's largely true for writers, too. At some point you need deeper, more critical feedback about your writing--the kind of feedback that truly challenges you and pushes you to take your writing to the next level. That often means people either quit their larger critique groups or, at a minimum, end up finding additional critique resources elsewhere.

Which brings me to another favorite Freakonomics piece of mine--The Upside of Quitting. If your writing is progressing and your critique group isn't working for you anymore, set aside the guilt. Kindly and gently disentangle yourself. Likely you've made friends with everyone in the group, but remember why you joined in the first place: to be a better writer. A published writer, probably. 

The radio piece raised some additional questions for me. What happens when an author stops seeking critical feedback? Does their work truly stagnate, or can they reach a point of being able to self-improve? How do authors who are very accomplished find that trusted critical resource? Hopefully an editor (and likely also an agent) will serve in that role, but who else can help? And what is the best qualification for a good critique: someone who is unflinchingly honest, or someone who's a better writer than you?

Writers, what's your best resource for critiques that make you grow?



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46. My new writing experiment: 40 days of wandering

I am sick of should. 

Mind you, I am very good at should. I tick off my "shoulds" every day. I parent. I exercise. I write. I work. I cook. I clean. Hey, I even go to my congregation's services sometimes. And take a probiotic every single day.

See? Really, really good at should. 

But somewhere along the way, that's all I have become. Figure out the should. Do the should. Find the next should. 

So of course that's what I tried to do today, when I sat down to launch a new writing project... or perhaps resume a half-finished one. I made a list of what the project should be. Then I made a plan for how I should get it done. 

But it didn't make me feel good. It only panicked me. Here was a huge list of shoulds staring at me, to be added to the already colossal weight of other shoulds in my life. 

I can't take more should.

So I am trying something new--something I have never done before, at least not since I sold my first novel. 

I am only going to write what I feel like writing. 

That means, unless I feel like it, there will be no plot outlines and no writing in sequence. I will work on as many projects as I want. Heck, if I don't want to even finish a chapter, I won't. When I'm done with it or I'm sick of it, I'll stop. 

Do you know how crazy this is for me? Do you know how scared and thrilled and hopeful this has got me feeling? Maybe this is a regular day of writing for some folks. But for this hyperorganized, Type A girl... it's revolutionary. 

But of course, being Type A, I have to put boundaries on this. I'm being crazy, people. Not an entirely new person!

RULE 1: I will do this for 40 calendar days. Why 40? It's one of those magic numbers. Pick a major world religion and it's there, hanging out in some of the best stories. And it's more than a month. It gives me time to really sink into this.  Plus, that is exactly how many days there are between now and when I sit down to my writing desk at Kindling Words West. This seems like a perfect way to prepare for that... and KWW will be a perfect place to reflect on the meaning of, and value from, my 40 days.

RULE 2: This is not an excuse to start learning the harmonica. In other words, my writing time is still sacred. It's still about writing. There's just no rules about what kind of writing, or reading about writing, etc will happen during that time. 

RULE 3: Even the 40 days is not sacred. I can't let this become a new should. If I want to stop the wandering sooner, I will. And if I want to wander for longer, I will. I do this for as long as it works and for as long as I need it. 

There is an Arabic proverb that says "To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days". I hope that these 40 days will give a more clear understanding of who I am, as a writer, and where I want to go next.

Stay tuned for updates on my 40 days. 

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47. 5 crazy ways to get to know your characters

go on and shop for your character!Until you've got characters that seems to exhale the letters onto your page, you don't have a great story. Here are five crazy things I've done to try and get to know my characters:

1. Interview them. I'll sit on the couch, turn as if there's someone curled up next to me, and ask questions out loud. Sometimes I'll even answer them out loud, as if I were my character. I keep my iPad close so I can jot down the answers that come. This method can really "unstick" me and often works better than simply filling out character questionnaires on my laptop. 

2. Rant and rave out loud--as your character. Think about something that enrages or frightens your character. Then talk like them. Out loud. For at least fifteen minutes. In an accent, if applicable (and hopefully it is, because that is WAY more fun). At first you'll feel reluctant and more than a little strange. But as you progress, you'll discover new things about your character--and you might even go longer than fifteen minutes. 

3. Put on a play. I'll admit I stole this one straight from Meg Cabot. Except I don't have any Barbies left, having sold them off for a buck a piece at a yard sale twenty-five years ago. So I steal my son's stuffed animals and assemble a little play. It's amazing how making a stuffed pig yell at a stuffed wombat can really get to the root of my characters' needs and fears.

4. Write them a letter. Pretend you are a good friend or parent of the character. Write them a letter. Express your worries. Your confusion. Ask questions about their motives. Be a nudge and tell them how you think they should fix their problems. This can be a great way to surface the questions you've got about your characters--questions you may not have even known were there.

5. Go shopping for them. I got this idea from a speech that Paula Danziger gave to a Florida SCBWI conference years ago. She always liked to buy little sparkly geegaws and such for her characters. But you don't even have to buy things. Just get yourself to the nearest main street, mall or laptop, and browse for things that your character would love--or at least need. This lets you crawl out of your own head and see the world through their eyes instead. Heck, why not make a Pinterest board for them? But, uh, don't actually buy that renovated circus train car. Not unless you really, really need it.


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48. Anastasia Romanov Costume


I had to whip up something quick for my daughter’s Wax Museum Day at school. This is a grade-wide project where the students read a biography, dress up like their historical figure, and prepare remarks to present to visitors.

The students are supposed to stand still like wax figures until a parent gives them a ticket. Then they animate and introduce themselves as “so-and-so.” It’s so totally cute I can’t even tell you. I’m partial to the costumes involving mustaches.


Little Miss wanted to be a princess, of course, so she chose Russian princess Anastasia Romanov. We went to the thrift store and chose some pieces to alter.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.jpg

The key elements, we decided, were a white flowy dress with a square neckline, plus pearls. I flipped the blouse backward, sized it down, and made a square neckline using a tutorial I can no longer find. It wasn’t as difficult as it might sound—-actually pretty easy. The skirt I just sized down but left otherwise as-is.


Then I added, at her request, a sash made from blanket binding. It was once a part of this costume but got accidentally ripped off. I also made a little medallion from lightweight cardboard and sequins.

She did a great job with her presentation and is now reading everything she can about Anastasia. I guess we should try that movie that was made in the 90s, although I’m sure it’s more fiction than not.

Did you go away for spring break? We visited family in California and went skiing. It was a blast, but coming back to East Coast time is not. Oh well, it was worth it!

* The Anastasia image is from Wikipedia.

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49. 2012 04 12 Antihero as Protagonist

Today's post features a guest appearance by Luke Murphy, author of Dead Man's Hand. He explains how to make an antihero your protagonist by providing him with solid motivation. Luke Murphy describes his protagonist, Calvin Watters:

The four most common character conflicts in stories are: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. himself. 

The single most common character conflict in suspense/mystery novels is man vs. man. This is usually seen through serial killers, murder investigations, assassination plots, etc. One character is battling against another character in the story. 

There's plenty of this in DEAD MAN`S HAND, but I also wanted to add another element to entertain readers. 

The central theme of DMH is the plot built around framing Calvin Watters for murder. Calvin spends the story evading the cops, as well as a hitman, while trying to solve the crime and prove his innocence. (Man vs. Man, right?) 

But I truly believe that the major character conflict in my story is Calvin vs. himself. 

Calvin Watters was on his way to NFL stardom when a sudden, selfish decision destroyed any dream he ever had. He remembered when the rich had welcomed him into their group as a promising, clean-cut athlete bound for glory. Now he was just an outsider looking in. Just another thug. 

Pain bolted through his right knee, but the emotional pain from a shattered ego hurt even worse. He was the only one to blame for USC's humiliating loss and his own humiliating personal downfall. 

The press, always ready to tear down a hero, had shown no restraint in attacking him for his egotistic, selfish decision and obvious desire to break his own school record. One minute he was touted as the next Walter Payton, the next he was a door mat for local media. 

Looking at him now, no one would believe that back then he was a thousand-yard rusher in the NCAA and welcomed with open arms in every established club in Southern California. Hell, he had been bigger than the mayor. 

That the resulting injury had ended his college football career and most importantly, any chances of a pro career didn’t matter to anyone. By making the wrong, selfish, prideful decision, he’d made himself a target for the press and all USC fans. 

The devastating, career-ending knee injury wasn't the quarterback's fault for missing the audible, or the fullback's fault for missing the key block. It was his and it had taken him some time to understand and accept responsibility for it. 

After he spent three years building a reputation as the toughest collector in Vegas, no one even knew he'd been one of the greatest college running backs ever. To them, he was just “The Collector.” 

Now Calvin has to rebuild his life and his future, eliminating the thoughts of his downfall, picking himself up, dusting off, and trying to live a respectable life he can be proud of. 

But has his time as a leg-breaker made him corrupt beyond redemption?

Luke Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec with his wife, two daughters and pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude). Murphy`s debut novel, Dead Man`s Hand, was released by Imajin Books on October 20, 2012.

DEAD MAN'S HAND "A fast, gritty ride." www.amazon.com/Dead-Mans-Hand-ebook/dp/B009OUT2ME

For more information on Luke and his books, visit: www.authorlukemurphy.com

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50. Top 5 Things That Bore Me

As I watched yet another body count trend upward in a recent movie, it inspired me to list the top five things that bore me as a viewer/reader. These clichéd and overused tropes are supposed to wow, but leave me snoring. This list applies to fiction as well as movies.

1) Gratuitous sex scenes, aka sex with a stranger.

It’s stupid. Why should I care? The encounter between two people who truly long for each other, who have been kept apart then finally come together, is far more intriguing. Couples who have a history that reunite or make up are more interesting than random rutters.

2) Random violence.

Killing one character I've grown invested in is more compelling than blasting away with an automatic weapon downing characters I don’t know or care about. It's a fact of human nature that genocide in a distant land doesn't register until the battle is brought to a person's front door. The closer the character who dies is to the protagonist, the higher the story stakes. As much as I love cozy mysteries, there's almost a disconnect when it comes to the victims. The best cozy mystery makes me care that the victim died.

3) Gore.

It’s a turn off. As much as I appreciate special effects makeup artists, they can use their talents to make cooler effects that don’t involve rolling heads or spurting arteries. In books, I really don’t need paragraphs of gruesome details. I scan past them. Same with torture and battle scenes. They make me cringe. I'm a grown-up. I have experienced loss and pain. I get the drift. The reality that people are bestial and kill each other is disgusting and horrifying enough. We never followed Anne Frank to the concentration camp, but the reality of the horror of that story scarred me for life. Why? Because I grew to know and like her and that made what she went through personal rather than abstract. If you want to impress upon your readers true horror, make it personal.

4) Drawn out panoramic shots.

Whether it’s a prolonged movie clip or endless paragraphs describing the setting in excessive detail, I have a tendency to fast forward or skim read past them. Take a picture; it lasts longer. Have you ever sat through an endless slideshow of someone else's vacation? Make description short and make it count, then move onto the point of the scene. It's even better if the setting has an impact on the scene.

5) Adults or teens that behave like out of control toddlers.

Book or movie, I have no patience with these characters. I wouldn't hang out with them in person. I don't waste page time with them either. If this character is the protagonist, I put the book down and it goes on my discard pile.

What tropes inspire you to flip pages or quit reading?

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