Peg Herring's Blog – March 2009 Archive (23)

Not the Type for Sticky Notes

Actually, I love sticky notes. I think they're fun and cool and I love all the bright colors. But for plotting, they just don't seem to help me.

I promised myself I would try being organized with this book, so I followed the advice of a well-known author and started plotting via sticky notes. I see the advantages: you can move the plot around, try different timelines, and see where POV changes or major events occur.

The problem for me is that it seems to add work rather… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 31, 2009 at 10:09pm — 2 Comments

Evil Guy Speaks

I'm a really, really evil guy who opposes everything your good guy stands for. I want (the Holy Grail/ world domination/ hidden treasure/ other) so badly that I will do anything, absolutely anything, to get it.

Mr. Good Guy stands in my way, so I have decided to kill him. I've thought about this a lot, and I have a plan to (blow him up, run him off the road/slice off body parts until he's history/other) because I am really, really evil. Once I rid myself of him, I can (live like a… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 30, 2009 at 10:21pm — 7 Comments

When Worlds Don't Collide, But Do Bump Into Each Other a Lot

I live in northern Lower Michigan, which is a beautiful place. What we call traffic, most people would snicker at. The only time there are more than ten cars in town is from 3:30 to 4:00 pm when the school day ends. There is one the whole county.

Yesterday there were five elk in a small copse behind our house, so we went out to commune with them. (Actually we were hoping one would drop an antler where we could get to it before the little critters do, but it didn't… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 27, 2009 at 9:16pm — No Comments

Teachers Among Us

I spoke to a group of teachers yesterday with the idea of motivating them. (Now there's a tough sell on a Wednesday afternoon in March!)

It got me thinking, however, about teaching and learning among writers. Many of us are former educators, which doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is how well authors teach what they know to others, whether they are former educators or not. We love revealing how we achieve our "formula." If we were scientists, we'd be locking it up in a safe… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 26, 2009 at 9:03pm — 3 Comments

Character Image

When I read, I create a mental image of the characters that often goes beyond what the author tells me they look like. My own experiences lead me to connect them in some way to people I've known, so they become in a way "real" people. It's interesting to speculate on how I reach those conclusions, but an author needs to do more.

We can't depend on Hollywood, of course, since stars are put into roles with little regard for whether they look the way the author has described them. Paul… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 25, 2009 at 8:16pm — 4 Comments

Light and Quick

After the deep discussions of mediocrity in the last few entries, I feel like I should lighten up, maybe give hints on how to get white wine stains out of your antique linen tablecloth. Sorry. I don't know how.

Instead I'll comment on the elusive and maddening Muse of Writing, who, in the middle of my current chaos, when I'm still promoting the last novel and gearing up for its large print edition, preparing for the launch of the next novel, and working on the sequel so that it's… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 24, 2009 at 8:25pm — No Comments

The Sum of Mediocrity-Maybe

Friday’s post on mediocrity garnered a lot of responses, and I have to thank those people for helping me get some perspective on the subject. I was blown away by the depth and understanding you all provided, and I agreed with everybody (and I'm not just being nice!)

However, I still have to judge the entries to the contest, have to respond to those authors with written critiques, and I still can’t tell them precisely what it is they need to fix. Theirs isn’t bad writing, just… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 23, 2009 at 10:42pm — 6 Comments


I'm judging a contest again, and this one has a new result, at least for me. All the entries are fine. Good. Each has its moments. Each is fairly error free and nicely formatted. And none of them created even a spark of desire in me to read more than the sample.

This is what agents and editors must face every day, in fact many, many times every day. There's nothing wrong with the submission, but there's nothing intriguing about it, either. You know the story from the first few pages,… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 20, 2009 at 9:32pm — 9 Comments

But It Makes You Feel Better

They'll tell you that awards and records don't mean much in the quest to be a successful writer. That doesn't stop people from listing anywhere they can that they were shortlisted for a prize, almost won a contest, or were once recognized by some organization for something slightly related to writing well. It helps us feel some justification for those 10,000 hours I spoke of yesterday.

An anthology I'm part of (DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND) is listed as one of the bestsellers of 2008… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 19, 2009 at 9:38pm — 5 Comments

A Writer's Prescription: 10,000 Hours

Andrew's comment echoes a speaker I heard at Sleuthfest a few weeks ago: in order to become proficient at anything, a person has to devote about 10,000 hours to it. The woman added her contention that for writers, another 10,000 hours has to be spent reading the work of others. For many of us, the second part is easy. I'd probably logged 10,000 hours of reading before I was twenty.

I'd add that those 10,000 hours of writing have to be focused. A golfer spending days practicing the… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 18, 2009 at 9:31pm — No Comments

Writing Prescription: 10,000 hours

Andrew's comment from yesterday echoes a Sleuthfest speaker who mentioned the same thing: that a person has to devote at least 10,000 hours to something to become proficient at it. The woman added her contention that for writing, you also have to read at least 10,000 hours of other people's work. That part, for many of us, does come easy. I'd probably logged 10,000 hours by the time I was twenty, long before I ever thought of publishing a book as something I might want to do.

Like… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 18, 2009 at 9:17pm — No Comments

To Misquote Ringo..."It Don't (Be)come Easy"

Practice makes perfect, they say. So the more a person writes, the better he/she should become, and that's true in a sense. But the weird thing is that the more I look at writing and practice writing, the more I see that has to be done to make my work what I consider good writing. It isn't just a matter of coherent paragraphs and chapters that end with a hook. It's a complex stew of skills that grow with every work, or at least they should.

I remember reading early on that writing… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 17, 2009 at 9:49pm — 2 Comments

Redundant Reporters

Is it just me or are news reporters using more and more redundancies these days? I groan but accept the fact that local news reporters speak of "a poor family with no money" or "abused animals that have been mistreated by their owners." They're local, and the ones who speak that way will likely stay local. But the other night a woman on the national news actually said, “an underground tunnel runs under this road.” I guess that's opposed to an overground tunnel.

Then there are “armed… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 16, 2009 at 9:25pm — No Comments

Glutting the Market

I recently read an editor's comment that she wasn't accepting Tudor-based materials anymore because that era has been "more than adequately covered." Being the author of a soon-to-be-released Tudor mystery, that got my attention, and I must admit, the Tudors have been dissected and analyzed plenty lately. I can't help it if I've always been fascinated with the period. It's Shakespeare's time, for heaven's sake.

That led me, however, to wonder if the Knights Templar might not be a bit… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 13, 2009 at 10:42pm — 3 Comments

Protags with Problems

It's become customary to give your protag a problem to deal with on top of the required crime to solve. He's accused of murder AND alcoholic. She's targeted for murder AND struggling with a cheating husband. More often than not, he or she is in physical danger AND harassed by a parent, living or dead, who screwed him or her up royally and made simple, day-to-day living difficult.

I won't comment on the American addiction to Blaming Parents for Absolutely Everything. But I notice that… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 12, 2009 at 8:45pm — 4 Comments

More on Names

Okay, I know I'm being a little picky, but in the book I started yesterday, the author uses his protag's name at least twice in each paragraph. It makes me wonder how many people read for him, because somebody should have said, "Do a word search and eliminate about two-thirds of those instances. That's what pronouns are for."

I think this is a great example of what reading aloud does for an author. If he'd heard even a page or two, all those "Jill" repetitions would have become… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 11, 2009 at 9:26pm — 3 Comments

When the Plot Fizzles

I recently read two books, both well-written for the most part. However, one provided a surprise at the end that satisfied me as a reader while the other sort of backed out of the story with little attention paid to the killer's motives, in fact, with some doubt as to who actually did what. I want more than that.

I most admire writers who are able to focus everything in the story toward the climax. Characters who at the end do what they do because we know them and expect just that.… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 10, 2009 at 9:30pm — 4 Comments

Naming Names

It appears that there are names that work in fiction and names that don't. I once had a manuscript rejected because the reader didn't like the first name I'd chosen for my protagonist. I guess it wasn't normal enough. Readers need a name they can identify with...and pronounce. We're all aware that in romance the men tend to have names like "Stone" and "Hardin," almost laughably symbolic. I've mentioned here the contention by certain writers at a conference that success in thrillers comes from… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 9, 2009 at 9:17pm — 6 Comments

The Point of It All

I've been reporting on what was discussed/presented at Sleuthfest, and I think the comments I've gotten bring us to the point of writing, which is "WRITE." We all have different methods, motivations, and machinations that bring us to keyboard or paper, pull us through plotting or pantsing, and assist us in fixing and finalizing.

I like hearing what others do, and I appreciate those who comment here with their own input. It's helpful to listen and compare, because we can all pick up… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 6, 2009 at 10:03pm — No Comments

Should I Stay or Should I Go...On?

Another idea from Sleuthfest. Several speakers advised what I guess you can call forward-writing: not letting yourself edit until you've got a first draft. I've made my case on this one before. Can't do it.

The idea is that you don't look back. You make yourself write on because (they say) the act of editing can become a stalling technique and a writer can become lost in "this could be better." While I agree with that, I find that editing sets the story-thus-far in my mind so that I… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on March 5, 2009 at 10:32pm — 3 Comments

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