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Friday, December 30, 2011

Publishing Pulse: Dec 30, 2011

Are you creating a book trailer and want to add explosions to it? Galleycat tells you how to do it with a free app. 

Agent Janet Reid has a brilliant new way toshoot yourself in the query (which is actually less painful than shooting yourself in the foot). 

Have you written your goals for 2012 yet? For advice on how to write realistic ones, check out this post and this post. 

From all of us at the Querytracker.net blog, we wish you a happy (and safe) New Years!

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Show and Tell

Courtesy of chidsey

One of the first things I learned when I started working toward writing professionally was the old adage show, don't tell. And since then, I've repeated it many times as I've critiqued and done beta reads. (Actually, I've modified it a bit so I say something more like, show more here where I think showing would deepen the impact of the scene.)

But like all the rules of writing, I think show, don't tell is more about balance than choosing one thing or the other. There will be some places in the story where telling works more effectively than showing, but the trick is figuring out which ones. This all goes back to taking a step back and looking at the story objectively so you can see what the story needs where.

In my opinion, showing and telling are at opposite ends on a spectrum with many varying degrees of each in between. The key to writing an effective scene is to find the degree that works strongest for the story.

What's the Difference?

According to Brown and King in their Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, telling is ". . . a narrative summary, with no specific setting or characters." The reader is told what has happened rather than living it along with the characters.

Showing, on the other hand, engages the reader in specifics, often while employing the five senses. Many writers do well when it comes to sight, but for me at least, I often forget about smells and the sense of touch when I'm showing a scene. And yet a person's sense of smell is closely linked with memory and could be used every bit as powerfully as the sense of sight.

When to Show

I would say that it's safe to show most of the story most of the time. A good story engages a reader, allows them to slip into the characters' skins and see life through another person's eyes. Showing, making the reader feel the heart pounding terror the character is experiencing is one of the most effective ways to do that. It brings the story alive in a way that is deeply personal to the reader.

The key point to remember when showing is that the amount of time you spend showing something or someone is going to determine the importance of the object, event, or character the reader. A rule of thumb for me is that if I'm going to show something, it's got to matter to the story.

When to Tell

There are some times when telling is more effective then showing something happening in the scene. As you go through your manuscript, pay special attention to your gut and what it's telling you the story needs. 9 times out of 10, your gut is right.

The times when I tell are usually determined by the scene, the importance and relevance for what is happening in the scene, and the pacing.

For example, the characters are gathered in the hearth room when one of them notices the painting above the fireplace, specifically the necklace the woman in the painting is wearing. For each person, let's say there's five, in the room, the necklace brings back a different memory which, in turn, arouses different emotions.

Showing all of this would draw out the scene when maybe what the story needs is a short, snappy bridge to set up for the murder that occurs. So, rather than dwelling on each part of each memory (let's say we're either in an omniscient POV or a character is observing the other people in the room), I'll only focus on the ones that matter most overall for the story.

Then the murder happens and the pacing speeds up. This is where I'd use shorter, somewhat choppier sentences that do a little more telling and a little less showing. How much of each would depend on what the story needed the scene to be. The important thing here would be to make sure that the showing and the telling complement each other and work hand in hand to convey the story with the most power possible.

Because that, I believe, is what all writers are aiming for--transmitting the thoughts, pictures, and ideas in their heads to someone else's through words.

 Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Caution: Contains Strong Language

When I was a kid, my mom had a vehement distaste for what she called "strong language." She loathed vulgarity and did her best to teach us to avoid using "dirty words," threatening that, if we cussed or swore or used dirty words, people would avoid us. And no kid wants to be avoided.

Despite her tutelage, I became quite fluent in strong language--just not in the way you think.


Writers are always after the words that touch closest to the nerve endings, those that can illicit the perfect response. We are not only judged by the story we tell—we are also judged by the way we tell it. Even the most intriguing plot lines and story twists and character building is subject to scrutiny of the strength of our language.

When I was a novice writer, I wrote the story exactly as I thought it—line after effortless line streamed out of my pen, filling a stack of notebooks over the course of a single summer. I wrote without regard to rules or regulation, allowing the story to manifest itself on its own.

When the idea for a second story came along, I did the same thing. However, I had a different goal in mind; this new story wasn't simply a way to pass the time writing something that would remain in notebooks. This story had potential. This story, I wanted to share. This story needed more than just passion and a new pack of gel pens.

I turned, as I often do, to the Internet in search of guides. I wanted to develop my skills as a writer beyond the level of Passionate Novice. If I wanted to realize my goal of publication, I had to improve my craft.

So began several years of "homeschooling" myself to be a better writing. I joined my local writing guild—Pennwriters—and enrolled in a few courses. I read countless online articles with tips for better writing. I amassed an impressive library of books on the craft. All of these things took me down the road to becoming a stronger writer.

Perhaps the most valuable advice I'd found was the simplest concept: word choice. The strength of a word determines the effect it will have on the reader. Sounds too basic to be of any use, doesn't it? But take a moment and consider the following:

Patty was swimming.

Not bad. You get an idea of what goes on in this passage. It's clear and it's effective. It's passable.

Now consider:

Patty took a deep lungful of air and dove under the water, kicking and clawing the water past her in an effort to get as far away as possible.

The same story. The same people. The same action. Definitely not the same impact.

What's different?


The verb "to be" is the king of all verbs. It's also the most overused, particularly when was is paired with an –ing word.

For instance: Patty was swimming.

When I first started writing, I didn't have any real sense of tense. I now know that my stories are best told in past tense—but back then, I wrote as the story unfolded in my mind and it came out in present tense, instead. I had barrels full of was + -ing words on every page.

I also had a complete manuscript that topped 115,000 words.

Ugh. That number scares agents away. And you know why? Because if the sample you include in your query isn't granite-solid writing—if it contains a single instance of was + -ing—that agent knows the entire manuscript is full of extra words.

Extra words make agents and editors go blind. It's easy for them to pass on a mammoth manuscript that is potentially full of extra words, and weak ones, at that.

Patty was swimming. The reader knows exactly what action in which Patty was engaged. But it's not the best way to convey it.

First of all, just give up on trying to get the reader to experience the story by using this crazy tense. Make it past tense and the reader will still be engaged.

Patty swam. Plain and simple. You just reduced your word count by 33.3% and every editor and agent on the planet just heaved a sigh of relief. The entire publishing industry thanks you.


Plain and simple is okay…but it's not rocking. You want unequivocal action. Choose a stronger verb.

Patty had been swimming with friends and, while she was far enough off shore (where most of her friends sat on the beach,) Paul swam out to talk to her in private. What did Patty do?

Patty tread water, careful not to kick Paul when he moved close enough to whisper to her.

Paul told her one of her so-called friends was actually a double agent who meant to kill her. He had a gun hidden in the picnic basket. Patty saw him wrap a long dark shape in his towel and swing it in it her direction. A tiny zing whizzed past her head and something plipped into the water next to her. She panicked.

Patty took a deep lungful of air and dove under the water, kicking and clawing the water past her in an effort to get as far away as possible.

That's a lot stronger than Patty swam. Same lady, same action, better impact.


These two small tips lend tremendous strength to writing and it's easy enough to apply them to your manuscript. Use your word processor to search for the word "was" and get to work on eliminating the unnecessary ones. Then scour each sentence for plain and simple verbs and replace them with words of flame and steel and all sorts of strong language. Your writing will be stronger, tighter, and more attractive. Your manuscript will lose many weak words. Agents will not be afraid to read your pages.

Take my mother's advice but with my twist on it. Use strong language whenever possible and remember: the "dirty words" are the weak ones. Avoid them and others will not avoid your writing.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts, forthcoming in early 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Publishing Pulse for December 23rd, 2011

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to our newest success stories, Joan Stradling and John Zeleznik!

Eleven agent profiles were updated this week, including those who are closing to queries for Christmas and New Year's. Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before querying. If you're a QueryTracker member and want to be notified whenever an agent or publisher is added or updates their profile, check out these instructions.

It's been a quiet week with publishing gearing down for Christmas and New Year's.

Publishing News:

Nielsen bookscan released their top 10 titles for 2011, both fiction and non-fiction. The top two fiction slots are taken by different editions of The Help. In non-fiction, you've got Heaven Is For Real, followed by the Steve Jobs biography, the combination of which probably says something clever about our culture (but in order to point it out, I'd have to be clever, so instead I'll just move along.)

Agent Rachelle Gardner is reportedly moving from Wordserve Literary Agency to Books And Such. We wish her luck in her new venture!

Around the Blogosphere:

As long as we're talking about her, Rachelle Gardner discusses rumors that B&N may not stock your book if your website links only to Amazon. 

If you're looking for the perfect drink for the holidays, how about Charles Dickens' Eggnog?

Annie Dillard on winter and wonder, and how the old world is new.

Literary Quote of the Week:
"Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures." Jessamyn West

Thanks for reading! A Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Joyous Kwanzaa to you all!


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Psychology Q&A: Dissociative Amnesia After a Trauma?

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological advice.

QUESTION: I am writing a novel in which I've given the main character Dissociative Amnesia. My understanding is that the condition usually develops after a stressful or traumatic event. My character has been abducted by her stalker of three years and held prisoner for several days. She is eventually shot and left for dead. She is rescued but it is discovered she has amnesia. I need the character to remember events in her past but only up to a certain age/point. My questions are:
  1. Is there a certain sequence or specific event that needs to take place in order for the condition to develop? 
  2. Is it possible for a victim of Dissociative Amnesia to lose three years worth of memory? More specifically, is it logical for my character to only remember events up to a certain age (let's say age 30), forgetting everything else beyond that (even the trauma), and believe she is age 30 when she's really age 35? 
  3. How would a doctor handle my character's condition?

ANSWER: I'll answer your questions one at a time below in more detail, but it sounds like what you actually need may not be dissociative amnesia but a dissociative fugue.

Dissociative amnesia is essentially amnesia for a particular event or set of events that are, as you note, traumatic in nature. It would be perfect if you just needed your MC to have amnesia for what happened when she is stabbed and flung from the van. A fugue is basically when someone has a dissociative split in identity, i.e. they develop amnesia for all events after a certain point (though they can make new memories) and travel away from home. During a fugue the person may (or may not) take on a new identity. When they eventually come out of the fugue (which can happen with help from therapy, or spontaneously) they may or may not remember what happened during the fugue. During a fugue, the person usually seems completely normal to others. They don't act bizarre.

1. Is there a certain sequence or specific event that needs to take place in order for the condition to develop?

Just because it may be helpful, let me quickly summarize the difference between dissociative amnesia and organic amnesia. There are 2 types of amnesia—psychological (dissociative, in which the mind is thought to split off a traumatic event to protect the psyche) and organic (physical, in which the brain is affected). A really good example of organic anterograde amnesia is in the movie Memento (or 50 First Dates). In both movies, the MC's hippocampus (the brain structure which makes new memories) is damaged beyond repair, and the character is unable to make new memories.

Then let's differentiate between dissociative amnesia and a dissociative fugue. They're essentially the same thing except that in a fugue the individual travels away from home (or wherever she normally is) and the amnesia can be more extensive. So let's say someone walks in on her partner in bed with someone else. Dissociative amnesia might be that she completely forgets walking in on them, but all other memories are the same; someone with a dissociative fugue will walk out the door, get in the car, and travel away, possibly while taking on a new identity. It seems that people with fugues are actually fleeing physically as well as psychologically from a traumatic event. Years ago actress Anne Heche went through a breakup (from Ellen DeGeneres) and went wandering in the desert claiming to be someone named Celestina. She later said she had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), but what she was actually describing was a fugue. If you want to do a little more movie research, The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis portrays a fugue.

For either amnesia or a fugue, there has to be an event traumatic enough that the mind decides to wall it off (dissociate it) so the individual doesn't have to deal with it.

2. Is it possible for a victim of Dissociative Amnesia to lose three years worth of memory? More specifically, is it logical for my character to only remember events up to a certain age (let's say age 30), forgetting everything else beyond that (even the trauma), and believe she is age 30 when she's really age 35?

It would be rare for either someone with amnesia OR a fugue to lose 3 years prior to the traumatic event, but you could pull it off better with a fugue. You could argue that the identity the character having the fugue is taking on is that of a younger self.

The hard part about pulling off a fugue for your character may be the travel—the person has to travel. Though I suppose she could travel away from where she is living as a 35-year-old and make her way back to a "safer time," ie when she was 30.

3. How would a doctor handle my character's condition?

Who brings the character into treatment? Theoretically, if she is dissociating, she is not going to realize she has a problem.

A doctor would probably screen for organic problems (such as concussion; damage to the hippocampus, frontal lobes, and temporal lobes) as well as for drug and alcohol use and abuse (prescription and nonprescription)—for things that could cause memory problems, in other words. If nobody can find any physical cause, the character would be referred to a psychologist.

The psychologist would probably be someone who specializes in trauma (e.g. PTSD) and/or dissociative disorders. Her goal would be to help your character come to terms with the trauma that triggered the fugue. She would probably encourage your character to remember what happened, though if she's a good therapist, she definitely wouldn't hypnotize her to remember. (Hypnosis just puts you into a natural dissociative state, and makes you more suggestible. As a result, it's super easy to influence people who are hypnotized and cause them to create false memories, which certainly would not be helpful—especially if your MC ever wanted to take her stalker to court.) There would also be work on helping your MC develop coping mechanisms besides dissociation. If your therapist was someone who used EMDR (a treatment some people find helpful for PTSD), she might also use EMDR.

The therapist would also use cognitive therapy, including dealing with irrational and upsetting thoughts by changing self talk; and behavioral therapy, probably including exposure therapy of some kind. To pull those things together, the therapist would have your MC talk, and listen for ways she might be unintentionally self-sabotaging (everybody does it to some extent) due to cognitive distortions (there's a list of the ones we usually listen for at PsychCentral). Then the therapist teaches the client to think more realistically. (She doesn't whitewash things, just helps the client stop blowing things out of proportion).

Exposure therapy involves exposing oneself to the things that are associated with the traumatic event while practicing new coping and relaxation skills. You can do imaginal exposure, where the client imagines going through things again, or you could even take her back to the place the trauma happened with the therapist.

EMDR is a treatment that combines cognitive and behavioral therapies with a particular pattern of eye movement. Some people swear by it, and some people will tell you it's garbage.

If you want more detailed information on portraying these therapies, including EMDR, I go into more detail in my book, The Writer's Guide to Psychology. I also talk more about why you don't want to hypnotize someone who has a dissociative condition, and talk more about the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists.

Finally, while there are no medications for dissociative disorders, if the character is struggling with depression or PTSD symptoms, there are medications for those things.

Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send an email using my QueryTracker email address to the right. (Please use Q&A in your Subject Line!).  

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+

Monday, December 19, 2011

Taking Time to Enjoy Life

Courtesy of Nossirom
It's that wonderful time of year again. The month that's stuffed full of celebrations and family togetherness. And like all times like this, crazy, hectic, busy.

And some of that frenetic energy can dribble into other aspects of our lives like writing. As a goal-driven Triple A-type personality, this means that I watch self-appointed deadlines whoosh by with tense muscles and fierce determination to somehow keep on top of everything.

But doing that defeats the purpose.

In order to be productive, certain goals need to be met--whether they're openly stated or not. And yet, sometimes it's all too easy to get caught up in the doing and checking off of little boxes that we lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. At least I do. Not only does this add to the other stresses, but it also drains my creativity well until there's nothing left but a little sand and a lot of rocks.

So this year, and the next, I'm going to work on enjoying life a little more. Writing is important. My book schedule is good because it keeps me going and gives me something to aim for--so long as I remember that it's just there to help me accomplish the tasks I set out to do. But when those goals become all I see--mostly because they're the balls that keep slipping away as I try to juggle everything--then I need to remember to take a step back and just breathe.

It's a proven fact that breathing helps you live longer, so I'm going to aim to do it a little more often.

Sometimes it's okay to turn off the Writing Boss glaring at you from behind a cluttered desk in a corner of your brain. Sometimes it's okay to ignore the empty word count bar and go on an outing with family and friends. Sometimes it's okay to watch a movie, read a book, have a conversation with a friend instead of getting the writing done.

It's all about balance. When the joy that comes from uncovering the threads of a story becomes work for an extended period of time, then it's probably a good idea to stop. Step back. And take stock of what's really going on.

I've found that even if I miss deadlines I've set for myself, if I'm balanced, I'm a lot more productive than when I force myself onward and upward too hard for too long.

So this next week, instead of chaining myself to the computer to stay on track, I'm going to slip out into a world filled with wonder and colorful lights. I'm going to enjoy the sound of laughter and joy, and watch the snow coat everything with white.

Because *not* sitting at a keyboard and writing doesn't mean you're not being productive. Sometimes stepping away from the goals and the writing means you're filling up your creative reservoir and giving yourself space to take off so you can really fly.

How do you know when it's time to take a step back and just enjoy what's going on in the here and now?

 Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Publishing Pulse for December 16, 2011

Query Tracker Contest

Get your pitches ready… Agent Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency will be judging our next contest, which opens January 30, 2012. She'll look at the first hundred words and a one-sentence logline for children's lit, romance, and upmarket women's fiction manuscripts. Find details about specific genres as well as the contest guidelines here and get to work on your perfecting your pitch.

Unsure how to write that killer logline? We can help.

Around the Internet

Agent Natalie also offers advice on how to survive waiting. (Turns out agents play the waiting game, too!) Perhaps you'll find something there to inspire you through the end-of-year publishing "slowdown".

Discouraged that the overall querying process (or the submission process or the editorial process) is taking forever? Kameron Hurley of The Night Bazaar discusses 10 things she learned about the publishing biz the year her first novel was published. It offers a little perspective on the long, long road to publication.

Chuck Sambuchino stopped by Rachelle Gardner's blog to talk about the truth about book publicity--and it involves a lot of hit-and-miss.

Even if you didn't participate in this year's NaNoWriMo event, you'll find some valuable tips about revising your new manuscript on their site.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Chick website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde, forthcoming in March 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Killer Loglines


Whether you write short stories, novellas, novels, or screenplays, loglines are an important part of the process. If someone asks you what your story is about, you aren’t reduced to the incoherent word ‘um’. Or better yet, you won’t ramble on, leaving the poor listener wishing he hadn’t asked.

If you attend a conference and have the chance to say ‘hi’ to an agent or editor (or if you’ve signed up for a pitch session), you have a quick way to let them know about your book. If the individual is interested, she might ask to see your manuscript (or portion of it). Many blog contests require a logline (psst, look at the side bar for an upcoming contest). 

When you write a logline, you want to keep the following questions in mind:

1.      What genre is the book? If your logline is for a children’s book, the protagonist’s age will indicate this. It isn’t necessary though, as you will see in the following example.
2.      Who is the main character?
3.      What makes her unique?
4.      What is the inciting incident?
5.      What is your main character’s goal?
6.      What is the major conflict your character will face? Unlike in the query, you only have room for one conflict in the logline.
7.      What is the consequence if the main character fails?
This sounds like a lot to get into a single sentence, but it isn’t. At least it isn’t after you rework your logline. 


The Hunger Games (The following is from the logline created for the upcoming movie.)

1.      What genre is the book? Young adult dystopian
2.      Who is the main character? Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen
3.      What makes her unique? She is willing to sacrifice her life to save her young sister, who is selected to participate in The Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place.
4.      What is the inciting incident? Katniss’s young sister is selected by the Capital to fight to the death on live television. (Even the contestants on Survivor had it easier than this.)
5.      What is your main character’s goal? To survive the fight to death on the reality TV show.
6.      What is the major conflict your character will face? Katniss isn’t the only contestant who wants to win. Only one contestant gets to live.
7.      What is the consequence if the main character fails? Katniss dies. It goes further than that, but this is enough for the logline.

Now rewrite the information into one sentence:

Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match.

Do you notice something else about the logline? It hints at the emotion of the story. This is live television, where the audience gets to watch their loved ones or friends die. And what if the boy and girl from the district are friends or are in love? That ups the stakes and the emotional conflict of the story. You don’t know which is true from reading the logline, though you might be compelled to read the book (or see the movie) to see what happens.

Additional Tips

  • If you’re participating in a contest, check the rules. Some allow for longer loglines. This could be two or three sentences instead of just one. Make sure you follow the rules or else your entry will be disqualified.
  • At a conference, you might have a ten-minute pitch session scheduled. If the pitch is brief, it gives the agent or editor a chance to ask YOU questions. An engaged agent or editor is more likely to request material. A bored agent or editor is more likely to pass.
  • Try out the logline on people who have read the book and those who haven’t. This way you can make sure the important parts of the book are included and that it makes sense to everyone.
  • Avoid writing long, convoluted sentences. Too often writers try to squeeze in as much information as possible while abusing punctuation. The sentence is confusing and doesn’t compel the agent or editor to want to read the book. Worse yet, the agent or editor might believe this is the typical sentence structure in your novel.
  • If you struggle answering the above questions, it might not be the logline that is the issue. It might be your book.

Here are three more loglines from current or upcoming movies for you to analyze. The more you analyze, the easier it will be to create one for your story.

Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.

The Descendants
A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.

For more movie loglines, check out The Internet Movie Database.

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.