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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing style, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 13 of 13
1. Writing Tense

I would love to hear your thoughts on tense in a novel. Recently, I've read quite a bit of criticism regarding writing in the present tense. If any of you receive a novel written in the present tense, what is your immediate reaction?

I struggle with this because I find it most natural and liberating to write in present tense. However, I don't want to discourage agents right off the bat.

Frequently I hear from writers that they've been told by others that something can't be done or agents won't like something, and while that might be the case, what I'd rather writers told other writers was whether something was working or not working. See, anything can be done if it's done well, but are people telling you agents won't like this because it's not working or are they coming from a place of fear, a place where they are regurgitating everything they've ever heard agents say to try to create the perfect formula for getting published?

Present tense is tough and while yes, it can be done, it's not often done well. I find that a present tense story, as with first person, is sometimes easier for the author to write, "liberating" as you say, but doesn't necessarily make for a good story to read. It doesn't always allow the reader to immerse herself into the story as she would like.

So I think you need to worry less about what an agent might or might not think and worry more about how this is working for the story, not for you as the writer, but for the story.


23 Comments on Writing Tense, last added: 11/29/2011
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2. Christie Craig: Three Why Questions; Three Writing Tips

Christie Craig
Don't Mess With Texas
Publisher: Forever Books
Pub date: August 2011
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

I get a lot of questions tossed my way. For today’s guest blog, I decided to answer three of them, along with three connecting snippets of writing advice.

Why do you set all your books in fictional Texas towns?

Most people are surprised to learn that I’m not a native Texan. However, I was only here a few weeks when I knew this was where I’d hang my hat. Texas and Texans are just . . . well, unique. I mean, where else is it illegal to put graffiti on someone else's cow, shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel, or own more than six dildos? Yup, those are real laws in this fine state; I know because I checked when I decided to live here. (Not that I’m into graffitiing cows, shooting buffaloes, or stockpiling dildos. I just like to know the laws of the land, so I can poke fun at them in my books.) So I guess what drives me to base my books in Texas is that this place is one of a kind. And since I try to write one-of-a-kind books, it fits. And for what drives me to use fictional towns, that’s easy. I don’t want to worry about getting geographical facts incorrect. Okay, I’m lazy and hate research.

Writing tip #1: Using fictional towns equals less research and less hassle. You won’t get readers emailing you notes like: There isn’t a fifty-foot-high bridge in Spring, Texas, like you used in your book.

Why do you add suspense and humor to your romance novels?

Years ago, I published a sweet Silhouette Romance. Unable to sell a second book, I focused on my freelance career. I wrote words to feed knowledge-hungry individuals. I wrote about China, calligraphy, window fashions, tomato horn worms, and ugly shoes.

Basically, if an editor would pay for it, I wrote it. After an eight-year sabbatical from fiction, I was desperate to return to writing novels. I announced my intentions to my family, my friends, and to the innocent bystander at the post office: I, Christie Craig, was going to publish another book even if I had to kill somebody to accomplish it.

What I didn’t realize was that’s exactly what it would take. When I whacked my first person, guilt sat on my shoulders like a fat gorilla. But as soon as I washed the imaginary blood off my hands and reread my deadly scene, I had an epiphany: Nothing can liven up a party or a plot like a dead body.

Since then, mystery and murder are prevalent in my work. Yes, there’s other stuff like romance, but I’m not sure I can write a story without having one person kick the bucket. Or at least having someone try to kick someone else’s bucket. Death or someone facing death excites me, and that comes across in my writing.

As for the humor? A writer needs to stay true to their writing voice, and my voice is humorous. When I first started writing my funny suspense novels someone warned me that murder wasn’t funny. They’re right, but how people respond to it under duress can be a real belly-roller.

Take Nikki Hunt’s situation in Don’t Mess With Texas: Nikki thought her night couldn’t get worse when her no-good cheating ex ditched her at dinner, sticking her with the expensive bill. Furious,

34 Comments on Christie Craig: Three Why Questions; Three Writing Tips, last added: 8/29/2011
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3. The Style Sheet

Nathan Bransford recently did a post on the importance of a series bible for authors and it kicked me into gear to do a post I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. A post on the importance of a style sheet.

As Nathan explains, a series bible is helpful for the author to keep track of characters, phrases, worlds, and whatever else you might have in your series that carries through from book to book. A style sheet is similar, but meant as a resource not just for the author but for your editors as well.

Any published author has probably seen the style sheet that comes back from the copyeditor with your copyedited manuscript. It’s the sheet the copyeditor prepares as she’s editing to make sure she maintains the style of your book and series. For example, if you’ve decided, in your world, that Maribelle is actually spelled Mariebell, that will be on the style sheet. If your world capitalizes "werewolf," that will be on the style sheet. But why wait for the copyeditor to put together your style sheet? Why not do it yourself?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve fielded phone calls from authors dismayed with the changes a copyeditor has made. Changes that were technically correct (according to the Chicago Manual of Style), but not necessarily in line with what the author was trying to convey.

Let me make it clear. A style sheet is different from a series bible. A style sheet does not include the nitty-gritty details of your world or your characters. It’s for editing purposes. A style sheet should include spellings of names or stylistic changes you’ve made to the spelling of other common words. For example, if you’ve decided that "Prom" is capitalized throughout your book, that would be something you would include on the style sheet. "Prom" is not technically a proper noun.

When your manuscript is finished and your style sheet is finalized, submit them together to your editor. I can’t guarantee the copyeditor won’t try to change some of your style to fit what Chicago has to say, but it will very possibly save you a lot of stetting in the future.


31 Comments on The Style Sheet, last added: 6/12/2010
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4. Voice

Revision update: Got through two chapters yesterday and one and a half today. I’m really hoping to get the whole book done by the end of the year, but … hmmm, not sure. We’ll see. My husband said he’d read the book this weekend, which hopefully will give me a boost in my revision. He’ll be the first other person to read the whole thing. It’ll be nice to see how it plays out.

I’m reading Ingrid Law’s Savvy right now, and it strikes me that this is a great example of a strong, fresh voice.

Voice is one of those weird things to identify. When I first started researching writing novels and going to conferences, I heard about “voice” all the time, but the explanations didn’t really pinpoint exactly what this quality was. Voice always seemed to be this vague thing my writing was supposed to have, something that was strong and fresh, but what was it?

Finally, in a conference I attended a few years ago, I heard an explanation I could understand: Voice is the way YOU write, the words YOU choose and how YOU use them in a sentence. It’s basically, your style of writing.

For beginning writers, their style often mimics their favorite writers or the writers of the novels they’re reading at the moment. But over time, with practice, writers develop their own style that’s unique to them. Some write in a subtle way, others big and bold, some rhythmic, others slam you across the face.

From the first page of Law’s Savvy, I was slapped in the face with her style. She writes first person, so you could say the voice is the voice of the character. Either way, it’s bold, flowery and beautiful. The story is fun, but more fun is Law’s language. Here’s a taste:

When Grandpa wasn’t a grandpa and was just instead a small-fry, hobbledehoy boy blowing out thirteen dripping candles on a lopsided cake…

And another:

The itch and scritch of birthday buzz was about all I was feeling on the Thursday before the Friday before the Saturday I turned thirteen.

Brilliant, huh? Can’t you see the voice oozing out of these word choices?

Now, of course, voice is absolutely personal, so you shouldn’t try to immitate Law’s style. Like any art, often our style is influenced by others, but after a while, it’s ours.

Whatever our style is, subtle or brash, it should be solid, come across strong as our style and no one else’s. I don’t think it’s something you can manufacture; it’s you.

What are your favorite examples of voice?

Write On!

0 Comments on Voice as of 1/1/1900
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5. The Writer's Process

Not too long ago a client was going through some revisions with her editor and called me for a pep talk. She was confident that she could get the revisions done and even felt good about how she planned to do them. What upset her was that the editor had to point out these things in the first place. She really felt it was all so obvious, something she should have seen before even sending in the material, and she was feeling a little down on herself about the entire thing.

What I told her, and what I’m going to tell you now, is that these revisions and working with her editor this way, as well as working with me and her critique partners, was simply a part of her writing process. It was how she worked to create the books she wrote and to make them the best they could be. I also told her that I’ve rarely met an author who was happy with her writing process.

Some of you plot, write, and work out the entire book in your head before even putting word to page. You struggle at the beginning because you feel like you do nothing but stare at a computer screen for weeks and nothing comes out. You panic and yet, once you finally have that story established, it flows from your fingers, nearly perfect the minute the words hit the screen.

Some of you carefully create outlines for each chapter and work up studies of each character. You practically write the book in outline form before you even start writing the book, and it’s not uncommon for your outline to be one hundred or so pages. The days to your deadline slowly tick away and you worry that you’ll never meet it because you haven’t actually written the book. However, once it is time to start writing you already have the details planned, the plot is cohesive and the characters are well drawn.

Some of you simply sit down and start to write. The words flow, the characters do their own thing and in a few short weeks or months you’ve got a book. That is, until you reread the book. That’s when you decide that everything you’ve written is crap and now you spend twice as long going over each word, each sentence, and each chapter and revising and editing it into shape.

And then I’m sure there’s a myriad of other writing processes that I haven’t even touched on yet, ways in which you all create or are forced to create, but which, at some point or another, frustrate you.

The truth is that there is no perfect way to write a book. Nearly every author I talk with looks at a critique partner or friend and wishes she could write like that. Someone else always makes it look easy, especially when they manage to tackle what we most struggle with. Writing is creative, writing a book is a creative process, and when it comes to creativity there is no perfect answer to how it should be done.

There’s no doubt we can always seek to improve ourselves and the way we do things, and while I would urge you to do that, I would also urge you to embrace your process, the highs and the lows. No one writes a book with ease, no one writes a blog with ease. We all struggle at certain moments, but sometimes those struggles are exactly what bring us our best ideas.


25 Comments on The Writer's Process, last added: 12/4/2009
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6. Which Tense Is Best

I've written a couple of manuscripts, though not found myself at the point of querying yet. I'm also an avid reader, mainly of women's fiction, chick lit, romance and erotic romance. This will sound ridiculous, but it just occurred to me that nearly everything I read is in the past tense, yet I always write in the present tense.

As my goal is to produce, polish, and submit a novel so knock-your-socks off that you simply have to take me on as a client - would you say that I should adapt my style to the past tense?

This question coincidentally arrived the day I posted the question about writing a memoir in present tense, and while I’m going to ask you to go back and read that post and the comments readers made, I also think it’s a topic that’s worth revisiting.

In the previous post I said that I don’t believe in rules, that I’m more of a guidelines gal and yes, that still holds true today. While we certainly have, and need, rules of grammar and punctuation, I don’t think there should be rules when it comes to how a writer chooses to actually write the book. That’s part of what is often called voice, an author’s ability to make the work her own. That means writing in the way that best works for your book (and keep in mind what works for your book might not always be preferable to you as the writer). That being said, should you be writing in present or past tense?

Without reading your book I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is veering too far outside the guidelines can be a bit like trying to sell Beef Stew Ice Cream to a traditionally chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream eating culture. While we’re certainly open to new things, we still like those new things to feel vaguely familiar. Present tense might be a more difficult treat to swallow.

However, it’s about more than trying to appeal to an audience or make something familiar. It’s about the craft of writing. I think the trouble writers have when writing in present tense or even first person is that it becomes a little too much about you telling a story, and the important pieces of storytelling (the showing) are actually left out. You forget the importance of other viewpoints, body language and description, for example. Of course writing present tense, just as writing first person, feels easier because it’s about you and this moment you’re in. However, when you really sit down to read it, it’s not easier to read. In fact, it’s more difficult. It doesn’t give the information that makes a story really sing for the reader or listener.

If you want a straight answer I would encourage you to start honing the craft of writing in past tense. Once you master that skill go ahead and try present tense.


26 Comments on Which Tense Is Best, last added: 10/23/2009
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7. Altering the Format of Your Novel

I know that most agents don't represent scripts for movies or TV, but how about if someone wanted to use script format as their novel's written format? For example, there are some novels that are written in diary or letter format. Could you use script format for a novel as well and make it sellable? Or would agents not want to represent a novel in that format.

Of course you have to know that there’s no answer to this question. It’s all going to depend on the execution. I think using some stylistic techniques from scriptwriting might be interesting in a novel, but in the end it is still going to need to read like a novel and not like a script. Scripts are difficult things to read for those who do not read them regularly. Unlike a novel, a script tells you what’s going on and what characters are doing, and while I’m not saying you can’t do that in a novel there is a reason scripts are novelized when a movie is made and not just published as is. Readers of novels like to become one with the story and feel the characters' movements and actions and not be told they are moving or acting.

All I can say is that if you think you have a unique idea for creating a different novel go ahead and give it a shot. If you’ve written a script and want to have it published as a novel without going through the effort of novelizing it, I wouldn’t bother. I strongly believe that wouldn’t work.


18 Comments on Altering the Format of Your Novel, last added: 10/9/2009
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8. Style Week

Over at LitPark, Susan Henderson is having a big online discussion about writing style. I'm still thinking about how to describe my own style, but everybody should jump into the debate.

Just listen to recently published novelist Amy Wallen, resorting to useful clothing metaphors: "I suppose humor would be one part of my style. The other part is cheesy 70s tight-fitting, loud patterns with platform shoes and stretch knit."

If you can't come up with an appropriate clothing line to describe your style, you can always think about your biggest influences, just like Anneliese (her list is chock full of good reading): "I like reading Orion Magazine, and regional histories, memoirs along the lines of Isak Dinesen, fiction like “Babette’s Feast,” "The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” “Cold Mountain,” or anything Steinbeck. I like visual, clear, straight-forward prose. Jim Harrison and Rick Bass, yum."

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note that one of our favorite prose style acrobats--Richard Grayson--recently made headlines on Gawker by looking for a hipster assistant. He's pioneering the brand new genre of The Mock Craigslist Posting...

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9. Manuscripts That Disappoint

Great questions on my post on whether the publishing business is personal. You definitely know how to keep me writing.

Kris Fletcher, who always keeps me on my toes, asked which is harder to turn down, a book that I love but know isn’t marketable, or one that’s totally marketable but doesn’t sing for me. Until I wrote this post I wasn’t sure and thought it depended on the book; after finishing, though, I came up with my answer. . . .

This summer has been very, very busy for me. I’ve finally caught up on my submission reading (thanks in part to the interns) and read at least 10 full manuscript requests over the course of three months. Of those 10 I only offered on one. Some just really fell apart after the first few chapters, but two in particular stuck with me.

One was a mystery with a great hook and really fun characters. The writing was good, but not mind-blowing (which is fine). In the end, though, I had to pass since I didn’t think the mystery itself was strong enough. I was disappointed. I really feel that I could sell this book without much trouble at all, if she’s able to fix the mystery.

The second was a historical that was beautifully written. The characters were so well drawn you believed in them, the plot was interesting, and the writing, again, amazing. In the end, though, I wasn’t sure what the book was. The characters had some real flaws, things that made some of them too unlikable (characters you should have liked) and the plot never took off for me. Throughout most of the book I was left waiting for something to happen. And in the end I’m not sure where this book would have sold or who the audience would have been.

Which was the greater disappointment? The historical. I think that you can learn to plot and create characters, but voice is something that comes from within. I’m not convinced you can learn to become a beautiful writer. How do I say this? I think that beautiful people are born. We can all learn to make ourselves look really attractive, but true beauty is something you’re born with. Beauty, therefore, is a rare commodity, and when you read something that’s really written beautifully you want nothing more than the rest of the book to flow. When it doesn’t you’re naturally disappointed.

In both cases I finished the entire manuscript, even though I knew halfway through that it wasn’t going to work out, and in both cases I wrote letters explaining my decision to pass and giving suggestions on what I thought could be done to correct them. And of course I invited both authors to resubmit.

Now I’m going to turn this around to you. Which is harder to read, a book that’s amazingly written but weak on plot, or a book that has an amazing plot but the writing is weak?


62 Comments on Manuscripts That Disappoint, last added: 10/3/2007
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10. Three Things I Love About Writing

Spaceman Blues: A Love SongWhy do we do this? Why do we keep writing?

Susan over at The Urban Muse has tagged us for the meme unofficially titled "My Love of Writing." Tagged participants must list between three and five things that they love about writing. Read her post for inspiration, and follow some of the links backwards--she connects to lots of great writing sites.

It's a great list to have handy on the dark days when you feel like everything you write is like a Readers Digest article paraphrased by a ten-year-old with crayons.

Three things I love about writing: First, I love the Ah-Ha! Moment when I am actually experiencing something I will write about. Like when somebody says something smart, funny, or silly and I want to plug it straight into a character's mouth. Or when I am seeing or doing something so strange that I know describing it will make great prose. Continue reading...


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11. Joshua Henkin Deflates the Myth of 'Show Don't Tell' and NaNoWriMo

Front CoverAfter years and years of creative writing and journalism classes, I could describe my weekend two different ways.

First, the writing workshop way: "I walked through the drafty concrete warehouse Salvation Army, shedding my blue wrinkled jacket that had molded perfectly to fit my skinny frame. I turned around, and my precious jacket had disappeared."

Then, the more emotional, explanatory way: "I felt melancholy last weekend when I went to the Salvation Army, wearing the jacket I've worn since college. While I was trying on some sweaters, somebody stole my favorite jacket. I wandered around the store full of suspicion, trying to figure out who was the dirty thief."

Do you get it? That's the difference between showing you what I felt and telling you what I felt. Too many writing workshops and writing websites will tell you that you should never describe emotions or talk about the feelings surrounding a scene; instead they urge you to describe the scene in a way that shows the emotional context.

"The real reason people choose to show rather than tell is that it's so much easier to write "The big brown torn vinyl couch" than it is to describe internal emotional states without resorting to canned and sentimental language. In other words, "show, don't tell" provides cover for writers who don't want to do what's hardest (but most crucial) in fiction."

If you loved this clear-headed advice, check out Henkin's guest essay about plotting and timelines in his novel over at Beatrice.com. There's a lot of structural advice to help you with your own work.

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12. Writing Dialogue

I received an interesting question from a reader recently, interesting because it’s something that I’m sure is often discussed in writers' groups, but not anything I’ve ever really thought of. . . .

I've had an ongoing discussion with some writer friends about adverbs and dialog tags other than "said," and I'd like a professional agent's opinion.

I've read just about every book on writing, and if they address the topic, they say not to use adverbs ever, and that "said" or "asked" is sufficient (no shouted, yelled, whispered, groaned, commanded, etc.). But I also read published books that have their characters "whispering" and "grunting" and "saying questioningly" with abandon. A lot of published books use mostly said and asked, but an equal number do not.

So here's my question: Is there a real "rule" in the publishing world against descriptive dialog tags, or is that just something authors of writing books tell writers to get us to buy more books on how to make our writing more descriptive using nouns and strong verbs? Has an editor ever told you they liked a book, but they were passing because there were too many adverbs?

My simple answer is “no,” there’s no real rule about dialogue tags. At least no rule I’ve heard of. I suspect that the concern about dialogue tags isn’t so much about there being a rule but about how writers could easily use dialogue tags as a cop-out. For example, by saying that your character “grunted” you don’t need to show the character actually doing the labor or feeling the pain. It’s a lot easier to use one word than it is to write an entire paragraph describing why the character might grunt later.

I think dialogue tags could actually add a lot to the story if used carefully and properly. They should never interrupt the flow of the story or become a distraction to the reader and they should never be used in place of showing versus telling the story. If your character is going to whisper we need to see very clearly why she is whispering before it even happens.


32 Comments on Writing Dialogue, last added: 7/10/2008
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13. Writer's Block

I'm currently working on a humor project about writer's block. One of the characters is an agent. I'm just looking for some perspective as to how an agent might deal with a formerly successful writer that hasn't been able to write anything in a couple years. What would be the realistic way in which to handle this client, and what would be the way in which you'd really like to handle this client?

I think to a great extent I’d personally leave the client alone. Writing is a process, and not a linear one at that, and I don’t even pretend to know the first thing about how it works to write a book, primarily because it works differently for everyone. What some people might call writer’s block others will call laziness and even others will call process. My belief is that each writer is different and what you need to do to tap into your most successful writing self is different for everyone. I have to allow that to happen.

As an agent my income depends on my writers, but it also depends on the fact that my clients are writing good books, and sometimes that means allowing those clients to take the time they need to develop the book. I can’t shake a book out of a writer. I can’t even beg or cajole. All I can really do is be patient and wait, offer encouragement and advice when asked. And this is one reason it’s important for agents to have multiple clients. Trust me, it’s easier on my clients when I’m not depending on one to keep my agency afloat. If one of my clients is struggling through the process, taking a break, or exploring new directions, I have the luxury to let her be while I focus on those who are actively writing and submitting material. That doesn’t mean I ignore the client with writer’s block, I just give her the room she needs to discover.


21 Comments on Writer's Block, last added: 9/19/2009
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