Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good News for Unagented, Unpublished and Self – Published Writers

I came across this on Lia's  blog on Scribblerati and decided to post it on my blog to spread the word. Amazon has teamed up with Penguin Group for the fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which is an international writing competition. The competition calls both general fiction and young adult writers to submit their English-language works for the chance to be published by Penguin in 2011. The contest is open to unpublished and self-published works and writers can enter between Jan. 24 and Feb. 6, 2011.

The contest will accept up to 5,000 works in each of the two categories. The initial round of judging will be done by Amazon, and they will choose 1,000 entries from fiction and 1,000 entries from young adult. In the second judging round, editors and reviewers will read excerpts of the 2,000 entries and narrow it down to 250 quarter-finalists in each category. Publishers Weekly reviewers will read, rate and review the full manuscripts, and 50  semi- finalists will then be chosen. Penguin editors will then judge these 50 manuscripts for each category  and choose three finalists for each award.

Panels of publishing professionals will judge the top three manuscripts. Panelists for the general fiction category include author Lev Grossman, literary agent  Jennifer Joel of ICM and  Marysue Rucci, Vice President, Editorial Director with G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The panelists for the young adult fiction contest include: author/journalist  Gayle Forman, literary agent  Julie Just of Janklow & Nesbit and Jennifer Besser, Vice President and Publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Amazon customers will also be given the chance to vote on these finalists and the winner will be announced in New York on June 13, 2011. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin with a $15,000 advance.

         For more information, follow these links :
         Create Space

P.S - For some strange  reason, few of  the above links seem to be broken, the competition  title can be put through the search engine or googled.

I am taking a break till January.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all on 4th January.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Editing Techniques for our Manuscripts

The worst part of writing is, when we start doing the edits, before we query or submit our books for publication. I received two pieces of  editing advice. I ignored the first one “Edit every second  word in your manuscript.” This advice would  actually work well for me, because my editor’s constant grouse against me is that my stories and books  are too long.

The second piece of advice I was given is “Edit like a step mother. Be cruel.” This advice was one I detested. I have a  soft  heart. I  prefer  not to kill my words. But, eventually I end up killing them. For the greater good.

 I feel like crying when I have to edit my stories and books. Many of the scenes I had lovingly created and painstakingly described in detail  in the initial drafts are  deleted by the final draft  because I realize  that they are weighing the story down. Editing is one place where we have to be cruel  towards our words to be kind to our  readers. It’s our cruelty that does justice to our stories.

        The technique  I follow  while going over every scene is:

  1. I mull over the fact  whether  a scene is crucial to the story or not. I have realized that I have a tendency to add scenes that do not add momentum to the story.

  1. Whether it pushes the story forward. Some scenes are what we call plain explanation. A reader really doesn’t care whether a character  is wearing  a black or a red tee shirt with lace or border. But if the tee shirt will end up doing something extraordinary; like saving the character, then by all means we can add the tiny details.

  1. Does a particular scene give some information about a character, or his/her motive? If a scene is a harbinger of what the character will undergo at a later stage, then its worth retaining.

  1. Does it   give  a little twist to the  story? Something that makes the reader sit up is worth holding on to.

  1. Does it explain something important? If the layout of the house is explained in detail, then it better be important; it can be the escape route the character takes.

  1. Does a scene I am describing now, come into  centre stage at a later point in the book. Is it tied up in some way to the crucial climax?

  1. Does a scene weigh the story down? This is very important as we tend to go overboard  on some scenes; describing in detail the bit of spinach/lettuce  stuck to the character’s teeth is a waste of time. Will the spinach/lettuce save the character’s life or  assist him in some way? If its going to make him a butt of jokes, then we can keep the scene. 

  1. Does the reader need to know this? Is this information something the reader can do without? If the reader can bypass this chunk of information, then its time to axe it. 

  1. As a reader would I like to read this paragraph? Will this paragraph/description bore or interest me? Depending on the answer I retain the scene or description. 
These are crucial questions to ask ourselves when we edit. Over time we instinctively know what to delete and what to retain. Editing skills develop slowly and only if we become objective towards our own work can we do justice to it.  We can develop and polish our editing skills by  going through books by our favourite authors and bestsellers. We can study the editing techniques in those books. 

Nowadays whenever I read a book, I not just look for plot twists, and sub-plots, character arcs and conflicts, I also see the way the book has been edited. Of how the scenes flow one into another.

What kind of attitude do you adopt when you start editing? Are you harsh and cruel?  Or are you soft and kind? What makes you decide whether to retain a particular scene or to chop it? Any editing  secrets that  you would like to share with us? 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to Maintain an Author and Editor Relationship?

I have heard that some author – editor relationships are tumultuous to say the least. In that way I have been lucky: I have  collaborated with four editors and we had no problems whatsoever.

When my  first two children’s book were confirmed for publication, the first thing my editor who was also the publisher asked me on the phone “are you one of those difficult writers who refuse to let the editor delete a single word of their manuscript?” I assured her that I was pretty easy to get along with  where editorial feedback was concerned, as I had written for several years for many local newspapers and was used to editorial feedback and cuts.

Our editing went very well. And within eight months the books were out. Several months later, I heard that a writer whose book was selected for publication had  stalled the editing process because the writer was being difficult. I was appalled. This writer was someone I knew, her book had been rejected by several publishers on the basis of its length. I felt that the writer should have been thrilled that some publisher was willing to publish her book without compromising on its length.

The writer’s attitude led to a major rift between her and the editor; things became so bad that the editing was stopped for several months. After much bitterness and anger the editing process was restarted. The result was a half hearted attempt at reconciliation from both the parties involved. It showed in the manuscript.

Another writer after the entire editing had been completed  and sent to him for approval  asked for his manuscript back as he was not happy with the changes made by the editor. This was such a colossal waste of time, I felt sorry for the editor: her efforts had gone down the drain. As the contracts are signed just before the edited manuscript is sent for publication, writers can withdraw their manuscripts if they want to do so. Thankfully, now  one of the conditions of the contract  is, agreeing with the editing changes.

         I feel there are few points to remember when it comes to an editor - author relationship:

  1. The editor should not be treated like a word gobbling monster. His/her interest lies in making the manuscript  crisper, the story better, the protagonist more lovable and improving the writing style. The editor is not there to criticize or hurt us. They should be treated as friends who can  give valuable feedback on our work.

  1. Editors not only know the demands of the market well, they also know what  will work and what won’t work in a story. Remember, that they have years of experience before them.

  1. If few of  their suggestions don’t meet with our approval, then its time to initiate a dialogue. We can try to convince them  that we don’t think their  suggestions will benefit  our story. We should give them  a chance to convince us that their suggestions will  definitely improve the story.

  1. Editorial feedback is extremely crucial as we are seeing our story from just one point of view: the writer’s. The editor is getting an entire overview of the story; like an aerial view. I have almost always liked my editors’ suggestions. I feel it has really enhanced my stories.

  1. Editors suggest changes with a view on the market as well. Their changes give our books the best chances of survival in a tight and overcrowded market.

How has your experience been with your editor? Is it a hostile relationship where you hate the changes suggested by them? Or, do you welcome the changes suggested by them? What advice would you give us to maintain a calm and trouble free relationship with our editors?

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Handle Book Reviews?

As a child the first lesson my parents taught me was “ always say nice things about people.” I still remember asking mom with all childish  innocence “if there is nothing nice to say about someone, then what do I do?” “Then don’t say anything at all,” she warned.

I adopted this philosophy for life. Though in the company of very close friends I do away with it, as I am guaranteed their silence by their proximity to me.

When I started doing book reviews I tweaked mom’s teaching. I thought it would be cheating my readers if I highlighted only the good points in a book. I had a responsibility to my readers. Based on my review they  would decide either to read a book or not. Some reviewers derive a sadistic pleasure in trashing books, others praise it so much that one wonders about the authenticity of their viewpoint. Seldom does a book get similar  reviews from  many reviewers.

Several months back, I was shocked to read a  reputed blogger trashing a book by a young writer, saying she was glad  he was not planning to write any more books. Another person  who had me gasping with shock was a reviewer who wrote for an English daily “This is a book written by a moron with a plot that is by and large missing. Was the  editor of India’s leading publishing house sleeping  when this book was commissioned?”

Another critic refused to review a book   with the excuse that he didn’t consider it worthy of his time and effort. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. We all are guided by our tastes, and it’s not necessary that everyone will like each and every book that hits the stands.  

It was then that I  decided to adopt the middle path when I do book  reviews. I talk about both the good and the bad points of a story (not that I am an expert). But I restrict my comments to the book and the story, never venturing into author/writer territory.  I had reviewed a book ( for the newspaper I write for ) that frankly speaking I had not liked much. For starters, the author’s lack of interest  showed. The ending was  too abrupt, the character was a cardboard cut out. The scenes did not flow into each other. The plot had not been developed fully. The periphery characters just hovered on the fringes. What the book  badly needed was several rewrites ( I later came to know that the book was self- published, hence the lack of editorial feedback, which  is extremely crucial, was missing.) 

But rather than trashing the book I  highlighted its good points. If we look deep there is always something nice about everything. When I reviewed the book I stressed  on the things I had liked about the book: its theme, the way complicated topics were explained to a kid in a simple and effective way and  the crisp language, I winded  up the review  with  what I found missing. As I  had started the review highlighting the good points, the shortcomings did not sting the  writer. She appreciated  my review and thanked me.

What would you have done in my place? Would you have trashed the book? Would you have harped about its shortcomings  or trekked the middle path?  Did I do the right thing? What should I have done? Please help me out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How much of Us is there in our Characters?

Few months back,  someone I met at a party  had   read a book where the protagonist was a ruthless woman who used  her relationships ( read men) as  stepping stones to success. The heroine  had no qualms about her lack of scruples or the way she manipulated  the people she encountered. The writer had done a wonderful job of creating a complete  go getter who used people to get ahead in life.

That lady  told me “the writer must have  had so many affairs.” I asked her why she thought that. “The book  is so realistic, I am sure it must be based on her own life. How can she write such a book without undergoing those events?” I was shocked by her thinking that as writers we live the lives of  our characters: meaning our character’s actions mirrors our own. I hastily corrected her limited vision of a writer’s life.  "It’s the power of our  imagination that sees us creating characters who seem  so realistic. That particular writer has just been blessed with an extra vivid imagination. The story  idea could have been triggered by a news report,  or someone she met somewhere, or by a movie. It’s not necessarily based on her real life.” I am sure  my argument did not convince the lady.

 Yes, we do breathe our characters, live them for the duration of  the time it takes us to complete our  books. Our characters  are born out of  our over active imagination. We spend weeks/months   making them believable, and as real as possible,  but they do not mirror  our  lives or are  our  literary  reflections.

 I  write middle grade fiction where my characters are super brats. But I am not one in real life.  The book I am currently writing is about a notorious prankster.  I can say with  complete honesty that I have only played two pranks in my life, both harmless ones.

Just because my protagonist is a mischievous brat, that does not mean I am one too. We writers do give  few of our traits to our characters: strengths and weaknesses, but that’s just about it. The rest is fuelled by our imagination and the power of our words. Every situation and scene is not an exact replay or reflection of our personal life or interactions.  Every scene: good or bad need not be a scene we have  experienced in our lives.

 We writers are great observers of life and we can be called people watchers. Whatever we see is jotted down in our memories and brought to life when we start writing. When we read our completed products we do find few similarities between our characters and ourselves:  maybe few struggles echo our own, few situations mirror our own, and few traits of our characters match ours, but that’s it. The rest is all make believe.

 What about you all? How much of yourselves do you add  into your characters? Are your characters your literary replicas? Is your  story a written  account of your life? Is your life your literary inspiration? Is it like looking in the mirror when you read your books?  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dealing with Death/s in our Manuscripts

 So far I have been extremely lucky that I have not had to kill a  character in my books or stories. Death scenes have me sobbing uncontrollably. I cried buckets when Dumbledore died. I soaked my handkerchief when Dobby died.  Cedric Diggory’s death had my cheeks wet. An honest confession, though I loathed Snape, I cried at his death too. Because, by then Rowling had painted  him as the good guy pretending to be bad. Hence by then  Snape had amassed my sympathy.

 For a series,  killing a character requires a really strong motive. The readers know that the next lot of books will be minus that particular character.  The character’s death should literally turn the story upside down. There has to be a really solid reason for a character dying. As the readers can be really unforgiving if a favourite character dies without a strong reason. Not only will they feel  cheated, they will feel you have done a personal injustice to them. They may even  lose interest in the next lot of books of the series.

 For those Harry Potter lovers, remember that   there was  a strong plot twist when  Cedric Diggory died. Voldemort was gaining his body back.  Sirius Black’s death was crucial to the story as  Harry had to be deprived of the one man he could count as a parent. Sirius was the over indulgent parent/guardian  trying to make up for lost time by  turning a blind eye to Harry’s acts of fool hardiness. He  could be accused of overlooking Harry’s flaws. It was important to isolate Harry and intensify his inner conflict. Dumbledore’s death was a cruel blow. Harry was left without a mentor and guide. But it was  crucial  to make him  self dependant and summon his inner strength to wage that final battle against Voldemort.

 Killing a character and starting the story in flashback is taking the easy way out. I do plan to  kill  few characters who are a part of  my collection of stories which I hope to convert  into  a book. I need to work on a  strong motive to explain their deaths. There  has to be a crucial plot twist when these characters  die. The death of a character has to intensify the inner conflict, it has to be the darkest moment of the book. It has to literally crumble the protagonist’s world, until he or she summons the strength to set it right. It  should propel the protagonist into the next series of actions which will culminate in the climax  and make him win the battle to effectively  justify the death of the character.

 Have any of you created a death scene in your stories and books? Do you plan to kill a favourite character in your  WIP? How will you go about it? Any killing advice you can give us?

P.S. I  did not cry when Voldemort died. Or when Bellatrix died.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating Unique and a Wonderful Setting

Just like real estate is all about location, location, location, our books are all about setting, setting and setting: unusual, amazing, innovative and larger than life. The wonderful worlds that we create  are responsible for readers getting lost in it for hours. Isn’t that the hallmark of a successful book? To transport a reader into another world. To make him or her forget their  problems for some time.
Settings take to time to create. But they are really worth the effort and time required to create them.  I have realized that before I start any book, I will take few days to brainstorm,  to create  a setting (which is especially important for the MG  Fantasy Fiction I write) and plot the book out.

When I read the Potter books I was lost in the setting. Hogwarts was a wonderful creation, as was the world of wizards. The way  the dead wizards moved between their portraits, the way wizards travelled  with the help of floo powder via chimneys, the different spells; in particular the Patronus spell,  the subjects taught in the wizarding school, and the  magical creatures swamping the wizarding world.  Quidditch ( the game wizards played ) in particular had the children going berserk  over it. I am sure Rowling must have spent a lot of time  and thought in creating the wonderful setting, which has mesmerized both young and old.

I am no setting expert. Whatever I have learnt is  via trial and error, but   I would still like to share it.

If we are creating an alternate world, then we have to look after every aspect of it. It’s like when we shift into a new house, every little detail is taken care of: from the flooring to the wall covering, from curtains to furniture, from taps to windows, to how each room is decorated.

If we use that method  for creating a setting, I am sure we all will do just fine. If we have created another land we  can add people peculiar to that place: people  to be found no where else in the world. The way they dress, their language, quaint customs and habits make for an interesting read. The food they eat, the way they talk, the games they play. Their beliefs and culture.  The fauna and flora can be different and unique.  

Setting needs the element of  the unusual: what is not found in the normal world but is peculiar to that world: of our story/book. If our story is based on a past event, then  research takes care of the setting. But if it’s a world of make believe, then  we are only restricted by our imagination.

 But one thing I have learnt, that a setting has to be believable. A far fetched setting tends to ruin the plot. A setting depends a lot on descriptions, to bring it to life  before the reader’s eyes. Some writers have mastered the art of  making  setting as a character in their books.

What about you all? How do you all handle the setting  in your books? Will you share your setting tips with us? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Four Must Haves for every Writer

Patience, perseverance, enthusiasm and a firm determination to reach the goal are all necessary, not just for Writers,  but for success in any field. For writers patience is needed in abundance: actually  by daily truckloads that should be deposited at each writer’s feet, as from the time a story is conceived in our minds to the time the final manuscript is ready to journey out to  the doors of various publishing houses and editors, it can be anything from  few months to several years.

We require patience at every step of the way, from the rough, haphazard first drafts that don’t make much sense to others, to  several drafts  and rewrites  that  enhance our manuscripts, to the final edits where we chisel every extra word and polish and polish until the manuscript sparkles. 

Perseverance is what sees writers seek publishing year after year, when rejected manuscripts and stories keep piling up, when  we are unable to break the stranglehold of the slush pile. We know it deep down that its just a matter of time  before we write that break through story/novel  that will propel our manuscripts to the top of the pile and make people in position notice us.  
 We  just cannot sustain a writing life without enthusiasm for our stories, characters, and plots. Even when we would rather catch up with all our  other activities, enjoy the freedom that other  people have, we greet the errant muse with enthusiasm when he drops in unexpectedly  at the ungodly hour of 3.a.m, when the rest of the world is safely ensconced in their snug blankets. Better an untimely muse than no muse. Its enthusiasm that sees us switch on our laptops everyday to add more words to our ever growing story. Enthusiasm is something that keeps us going when  criticism piles up against our manuscripts: from the initial  beta readers to agents, from  editors and  critics to the readers. We know that writing is our passion and as long as there are some people who like what we have written, we will be enthusiastic enough to write more for them.

What finally sees us arrive safely at the top of the summit (read  bag a publishing contract) is a firm determination to reach the goal. Determination   is what I  consider inner strength, where we want to see our stories reach out to people and make  a difference in their lives.

 What really helps is visualizing our goals: seeing us holding our published books in our hands goes a long way into bringing our dreams closer to realization.

  Do these four traits constantly surround you? What else motivates you to keep typing when the rejection slips pile up and criticism walks towards us? Have these four traits deserted you at any time? What have you done then? How have you got them back?      

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Commercial Success Versus Critical Acclaim

In India, over the last few years there have been a slew of novels  which come under the category of popular fiction or metro fiction/novels (keeping in mind their readership: people living in the metros). These novels  have the readers: late teens  to forty something, going ballistic  over them. Critics have trashed these books, calling them rantings of  twenty somethings,  to boy lit, and chicklit,  and a lot  of other things.

But not only are these writers laughing all the way to the bank,  they are even sealing movie rights for their books and bagging second and third book deals. Many have moved into the script writing zone.  For these writers all that matters is commercial success, they  are really not bothered about critical acclaim. These books rely  heavily on the mundane story telling abilities of the young writers, which more often than not centers  around a story heavily dependant on protagonists they can identify with. The writing skills  are absolutely ordinary, and  the writers and editors are unconcerned about the finer nuances of  the craft of writing. The plots are simple, and subplots are by and large Missing In Action.

On the other hand there are the veteran writers, writing what I call literary fiction. These writers  receive the full flow of  the critics’ praise,  they receive several awards but their readership cannot match the readership of the popular fiction writers. Many youngsters are not even  familiar with their names, forget about their body of work. The younger generation wants books easy on their mind, they want stories that do not tax them in any way, they want writing that they use in their daily conversation with friends, and they want characters who emulate their lifestyles.

For a writer  to   achieve a perfect balance of commercial success and critical acclaim is a daunting task. To please  both the harsh critics and  hungry reader is an  impossible feat which very few writers have managed to achieve. For the rest of the writers  it’s either one of them.

What about you? What  are your views on  popular fiction which was once called pulp fiction? What would you want? Critical acclaim? Commercial success? Both? How are you hoping to please both the critics and readers?

P.S. I found this post on settings extremely useful. Drop in to Melissa's blog and help yourself to her tips on creating settings as a character.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tips to Write the First Draft

Everywhere  we look, there is an avalanche of information about the craft of writing, from how to write that perfect book, to how to hook readers in the first chapter/line/word, to how to start with the conflict, avoid an overdose of back story,  to do away with lengthy  descriptions,  a new writer may get overwhelmed with all the techniques, advice and tips  and in the process may  not be true to his or her story. They may actually get paralyzed with shock.

With the information overload in the market  about “ How to  Write “ and “ What to Write” and  “The Way to Write” a new or unpublished writer can really  get confused.  They may even wonder if they have  the talent to write.  Doubts and insecurities will creep in.  Fear may even bring forth the writer’s block. What everyone forgets is that a writer knows his or her story  best. He or she is familiar with the  character, conflict and resolution, as it has  emerged from the womb of his/her mind.

To avoid  First Draft Jitters, writers should write the first draft just for themselves. What we all should  and must do is write the first draft just the way the story is unfolding in our mind, or before our eyes. There will be sufficient time later to rework on the technique and fine tune everything.  Though I am no expert, my advice would be to  let the story flow first before we start listening to each and every bit of advice thrown at us. And not every advice is worth following. After all, you definitely know your story best.  You know what  your character wants, and how he or she will get it, and what they will sacrifice to reach their goal. You know who your characters will meet in  their journey, and how they will  be transformed after each interaction, and what kind of emotions they will undergo at each phase.

I feel we all must first  just  get the story down on paper, or  on the computer.  After the entire story has been vomited, with all its  flaws and shortcomings, we can   focus  on the mechanics and technique later,  definitely in the subsequent drafts and rewrites.  The subsequent drafts can be given a  complete makeover keeping most of the important advice in mind.

What about you all? How do you handle first drafts? Is it just you and the story, or do you follow every writing craft book when you start  putting those  initial words down on paper? What advice would you give a new writer  regarding first drafts?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Meet Spunky Princess Clown ( Book Review )

From childhood  I have been obsessed with Princesses.  I am absolutely certain that I was a Princess in another lifetime.  Who lived in  a far away land, chatting with my handmaidens,  near a lake filled with swans,  while waiting for my Prince  to take me away on his white steed.

Reading about Princes and Princesses has always fascinated me. When I encountered Princess Clown, a chapter book  for  7-8 year olds by Australian Author Sheryl Gwyther, I was not disappointed.  I found the title unusual and fascinating. The story prompt was triggered  by  a Double Trouble Game : taking two unrelated nouns  and developing a character and story to go with it: like Princess and Clown, Frog and Guitar, Cindrella and Chips.

Princess Belle is a spunky, spirited and energetic  Princess who wears a circlet over a frizzy, orange wig, a clown’s nose on her face, yellow and red shoes with fake flowers and wants to make people laugh.  Young children will connect with this adorable princess who is determined to follow her dream of  becoming a clown and wears a clown trick ring.

This absolutely lovable Princess practices juggling peaches in the Royal Kitchen. Needless to say, disaster follows. The fun begins when the King and Queen of Danzania  arrive with their son. I won’t reveal more, you will have to read  the book for yourself. 

Though simple the story is  fast paced and extremely enjoyable. The illustrations by Sian Naylor are  wonderful and do complete justice to the story. The book is published by Blake Education as a part of its Gigglers  Series.  I just wish there will be more Princess Clown books, because once you make an acquaintance with this Princess, you wouldn’t want to leave her. Sheryl Gwyther is an author of several short stories, a novel for 10-13 year olds titled Secrets of Eromanga,  and another chapter book, Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

Sheryl was awarded a May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Residential Fellowship, as well as an Arts Queensland Individual Professional Development Grant. She is also a recipient of two Australian Society of Authors Mentorships.

Princess Clown is also available online or from educational retail outlets.    
Hop over to Sheryl's webpage and blog, and believe me you will not be disappointed.

Sheryl’s  webpage:
Sheryl’s  blogs:   
Do any of you think you were a Prince or a Princess in another lifetime? Do share your Princely dreams with us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Adding Dollops of Humor into our Stories

Humor is one of the most lovable elements of a story/book. If a book can make a reader laugh, I am sure the book will be read several times. I love books that make me  laugh. I  make it a point to read them again and again. Even the humorous passages in books that do not fall into that category  have me rereading them.

Humor I feel is one of the most important elements in our stories and also the hardest to get it right. As writers we do not have a visual medium to portray humor. But we have words at our disposal. With words we can create humorous situations. There are several ways to add humor into our stories. Here are few of them.

1.  The names of characters/places and objects can be funny. 

2. We can also give  characters  some quirks: a twitch, a distinctive style of   
     talking or a weird way of dressing. 

3.  One of the best way of adding  humor can be  through Descriptions.  
     Funny  descriptions  make the readers laugh.  Eg “she had spread like  
     melted  butter.” “A bee could get lost in the hair on his body.”

                    4.  As writers we can  use words to conjure up Situations  which can be
                        comical by creating a Comedy of  Errors.

                    5.   Dialogues can be infused with  mega doses of humor to bring on the
                         laughter. Dialogues are the best places to add humor. I am working on
                         this  aspect.

                    6.  The way a character thinks (the internal conversation ) can be humorous.
                         This can be one of the easiest way to bring the element of humor into our

                     7.  We have to find new and funny way to say the same  often repeated old

                      8. A fantastic way to add humor is via Satire and Irony. Irony is the use of
                          words to express the opposite of their literal meaning. Satire is the use of
                          irony or wit to attack something. But its also extremely difficult  because  
                          if not handled well it can  leave the reader confused. I seldom use satire
                          and irony as I am not very confident I can do them justice.

                       9. We can use  funny metaphors and similes that  can  give a comical twist
                           to a familiar image  in a reader's mind. “ He was as thin as a breadstick.”
                          “Her skin was as soft as a caramel custard,  “His chin wobbled like jelly.”

10. One of the best advice  for adding humor is to stir the senses.  Sensory
      Humor is giving funny descriptions when describing something with  
      the  five senses: especially while describing sounds, tastes and smells.
Whether  we writers are personally funny or serious is not important. What is important is whether we can make readers   think that our characters, dialogues and situations are funny. Whether we can make our readers laugh.  
How do you  all add humor in your stories? Is there any humor secret/wisdom you would like to share? Please tell us, we all can learn from it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Are We Stretching Our Writing Muscle?

Like every other part of our body our brain where our writing muscle tightly  packed with its creative cells resides, need its regular  workout to churn out wonderful stories.  This intense workout  can comprise of  pushing our daily word count a little higher day by day, it also extends into exploring  genres and themes previously untried.

Even changing the POV for the next WIP and  changing the narrative from the third person to the first person is a part of the writing exercise. Trying different forms of fiction: Short story,  Flash Fiction (100 to 1000 words), Micro fiction (140 words), Drabble (100 words)  even Haikus (17 words in three stanzas of 5,7,5) is a  wonderful way to give that small muscle an  intense workout.

Except for  the short story, the other four are like heavy duty calisthenics for our writing muscle, flushing it with the feel good endorphins, when we see that we have managed to express ourselves well while keeping within the strict word counts  required by drabble, haikus, flash fiction and micro fiction. To say a lot  and to say it well using  less number of words is  the best reward we writers can give ourselves.

Sometimes even spending a few minutes describing what we see around us is a fantastic way of exercising those creative cells. Just describing the scene we see in front of us: it could a be crowded hospital lobby, a traffic jam, a small child throwing a tantrum, or an old  couple sitting on a park bench, with all five of our senses has outstanding results. Sensory descriptions is gentle like yoga. It slowly stretches that  muscle we writers cannot do without. These random descriptions and scenes can sometimes creep into our manuscripts in one way or  the other,  or maybe stick around in our minds long enough to give birth to  some other strain of creativity.

Another great way to stretch that muscle is putting our MC in a What If situation. What if our MC is stranded  on an island? What if he wins a lottery? What if the bus he is traveling in gets hijacked? What if loses his job? What if he unknowingly  befriends a criminal? What if he ends up witnessing a murder? What if he or she is kidnapped by an alien?

The answers to all these What If questions can trigger s series of plot points or lead us into introducing those much needed twists and turns that we crave. Maybe it may even direct us to the doorstep of an entire new character who  can turn the story on its head.

How do you all exercise the writing muscle? What kind of work out  do you do to keep that muscle  in peak condition? Do you have any workout tips for us?   

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When in Trouble, Summon your Favourite Author

While working on my current WIP,  before I could plunge my protagonist into troubled  shark infested water, I ended up putting myself in it. I had chosen a  theme that was unusual and different. Creating  a world class mischief maker  is not a joke. I never play pranks and  to be honest, I have no connection with pranksters.

 I seldom discuss my books with anyone, especially while writing the first draft. So I found myself in  a self dug hole. I badly needed guidance. When I  told my nephew few pranks to check out their potency, he  said “you have read so many Roald Dahl books,  you should be able to do justice to your book. Think like him.” I had introduced him to Dahl when he was eight.

At that moment things slid into place. I decided why not. I could  summon Dahl, and  pretend that he was writing my book whenever I got stuck. What prank would  Dahl  pull  in this scene, how would he tackle that situation, what devious idea would he come up with. Everytime I got stuck, I pleaded with Mr Dahl to help me out.

After that it was easy, I breezed through portions I  had earlier found difficult and troublesome. Hopefully my editor too finds them  nice. My fingers are crossed.

 I think this advice would work  well for all of us. I chose the author who wrote middle grade fiction (  the genre I write). I am sure we all have our  favourites in the genres we write, and I am sure we are familiar with their style and technique. So why not get into their skin when we find ourselves in tight spots, or at dead ends. It’s not like we are copying them. It’s just a way to work out those tangled knots and if and when we choose we can rewrite later.

 The best thing about this idea was that I  could see the book from my favourite writer’s perspective.  Having read all  Dahl’s books twice, I was pretty familiar with his humor and style. It was easy to get into his skin, and  invite him into my life to help me tide over those treacherous  and troublesome paths. Though the writing style is mine,  the thoughts are mine, the ideas are mine,  but just by trying to think like him  helped me  whenever I tied myself  in tight knots. It was like he was guiding me towards the direction I must take or untying the knots for me.

How do you all tackle those tricky spots that come up while you are writing? Whom do you turn to? Is there something  that helps you bypass those roadblocks? Is there someone who helps you navigate those tricky bends? Please share, we all badly need to learn those tips.

P.S. I will not be posting on Friday 5th November as its Diwali (our Festival of  Lights). I will see you all next Tuesday.

A Must Read for all  Writers is a post  Inspirations, which  I read  at Adventures in Agentland .

Friday, October 29, 2010

Awards, Awardees, and a Funny Incident

Few weeks back, I won three awards. This time I don't want to be a hoarder. I would like to pass the three awards to a host of lovely bloggers. Each blog is unique, with a wonderful writer sharing her/his amazing journey.

Jai Joshi gave  me  A Blog With  Substance Award. My Awardees,  in alphabetical order for this  blog award are:

1.  Anne at White Platonic Dreams
2.  Birgitte at Necessary Writers
3.  Jody, at Author Jody Hedlund
4.  Julie at Julie Musil
5.  Kim at Dragonfly Scrolls
6.  Lia at The Scribbler
7.  Lydia at The World is my Oyster
8.  Lynda  at W.I.P. It
9.  Melissa at What I Saw
10.Terri at Terri Tiffany Inspirational Writer

Elizabeth Mueller  passed me The Circle Of Friends Award.  My awardees are

 1. Alexia at The Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn
 2.  Jai at Jai Joshi's Tulsi Tree
 3.  Karen at Write Now
 4.  Ken at Just 1 Writer 
 5. Sheryl at Sheryl Gwyther - Author

Kim gave the the cute Grasshopper Award. My  awardees are:

1. Elizabeth at Elizabeth Mueller
2. Sytiva at Personality Flowers
3. Victoria at The Ron Empire Wants You

I want all  you lovely ladies and gentlemen who read this post  to  share a funny anecdote with us. But, it has to be connected to writing. Anything funny that happened in your writing career?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Muse has a Roving Eye, and NaNoWriMo

I was very keen on doing NaNoWriMo this year, it would have been my first. My initial excitement  at the beginning of October slowly turned into apprehension when my thoughts focused on my muse. I am currently  working on an MG fiction and a collection of linked stories which I hope to convert into a book.

For a change my usually recalcitrant muse is being generous with both his time and energy.  I have been the  focus of his  undivided attention for days. I am tickled pink. There is no way I want to antagonize him now by  leaving him alone even for a brief moment and NaNoWriMo would require a separation of sorts: meaning I would require his services, but  for another WIP. The moody guy he is, I dare not risk it.

My muse and I have a strange relationship.  He has a roving eye. Several times I have seen him checking out other writers, eyeing them with greed and lust, paying more attention to them than me. At those times I cling to him; so that  I am the sole focus of his wandering eyes. I have even thought of tying him up  and confining  him to a chair.

My muse and I (I am sure it’s a he in  my case) are a strange pair. When I badly need him, he is never around. And sometimes when I am extremely busy with other things he keeps intruding and demanding attention. If I am a bit tardy in giving in to those demands, he sulks and pouts for days. Several times he has packed his bags and left for an undisclosed destination for long stretches of time. My frantic calls and messages are completely ignored. Troubling and torturing me has become his second nature.

I often catch him spying on me, intruding on my  time with family and friends. He knows he can get away with murder as I am defenceless and helpless where he is concerned. At the altar of our rocky relationship, I sacrificed my NaNoWriMo dreams. I am sure if I turn my back, he will do the disappearing act once again and there will be no knowing where he has gone where those two WIP’s  are concerned. I can’t risk that, not while I am working on two books simultaneously.

What about you all? Is your muse a he or  a she,  kind or cruel, generous or greedy? What is your relationship with him or her? How do you handle him or her?

P.S. I  would like to wish all my blogging buddies who are participating in NaNoWriMo, best of luck. I will be rooting  for you all from the sidelines. Here is hoping that all of you reach that magic figure of 50,000 words in 30 days.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Don’t Let Anyone Stop you from Writing

As writers we are prone to despair  and feelings of insecurity.  A bad review, a rejection from an agent, harsh editorial feedback, even unfavourable comments from critique partners can plunge us into a prolonged state of despair. There are moments when we wonder why do we write, when all we encounter in the initial stages of our careers are roadblocks and dead ends.

Are we sadists who put ourselves up for rejection and scrutiny day after day via our writing. The entire world gets a close peek into our thought process, into our sensibilities,  into our  feelings through the characters we create. Though we may be extremely private individuals, we do live extremely public lives because of our work.

In this scenario we have to be our biggest supporters, have to constantly motivate ourselves and have immense faith in our abilities and stories, else we will be close to literary annihilation. Though we are allowed a bit or maybe even a lot of self pity, we have no other choice but to lick our wounds and get on with the job in hand: our WIP.

I read this beautiful saying “ If I have lost the self confidence in myself, I have the Universe against me” – Ralph W Emerson. It applies to us writers perfectly. If we lose confidence in ourselves, in our stories, in our characters, in our settings, then  not only  are we doing a grave injustice to ourselves, but we are  also cheating ourselves. This is  a God given talent, each one of us has  unique stories that we must and should share with the world.  Rejections and criticisms should not deter us, infact they should strengthen our resolve to tell the best story that we can. To turn those detractors into our biggest supporters should be our aim, and we should resolve to do so.

Practically every writer I know has faced rejection and braved harsh criticism to churn out words which have enthralled readers worldwide. What kept them going was their faith in their stories and a belief that they could and would do it.

Each and every story that is currently residing in our hearts is  awaiting its tryst with inspiration. Someone somewhere, maybe in a remote corner of the world  is waiting to be inspired by our words, someone is waiting to be entertained by it, someone is waiting to bond with the characters. Do we have a right to deprive those people of inspiration, entertainment or bonding? Even if our words motivate and inspire only a handful of people, or entertain the same number, isn’t that much more than what we hoped for when we typed that first word. So, don’t let anyone stop you from writing as you never know who you will Inspire with your story.

Doesn't the thought that someone is waiting for our story/book make us pull out  our WIP with renewed passion,  make us want to give it all that we can. Don’t we have a commitment to that person waiting eagerly for our collection of words?

Have you ever felt despaired, wondered why you were writing when all you encounter is closed doors. How do you cope with those  days? What keeps your faith intact? Please share. I am sure we all will be inspired by it.

P.S. Few of my writing friends  in India were depressed by the rejections piling up. I hope this post will motivate them and everyone else  to keep writing.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why do we Like Happy Endings?

For most of us the perfect resolution in a book/story  is the HEA (Happily Ever After).  Especially if it’s a love story, then we readers expect the lovers to unite despite all opposition, and walk away into the sunset their fingers entwined, bodies leaning into each other. Any other ending in  a love story has us gasping  in shock.

A sad ending makes us feel cheated, even though that particular ending may have been justified. When I read Anna Karenina the ending  disappointed me. Though I loved the book I felt depressed by  the ending. I  had followed Anna throughout the book and I felt cheated, though it was and is always a writer’s prerogative how they choose to end their books/stories. As readers we have no say in that matter.

 If in the last Harry Potter book, Harry would have died instead of Voldemort I  am sure most of us readers would have created a riot. For those of us who had followed Harry for 10 years, hated Voldemort as much as Harry and other wizards, Voldemort’s death was the perfect redemption. Any other ending would have been sacrilege.

I think the reason everyone reads is because we want to transport ourselves into  another world: a world of make believe, a fantasy world, where we can forget our personal problems and troubles, fears and worries. A Happily Ever After  completes  and fulfils that journey. We feel satisfied that  things  worked out for the MC, this feeling is subtly  transferred into our own lives; we feel  things will eventually work out for all of us too.

But sad and unhappy endings bring  us face to face with the bitter truth of life: the stark  and grim reality facing us. A fear creeps in. What if there is no solution to our problems? What  if our situation does not improve? What if we don’t make it? Then what?

I feel unhappy endings  not only make us sad, but they bring us face to face with our own personal fears and demons. This  leaves us flustered, troubled and disoriented. And this feeling is transferred onto the story. A happy ending is a part of Wish Fulfillment. It brings on the Feel Good Factor.  A sign that all is well with the world and that we are on the right track and that soon things will  work out for us too.

What about you all? Do you have a penchant for the HEA, or you like a good book/story  regardless  of the ending? What kind of endings do you strive for in the books you write and the what kind of ending you prefer  in the books you read? 

Friday, October 15, 2010

TLC for the Supporting Characters

The characters in our books and here I am not just talking of the protagonist and the antagonist, but  about every other character inhabiting our literary city (manuscript). Though the protagonist and the antagonist are more important than the rest of the ensemble cast, the supporting characters do  play  important roles in our books.

If a little TLC (Tender Loving Care, or shall I call it Tender Literary Care) is showered on the other characters the story  gets enriched and is all the better for it.

Many times I have noticed  in some books that the other characters are ignored, they are just props that silently appear on the stage and then do the disappearing act after their purpose is fulfilled. There is not much of a  role for them to play in the story. I agree that the story is predominantly about the Main Character, but is the MC living on an island, all alone. No. More often than not the MC lives in a world swamped with people. Some more closer to him/her  than  others. And these people have lives of their own.

 So isn’t it a writer’s duty to flesh out these supporting characters well. To breathe life into them. We can definitely give them  more prominent roles to play. There can be a couple of  sub plots racing alongside, or  better still intersecting the main plot with these supporting characters in the thick of things.

These characters can have their own goals and  problems to solve, their dreams and aspirations to be achieved. If these characters too grow like the Main Character by the end of the story, the story becomes full bodied with warm blood gushing in its veins.

The supporting characters’ back story can be revealed during their frequent interactions with the main character. Readers are  not just interested in following the MC,  they also  love to read about each and every character in the book. Sketchy characters with  no clue where they are going have a jarring effect. Then it becomes obvious that the writer has not paid attention, or is just not concerned about anyone except the MC.

Supporting  characters  who are  strong entities, who can stand  on their own, push the story even if the protagonist is not around in few scenes. If these characters are on the Antagonist’s side, they can intensify the Conflict. If they are on the Protagonist’s side they can assist in the Resolution.

I have seen that the books I have read and reread have strong supporting characters  and these characters  are not there just  for decoration.  Many times they overtake the protagonist with agendas of their own. The supporting characters  should not be treated as  puppets. They are capable of making decisions and taking actions without the protagonist’s consent. These strong  supporting characters make for a good read.

What about you all? Do you all pay equal attention to the ensemble cast? Do you all shower a little bit of TLC on the supporting characters? How do you all handle these characters? Please tell us. We would love to know and learn.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Animal Writes Blogfest - The Royal Bengal Tiger's Journey

When I came across the Animal Writes Blogfest (writing from an animal's Point of View) on Dayana's blog,  I was  intrigued and interested. My first two children's books were based  on animals and  participating in this amazing blogfest would be a walk down memory lane. I eagerly signed up for the blogfest (my first one).

I chose the Royal Bengal Tiger for several reasons. Read on to discover those reasons.

                                   My  Entry - The Royal Bengal Tiger's Journey

I paced to and fro in my cage, my supple body swinging with each step I took. I leapt towards the bars of the cage; “Grrrr,” gripping a couple of iron bars, I roared in frustration. I craved the freedom the jungle  offered. My mind  rewound to the day   five of us : my tigress (Lila), my three  cubs and I were at the watering hole after I had  killed  a deer;  I had stalked the deer for some time, in a split second I pounced upon it; with my sharp claws I ripped apart its belly. It was our first decent meal in months. In the last few years animal population had  dwindled rapidly  due to rampant poaching.

Eleven tigers were left in the jungle. Lila and I were extremely protective of our cubs: one of us was constantly with them.

A  noise at the entrance of my cage distracted me. A clutch of school students gaped at me. My cage attracted the maximum attention: I belonged to the species  sliding into the  endangered  category. After few years I may be a part of the  extinct species. 

The camera flash irritated me. I disliked being photographed when I was not looking  my best.  My skin had lost its sheen: my stripes were no longer resplendent, there were dirt streaks all over my body, and I had lost a lot of weight. Being  restricted in a cage had dulled my reflexes. The group moved away.

I retreated into my reverie. Lila, my sweetheart  disappeared few days after I had killed the deer. Our keen eye sight and sharp hearing came to our rescue when we hunted at night. We took   turns to go hunting;  she  cuddled each cub before  embracing me to venture in search of prey; it was like she had a premonition or something. Night turned into morning  and morning merged into  afternoon. By  early evening we were sick with worry. My eldest cub assured me that he was capable  of going in search of his mother. Couple of hours passed since he had left.

Overcome with worry I went in search of  Lila and my  cub  after giving strict instructions to my younger cubs not to stray from that place. I searched  throughout the jungle, but there was no sign of  them. Darkness had settled.  I raced back to our place.  Blood streaks strained the path: they were fresh; the blood of the  fox I had killed last week  had been washed away by the rain. I sniffed the blood; it was my own: my cubs’.  In one stroke my entire family was wiped out. 

Another group of students thronged my cage. They were extremely ill-mannered. Two boys threw popcorn into my cage, their teacher chatting on a her cell phone did not stop them. A small boy threw a pebble; it hit  my stomach. “Grrrr,” I roared and leapt towards the bars. Shrieking in fright the kids shrank back and moved towards the next cage, throwing dirty looks my way.

 Not one to give up easily, the next day I  ventured  in search of  my missing family; but there was no sign of them. The blood streaks were sufficient proof of their death. Loneliness swamped me. Losing one’s entire family in one sweep was not easy. I went into denial. Why us? What had we done? Didn’t my cubs deserve a chance to see what a tiger’s life was  all about? Life had been cruel to us. Tears rolled down my eyes. My cubs were babies. I had hardly spent time with them.

A plump lady stared at me. As she removed her camera from her enormous bag, I gasped. Slowly I moved  closer for a better view. She was unaware of my closeness as  she removed the lens cap from her camera. Her bag was made of tiger skin: from my dear Lila’s skin. I recognized the skin I had  lovingly caressed for years. Lila’s skin was unique; she had few  yellow spots on her black stripes. My throat felt tight. Sorrow  paralysed my vocal chords. The  cruelty and heartlessness of humans shocked me. I turned my face away. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Slinking into a corner I lay down. Memories flushed my mind. Two weeks had passed since the disappearance of my entire family. I had not ventured away from our place. But the crippling hunger pangs gnawing  my stomach forced me out  in search of a prey.

Night merged into morning, I had not glimpsed a single creature. Darkness had fallen rapidly. The smell of dead meat tickled my nostrils. Few feet ahead I saw a deer torn open. Chunks of its flesh were missing. Perhaps  another lion or a tiger  had feasted on it. I  tore a huge chunk of flesh: it tasted  funny. Unperturbed, I continued eating. After  I had reduced the deer to bare bones I sought the safety of my retreat. A full stomach is  extremely sleep inducing and within minutes I dropped into the comforting arms of sleep. I have no idea  how long I slept. When I woke I found myself in a cage: I had been transported to a zoo. On hindsight I realized that the funny taste was due to the drugs injected into the deer’s body.

 The lady with the tiger skin bag continued clicking pictures of me, unmindful of the fact that I  had turned my face away. For days I plunged into  a self pity mode. One day a contingent of officials  arrived outside my cage. The sober officials clicked many pictures of me. Several vets  examined me. Gentle hands poked and prodded my body searching for tender spots. After a thorough examination  I was pronounced fit; the zoo officials were jubilant.

 Had there been a threat to my life, I wondered? Were they relieved that I was not going to die? The confusion cleared when the good news was announced.

 I was chosen to be  the official mascot of the  2010 Common Wealth Games India was hosting. I was christened Shera. My dark cloud indeed had a silver lining!

P.S. The Royal Bengal Tiger is the National Animal of India. It has become an endangered species due to poaching and shrinkage of its habitat.