What’s Your Take on Writing Prompts?

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Photo Credit: Writing Prompts For Kids

I can honestly say that I’ve never once used a writing prompt to write something. I just don’t see how they can help. Even though I know there are SO many people who use them every week when trying to decide what to blog about. No. If I don’t have a decent topic to write about, then I won’t be writing anything. I’m not going to come up with something I don’t find interesting just for the sake of posting. That’s stupid.

And I definitely wouldn’t use a prompt to write any fiction. If you can’t come up with the basis for your fiction story…then what the heck are you doing trying to write? The only environment I’d ever encountered writing prompts before I ventured into WordPress was in a few of my English classes in high school. I think one of my teachers had one of those little books with really random writing prompts that were supposed to help you get SOMETHING down on paper. Or when the prompt would be written on the board before you get to class. And the first five or ten minutes would be spent writing. Pretty sure those teachers stole those prompts from those little books. Come on, they could have at least been original. Sheesh.

I really have no idea how often or how many people actually use these on a regular basis outside of blogging. And I don’t see the point of them at all. But what’s your take on writing prompts? And don’t tell me they enable you to write something when you don’t know what to write about. Because how hard is it to Google something or just steal an idea that someone else already wrote about? Not very hard.

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First Person or Third Person?

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Photo Credit: CheatCC

This is one of those questions that I see bouncing around WordPress just about everyday. Deciding whether to write in first person or third person.

I’m not going to write this post giving the benefits of either, because I think that’s up to you. But I can tell you what I prefer to read and write. First, reading. I would say that I prefer reading first person, but I think I have more books written in third person. So that preference is irrelevant.

Second, the writing. This is an easy one. Definitely prefer writing in first person. Why? Because I feel as though I’m able to step inside the shoes of my MC and tell the story more accurately. Does that even make sense? I don’t know. When I think of reading or writing in third person I think of a little ghost flying alongside the MC throughout the book (assuming that POV is constant) and that just makes me laugh. I think this paragraph just makes me sound like a crazy person.

But who cares about me? What about you? Do you have a preference for first person or third person when it comes to your reading and writing?

One Space, Two Space…There is no Debate

I’m sure you have absolutely no idea what the heck I’m going to be talking about if you just read the title of this post. That’s okay. I’m only writing this because I’ve read other posts that just leave me scratching my head. I’m talking about the number of spaces after finishing a sentence. This is not something I thought could be questioned. To me it’s like asking if the  first letter of the first word in a sentence should be capitalized. Let’s go on a quick trip down memory lane.

When I was in high school and my English teacher would give out paper assignments I struggled to meet the minimum length requirements. And by struggled I mean I did whatever I possibly could to write less than the required length. There are a number of ways to do this that I won’t get into, but I am well aware that these tactics are used every school year in just about every setting. One of the things that I did during my high school days was put two spaces after every finished sentence. I did this for some time. But if my memory serves me correctly, one of my English teachers told me about it and said it is proper to only have one space. I ignored her. Ha. But in college I was told again. And this time I was more comfortable with my writing and thought page requirements were hilarious because they were so easy. So I decided to use the appropriate number of spaces after a sentence rather than be docked points.

But make no mistake about it, I never thought two spaces was proper. I just used two spaces as long as I was allowed to do so. Pretty much what we all do when we’re doing something that isn’t quite right. But now, seeing “writers” claiming that there is no set rule and they use two spaces is an absolute joke. Write something in Word and use one space after sentences and then change it to two spaces. It does not look right. At all. So shut up.

I would link to A LOT of academic and other credible resources that tell you what is and is not acceptable when it comes to this particular question, but I’m not. Cause this isn’t a valid question at all.

Take Your Pick: Hardcovers v. Paperbacks

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Photo Credit: Out of Print

 I’m pretty sure I’ve written about every logical book related question you can think of. Print v. e-books. Standalone novels v. series. Types of e-readers. Different genres. And a million others I honestly can’t think of right now because I’ve written way too many posts to remember each one. I’ve had this question on my little docket for some time now. I don’t know if I was saving it for any particular day or what, but it’s been waiting to be written and now I guess it’s happening.

So, hardcover v. paperback. I think I typically list out some of the positives of each choice whenever I write these comparison posts, so might as well get to it.

Hardcovers

I have to be honest here. I’m not seeing a long list of positives for hardcovers. They’re way overpriced it’s not even funny. I mean, I love books as much or more than the next person but I am not okay with spending $29.95 for a book. No. Thankfully, Amazon and other retailers often slash the price of hardcovers immediately. But if they’re not new or bestsellers, then you better pull out your wallet. I don’t even pay that much for Blu-rays. Hm. Let’s see. They’re also bulky. They can potentially be used as weapons in the event of nothing better. They take up a lot of room on the shelf. And I can’t be the only one who hates those stupid dust jacket covers that always want to slide off while I’m trying to read. So annoying. Oh wait, I was supposed to list the positives here. Okay. If you’re lucky enough to meet an author, they much prefer to sign hardcovers over paperbacks. I don’t know why, maybe larger pages?

Paperbacks

Now this may be a bit more positive. Let’s see. They’re typically less than half the price of the hardcover edition. Don’t forget it is the exact same book. They’re much easier to carry around if you’re into that sort of thing (I take my books to my bed and nowhere else.) They’re easier to store on your shelf.  In my opinion, they’re more pleasing to admire on said shelf. Easier to hold while reading. And I have more paperbacks signed by authors than hardcovers. So there. The only real negative is that they’re often released almost a year after the hardcover. Stupid publishers.

For the sake of this post I tallied up my books so I could provide some concrete evidence about what I think of this little question here. I have 175 books. 41 hardcovers. 134 paperbacks. Hm sorry Big Five. Not really.

So tell me which side of the fence you fall on. I’m obviously having trouble seeing any reason to have shelves full of hardcovers, maybe you’ll offer some insight.

Guest Post: Pantsing vs. Outlining

Hey guys, John here with a brief introduction to my first ever guest post! Do I sound excited? I am. The post I have for you today is one of the best I’ve read, and I’ve been at this for about a year now. And I get to share it with you on MY blog! Amy, or you might see her frequenting my posts as phantomwriter143, has written quite a treat for you all. It’s witty, straightforward, and super informative. But enough from me, she’ll take it from here. Hope you guys like!

Pantsing vs. Outlining: Is one better?

I read over 100 books a year in a variety of genres, I’ve been writing books and stories for as long as I can remember, I’m an avid reader of writing how-to books (although some of them stink like moldy cheese, I can tell you), I’ve tutored kids/adults of all ages in grammar, syntax, writing and such (primarily scholarly), and I was a teaching assistant during and after grad school who graded papers and lectured students.

Whew! Does that make me sound full of myself? I’m not. John can tell you that. All I’m saying is that the following post is about my own research and observations in my time as a writer and reader.

Read at your own risk.

On to the main event!

Pantsing. A pantser. Flying by the seat of your pants. Panting like a dog after a long walk. Yanking down somebody’s pants… wait… those last two aren’t right. Strike them. Outside of the literary world, pantsing means something completely different. But I won’t get into that.

The term ‘pantsing’ comes from the idea that writers who don’t want to feel constrained by a schedule or outline ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ when they write, letting their muse take them by the nostrils and drag them along behind. There are many benefits to this, as it allows our minds to be unfettered during the creative process, and the juices will flow. They may splash onto the floor a bit and make an utter mess, but then, they’re not constrained by a requirement to fill one glass without running over.

Outliners, on the other hand, prefer to be a bit more logical and prepared before they take the bull by the horns and skewer him to the page. (Is that too graphic? Sorry). They like to know beforehand what will happen in each chapter, where the piece is going, how long it will take to get there, and who will be the driving force behind the action. Outlines help to shape manuscripts, and can come in handy when we’re not sure which direction to go. Brainstorming and then outlining helps to keep us on track instead of veering off the beaten path into unknown territory that may be harmful to the sweeping arc of the story.

There are many tools to be used for outlining, as opposed to pantsing, which really can help to guide our brains and our muses in order to visualize, contemplate, and then complete our writing in an orderly fashion.

So which one is better?

I will supply you with the age-old answer that aggravates and confusticates even the most straight-laced, buttoned-up, stern-lipped thinker. During grad school, it was my least favorite answer anytime I asked one of my professors a question. And it’s the answer my patients least like to hear.

It depends.

Gah! Have I scared you off? Not to worry. I will explain.

Let’s take a couple of examples:

1. Writing a fantasy series for kids
2. Writing a standalone mystery book
3. Writing nonfiction on the benefits of exercise in the elderly

In any of the above three scenarios, outlining can be a critical tool for the success of the piece.

The first scenario deals with writing a series of books. Really, this is applicable to any genre. There is absolutely no way to be successful in series writing if there is not some form of outlining, documenting, record-keeping, foreshadowing that takes place either digitally or in a physical medium.

I happen to have experience in this, since it’s what I’m currently undertaking, and I can tell you, I’d be lost without the pages of notes and outlines I need. However, when it comes down to actually writing a chapter or a few chapters, I don’t even look at my notes. The outline is vague, and as long as I make sure to include the few key things that are essential to move the plot along and foreshadow for upcoming books, then I’m free to let my muse roam during the actual writing.

This is not necessarily required for someone who writes books in a series where each book stands alone, such as a mystery book where each one has its own climax and resolution. In that case, if the series intends to be quite lengthy, there is little need to ensconce yourself in a detailed outline that will limit your creativity.

(See how I merged into the next scenario?)

For any stand-alone book in any genre, the need for an outline diminishes as compared to a series. Pantsing is very effective at this point as long as you are able to remember everything with little prompting. That’s not to say you won’t look at your notes, but since you’re not tied to foreshadowing many books down the line, you can focus on enjoying the pace of the writing and allowing seemingly random thoughts and whims to play into the landscape of the book.

As for the third scenario, there is literally no possible way to complete a nonfiction book of that type without an incredibly detailed sketch of the book. Outlines are crucial at this point. And I speak from experience.

My doctoral dissertation was three and a half years in the making, written and edited, edited, edited, all while finishing my coursework for my degree. This is true of all doctoral students, I believe. If I had not had complete control of the details, research, resources, statistics, citations, etc, etc, etc., then I would have been lost in the mess that is scholarly writing. (The topic above was not my dissertation topic, in case you were wondering).

Now that I’ve discussed a few pros/cons to each style, you may be asking which method I prefer.

Personally, I’m a proponent of ‘outpantsing,’ to coin a phrase. Hmm… Maybe I’ll call myself an outpantser? Either way, I believe the best way to achieve truly creative writing is to combine the two styles. Especially in my series writing, my ‘outline,’ if you can really call it that, is an overall sketch with details thrown here and there.

When I sit down to write the books, however, I ‘pants’ my way all the way through, only stopping a few times to check on details. I’m blessed to have a brain for memorization, so the details, once physically written, are stored fairly well in my mind.

Most people do not have the capacity to use enough of their brains to remember every detail of their books. I know I don’t. Therefore, I don’t recommend writing without at least some idea of where it’s going.

Get down a chapter or two, sure. Then brainstorm and sketch a general concept for your novel/article/short story, etc.

Of course, some people may disagree with me entirely, and that’s okay. I know many authors who are only pantsers, and some who are only outliners. Either form is fine as long as you get to where you want to be, and you don’t feel constrained by the limits of logic. (Yes, logic DOES have its limits).

I’ll share some ideas for outlining/prepping for those who struggle with that:

1. Formal Outlines – I don’t like these, but maybe you do. Here’s a good website that can help. Just substitute chapter titles and plot points instead of what they show there.

2. Notecards. In grad school, I was a notecard fiend! When it comes to novel writing, colored notecards are brilliant! Buy a whole slew of them and make each color stand for something. White will be chapter titles. And in each chapter, color code the cards for what will happen during that time. Green = setting, purple = characters, pink = tension, yellow = foreshadowing, etc. Take that any which way you care.

3. Poster boards. This is one of my current faves. I like to have a big visual of where the story is going. It’s not very pretty, but I make a fairly complex Venn diagram to show how everything overlaps and interconnects. I’m a visual learner, so this helps a great deal.

4. Charts, or the Grid Method. This is how J.K. Rowling created her masterpieces. Take a peek at this pic and you’ll see how Ms. Rowling did it. I’ve taken to doing this myself because it includes a timeline along with it. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Timelines. This is something that I think every author should use. To the day. It’s extremely evident to readers, especially those that like to re-read books, how off a timeline can be if the author doesn’t even know it! It can be tedious, but timelining, in ANY way you choose, is beneficial. This is a good way to do it, and then break it up into chapters later.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. There are TONS more to choose from, but there’s not nearly enough space to cover them all.

A few tips before closing. Use the KISS method. (Keep it short, silly). Whether you use a formal outline or the grid method, make short notes. This is something you’ll have handy as you write so don’t make it complicated. That’s what your detailed notes are for.

Use a little trial and error. If one way doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged! Try something new until you find one that works.

And never, NEVER, let anyone else tell you exactly how to write your book. They can offer suggestions and cues, but only you know where the book is going and how you’re best able to get it there.

All right! You made it! If you’ve read this far, I applaud you for trudging through the long-windedness of my post. I hope you’ve found something that’s helped, or at least given you something to think about.

Thanks, John, for letting me blather on for FAR too long. It’s been an honor to be a guest blogger.


John here again, tell me that wasn’t a GREAT post. I’ve asked Amy to check back here during the course of her busy day, and it is VERY busy, to reply to any of your questions or comments. Now before you leave here, go check out her blog! If you like mine, which I hope you do, then you’ll LOVE hers. It’s seriously fantastic. And if you don’t, well I’ll just have to punch you.

I’m 100% a pantser, by the way. What about you?

Photo Credit: The Lucky 13s

 

A Valentine’s Day Duel: Ron & Hermione vs. Katniss & Peeta

ImageHappy Valentine’s Day! Hopefully you spend the day with someone special. Or, if you’re like me, you can spend it with your books. So, since it is Valentine’s Day I thought it only fitting to discuss two of the most well known literary relationships of the last decade. I’ll give you a hint…there have been a total of ten movies in which these two pairs of lovebirds appear so far, with two more on the way. Any guesses? Ron and Hermione of Harry Potter fame and Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games. Let’s dive right in.

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Ron and Hermione

I am a HUGE fan of the Harry Potter franchise, but I have to admit that I have not read any of the books yet. I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me. I NEED to read them. I will at some point. But that’s not the point of this post. We’re talking about witch on wizard love. I considered including Harry and Ginny in this conversation, but Ginny isn’t quite one of the big three in the series, so Harry gets left out even though every book bears his name on the cover.

I’m sure every person keeping up with the literary world, and probably plenty who don’t, heard J.K. Rowling admit that Harry and Hermione would have been the better couple rather than Hermione and Ron. I tend to agree with her. Again, this is coming from someone who has not read the books, but Ron and Hermione just seem….odd together. One of the images I have in mind as I write this is in Deathly Hallows Part 1 when Ron abandons Harry and Hermione. While he’s gone they share a pleasant moment in which the two are seen dancing even though they’re in the midst of a dire situation. You can’t possibly tell me that Ron would be capable of such a thing. After all, he did abandon them.

Also, Ron isn’t exactly the brightest of the wizards attending Hogwarts. We all know Hermione is a brilliant witch. I can’t be the only one who pictures her with a similarly brilliant wizard. I think Harry fits that mold quite well.

I applaud J.K. Rowling for writing the story as she originally imagined it. But I also applaud her for admitting that she should have done things a little differently.

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Katniss and Peeta

The unlikeliest of partners. I HAVE read all of the books in The Hunger Games series and I’ve seen both movies. So I guess you can go ahead and call me an expert on the matter. Okay, maybe not an expert. BUT I absolutely love the series and not just because my future wife Jennifer Lawrence happens to play Katniss.

The two are thrown together during the first chapter of the first book in the series during the annual Reaping in which one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts is chosen to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. Katniss’ younger sister is actually chosen but Katniss does the unthinkable and volunteers in her place. She’s the first ever volunteer from her district in the 74 year history of the Games.

The relationship between the two starts off a bit rocky. Katniss is independent and not the most sociable person while Peeta is about as likeable as it gets. The two remain polite with each other until Peeta admits during an interview before the Games are set to begin that he’s got a crush on Katniss. I mean, I don’t blame him. She’s perfect! Katniss doesn’t like being thrown a curve ball and gets a bit upset. Then she goes on to score an 11 out of 12 during her individual showing for the Gamemakers. Peeta then decides that he no longer wants to be trained alongside Katniss because there is only one winner.

Once the Games begin and Katniss is on her own and Peeta is nowhere to be found it is announced that there can be two winners from the same district. Katniss goes on to keep Peeta alive with the help of sponsors and the two ultimately win the Games, but not before they tick off the Capitol in doing so. Katniss put on a show for everyone watching to make out like the two were madly in love. She did it to survive while Peeta wasn’t acting.

The two are forced to act as if they need each other in order to live after the Games, and although they do their best, it may already be too late. They may have inadvertently started a rebellion.

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My Favorite

This actually isn’t all that hard for me to decide. Katniss and Peeta. Hands down. I didn’t go into the second or third books of the series because I refuse to spoil those for any person who reads this who may not have read them. If you have read them then you are well aware of how their relationship evolves over time. But in the first one Katniss is about as upfront as she can be with Peeta under the circumstances. While the cameras were rolling she acted in a manner that kept both of them alive. And as soon as they were out of the limelight she made it known that it wasn’t as real for her as he might have thought. I guess my reasoning for liking their relationship slightly more than Ron and Hermione’s would be because we know what we’re getting from the start. Ron and Hermione take FOREVER to make it happen. (At least in the movies)

So tell me, which would you rather be a part of….Ron and Hermione or Katniss and Peeta?

Just for kicks, which nickname do you like more? The Boy Who Lived or The Girl on Fire?

Print vs. E-Book: Which side are you on?

ImageOne of the wonderful things about technology is that it causes us to ask questions that we had never previously thought of. The print vs. e-book question had never once been asked prior to the 2000s. But it’s a question that every bibliophile has struggled with at some point in recent years. I know I have. Before I discuss which side of the stick I happen to fall on, let’s delve into the battle a little bit first.

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Print

The printing of books hasn’t changed all that much since the advent of the printing press. The process has become easier and cheaper as technology advanced. No matter the price a particular publisher sets for the print edition of a book, the actual cost to print is essentially the same for all publishers. It isn’t as though one publisher has the printing technology of 2005 and another of 1900. Printing is printing and although the price of books is constantly changing, printing is still printing. For instance, I know exactly how much it costs to print my book.

Also, a print book is a physical object. You can hold it and dog ear your pages and highlight and then put it right back on your shelf to read again in the future once you’re finished reading. That means something to many readers.

In just a few short years print books, and thus publishers, have taken a hit from the e-book market. There of course was a time very recently in which all books were printed. Now only about 70% of book sales fall into this category. Think of owning your own business and losing nearly a third of your business before you even have time to react to what’s happening. This is exactly what happened in the last decade to the publishing industry. If you keep up with publishing like I do then you know that for the longest time there were the Big 6 publishers that maintained a stranglehold on the book world. Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Random House. Well, as you likely already know, in 2013 Penguin and Random House completed a merger that combined two of the world’s largest publishers. This was done out of necessity, for both publishers, due in part to Amazon’s major role in the the book market.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves because I haven’t read anything recently about any more major mergers happening soon.

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E-Book

The little guy who has turned the publishing world on its head. The advantages of e-books are numerous and can’t be denied. A digital version of a book is cheaper than a printed version. There’s no paper or ink or printing or anything but a file to be downloaded. A single e-reader or tablet can hold thousands of books without ever needing to give any away to make more room on the shelf. Reading on a device is often more suitable to the eyes than reading straight from paper. (Just think of reading something on your phone in your room at midnight versus reading off of paper) Lastly, everything you can think to do in a printed book like take notes or highlight or save your page can now be done on just about every e-reader or tablet that allows you to read e-books. Let’s face it, a huge percentage of the American population has access to a device on which e-books can be read. I mean, who doesn’t have a PC, Mac, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Nook, Kobo, Galaxy Note, or Galaxy S? We all do, which means we all have access to the cheaper version of the exact same books available at your local bookstore or online.

Where do I Fall?

After examining printed books versus e-books the conclusion may be clear to some, if not most people. And it is for me. I’m willing to pay whatever the difference is between the digital and printed formats. Why? Because a printed book is a physical object that I can forever admire on my shelf. I can’t admire a file on a smartphone or tablet. I personally have more than 160 printed books and less than 20 on my Kindle. NOTE: I did not buy my Kindle, it was given to me as a gift.

I’m Team Printed Books, what about you? Tell me in the comments!

By the way, this is on my left forearm. I HAVE to be all for printed books.

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