Marching Toward My Goal

image credit: Microsoft clip art

image credit: Microsoft clip art

So following on last week’s post about my New Year’s goal, I’ve made a few purchases to further my writing education and to help tighten the WIPs.

image credit: Microsoft clip art

image credit: Microsoft clip art

As a research project for this pantser, I bought Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. This has been recommended by a number of bloggers, so I thought I’d give it a read. Engineering? You can’t get any more structured than this, right? What does this pantser think so far? I’ll let you know when I finish reading it. I’m only in Chapter 6. I can say, though, that Brooks subscribes to the philosophy of “First, tell people what you’re going to tell them. Second, tell them what you’re telling them. Third, tell them what you told them.”

For tightening the drafts, I downloaded The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Fellow bloggers have also recommended this book. This one is to help me do a better job of “showing” rather than “telling.” Maybe the next edition could add “exhaustion” as a category. That was the first thing I wanted to check out, and it isn’t in the thesaurus. But I’m nitpicking. The authors do a good job of offering body language and internal thought processes for a wide variety of emotions.

Finally, for polishing the final drafts, I picked up The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This is, of course, a classic. It goes well with my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.

On Vloffing

Reading your annual stats has been a real eye-opener. I couldn’t believe I was a Top Five commenter on so many blogs. That reinforced my concerns about how much time I spend blogging. This year, I have to be more structured (engineered?) with my time. Even if I don’t leave fewer comments, they must get shorter!

But Wait—There’s More!

The amazing Kourtney Heintz nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. This is a new one for me, so I’ll play by the rules, to a point. 😉

The rules:

1. Provide a link and thank the blogger who nominated you for this award.
2. Answer 10 questions.
3. Nominate 10-12 blogs that you find a joy to read.
4. Provide links to these nominated blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been nominated.
5. Include the award logo within your blog post.

The Questions (which are apparently identical to the Sunshine award):

1. Your favorite color – blue
2. Your favorite animal – horse
3. Your favorite non-alcoholic drink – water
4. Facebook or Twitter – Facebook
5. Your favorite pattern – subtle geometric
6. Do you prefer getting or giving presents? – giving
7. Your favorite number? – 28
8. Your favorite day of the week? – Saturday
9. Your favorite flower? – Native ones growing in their native habitat
10. What is your passion? writing

Remember, no one should feel left out if I don’t name you specifically. Of course, doesn’t the very name of this suggest that male bloggers are excluded? I’m going with 5 nominees who, as always, are free to accept or decline as they wish.

Small House Big Garden

Laura Stanfill

A Rich, Full Life in Spite of It

Brigitte’s Banter

Vanessa-Jane Chapman

Whew, this post is longer than originally intended! So I’ll just wrap it up here and wish you all a happy weekend.

UPDATE: What the heck has WordPress done? My marching graphic sometimes looks right and others, not. I tried inserting a different .png graphic and it did the same thing. These New Year changes aren’t for the better, folks!

64 thoughts on “Marching Toward My Goal

  1. Congrats on your award, JM. That looks like a neat one. 🙂 I have not read any of those books you mention (except for Elements of Style, which I have used since high school, and Chicago Manual of Style).

    I have to admit, the advice you quoted from Brooks is slightly confusing — I’m not sure what all that jibber-jabber means? I hope you will enlighten us when you complete the book. (My state of confusion may be an indicator that the book is not meant for this gal!)

    I always reach for Stephen King’s On Writing. I think I like it because he pretty much says it like it is, and openly admits that there is no magic formula. Of course, he was born with the gift to write and for him, writing comes easily. For the rest of us trudging up that writing hill, it’s nice to have a few guides to show us the way. I hope you find good help through Mr. Brooks.

    I noticed that you were the top commenter on a lot of blogs, too. Rather than thinking you blog too much though, I thought that showed what a supportive and caring friend you are. I mean, I really consider you as more than a blogger; I consider you a friend. Not just to me, but to a lot of us out there. And being a friend, a sincere friend, does take a lot of time and effort. I hope that you view the stats from that perspective, too. 🙂

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    • Oh, the “advice” is actually my take on his writing style in the book. Back in college, a professor said that humans need repetition in order to commit something to memory. He used this example for giving an oral presentation to an audience so they would remember what you said. You would open your talk with an introduction that tells the audience what your presentation is about. Then, you would give the meat of the presentation. And you would wrap up with a summary of what you said. What I’ve seen so far in Brooks’s book is a great deal of repetition of his core points, even in the introductory chapters. For me, it seems a bit too repetitive, but I’ll stick it out to the end.

      On Writing is one of my favorites, too. Brooks does take King (and others) to task for not providing more “structural how to” advice to writers. He’s also not a proponent of pantsing, although he tries to say you can use his structured approach and still “pants” to some degree. I’ll do a post when I’ve finished the book and talk about my impression.

      I like your interpretation of my commenting better than mine. 🙂 I’ve said this in a few comments over the last year, but never in a post: the blog is the me I aspire to be. I want to be that supportive and encouraging person for other bloggers just as they are for me. I’ve come to think of you and some others as friends, too. I honestly believe my writing is better for it, but more importantly, so am I. That’s a big reason why I thank my readers so often. (I still need to be better about that time management, though. 😉 )

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  2. Congrats on the award, and thank you for the link. I think it’s great that you were a top commenter on so many blogs too. You are one of the most supportive bloggers around and I really appreciate that.

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    • Thanks, RFL. 🙂 I know how much the support of other bloggers means to me, and I really want to do the same in return. And if any of my readers haven’t seen your blog, I hope they’ll stop by. Your posts are wonderful examples of what great blogging (or vloffing) can be.

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  3. My graphics are doing the same thing. Not sure why. But they seem to come out okay in the post.

    I love ‘Story Engineering,’ but I haven’t heard of the Emotion Thesaurus one. I’ll look into it. Thanks!

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    • Sometimes the graphic looked okay in the preview and sometimes not. And when I first visited the post after it went live, the marching graphic was all messed up, although the books were fine. I tried reloading it, and now it looks okay to me. But will it for someone else? I’ve heard other bloggers saying they’re having trouble loading images, too, so this seems to be a WordPress-wide glitch that, ahem, needs some attention. 😉

      The Emotion Thesaurus provides some good alternatives to our old (and often overused) standbys for showing emotion. And I like the way it includes outward expressions through body posture as well as inner thoughts/feelings. Plus they include discussions about making sure the emotional reaction fits the event and the character. I can’t remember if there’s a print version, but the e-book is set up well for accessing the table of contents easily, so it’s not hard to move from topic to topic.

      I’m withholding opinions on Story Engineering until I finish it. 😉 I suspect, though, that there will be bits I utilize and others I don’t. 🙂

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      • I’m going to go hunt down The Emotion Thesaurus now before I forget. I’ve put the brakes on buying writing books for a while, since I think I have plenty, but that one offers something I haven’t encountered before.

        By the way, I’m going to make a last ditch plea to my family on FB to go vote for my book in the poll. Since you see my updates on my personal page, please ignore it and forgive me for making you see it again. But I haven’t asked much of my family, so they can pony up. 😉

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        • Don’t worry, I’ll ignore it—And I voted for you a while back. 🙂

          I have mixed emotions about most writing books. I think they can be overwhelming for new writers, who might get discouraged by thinking they’re not “doing it right.” There simply isn’t one “right” way to write, no matter what some of those “how to” authors might say. I honestly believe we need a period of trial and error to find out what works best for each of us.

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  4. Congratulations on the award, JM! Many years ago, I read a biography of Balanchine and the one thing that has stayed with me ever since was what I understood of his choreographing structure: Introduce an element to thrill and delight the audience, do it again to show them it wasn’t a fluke, and then do it a third, and last time, so they know they got it. I was struck by how Brooks seems to apply this same philosophy to writing. I hadn’t thought about it in that way before…I will now! xoxoM

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  5. I love the Chicago Manual of Style! I got it in college when I was doing some copy editing, and I’ve loved it ever since. 🙂 I’ll have to check out Story Engineering — I keep hearing good things about it.
    I’ve also been noticing the graphics problem on the mobile reader but not on Google Chrome. I don’t know what WordPress is trying to accomplish…

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    • I’m very much a pantser, so I probably won’t take as much from Story Engineering as some other writers would. But I can already see areas where I should take some time to at least sketch out some ideas before diving into them. That being said, if a scene comes to me, I have to write it down so I don’t tick off my Muse or characters. 😉 That doesn’t mean it will end up the final work. But even if it doesn;t, I’ve learned something new about the characters and got in some writing exercise. That’s not a bad thing!

      The glitch showed up on my laptop running Firefox, which usually gives me no problems. I haven’t checked the iPad yet…. But I suspect there’s some glitchy code in their new so-called “improvements.” Sorry, folks, but glitchiness and less user friendliness aren’t improvements!

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  6. Let us know what you think of Story Engineering when you are finished. His advice sounds contradictory to the whole “show, don’t tell” thing-a-ma-bob. Is it?

    Oh, and, I have been chewing on your comment about less time blogging and more time writing. I’ll get back to you on that.

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    • Hmm, I may not have been clear enough in my comment about Brooks’s style. It’s not that he’s telling writers to write this way. Rather, it’s how he presents his techniques. His style is to repeat his points repeatedly. (Yes, that was intentional. 😉 ) But I will definitely do a follow up post after I finish it with my thoughts on his book, others, and writing books as a concept.

      I hope my comment (and post) didn’t sound preachy or reproving. That was the last thing I would ever mean. But you had been saying how many blogs you already followed, and then you started following more. And I know how much more time that takes. I’m afraid that the writers in our cohort (me included) may be hurting our stories by not focusing more on them. Are we using blogging as a crutch when the writing is hard or the ideas aren’t flowing? Or using it to justify less time on other projects because blogging is still writing? Is the thrill of new followers and a friendly community distracting us from why we started blogging in the first place? I think if we answer “yes” to any of these questions, we have to reevaluate our goals and schedules. I see such great potential in your WIP and those of other bloggers. Those stories need to be finished and published!

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    • Thanks again, Kourtney, for the nomination! I highly recommend the Chicago Manual of Style, for all professional writers (and editors), especially those of us considering independent publishing. It’s not cheap ($40 US new), but many libraries should have a recent copy in their reference section. It’s one of “the bibles” in the publishing industry. They’re thorough with tons of excellent examples.

      I would still hire an editor for the final manuscript, but following CMS will probably mean that editor has much less to deal with—and therefore fewer hours to charge for. 😉

      A year after a cousin suggested it, I’ll finally be writing a post about writing books. 🙂

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      • LOL. We get to things in our own time. I have such a reading backlog. I cannot die for at least 5 decades. And that’s if nothing else is added to my to read list. 🙂

        JM you are so very welcome. Honestly, though we’ve only “met” online you have been such a big part of my writing journey–I can’t thank you enough for all your support. 🙂

        I would never self-pub without an editor and copy editor. I’m still catching typos on my 85th draft. 😉

        I’m a slow adopter of new things. Once the thought gets in my head though, it eventually buzzes around enough to get me moving on stuff.

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        • Oh, yeah. We’ll edit the manuscripts countless times. Betas and editors will go through them with fine-tooth combs. We’ll fix all those errors they find. And I guarantee we’ll find something that slipped through into the final print version! 😛 I doubt there’s a book that’s been published that didn’t have at least one error sneak through!

          Gosh, all this support we see is amazing, isn’t it? I don’t know if I could keep at the writing without you and the other friends in my corner. And that’s a big reason why I could never leave blogging. 🙂

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  7. Thanks for the tips, congrats on the award, and best to you as you keep marching towards your goal, JM. Your post encourages me (and others, too, I’m sure) to do the same.
    And I love your bit on adverbs, by the way!

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    • I really want this to be the year I finish up one of the two WIPs. They have sequels waiting to be written, and they’re getting impatient.

      Adverbs seem to take the fall for so many writing “offenses.” Any element of writing can be overdone or poorly used. But none get the bad press that adverbs do. Well used, they’re a perfectly acceptable and useful part of the English language!

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  8. Great! Books help a lot and Brooks has a catching caption; “Story Engineering”. Keep on marching towards your goal; at this pace, I can bet you’ll get there in time and in style.
    Enjoy!

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  9. Congratulations on the award, JM. I love you r answers (my favorite is water as well and I drink A LOT of it here in the tropics) 😉

    I haven’t seen any of these books before and have never really ventured in the tips on writing books – maybe one day! 😀

    I love the marching pic 😉

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    • Thanks, Dianne. 🙂 I haven’t read many books on writing. There are seemingly hundreds of them. And with their varied approaches (and often conflicting styles), I think they can be too overwhelming for new writers—even to the point of making them think they can’t write, after all. I use them more for tips that might work for me. Elements of Style and Chicago Manual of Style are two American classics for good grammar, punctuation, and formatting.

      If you’re seeing the pic as it should be, it is a lot of fun. I noticed earlier on my iPad that it was mucked up. I hope WordPress gets these glitches fixed soon! 🙂

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  10. Good for you with those books. Hope you learn good things to help you with your books. And I agree with some of the WordPress changes being less than desirable. The new reader drives me crazy. The pictures are too big and I’m hating it. Agh! I don’t always like change.

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    • I’m totally with you on the reader changes. Big photos might be good for photography posts, but for everything else? Not so much! And I’ve given up on “Freshly Pressed” now that it looks like the reader. It’s just too hard to read and scroll through. I don’t mind change—if it’s for the better! But these changes aren’t. And all the problems people are having now with uploading photos and videos aren’t helping. If it ain’t broke—don’t fix it!

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      • Oh!!! I b*tched on twitter about Freshly Pressed looking like the reader and guess what?! WP replied to my less than pleasant complaint by tweeting back : “there’s an option to switch it back to Grid View at the top of the Freshly Pressed page.”
        Well I must be blind! I haven’t found it yet, but maybe you will! If so let me know where and how!

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        • I found it! Next to the words “Freshly Pressed” are two unmarked symbols with a “/” between them. They toggle between the new hard-to-read view and a grid view. If you hover a cursor over them, then you can read some text about them.

          The grid view doesn’t look quite like the old one on either Firefox on my laptop or Safari on my iPad. But at least it’s a more easily viewed grid again.

          Thank you for passing on that information! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Smak. The Emotion Thesaurus is a good source and reasonably priced. A lot of writers get stuck in a rut when it comes to describing body language or internal emotional reactions. This book offers some good alternatives.

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  11. Thank you for the nomination!

    You definitely are a very supportive blogger, you take time to give thoughtful comments. It is time-consuming, but it’s also wonderful isn’t it. I feel so fond of many bloggers, I feel like you’re all friends and friendships are worth investing time in. I agree that it’s difficult though when it’s taking time away from your WIPs, I need to be more focused this year. If I’ve set time aside for working on my book, then I mustn’t give in to the voice that says “Well maybe I’ll just a quick look at the blogs first…”. Maybe instead I’ll use the blogging as a reward, if I write X amount, or spend X amount of time on my book, then I can have an hour on the blogs. Of course, my kids usually have other plans, so mostly I have to go with those!

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    • You’re welcome! Oh, yeah—that “I’ll just take a quick look” gets me all the time. That’s why I have to enforce a schedule. I really do want to finish and publish these books. But I can’t do that if I’m living on the ‘net. I was good this morning and did several chapters of revisions on one WIP. Now it’s a brief break to catch up on comments. But this is Sunday, so I can’t visit any blogs other than the few long-time ones I did over breakfast.

      I don’t want to stop being that supportive blog buddy. Maybe leaving shorter comments would help…. Of course, by the time I figure out how to use fewer words, I could have written a longer reply. 🙂

      Maybe you could enlist the kids to help with the blog…. 😉

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  12. Thanks for the tips on the books. I tried reading Story Engineering and didn’t get very far. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it, as a panster as well. I haven’t completely given up on reading it and I do follow Brooks blog, Story Fix, where he breaks down his points in smaller chunks. I find it easier to read/process his blog posts than the book. He also tends to repeat his points which helps 😉

    I have to agree with many of the comments here that your blog comments are so supportive and I know they have been very helpful and encouraging to me. Congrats on your ‘Sisterhood’ award!

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    • As a pantser, I’ve “bristled” at a few things already in the first few chapters. 😉 But I want to get through the entire book. Some of its big proponents call themselves “former pantsers.” And I wonder if they’ll stay the course. You know, like some people try a new diet or exercise fad and get all excited about it? And within a year they’ve gone back to their old ways or jumped on another bandwagon? I think it’s good to be open to trying new techniques, but ultimately we have to find what works for us and go with it.

      I’m glad my comments are helpful and encouraging because that’s usually what I’m aiming for! 🙂

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  13. JM, congrats on your award and I’m honored that you’ve included me! I took a break from being on the computer — that’s the reason for my commenting late. Thank you my friend. You are always so supportive of bloggers and writers and take the time to leave such insightful and encouraging comments — that’s why you have so many loyal followers! I have the last book you mentioned but not the other two. The emotion one sounds interesting. I’m like you. I’ve made some goals for myself as far as writing. I think I have to go to another location and get it in my mind that’s why I’m going. If I stay home I get distracted.

    Good luck with your goals and here’s to our reaching them!!

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    • You’re welcome, Brigitte. 🙂 I should probably take a computer break myself, but it’s so hard to do. Maybe when the WIPs are at “read through” point, I should try it. *withdrawal symptoms already kicking in.*

      It’s so nice to hear that you and others enjoy and appreciate the comments I make because I feel the same way about yours. I’ve got a great blogging cohort, and I wouldn’t trade any of you!

      Finding that place where you can focus on writing is priceless, so I hope you’ve found it or will soon. Our characters and stories want to be heard, and we owe it to them to do the best we can for them. So let’s do what it takes to introduce them to the world!

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  14. JM, boy do I know how it is spending too much time blogging. In my goal for the year I’m going to cut back a bit, but just a bit. I love blogging. I can just see myself not following through, but I plan to cut pack from three posts a week to two. Congrats on the award and thank you for the great book recommendations. I really need the one on body language.

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    • When I first started blogging, I was doing three or four posts a week, some of which weren’t much better than Facebook status updates. I learned quickly that people don’t have time for those, or much interest! And it took too much time away from the writing. So I dropped down to two posts per week last spring. That’s a lot more manageable for me. I admire people who can write quality posts more often than that, but it’s also hard for me to keep up with reading them. 😉

      The Emotion Thesaurus is a good, inexpensive resource. I’ve got the Kindle version, and it’s easy to navigate. I’ve already used it in my latest round of revisions.

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  15. The illustrated Strunk & White remains one of my favorites. Good choice! 🙂

    While it was probably fun to see your name on so many statistics pages if blogger friends, I empathize with your decision to be more aware of your blogging time. (One of the main reasons I’m taking a page from your notebook and limiting my posts to 2 per week instead of 3.) we want to be supportive… But those WsIP shouldn’t feel the brunt!

    Speaking of works in progress, I’d be curious to know – if you’re willing to share – how much those educational texts do (or do not) change your style and/or stories.

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    • You ask such great questions, Mayumi. 🙂 I don’t think the books on writing change my voice, style, or stories, per se. When I read them, I’m usually looking for ideas and tips that might help me improve my writing—such as doing a better job of showing instead of telling—or that help me see where my writing is weak—such as not enough conflict or character development.

      I think the continued act of writing has done more to influence my style and stories. When I first drafted Summer at the Crossroads, for example, my academic background really showed up in the writing. That’s not good. 😉 As I read more writing articles, I began to recognize that. I’m still cleaning that up. But when I started Death Out of Time, there was much less of that. And I don’t think it shows up in Meghan’s stories at all, except when she’s explaining about archaeology.

      Twice a week blogging is easier for me to handle. 😉 And my characters and Muse prefer it, too. Their recent kicks to my backside about spending too much time reading others is also helping!

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  16. Thank you for nominating my blog for the “Sisterhood.” I feel greatly honored that you’d choose me and am seriously very thrilled.
    Awhile back I went “award free” but in no way was it meant as a sign of ingratitude! I did it strictly due to time constraints, and sometimes when I’m NOT stuck for time I regret it! Anyway, please accept my most humble gratitude! Thank you!
    ps. your marching graphic looks perfect on Google Chrome, which I’ve been exclusively using (instead of IE) since Christmas.

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    • Ah, the awards lead to conflicting emotions for me, too. Sometimes I think I should go “award free.” But when I have the time, I enjoy letting people know about some blogs they might not be familiar with. I understand completely, though, why others might not pass them on or accept. 🙂 That’s why these days I preface any nominations with “it’s okay to pass if you want!”

      The graphic is looking fine now on Firefox on my laptop, but it still is messed up on Safari on the iPad. Technological change for the sake of change equates with lots of glitches and grumpy real-life users!

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  17. Thanks for the shout-out, jm! I hope to get to this soon–and I apologize for not commenting sooner. It has been a busy post-Powell’s week where I’m trying to catch up on too many things all at once.

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    • I totally understand, Laura! There’s no need to rush or pass it forward if you don’t have the time or inclination. I just like to give shout outs now and again. 🙂 Promoting your book and press have much more priority!

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      • Thanks for understanding, jm! I really appreciate the award and will put it on my list. I do have a Next Big Thing to post sometime soon, and yours will be next if/when I get that far. I have a backlog of author interviews too. Amazing how easy it can be to fill blog posts some weeks…

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  18. I looked through The Emotion Thesaurus once and wasn’t impressed. I thought it would list all kinds of new ways to describe emotions, but most of the phrases seemed overused and some were even cliches. Then it says that of course these phrases are just supposed to be a starting ground and that we should think of ways to alter them. But we already do that as writers and if we’re going to do that, then what’s the point of buying the book? The other thing I wondered about was if writers do start plugging in some of the phrases, then wouldn’t we all be writing similar things? So I realized I’d rather just come up with my own descriptions because that’s one of the fun parts about writing anyway.

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    • No book on writing will serve everyone’s needs, and that may be one reason why there are so many of them. 😉 For a writer like me, who tends to tell too much rather than show, a book like The Emotion Thesaurus can be what I need to start thinking outside the box. Even when I do remember to show, I’ll overuse certain body cues. I don’t dare tell you how many times my characters smile, frown, nod, and have their backs stiffen, even after multiple rounds of editing.

      On a complete aside here, I find it interesting that on one hand, we’re often told to limit our dialogue tags to “said” and “asked.” And yet we’re supposed to be creative about something like body language and other “showing.” Why are the limits “right” in one place, but “wrong” in another? The logical part of my brain often has a difficult time with the apparent “inconsistencies” of creative writing. 😉

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      • I was challenged by my last editor to remove 90% of my “said, asked etc” dialog tags. I was surprised by the result. Now I look to use it almost never. The words flow so much better without them, but sometimes, at least for me, I need to slip a few in.

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        • When we can break up the dialogue with some action or description, sometimes it’s easy to lead into the next line of dialogue without a tag. But when the dialogue exceeds a handful of lines, I still like the occasional tag to help keep the speakers straight.

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      • A lot of the writing advice is pretty inconsistent, and it ends up making me crazy too. But I agree with using “said” instead of more descriptive words because the reader doesn’t notice “said” after a while but something more descriptive would jump out and distract from the story. It is better to not use it at all if possible though.

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  19. Congrats on award!
    This is a good time to pick up books. Personally I worked with various people who insisted the “tell the audience what to expect, tell them info, tell them you told them” was the answer to the universe for everything. Depends on the info /type of presentation/purpose ( such as a training) and the type of audience. It’s a tad boring and straight jacket approach to me for writing and presenting…but it does have a place in certain situations.
    Nothing fits everything – best to be flexible and build to suit?
    Anyway nice post…and I need to shorten comments, too ( but it’s soooo hard when you are having fun…)

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    • Thanks, Mouse! 🙂 That philosophy can work well, such as in training sessions or a public lecture by a specialist for a general audience. But the technique can leave some people tuning out, which rather defeats the purpose!

      Life might be easier if we all learned everything exactly the same way. But I suspect it wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting. 🙂 So every “how to” book will have some people singing its praises while others say “don’t bother.”

      We just have to find what works for us, right? Now, if only that could always be done easily and quickly…. 😉

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