June 2014 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: June 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

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Writing Mistakes: Not Following Grammar Rules

When you write, you know you’re supposed to follow the rules of grammar. It’s what makes writing good, right?

Few writers are going to put a paragraph like this in their books:

“John watched Mary walk away, crying as she went because she was so so sad because he hurt her when he killed her pet dog in a drive by banana crushing accident. When she reached the end of the drive-way, she turned around and shook her fist at him. I’ll get you yet, you cold-hearted bastard son of an egg-sucking yarmulke, she cursed.”

Horribly structured sentences, riddled with grammar and punctuation mistakes, not to mention just poorly written garbage.

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When you write, you stick to the rules of grammar because they’re what make your book readable. However, every writer wants their writing to be unique, so we’re tempted to break out of the mold just a bit.

Some writers use fragments, others use long-winded paragraphs (here’s looking at you Dave Barry), and still others structure their sentences in unique ways that are grammatically correct, but only barely.

There are some writers that can get away with it, and they do so VERY well. They break the grammar rules, but they do so with such aplomb that we hardly notice it. We’re so caught up in their stories and their characters that the flouting of the rules goes by unnoticed.

And then there are the newbie writers like you and me who try to sneak these things into our books, and we fall on our faces. Our writing skills just aren’t where they should be to break the rules just yet, so we end up making our books weaker and less enjoyable as a result.

For your own sake, at least for now, stick with the rules of grammar and good creative writing. Until you can find your own way to break those rules the RIGHT way, follow them closely. Sure, bend them a bit, but make sure that your writing is grammatically correct and readable.

Helpful hint: Use THIS TOOL to see how readable your writing is.

 

Just to make things interesting, here’s the topic of next week’s Writing Mistakes post: Following the Rules Too Closely.

Book Summary Critique

What do you think of this book blurb/summary? All feedback–positive and negative–is welcome:

The Last Bucelarii Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer

The Hunter–a legendary assassin, a name feared in the city of Voramis. None alive have seen his true face, and where he goes, death follows in his wake.
Hired by a mysterious client, the Hunter finds himself drawn into a game of intrigue, politics, and power that runs much deeper and darker than he’d expect. Forces beyond his control plan to use him for their own ends, even going so far as to torture and kill him. He faces not only the Bloody Hand, the criminal organization ruling the city, but circumstances pit him against the shadowy secret police, the Dark Heresy.
Will the Hunter survive long enough to find out who is behind the game of cat-and-mouse? Can put a stop to the hidden machinations of those using him, or will he be just one more victim in the deadly game that is life in Voramis? The consequences of his actions have the potential to affect not just those around him, but the entire world of Einan.

WDYT? Leave a comment below with feedback/opinions/criticism. Thanks!

A Handy Guide to Self-Publishing

If you are a n00b in the world of publishing and self-publishing, have I got a treat for you!

At the beginning of the year, I had just finished writing my first novel, In the Days. It was sitting on my computer, all shiny and read to go somewhere. A friend of mine recommended that I self-publish it, which meant…what?

As a total newbie, I had no idea what to do to self-publish my work. I’m a writer, plain and simple. All of the other aspects of publishing a book beyond typing it out was–and still is–a bit beyond me.

I turned to the one thing that has rarely let me down: my good friend Google. Typing in “how to self-publish a novel” led me to all kinds of interesting resources, particularly a book called Let’s Get Digital.

Published by David Gaughran, this book is stuffed with pretty much everything you’ll need to know to self-publish your own book. You’ll find that it’s got a TON of valuable information, and it will basically walk you through the process of writing, editing, and publishing your book.

Here’s some of the stuff you’ll find in the e-book, which is totally free on David Gaughran’s website:

  • Why you should self-publish (Hint: The royalties are much higher if you can get your book to sell)
  • How to produce a professional-looking manuscript
  • How to format the book so it can be uploaded to Amazon and the other online book retailers
  • How to set up your own blog or website to start getting your name out there
  • How to figure out the price for your book
  • The importance of finding an editor and beta readers(a term I had never heard before)
  • Why it’s so essential to have a professionally designed book cover (thank you Marie Story for mine!)
  • How social networks and online networking can help you sell more books, meet more people, and expand your author base

Basically, it’s an ABC of self-publishing, and it was supremely helpful to get me started. Sure, there’s a lot more you’ll need to learn, but it’s definitely going to help any new author figure out what they need to do to get their work “on the line”.

The link above will send you directly to the ebook, and there’s another link below for your convenience:

http://davidgaughran.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/lets-get-digital-by-david-gaughran-free-pdf-edition.pdf

(Disclaimer: I’m in no way affiliated with David Gaughran, and am not receiving any compensation for this post. It’s just so darn useful I had to share it with everyone.)

 

The Secret of Art

What makes art art? Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it?

Have you ever wandered through a museum of modern art and seen some of the pieces hanging on the wall? You see blank canvases with a single dot of red paint, works of “art” resembling the stuff you did as a child, or pieces that look like the artist swallowed all of the paint on his easel and them vomited it back onto the canvas.

Art can be darn confusing sometimes–sorry, let me rephrase that: Art is darn confusing most of the time. Sure, I can appreciate the works of artists who painted pastoral scenes, landscapes, and sunsets (thank you Bob Rossi!), but when it comes to a lot of the works of Picasso, Mondrian, and other artists, I just don’t get it.

But they did, and that’s what makes it art!

I heard this quote from a TV show or movie I recently watched, and it stuck with me:

Art is art because it’s art, not because someone says it is.

For a moment, I didn’t understand what that meant. But when I sat down and dissected that statement, I realized the truth in it.

Think about what makes art art. When I paint a picture, compose a song, or write a story, it’s putting a bit of myself out into the universe. It’s taking emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are trapped within me, and it’s finding a release valve in the form of art.

That is what makes art art. It’s not about drawing, painting, or writing something that other people stop and say, “Damn, that’s artistic!” It’s about getting whatever is locked within you–that something you don’t know how to express–and putting it down on paper, canvas, or a Word document.

Art is the expression of man’s mind, heart, and soul, and it is the only medium that allows humans to truly express how they feel. You can only express yourself so much in conversation, but it’s through a picture, a story, a painting, or a song that your real thoughts and feelings come out. It’s why music, art, and literature lasts forever, because the emotions the artist put down on their paper, canvas, or music sheet speak to those same emotions within the person seeing, hearing, or reading it!

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Writing Mistakes: Not Writing Enough

In today’s issue of Writing Mistakes, we’re going to take a look at one of the biggest mistakes people make with their writing: not doing it.

Writing is a skill like many others, one that needs to be honed and developed.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours for you to become an expert at anything, including writing. Even if you spend 20 hours a week writing, that’s still about 10 years before you are an expert.

Now, for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to spend 20 hours a week writing what we love, it’s ESSENTIAL to spend at least a little bit of time EVERY DAY practicing. It will take us much longer to reach the 10,000-hour mark, but we’ll make progress toward it.

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I try to follow Stephen King’s admonition to write about 1,000 words per day. I shoot for 1,000 words, but I can usually fit about 1,200 to 1,300 in the 60 minutes I have set aside for myself every afternoon. It helps me to keep the story fresh in my mind, but it also helps to sharpen my skills as a writer.

When I write a bit every day, more ideas come to me because my subconscious mind is chewing over the writing I will do that day. I think of new concepts that can help me to improve the story, or I find that certain things I read stand out to me more. I notice new writing styles that contrast my own, and it’s easier to find the holes in my writing.

I only started this “1,000 words a day” practice a few months ago, and I’m already nearing the end of the first draft of my new novel. It’s good progress, but without any hurry. I’m adding 1,000 to 2,000 words a day, and loving it!

For you writers, the only way to improve is to spend time writing (and reading, of course). If you can’t set aside a large enough chunk of time to write 1,000 words, at least spend 30 to 45 minutes sitting at your computer or with your pen in hand. You NEED to write more every day, as that’s the only way you’ll get better–both at writing and at telling a story.

Practice makes perfect, so set aside time to practice EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Putting Up With the Daily Grind

My passion may be to write fiction, but sadly that hasn’t begun to pay the bills quite yet. In the Days may have sold a few copies, but nowhere near enough for me to retire to my private island and spend the rest of my life doing the kind of writing I love.

Every writer/artist no doubt wants to spend time doing the work that they feel passionate about, but only a very small number of fortunate souls can actually make money on that kind of work. To the masters like Brandon Sanderon, George R. R. Martin, and all of the comic book writers who work for companies like Zenescope, Marvel, DC, etc., I have one thing to say, “You gods be damned lucky bastards.” They can spend their days doing what they love, but for the rest of us, it’s another day of placing our fiction-loving noses to the grindstone.

Being an artist or writer is all about passion and creativity. Doing a day job is probably the least passion, creative thing in the world. When I think about all the poor writers who have a regular job as an accountant or a lawyer, I find myself getting claustrophobic. Those kind of jobs would probably stifle my creativity far more than my current job does.

Thankfully, the job I have now is as a writer. Sure, I may write the kind of informational content you find on sites like FitDay, HealthAmbition, CareerAddict, and Red Scooter, but at least it’s writing. I get to sit at my computer and do what I love, even if it’s not as much fun as writing a story.

But it gets tough to sit and write blog posts on fitness or party planning when all I want to do is sit at the beach and write my novel. I have a story bursting out of me, but for 6 to 8 hours a day, I have to keep that story locked away.

As a creative person, it’s tough to put up with the daily grind. Sometimes I just want to scream, and it’s hard to apply myself to my content writing. The fact that my day job is so close to my passion almost makes it harder for me to sit down and write for fun. It feels a lot like the work I’m getting tired of.

But, that’s the price we pay for enjoying our lives. I can’t quit my day job just to write fiction, because I have a family to feed and bills to pay. I have to content myself with fitting in my novel writing however I can, the way most of the other great writers have done it. At least I have the time to sit and write, while others struggle just to make ends meet. I have a wonderful job, even though it feels a bit like a grind. If I can keep that in mind, it’s much easier to keep working when all I want to do is kick back and relax.

 

 

The Beauty of Perspective

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” — Marcus Aurelius

I like this quote a lot, because it reminds me of something that I’ve been finding MUCH MORE in life.

To sum up this post in a word: things aren’t always what they appear to be.

I like books, movies, and TV shows that make me think that there is one character who is bad–say, the villain–and you come to hate the character through the entire piece. When you get to the end, you find out that his “villainy” is all just a matter of perspective.

Take, for example, the classic character Severus Snape. Any Harry Potter fan will know exactly what it was like to hate the character from The Philosopher’s Stone all the way until nearly the end of The Deathly Hallows. And then, at the end of the book, you find out that the character is a complete hero in a very, very good disguise.

Or take Dr. Doom of Marvel Comics. He is the nemesis of the Fantastic Four, and one of the greatest villains of comic book history. However, in one story arc, Reed Richards is shown a future where Dr. Doom rules the world, and that future is peaceful, beautiful, and perfect. The reason Dr. Doom is such a megalomaniacal bastard–at least in that run–is because he wants to make the world a better place.

Sometimes, there are characters who are bad only because of your perspective, but changing your way of looking at things will change the way you see the characters.

I LOVE characters that are like that! You develop such a strong hatred for them all the way until you find another truth behind the character, something that shows you what’s really going on. It totally shifts your perspective, and all of a sudden you think, “Is he/she really the bad guy?”

For me, a writer who can do that is a writer I can respect. I want to try to do that in my own writing, and I plan on doing so in Book 2 or 3 of The Last Bucelarii. I want to make you hate a character so much that you look forward to his death, and only once you find out the truth will you begin to question what you thought to be true.

Perspective is everything!

Writing Mistakes: Editing while Creating

When you sit down to write a new story–or even informational articles or emails, for that matter–you are trying to tap into the creative half of your brain.

Look at the image below:

On the right side, you have the places from which the writing flows. The right side of your brain contains your personality, the “you” that you’re putting into your story, article, or email. It also contains the intuitive stuff, the part that tells you “this is good for the writing while that is not”. The artistic, creative half of your brain–the right side–is the part that details your story as you sit down to write.

It can be tough to tap into the right half of your brain, particularly when most of us use the left half of our brain for work. The left side contains all the language, the writing skills, and the analytical part of our brains that examine what we write so critically.

So, when you sit down to write something new, you have to switch gears from the left side of your brain and start using your right hemisphere. It takes a while for you to get into the swing of things, but eventually you’ve shut off the left half of your brain as much as possible in order to let that creative right half get to work.

And then you make the mistake of trying to edit your work as you write. You look over what you just wrote for mistakes, evaluating your writing style, dialogue, etc. to see if you can make it better.

Big mistake! When you make that switch from creating to editing, you shut off the right half of your brain and hand control back to the analytical left side. When you try to start writing again, it will be hard to shut off the left side to let the right side take control once more. The more you switch back and forth, the more limited your right brain will be.

My advice–and the advice of greats like Stephen King:

Write everything out first, and ONLY THEN should you edit.

Get everything out of your head and onto the paper, and only then go over it again and start applying the analytical portion of your brain to examine the writing style, the grammar, and all the rest.

It will make it much easier for you to write the stuff that’s locked away in the creative side of your brain, and it will keep things flowing. You may notice a lot of mistakes when you sit down to edit, but that’s why you’re doing it. Give your brain’s right side a fighting chance and avoid the urge to edit as you are in the throes of creation!

The Curse of an Untold Story

A great woman once said:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

This much is true, and it is something I–and most of my fellow writers–can attest to.

There’s something overwhelming about a story being born in your head. It just keeps coming and coming and coming until you either write it down or die of an exploded brain. Well, perhaps the results aren’t that drastic, but that’s what it feels like in the moment.

Here’s an example of something that happened to me just a few months ago:

I’m sitting in the car, driving to do the weekly shopping, when all of a sudden an idea strikes me. It’s an idea that I find quite appealing, so my mind begins to race, thinking of the story concept and fleshing it out. Words start coming to me, along with pictures, dialogue, and things that happen in the story. My brain feels like it’s about to explode, and I have to write this down.

Unfortunately, I’m sitting in the middle of traffic, but thank the gods my wife has her phone handy. She signs onto Skype, and starts sending messages to my Skype account signed in on my computer. We continue driving, but I have to stop and pull over half a dozen times just to send myself little messages.

The entire hour and a half we’re walking through the shopping mall, I’m sending myself more messages to keep the story flowing. I keep getting more and more inspiration, and I don’t want the well to dry up before I get it all down. I race home–driving safely, of course–sit at my computer, and in an hour I have compiled all of my notes and hammered out Issue #1 of a brand new comic book script.  The story concept is already mostly formed, and over the next few days I flesh it out until I have a 10-issue story fully formed.

The truth is that I had no control over my brain during the time that the story was coming to me, and it just flowed. I’d have to say that I LOVE the story, and I think anyone who reads it will too. (Coming soon from Rothic, gods willing!)

That, my friends, is the curse of the untold story. I know many writers experience that sudden urge to sit and hammer away at their keyboards just to get that idea exploding in their head onto a paper. It’s like you’re releasing the tension when you write it down or start writing the story, and there is no greater feeling than sitting back AFTER you’ve gotten the idea out and realizing, “Damn! This is a pretty freaking awesome story!”

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Writing Mistakes:  Writing Too Much in a Sitting

Have you ever made so much progress on your writing that you find your mind starting to wander? You’ve been writing for a couple of hours, and your character is suddenly doing things he or she would never do before? Your story is morphing into something completely different, and yet your mind feels numb and foggy?

Many writers will disagree with me when I say that writing too much in one sitting is bad for you, but I know how I get when I try to write for too many hours straight. My brain begins to fog up, and my thoughts slow down. I get so bogged down in the little details that I forget about the big picture of the overall story, and the story line begins to wander.

To make things even worse, the quality of my writing begins to drop. I start to use the hated adverb, or I go with the passive tense just because I can’t think of a better way to write “He was using the bathroom in his pajamas”.

And I’m not just talking about my fiction writing either. When I write content for too many hours, my brain begins to go numb and I find myself repeating the same lines over and over. I just can’t think of why avocadoes are so great for my health, or why one home security company is better than another.

For writers who feel like I do after so many hours of work, it’s time to take a break. Break your writing up into a few chunks, and spread them out through your day or week. I find that writing 1,000 or so words per day helps me to focus on the quality of my fiction writing, and I still make good progress. On the days that I sit down to actually get a lot of writing done, I’ve been working on my WIP all week and thus know where the story is going, but without spending too many hours on it all at once.

Of course, some writers will LOVE being able to sit and write for a dozen straight hours. If you are one of those writers–I am not–then you’ve got your work cut out for you. However, don’t be surprised if by Hour 3 or 4 you find the quality of your writing slipping a bit. It’s just the way the human mind works, so it may be worth taking a break or doing something else for an hour to give your brain a break. Once you come back to the project, you may just find that your thoughts are clearer.

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