Monday, February 28, 2011

Today is my final guest posting as February "poet of the month" at Angela Felsted's blog, My Poetry and Prose Place. Today's piece is called "Graham at St. Stephens." If you can spare a moment, stop by to take a peek.

It's another of my novel cutting-room floor experiments. You, too, could have fun reworking excised bits of larger works as poems or short stories. See my post "Giving Life to Peripheral Stories" for more details on doing just that.

Last day to vote!
Don't forget to visit the Republic of Pemberley to vote on stories in their short story contest. Click HERE to read the stories and vote for your top three favorites.

Jenna Wallace, who was one of my writing contest winners last year, has a wonderful entry, #74 "Intent and Intensity." It's a clever, well-written updating of Sense and Sensibility. I hope you can join me in supporting a gifted fellow blogger.

How was your weekend, friends?
9:31 AM Laurel Garver
Today is my final guest posting as February "poet of the month" at Angela Felsted's blog, My Poetry and Prose Place. Today's piece is called "Graham at St. Stephens." If you can spare a moment, stop by to take a peek.

It's another of my novel cutting-room floor experiments. You, too, could have fun reworking excised bits of larger works as poems or short stories. See my post "Giving Life to Peripheral Stories" for more details on doing just that.

Last day to vote!
Don't forget to visit the Republic of Pemberley to vote on stories in their short story contest. Click HERE to read the stories and vote for your top three favorites.

Jenna Wallace, who was one of my writing contest winners last year, has a wonderful entry, #74 "Intent and Intensity." It's a clever, well-written updating of Sense and Sensibility. I hope you can join me in supporting a gifted fellow blogger.

How was your weekend, friends?

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Republic of Pemberley site is holding a short story contest, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It." Click HERE to read the stories and vote for your top three favorites.

One might question whether this is a popularity contest or a skill-based one. Perhaps it's a bit of both, so I really wanted to draw your attention to the entry by the talented Jenna Wallace, who was one of my writing contest winners last year. Her story is #74 "Intent and Intensity." It's a clever and really well-written updating of Sense and Sensibility.

Swing on by before 2/28 and give our blogger pal your support! Her work definitely deserves it.

What do you think of updated classics?
12:36 PM Laurel Garver
The Republic of Pemberley site is holding a short story contest, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It." Click HERE to read the stories and vote for your top three favorites.

One might question whether this is a popularity contest or a skill-based one. Perhaps it's a bit of both, so I really wanted to draw your attention to the entry by the talented Jenna Wallace, who was one of my writing contest winners last year. Her story is #74 "Intent and Intensity." It's a clever and really well-written updating of Sense and Sensibility.

Swing on by before 2/28 and give our blogger pal your support! Her work definitely deserves it.

What do you think of updated classics?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apostrophes remain the most abused punctuation out there. I see them misused on billboards and shop window signs, in manuscripts I critique and blogs I stalk. After critiquing three manuscripts with apostrophe issues, I thought I should revisit the issue.

My number one take away message:
If you don't know how to form the plural of a word, LOOK IT UP.
Don't use an apostrophe unless the dictionary or a style guide says to do so. Got it?

Thank you. I feel much better now. Now, onto when and how you should use apostrophes.

Mine! Mine!
Apostrophes and possessives

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and s to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) and plurals that don't end in s. Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Inez's marimba
Children's menu
Men's restroom

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone. Be sure that the plural is correctly formed first. (When in doubt, look it up.) Errors creep in with names especially. Names ending in y simply take an s. Names ending with ch, s, sh, x or z take an es when made plural. Some examples are below.

Girls' first win
Grants' party
O'Reillys' bar
Collinses' house
Mirouxes' vineyard

Note: If you struggle with apostrophes, avoid giving characters first names ending in s (like Alexis or Joss) or last names ending in s, sh, ch, x or z (like Robbins, Koch, Leax, Sanchez). You'll eliminate many headaches and confusion for yourself.

Beware the masqueraders!
PROnouns, those handy stand-in words that keep us from sounding incredibly redundant, do not use apostrophes in their possessive forms. Some examples are below.

She had her cat spayed. That tabby is hers.
They drove me in their car. Yes, the Audi is theirs.
You want me to come to your house? Which one is yours?
Who left this here? Whose magazine is this?

Pronouns take apostrophes only when forming contractions (more on this below). NO EXCEPTIONS. If you see who's, it means "who is" or "who has" or "who was." It's means "it is" or "it has" or "it was."

Bridging the gaps
Omitted letters and contractions

Apostrophes play another important role: as a placeholder. They stand in for omitted letters in a single word or combined words (a.k.a. contractions). Some examples are below.

Ma'am = madam
'cause = because
don't = do not
could've = could have
who's = who is / who was / who has
they're = they are / they were

Oddball plurals
a soon-to-be extinct exception

It was once the rule that numbers, letters, abbreviations and acronyms always took an apostrophe and s in their plural forms. For example: In the 1940's, C.P.A.'s minded their P's and Q's. This "rule" is currently in flux and appears to be headed for extinction.

Most of the newest style manuals have eliminated this practice. MLA 7th edition section 3.2.7g says "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." The Associated Press applies the oddball apostrophe plural rule only to single letters (for example, M's), while numbers and abbreviations/acronyms go without the curl.

The trend seems to be apostrophe minimalism. So go ahead and write it like this: "In the 1940s, CPAs minded their Ps and Qs." The Modern Language Association will back you all the way.


Which of these areas trip you up most?

*this is a revised post from 2009.
9:06 AM Laurel Garver
Apostrophes remain the most abused punctuation out there. I see them misused on billboards and shop window signs, in manuscripts I critique and blogs I stalk. After critiquing three manuscripts with apostrophe issues, I thought I should revisit the issue.

My number one take away message:
If you don't know how to form the plural of a word, LOOK IT UP.
Don't use an apostrophe unless the dictionary or a style guide says to do so. Got it?

Thank you. I feel much better now. Now, onto when and how you should use apostrophes.

Mine! Mine!
Apostrophes and possessives

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and s to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) and plurals that don't end in s. Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Inez's marimba
Children's menu
Men's restroom

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone. Be sure that the plural is correctly formed first. (When in doubt, look it up.) Errors creep in with names especially. Names ending in y simply take an s. Names ending with ch, s, sh, x or z take an es when made plural. Some examples are below.

Girls' first win
Grants' party
O'Reillys' bar
Collinses' house
Mirouxes' vineyard

Note: If you struggle with apostrophes, avoid giving characters first names ending in s (like Alexis or Joss) or last names ending in s, sh, ch, x or z (like Robbins, Koch, Leax, Sanchez). You'll eliminate many headaches and confusion for yourself.

Beware the masqueraders!
PROnouns, those handy stand-in words that keep us from sounding incredibly redundant, do not use apostrophes in their possessive forms. Some examples are below.

She had her cat spayed. That tabby is hers.
They drove me in their car. Yes, the Audi is theirs.
You want me to come to your house? Which one is yours?
Who left this here? Whose magazine is this?

Pronouns take apostrophes only when forming contractions (more on this below). NO EXCEPTIONS. If you see who's, it means "who is" or "who has" or "who was." It's means "it is" or "it has" or "it was."

Bridging the gaps
Omitted letters and contractions

Apostrophes play another important role: as a placeholder. They stand in for omitted letters in a single word or combined words (a.k.a. contractions). Some examples are below.

Ma'am = madam
'cause = because
don't = do not
could've = could have
who's = who is / who was / who has
they're = they are / they were

Oddball plurals
a soon-to-be extinct exception

It was once the rule that numbers, letters, abbreviations and acronyms always took an apostrophe and s in their plural forms. For example: In the 1940's, C.P.A.'s minded their P's and Q's. This "rule" is currently in flux and appears to be headed for extinction.

Most of the newest style manuals have eliminated this practice. MLA 7th edition section 3.2.7g says "Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation or a number." The Associated Press applies the oddball apostrophe plural rule only to single letters (for example, M's), while numbers and abbreviations/acronyms go without the curl.

The trend seems to be apostrophe minimalism. So go ahead and write it like this: "In the 1940s, CPAs minded their Ps and Qs." The Modern Language Association will back you all the way.


Which of these areas trip you up most?

*this is a revised post from 2009.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I'm once again guest posting at Angela Felsted's Blog, My Poetry and Prose Place, a post entitled Making Words Your Playground. I share some exercises to grow a wide and flexible vocabulary, one of the foundational skill sets for writing lush poems.

So, how was your weekend, friends? I spent mine in the Poconos with a great group of teenagers from church. I'm a smidge sleep deprived, but so glad I went. It was really energizing to connect more deeply with some of the kids, and better understand their world, fears, dreams and aspirations. Times like this are so important to me both as a person of faith and as a writer who feels a strong pull toward creating stories for teens that change how they understand themselves and their place in the world.

How do you connect to your target audience? How is what you write connected to other passions in your life?
9:57 AM Laurel Garver
I'm once again guest posting at Angela Felsted's Blog, My Poetry and Prose Place, a post entitled Making Words Your Playground. I share some exercises to grow a wide and flexible vocabulary, one of the foundational skill sets for writing lush poems.

So, how was your weekend, friends? I spent mine in the Poconos with a great group of teenagers from church. I'm a smidge sleep deprived, but so glad I went. It was really energizing to connect more deeply with some of the kids, and better understand their world, fears, dreams and aspirations. Times like this are so important to me both as a person of faith and as a writer who feels a strong pull toward creating stories for teens that change how they understand themselves and their place in the world.

How do you connect to your target audience? How is what you write connected to other passions in your life?

Friday, February 18, 2011

The blogosphere has been buzzing about the e-book phenomenon for some time. One question that publishers are thinking about--but writers may not be--is how might we harness technology to make books something MORE?

At a conference I attended last fall, a panelist discussed the "enhanced e-book" model publishers hope will make children's books "value-added." By this, they mean embedding added features--glossary links to difficult vocabulary, pop-ups that provide educational information on the history or science of a story, illustrations that can be explored in three dimensions.

The possibilities of marrying story worlds with technology are frankly mind-boggling. An essay I recently edited at work led me to discover how even poets are exploring techie enhancements. Think of it as "concrete poetry gets its groove on."

The piece I read looked at work by poet Oni Buchanan. Some of her poetry is created using Flash animation so that the poem morphs and evolves, the letters exploding and reforming into new phrases and forms. It's one of the most astonishingly cool things I have seen in some time.

Take a look at her poem series "The Mandrake Vehicles," which Buchanan calls "installations"--a term performance artists use. Prepared to be amazed. It's freaking brilliant.

What enhancements would you love to see in e-books of the future?
10:02 AM Laurel Garver
The blogosphere has been buzzing about the e-book phenomenon for some time. One question that publishers are thinking about--but writers may not be--is how might we harness technology to make books something MORE?

At a conference I attended last fall, a panelist discussed the "enhanced e-book" model publishers hope will make children's books "value-added." By this, they mean embedding added features--glossary links to difficult vocabulary, pop-ups that provide educational information on the history or science of a story, illustrations that can be explored in three dimensions.

The possibilities of marrying story worlds with technology are frankly mind-boggling. An essay I recently edited at work led me to discover how even poets are exploring techie enhancements. Think of it as "concrete poetry gets its groove on."

The piece I read looked at work by poet Oni Buchanan. Some of her poetry is created using Flash animation so that the poem morphs and evolves, the letters exploding and reforming into new phrases and forms. It's one of the most astonishingly cool things I have seen in some time.

Take a look at her poem series "The Mandrake Vehicles," which Buchanan calls "installations"--a term performance artists use. Prepared to be amazed. It's freaking brilliant.

What enhancements would you love to see in e-books of the future?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Google searches in the research process. They can be an efficient way to fact-check aspects of your story. I've at times used Googlemaps street view to walk around neighborhoods I hadn't forayed into deeply enough on a prior research trip. Heck, I've even used street view to roam cemeteries in France in search of a geographically appropriate surname.

The truth is, I'd never have bothered with the graveyard walks if it weren't for an expert. A French ex-pat I work with once offhandedly identified one of our magazine contributor's home region based on her surname alone. If any native would know regional ties to particular names, I couldn't pick a surname for my characters willy-nilly. An inaccuracy would make my reader lose confidence. Were I more fluent in French, I could have searched regional phone directories, surely. But the graveyard walks yielded what I needed easily enough.

My point here is to not limit yourself to Internet research alone. More often than not an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes. And a ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information.

Just as importantly, you need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story's particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn't going to be much help--partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn't clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid--someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

One golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people LOVE to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you're seeking. Your personal contacts can lead you to other experts as well. But don't be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger. The worst they can say is "Sorry, I can't help you."

Approach your sources as if you were a reporter doing fact-checking--in other words, there will be no pressure that your source's name will splashed across a front page. For more tips on contacting and interviewing experts, see THIS helpful site, created for student journalists.

Have you made use of experts in researching aspects of your fiction? How might expert insights help make your story stronger? If you could shadow someone for a day to get insights for your story, who would it be?
9:13 AM Laurel Garver
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Google searches in the research process. They can be an efficient way to fact-check aspects of your story. I've at times used Googlemaps street view to walk around neighborhoods I hadn't forayed into deeply enough on a prior research trip. Heck, I've even used street view to roam cemeteries in France in search of a geographically appropriate surname.

The truth is, I'd never have bothered with the graveyard walks if it weren't for an expert. A French ex-pat I work with once offhandedly identified one of our magazine contributor's home region based on her surname alone. If any native would know regional ties to particular names, I couldn't pick a surname for my characters willy-nilly. An inaccuracy would make my reader lose confidence. Were I more fluent in French, I could have searched regional phone directories, surely. But the graveyard walks yielded what I needed easily enough.

My point here is to not limit yourself to Internet research alone. More often than not an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes. And a ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information.

Just as importantly, you need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story's particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn't going to be much help--partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn't clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid--someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

One golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people LOVE to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you're seeking. Your personal contacts can lead you to other experts as well. But don't be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger. The worst they can say is "Sorry, I can't help you."

Approach your sources as if you were a reporter doing fact-checking--in other words, there will be no pressure that your source's name will splashed across a front page. For more tips on contacting and interviewing experts, see THIS helpful site, created for student journalists.

Have you made use of experts in researching aspects of your fiction? How might expert insights help make your story stronger? If you could shadow someone for a day to get insights for your story, who would it be?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Black Squirrel_0486


A friend from Texas visited my neighborhood and saw a fellow just like this scamper across the street and up a tree.

"What the heck was that thing?" he asked.

"A squirrel," I said.

"Yeah, but it's...black. Like some kind of crazy fluff-tailed ninja."

My friend's outsider perspective made our local nature oddity a whole lot cooler than, say, a park guide might. The guide would give you a lot of dry facts about how melanistic squirrels are a subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel that developed darker fur to better hide in dense northern forests and stay warmer in cold winters. Sorry, but ya-awn.

This contrast an important thing to keep in mind as you make decisions about how you will go about describing your setting, and through whose eyes details will be filtered. The local character might know a deeper, more detailed history, but the outsider will always give you the colorful twist on what's most unique in your setting. Not a dull science lesson on genetic adaptation, but fluff-tailed ninjas.

What's unique about your setting? How could outsider perspective make it just a little bit cooler?
7:58 AM Laurel Garver
Black Squirrel_0486


A friend from Texas visited my neighborhood and saw a fellow just like this scamper across the street and up a tree.

"What the heck was that thing?" he asked.

"A squirrel," I said.

"Yeah, but it's...black. Like some kind of crazy fluff-tailed ninja."

My friend's outsider perspective made our local nature oddity a whole lot cooler than, say, a park guide might. The guide would give you a lot of dry facts about how melanistic squirrels are a subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel that developed darker fur to better hide in dense northern forests and stay warmer in cold winters. Sorry, but ya-awn.

This contrast an important thing to keep in mind as you make decisions about how you will go about describing your setting, and through whose eyes details will be filtered. The local character might know a deeper, more detailed history, but the outsider will always give you the colorful twist on what's most unique in your setting. Not a dull science lesson on genetic adaptation, but fluff-tailed ninjas.

What's unique about your setting? How could outsider perspective make it just a little bit cooler?

Friday, February 11, 2011

For most of the world, today's date is 11-02-2011, a palindrome. You know, something that can be read the same forward and backward. I suppose we wacky Americans will celebrate on November 2, since our convention is to write dates in month, day, year format.

Palindromes are the math of language--more about pattern than meaning per se. People who are good at creating them are guaranteed to slaughter you at Scrabble. But someone with this kind of mind this makes a great addition to your reading team, because he or she will catch every echo, missing word and spelling error, saving you from many embarrassments.

One of my favorite fictional characters, Adah in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, habitually plays palindrome games in her head. Adah walks with a limp--unsymmetrical movement. Yet intellectually, she loves symmetry and especially "palindromes, with their perfect, satisfying taste." She explains:

"When I finish reading a book from front to back, I read it back to front. It is a different book, back to front, and you can learn new things from it. It from things new learn can you and front to back book different a is it?

"You can agree or not, as you like. This is another way to read it, although I am told a normal brain will not grasp it: Ti morf sgniht wen nrael can uoy dna tnorf ot kcab koob tnereffid a si ti. The normal, I understand, can see words my way only if they are adequately poetic: Poor Dan is in a droop" (p. 56).

I can't say my brain naturally works like Adah's, but I do find palindromes fun and fascinating. Here are a few favorites I found online:

Was it a car or a cat I saw?
Lisa Bonet ate no basil.
No trace, not one carton.
Nurse, I spy gypsies. Run!
I saw desserts; I’d no lemons, alas no melon! Distressed was I.

There are loads more at The Biggest List of Palindromes Online.

Have a favorite palindrome? What word games do you like to play? What would be a good way to celebrate Palindrome Day?
9:33 AM Laurel Garver
For most of the world, today's date is 11-02-2011, a palindrome. You know, something that can be read the same forward and backward. I suppose we wacky Americans will celebrate on November 2, since our convention is to write dates in month, day, year format.

Palindromes are the math of language--more about pattern than meaning per se. People who are good at creating them are guaranteed to slaughter you at Scrabble. But someone with this kind of mind this makes a great addition to your reading team, because he or she will catch every echo, missing word and spelling error, saving you from many embarrassments.

One of my favorite fictional characters, Adah in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, habitually plays palindrome games in her head. Adah walks with a limp--unsymmetrical movement. Yet intellectually, she loves symmetry and especially "palindromes, with their perfect, satisfying taste." She explains:

"When I finish reading a book from front to back, I read it back to front. It is a different book, back to front, and you can learn new things from it. It from things new learn can you and front to back book different a is it?

"You can agree or not, as you like. This is another way to read it, although I am told a normal brain will not grasp it: Ti morf sgniht wen nrael can uoy dna tnorf ot kcab koob tnereffid a si ti. The normal, I understand, can see words my way only if they are adequately poetic: Poor Dan is in a droop" (p. 56).

I can't say my brain naturally works like Adah's, but I do find palindromes fun and fascinating. Here are a few favorites I found online:

Was it a car or a cat I saw?
Lisa Bonet ate no basil.
No trace, not one carton.
Nurse, I spy gypsies. Run!
I saw desserts; I’d no lemons, alas no melon! Distressed was I.

There are loads more at The Biggest List of Palindromes Online.

Have a favorite palindrome? What word games do you like to play? What would be a good way to celebrate Palindrome Day?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When you work on multiple computers, you have to be careful or you're likely to lose precious hours. I've usually used the program Dropbox to keep all my files synced, but earlier this week I decided to e-mail myself a piece I was in the middle of critiquing.

Can you feel the dumb coming? That's right, I downloaded the incomplete file and did NOT save it to a specific folder under a new name. I just opened the document and started working. Well, guess what? At the end of THREE HOURS, I hit save. Then I tried to e-mail this critique. The file, of course, had vanished.

I've run six different searches, expanded even into the program files, with no luck. That sucker is just gone. I'll have to re-do all that work--re-inputting comments on five chapters out of nine total.

Friends, please learn from my mental lapse. If you ever download a Word document from e-mail, immediately do a "save as," give it a new name, and specify that it save to a folder where you can find it again. Make no changes until you are certain the document is physically on your computer. Use a program like Googledocs or Dropbox to back up everything as well.

Anyone have a computer-related "epic fail" story you want to share? What steps do you take to ensure files don't vanish?
10:45 AM Laurel Garver
When you work on multiple computers, you have to be careful or you're likely to lose precious hours. I've usually used the program Dropbox to keep all my files synced, but earlier this week I decided to e-mail myself a piece I was in the middle of critiquing.

Can you feel the dumb coming? That's right, I downloaded the incomplete file and did NOT save it to a specific folder under a new name. I just opened the document and started working. Well, guess what? At the end of THREE HOURS, I hit save. Then I tried to e-mail this critique. The file, of course, had vanished.

I've run six different searches, expanded even into the program files, with no luck. That sucker is just gone. I'll have to re-do all that work--re-inputting comments on five chapters out of nine total.

Friends, please learn from my mental lapse. If you ever download a Word document from e-mail, immediately do a "save as," give it a new name, and specify that it save to a folder where you can find it again. Make no changes until you are certain the document is physically on your computer. Use a program like Googledocs or Dropbox to back up everything as well.

Anyone have a computer-related "epic fail" story you want to share? What steps do you take to ensure files don't vanish?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Writing a novel usually involves generating an extensive amount of imaginative material--mentally and perhaps on paper as well--that will never appear directly in the book itself. This includes character sheets, freewrites, voice explorations, backstory and failed scenes.

Before you touch a match to these reams of paper, consider how some might find second life. After all, you know and love these characters. Some of the events of their lives may not fit within the story arc of your novel, but it doesn't mean those events aren't worth telling. Consider spinning them off as short stories or poems.

Short story
If you despair of having no publishing credits, consider how you might be able to convert some of your peripheral material into short-format fiction and place the stories with magazines or e-zines. This could be a microfiction format such as dribble (50 words), drabble (100 words) or flash fiction (500-1,000 words) as well as standard short story (1K-9K words). See my March 2010 post Spotlight on Microficiton for more information.

Like your novel itself, your short story needs to have a dramatic arc--inciting incident, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement. Often the denouement section will be very, very condensed or merely hinted at.

Perhaps some past event is hinted at continually in your novel, but dramatizing it would only slow the story down. Here's your chance to explore that event fully. Perhaps you had to axe an entire plot line when you eliminated a secondary character. Go find those notes a write that story as a stand-alone.

Short story format is also an excellent way to test out your story world on an audience and build a fan base for your work.

Poetry
Converting peripheral material into poetry is a somewhat different animal because it's more extreme genre-switching than going from one fiction category to another. Poetry has its own rules that you need to know to succeed.

Many beginners either write sing-songy metered and rhymed pieces, or think that line breaks alone are enough to make prose into a poem. Alas, this is not so.

Poetry needs to have layers of meaning, to juxtapose images in intriguing, new ways and to use literary devices such as allusion, assonance and consonance, onomatopoeia, metonymy, metaphor, simile and other forms of figurative language and symbolism.

Yesterday I mentioned turning an excised scene into a poem that was featured HERE. The main reason this material never worked in the book is because it was too much like poetry in the first place. My protagonist was having a trippy dream in which she drew events from her life and they became active, like the video of Ah-ha's song "Take on Me." As I got sucked into Dani's dream, the layers of images and sound play became more important than how well material fit the story. The scene didn't really fit the story tone and brought the pace to a screeching halt. Yet the "Moving on" portion had a full arc with conflict, climax and denouement/epiphany. It was begging for a life of its own. I kept tweaking the language to strengthen the dirty/clean and dry/wet dichotomy through image and sound. The hissing, dusty S and scratchy K sounds give way to wet Ws and onomatopoetic drip-like clicks of T. In other words, the process was more complex than adding line breaks to prose.

Poetry writing is a great way to get at the heart of a life-changing event in your character's past and explore what it means to her. The images it conjures will help you build a symbolic lexicon for this person that can be brought to bear on the novel. For example, she might associate dogs with danger or with loyalty or carefree joy, depending on her early experiences.

You can also place poems with magazines and contests to build a fan base.

Do you have any excised material you want to give new life? What format will you try?
10:03 AM Laurel Garver
Writing a novel usually involves generating an extensive amount of imaginative material--mentally and perhaps on paper as well--that will never appear directly in the book itself. This includes character sheets, freewrites, voice explorations, backstory and failed scenes.

Before you touch a match to these reams of paper, consider how some might find second life. After all, you know and love these characters. Some of the events of their lives may not fit within the story arc of your novel, but it doesn't mean those events aren't worth telling. Consider spinning them off as short stories or poems.

Short story
If you despair of having no publishing credits, consider how you might be able to convert some of your peripheral material into short-format fiction and place the stories with magazines or e-zines. This could be a microfiction format such as dribble (50 words), drabble (100 words) or flash fiction (500-1,000 words) as well as standard short story (1K-9K words). See my March 2010 post Spotlight on Microficiton for more information.

Like your novel itself, your short story needs to have a dramatic arc--inciting incident, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement. Often the denouement section will be very, very condensed or merely hinted at.

Perhaps some past event is hinted at continually in your novel, but dramatizing it would only slow the story down. Here's your chance to explore that event fully. Perhaps you had to axe an entire plot line when you eliminated a secondary character. Go find those notes a write that story as a stand-alone.

Short story format is also an excellent way to test out your story world on an audience and build a fan base for your work.

Poetry
Converting peripheral material into poetry is a somewhat different animal because it's more extreme genre-switching than going from one fiction category to another. Poetry has its own rules that you need to know to succeed.

Many beginners either write sing-songy metered and rhymed pieces, or think that line breaks alone are enough to make prose into a poem. Alas, this is not so.

Poetry needs to have layers of meaning, to juxtapose images in intriguing, new ways and to use literary devices such as allusion, assonance and consonance, onomatopoeia, metonymy, metaphor, simile and other forms of figurative language and symbolism.

Yesterday I mentioned turning an excised scene into a poem that was featured HERE. The main reason this material never worked in the book is because it was too much like poetry in the first place. My protagonist was having a trippy dream in which she drew events from her life and they became active, like the video of Ah-ha's song "Take on Me." As I got sucked into Dani's dream, the layers of images and sound play became more important than how well material fit the story. The scene didn't really fit the story tone and brought the pace to a screeching halt. Yet the "Moving on" portion had a full arc with conflict, climax and denouement/epiphany. It was begging for a life of its own. I kept tweaking the language to strengthen the dirty/clean and dry/wet dichotomy through image and sound. The hissing, dusty S and scratchy K sounds give way to wet Ws and onomatopoetic drip-like clicks of T. In other words, the process was more complex than adding line breaks to prose.

Poetry writing is a great way to get at the heart of a life-changing event in your character's past and explore what it means to her. The images it conjures will help you build a symbolic lexicon for this person that can be brought to bear on the novel. For example, she might associate dogs with danger or with loyalty or carefree joy, depending on her early experiences.

You can also place poems with magazines and contests to build a fan base.

Do you have any excised material you want to give new life? What format will you try?

Monday, February 07, 2011

I've been selected as one of Angela Felsted's Poets of the Month after placing in her poetry contest. Today she posted my poem "Moving On" at My Poetry and Prose Place. I'll be doing another guest post on 2/21 and a second poem, "Graham at St. Stephens" will be featured on 2/28. If you get a chance, swing on by to say hello.

I fell hard for poetry while taking a contemporary poetry course as an undergrad. The prof began the class by lining us around the perimeter of the room and having us shout random portions of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" at one another. This was a universe away from the precious ponderings of Wordsworth and a game changer for me creatively. Many scenarios I would've previously thought unpoetical became grist for the mill--my janitorial work-study job, memories of Dad slaughtering chickens, a weedy patch in a slum--because truth is beautiful, no matter where you find it.

The pieces I entered in Angela's contest are both built from my novel notes--pieces of backstory that never made it into the book. I'll be posting tomorrow (my regular day) about getting more mileage from your character studies.

What authors have been game-changers for your creatively? Have you ever found a beautiful truth in an ugly place?
9:12 AM Laurel Garver
I've been selected as one of Angela Felsted's Poets of the Month after placing in her poetry contest. Today she posted my poem "Moving On" at My Poetry and Prose Place. I'll be doing another guest post on 2/21 and a second poem, "Graham at St. Stephens" will be featured on 2/28. If you get a chance, swing on by to say hello.

I fell hard for poetry while taking a contemporary poetry course as an undergrad. The prof began the class by lining us around the perimeter of the room and having us shout random portions of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" at one another. This was a universe away from the precious ponderings of Wordsworth and a game changer for me creatively. Many scenarios I would've previously thought unpoetical became grist for the mill--my janitorial work-study job, memories of Dad slaughtering chickens, a weedy patch in a slum--because truth is beautiful, no matter where you find it.

The pieces I entered in Angela's contest are both built from my novel notes--pieces of backstory that never made it into the book. I'll be posting tomorrow (my regular day) about getting more mileage from your character studies.

What authors have been game-changers for your creatively? Have you ever found a beautiful truth in an ugly place?