Monday, January 23, 2012

Colloquialisms...

When writing fantasy we are always looking for ways to bring color, culture and a unique perspective to the world we create.
Although we try to avoid clich├ęs, we can often change or use colloquialisms to add flavor to our writing.
Downunder we have our own set of sayings that are common to our language. As we travel around we come across more colorful and inventive words and phrases to add to available material. It often happens that until my editor questions a certain turn of phrase, I don’t even realize it is an Australian colloquialism.
Anyhow... today I hope we can share some of our sayings. This is a lighthearted topic so please feel free to share your favorite sayings too. If you could mention where they originate from, that would be awesome.
For this article I asked friends for help. Here is what I gathered. I wonder if they are only used here in Australia, or more widely. They seem like common English to me.
Dry as a dead dingo’s donger.  (thirsty or a time of drought) 

Flat out like a lizard drinking.   (busy)

Going off like a frog in a sock.   (upset) 

Running around like a chook without its head. (disorganized)

Tight as a fish swimming backwards. (miserly)

A man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice the difference. (it will do)

Not the brightest light in the harbor. (harbour in Australia :))
Not the sharpest crayon in the pack.
Two bob short of a quid. (stupid)

How’s that for a bunch of bananas? (good)

Same old, same old. (the usual) 

Good and proper. Used in “You got me good and proper.” (you win)

It stinks like a koala’s backside. (bad smell)

It could kill a brown dog.  (bad taste/smell)

Kick up a stink. (make a fuss)

It’s a dog’s breakfast. (mess)

On the blink. (broken)

As slow as a month of Sundays.  Or
Slow as a wet week. (Time dragging)

Would blow a dog of a chain. (windy)

Don’t get your knickers in a knot. (calm down)

Be that as it may… (offering another point of view)

Makes no never mind. (doesn’t matter)

Don’t get off your bike, I’ll pick up the pump. (calm down)

Words can have two meanings even within the same country. For a simple example ‘scallops’ in NSW are potato coated in batter and deep fried. In Victoria, our neighbor state, scallops are a type of sea food while ‘potato cakes’ are potato coated in batter and deep fried. It makes it confusing when you order incorrectly.  :)

And finally, in answer to Murphy’s Law… I heard of Sod’s Law, “Even if something can’t go wrong, it does go wrong.”

So, now it’s your turn. Do you have any local terms or sayings would you like to share?

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This article has appeared on FANTASY FACTION where the response and shared sayings was terrific. If you would like to see a few more colorful sayings.. take a moment to read the comments there!! They come from around the globe and some will make you laugh, a warning though, some could make you blush.

Lady Rosalie Skinner is the author of The Chronicles of Caleath, three books in the series now available as ebooks. Book Four coming soon... from Museitup Publishing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking that Next Step

You've done it. Finished an entire manuscript, poem, article, short story, etc. Hours of polishing, reading, critiquing, rereading, and perfecting your work produced something you're proud of and ready to share. If you're at this point, congratulations! Now it's time to really get to work. There are lots of publishers and editors that work with young writers, just like you, but you've got to take that next step. Time to query.

What's a query? Great question. In a nutshell, a query is a business letter in which an author presents their work to an agent, editor, or publisher in a concise and clear manner. The typical query may contain three sections: a summary of the writing offered, a brief market comparison/analysis, and an author's references. There are many varieties within the body of a query, but these three elements tend to be commonplace and desirable from the perspective of the agent/editor/publisher.

Let's take a look at each element in turn. The summary is just that, a summary of what your story, article, or poem is about. It needs to be written clearly with attention given to the specifics from your story that might catch the curiosity of the letter's reader. Some authors write brilliant summaries that read like the back cover blurbs of the best books. For others, like myself, condensing an entire story into a few sentences that portray the voice of my characters, capture the attention of the reader, and add just enough specific information is more of a nightmare than harsh critiques. For those in that camp, Nathan Bransford has developed a wonderful formula to get you started. Check it out: Query Letter MadLib.

The second element, the market comparison and/or analysis, may or may not be required by the individual you are querying. The requirements of each agent/editor/publisher can typically be found on their submissions or guidelines page. I highly recommend reading that page before submitting a query of any sort to ensure your query will be given the attention you desire. If they ask for either the comparison or the analysis, include it. It's a bit of footwork on your part, but worth the effort as it shows your willingness to play by the rules and do the work required by the person you're querying. With that written, what is this analysis/comparison thing? An analysis is an overview of where your work fits into the publishing market. Where would the bookstore put your book? Which genre does it fit into? Which reader would be interested? Why would those readers be interested in your piece? A market comparison may include some of the same information an analysis contains, but it should also contain other titles you would consider similar to your own. What other books would readers who like your book be apt to read? (Great stuff on the analysis/comparison thing.)

The third, and often final section of a query letter, is about you. Who are you and why are you the perfect person to write the manuscript you wrote? What would you bring to the marketing table if you were published? Are you published already? Do you speak publicly? Do you have a social network platform? In essence, the publishing world wants to know if you are the right person to write the piece and if you have clout with potential buyers. (The how-to on writing bios.) Don't worry if you don't have shiny credentials or tons of money-wielding followers. All though those are helpful, there are many success stories of authors who simply left this section with, "this is my first novel."

Now, you've got the basics and it's up to you to write the query. But, if writing this type of correspondence has you tied up in knots, there are several places you can go for query critiques and suggestions. First, make sure to click-thru the links mentioned above. There are lots of great information on those pages and beyond. Also, query critiques can be done through online forums like nextgenwriters.com and during MuseItUp's online conference scheduled every fall.


Are you at the querying stage? What's the hardest part of the query for you to write? Where do you go for query help? Who do you hope to query?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Avoid Creating Stereotypical Characters

How to Avoid Creating Stereotypical Characters

So you’ve come up with a genius idea for a new story, you’re itching to get writing, and you’re sure once you’re finished some bigwig in Hollywood is going to get on the phone and ask to turn your piece of fiction into the next blockbuster movie.

But hang on a minute. Have you noticed something? Just in the above paragraph alone we’ve created two rather stereotypical characters:

1. The Writer who thinks theirs is the best idea ever to have been dreamt up.
2. The bigwig Hollywood producer desperate for a new project.

Without hardly having written anything about these two characters, we bet you’ve got an idea of what they look like already set up in your mind’s eye. Let’s see – does the writer chew on the end of their pencil, sit at a desk by a window gazing out at the scene below which they are somehow so far removed from? Is the Hollywood bigwig snacking on a big ring donut, leaning back on his chair in a plush corporate office?
Thought so.

Haven’t we seen these two characters a thousand times before? The answer is yes, because they’re stock characters – or stereotypes. The reader basically already knows their every move, mannerism, and wardrobe choice before the person (who believes they’ve only just been created from the inner recesses of their mind) puts them down on paper.

It’s fair to say that at some point in a writer’s career they’ll have stumbled on, or resorted to using a stereotype. While leaning back on their recliner sectional they’ll have been chewing on that pen for too long, made too many cups of coffee, and because their mind has gone blank, they’ll have resorted to using a stock character. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it, so how do we go about trying not to fall into that same trap ever again?

Exercises
In the world around us stereotypes rarely exist. On the surface it might seem like someone’s a stereotype but dig a little deeper and you’re bound to discover that they’ve actually got character traits you’d never have pinned down on them. So first off, do this –

• People watch
Step away from your desk, head out into the real world, grab a coffee at a coffee shop and pitch up at a window seat. Watch people - make notes, notice how people act, behave, respond and describe what they’re wearing.

• Play the Guessing Game
While you’re still in the coffee shop, take a look around you and see if you can guess what people do just by looking at them and watching their mannerisms. Obviously, try and be a little subtle about this – it can get annoying when people are staring for no reason! Then, if you’re brave enough and those people aren’t busy you could simply ask them what they do and see whether you’re right.

• People you Know
Think about people you already know. Jot down notes about them and see how complex they are (or aren’t – depending on the people you mix with!) Could they, at first sight, seem like a bit of a stereotype? If so, think hard about other elements of their character that don’t fit in with this image.

Your Story
Another way to make sure you avoid creating stereotypes in your work is to ensure you are not just using a character to advance a story point.

Most characters in stories need their own story arc – they can’t just appear merely to push the story on.
This might sound like a whole lot of work, but then writing isn’t easy. Characters need to be fully rounded and there for a purpose. If they appear as if from nowhere the reader’s going to know straight away that something’s not right. This character will stick out like a sore thumb. Weave your characters into your story lines and they’ll become the fabric of the tale not just a device.

If in Doubt
Finally, if you’re in any doubt you think you’ve created a stereotypical character, take a long hard look at them. If they really are as two-dimensional as you think, then it’s time to pull them apart and build them back together again. For a list of questions to ask your characters have a look at this character questionnaire. Once you’ve answered all these questions you’ll have worked out who your character is and got past those stereotypical tendencies.