Monday, April 22, 2013

What Makes a Book Important?

This week, I became obsessed with the desire to write an Important Book. Time has proven that I can write a book...several, in fact...and readers like them, and in some cases, love them.
But does this make any of my books Important?
I think not. But what kinds of books become Important? And why?

Books of the Bible: surely these are Important Books. Each one was inspired by an unusual or mystic event that eventually changed the history of the world and mankind.  Each book was conceived by either a witness to a miracle, a prophetic dream, a dramatic experience, or a religious revelation. Probably no one today could write books such as these: Exodus, The Four Gospels, Revelation, The Psalms, Proverbs.  

The Great Books of the Western World: The original editors of the series chose three criteria for inclusion: Relevant to contemporary issues, important in historical context, and must be a part of "the great conversation about the great ideas."  A few examples are: Works by Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, Homer, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx.  

Children's Books--A children's book titled, what else but The Important Book, written by author of Good Night, Moon, Margaret Wise. This simple book is about learning the importance of objects: a ball (it's round), a box (it's square), etc. So simple, I could have written this book. But...I didn't.

Classics: Almost everyone would agree the books now categorized as Classics are Important Books. To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, The Old Man and the Sea, Little Women, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, Gatsby, Little Women, Moby Dick, Lord of the Flies--all these will live on.

Best Sellers: Some all-time best sellers might be labeled as Important Books. The most important have sold more than 100 million copies: A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince, The Hobbit, Then There Were None. (To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope.. not even close to 100 million.)

Inspirational or Motivational: The Purpose Driven Life, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Power of Positive Thinking,  The Road Less Traveled.

I see that I have a very high mountain to climb. How can I possibly compete with any of these Important Books?

Well, I can't. I don't know one person in the realm of all my acquaintances in my entire life who has written An Important Book.

So, where does that leave me? In the dust, so to speak. Now I don't feel so much like a failure. Thinking I might possibly write something Important should just be a thought to put away.

On the other hand, how many common people never thought they'd do or write something Important? But they did? Maybe the book or feat wasn't way up there with Aristotle or M. Scott, M.D. who wrote The Road Less Traveled, but it still turned out to be good enough to be on the NY Best Sellers List.

We don't need to reach for the moon, but we might want to consider reaching a little farther than we have so far.

My goodness, look at me. I have inspired myself! I'll just wait for a prophetic dream, a revelation of some sort, or perhaps a miracle. And then, get out of my way. I might write an Important Book.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Do You Really Want To Throw That Away?

I don’t like to throw things away, unless I find absolutely no use for them and they’re cluttering up my space in some manner. My environment must be neat, with no extra trash or litter lying around my desk or my workspace (or my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, or garage.) So, last week, I tackled the dreaded “Folders filled with important articles about writing I might use one day.”

The astounding number of printed/copied articles stared me in the face. I lugged numerous folders—those plastic kind with pockets—to my kitchen island so I could go through each one. My first thought was: “I’ll just empty these, remove paper clips and staples, stack it all up, and carry it to the garage to the recycle container for paper.”

Instead, one caught my eye. “Mmm,” I thought, “I don’t remember this one.” And I sat at the island and read it. Another looked interesting, so I read that. After an hour, I had a new stack of articles to save—once again.

I’d love to tell you about every one of these great re-saved articles. Instead, I chose the top five. Drum roll, please.
#5- The Element’s of Style, by Stanley Bing, FORTUNE, August 20, 2007. Stanley writes: “So anyways, I’m having this discussion with a bunch of folks about how’s it matter whether a person knows the difference between you and me vs. you or I in a sentence and the whole subject of correct use of the English language comes up, and boy, do people get hot.”

(Do you see why I love this article? Celia)

#4-How to Lure Readers to Chapter 2, by Les Edgerton, Writer’s Digest. Les writes: “It’s a well-known fact that a tremendous number of manuscripts never get read by agents and editors. Wait. Amend that to: A tremendous number of possible good and even brilliant novels and short stories and other literary forms never get read beyond the first few paragraphs or pages by agents or editors. Why?”
(Les Edgerton’s book Hooked is one of favorites. Celia)

#3-Blinded by the Light, by Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, Writer’s Digest. Leigh Anne writes: “Don’t let your creativity get in the way of your productivity. Here are nine tips for overcoming Too Many Ideas Syndrome.”
(An excellent article written with humor. Celia.)

#2-Getting Your Act Together, by Ridley Pearson, Writer’s Digest. Ridley writes: “Do as the Greeks did: Use this time-honored method to give form to your fiction.”
(This idea is so simple, it’s brilliant. I’ve re-read it more than once. Celia)

And…#1-Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle, from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series, October 1, 2008 when he turned 83. Elmore writes: “Being a good author is a disappearing act.”
(I’ve worn out this one printed page with the ten rules of writing. I received it from an author who judged one of my RWA contest entries. She gave me a high score and highlighted four of the ten for me to study in detail. I have been forever grateful. Celia)
Notice all these articles are rather old. However, so far, I've not found many articles lately that I'd choose to keep. However, all these are on paper. I do have a file in my computer titled: "Articles Worth Keeping." Maybe I'll clean out that file another day.
On the other hand, they're not clutter like paper is.

 Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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Friday, April 12, 2013


Remember, I am not a grammar teacher nor a grammar expert.
I am a perpetual student.

I know. I haven't written an Avoid post in a while. I  needed to review and refresh my memory on a few writing points, and in doing so, these struck me as important because I don't practice them enough.

A. Avoid Passive Voice: We learned this in high school English class, but still, when writing we tend to write as we speak. And how do most of us speak? In a passive voice. We use "was" too much, instead of writing the sentence using active verbs.
All writers know this, but many of us--I, especially--tend to slide into the easier passive voice.

At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.
The cock's crow came with dawn.

The reason he left his job was that his health became impaired.
Failing health compelled him to leave his job.

On the wall to the right was a sign that listed names of occupants and floor numbers.
A sign that listed names of occupants and floor numbers hung on the wall to the right. (from my WIP Texas Dreamer)

B. Avoid Writing in a Way That Is Unnatural to You: This is difficult to explain and might seem contradictory to A. Bottom line, write as you speak or as your characters might speak, but don't think your writing is completely correct. I have said, and will say again, I write as I speak. If I began to write in a precise grammatical way, my writing would be stiff and unnatural. However, I do edit and make corrections later if needed.
Case in point: An editor rejected my first submitted manuscript with these words: "Your characters and plot are good, but your writing reads like a textbook. You see? I wrote as I had always written serious papers and scientific research papers for two degrees. I did not know the basics of writing fiction. The editor told me my writing was without emotion, too, because of this manner of writing. Just the facts, ma'am.

I had to learn how to write fiction, and it was a steep learning curve.
The key is to "let yourself go" as you write. Later, re-read, and correct any dialogue or narrative told in Passive Voice.

Textbook: When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, he swore to the nation that he had no intention of interfering with the institution of slavery.
My way: In 1861, President Lincoln swore he wouldn't interfere with slave owners.

C. Avoid the Use of Prepositional Phrases, especially that are at the end of a sentence. They leave a weak finish. (to her, at him, for her, etc.)

Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was to her.
Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was.

She stared in speechless dismay at him.
She stared in speechless dismay.
(or) She stared.

D. Avoid the Offbeat: Words and phrases that might be common today, especially among young writers, will become out-of-date and off-putting to the reader. When I read a novel set in 1845, I expect the characters to use words and phrases of the day. But the narrative of a novel set in 1845 should not contains words or phrases from 1960 or 2013.

The psyched group chanted.
The excited group chanted.

What a rip-off!
What a cheap imitation!

Lord Byron dressed in a funky suit for the ball.
Lord Byron dressed in an odd, quaint suit for the ball.


Comments? Avoids of your own?

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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Friday, April 5, 2013

(Short Story or Novelette, or Novella)
Several years ago, I bought a 1970 Edition Writer's Digest book titled "Handbook of Short Story Writing." This small book gives practical advice on the how-to's of: Ideas, Characters, Dialogue, Plotting, Viewpoint, The Scene, Description, Flashback, Transition, Conflict, Revision, and Marketing.

With the complete guide, one would think a budding short story writer would soon learn the knack of writing decent stories, and perhaps one day turn into Eudora Welty. You remember her, don't you? I recently found another treasure at my local Half-Price Book Store titled "A Curtain of Green and Other Stories," by Eudora Welty. The first printing was in 1941 and the book has been reprinted many times. Her works are taught in college English courses.

"A Curtain of Green" contains seventeen short stories, ranging in length from twelve pages to twenty-five pages. In case you're wondering the exact length of a true short story, her stories probably can be considered the watermark.

The titles of her stories in "Curtain" are creations in themselves: "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies," "Old Mr. Marblehall," "Petrified Man," and "Death of a Traveling Salesman,"—to name a few.
You didn't know Eudora Welty wrote "Death of a Traveling Salesman?" She did—in 1930. And how many times has that twenty-five-page story been read, and re-read, and studied, and turned into a stage play? She was born in 1909 and died in 2001, went to college but returned home to live out her days in the home she was born in. She never married, but was said to be a "dreamy" sort of girl. I believe this "dreamy" characteristic came about because she was creating stories in her head.
We've all done that, haven't we? Looked dreamy? Or maybe in a trance?

I am no Eudora Welty, nor do I wish to be. But I value the short story more because of her talent, greatness, and influence.

These days, I'm turning more to writing shorter stories. Call them what you will—short stories, short fiction, mini-novels, or novellas—each one contains the same elements as any piece of fiction.

In this busy world we live in, readers must often cram in a few pages here, a few pages there. The short story--or novella, etc.--becomes a godsend for a quick satisfying story to ponder.

The Cattlemen's Ball-FREE-16 pages
By Celia Yeary

The story goes back to the original Cameron male, Ryan Cameron, who becomes the patriarch of the Cameron Family of Texas. 

Take Five-Five short stories-$2.99-198 pages
By Linda Swift

These five short stories will intrigue readers like no other. Each one is a small treasure to savor.

The Short Story--FREE-284 pages
By Robert Louis Stevenson, Bret Harte, Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling

Volunteers put this collection together as an ebook for the enjoyment of fans and perhaps new readers. It's not professionally formatted, but the stories are still there.

 Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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