Thursday, August 30, 2012

I No Longer Fear Passive Voice

I cannot count the number of times I have read not to use passive voice in writing. Or how often I have searched for ways to spot it in my own writing. While editing this summer I found myself constantly battling with it. So, of course I went searching for a better way to find it. Up until now my method has been simple. 

I have a list of words to search for as I edit: am, are, been, being, decided, felt, had, has, have, heard, is, knew, looked, noticed, realized, saw, thought, was, watched, were, wondered

Yet, no matter how hard I try to fix those pesky sentences they still sneak past me. When I get back critiques inevitably I will find "passive voice" marked somewhere on the document.

If you are like me you need a back up plan. Luckily, I learned a trick this summer and I'm going to share it with you because I believe in sharing the wealth of knowledge. Unfortunately I only know a trick for MS Word, since I do not own a Mac.
  1. With your manuscript, or chapter, open in MS Word open your spelling and grammar check.
  2. When the spelling and grammar check window opens click on the options button.
  3. A new window will appear. One that will allow you to change your preferences. 
  4. In this new window locate the settings button and click it. Yet another window will pop up, but this is the one which works the magic. 
  5. Scroll down to the heading Style. There you will find a myriad of choices to choose from. One of those choices is passive sentences. Click it! (I added several others as well.)
  6. Click Okay and the window closes, leaving the Options window open. 
  7. Click Okay again to get back to the spelling and grammar check window. 
  8. Start searching your document for passive voice! 
I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me to fight the evil of passive voice.

If you know how to do this for Mac, please add it in the comments.

~ Heather

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Blood Fugue, Moonsongs Book 1 by E.J. Wesley Cover Reveal Party
Author E.J. Wesley is throwing a blog party to celebrate the release of his new book cover and wants you to join in the fun. Jump over to his blog to learn about how you can win some awesome prizes, including $50 toward a cover of your own and advance reader copies of Blood Fugue.

Cover work by Sketcher Girl, LLC -

What's the Story About? 

Some folks treated the past like an old friend. The memories warmed them with fondness for what was, and hope for what was to come. Not me. When I thought of long ago, my insides curdled, and I was left feeling sour and wasted.”

Jenny Schmidt is a young woman with old heartaches. A small town Texas girl with big city attitude, she just doesn’t fit in. Not that she has ever tried. She wears loneliness like a comfy sweatshirt. By the age of twenty-one, she was the last living member of her immediate family. Or so she thought…

“We found my ‘grandfather’ sitting at his dining room table. An entire scorched pot of coffee dangled from his shaky hand. His skin was the ashen gray shade of thunderclouds, not the rich mocha from the photo I’d seen. There were dark blue circles under each swollen red eye. A halo of white hair skirted his bald head, a crown of tangles and mats. Corpses had more life in them.”

Suddenly, instead of burying her history with the dead, Jenny is forced to confront the past. Armed only with an ancient family journal, her rifle, and an Apache tomahawk, she must save her grandfather’s life and embrace her dangerous heritage. Or be devoured by it.

BLOOD FUGUE by E.J. Wesley, is the first of the MOONSONGS books, a series of paranormal-action novelettes. At fewer than 13k words, BLOOD FUGUE is the perfect snack for adventurous readers who aren’t afraid of stories with bite. Available wherever fine eBooks are sold September 2012. 

Join the Party!

The Open Vein, E.J.'s blog -

E.J. Wesley on the Twitter -

Monday, August 27, 2012

Active Hope

After the first (or fiftieth) rejection, hope is no longer a four letter word.

After your critique group hints that you should start your 400 page novel from scratch, after your betas wonder what the story is really about and after each of those form rejection letters push you into a corner, that kernel of hope that persists becomes something more. Hope is the rope we hang onto, our safety net, our life jacket when we’re in a storm out at sea. It is a good thing to hope, to not get desperate, to not let others tell us whether we’re writers or not. But most times our hope is a waiting hope. It is a passive hope where we’re waiting for the right agent or editor or the right critique partner to tell us our work is perfect and brilliant. It’s a fantastical hope where we want to hear that our work is ready to be published with nothing but a few copyedit tweaks. But that kind of hope (and I’ve a feeling all writers have been there at some point) can’t propel us forward on our road to becoming better writers and getting published.  What we need is an active hope that is built out of not just self-belief and inspiring words but also plain hard work and the un-tiring ability to return to our draft and revise. To give ourselves a chance, we need to hope actively. So,   

1.       Face the truth: Read your critiques with an open mind. Don’t judge your work too harshly. Understand what critique comments are really trying to tell you. Move past the stages of denial and anger quickly so that you get to acceptance. So that you can…

2.       Act on it: Once you’ve accepted the realities –how well you’ve written some scenes and how you need to fix many more– put your hope to good use. Hope can be used to grow self-resilience. It helps us in continuing to believe in ourselves. It can help us get up in the morning or stay up late after a long day and re-imagine the possibilities of our stories.  

3.       Keep moving: I usually get stuck at this point. I agree that I need to make some changes. I’m ready to put in the work. I don’t feel like giving up. But what if there’s one agent or editor who I’ve not yet queried who could love my story. After all, there’s no rush while I’m waiting. I might as well take my time….No! If your manuscript needs more revising now is the time to do it. Another editor or agent may love your original work but revising never hurt. It only helps to make us better writers.

 Do you agree? Do you think active hoping is more difficult and more rewarding than passive hope?

Thursday, August 23, 2012


If you guys are anything like me, you have other commitments besides writing – family, friends, jobs, chores, and life in general. Organizing my time is always difficult and it seems that something ends up losing my attention. There are a lot of tools online to help you get organized, and one of my favorites is Google Reader. Google Reader lets you organize all of your blogs in one location, making them easier to manage and view. It has helped me tremendously with flipping through blog post titles so I can decide what to read and what to delete without having to visit each blog individually. Blog posts are updated regularly so when your blog site puts up a new post, it shows up in your reader queue.

For anyone who is interested, here is the link:

Feel free to comment on your favorite time saver!

Kimmy :)

TRIANGLES, Kimberly Ann Miller, Spencer Hill Press, June 2013

Monday, August 20, 2012

Weaving Plot and Theme

I recently heard famous Hollywood producer, John Landau say that today's filmmakers should be more concerned with theme than they are with plot. He went on to say that theme is what brings an audience in and makes people want to see a movie. This made me think about how writers tackle plot and theme.

So what is the distinction between plot and theme? Plot is what happens to a character, the obstacles and intricacies that keep a reader interested. Theme however is more like a mission statement or a message that the writer wants to convey. Lots of writers don't like the word message when talking about their writing. Writers don't (and shouldn't) preach and a reader doesn't want to be preached to (I'm sure there are plenty of other places to go for that sort of thing). However, for a story to be satisfying to the reader, a character's journey must mean something.

As writers we often fall in love with a character or a plot idea first and don't really consider the deeper undercurrents of our story until we get to that yucky middle part of our novels where we hit and wall and ask ourselves, "What the heck is this all about? And what do I do next?" I've been at that wall many a time and it has driven me to despair, usually resulting in a huge carb binge and stuffing the manuscript in the drawer, never to be seen again. A way I've come to avoid hitting this wall is to do some preliminary journaling or just plain thinking about my character, the plot and what the heck I'm trying to say with my story. I also ask myself two questions: WHAT DOES MY CHARACTER WANT? and WHAT DOES MY CHARACTER REALLY WANT?

On the surface, these questions may appear to be the same, but let's look at an example from my soon-to-be released YA, Devil's Triangle.

Here's the premise (the short version): 17 year old Cooper gets another chance at life when Lucinda, the Devil's sister, sends him back to earth to find Grace, a girl he has known in another life.

So what does Cooper want? Cooper wants to find Grace, figure out what Lucinda has up her sleeve, and avoid Hell. This is essentially the plot.

But what does Cooper REALLY want? Well, if I had Cooper lie down on my therapist's couch, he would reveal to me that what he really wants is to feel worth-while. That, in his previous life as a juvenile delinquent, he realizes he did wrong and that this new life is a way to finally get it right. So the theme of my book, if I had to summarize it in a word is REDEMPTION. Now redemption or forgiving ourselves for screwing up is something we've all dealt with so when a reader reads Cooper's story, they will see a bit of themselves.

So that's the difference between Plot and Theme in a nutshell. What do you think about this topic? Are you conscious of the distinction when you write your stories?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Second Guessing

I guess today's post is appropriate after Monday's post on The Art of Failing. Nearing the stage where I know my manuscript is almost ready for querying I decided to get that dreaded query letter written, and was ready to give up writing. I smiled on Monday when I read Archana's post. It resonated with me and what I was going through.

I've written a manuscript that I feel is tight. There's tension, the voice is there, the characters are living and breathing, but I couldn't write a query letter, or synopsis to save my life. I sat at the computer typing words only to delete them. This continued for quite some time. I felt like pulling my hair out and screaming. I consulted my outline for help. Nothing. I couldn't come up with a single thing to write in my query that sounded remotely good.

At a loss I finally forced myself to write what I thought was a start. That's just what it was, a start. I promptly took to my critique partners for help. They are the reason I believe every writer should have a trusted group of writers to turn to. They turned right around and started giving me advice, asking questions, and in one case *cough, cough, Kimberly* could not make sense of it.

I laughed when I read Kimberly's response and thought, yup - it stinks. Several emails later I began to wonder why I was even bothering writing a query. I mean, if I can't even write a query based on the manuscript I wrote, what is the point of writing? Obviously if I can't make heads or tails of it, it must not be that great.

I thought, very briefly, of giving up. I almost hung up my hat at becoming a published author. But, when I got the email from Kimberly saying that my synopsis was finally tons better, I changed my mind, again. It just took time, lots of hair pulling, and annoying my poor CPs.

Eventually I did get a better query after pinning down that synopsis, but it still needed work. Kimberly suggested I take it to the QueryTracker forums. So I did. The responses were great and really helped. Yet, they will never compare to what I got from my lovely CPs. Lots of questions, honesty, and encouragement.

In the end I didn't give up. I wanted to for a moment, but I kept pushing through, forcing myself to face those fears of failure. After all, what do I have to lose? Nothing. In the end I gained something: I learned a lot about synopsis and query writing, and I learned a great deal about the art of failing quickly and multiple times before finding that shiny query letter.

Now I have to face an entirely different type of failing - rejections. They are inevitable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Art of Failing

Years ago I’d watched J.K. Rowling give the 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, which talked about how failure had ensured her success. We are familiar with Rowling’s story. She was jobless, a single parent and poor. She had hit rock bottom and now that she had failed at everything else in life there was nothing else to lose. She could finish Harry Potter.

 I was just starting on my professional career –the one I went to school for, the one that would help pay off my student loans and settle my bills when I saw the video. I didn’t have the luxury of failure. Plus, I didn’t like the feel of failing. It pulled you down, forced you to introspect, retrospect and all in all, slow you on your journey. So I did everything possible to make sure I didn’t fail. For example, when I started writing my very first manuscript if a chapter became too hard to write I’d stop. I’d wait for months before I felt I could tackle the scene the way I wanted to. At other times, I wondered whether my scenes measured up but my fear of failure made me decide not to join a critique group. What if they said my story and all my efforts were a complete waste of time? No, no, best not to be labeled a failure.

 I shelved my first manuscript, my second, my third and so it went on for years. I didn’t want to send out a manuscript that would fail. It was now five years since I’d started thinking of myself as a writer. I hadn’t tried to get published. I hadn’t tried to ask what other writers thought of my writing and story. I had, in my efforts to avoid failure, strangely enough started to feel like one. I didn’t have results; I didn’t even know if I had learned anything over the years I’d been writing. Was I today a better writer than all those years earlier? How had it turned out that after trying so hard to not feel like a failure I felt like one? Had I been so cautious that I’d become a failure by default?

 So here’s something, which wiser people than I, have figured out. There is failure at every corner. It is unavoidable. Everybody fails. The question is how do you fail. There is a certain art to failing, which can help to make failure less painful.

1.       Fail quickly: Write your first draft. Don’t try to make it perfect. Don’t revise too much. Don’t waste too much time being hard on yourself. Join a critique group. Connect with a couple of betas. Listen to what your betas and writing partners have to say. In short, allow yourself the luxury to fail. It’s okay if they tear it apart; it’s okay if they don’t like 99% of it. Know quickly that you’ve failed at that attempt. Make sure you shelve that first manuscript quickly or begin a re-write quickly. When you fall off a bike, the advice is to get back on it as quickly as you can. Same with your writing.

2.       Be ready to fail again: Prepare yourself to fail many times. You are going to be disappointed, your work is going to be rejected, you may wonder if people doubt that you are going to make it as a serious writer. That is okay. It is okay to feel like a failure. It is okay as long as you keep trying to get better at what you are doing. Don’t let failure bog you down. Don’t avoid it. Don’t be afraid it. Don’t live life so cautiously that you become a failure by default. Use it. Use failure as a beginning to move forward, to start fresh, every single time.

3.       Recognize success: Mastering the art of failure couldn’t be complete without a final component. You must learn to recognize when you have succeeded. After constant failures, you are in a perpetual state of improvement –revisions, re-writes, becoming better at your craft. You want to make your work better and better. But at some point you’ve got to pause and take count. Maybe you’ve written that manuscript that’s ready to be queried. Maybe you’ve got a character that people want to go on a journey with. Now that your critique group is telling you that you are on your way, and agents at conferences want to read beyond your first page, maybe it is time, at last, to climb all your rungs of failure to querying and publication.

What do you think of failure? Have you figured out the art of failing? What has worked for you?

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I’ve had luck with entering writing contests. It’s a great opportunity to get your work in front of agents and editors. My favorite contests are the ones that either offer requests for your manuscript or critiques of your manuscript. Finding a contest that fits your genre is easy, especially if you hang out on a writer’s forum like or follow a lot of blogs. Here are a few tips for getting ahead in contests:

*Follow the guidelines! You would be surprised at how many people fail to follow the rules.
*Make sure your genre is included in the contest you are entering (again, follow the guidelines).
*Perfect your entry before the contest. Get your work in front of other writers for advice and help to make your work shine.
*Be kind to others. If you’ve entered the type of contest that requires you to comment on other entries, be honest but nice. If the entry is bad, think of a way to offer advice to improve it without tearing the work up.
*Follow up. If you get a request/win, make sure to send what is requested.
*Most of all, have fun!

That’s it! Happy contesting!

Kimmy :) 

TRIANGLES, Kimberly Ann Miller, Spencer Hill Press, June 2013

Monday, August 6, 2012

Authors and Books that Take you Places!

Margie Gelbwasser is the author of the YA novel Pieces of Us published by Flux. Welcome Margie! We here at TheWritersbytheshore blog believe in BIC (butt in chair), but we also think that writing (and life) should take us and our readers to fun destinations. So here we go...
Tell us a little about your book. Will we need our passports?

PIECES OF US is about four teens and the secrets each of them faces. Every summer, they escape their turbulent lives and their hometowns of Cherry Hill, NJ and Philadelphia, PA, and travel to the Catskills in Upstate, NY. So, while the trip may be a bit long, it's fairly local so no passports needed

Wow! Sounds great. So, if I was going to have dinner with your main character, what exotic locale would we be dining at?
Since POU deals with four main characters, I'm going to share four locales.
If you were to dine with Katie, she would love to go anywhere with noise and people--a place where the commotion could clear her head and distract her from her thoughts. She would love dining anywhere in New York City, especially at night when it's aglow and alive.
Her sister, Julie, is pretty simple. All she wants is to eat food her mother prohibits, like fries and burgers and shakes. If you could sneak away to a McDs on the outskirts of town, she'd love you for life.

Then we have our boy main characters, brothers Kyle and Alex. They live Philly, and Kyle loves ethnic food, especially Mexican. He'd love to dine at some authentic Mexican hotspot with cultural music and food. The fact that his brother Alex would not set foot in such a place, would make it all the sweeter.

Finally, we have Alex. Foodwise, it's not hard to please him. He doesn't go for the exotic--not even a little. Give him a few slices of pizza, and he's golden. He does have a favorite pizza place, though. It's in Philly, and is called Lorenzo's.
Who is the character you would vote as "Most likely not to make it through customs" and why?
This would be Alex, hands down. Not so much for what he may be carrying, but because his mouth might get him into trouble. If angered, he could easily curse someone out or yell at them. And, if he had a female customs agent, it's possible he could inappropriately flirt with her, delaying his departure.

If your main character was stranded on a desert island, what would be an essential travel item for them to take along?
I'll break it down for each again. :-)
Katie: Katie would take her iPod or drawing pad. The iPod is essential for when her thoughts get too loud, and the drawing pad helps her put her ideas on paper and cope with the issues gnawing at her.
Julie: Some literary classics and a crate of junk food. The classics so she could exercise her brain, and the junk food because her mom won't let her eat that at home. Being trapped on a desert island has some perks. :-)
Alex: He's a tough one. I'm not sure what is an essential item for him. He doesn't really need or crave things. He has the horrible habit of smoking, so packs of cigarettes would probably be his go to items. Those or a girl. He loves those too. Can he bring a girl to the island?
Kyle: Kyle is such a broken soul, but he loves to escape in schoolwork and books. I think he would take a few classics with him as well and books of poetry, maybe Dylan Thomas.

What advice would you offer to other writers embarking on their own writing adventure?
Don't let anything stop you, and if your imagination beckons, follow it!!

Thanks, Margie and Bon Voyage!

Toni De Palma

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First Sentences

As writers we are constantly trying to hook our readers and make them keep reading. We want them to read that first chapter and decide right then and there that they can't put the book down. However, it doesn't just start with the first chapter, or paragraph. It's that very first line.

Image courtesy of
Seriously, I read agents blogs all the time and know they decide extremely quick if the book is worth reading more of or not. So, we need to hook them instantly, within that very first sentence.

This was something I had not pondered too much until I read this post by Jodi Meadows over on WriteOnCon last year. After that I revisited my WIPs only to realize my first lines were duds. Serious duds. I'm currently working on them, and maybe I will share them with you at a later date - when they don't stink so much.

All of this first line thinking had me pondering the first lines from currently HOT books. I thought I would share a few with you today. I haven't read all of them yet, but can you guess why they have taken up residence on my Kindle?

"The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle."
Cinder by Marissa Meyer 

"They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod 'the Death Shop.'"  
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi 

"The moment she saw the young man walking down the darkened hall toward her, twirling his walking stick, Finley Jayne knew she'd be unemployed before the sun rose."  
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross 

"'You don't want to kill me,' I said."  
Clarity by Kim Harrington 

"I've been locked up for 264 days."  
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi 

"There is one mirror in my house."  
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Your Turn -> Tell us your favorite first line.