Prose that sings…or just confuses?

“Like silent mariners, the clouds skittered by, their jejune iconoclasm contrasting with the blue sky’s sterile composure, making Khendra sigh with longing and a deeply felt miasma of melancholy.”

Man, that’s beautiful writing, isn’t it?

Well, maybe it’s a beautiful series of syllables, but it’s not really good writing. It’s unclear. Except for the beginning of the sentence — Like silent mariners, the clouds skittered by — the images it conveys are vague, set within confusing language that takes the reader out of an emotion the writer might want to convey. It makes the reader stumble.  Continue reading

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Testimonial from bestselling author Day Leclaire

“I highly recommend Libby Sternberg’s editorial services. I’ve worked with more than a dozen different editors over my twenty-six year publishing career in romantic fiction, and Libby is one of the best I’ve used. Some editors try and put their own stamp on you or change your writing style. Libby’s edits are detailed and hit all the important elements without taking away from my own voice or the story I was trying to tell. It added to the quality of the work and caught issues I’d overlooked. She is also fast, accurate, and is
willing to give a thorough explanation of anything you don’t understand.”  — Day Leclaire, USA TODAY bestselling author of sixty-plus novels and eleven-time RITA nominee.

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YA Writers: Learn new rules for teen drivers

I received my driver’s license mumble-mumble years ago in Maryland, back in the day when teen driving regulations were pretty light–no restrictions on number and age of passengers or driving at night.

Since that time, however, many states have adopted “graduated license” regulations that place specific limitations on drivers under the age of 18, who are driving on “learner’s permits” or “provisional licenses.” For example, in Pennsylvania, the state where I now reside, this relatively new restriction exists:

As of Dec. 27, 2011, for the first six months after receiving their junior  driver’s license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger  under age 18 who is not an immediate family member (brother, sister,
stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted or foster children  living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If they have not been convicted  of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash after six months, they may have up to three passengers under age 18 who  are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. If  they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash while a junior driver, they are once again restricted to one passenger.

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Historical novelists: The Perils of Writing about the Near Past

You’ve set your story in the near past, a time period with which you are familiar because you grew up in those decades or had relatives who lived through them. Research should be a breeze, right? After all, how hard can it be to get the time period of your own life right? You have memories. And you have internet research at your fingertips, a wealth of information just awaiting your mouse click.

But, beware. The near past as a story setting is a minefield. Step out of line, and verisimilitude explodes, throwing the reader out of your narrative.

You’d think that writing about the near past would be easier, though, than setting tales in faraway times. Easy-to-access research and memory both provide ample material for the meticulous writer of near-past stories. But there’s the rub. Almost too  much is available on the near past, making it difficult for the careful writer to find small details that make a story resonate with truth. And sometimes, we make assumptions about certain aspects of life in the near past that turn out not to be true, had we bothered to look them up.  Continue reading

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When your heroes or heroines sit on a public board

Politics is usually a subject most romance writers avoid, for good reason. Their main story focus is on the hero and heroine’s relationship, and political topics can be a turnoff to the reading audience, pushing away the agreeable glow that comes with romance stories and inserting disagreement instead.FreeSpeech

Nonetheless, many stories do contain peripheral mentions of political happenings–not big campaigns on the national level or partisan references, but, rather, the ordinary goings-on of municipal life. School board meetings, town meetings, town council meetings — any public board, appointed or elected, can be included in a story, sometimes with a subplot hanging on the outcome of such meetings.

For writers including these events in their stories, here’s a tip: Don’t assume these meetings can be run like an informal get-together. Rules govern them. Some in your reading audience are sure to know them, maybe from experience. Be careful not to fall into the Gilmore Girls trap. That sweet and funny TV series regularly featured town meeting scenes (find some on YouTube), and they were often freewheeling, quirky and odd with an ad hoc nature to them. While freewheeling, quirky and odd can be used to describe many municipal meetings, some basic guidelines apply to them, and you should familiarize yourself with these rules before including public meetings in your story, especially if a plot point hinges on a public board’s decision. Here are a few things to keep in mind:  Continue reading

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Two Tips for Historical Novelists

I enjoy an absorbing historical novel just as much as any fan of the genre. But there are a few things some historical novelists stumble over, so I’m putting on my copy editing hat to offer a few tips. And by “few,” I mean only…two. 🙂 But they’re two big stumbles that can take readers out of your story:

1. When writing the historical novel, never assume that the way the world is now is the way it was back then: This seems like an obvious rule — after all, even the laziest researcher knows, for example, folks didn’t drive cars in the 17th century. But I’m not talking about that kind of glaring difference.

I’m talking about things such as having your character order a cocktail in a Mississippi town after Prohibition was repealed, not bothering to check if it was still a “dry” state. Some states remained dry, due to state laws, for years after Prohibition was repealed. Ensuring plot verisimilitude means digging a little deeper, beyond obvious historical milestones. Continue reading

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Are Summer Writing Programs Worth the Money?

So, this happened: I came across a promotion for a summer writing program at a prestigious college. Curious, I clicked through to see who would be there, what they were offering, and what the fee was. Several literary authors are on the bill, with promises of panel discussions with agents and editors. I recognized some of the authors’ names, but lately I’ve not been reading a lot of what passes for Lit-RAH-chure these days, so most of them were only vaguely familiar. I’m not judging them by my lack of awareness, though. But…

bookbannerParticipants have to shell out, oh, around $3,000 for this ten-day program. And they’re not guaranteed a slot. They have to submit writing samples first, to see if they’re worthy, I guess. And, in the FAQ section of the website, you learn: Participants stay in dorm rooms. Un-air-conditioned dorm rooms. Rooms do not have private baths. Baths are in the hallways. The dorms do not have elevators. There’s no parking. Breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner, you’re on your own.  Continue reading

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