Monday, August 5, 2013


I go through odd phases where I like a lot of blogs, each specifically focused.  Then later on, I bounce back and want them smooshed into one.  For now, this blog is getting smooshed into Shades of Weird.  Maybe in a year or so, I'll want compartmentalization again.  If so, this blog will be waiting for me.

A Mainstay for Writers

Bread was considered the staff of life at one time; nowadays, it is considered bad for people.  So I began to wonder what is the equivalent staple for writers and writing--what is one thing a writer cannot do without--and if people's opinions about this staple had changed over time.  So I hopped on Google in hopes of finding some writing techniques to blog about or elements of writing.  I was ready to type in those keywords.

Instead I typed in "puzzles help your brain."

Why?  Because my brain got ahead me, skipping back to an ad I had seen last week and what had happened as a result of the ad. 

This ad involved using brain exercises as part of the treatment of ADD and other cognitive disorders.  When I saw it last week, I thought why not give it a try, the cheap way?  So I bought a variety puzzle book that week.

Back to today.  My search turned up an interesting article by Marcel Danesi, "Brain Workout."  It had this quote worth pulling out:

The psychologists Sternberg and Davidson argued, as far back as 1982 (Psychology Today, Volume 16, pp. 37-44), that solving puzzles entails the ability to compare hidden information in a puzzle with information already in memory, and, more importantly, the ability to combine the information to form novel information and ideas. The thinking involved in solving puzzles can thus be characterized as a blend of imaginative association and memory. It is this blend, I would claim, that leads us to literally see the pattern or twist that a puzzle conceals. It is a kind of "clairvoyance" that typically provokes an Aha! effect.
That sounds a lot like creativity benefits to me.  So even if I don't see ADD benefits from my variety puzzles, I might see some other benefits instead. 

And that wraps me back around to the point of this post.  The writer's mainstay probably isn't a technique or an element of writing, something that changes over time as literature and culture changes.  Rather, it is in the brain.  It is in its creativity.  So it is important to treat the brain right, feed it right, and I'm going to try to do that through brain exercises.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

USP Critiques: Ascension by Kara Dalkey

If you hang out in writing forums and critique groups, you will get a long list of what not to do in your novel.  What these people don't tell you is that most published authors break almost every single one of these rules in the normal course of writing.  So you begin to wonder what makes such works sell and, in fact, frequently earn four or five stars? 

The answer is the unique selling point.  The work has some combination of story elements that engage the reader far more than its flaws interfere with the reading experience.  You just have to make sure your market or target readers like your USP. 

For example, take the first book in this critique series, Ascension, Book One of the Water series, by Kara Dalkey.  First, it has a gorgeous cover--not something the author can always control.  It also has great copyediting--not something the author can always control either.  What the author can control is content, and in this case, the pure imagination that goes into this work.  When I notice something original and imaginative in fantasy, especially when spinning an ordinary concept like mermaids or Atlantis, I sit up and take notice, because it is not a skill many fantasy authors have, especially not on a consistent basis throughout a work.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Results of the First Deliberate Practice

A while back I posted a deliberate practice concerning descriptive writing.  It was inspired by Shannon Hale's great gift.

I'm afraid my own attempts fall short of her mark.  My first attempt to infuse the piece with rich description resulted in overload and confusion.  Fortunately, my critique group caught me on it.  My second attempt was far more successful, for I focused not on changing my style, but on what sensory details to reveal.  I used less common senses of touch and smell in my story, and though I'm no Shannon Hale, I am proud of the result.

You can see the results, a free short story entitled "Lady of Deep Waters," here:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Deliberate Practice: Description

Shannon Hale showed exemplar description in the sample of The Goose Girl.  Perhaps she worked hard at it; perhaps description is one of her favorite parts.  No matter what it was, we can use it to inspire our own deliberate practice.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

DIR: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (sample)

I love pictures.  They speak volumes, inspire so much, and make me feel so much.  They are more than a painting or snapshot; they are frozen moments of unique expression.  That is the way of great art.

That is the way of great description, too.  In Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, I noticed such details on the first page of the sample:

Monday, March 4, 2013

DIR Coming Soon: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

For my first DIR post, I will use The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  I just discovered this one on my Missouri Libraries 2 Go account (great!), but I doubt I can finish it in time before my eloan ends (not so great :-( ).  But that won't stop me from posting about some notable features. 

Until later this week!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Doing It Right Reviews (DIR): Call for Volunteers

A while back on some blog of mine, I tried out a sample review, pointing out what was done well in published speculative fiction (a "positive" critique).  I want to restart this in this blog, but I want to include indies/SPs this time. 

Would anyone be interested in volunteering?

Some caveats:

  • I do not guarantee which samples I will work with, but if you provide an email address, I will email you if I have selected yours.  Another reason I cannot guarantee which samples is that I am doing this in the nooks and crannies of my spare time (weekends only).  Finally, it depends on what type of point I want to make in this blog.
  • I also may not read the full sample.  Again, it depends on what distinguishing quality I am looking for and what I want to blog about.
  • Finally, this blog is just starting, so while I cannot offer much traffic, I am hoping that such analyses will be beneficial to the volunteer and other writers.  But I will include a link to the book or author site.
So, if you are game, please email your fantasy, science fiction, or horror sample link to freelancer AT chiaroscurohouse DOT com. I can read on the Kindle and on the Nook, but if you have it, I really love samples that can be read in Word (they are easier to analyze).  Please also indicate your permission to write about your sample in my blog, including my ability to quote from your work.