Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

In honor of Jill Elizabeth Nelson's latest book in the To Catch a Thief series, Reluctant Smuggler, I thought I would revisit the first book in the series by re-running my review of Reluctant Burglar. (I'll pick up my writing workshop next week.)

Reluctant Burglar reminded me of my favorite detective shows, Moonlighting and Remington Steele. Remember those?

Desiree Jacobs helps run a museum security company started by her father. When her father is murdered, a police detective—cute Italian, Tony Lucano—shows up to investigate, and it’s no secret that he believes her father was involved in something shady. But Desiree could never believe her father would do anything illegal, and she finds it hard to hide her resentment toward the man who seems bent on sullying her father’s good name.

The plot thickens when it seems that her father really did steal several priceless paintings. Desiree must somehow return the stolen paintings to their rightful owners and get to the bottom of what happened to her father before his killers get to her, all while fighting her attraction to the oh-so-irresistible Officer Lucano.

This book is a fun romp. Don’t miss it if you like light-hearted intrigue and romance.

Don't forget to leave a comment to be included in the drawing for a free copy of Reluctant Smuggler.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Repetition Examples

I keep forgetting to mention that I'm giving away a copy of Reluctant Smuggler by Jill Elizabeth Nelson, so leave a comment to be in the drawing. The more comments you leave, this entire month, the more chances you have to win.

Let's talk some more about repetition. This time I’m using examples from a real expert, Kate DiCamillo. I love all her books. Yes, I know she writes children’s books, but they’re powerful. I went through my copy of Because of Winn-Dixie and was awed at the way she uses repetition in all the book's most poignant moments. This book makes me cry. And I never cry at books, almost never. Do you want your reader to cry at the saddest or most touching moment in your story? Of course you do. Me, too.

Okay, here’s an example of great repetition:

All of a sudden it was hard for me to talk. I loved the preacher so much. I loved him because he loved Winn-Dixie. I loved him because he was going to forgive Winn-Dixie for being afraid. But most of all, I loved him for putting his arm around Winn-Dixie like that, like he was already trying to keep him safe.

Was that repetition boring or redundant? No, just the opposite. It’s powerful. Here’s another example:

I was glad it was raining so hard, because it made it easy to cry. I cried and cried and cried, and the whole time I was calling for Winn-Dixie.
“Winn-Dixie,” I screamed.
“Winn-Dixie,” the preacher shouted. And then he whistled loud and long. But Winn-Dixie didn’t show up.

Of course, one reason this works so well is because the protag is a young girl. It just sounds right. But you can make it work for your story and your characters, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Examples for Part 3

Here's my example. My hero has been ruminating about his move to a new village. I wanted to get the point across, without revealing too much information, that there is something in his past that is painful to him, something he wishes he could forget. Here's the last two sentences of the scene:

. . . his heart stirred in a way he hadn’t felt in years, not since—he’d rather not remember when. He came here to forget. Oh, God, help me forget.

It's not brilliantly profound, but the repetition of the word "forget" is still pretty powerful. It's also the last word in that scene, and I'll make a point about that later.

Here's another example of how I used repetition during what I hoped was a poignant moment.

If he loved her, truly loved her, he’d help her. He’d send her to the abbess with money and papers that would serve . . . to lock her away from him forever.
He forced himself to breathe past the pain, the pain of living without seeing her again. The pain of loving her too much.

I hope the repetition of "the pain" gets my point across poignantly.

On Friday I'll post some awesome examples from the great writer of children's fiction, Kate DiCamillo. She is a master at powerful repetition.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Part 3, Repetition Devices

Everybody knows you shouldn’t repeat words, right? It’s boring and irritating to say, “He knocked himself in the head by hitting his head on the low doorframe. His head hurt.” Really boring, really redundant. Your critique partner won’t even let you get by with using the same word more than once on a page, much less in a sentence or paragraph. Well, now you can tell your critique partner that repetition is actually a powerful tool in the hands of a skillful writer, and it’s called anaphora.

You didn’t know you were going to expand your vocabulary so much, did you? But you don’t need to worry about memorizing the fancy, Greek-sounding name. Just learn the technique.

In poetry, this device is used a lot. “Rage, rage against the dying light,” Dylan Thomas writes. Anaphora is repetition of a word or words at the beginning of two or more successive verses, phrases, or sentences. But poets shouldn’t have all the fun. We can do it, too, and it will give emphasis to points we desperately want the reader to remember. I like this example from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assignment, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.”

I don’t understand what some of those words mean, but I definitely get the point: Scrooge only had one friend. But Dickens says it so memorably, and he emphasizes his point by repeating the words “his sole.” Simple, isn’t it? But powerful. Much more powerful than saying, “Scrooge only had one friend.”

Do you remember that little sermon Jesus preached in Matthew chapter five? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are . . .” Jesus said “Blessed are” eight times in a row. Was that memorable? Only the most memorable sermon ever preached, because he was trying to make a very important point: God’s values are not the same as the world’s values.

Anaphora’s counterpart is epistrophe, or repeating the last word or words in a phrase or sentence. A Biblical example comes from the love chapter, I Cor. 13:7. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The repetition of “all things” makes it memorable and emphasizes a point about how powerful love is.

Once again, these examples were taken from Cindy Rogers’s informative book, Word Magic for Writers.

If you don’t have it, and you like wielding your word power, get it.

All right, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to find a scene in which you are trying to make a really important point that is integral to your story. Rewrite a sentence or paragraph in which you use one of these repetitive devices. See if it adds more power to the scene, and share it with the rest of us, if you’re so inclined. I’ll try to do this one, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Just Warming Up

So far I'm just warming up to my favorite rhetorical devices. Monday I'll post a new lesson showing you a simple way to add power and emphasis to the important moments in your story. Now you will know how to increase tension and emotion, how to emphasize a certain point you want to make, and how to bring that climactic moment to an exciting crescendo. You all want to know how to do that, don't you? Come back on Monday and find out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rhetorical Devices Part 2

What writer doesn’t like to list things? I know I find myself listing all kinds of things for all sorts of reasons. Here’s a normal way to list things:
She was tired, dirty, hungry, and grouchy.
You have a series of descriptive words, separated by commas, with “and” to connect the final item.

Asyndeton is a series without a conjunction. When you leave out the conjunction, you send a subtle message to the reader, the message that this list may not be conclusive. Here’s an example from Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White:
“Fern loved Wilbur more than anything. She loved to stroke him, to feed him, to put him to bed.”
You would rightly conclude that Fern loved to do lots of things for Wilbur, not just stroking, feeding, and putting him to bed. You get the feeling the list could go on and on.

This is from Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety:
“He reads everywhere—in the subway, between acts at plays, at intermissions in Symphony Hall, on picnics, on dates.”
Do you get the feeling, partially because there’s no conjunction, that this guy would read in any number of places?

Polysyndeton is the opposite. It uses a conjunction between every item in the list. Its purpose is to add emphasis, or to show the intense emotion of the speaker. Here’s another example from Charlotte’s Web:
“. . . I don’t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated, or scarred, or biffed.”
[Examples taken from pages 27, 29, and 32 of Word Magic for Writers, by Cindy Rogers.]
You get the feeling that Templeton the rat is extremely nervous about what might happen to him if those people transporting him are not careful with him. His emotion is high. If a character said, “I am sick and tired, and I am fed up, and I am ready to send you packing,” the multiple conjunctions would serve to emphasize that character’s emotion, adding to the words themselves. You get the feeling that the words are being said very deliberately and passionately, so you don’t have to tag the dialogue with “she said slowly and deliberately, with great passion.” Those sorts of tags are generally frowned upon. Polysyndeton is one way you can SHOW your character’s passion, without having to TELL the reader about it. Sound good to you? Me too!

Okay, now it’s your turn to give some examples from your own work or to write something new. You might want to find some dialogue in your WIP and rewrite it using asyndeton or polysyndeton. Let’s see some examples! Don’t be shy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chill Out, Josey by Susan May Warren


Writing Workshop takes a break today so I can tell you about the great book I just read.
How I love this author’s Russian stories. This one is no exception.

If you read Everything’s Coming Up Josey, you already know about Josey’s adventures as an inexperienced missionary in Russia. You also know she finds true love with her childhood friend, Chase. Chill Out, Josey follows her back to Russia when Chase—now her new husband—loses his job and decides to take a job out of state—way out of state. Not exactly what Josey had envisioned for her first year of marriage. In fact, she’s already looking at a cute little house for them to buy so they can settle down, get a dog, and start a family. Too bad Chase doesn’t share her vision. But something happens that neither of them expect when Josey finds out, the day before they are to leave for Russia, that she’s—gulp—expecting.

Thus begins a great story of love, humor and misadventure as Josey tries her hardest to be the Proverbs 31 wife. Oh, how she longs to “surpass” as a wife. I guess her first mistake was forgetting to turn off the water and accidentally flooding the apartment of the Mayor of Moscow. Yikes. Not good. But in the end, Josey does manage to “surpass” even her younger sister, the model of the perfect wife and mother, who knows how to make kringle and fresh bread, while Josey can barely cook anything without starting a fire and summoning the fire department.

The ending is perfectly funny. I highly recommend it.

Oh, and the author, Susan May Warren, is putting on a fun contest to win a great gift basket. Check it out if you've ever been pregnant!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Winter Workshop, Part 1b

Here's some follow up to the assignment from the first lesson.

The examples from Richard Peck, “Well, I’m an old sod-bustin’ son of the soil . . . I got more toes than teeth,” and “They’s green as gourds and never seen nothing,”
are great because they're memorable. The image of someone with "more toes than teeth" is an image that's going to stick in my mind in an amusing way. And what author doesn't want their characters to stick in the reader's mind? If these authors had not used alliteration in their descriptions, they wouldn't have been as memorable or funny.

Here's an example (okay, it's not as brilliant as the ones above) from my own book, The Beholder: "We’ll all end up sleeping in ditches and begging bread."
I originally wrote something like "begging door to door," but that didn't have the same flow as "begging bread." Here's another: "She sat listening, waiting, and finally heard horse hooves clatter on the hard-packed earth." This one has the word "clatter," which is an example of onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like its meaning. These "sound words" are great for adding a little oomph.

I will give a warning now: Be very careful about using too much of this type of rhetorical device. Alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia are best used in moderation. Don't force it or use it too much or your prose will come off sounding hokey, like you're trying too hard. However, if you write poetry, you can experiment with them forever. But for novels and short stories, too much is, well, too much.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Writing Workshop, Part 1

I will still be doing Christian book reviews--Chill Out Josey, by Susan May Warren, is coming up on the 15th--but I will be posting my own little version of a writing workshop for the next several weeks. At least, that's the plan. I want to share some information, facts, tips, whatever you want to call them, that I've valued as a writer and have helped me. I will be recommending various books on the craft of writing as well as some writing websites or online courses.

First of all, let me say that if you haven't joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) you're cheating yourself out of a great resource. You will not only learn about how to improve your writing, but you'll make friends who will be valuable to you in so many ways.

I will be using examples from the book, Word Magic for Writers, by Cindy Rogers.

This book is full of rhetorical devices, devices which can increase the power of your words, help you emphasize a certain point, ratchet up the emotion of a scene, or just plain make your story more interesting. Want to know how to do that? Of course!

The first few devices listed in the book are called “Devices of Sound & Repetition.” They are alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia. The first one we’ll discuss is alliteration. You’ve all heard of alliteration, I’ll bet. It’s “the repetition of initial consonant sounds in successive words or stressed syllables.”
Here’s an example from Richard Peck’s book, Fair Weather: “Well, I’m an old sod-bustin’ son of the soil . . . I got more toes than teeth,” and “They’s green as gourds and never seen nothing.”
Or from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained and solitary as an oyster.” [Examples taken from page 17 of Word Magic for Writers.]

Another great way to learn about rhetorical devices, plus a whole lot more, is from Margie Lawson's Deep Editing course, which she teaches online. See her website for more information.

Here’s a little assignment. What do you think alliteration did for the passages above? Also, give an example, from your own work or from a favorite author, of alliteration. Post them in the comments and I'll take a look at them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Writing Tips

I know I have no claim to fame, but I've decided to start posting writing tips here, sort of a mini writer's workshop. It will be helpful to me, and who knows, you might get something out of it as well. :-) Come back tomorrow to find out.