Announcing the Digital Public Library of America!

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Readers, educators, librarians and publishers have been debating the future of libraries in the digital world since the explosion of the new technologies of the past few years. As usual, the nattering nabobs of negativity have predicted the demise of libraries as they wrongly predicted the death of the book two decades ago. The future is here today.

Over a year ago, a group of professors, librarians and futurists got together to kick around the idea of building a digital library that would allow users to browse books, images, records and sounds. They set a target opening date of April 2013, and amazingly, despite the many challenges that face such an endeavor, the Digital Public Library of America opened it’s “doors” right on time.

Having access to such prestigious and voluminous collections as the Harvard Library, the Boston, San Francisco and Chicago public libraries as well as publishers and other resources, this first of its kind library is available to anyone regardless of their geographic location. Besides marvelous content the library provides interesting and rich exhibitions for users to explore.

The best way to describe the library is it is like Wikipedia on steroids.

Jonathan Gray posted on the Open Knowledge Foundation Blog, What we hope the Digital Public Library of America will become,“Happily, we’ve already heard that the DPLA is releasing all of this data about cultural works that they will be collecting using the CC0 legal tool – meaning that anyone can use, share or build on this information without restriction. We hope they continue to proactively encourage institutions to explicitly open up metadata about their works, and to release this as machine-readable raw data.”

Challenges and questions remain to be addressed, but the formation of this new digital library is an exciting breakthrough in the world of books, content and idea sharing. Visit the library and keep coming back.


5 dangerous errors for fiction writers

Scribller2If you want to get published and more importantly, read, there are certain things in a manuscript or book that will turn off a publisher or reader. A must-read for any fiction writer is Stephen King’s On Writing. Whether you are a fan of his or not, his advice is spot on and the book is a Bible for me and most writers. I and other speakers on writing always advise writers to be careful about making the mistakes that reveal a writer’s lack of knowledge about the craft. 

I recently read a great article on the Scribendi website that identifies 5 habits to avoid in your writing. The things they identify are those which I and other publishers zero in on when considering manuscript submissions. If we see violations of these the manuscript usually ends up on the kill pile. Pay attention to these factors in your writing and you will have a stronger, tighter and better paced manuscript which will have a higher potential for being published and appreciated. Here is the Scribendi article:

1. Generic verbs and nouns

Imagine trying to paint everything in the world using only four colors. The results would probably look pretty generic. When you are a writer, yourlanguage is your medium. People, places, and things (i.e., nouns) have names, and it’s your job to know what they are. Precise nouns work wonders in fiction writing because nouns have connotations or meanings that go beyond their dictionary definitions. If one character gives another character flowers, tell readers what kind of flowers. Are they tulips or columbines or snapdragons or peonies? This information could hint at what time of year it is (tulips are pretty scarce in September) and could also tell us something about the character who gives the flowers. Four dozen roses are expensive—does this person have money or like to show off? A bouquet of wildflowers might have come from the character’s backyard—perhaps this person likes to garden.  

A similar thought process should be applied to the selection of verbs. There are at least 12 synonyms for the verb to laugh, and each one evokes a specific image. A character could express amusement by cackling, chortling, chuckling, giggling, guffawing, snickering, sniggering, tittering, crowing, whooping, simpering, or smirking. Precise verbs contribute greatly to characterization. If a man walks into a room, all readers know is that he has entered. He could be anybody. But if he limps in, right away readers want to know if he is old or injured or tired. If he gallops in, readers know he is energetic or excited about some piece of news. If he swaggers, readers wonder if he is full of himself or perhaps just drunk.

2. The exception: He said, she said

Reading good dialogue makes readers feel like they’re actually listening in on a real conversation. Because of this, it can be very disruptive if the author keeps butting in to tell readers that the speaker intoned or declared or asserted or retorted. It could seem that using “said” repeatedly in dialogue tags is repetitive, but in fact the little word is so inconspicuous, it just fades into the background—which is exactly what we want when we’re trying to listen in on a good conversation. The rare deviation is fine (asked, in particular, seems to be okay once in a while), but if you find yourself using a colorful synonym for every dialogue tag in your manuscript or screenplay, you may be doing more harm than good.

3. Adjective/Adverb-a-rhea

Sometimes a well-placed and specific adverb or adjective strengthens or clarifies an image. However, many writers, in a misguided attempt to make their fiction writing descriptive, overuse these words. If you master the use of precise nouns and verbs (see tip number one), you’ll almost certainly avoid the bad habit of propping up a weak verb or noun with a host of intrusive modifiers, as in the following example:

Carrying a steaming and fragrant mug, she walked angrily and loudly into his office.

Why write that, when you could have simply said:

Carrying her peppermint tea, she stormed into his office.

The second sentence actually gives us more information using fewer words.

Furthermore, when editing your manuscript, be especially wary of adjectives that don’t actually convey much…

interesting, lovely, exciting, beautiful

…and adverbs that introduce redundancy…

stereo blared loudly (blared implies high volume)

scrubbed vigorously (scrubbed implies intensity)

…or contradict the meaning of the verb or adjective they modify.

slightly pregnant (with pregnancy, you either are or aren’t!)

very unique (something is either unique or not unique)

4. Inconsistent point of view

An author of fiction must choose the perspective, or point of view, from which a story will be told. In first-person narration, one charactertells the story in his or her own voice (using “I”). Third-person narration can be either limited (an objective narrator tells the story by focusing on a particular character’s thoughts and interactions) or omniscient (the narrator sees and hears all). No single point of view is better than another, but once you have made a choice, be consistent. If your story is told in first-person, then remember that the narrator must be present in every scene he describes to the reader; otherwise, how would he have the information? If a limited third-person narrator who hears only Tom’s thoughts tells the story for the first four chapters, the reader should not suddenly be privy to the mailman’s daydreams in chapter five.

Of course, there are some fine examples of novels that experiment with point of view by switching between narrators. But even in these stories, some kind of predictable pattern is imposed for clarity, such as a change in narrator from one chapter to the next but not within a chapter.

5. Unnaturally expositional, stilted, or irrelevant dialogue

Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound like the way people actually talk (without all the ums and ahs and boring digressions, of course)? Do the characters rattle off factual information you are trying to jam into the story? Are they talking about the weather? Because if they’re talking about the weather, you’d better have a good reason for it. Otherwise, the reader will feel bored, and a bored reader closes his or her book and turns on the TV.

All this advice is important, but by far the worst habit a fiction writer can develop is the habit of giving up too easily. Keep writing every day.

Their final advice is the same I offer to all hopeful writers. I use Richard Bach’s quote: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

This article used by the gracious permission of Scribendi and can be found at their website. Scribendi is a professional editing company that offers a variety of editing and proofreading services.

“I Killed an Adverb and I Liked it” — Great post from author Hope Collier

An experienced writer knows to limit the use of adverbs. It’s hard to avoid them, but your writing can be so much stronger if you do. Author Hope Collier (The Willows: Haven Soul Fire Press 2012) recently posted the following on
I Killed an Adverb and I Liked It—Hope Collier

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing.

Any seasoned writer has heard this phrase at least once in their life, yet it seems to miss the mark with many. I’m on the fence about them. Too often, writers tend to lean on adverbs like a crutch, using them as an excuse for lazy writing.

For example, “The book hit the floor loudly,” is a sorry excuse of a sentence.

But what if that’s what I’m trying to say? one asks.
Then say it better! If you want the reader to know the land is noisy, show them.

For example, “The book clattered to the floor.” Better, right? Or this, “Pages fluttered against the wind before the book met the tile with an echoing crack.” There are an infinite number of ways to improve the original sentence. It merely takes some effort! I assure you, it’s worth the trouble. Once you learn to identify lazy writing, you soon begin avoiding it altogether.

Things to Watch:

Repetitive Adverbs: These would fall under the ‘duh’ category. Confession: I do this all the time, and I want to smack myself for it.

For example, “Megan smiled happily.” Well, yeah. How do most people smile, painfully? I realize one can smile and it be in sarcasm or even sadness. Most of the time, however, smiles are a result of joy, so smiling happily is redundant.

A few more examples would include, “Mindy bounced up and down excitedly,” or “Todd paced back and forth anxiously.” Again, there are times you’ll need to clarify these actions to say more than the obvious, but it’s rare.

Intensifiers: These are words which, you guessed it, intensify! Extremely, very, truly, honestly, massively, etc are all intensifiers. According to Grammar Girl, you should avoid these at all costs *except* in dialog … if your characters are surfers. I truly ::wink wink:: love intensifiers, especially in YA. With teens, everything is bigger, stronger, and more intense. In my opinion, I find they work for me — sparingly, of course — because most of my characters are teens. I wouldn’t recommend intensifiers if you’re trying to be professional or in any way serious.

Dialog Diatribe: This is one of the areas my editor calls me out every time. On occasion, I’m justified in using a particular adverb. These typically involve fast-moving scenes or places where there’s already a lot going on, and I don’t want to weigh it down. More often than not, adverbs attached to a dialog tag are a result of either unclear or lazy writing. Most of the time, the sentence should speak for itself. When you need more oomph, you add action. If all else fails, then and only then, you may use an adverb. But keep in mind, if you can read the dialog, and it’s just as strong without the adverb, leave it out.

7 Must-Do Tips to Publish Your Book

If you thought writing your book was tough, wait until you try to get published!

The truth is publishers and agents are very risk averse. They get hundreds of submissions, and their first priority is to look for reasons to reject a manuscript .  They have plenty to choose from, so as soon as they can find anything to bounce your ms. off their desk and into the hopper they will reject it.  You may get a form rejection letter from them , or, more likely, you will never hear from them at all.  And, more it may very well have had nothing to do with your writing ability.

It could be as simple as you didn’t use the standard 12 pt. font (either Times New Roman or Courier),  or you didn’t follow their submission guidelines, or they read a couple of pages and you had made first-time author boo-boos.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get published, but having been a publisher, editor and writer myself for over 40 years,

Read More»

Blah, Blah, Blah… Does your writing have too much dialogue? How to fix too much talk.

Many new writers have too much exposition in their writing and not enough dialogue. Some get caught up in their characters and have too much talking going back and forth without a break. Too much of either can become annoying and boring to the reader.

Take another look at your manuscript and see if you have too much of either. If it is too much dialogue, there are many helpful articles that address that issue.

Also, while you’re at it, check your dialogue tags.  A dialogue tag is a clause of two words or more which attributes speech to a particular speaker.
“I’m going crazy,” Jim said.
Jim said is the dialogue tag in this sentence.
Despite what we learned in high school English, you don’t want to fancy-up your dialogue tags. Nothing says “amateur writer” like a flowery dialogue tag. Stephen King spends a lot of time talking about this in his book, On Writing. The general rule is keep dialogue tags to he/she said.  Don’t write:
“I’m going crazy,” Jim expostulated with hands flailing.
But, this is a topic for another post.
Remember: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit,” Richard Bach said.
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