Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Word Box: Unusual Divinations I-X

More unusual divinations and magics!  Really, I just want to see someone use these.  Or at least one of these.

Just make sure you're not doing a moromancy (a foolish divination) or a pseudomancy (a false or fake divination.)

ichnomancy - ( )

         Divination using footprints

ichthyomancy - ( )

        Divination or magic involving fish

iconomancy - ( )

         Divination using icons

idolomancy - ( )

 Divination using idols

keraunoscopia - ( )

  Divination using thunder

knissomancy - ( )

  Divination using burning incense

lithomancy - ( )

           Divination by stones

logomancy - ( )

Divination by words or by speech

macromancy - ( )

  Divination by studying the largest object in the area

maculomancy - ( )

  Divination by spots

margaritomancy - ( )

  Divination using pearls

mathemancy - ( )

  Divination using mathematics

meconomancy - ( )

  Divination by sleep or magic using sleep

meteoromancy - ( )

  Divination using meteors

metopomancy - ( )

  Divination using a person's forehead

micromancy - ( )

  Divination by studying the smallest object in the area

narcomancy - ( )

  Divination by sleep or magic using sleep

necromancy - ( )

  Divination using black magic or the dead

necyomancy - ( )

  Divination involving summoning the devil

odontomancy - ( )

           Divination using teeth

oenomancy - ( )

  Divination by wine

omoplatoscopy - ( )

  Divination involving a shoulder blade which has been charred or cracked from a fire

oneiromancy - ( )

  Divination by dreams, or interpreting dreams

onimancy - ( )

  Divination using fingernails

onomancy - ( )

  Divination using a name or the letters in a name

onychomancy - ( )

  Divination using fingernails

oomancy - ( )

  Divination or magic using eggs

ophiomancy - ( )

  Divination by snakes or serpents

ornithomancy - ( )

  Divination using birds' flight and cries

oryctomancy - ( )

  Divination by studying excavated objects

ossomancy - ( )

  Divination using bones

osteomancy - ( )

  Divination using bones

pegomancy - ( )

Fortunetelling using the bubbles in a fountain

pessomancy - ( )

Divination using stones or rocks

phyllomancy - ( )

Magic using leaves or foretelling one's future from leaves

physiognomancy - ( )

Divination using a person's face

psephomancy - ( )

Divination by drawing marked stones from a container

psychomancy - ( )

Divination by talking to the dead

pyromancy - ( )

Divination using fire or magic involving fire

rhabdomancy - ( )

  Divination using a stick or rod, such as dowsing for water

rhapsodomancy - ( )

  The art of predicting the future using poetry

scapulimancy - ( )

  Divination involving a shoulder blade which has been charred or cracked from a fire

scatomancy - ( )

  Magic or divination using excrement

schematomancy - ( )

  Divination using the appearance of people

sciomancy - ( )

  Divination by talking to the dead

selenomancy - ( )

  Divination using the moon

sideromancy - ( )

  1 Foretelling the future by studying the stars

sideromancy - ( )

  2. Divination using straw burned on hot metal

spasmatomancy - ( )

  Divination using convulsions or twitching of one's limbs

spatilomancy - ( )

  Divination using animal droppings

spatulamancy - ( )

  Divination involving the shoulder blades of animals

spheromancy - ( )

  Divination using a crystal sphere

spodomancy - ( )

  Divination using ashes

stichomancy - ( )

  Divination using random lines from a book or the Bible

sycomancy - ( )

  Divination using figs

theomancy - ( )

  Using gods or oracles to foretell the future

theriomancy - ( )

  Divination using animals or their movement

topomancy - ( )

  Divination using the shape of the land

trochomancy - ( )

  Divination by studying wheel tracks

tyromancy - ( )

  Divination or magic using cheese

uranomancy - ( )

  Divination by consulting the heavens

urimancy - ( )

  Magic or fortunetelling using urine

xenomancy - ( )

Divination by using the first stranger to be found

xylomancy - ( )

Divination using a piece of wood or magic using wood

I've seen -mancy added to many words to pertain to magic as well as divination.  Necromancy, for example, is the well-known school of magic of villains everywhere (and occasionally heroes, as well, depending on the story...)

Tell me about the unusual magic your characters use. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Word Box: Unusual Divinations A-H

Running through the Grandiloquent Dictionary, I came across ailuromancy - divination by studying a cat's jump.
Thus begins the Word Box: a writer's toolkit for unusual words that just beg to be included in a story.

Today's theme?  Strange divinations.  (Note that all of these are brought to you by Grandiloquent.)

aeromancy -( )

 Divination using the air

ailuromancy -( )

 Divination by studying a cat's jump

alectryomancy -( )

 Magic using corn

aleuromancy -( )

 Divination using flour

alphitomancy -( )

 Divination using barley meal

ambulomancy -( )

 Divination by walking

anthomancy -( )

 Divination using flowers

anthracomancy -( )

 Divination using burning coals

anthropomancy -( )

 Magic or divination using people, or foretelling the future using the entrails of a sacrificed person

armomancy -( )

 Divination involving the shoulder blades of animals

astragalomancy -( )

 Divination using dice

augury -( )

 Divination using bird's flight

austromancy -( )

 Divination using the wind

bibliomancy - ( )

 Divination using books or Bible passages

botanomancy - ( )

 Divination using plants

brontomancy - ( )

 Divination by or magic involving thunder

catoptomancy - ( )

 Divination using a mirror or several mirrors

catoptromancy - ( )

 Divination based on how a face appears when viewed in a mirror underwater

ceneromancy - ( )

 Divination using ashes

cephalomancy - ( )

 Divination by boiling a head, usually that of a donkey

ceraunomancy - ( )

 Divination by or magic using thunderbolts

cleidomancy - ( )

 Divination using a key

cleromancy - ( )

 Divination involving dice

conchomancy - ( )

 Divination using shells

crithomancy - ( )

 Divination by spreading flour or dough over a sacrificed animal

cromnyomancy - ( )

 Magic or divination using an onion

capnomancy - ( )

 Divination by smoke

dririmancy - ( )

  Divination by dripping blood

demonomancy - ( )

  Divination by demons

extispicy - ( )

  Divination using entrails

enoptromancy - ( )

  Divination using a mirror

gastromancy - ( )

  Divination using a crystal ball

geloscopy - ( )

  Divination involving laughter

graptomancy - ( )

  Divination using hand writing

gyromancy - ( )

  Divination involving walking in a circle until you fall down

halomancy - ( )

  Divination or magic using salt

haruspication - ( )

  Divination using entrails

hieromancy - ( )

  Divination using entrails

hematomancy - ( )

  Divination using blood

hippomancy - ( )

  Divination by horses, or by the neighing of horses

hydromancy - ( )

  Divination by water of magic involving water

hypnomancy - ( )

  Divination by hypnosis

On Wednesday, we'll continue the list of unusual divinations.  Is anyone else disturbed by the number of words for "divination by entrails"?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shaking down the plants

I haven't had much time for blogging lately.  Perhaps you noticed a lack of posts on Wed?  Whoops. 

But I have had enough time to shake my plants down for seeds.

Basil, apparently, stops being "sweet basil" after it blooms.  However, the leaves still taste good in a pasta sauce, and blooms lead to seeds.  I sent two friends away with basil seeds for their own garden.

Morning glory seed pods dry out, and it's easy to harvest the seeds for next year's use.  I've heard, however, that the flowers that bloom from a second-generation vine always come out white, and not the vibrant blue of my current vine.  We'll see.

Of course, the gerbera daisies keep popping up new blooms; big, bright yellow flowers that live for a few days and then die.  The middle of the flower becomes a dandelion-esque hank of seeds, which can be replanted.

The stock grows long seed pods that look sort of like beans.  They dry out, and if you pull them off and open them up, the small, flat disks inside are the seeds.  I've now got a pot full of stock seedlings, some of which I had to weed out and replant in order to make room for the rest.
Not my picture.  Didn't think to get the camera during the seed heist.
The marigolds - after the flowers die, the petals turn brown.  They can then be pulled out from the husk to reveal the flat seeds, again rather reminiscent of dandelion fluff (except with less fluff and more dried-yellow-petal). 

Peeled a bulblet off my amaryllis, too.  Replanted it in its own pot - ironically, the new pot is larger than the old one, so the old amaryllis is still rootbound.  Whoops.

I really don't know what the lavender seeds will look like, but I've got a bunch of flowering lavender. 

Oh, and I got more flowerpots.  Hit the clearance aisle of Lowes.  Don't ask how much I spend - just know that it was much less than it ought to have been.

Have you ever grown a plant from a seed?  What's your most successful from-a-seed (or a bulb) adventure?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Grammar Brigade: Tense? It's all in the timing.

(Edit: You may also want to read the post The verb "to be")

Tense - not tension, although it can cause that - is all about when things occur.  But sometimes, it's a little more complicated than it looks, figuring out how to express the when, especially if you're trying to keep your tenses in agreement.

Tense, the verb forms express when things happen, can be loosely categorized into past, present, and future.  That's easy; you already know those!

But tense can also be sub-categorized into simple, progressive, and perfect.  That's a little more complex.

Let's look at an example:

The tense forms of "to walk"

Now let's throw them into a relative timeline:

The "simple" tense takes place right at the specified time - a certain point in the past, the present, or a certain point in the future.  This is a point in time to which you are directly referring, the setting of your story.  It begins during your moment of reference, and ends during the moment of your reference.  For example, Angela walks down to the training arena to talk to Mick.  Angela begins the walk and ends the walk during this sentence.

The progressive tense is an action which is taking place at that time - a continuous action which begins before and continues after the moment of referral.  For example, he is walking around the training yard while Angela updates him on the status of the knights.  He was walking before Angela began talking to him, and he will continue walking throughout the conversation, and possibly even after.

The perfect tense is an action which has taken place before the time of reference. By the point of reference, it has already ended.  Angela has walked with Mick through the training yards many times before.  Those walks are all completed.

The perfect progressive indicates a verb taking place over a long period of time, began before the moment of reference and probably before some progressive event.  For example, Laurel has been walking in the courtyard since noon.  That's before Angela came down, and before Mick began walking.  It also continues during the moment - Laurel is still walking while Angela and Mick are walking.

These terms are all relative to one another, and can help place events in order.  See how they're applied here:

The knight Laurel had been practicing his jousts when Mick, Captain of the Guard, joined him in the courtyard.  They sparred together for a few minutes, before Angela interrupted.  Angela was working the purchase order, and needed to know how many straw dummies she should order.  Mick had inventoried the dummies the week night before.  He told her he needed fourteen more.

One last note - you can use all the subtenses in a single paragraph, but it's usually considered poor form to switch tenses (past, present, or future) in the same work without clear time transitions.  This is a general note, and there are cases where it's acceptable, but it's something to avoid.

Try using all four subtenses in a paragraph of your own, and share them here, in the comments!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grammar Brigade: That. Yes, That.

To each which is a college professor telling you to use that.  Is it true?  Is that the cure-all for whiches?  Just consider:

Which cat do you prefer? =>  That cat do you prefer?

I told my mother the dress she wore made her butt look big, which got me in trouble. =>  I told my mother the dress she wore made her butt look big, that got me in trouble.

The tulips, some of which were red, looked lovely. =>  The tulips, some of that were red, looked lovely.
Houston, we have a problem.

That should be used only in restrictive clauses, after the noun is modified by a superlative adjective, after counting words (such as seven or forty-five), and after the following pronouns:

{all, any, anything, every, everything, few, little, many, much, nothing, none, some, something}

Also, that should never be used to represent people.  Use who or whom instead.

All the zebras got into the clown car, including twelve zebras that belonged to the Evil League of Evil.
In a side note... "of which" may be used in place of "that" post-number concepts.  For example: All the zebras got into the clown car, twelve of which belonged to the Evil League of Evil.

Any explanations of how the zebras earned their invitations from Bad Horse into the Evil League of Evil?  Oh, and bonus points if you know from which show "Evil League of Evil" comes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I went to see The Help yesterday.  Awesome movie!  Also, if you go, be prepared to get there early, because it sold out. 

In related news, today's post was not yet written, which means this morning will provide none of the usual helpful stuff.

Instead, I give you a cat.

Also, a short rant to retailers:  It is August.  Now is the time to begin stocking supplies for fall - not put them on the final sale.  I am not going to begin decorating my house for Christmas in August.  Please stop trying to turn a single day into a four-month continuous holiday.  You've completely forgotten the point of the holiday, anyway, so there's really no reason to start advertising until after Thanksgiving - which, I may add, is also a decorating-holiday.  Only not anymore, because by the time I think to decorate for Thanksgiving (you know, early November), there are no longer any decorations left on the shelves to buy, because Christmas now begins in mid-October.

Everyone else: Guard your Halloween decoration displays closely.  Their days are numbered...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grammar Brigade: More Whiches!

More whiches! 

...  Uh, no.

In a previous post, I spoke about the uses of that versus which.  But 'which' isn't only used in restrictive clauses: it fills several parts of speech!  Some professors might send you which-hunting, and claim that the word 'which' is the phonetic version of ultimate evil.  Not true.  Which has several legitimate purposes, and ridding your vocabulary entirely of it is an equally dangerous proposition to overusing it.

Which, according to, can be used as an adjective, a pronoun, or a determiner.  In today's blog, we'll look at which as a pronoun.

All information except definitions of which taken from OWL at Purdue. Examples are mine, but everything I learned came from OWL.  It's one of my favorite sites.  Shouldn't it be one of yours, too?

Which as a Pronoun:

In a relative clause:
As a pronoun, it is used in relative clauses or as the object of a preposition.  To be specific, which is a relative pronoun, or a pronoun which introduces a relative clause.  Other examples are who, whom, whoever, whomever, whose, and that

A relative clause is a phrase that modifies a word, phrase, or idea.  The word, phrase, or idea is called the antecedent. We'll illustrate with my cat, Bard.

Also, I misspelled "antecedent."  Whoops.
That is a pronoun that replaces bird, and "that Bard caught" modifies bird.  Therefore, bird is the antecedent, because it is the word being modified, and "that Bard caught" is the relative clause.

Ex. 2:

The mouse, which Bard ate, had destroyed my cheese.

"which Bard ate" is the relative clause, with which being the relative pronoun that replaces mouse.  Mouse is therefore the antecedent, being modified by "which Bard ate." 

Note:  Why did I use which in one example, and that in the other?  Because in the latter example, which Bard ate is a non-restrictive clause: there is only one mouse to which I could be referring.  In the former, that Bard caught is a restrictive clause: there are lots of birds, so I had to specify which one Bard caught.  Restrictive/non-restrictive clauses don't mean the same thing as relative clauses, but sound enough alike that they're easily confused.  Read up on that vs. which to compare!

Which as the object of a preposition

The barn at which I threw the baseball was blue.

The dragon with which I ate lunch smelled bad.

For which of the following would I pay $10?

Which can be used as the object of a preposition, in which case it is also considered a pronoun.  It can replace an undetermined object (for which), or act as a replacement for a determined object you don't want to restate (the dragon).  In the dragon's case, which should be used, despite the fact that "with which I ate lunch" is a restrictive phrase - because which is the object of the preposition with.

Incorrect: The dragon with that I ate lunch smelled bad.
Incorrect: The dragon that I ate lunch with smelled bad.  (Note: The latter use is accepted in most informal settings, but should not be used in formal writing, because it splits the preposition from the object of the preposition.)

Which can also refer to the previous clause as a whole (which we probably should have seen coming). 

We would later grow hungry, which we probably should have seen coming.

In this case, which is a pronoun replacing the entire previous clause.

In cases in which you are uncertain as to whether to use that or which, check out the Online Writing Lab at Purdue.

What's your favorite example of using which as an object of a preposition?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Budgeting for a Writer, part 3

Great!  I've made a budget, and it clearly fits into the savings I have!  I'll be fine...

Or will I?

I brushed on this before, but I just want to reiterate: Don't cut back just because you want to save money - or you'll never stick to your budget!  Instead, figure out how much you actually spend in fun each month.

Here's a hint, and it's almost counter-intuitive: give yourself a "fun allowance," and spend it!  Giving yourself $100 a month, and it's the 25th, and you've only spent $75?  Now a friend is asking if you want to go out lunch?  Of course you do!  Because, otherwise, it's like a fad diet: you starve yourself for weeks, only to attack the fridge in the middle of the night for an ice cream bonanza.  Cutting out too much encourages crazy splurges, so control the splurges by deciding ahead of time when, where, and how much you'll spend.

That doesn't mean you can't play the numbers a little.  Let's say that you want to go to a conference, and you plan on hitting the dealers' room for a beautiful new painting.  But it's outside your monthly budget, and you didn't plan for it in your original budget.  Spend less this month and roll the savings over.  Here's another hint: save, don't borrow.  Save up for something you want, and don't borrow from next month.  Borrowing puts you in "debt" to yourself, and it's far harder to want to pay off debt than it is to want to save up for something you really want.

This is your money.  It has to last.  So have fun - really.  It's called "sanity" money.

What's your sanctioned splurge?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Budgeting for a Writer, part 2

Last post, I talked about budgeting for taking a period of time away from work in order to write.  I said that you should save for at least six months' worth of bills, plus two months' worth for extraneous expenses.  But how much do you spend in a month?

First, your basic bills:
Credit Cards
School loans
Cell phone
Car insurance
Health insurance
Any other monthly bill

Take a subtotal here.  This is the money you know you pay.

Now, a few weekly bills.  There are about 4.5 weeks in each month.
Groceries - how much do you spend each trip on groceries?
       How many times a week do you shop?
       How much do you buy in food?
       How much do you buy in pet food?
       How much do you buy in nonfood (toothpaste, aluminum foil, Lysol, kitty litter, trash bags, etc)
Eating out - do you eat out?  Do you buy fast food?  Do you buy a morning coffee?  How often?  How much do you spend?
Gas - how often do you fill up?  Assume gas will increase $.50 by the end of 6 months.  Add $.25 to the current price of gas and then figure out how much it costs to fill your tank.  This will be your 'average' from which to calculate.

Add in expenses:
Do you have to pay parking fees?
Do you have regular medications?
Oil changes for your car
How often do you buy.... (for both work and home)

Toss in entertainment:
How often do you go to the movies?
Do you buy things with a monthly fee, like Netflix or WoW? 
How often do you host friends?  How much do you pay in 'guest food'?
What are your impulse purchase habits? 
Do you take small vacations to the beach? the mountains? your grandmother's?
What other small entertainment items do you purchase on a semi-regular basis?
Do you need to purchase school supplies, or other child-related items?
Are your kids in any sports/activities which require fees and/or supplies?

Subtotal again.  This will be your average "monthly" expense, before the "plus two."  Multiply by six to get a general idea of what you'll spend in the next sixth months.

Finally, big-ticket expenses to consider:
Assume $800 for car repairs (more for older cars)
How much do writer conferences for your genre cost?  Include hotel, gas, and food.  How many do you plan to attend?
Are there any birthdays or holidays coming up, for which you need to purchase presents?
Is there any furniture you'll be planning to replace?
Do you like techno-toys?  If so, is your technology due for an upgrade?
What are the chances that you'll need to replace your computer in the next six months?
Do you plan on any other big-ticket purchases?
Now throw in an extra $800 for other emergencies and unexpected expenses.

Total.  You've now got a budget for approximately six months without employment!  But remember - money goes out the door more quickly than you expect.  Try picking up a part-time job to stretch things out.  And never, ever round down when calculating - it's better to have extra money at the end of six months than to be wiped out financially!  Also, remember that this is your budget.  That means, whatever you said about the above, you'll have to stick to.  So don't cut corners just because you think you don't really need to watch a movie in the theatres once a month.  You'll probably still do it, and it's better to make allowances now than later.

What sort of unexpected expenses have come knocking on your door, things you didn't even think you'd ever need to plan for?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Budgeting for a Writer, part 1

What, exactly, does it take to survive a leave of absence from working, as a writer?

Budgeting, planning, saving, scrimping, and trimming off the extras.

That is to say, you've decided to stop working a regular job and take up writing full time.  You want to be an author, and you know that a few months without distractions will get your first manuscript finished and ready for sale.  Now, you're planning what you need in order to do this.  You want to know how long you can expect to need to survive before making an income off your writing (hint: self-supporting writers quit the other job after their writing begins to make money!)

MONEY, that rare and possibly imaginary thing that writers dream about, doesn't come pouring in on day one.  If you plan on quitting your day job, you need a plan.  And by plan, I mean a big savings account.

Personally, I recommend saving for a minimum of six months worth of bills, plus two.  You'll need - and I do mean need - to have plans for reimployment after your money runs out.  But, if you are serious about writing without distractions, six months is a reasonable period of time to devote to nothing but writing, editing, and learning about the writing process.  If you're a quick writer, you might even complete more than one manuscript in this time period.

Let's say you're on the traditional publishing path.  It could take another two to ten years to get published - and even if you're lucky enough to get picked up on your first query, it'll still be over a year before you're in print.

Now let's say you're self-publishing.  You'll be out on the 'shelves' (so to speak - more likely, you'll be on the eReaders) much more quickly, but you'll need to plan for buying your own editor and your own good coverart.  Your print run will probably be much smaller, and even though you'll keeping a higher percentage of your returns per book, you'll be selling a lot fewer books (excepting a few lucky instant millionaires.  Don't count on that kind of luck.)

What does that mean for the rent?  It means that if you haven't saved up for two to ten years of unemployment and don't have a spouse/partner/trust fund to support you, you'll be picking back up your day job (or a new one, for that matter - it's not like you won't have six months to look for the perfect fit!)  It also means you should be planning to hold down a part time job while you're writing to extend your finances, because today's job market might turn six months into ten.

And then there's the extras: you'll want to join a writers' association.  You'll want to attend professional conferences.  You'll need to be ready for sudden emergencies, like car problems or sick pets.  That's the "plus two" I mentioned earlier.

In my next post, I'll be discussing how to figure out how much you spend each month - that means, uncovering those hidden expenses besides the bills in the mail.

As a side note, most writers have regular jobs as they get started.  The whole 'quit your day job' thing?  As I've said before, I'm currently young, single, and childless - if that wasn't the case, quitting my job would have never been an option.  But, even without a family relying on me to bring home the bacon, I've still been working: first part-time, and now making provisions to return to full-time. 

For those published authors out there - how long did it take between your first completed manuscript and the first income?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Grammar Brigade: That vs. Which

Ever engaged in a bout of which-hunting?  Confused as to whether which or that should take the place of honor in your sentence?

The answer depends on whether or not your clause is restrictive.  No, I don't mean handcuffs.  I mean, does the phrase change the meaning of the sentence?

"The car that was painted with flames along its sides could go up to 120mph."  This sentence implies that there are multiple cars, so it's necessary to specify which car could go 120mph (the one with flames on its sides.)  In this case, your clause is restrictive, because you need to specify which one of the cars can go that speed. 

"The car, which had flames painted along its sides, could go up to 120mph."  This sentence implies that there is only one car that matters.  You could throw out the phrase, and the gist of the sentence would still be understood (the car is fast!)  Therefore, your clause is nonrestrictive

In other words, if your phrase clarifies which object is being discussed, use that.  If your phrase is simply adding another description to an object, use which (and usually commas.)

My clock, which was on my bed stand, kept me awake all night.  (Non-restrictive: you already know which clock is mine.)

The clock that is on the bookshelf is hideous.  (Restrictive: there is more than one clock in the apartment.)

The Canadian goose took the bread that was stale.  (Restrictive: the goose did not take the bread that wasn't stale, but there was some non-stale bread around.)

The chipmunk stole the rest of the ham sandwich, which was very tasty.  (Non-restrictive: there's only one ham sandwich.  It was sadly missed, and no other sandwich will ever be as delicious again.)


If you've already used that to introduce a restrictive clause in a sentence, you may use which to introduce the next.  Ex:  My die that was blue which always rolled poorly mysteriously disappeared yesterday.  (This sentence implies that I have several dice, several of which are blue, and several of which roll poorly.)

Questions?  Comments?  Examples?  Eulogies for dearly departed ham sandwich?

Who vs. Which vs. That from GrammarBook
Which versus That from Grammar Girl
That Vs. Which from DailyWritingTips

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A new set of online classes

Another set of classes for writers:

What's in a Name?
Discover resources that will give you a quick sketch of your entire character just from the name, learn how to deepen characters with a few simple tools, locate your character's Goal, Motivation and Conflict with a set of simple questions, discover how to create a more powerful plot from your character, discover subplots hidden in your character's background
Runs: August 15-Sept. 14
cost: $25

Making Sexual Tension Work for You
 During the course of this class two Harlequin authors – one Presents and one Blaze – will discuss their approaches to sexual tension – how they differ and how they’re similar. We’ll use movie clips to help us recognize and evaluate what makes good sexual tension and learn how to apply those lessons to our own writing. We’ll discuss what sexual tension is, what it isn’t and how you can manipulate the 12 steps to intimacy in order to increase the stakes and tension for your characters.
Runs: August 15-August 29
Cost: $20

Everyone needs a Name
Tricks, hints and sources for finding names, whether you are writing a contemporary romance, historical fiction, fantasy, or even about a world far, far away.  The course will include help in coming up with names for places, things, and even your character’s pets.  You'll even get to choose a pen name for yourself.  If you're having trouble renaming your characters after reading common first-novel mistakes, then this might be a good class for you!
Runs: August 29-Sept. 12
Cost: $20

Classes with the Low-Country RWA
Microsoft Word for Writers
Sept. 5-30
Registration deadline: Sept. 2
Cost: $16

Monday, August 1, 2011

Avoiding the common first-novel mistakes

Today's post is a summary of two posts on 5 Creative Flaws That Will Expose Your Lack of Storytelling Experience, and 5 More Mistakes That Will Expose You As a Rookie

Don't want the agent you're querying to know that this is your first novel?  Then don't tell.  I don't mean just skipping the line in your query letter, either - I mean don't make the mistakes that most debut authors make.

I'm taking the top 5 tips from Storyfix's two articles and sharing them with you.  If you want the whole list, then check out the articles!  These are things that most new writers do.  There are a few of which I used to be guilty (although I would like to believe I've broken myself of the habits over the years.)  Chances are, you're as guilty as I once was of at least one of these.  So read the list of newbie tell-tales, and break yourself of these habits before you begin making them!

1.  Downtime
Scene one.  Action!  Mark and Stacy have a shootout.  Then Stacy goes home, showers the blood off, spends a chapter reflecting about her life, and eats a 3-course dinner.  Finally, scene two  - the next actual installment of the plot - occurs the next morning.

Skip the downtime!  If it's not driving the plot, throw it out or paraphrase it in as few sentences as possible.  "After a shower, a little self-pity fest, and a three-course dinner to unwind, Stacy was ready to face Mark again.  She loaded her gun and stuck it under the pillow, wearing PJs suitable for waking up to an ambush."  There you go.  No need to waste space on unimportant details.  You can always post them online later as extras for fans visiting the website, if you'd like, but don't put them in the book.

2.  Over-description (especially of food)
Sure, the food is great.  Sure, it's historically accurate, and things the reader would never even think about eating.  But it's not important.  Like downtime: just skip it!  Throw in a word about the food over dinner conversation:  "Stacy glared at Mark over a leg of braised lamb.  He grinned back as he poured a little too much gravy over his fried eyeballs.  'Is something wrong, love?' he asked."  And now ignore the food for the rest of the story.  If it's not important to the plot, it's not worth spending words on.

3.  Using a nonstandard font 
Use Courier, Courier New, or New Times Roman.  That's what your agent will want.  That's what your publisher will want.

4.  Not switching paragraphs in dialogue
When you switch speakers, switch paragraphs.

"You're a special flower," Mark told her, reaching over to tweak her nose.

"Screw you," Stacy snapped, intercepting his fingers with a stab of her steak knife.

"I'm starting to think that might be a good idea," Mark whispered from beside her, well out of range of the knife.

She shuddered.  "This is getting weird."  And strangely interesting, too, but she wasn't about to admit that.

5.  Crazy names
Xanphilios and Xanatha are walking through the park... Or was that Xanathan and Xakraphos?  Don't start names with the same letter unless they're drastically different.  You could have a Lou and a Lauralyn in a story together, but not a Louis and a Larry.  Yes, it's tempting to not pay attention.  But if your reader can't keep your characters straight, then they won't get your story.

I wanted historically accurate names for my Bronze Age romance; I purposely chose the shortest, most easily pronounced names I could find, and then promptly gave every character with an unusual name a short-and-sweet nickname.  Why?  Because to a reader, "Xanphilios" turns into "X(reallylongsomething)."  If your characters must have an unusual name, keep it short.  "Xan" would be an acceptable nickname - mention the full name once, and then never use it again.  Because, really, your reader will only pronounce the name once, anyway.  And that's why it's also important not to start names with similar letters.

Some of my historically-accurate character names, and their nicknames:
Zoi -"Zoi"
Adela - "Adela"
Minos - "Minos"
Lygos* - "Lygos"
Vassilios -"Vassil"
Iasonas** - "Iason"

*Lygos is not historically accurate.  The accurate version, "Lykourgos," was too long for a main character, and I'd run out of relatively short names, so I simplified.
**Interesting factoid: I was a precursor to J.  So Iason is an old-fashioned version of Jason

Like all writing rules, these aren't set in stone.  Maybe there's a legitimate reason to describe the food - is it symbolic?  Is it used as a direct insult to your character?  Or maybe your 'downtime' isn't actually downtime, but rather a setup.  While Stacy's cooking dinner, there's some strange noises coming from the other room that she thinks is her cat.  Perhaps you've only got one character in your story whose name begins with an "N," so you're okay with him being known as "N(morethantwosyllablessoIwon'treadit.)" 

But there's a reason these are suggestions - take them to heart as much as you can.  Your story should never tell your agent that you're a new writer.  The choice to tell is yours, and if you're a good enough writer, you'll have to say it before they know it.

What other mistakes do you frequently see from debut authors?