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Saturday, May 28, 2016

BREAKING the RULES by Linda Swift

There is an old adage that "Rules are made to be broken" and I would only add "sometimes." This truth is never more evident to me than in my writing. I understand that rules are made for a reason and breaking them can result in dire consequences. However, writing is a creative process and sticking to the "rules" can place constraints on creativity that can kill a story.
Each genre has its own set of rules and woe be unto the author who breaks them. This is often seen as ignorance on the part of the person writing. It is also used to differentiate a beginner from a professional. I think it is very important to know the rules in order to break them when it serves our needs best.
Short stories are a good example. Because of their brevity, every word counts and every act must serve a purpose. More than one character is generally needed to move the story forward. One of my first stories, Winner Take All, had only one character and a creeping vine. It   was awarded the Fiction Skills Scholarship at Indiana U. Writers' Conference, competing with stories from all over the US. At the opposite extreme, another early short story, The Good News, had thirteen characters with no clear-cut protagonist. It won the Ball State U. Workshop's Short Story award. I still remember the judge's words when she presented the award.  "Linda Swift has broken all the rules for a short story and it worked." (Both books are now available as ebooks and are part of a collection in print or ebook titled Take Five.) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Books+by+Linda+Swift

We are admonished to give real historical figures only walk-on parts in our books and never to put words in their mouths. But when I wrote Maid of the Midlands, Mary Queen of Scots insisted on talking! I had "absorbed" an authentic non-fiction book of her entire life, written by an impeccable source, and her thoughts and words came to me as easily as if I were inside her head. We are also told to use dialect very sparingly--speaking a few words or phrases and then letting the reader's imagination fill in from that point. I used the dialect, as I understood it to be spoken, throughout the book. Then I became concerned that it might be too much so I asked the editor how she felt about it. She said it hadn't bothered her at all. Later, due to this publisher's sale, it went to another publisher and editor. This one was very discriminating and spoke English and French, as well as "American." When questioned about the dialect, she asked, "What dialect? I didn't notice it." Another rule broken with good results.

It is written in stone that all romances must have the proverbial "happy ever after" ending. I had a story that did not fit the HEA mold. So I wrote it the way it had to be and a publisher bought it the first time submitted. This story has been given great reviews by all who have read it. To Those Who Wait is currently out of print but I plan to revive it again.

Then there is the rule about the hero and heroine meeting in Chapter One, (some rules even require in the first three pages). The two main characters in my Civil War novel, This Time Forever, did not meet until Chapter Eight (Page 90 of  256 total pages). My agent had difficulty placing the book, partly because in 2000 the Civil War was not a popular subject for romance books. He felt the H&H not being together sooner in the story might be part of the problem and asked me to begin the story where they met in Chapter Eight. I complied  and added a Prologue to briefly summarize the first seven chapters. Submissions continued to meet rejections. Then, just before the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration, I put the book back together again (having left my agent) and submitted it to a Canadian publisher who accepted it without question. There is irony in the fact that this very "American" story found its first home in another country. And now in its home with Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery, it has found the most success of all my books. It has also been adapted into a film titled Clarissa's War, soon to be available as a DVD and VIMEO.

So the moral to this post is: Know the rules. Break the rules if it seems the right thing to do. Listen to your characters. Listen to your heart. You will learn the truth and the truth will make you free--free to write the story that was meant to be.

An excerpt from This Time Forever, Chapter 8, when Clarissa and Philip finally meet:

Clarissa was the last to join the group at the foot of the curved stairway where Josiah was completing the introductions of the other women. "And this is my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Clarissa Wakefield. Ladies, may I present Lieutenant Johnson and Captain Burke?"
Clarissa made a slight curtsto the lieutenant as he took her proffered hand and bowed politely. "My pleasure, madam."
Then she extended her hand part way toward the captain before she saw that he wore a faded Federal uniform. She stopped and glanced uncertainly at Lieutenant Johnson.
"Captain Burke is a Confederate prisoner, ma'am," he told her, "but you have nothing to fear. He is also a surgeon and will be in charge of the hospital here."
"Oh, I see." Unsure what protocol dictated, again she tentatively extended her hand. It was taken with a touch so gentle she would not have felt it except for the tremor which passed between them at the contact, causing her to look up into the most penetrating eyes she had ever seen.
For a long moment they stood, warm brown eyes lost in the depths of cool deep blue, then the captain made a visible effort to break the spell and spoke softly, "Charmed."
Clarissa gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and carefully withdrew her hand. The captain was tall and lean; his dark beard didn't quite conceal the hollows of his cheeks and some force she had never felt before made her want to reach out and smooth the weary lines from his handsome face.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Clean Writing--The "Avoids" by Celia Yeary @celiayeary @ rebeccajvickery

No, not that kind. My stories do have some sensual interaction between the hero and heroine, but not so little I could call them “clean.”

Instead, I’m referring to the structure of sentences and paragraphs. I know. A bit boring.
However, writing science research papers taught me the process of clean writing—manuscripts free of too many useless words. "Just the facts, ma'am." As a result, my first fiction manuscript was a failure. The editor said my writing sounded like a textbook. That sort of hurt, but the statement opened a floodgate of words that's still gushing. I could use adjectives! And adverbs! And descriptions! But also…too many useless words and phrases.

Still, I absolutely love to embellish sentences with adjectives, adverbs, and well…a long list of writing errors. If I remove the useless words in the previous sentence, I think it reads like a textbook. Where is that fine line?

AVOID USELESS WORDS: We consider good writing concise, vigorous, and active. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, as a machine should contain no extra parts. Fine idea. But an automobile is a machine.
The first cars were little more than a buggy with an engine attached. They were unattractive and uncomfortable, built with only the necessary parts.
2016 Infiniti
The automobiles today contain endless useless parts, but we buy them because of those extra appealing upholsteries and gadgets.

I do agree, though, certain useless words or phrases need to go.
1."there is no doubt but that" should be "no doubt" or "doubtless"
2."this is a subject that" should be "this subject"
3."the reason why is that" should be "because"
4."owing to the fact that" should be "since" or "because"
5."he is a man who" should be "he"
(Hint: One quick way to clean a ms of useless words is to highlight the word “that” throughout. You’ll learn it usually is an unnecessary word, in addition to showing other useless words.

AVOID USE OF QUALIFIERS: A qualifier is a word or a word group that limits the meaning of another word or word group. The worst offenders are rather, very, little, and pretty.
"I should do pretty well on the exam, for I am a rather brilliant student, but if I make very many mistakes, I'll try to do a little better."

AVOID LOOSE SENTENCES: A loose sentence is one consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative. Too many loose sentences in one paragraph will sound mechanical and singsong. The compound sentence is the framework of writing, when used wisely and sparingly.
How NOT to:
"The last concert of the season was given last night, and the hall was filled to capacity. Jane Doe was the soloist, and John Smith accompanied her on the piano. She proved to be quite capable, while he performed admirably. The concert series has been successful, and the committee was gratified. The committee will plan for next year's programs, and they will offer an equally attractive program."

Blech! Recently, I tried to read a book written exactly as this example. Pages and pages of compound sentences. Notice, I tried to read the story.

Today's subject reminded me of edits on one of my early contemporary novels. A kind editor—in so many words--told me: You begin too many sentences with well, now, so, or why. (She had counted how many times I began a sentence with “well.” Ninety-seven times. I was embarrassed, but learned a lesson)
In some cases, these words are acceptable, especially when included in dialogue. Southern people talk this way, but in narration, use sparingly.
This made sense, because when I talk with a friend—on-line or face to face—those little words pop up all the time.
"What did she say when you said her hair was orange?"
"Well, first she stared. Then her eyes sort of bugged out, and before I knew it, why, she started bawling."
"Oh, my goodness. Now, here's what you should have said, darlin'. You just do not want to make her any madder."
"So, what should I have said?"

And so, well, I need to bring this post to a halt. I need to make a little lunch, because the fact is that my husband is mowing this morning, and he'll be starving. There's no doubt, though, that he won't say an unkind word to me if lunch if just a little late.(If you can edit this paragraph, you will receive an A+)
“Three of my Re-edited novels with more attractive covers”--
Each now at 99cents
Thanks to Laura Shinn

Thank you for visiting Once Upon a Word.
All my books may be found on Amazon—see link below.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trying to get organized.....

Yep, that's been my goal for this year. Has it worked out??

Well, somewhat.

I don't know how many of your are pantsers or plotters. Me, I'm a bit of both. I seem to find that my writing flows better if my life is not cluttered. So for that reason, I purchased a large bound notebook from Barnes and Nobles. Yeah, you know the pretty ones with the designs on the covers. (Writers OCD differently kicked in) I spent time creating a grid calendar for each month complete with notes section, what I should be working on, what I submitted, and process of edits.

I keep it laid out on my desk and consult it daily to make sure my progress is being made. Sometimes I make notes to remind myself to stop chasing squirrels and keep on target. Usually I note each day my daily progress on manuscripts. For me it works.

Then, a writer friend introduced me to Microsoft's One Note. Can I tell you I fell in love. You can create you own Notebooks, link it to an email, and retrieve it on laptops, tablets, even phones. Notebooks can contain a multitude of pages, excel sheets, maps, drawings....for those of you with surface tablets it can be a life saver when looking for your character descriptions or working on that dreaded synopsis. I love the ease of the program. I'm not very tech savvy so something simple makes it better for me. Best of all, the program was free. Yep of course they want you to try another product, but that's your choice.

Will I still keep my paper/pencil notebooks? For sure. I need that constant touch, but I'm digging these electronic feature. Each of my future stories will have their own color coded notebook filled with pictures and descriptions able to be retrieved at a moments notice. Which reminds me, time to go to the Sunday paper and look at the ads, I'm sure there's a tablet just waiting for me, so I don't have to lug my notebooks to work. :o)

Happy Writing...


For information on One Note, please feel free to use the link below and check out their tutorial video.

Monday, May 9, 2016


Sherlock Holmes and his worthy sidekick, Dr. John Watson

Not every story needs a sidekick, but stories that do involve quests, plots with mysterious or paranormal elements, or fights of good against evil are in need of a character who can uplift and enhance the hero or heroine much like Sam did for Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Sidekicks may also possess knowledge to help the champions weave their way through dangerous situations and roadblocks the way Gollum did, at least for a time, in Lord of the Rings. He knew the secrets necessary to avoid disaster.

Here are the archetypes for Sidekicks:

1. The Cheerleader
This is the character, maybe with humor, but certainly with kindness lifts up the spirits of the lead character and keeps that person focused on the goal of the conquest. It’s wonderful to have someone who gives encouragement when things seem dark, the guy who says, “You can do this. Don’t give up. I believe in you.”

2. The Class Clown
The clown has a way with words or actions that make the other characters laugh. They may seem a little annoying in some cases if they are socially inept or clueless, but that’s a good thing if it draws attention away from some miserable circumstances. Laughter really is good medicine. It’s such a relief to have someone with a sense of humor divert attention from the darkness of a situation.

3. The Muscle
Although the lead character is willing to fight to the death for the sake of the goal, the muscle sidekick, fights to the death for the hero without concern for the goal. They may have knowledge of or contacts in the underworld or superior skills with weapons or magic to protect the protagonist.

4. The Heart
Where cheerleaders uplift the protagonist with optimism, the sidekick with heart encourages the hero to keep going for the sake of the goal. These sidekicks have their eyes set on the endgame and will do what they must to get the lead character to that victory. They would speak encouragement such as, “You can’t give up; our people are counting on you to end the horror they suffer at the hands of the witch.” Or perhaps this character would say, “Get up! Move even if you don’t think you can. You can’t allow the wicked demons to breech the wall into the city.”

5. The Skeptic
Sometimes the protagonist needs a sidekick for a reality check. I’m not talking about the negative nay-sayers. I’m talking about the kind of character who believes in practicality, numbers, real science, and methodical calculations before jumping into the fray. The skeptics can keep the overly bold, emotionally driven protagonist from their wild speculations. They contribute to the quest by keeping the hero or heroine from making mistakes by going off path onto some unproductive tangent.

6. The Fish Out of Water
This sidekick often has a backstory of loneliness, lost or funny who may have a history of time travel, supernatural abilities, or cultural settings which have changed including a reversal of fortune. The fish-out-of-water sidekick can give the protagonist someone to protect while also learning something about themselves. Care must be given not to allow the fish-out-of-water to remain in a victim roll too long. Eventually this sidekick must learn to deal with his new environment. For this very reason, the writer would be taking a huge risk to include this sidekick in a series.

7. The Non-humans
The non-human sidekick can be a friend, counselor, and/or protector of the protagonist. These sidekicks include paranormal beings, space aliens, animals, robots, ghosts, and so on with human-like characteristics. In some cases, only the protagonist can hear or see this sidekick. They may do their own thing, but they will always come to the aid and support of the protagonist. Mr. Big, Tinker Bell, and Chewbacca are examples of this type of sidekick.

Whatever sidekick you choose for your story, you must make certain he or she is a contrasting character to your protagonist, but with similar goals. Remember to give the sidekick his or her own needs, values, and ideas. It’s important to remember to keep the balance between the protagonist and sidekick for the sake of purpose in your story.

Legends of Winatuke trilogy includes the novels, Dark Isle, Lake of Sorrows, and The Light of Valmora.

The legend begins when love and evil collide.
The legend continues with a curse, a quest and undying love.
A quest for an enchanted light...a Gypsy’s love...and a warrior’s sacrifice to save Valmora.

My favorite sidekick is the Gypsy, Pennytook, whom I included in every book of the Legends of Winatuke trilogy. He befriends the Nimway of Valmora and the humans from another dimension. Often he is the person who loves to have feasts for the warriors serving them good food, excellent entertainment, and “peculiar tobacco” to lift their spirits. But he is also a person who knows the magic objects and esoteric ways in which to fight against the evil of the Dark Isle and the monsters who obey the wicked queen. Pennytook may seem jolly, but he has a heavy burden of sorrow in his backstory and a perceptive wisdom of others and their secrets. Accustomed to leading his own tribe through the pits and perils of Winatuke, Pennytook has become a fierce warrior and has earned the respect of the other characters in the trilogy.
I wanted to make things right for Pennytook. A steadfast friend and warrior, he deserved his own story, his own happy ending. But like all the other adventures in Winatuke, he will have to overcome great obstacles to get that happy ending.

“Pennytook” is included in the fall anthology, Myths, Legends, and Midnight Kisses.
Myths are supposed to be false…but some are terrifying and true.

Pennytook is a war weary Gypsy who longs for peace from the past and wants something meaningful in his life.
Esmeralda, a Gypsy trick rider, has harbored a deep affection for the chieftain, Pennytook, for many years. But her dark secret will never allow him into her life.
A mythological creature is about to unleash its horror and change the destinies of Esmeralda and Pennytook.
"What are you going to do?" Sabo whispered as he knelt beside Pennytook and placed an arrow in his bow ready to strike.
"I'm going to kill that monster."
The heavy footsteps of the Niamso shook the ground as it made its way toward Pennytook and Sabo. Sabo launched an arrow that found its mark in the creature's arm. The beast roared. Maddened with the pain, the beast picked up its speed as it barreled toward them.
Sabo crossed himself. "God's bones, I hope you have a plan."
With his legs wide to give him leverage and his sword drawn, Pennytook smiled. "Is no need for plan, my friend; we kill the beast, or it kills us. Let me deal with the Niamso. While I distract it, get Esmeralda away from here. Take her to Valmora and find the Healer."
The beast was almost upon them, his red eyes glowing in the darkening twilight.
"It will kill you, Pennytook." Sabo stood, placed his bow over his shoulder and drew his sword.
"Go now, Sabo. Go!"
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Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Becoming an instant expert by Gerald Costlow @RebeccaJVickery @GeraldCostlow #romance #books

From The Sherritt and the Sharpshooter:

Daniel picked up a rifle and held it out for her to examine. “Here’s what I’ve been using lately,” he said. “Brand new on the market. This is a Sharps breech loading carbine, tape primer, paper cartridge, modified by Sam who’s a wizard with guns. I have two of these I use in the show. It’s an eye catcher with all that custom inlaid scroll-work, but rugged, extremely accurate and easy to load. I have a deal with the company so they supply me with all the cartridges I need in exchange for showing it off every chance I get.”

She looked it over. A lot of what he’d said didn’t mean much to her, but it sure was pretty. She’d bet her pa had never owned a gun worth half as much in his entire life. “You’re going to shoot at me with this?”

And thus our plucky heroine Nancy and hopefully the reader has just been given a crash course in what sort of rifle a professional sharpshooter might use around 1858 in Kentucky. Am I an expert on antique guns? Nope. I have many hobbies and interests but that's not one of them. I had to become an instant expert.

I spent more time researching the details of 1850s frontier life for this story than I did actually writing it. If you're an experienced writer, you know details can make a difference. For instance, many readers won't know or care that after you shoot a black powder rifle a few times you have to wait for the smoke to disperse to see anything. Adding that detail puts a little pinch of realism into the story and keeps the real experts out there from noticing a flaw.  

Sometimes a writer can stumble onto something fascinating during the research. At one point I needed my heroine to ride a horse into town. Sounds simple, right? She climbs on the horse, lets the guy adjust the stirrups for her shorter legs, gathers the reins, and away they go. But then I got to thinking. I'd already established that this woman was modest in spite of her dire circumstances, How did they keep from showing a woman's legs when in the saddle? So off I went doing research.

Turns out proper women in their long skirts didn't sit astride a horse back then. There was that whole (cough) protect the maidenhead thing if you were a young maiden, but also their pretty ankles and legs would be exposed for all to see and that just wouldn't do. Neither did women in the 1850s wear pants, in spite of Calamity Jane's fame. Side-saddles were rare and never really caught on because they were dangerous and required lots of practice. Women mostly walked or rode buggies and wagons. In other words, Nancy riding astride a horse down this town's mainstreet was going to cause comment. I had to find another way for her to sneak into town. 

Until then, it simply had never dawned on me that women on the frontier led such a restricted life when it came to the most common form of transportation. Continued reading taught me that not all women thought this was fair and they didn't always take the restriction sitting down (so to speak). Further research taught me that the struggle for the right to ride a horse the same way as men arose at the same time as the Suffragette movement for the vote and was just as emotional and controversial. Fascinating.

So now I know a whole lot about the history of horse riding when it comes to gender roles. Those Western movies that show the women riding alongside the men using a man's saddle are about as accurate as the high noon fast draw gunfight. A tiny detail in the story caused me to become an instant expert. If you're a writer, was there some fascinating research you've done for a story that sticks with you?

Gerald Costlow is currently writing a supernatural romance series that spans generations for VTP Publishing. You can find a list of his published stories at Gerald Costlow at Amazon.com. His blog (such as it is) can be found at http://theweaving.blogspot.com/ and he promises to get it caught up as soon as he finishes his next story.