Dream Peeves

Dream Peeve #1: This one is more common than acceptable.dream

You sink your teeth into a great book. You’re cozied on the couch with a tea or something stronger, comforting, (What?–I’m talking coffee–black) toes tucked under you. You’re on the last few pages, you’re palms get sweaty, the climax is upon you—and “Then she woke up.”

What a farce! You throw the book across the room, but only after you’ve checked the author’s name so you remember never to read anything of theirs again.

Dream Peeve #2: Is this one just me?

Whenever I am reading an enjoyable book and suddenly things stop making sense, I wonder what the froot loops is going on–did I miss something a chapter or two back? Is this an optical illlusion? But I slog on, not being a quitter, and in some obscure way it becomes evident the main character was DREAMING.cone_moire_Optical_Illusion

Well Quelle Surprise! If I didn’t like the main character so much, and if I wasn’t so freakin’ nosey that I have to find out how it all ends, well the book would go flying across the room with the other.

As a writer, you are doing your readers an injustice. If you are going to play the dream game, make it clear. Not knock over the head clear, but just enough so that the reader doesn’t have to flip forwards and backwards, shaking the book, and playing sleuth to figure it out. It’s usually easy enough to figure out where the dream ends, but only if we know what it is when it begins.

And if that’s not bad enough there are some writers who keep the reader further confused in not so wonderful Wonderland, by mashing things into such mush stew that we don’t even know if this is reality, dreams, or a nasty blow to the head. If the main character is concussed, we’ve got to know it.7658298768_e4c2c2635e_z

Now in a story within our world (earth), I will concur it is simpler to decipher dream from reality, but if you are writing something with any smidgen of fantasy, sci-fi or other other-worldliness in it, how is the reader to determine the difference—unless you let us know. No pounding on our ears–just a word or three is all it takes. Being sly and clever here is not the answer–being courteous is. You don’t hold the door shut for someone and expect them to walk through, you hold it open and it says, “welcome.” Even just open a crack and it says, “come peek.” Another cool room to explore.

Besides all that, dreams should never be used to convey information to the reader as the easy way out. There must be a reason that this is the only way to convey it.

We help our reader keep up with the main character in every other respect of the book. Why not the dreams? If your story’s good, there will be plenty of other surprises–the right sort of surprises– for the reader to experience.

And if your dreams are for illusions sake alone, make that, and the reason for it clear.




P.S. If you write poetry, you’re excused.

Here endeth my ranting.

Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Writing Clear and Concise

Writing needs to be clear and concise. Wordiness makes for a boring read.

Consider the three following ideas and if your writing reflects any of them then I encourage you to be reflective and reduce your word count.

 1     Cut out useless introductory phrases. The following examples could all be written without the introductory phrase yet maintain the same meaning. The message is clearer as well.

At that point in time, she had missed her bus.

It seems unnecessary to point out that it is now raining.

It goes without saying that you are late for dinner.

2      Reduce wordiness in the body of a sentence by avoiding redundancy and circumlocution.

In the examples, the first word can be removed and the second word can stand alone without losing its meaning. Examples of redundancy:

 end result
grateful thanks
local resident
old adage
past history
true facts
young teenager

Circumlocution literally means “talking around”. The following examples show this type of wordiness; the word that should be used in parentheses:

 Ahead of schedule (early)
In the event that (if)
In this day and age (today)
Succumbed to injuries (died)
The reason is that (because)
Was witness to (saw)
At this point in time (now)

 3      Avoid the constructions it is and there are, as wordiness always seems to follow. For example:

It is time that heals all wounds.
Time heals all wounds.

 There are some writers who cannot help being wordy.
Some writers cannot help being wordy.

There are many persons who find writing difficult.
Many persons find writing difficult.

Avoiding wordiness is essential to our writing. However, I will also say that as I write this the thought crossed my mind that sometimes breaking the rules can create a distinct character. But tread lightly.

Hopper, Vincent F., Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote, and Benjamin W. Griffith. Essentials of English. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 2000. Print.

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(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Words Have Power: Use With Caution

Warning: this is a rant. I don’t do it often, but this time, I can’t help myself. I can’t hide my distaste for authors who talk smack about other authors in public settings. Yes, we’re all entitled to our opinion. Yes, I too have read books that I think are terrible. Yes, I wrack my Bully2brain wondering how that one made it to publication. However, there is a difference between making critical commentary about an author’s work and attacking the author’s person.

I find these personal attacks hugely unprofessional. As every writer should know, words have power. I can make your day or ruin it with one word. Writer’s create universes from carefully chosen words and yet they can publicly spout bile toward a colleague without remorse. Only, those words affect the real world. They leave our mouths or our computers and they poison the hearers.bully1

There’s a big difference between saying, “I found the characters two dimensional and plot holes in abundance,” and “Author A is a hack who doesn’t know what he’s doing.” See the difference? One offers criticism in a way that might just help the author to identify a problem and make it better. The other is just spiteful. In his article, The Bullies of Goodreads, Nathan Bransford calls attention to the scathing reviews on Goodreads and calls for standards that protect authors from abuse. It’s worth a look.

Why do we do this? Every writer is aware of the huge obstacles and overwhelming discouragement facing our fellow authors. Shouldn’t this make us more compassionate? Perhaps it’s jealousy or the old bully adage that running someone down makes us feel stronger. I don’t know. What am I trying to say? STOP IT! If you don’t have something nice to say or something you wouldn’t mind someone saying about you, tell a friend to get it out of your system, but don’t bring it into the public arena. And ask yourself, where the anger, jealousy, or general negativity is coming from.

Let’s build each other up. Let’s boost confidence within an industry that fills us with doubt. Ask yourself—is it helpful? Is it kind? Is it something I’d like said about me?

How can you encourage someone today? Use those powerful words to make someone’s day instead of ruin it.


Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens. She resides in Winnipeg, MB with her husband and four children. www.melindafriesen.com.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Batting 1000 with Kid’s Non-Fiction: 3 – Adding Spit-and-Polish

In the first of this 3 part series, I explored a few basic truths about publishing kid’s non-fiction and why proposals are its key operating feature. The second entry looked at the proposal process from an editor’s point-of-view, cited 6 essential questions that proposals must successfully answer, and reviewed some of the standard headings in non-fiction proposals. In this final blog, we’ll look at 5 ways to tweak the proposal so yours stands out from its competitors.

First, though, a check-list of things you should do before you get to this spit-and-polish phase:checklist

  • Thoroughly research your topic.  You must know the subject matter, have a vision for your book, and know just what slant and slope to give it.
  • Think about the structure of the book and how the various pieces will tie together. Your proposal will need an outline and a sample chapter or two.
  • Check competing markets. You should know what’s already been published on your subject, what’s hot and not, and how your book will be different.  You will need to point that out in your proposal.
  • Decide what you have to offer as an author and why you are qualified to write this book.  Somewhere in the proposal you need to address this.
  • Check publishers’ submission requirements on their websites.  Note the subjects they publish and their submission requests.  Scrutinize their books, too, and narrow down the field of likely candidates to those whose vision for the future matches your vision for the book.
Whew! Lot’s to do. But remember: non-fiction deals are largely won or lost based on a well honed proposal, and all this up-front work will pay off when a contract lands in your lap.  Now let’s add sizzle and pop to get you that deal.

WOW! From the Start

Wow-face1Pack a punch with the first few paragraphs. Nothing defines your writing style, your subject matter, and your take on it quite like an evocative beginning.  It’s not easy to capture your intentions in a short passage, but without a snappy opening the editor might not even turn the page to read the rest of your wonderful stuff.

Here’s how I started my proposal for At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times:

On a mountain peak, a climber debates whether to cut a rope that holds his partner, an act that will save his own life, but most certainly result in death for the other.…In the midst of a bloody civil war and with his own life in danger, a solitary man contemplates how to stem the slaughter….At an airfield, a youngster spots an ultra-light plane in trouble.  Knowing a tragedy is about to unfold, he desperately looks for a way to prevent it. 

At the edge, life hangs in the balance. Critical decisions must be made, drastic action taken…

Create a Terrific Title…Then Echo It

imagesCAH950NNGreat titles sell books and the just-right title at this early stage helps the editor to champion your book through the acquisition process.  Best titles pack a punch in less than 5 or 6 words, but subtitles – common practice in non-fiction – can double that amount.  General rule: the title should be snappy, memorable, elicit a strong reaction, and create immediate interest.  The subtitle doesn’t have to be as witty or clever, but should clarify what the book is about and the benefits it provides readers.

In the case of At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times, both the title and subtitle were repeated throughout the proposal.  Note the wording I used to echo the theme in my opening: At the edge, life hangs in the balance. Although titles and subtitles often change as the book heads through the publication process, this one survived all the way to the end.

Create a Memorable Tag

A tag line synthesizes the entire book in one concise sentence.  A well-written one becomes a marketing tool that says in a few words just what the book is about and who it is for. The tag line helps everyone related to the project – editor, art designer, publicist – to set the same course.  Here’s mine for Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery.

Using true stories as a backdrop, Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery whets the 8-14 year old reader’s appetite for treasure hunting and provides youngsters with tips, advice and descriptions showing where to look, what to look for, and how to proceed to find treasure of their own.

Beat the Marketing Drum

Since you’ve checked the market competition, you know what’s out there. Your editor hasn’t done the same research you have, nor should she have to, so drive the point home in a concise few paragraphs.  Why is there a need for your book?  Who will buy it?  How will your approach be the same or different as other books in the marketplace, and why is there room on crowded shelves for yours?

Just because there might be a number of published books on the same subject, it doesn’t mean yours won’t stand a chance. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. It might mean that it’s one of those topics that is wildly popular.  Take dinosaurs – so many books in existence, yet each year more are published.  Just make sure you know how yours is unique and be sure to point that out.

Here’s a line from the marketing section of my proposal for S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet that hints of its sales potential

Taken together the 26 entries of S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet paint a picture of exciting discoveries across a variety of disciplines – archeology to zoology – made by scientists, male and female, present and past, using skills and methods similar to those being taught in schools and modeled by children around the world.

Don’t Be Shy – Sell Yourself

about meWhy are you qualified to write this book?  Why should the publisher front money and trust you to do a smashing job of writing it, and then support its sales later?

Think in specific terms when preparing this part. Consider the subject.  What is your connection to it?  Do you have specialized knowledge or experience?  If not, what will you do about it?  For Mysteries of Time, I knew little about archeology, but I volunteered for a local dig to get some practical experience and mentioned this in the proposal to bump up my credibility. For Surviving the Hindenburg, I needed to convince the publisher that my account of Werner Franz’s escape would be accurate and unique.  I mentioned the archival records and original footage I had located.

Besides competence and knowledge, publishers are also looking for characteristics such as resourcefulness, stick-to-it-iveness, professionalism, the ability to work with a team to hone the product, and, of course, willingness to promote and support the book afterwards. Mention your publication track record if you have one, but don’t throw in the towel if you don’t.  Instead focus on other strengths and connections.  Do you blog?  Have a website? Spoken to groups on this subject?  Belong to writers’ groups?  Work with youth?  Know someone in the know?  Belong to organizations that dovetail with the subject you are writing about?  Whatever they are, mention the specific attributes that connect you to this subject and the groups that will read and use your book.

So there you have it – 5 spit-and-polish suggestions for hitting a home run with your next proposal.  Good luck.  Now go ahead.  Clobber it out of the park.

Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is a Winnipeg educator and the author of 12 non-fiction books for youngsters.  His next book, Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible (Scholastic Canada) is set for release in Spring 2014.

Other blog entries along this non-fiction line that might interest you:

Batting 1000 with Kid’s Non-Fiction: 1 – The Basics

Batting 1000 with Kid’s Non-Fiction: 2 – The Inside Pitch

Rejection and the Editor-Advocate

The Futures Box – A Wealth of Ideas

A Story is a Story…. Or Is It?

Taking Aim at the Non-Fiction Market

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Making Teens Sound Real

slangI’ve just started working on a novel about a thirteen year old girl and I wanted to be sure I made her sound realistic.  I looked up a few sites that fill you in on current teen slang like The Source.  One thing that concerned me is that teen slang is constantly changing and by the time my novel might actually be finished and get in print, the words I used might be obselete. Michelle St. Germain who has a You Tube video series on How To Write a Novel in 30 Days warns that using too much teen lingo can date a book. Also certain teen lingo may be used in only certain geographical areas  so you can limit your audience by using regional slang. 

Girls_TalkingOn the Young Adult Authors Misfits blog they warn that just because certain language is cool when you are writing a manuscript doesn’t mean it will still be cool when your book is published. They remind writers that teens will read your book if you tell a story well and they won’t reject it if you don’t use language that is perfectly in keeping with the lingo they and their friends use. 

9780470949542 cover.inddIn her book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, Deborah Halverson gives some good  ideas  for making teens sound real. 

1) Be dramatic. Use hyperbole and exaggeration.

2) Relax grammar. Let sentences run on, repeat and end prematurely. 

3) Use short declarative sentences. 

4) Be sure your teenager doesn’t sound too self-aware, overanalyzing themselves or others. 

5) Have your teenage character blurt things out and don’t worry too much about being tactful. 

6) Make sure most of the protagonists’ conversations centers on themselves. Teens are self-absorbed. 

7) Make sure you don’t let your teen characters be ‘preachy’ or moralistic. 

Another suggestion I found as I researched how to make teens sound real was to let some teens read your manuscript and give you ideas about how to make your characters sound more realistic. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Writing Poetry For Children

A Children’s Writer Who Has the Magic Formula

Where’s the Conflict?

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next? 

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.
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