Why do I need a critique partner?

The answer is basically the same as one would give to, “Why do I need an editor?”

The answer is simple. We cannot see our own mistakes.

There are three reasons for this. One, we may not know we’re making a mistake. Unless we are very experienced in writing in the specific area of our current work, there are things we may not know or understand. For instance, if I write a mystery, there will be certain police or medical procedures I don’t know about. Some I will research. Others I don’t understand that I need to.

There may be basic accepted practices of writing I don’t know. As an example, I might not know how to handle internalization. Do I use quotes, italics, first or third person, present or past tense, attribution?

The worse aspect of this is you may not know you don’t know. You do what you think is correct. Checking on what is accepted never enters your mind.

The second reason we can’t see our own mistakes is that our mind knows what we intend, and if our fingers don’t accomplish this, our mind will. I can write a sentence and leave out an important word. But when I read that sentence, my mind will automatically supply the missing word. I am not even aware that a word is missing.

The third reason, and often the most important one, is that another set of eyes, another reader, may be able to point out things that don’t work, or don’t work well. Perhaps it is something that you, the author, know very well. But somehow, it is not transmitted to the reader. Or you may be trying to get a certain feeling across. The critique partner may tell you that you did not. A good critique partner might say you are too verbose. Or your dialogue is stilted. Or perhaps you spend too much time on description – or not enough. Another person may say the protagonist is not well drawn, or the motivation doesn’t come across. Maybe the pace is off.

Another person can see so much that the author cannot. This is a valuable resource you should not fail to use.

A  good critique partner can help on all of those. Ideally, she’ll know the area in which you are weak. If not, perhaps she may question your choice and cause you to do more checking. And when she reads the sentence in which you left out a word, her mind will not supply it. She will immediately see that you have left out a word.

The same thing is true of certain spelling errors. A spellchecker won’t catch many spelling problems. If you put down “your” when you need “you’re,” the spellchecker won’t catch it but your critique partner will.   You type “there” when you mean “their”—no help from spellchecker. But the dependable critique partner will circle it in red.

There are two points I must make before I close. First, you need a good critique partner. You are not looking for someone to pat you on the back and say, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read.” You need one who is knowledgeable in writing, particularly in your area. You need one who will catch the mistakes and tell you what they think you need to do to improve the writing.

The second point is, you must be willing to listen objectively. I’m not saying you must follow all suggestions. You must consider all suggestions and then implement those that make sense to you, that fit your style. Remember, the partner is not criticizing you, rather trying to help you improve your writing.

Select a critique partner carefully. Work closely with her. And both of you can become better writers.

Writing Your Family Story

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests.

A couple of years ago, I had the unhappy fortune to be with my father as he answered questions for the intake counselor at a hospice facility. He patiently answered her questions about his family, his children, what he’d done for a living, until he grew tired. And then he simply said, “If you want to know any more, read the book.”

“Read the book?” She looked at each sibling. “What book?”

“There on the bookcase.”

I handed her the book. “It’s the first part of his life, up until he married my mom, and then the last part, where he found his half-siblings from his father’s side of the family.”

She thumbed through the book then she looked up at us again. “You won’t believe how many family members come through here every year who say they wished they’d listened more closely to their parent’s stories. Or how many parents who say they wished they’d taken time to write down the stories. This is the first time I’ve met anybody who actually did it. You have a treasure here.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you might want to record family stories for future generations. Here is the process we used to write the book for family only and then prepare it for the general market.

  1. Decide what your goal is: first and foremost, this was a history book for the family. Secondly, he knew his story wasn’t unique, but the setting and the characters were, and we felt that would set the book apart in the general market.
  2. Decide the structure: he wanted to tell three separate stories including how he came to be born and placed in the family he was raised in, his life growing up in a unique setting, and finding his half-siblings on his birth father’s side of the family. So we went with the three-books-in-one approach, from two different points of view, his birth mother’s and his.
  3. Decide what to include: a person’s life has innumerable stories, so we kept to the ones that best described my father—pragmatic, logical, forward-thinking.
  4. Decide whom to protect: in the family-only version, we toned down some stories where we felt we knew the truth but couldn’t prove it, while in the market version, we changed the names of the characters, kept the name of the town, and wrote it the way we believed it happened.
  5. Decide what to exclude: my father came to Christ three weeks before he passed away, so that was a huge part of the family-only book, even though it was a short part of his life on this earth. The title, My Cup Has Overflowed, came from a song I love called “I’m drinking from my saucer, Lord, because my cup has overflowed”. We decided not to include much of that story in the market version.

So, if you’re thinking about writing your family story, don’t wait. If you’re tired of hearing Uncle John’s stories or Grandma Mary’s tales, don’t tune them out. Write the stories. They won’t always be here.

Donna  will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in June 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”.   Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titledPony Express Romance Collection” released April 1. 

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

Fiction Needs Facts!

Today’s guest is a retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth.  He lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. He has published 16 novels, including six in his Sticks Hetrick crime series, plus a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He currently serves as librarian of his county historical society, where he assists patrons with genealogy and research

If you write fiction, you have to pay attention to facts.

That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t meant to. Fiction offers a simulation of reality and if you wrongly portray something your reader knows as ‘fact’ you may be called out on it.

Suppose you’re writing a story set in Arizona in the 1870s (as I did with Geronimo Must Die). You can rely on imagination and create a world to suit your purpose. That’s called fantasy and, if your reader is informed that’s the intent, it’ll probably be accepted without question.

On the other hand, if you want your reader to believe the story is set in this place and time, it becomes important to express things as they actually were. You can twist things a little to suit your purpose (that’s called fiction), so long as your reader is willing to accept them. For instance, your reader will accept your character riding a horse or mule but may frown if you seat them on a dragon (that would be fantasy).

There are two methods. One is called empathy. The other is research.

Empathy is vicariously experiencing the emotion, thought or action of another person. This is a useful tool for a writer in many circumstances. However it has its limits. Some characteristics are timeless. But you live in the 21st century and attitudes today differ to a certain degree from those of the 19th century. How can you know what’s true today was also true then?

The answer is through research. You don’t have a time machine, but we do have a good substitute to give us some idea of what life was like in those days. Reading biographies, histories and fiction of the period provides some insight. These sources were important to me in accurately depicting the Apache and life on the San Carlos reservation. An even better choice for general historical fiction is newspapers of the period. Newspapers reflect the character of the times in which they’re created–they show us what was important to people, what they did with their time, their morals, their prejudices. Everything you need to create a believable character of the period.

These newspapers are available in collections at historical societies, in many libraries and even on line. Librarians are good at telling us where to find newspapers to suit our needs. Reading them is fun and sure to stimulate your imagination.

Here’s a blurb for Geronimo Must Die:

Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.

Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo’s life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper’s sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it’s all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.

Mickey’s efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.

Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo’s help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

Lindermuth’s  latest novel, Geronimo Must Die, a classic Western, was released on March 28 by Sundown Press.

 https://www.amazon.com/Geronimo-Must-Die-J-Lindermuth-ebook/dp/B06XFZJG5H/ref=la_B002BLJIQ8_1_20?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490444850&sr=1-20&refinements=p_82%3AB002BLJIQ8

 

 

The Joy of Creating Characters

Jean Lauzier loves to play in all the different genres, but especially  mystery and fantasy.

She is a member of several writer’s groups and  president of the East Texas Writer’s Association. When not writing,
she enjoys reading, trying to grow bonsai trees, training dogs,  editing, and mentoring other writers.

“Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition. They are easily born, and as easily killed off.” ― John Banville

I’m not sure who John Banville is, but I have to disagree. At least for myself. I have one of those obsessive personalities and when I’m writing, I live and breathe my characters. I think about their likes and dislikes, how their past affects their present, and just what they want out of life.

Sometimes, I even forget they aren’t real. For example, one day while in the middle of a writing session, a song came on the radio and I realized Cande would have listened to and liked that song. Now, Cande is a character in a mystery novel I’m editing, but we’re also best friends. I know about the time she tried to paint her pony black because she wanted to go as the headless horseman for Halloween. I know how she defends those being bullied, her soft spot for animals, and how much she loves settling in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. She’s a person I’d really like to hang out with.

I also know that as her writer, I can’t get her to do something against her nature. At the end of the novel, I really wanted her to take justice in her own hands and off the bad guy. But that’s not her. Yes, she’s an emotional wreck because of what she thinks he has done, but she believes in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. And that is one of the things I love about her.

Another thing I love is when a character just appears and refuses to disappear. While writing Dragons of Jade, I was typing along in the groove, and a dog appeared in a scene. I didn’t want a dog in the book so backspaced and deleted him. A few sentences later, my character opened the door and in bounded the dog. He had a name, a personality, and I knew exactly what he looked like. I thought about deleting him again but just couldn’t. Turns out, he was an important part of the story.

Some authors seem to have no problem killing their characters. I read the Game of Thrones series and every time I became attached to a character, they turned up dead. I’d be a blubbering puddle of tears if I killed off as many characters as he has.

Once I read we need to get our characters up trees and then throw rocks at them while setting the tree on fire. I have a hard time doing that, especially with characters I love. I want things to go right for them. I want them to succeed and be happy. It’s something my editor says I need to work on. And, I am trying.

Creating characters is one of the fun things about being a writer. I learn about their jobs, their culture, and just what makes them tick. Then, we hang out in front of the fireplace sipping hot cocoa and telling stories.

You can find more about Jean on  her Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/jeanlauzier2319

All her  books are available on Amazon or can be ordered from any bookstore.

 

 

 

A NaNoWriMo Education

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Galand Nuchols is a retired school teacher.  While teaching, she found that writing short stories that incorporated the names of students helped to improve their interest and motivated them to work harder.  At the same time, she found she really … Continue reading

The Hard Work of Telling the Truth:

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D.R. Ransdell is a writer and musician. She spent five years in Mexico teaching English and learning folk songs. Now, she plays with a mariachi group and writes a murder mystery series about mariachi bandleader Andy Veracruz. She also teaches writing at … Continue reading

Traveling and Writing–a good Mix

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Today, Carole Brown talks about the benefits of travel to a writer, giving examples of how it has helped her in many books.  She and her husband live in SE Ohio, but they have traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and … Continue reading

The Reluctant Heroine

There’s been many pieces written on the amateur sleuth. Quite often, the amateur is pulled into the case and reluctantly takes it on. In my Crystal Moore Suspense Series, Crystal admits the most dangerous thing she ever did was say “no” to a man who never heard the word. And in that incident, she was pulled into the situation against her will. But, she had the will to extract herself, even if at a great cost. However, this is not the main thrust of the book. In fact, this is revealed only when she tells her sidekick about the incident two years later.

As unadventurous as Crystal sees herself, in both of the first two books it is Crystal who pushes herself into harm’s way. a-ton-of-gold-cover-9-1-16

For the main plot line of A Ton of Gold, Crystal jumps into the fray. She gets in the middle of things when she believes someone is trying to kill her grandmother, her only remaining family and the woman who raised her.

My latest book is A Silver Medallion, June 2016. Here, Crystal decides to undertake a dangerous mission to rescue two young girls from a drug lord in the jungles of Mexico. Everyone tries to talk her out of it. Her grandmother, Eula, “who is tough enough to charge hell with a bucket of water”(description of Eula courtesy of a Caleb Pirtle review) tells her it’s a bad idea. Brandi, Crystal’s street-wise sidekick, says she can tell a dumb idea when she smells one. And Crystal’s boss, a former bull rider, tells her it is too dangerous. Lucita, the mother of the two girls is not certain she wants Crystal to go, afraid a mistake might mean harm for the children.

Even Crystal is reluctant. Several times, she convinces herself not to go. But her conscience keeps pulling her back. She is plagues with nightmares about the two young girls and their mother, slaves for the rest of their lives. She tries to think of some other approach. But the circumstances eliminate all of them. Finally, she is convinced if she ever wants to sleep again, or have a normal life, she must go and at least try.

Fortunately, she gets hooked up with mysterious Juan Grande. But if she is successful, she will have two ruthless and powerful men, one in Texas and one in Mexico, who now want her dead.

In A Silver Medallion, as with A Ton of Gold, Crystal enters into the dangerous situations willingly, yet fearfully. She has the unusual combination of reluctance and eagerness. It makes for an interesting and engaging character. She is the kind of character that adds to the joy of writing.

For less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or a Blizzard at the Dairy Queen, you can get a digital copy of A Silver Medallion. And as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Once I began reading it, putting it down became the challenge.”

Or from the BookLife Prize in Fiction, Critic’s Report: “reads like a gold-medal thriller from page one.”

A Silver Medallion on Kindle at: http://amzn.to/1WxoEaF

A Silver Medallion in paperback at: http://amzn.to/28LIdWs

Cover - A Silver MedallionETWG Contest Award -ASM

The Joy of Historical Fiction

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Today’s guest is Tamera Lynn Kraft.  She writes historical fiction set in the United States because, she says, there are so many stories in American history.  She has received a second place in the NOCW contest and a third place … Continue reading

Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder

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We pleased to have Kelly Irvin blogging for us today. Kelly has been a non-fiction writer for thirty years. But, she also has three Amish series. The first book in the Amish of Bee County series (Zondervan/HarperCollins ), The Beekeeper’s … Continue reading