Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Friendship and Cyberspace Tag

So I get this email around midnight from a writer buddy of mine and the subject line is "OK, don't hate me..."

I think Cheryl Kaye Tardif, Best Selling Canadian Author and Book Marketing Coach [] is going to tell me that she's come to the conclusion that perhaps the reason I'm not published after years of trying is because I suck at writing...or something equally as dire.

I open the email (because it is late and if I don't open it, I will worry about it all night and won't get a wink of sleep even if I were to double both my Prozac and my sleepy-time tea.)

"Hopefully we'll still be friends after this..." the first line reads.

Oh. Oh. I'm certain now that I'm in trouble for something. I've been known to bust a few cyberspace codes of ethic in the past--the distant past--like a month or so ago when I was still learning the intricacies of social networking. ("Always be professional..." she has reminded me on occassion--or on more than one occassion. Maybe even on several occassions.)

Thusly, I was totally relieved when I scrolled through the message and saw no "thou shalt not's" or "you must never again's" or "I can't fricken believe you posted that's". It was much too late to understand what it was that she was saying, something about doing a blog post and linking my blog to hers networking which sounded fine.

The next day I realized it wasn't quite all that "fine." I had been rooked into a nasty and prolific game of cyberspace tag and I was "it". I was "it" in the 7-things game of tag.

"I want you to write about 7 themes found in your works (novels, nonfiction, short stories etc). I'd like to know what made you explore these themes and what research you may have done...." she continued.

Themes? I don't even fricken know what themes are--at least not when it comes to books. I mean, I know what "Theme Parties" are. Like my 25th wedding anniversary when we all dressed in Fortrel and danced to good music and celebrated the 70's. Or, West Ed's "Theme Rooms". I remember sitting in the hot tub in the Polynesian Suite wishing I'd been able to book the room with the bed in the back of a pickup. (It's an Alberta thing, okay?)

Then there are "Theme Songs" like Hockey Night in Canada. However, none of my books were about hockey, pickup trucks, Polynesia or polyester.

About then in my musings the phone rang and it was my best buddy, Cory, reminding me of Fran's stagette. "We've got a theme going," she says.

"A theme?" I perk up. This for sure will be the key to getting me out from under the "it" tag.

"It will of course be a wedding night theme," she continues. "Patricia will be there with her ForeEverNever Personal Pleasure Products."

"Personal Pleasure..."

"Oh, oh. I haven't offended you, have I?" Cory asks.

Now, although NORAEBANG, my adult novel, has a couple of torrid bedroom scenes, I don't remember there being any mention of things with batteries...or edible lotions...or furry handcuffs, or such. I made a mental note to include at least one of those in my next romance.

Okay. So, like...tomorrow was the 27th. The day I was supposed to read Cheryl's 7-things blog and respond with mine. And so far, all my dream theme schemes had struck out. So I dial up Cheryl. "Whatcha all talkin' about,girl?" I say. "Themes?"

"Well, your adolescent novel, AERDRIE. Those things you told me were in that story. Drug abuse, poverty, gangs, bullying..."

I'm counting on my fingers, hoping she keeps going.

"...divorce..." Yes! That's five. Just two more and...she stops.

"And...?" I suggest.

"And whatever else it was you said..."

"Polyester?" I tentatively query.


"Personal Pleasure?"


Ah, well. There's gotta be enough themes in this blog to satisfy the requirements of the 7-things game of tag. I decide that talking to Cheryl and Cory qualifies as research.

And as for the reasons I've written about these themes... get me out from under this "it" tag, of course.

Now, I get to make 4 people "it" and tell them what list of 7 things they ought to blog about.

Hmmm....How about: The 7 Best Things about Being a Writer Sarah Butland

Eileen Schuh,Canadian writer

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Top Tips for Writing Action

Writing action scenes can be downright murderous. A million things are happening at once and we have to tell it all word by word by word, left to right across a blank page. Unlike TV and the big screen, we don’t have music, lighting, camera angles, or audio to delivery our action. We don’t have movement, costumes, or set designs like theatre has. We don’t have differing brush strokes and a palette of colours like the painter. We have words. Words and punctuation, and if we have a magnanimous editor, perhaps the odd bold or italic and maybe even an exclamation mark.
So how can we effective transcribe an action scene?

Tip #1: Use short sentences. I was surprised to learn this. It goes against instinct.

If a million things are happening and everything is quickly changing as one thing is leading to another and then he grabs her and next he throws her onto the bed while her friend runs for help—an author can’t help but want to get it all down without stopping and breathing….

A million things are happening. He grabs her and tosses her to the bed. Agatha runs for help. The short sentences speed up the writing. The periods add punch. There is no doubt in the reader’s mind that this page has action.

Tip #2: Within sentences, write things in the order they occur. What this does is allow readers to form continuous streams of visual images from your words. If the reader has to go back and correct their mental images to add new information, it slows the pace of the story and may become so distracting that readers will abandoned your story.

The lead pencil broke because she was pushing so hard on it.
She pushed so hard on the pencil, the lead broke.

The dog barked and barked and barked as soon as the coyotes started howling.
When the coyotes started howling, the dog began to bark (and bark and bark).

Tip #3: scrap the words “then” “as” “next” “while” to indicate the order of action. If you diligently follow tip #2, this tip will be easy to follow. Readers will get used to your rhythm and understand that things are following chronologically. You therefore don’t need those words.

He grabbed her and then threw her onto the bed after she said, “I don’t love you.” Meanwhile, Agatha ran for help.

“I don’t love you,” she said. He threw her onto the bed. Agatha ran for help.

Tip #4: To keep your writing tight, the action moving, the emotion intense-- watch diligently for repeated words, unnecessary words, “ing words”, and clichés.

He threw her [down] onto the bed. Then bend[ing] [down] over her, he said [as cool as a cucumber], “I don’t love you, either.”

He threw her onto the bed and bent over her. His eyes narrowed. His brows lifted. His lips slowly parted. “I don’t love you, either.”

Tip # 4: Choose your point of view and stick with it—if not for the entire scene, at least for a reasonable amount of time. This will allow your readers to create those continuous visual images and also encourages your readers to connect deeply with the character through which they are experiencing the action.

She stared into his eyes, terrified. He was wondering what he should do next. Agatha was sure the police would arrive to find blood.

Terrified, she stared into his eyes. She thought she saw a flicker of uncertainty behind the blue. Perhaps, she wasn’t going to die.

If you have an action scene as your opening chapter, boy—do you have your work cut out for you!

Coming next…the challenges involved in writing an opening chapter.

Eileen Schuh,Canadian

Top Tips for Writing Action

Eileen Schuh,Canadian