Muser Feedback

The Bookshelf Muse has been online for close to 5 months now (Holy Cow!) and we'd like to check in with our Musers to see how we're doing. Our goal is to aid, enlighten and inspire other writers, and hopefully give their day a small boost with our posts. We've learned a lot about blogging and still have a lot to learn, and that's where you come in! What would you like to see more of here at the Bookshelf Muse?

We all struggle with different elements of writing. What topics/elements of writing would you like us to post more about? Would you like to see more opportunities to interact as you did with the Grammar Guru, or see us host a contest or two?

*hands out report cards*

As experienced critiquers, we're used to getting feedback! Tell us how we're doing, what you'd like to see. Do you have a wish list of emotions to add to the Emotional Thesaurus, or even an idea for another type of Thesaurus we could look at building for you down the road? Feel free to post anonymously if you feel more comfortable, but please, give us your thoughts so we can make The Bookshelf Muse even better!

Kickin' it in Cabo...

Well, as computer challenged as I am, I finally managed to transfer my pics from my recent Mexico trip onto the computer. I absolutely love it when others share their photos of different places on their blogs, so I hope everyone will forgive my little detour here from all things writing to show some of my favorite shots!



We had a great time snorkelling, sailing and taking a zip line through a desert canyon. Our resort was very close to Cabo's senic 'Arch'



The waves in this part of Mexico were beautiful to watch, but dangerous as well. A 14 footer came in on one of the days we were there and wiped out a beach wedding as well as local vendors.



One of my favorite excursions was a sunset cruise we took on the Sunderland, one of 6 historical tall ships from the 1800's still able to sail as it was meant to--without the aid of modern engines. It was such a thrill to watch a crew of six men hoist sails and scurry through the rigging, but most of all to listen to the creak of the mast and the flutter of canvas. I took a ton of pictures and tried to remember all the 'sailing lingo' for the next pirate book I write.



On our way back we spotted another pirate ship, this one made for a movie with Gina Davis in it. Of course, the sails are furled, because it was motorized, and as our Captain fondly said, is a 'Fake Pirate Ship.' Still, a beautiful picture, I think!



We also visited 'Lover's Beach', risking life and limb to get there by Water Taxi (the powerful waves made getting into and out of the taxis quite a challenge) but found it well worth the trip. Full if cacti and mesmerizing sandstone formations caused by the sea and the wind, hubby and I got some great shots.



We also saw a sea lion colony, with one posing for us, Top Model style:



Finally, I'll end with one of my favorites, a strange tree that looked like a gigantic ginger root. I have a thing for trees, especially unusual ones, and I collect pictures wherever I go.

We later learned that this tree is known as a 'paper tree' and the thin bark was used by the Mayans as paper.

It was a fantastic trip--I wish I had a good photo of the two humpback whales we came across on our snorkelling trip. Two of the crew of our ship jumped out and swam with them, holding onto their fins and rubbing their sides. That's something you don't see every day!

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Love/Attraction

· Stumbling to a halt
· Dry mouth
· Throat clearing, swallowing
· Fluttering in the stomach, a feeling of emptiness, nausea
· Tongue getting tangled, going speechless
· Non-stop talking
· Mental fuzziness, lightheadedness, dizziness, difficulty focusing on tasks
· Feeling faint
· Tingling skin, a hyper-awareness of the body
· Swaying to bump against the other person as you walk
· Exchanging personal effects (a favorite jacket, a necklace, keys, locker combinations)
· Feeling or displaying jealousy when someone shows interest in your significant other
· Doodling hearts, writing notes to the other person
· Asking a close friend to talk to the person you’re attracted to and determined their feelings


Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


Book Tag Meme

I was tagged by Rachel writes for kids for a book meme. Here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to Rachel once you've posted your 3 sentences.


Alrighty! The book closest to hand is a dog-eared YA, Slaves of the Mastery by William Nicholson. Here's the back jacket blurb:

When the ruthless soldiers of the Mastery strike, the city is burned and the Manath people are taken into slavery. Kestrel Hath is left behind, separated from her beloved brother Bowman and vowing revenge.

Now Kestrel must find Bowman again, and Bowman must learn the secrets of the Singer People. Only then will they break the power of the Mastery.


The 6th, 7th and 8th (ish) sentences are:

Mumpo told the clerk he wanted to be a manac. Pinto heard this with horror.
"No Mumpo! You can't! You'll be killed!"


(Okay, so it's a bit longer than 3 sentences, but hey, it's dialogue.) Slaves of the Mastery is one of the few books where the sequel (in this writer's opinion) is even better than the first book. If you're looking for a story with a young fiery girl heroine, this is your book. This gets 5 wows out of 5 from me.

Say it with me, people: wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW!

I formally tag:

Courtney
Kate
Unhinged
Authoress
Donna

Ignore, and not only will the internet chain letter zombies find you and gnaw on your brains, they'll force you to buy a Mexican timeshare. *shivers*

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Enthusiasm

· Rushed words, a bubbly or loud tone
· Rapt attention
· Talking over people, monopolizing conversation, using lots of excitable language
· Grabbing onto people and squeezing to transfer/display hyper feelings
· Repeating oneself
· Yelling, screaming, cheering, clapping, hooting
· Talking in hushed, excitable tones
· Gossiping, sharing secrets, swapping opinions while gazes dart toward object of discussion and then away again
· Rubbing one's hands together
· Bringing a chair in closer to the table to be closer to the action/conversation/group
· An inability to concentrate on anything else
· Quirking an eyebrow and smiling
· A desire to share, include others
· Excessive friendliness, perhaps even with those not in one’s own social circle
· Bursts of laughter, giggling, hyperness
· Exaggerated movements, actions
· Loss of inhibitions


Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


Point of View, Part Deux: Which To Use

It seems to me that the different viewpoints are all about the amount of distance between the reader and the characters. A story written in first person has the least distance because the reader is right there in the character's head, hearing his thoughts, sharing his emotions. It's very different from the omniscient story, where there is a narrator standing between the reader and the characters; in these stories, the reader is often outside the viewpoint character, watching what's happening instead of experiencing it along with him. Third person is obviously between the two: more intimate than omniscient but more distant than first-person. So, when choosing which viewpoint is best for your story, it all depends on how close you want your readers to be to the characters.

First person:
A great example of YA written from the first-person viewpoint is Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story is about a girl who's tormented by a secret, and this viewpoint allows the reader to slowly learn what the secret is while becoming more and more empathetic with the main character along the way. A different viewpoint would not have let us into her thoughts and emotions the way the first-person does; it also would've made it harder for us to figure out what exactly had happened to her, since she refused to talk to anyone about it. So this viewpoint is perfect for when you want your readers to climb right into the character's skull and roll around in her thoughts and experiences.

Second person:
No clue. Seriously. Except it's maybe good for short, short, really short pieces.

Third person:
On the other hand, there are times when you want to maintain distance between the reader and the character—if your character's a psychopath, for instance, or a liar and therefore unreliable. In Tad Williams' Otherworld series, one of his viewpoint characters is a serial killer named Dread. He's a well-rounded, interesting villain, but a sick twist, just the same. Personally, I wouldn't want to be inside his head; I appreciate the author's use of third-person to safeguard me from that. Another reason to go with third-person is if you want to tell the story from a number of different characters' viewpoints and you feel that first-person would be too intimate for jumping back and forth. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books are examples of how stories can be effectively told from the third-person viewpoints of several characters.

Omniscient:
In my opinion, omniscient is best used when a) you want to create a narrative feel or b) you need to impart information that's beyond your character's experience. The Hobbit is a good example. There's so much information and history that Bilbo, in his happy hobbit world, couldn't possibly know; the way Tolkien chose to write the story, an all-knowing narrator was necessary to get the info across. A more recent book written in omniscient is DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It has the feel of a fairy tale or long-long-ago type story, so this viewpoint works well. And because the main character is a stuffed rabbit with limited knowledge of the world, writing in the omniscient allows the author to reveal things that are outside of Edward's experience.

Challenges
When choosing a viewpoint for your story, keep in mind the specific challenges of each. In first person, you can only share information that is known by that character, which can be constricting when you're trying to write; the voice also has to be spot-on, since you're not just writing about that person—you're writing from inside his/her head. Third person can be tricky because once you decide which end of the limited/omniscient scale you want to employ, you've got to stick with it. If you choose a limited viewpoint, you can't show anything that's outside the experience and knowledge of the character you're writing at that time. Omniscient may seem like the easiest to do—kind of an anything-goes style of writing—but you have to work hard not to bog the reader down in backstory and long, drawn-out passages of narration. It's not easy to write omniscient in a way that keeps the reader engaged and connected to the characters.

So when choosing which point-of-view to use for your story, keep in mind the amount of distance you want to establish between your characters and the reader. Think about what kind of story you're writing; if your main character is killed by radical heartburn in the second-to-last chapter and won't be able to finish telling the story, first-person probably isn't the way to go. And let's be honest: if your main character dies by something as innocuous as indigestion, you may want to rethink more than the point of view.

Evaluating Critique Feedback

So, you’ve mastered your anxiety and have placed your manuscript into the crittery waters of a new critique group. You wait, compulsively checking your inbox for the feedback to roll in. You’re excited, but a little scared, too. Will they laugh-out-loud where they’re supposed to, weep at the sheer brilliance of a certain plot twist, get sucked in by your vivid description?

Ping. In comes a critique. Ping. Another, and another.

You start to read, pleased to see critter A gets your main character, loves the plot. He has a few suggestions, like tweaking your dialogue to sound more natural, but okay, you can do that. He also mentions that while he liked your villain, he felt that something was a bit off. Fair enough, you think.

Critter B loves your Plot. LOVES it. But your characters—that’s a different story. You stiffen at words like, ‘cardboard personality’ and ‘under developed.’ The dreaded ‘C’ word is used to describe your antagonist.

Sure, maybe Lord Elkron, Overlord of the Cannibal Rat Horde isn’t as strong as he could be, your mind shrieks, but cliché? Angry, you speed read the rest of the critique and move on.

Critter C is less than enthusiastic on your plot, baffled by your brilliant twist, and feels that the description slows the pace at certain points. She also mentions the dialogue is a bit stiff and encourages you to make your antagonist more rounded. She likes the tension you created in certain scenes, and thought the writing was sound, over all.

You storm away from your computer, all mixed up inside. How could there be such varied feedback on one story? Everyone seems to have different opinions on what needs work. Worse, you really thought you had nailed this one. Is this a sign from God that you should throw in the towel and try something else, like becoming a contestant on Survivor, or trolling every newspaper, magazine and websites for sweepstakes to enter? You’d probably have more luck with those than this stupid dream of being a writer.

*sound of squealling brakes*

We’ve all felt this way at one time or another. The key is to not give up and to remember you asked for critiques so that you could improve your writing. Don’t be daunted by the amount of suggestions—the trick is to sift through them and decide which ones are right for your story. Not all will be.

But until you’re ready to look at this feedback without emotion, go do something else for a bit. Play with your kids, walk the dog or make a chocolate brownie sundae (and use real whipped cream for goodness sake—you deserve it!) Do something, anything, but don’t sit down at the computer until you’re ready to set feelings aside and evaluate the suggestions.

When you come back, try to keep an open mind. These people gave their time to you, and want to see your writing evolve. They have the best intentions, whether you agree with their feedback or not.

Here’s a few things to remember when deciding which suggestions to keep and which to ignore:

1) Know your story

This might seem obvious, but to some it isn’t. Before you give your work over to someone else, you need to trust in yourself that YOU know your story best. Even if you feel like some of your critters may have more writing/editing experience or are stronger writers, remember you are the author and only you have the complete vision of what the story and its message is. If a suggestion doesn’t sit right with you, don’t make the change. Always trust your gut.

2) Distance yourself from emotion

Reading critiques isn’t always easy, but anger can be your worst enemy. Anger creates the temptation to dismiss a critter's idea (or their whole critique!) right at the onset. If you find yourself becoming upset, take a breath and try to look past the words that hurt and see at the message. Are you upset that someone called one of your character’s cliché, or are you upset because maybe a tiny piece of you suspects that maybe you did go a bit overboard?

3) Compare critiques and look for common themes

At first it might seem like everyone is saying something different. But a closer look will show where two or more critters felt there was something off. Above, there are several mentions of dialogue and everyone seemed to agree that poor Lord Elkron needs some work. Chances are, if several critters mention something very similar, it’s worth looking into.

4) Don’t be afraid to disagree

Let’s say you’ve tried to look at a suggestion from the reader’s point of view but still disagree. This is an opportunity to challenge yourself--run over the reasons why you think the writing is better if left untouched. List the strengths you see by keeping an element the same; prove to yourself that it truly does fit your vision and belongs in the story, as is.

5) Understand your critters

This is something that emerges as you build a writing relationship with your fellow writers. From reading and critiquing their work, you’ll start to see where they excel, where they still need to develop, what genres they write in, what they like to read. This is important, because as you continue along the feedback path, situations will arise where your critters disagree. When this happens, you need to decide whose opinion you feel carries more weight. For example, if your book is fantasy, but critter C reads and writes primarily Historical Fiction, their comment over plot confusion may come from unfamiliarity with the genre. You can take this into account. If one of your critters is amazing with characters, you might want to really pay attention when they give suggestions about strengthening yours, and so on.

6) Solicit more feedback

The best thing to do when you’re unsure about a comment made in a critique is to ask for the author to elaborate. Simply ask your critter for more information, to clarify their position. Often by talking things through in a little more depth, you’ll get what you need to move forward. If not, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion from another writer. Just be professional when discussing someone else’s suggestion.

Evaluating critique feedback can be difficult, but also very rewarding. It allows you the distance you need from your work and the opportunity to see your story through someone else's viewpoint. The good news is, it gets easier the longer you’re in the critiquing game. Be confident in yourself and your knowledge of your story—this more than anything else will help you weed through suggestions and choose the right ones for you.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Stubbornness

· A hard shake of the head
· Swiping the arm across the air between yourself and another in an “enough!” gesture
· Sarcasm, bitter words, insults
· A tightness in the face
· Thrusting the chin upward
· Making fists at one’s sides
· Anger (shaking, shouting)
· Squared shoulders, rigid muscles
· Refusing to listen
· Thrusting out one's lip
· A sullen glower or glare
· A temper tantrum (kicking, screaming, drumming feet onto the floor, jumping up and down in place)
· Single-minded determination, a keen focus on one's goal despite pitfalls or opposition


Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


Point of View Basics

When I first started writing, one of the hardest things for me to understand were the different points of view. It took me awhile to figure them out, but I think I finally have a grip. I figured that if I was confused, probably some of you are/were, too, so I decided to post a basic overview of the different viewpoints. Let me remind all of you that the stellar examples are copyrighted, in case anyone considers stealing my genius. Editors, agents: I'm available for representation.

First Person: Tells the story from one person’s point of view, using the pronoun I. I, whoever that may be, is the narrator.
“Would you please focus? We’re supposed to be studying here.” I rolled my eyes. I couldn't believe I got stuck with James as a research partner.
“Fine, fine,” he muttered, picking up his book.
Jeez, working with him was like being partnered with a toddler. Thank God he was back on track.
“Hey, look!” he said as the door whooshed open. “It’s Jan. JAN!”
“SHHHHH!” I hissed. “You’re in a library, idiot!”


Second Person: Implied narrator; someone is saying 'you', but we don't necessarily know who it is. The reader is the main character. The story utilizes the pronoun “you”.
"Would you please get to work?" you ask.
James rolls his eyes and retrieves his encyclopedia. You hate being the heavy in this situation, but the report is due tomorrow and James hasn’t done doodly. You turn back to your paper, writing a total of ten words before James is distracted yet again.
“Jan! HEY, JAN!”
You wince and shove him. “This is a library, idiot! Be quiet!”

Third Person: Implied narrator; someone is saying 'he' or 'she'. For me, this was where it got complicated until I realized that the third person viewpoint runs along a sliding scale. The scale starts at the limited side, where a story is told through the eyes/ears/brain of only one character. As you slide along the scale, you encounter writing that includes the thoughts/opinions of more than one character. The far end of the scale is the omniscient end, where literally anyone/anything/any event in the world can be commented upon.

Third Person (limited end of the scale): Written inside one character's head. No other character’s thoughts are accessible—only the things observable by the main character.
Rita resisted the urge to scream. “James. Would you PLEASE focus on your research? This paper is due tomorrow.”
James rolled his eyes, but opened his book. She thought about telling him to stop being such a child, but didn't want to interrupt him now that he was working. She’d read about three sentences before he was off track again.
“Hey, look! It’s Jan!” He stood up, waving his arms.
Now Rita was the one rolling her eyes.

Third Person (omniscient end of the scale): Written from the viewpoint of several different characters.
Rita leaned over and forced herself to speak calmly. “James, I hate to be the adult in this situation, but you have to get back to work. We’ve only got an hour left.”
James rolled his eyes; the only reason he'd finagled Rita as a partner was because she was so smart. Yet here she was, expecting him to actually participate. He pulled his book closer, eyes listlessly scanning the page until the library door opened.
“Hey, it’s Jan. JAN!” he yelled.
“SHHHH!” Rita whispered. “You’re in the library, idiot!”


True Omniscient: Narrated from outside the scene. Narrator has unlimited access to the characters’ thoughts and actions, past and present, and to events that have nothing to do with the viewpoint characters and are outside their realm of experience.
The library was a haven of academic serenity. A sophomore accessed the internet, looking for information on Prohibition. Behind glass doors, a study group rounded a table and clarified the finer points of a chemistry conundrum. A lanky boy lounged on a sofa, reading a motorcycle magazine. The picture of quiet industry, all.
Except for the couple at Table Fourteen.
“Listen,” Rita hissed, tired of researching, tired of babysitting her partner, and tired of doing all the work herself. “This paper’s due tomorrow and you haven’t done a blessed thing to help. Either gather your scattered thoughts and write something useful, or just go home and take a zero.”
James rolled his eyes. Rita was the proverbial “brain”: overachieving and bossy. He hated when she talked to him like he was stupid, but he couldn’t afford a zero on this assignment. He pulled the encyclopedia to him and tried to read, but it was so boring. When the library door swung open, he looked up.
“Hey, look, it’s Jan.” He waved his arms. “JAN!”
Rita jerked him back into the seat—how had she gotten saddled with such an incompetent? “Shut up, idiot! You’re not supposed to yell in the library!”


So there you have it. I hope it's right. If it's not, please feel free to correct me, since I'm still figuring it all out. Granted, identifying the different viewpoints is only the first step; next, you've got to figure out when to use each one. But that's another post for another day.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Sympathy/Empathy

· Kind words, a soothing tone
· Squeezing a shoulder or hand
· Crying with the person
· Using clichés (this too will pass, keep your chin up)
· Giving comfort through gifts
· Clumsy attempts to comfort (a weak smile, an awkward hug)
· Fumbling for words, not sure what to say
· Overt patience—sitting and listening intently, ignoring discomforts (cold, rain, heat) just to be there for someone

Commiseration between guys:
· Saying, Yeah, I hear you, or I feel you man
· A one-shoulder shrug
· Bending closer or leaning in with hands in pockets, asking if he’s all right, if he needs to talk
· A heavy nod
· Listening while participating in another activity
· Offering to take him somewhere—a walk, a car ride, a party
· Offering to avenge the offended party


Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


Critiquing 101: Accepting Criticism

Awhile back, I posted about when it might be time to find a critique group. Today I thought I'd take a look at a few things that will help you once you've decided to take the plunge.

Making the decision to become a stronger writer

Taking the leap to get your worked critiqued is a big step. Many people are worried about what the process is like, how they’ll be able to tell good advice from bad, and what they’ll do if other writers shred their work or worse.

The first time you offer your work to another person is hard. You don’t want them to love it so much they think it’s perfect, because you know it’s not. Not that you want them to hate it either, because then you’ll feel that your writing is utterly hopeless and why try.

What most writers want is the validation that the story has potential—hopefully great potential. What they need is some ideas on how to take it to the next level.

There are a few things that you can do to prepare yourself for the rigors of critiques:

1) Define your goals

What are you hoping to get out of this experience? If it’s to improve your writing skills and your story, you must be willing to keep your mind open and put your ego in the refrigerator for awhile. Listening to what others have to say, good and bad, is they key to getting the most out of the critique process. In the end you may not agree, but you must be willing to take what is given to you and see it for what it is: one person’s honest opinion on how you can improve.

2) Take emotion out of the picture

I have received close to 1000 critiques and some of them can still be tough to take. Before you read what someone has to say about your work, tell yourself it’s okay if they don’t think it’s perfect. Remind yourself that you do need help and want to improve.

If you find yourself getting upset as you read feedback, walk away. Do something else for a few moments, or take as long as you need to get back into a frame of mind where you can look at the critique at face value. Remember, someone took time from their own writing to try to help offer insight. Strip away the words that hurt and look at the underlying comment. Often the pain is caused because a small part of us knows that the critter has made a valid point.

3) Say thank you

Depending on the length of the piece being critiqued and the depth of the feedback, someone has spent anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours in an effort to help you get your writing to the next level. Always be gracious and offer thanks, even if you don’t agree with everything being said, or felt the tone could have been a bit more encouraging and kind.

4) Give critiques that you yourself would like to receive

Critiquing is two fold: giving and receiving. Many people want critiques because they need fresh eyes and suggestions on their own work, but it is through giving critiques to others that real writing/editing improvement occurs. Put as much effort, honesty and encouragement into the critiques that you write as you hope to have in return. The effort you give encourages others to go the extra mile in return for you.

5) Be honest

Honesty is the best thing that you can hope for in a crit and the most valuable thing you can offer yourself. It shows your level of commitment to improving as a writer and encouraging others to improve. Remember though, honesty is not an excuse to be overly brutal in your assessments. People are much more likely to consider your advice when your critiques show respect for the writer, and you provide feedback not just in the areas needing improvement, but also mentioning what you really enjoyed about the story.

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