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.

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.

 

 

 

Road Trip to Main

Today’s guest bloggers are the Cuffe Sisters, Sadie and Sophie. They were born, raised, and still live in the rugged area known as the Unorganized Territory in Main. They maintain a small farm, but (we know) their main goal is to produce great novels. They write “squarely to the hearts of real women who don’t always wear a size two and who prefer boots to high heels. And they believe some of the best stories are composed on the seat of a tractor.  They will give a free copy of their latest book to a name drawn at random from those who leave a comment. Here are the Cuffe Sisters.

We grew up on road trips. After traveling around the State of Maine, we later branched out to cross-country travel, vising relatives in California. It’s 3240 miles (give or take) from here to there. We traveled in a VW bus and camped out along the way. Six people in an old canvas Army tent was an adventure in itself, LOL. At the time, one of our cousins pointed out that we’d now stuck our toes in both major oceans. Some people haven’t experienced either one. Funny, the things you take for granted.

We grew up on the coast and now live Down East – where the sun first strikes the easternmost point of the USA.

Throughout the years we’ve hiked and biked around many islands. To date we’ve visited about twenty, but that’s nothing considering there are over 6180 left to explore. Some are easily accessed by huge bridges (one of Sophie’s biggest dreads), others by ferry, some by private boat. We rode the mail boat on our first trip to Isle au Haut many years ago, and asked the captain if we could go out on the deck. It was choppy, but he let us. As soon as we stepped out, a huge wave slapped the bow and covered us in spray. We went back into the cabin, soaked, but laughing like fools. It was wicked fun!

We experienced ten seconds of fame once, when photographers from Down East Magazine took a picture of us roasting hotdogs at our island campsite. When we finally found the article, months later, we were surprised at the caption: Local campers cooking over an open fire. Even WE didn’t recognize ourselves!

Our coastline, as the crow flies is, 250 miles, but the reality is vast – it’s over 5500 miles when all the islands are included. Islands hold a precious place in our hearts, but they’re more than our memories and adventures. They hold their own special mystique in their fiercely loyal people, their rugged independence, and their wild solitude. We hope our love of Maine and its islands comes through in our newest book, Blind Man’s Bluff, A Candle Island Cozy. Come to Candle Island, hear the lonely cry of the gulls, feel the spray of the raging surf, and plant your feet on the bedrock ledges of Maine that have endured for millenia. We’re giving away a copy, so if you’d like to be entered in the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment. Good luck, and thank you, Jim, for letting us visit!

JIM:  Makes me want to visit Maine again.  Please leave a comment and the Cuffe Sisters will draw a name and send the winner a FREE copy of their latest novel.  Thanks.

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

Mixing History with A Fiction Novel

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Elaine Faber is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers, and Cat Writers Association. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three housecats. She volunteers at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in Elk Grove, CA. … 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

Cowboys Saved Her Career

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Today’s guest is Shannon Taylor Vannatter, a stay-at-home mom and a pastor’s wife.  She also happens to be a traditionally published,  award-winning author with series books in more than one genre.  She says it took her nine years to get … Continue reading

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