Googled Questions

One of the things I have to say I love about WordPress (the host for this blog, if you missed that in the URL) is that they give you a stats page about your blog. It might be a little more addicting than it should be (I really want someone from Russia to read this blog one of these days to get that country filled in on the “where your readers are” map) but it’s very handy when it comes to seeing how you’re reaching your readers, and what posts are the most popular.

What can be interesting about the stat page, though, is that it will sometimes show you search terms that brought people to your page. For example, if someone searched “Jessica Dall” and then clicked over here from Bing or Google or another search engine, it might show “Jessica Dall” as a search term on my stats page. Of course the page isn’t going to let me know who’s doing the searching (or even what country they’re in) since I’m sure that’s some sort of privacy violation, but it is interesting to see what people are trying to find out when they make it to this blog.

So, for anyone who’s Googled something and haven’t found the answer they wanted here, I’ll do my best at answering some of those questions. (Questions edited for spelling mistakes/coherency)

Q. Is 300,000 words a long book?
A. Yes, it is, but hardly the longest out there.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Why it’s harder to get longer books published , or tips on cutting down word count.

Q. When writing in third person, can you say what several characters are feeling?
A. It depends. There are two different ways of writing third person: Third Person Limited and Third Person Omniscient. In the first (currently more popular) narrative, you are telling a story through the point of view (POV) of a character, just describing them as he/she/it rather than I. In third Person Limited you should stay in the head of your POV character (thus you can only say what they feel/what they observe. If they don’t know Character B is upset because she had a little sister POV Character’s age, the narrative can’t explain that while still in POV Character’s head). In Third Person Omniscient, the story is being told by an all-knowing narrator. It is generally uncommon to find true Third Person Omniscient stories at the moment (the style seems to have been most popular in the 19th century) but if the story is being told by a narrator who knows everything it is possible for that narrator to say how all the characters a feeling (just make sure you aren’t writing in Third Person Limited and then decided you’re going to call it Third Person Omniscient randomly just so you can jump back and forth with how characters are feeling).
Likely article(s) they were interested in: Head Jumping

Q. Should you use contractions in query letter?
A. Sure. I’m not sure there is a set protocol for it (I never knew one when I worked in submissions) but I don’t believe there’s any reason to sound overly formal in a query letter and (at least to me) you sound more natural as a writer if you use contractions, which is a good thing in my humble opinion.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: I don’t think there’s one directly related, but I do touch on why you should use contractions in creative writing here.

Q. How much narration do I need in a novel?
A. Depends on your novel. There are reasons to use narration some places and dialogue others. It’s about weighing the pros and cons to each. The big thing is not to worry too much about having a perfect ratio of narration to dialogue in your novel, it’s to make sure you’re telling the story the best way it can be told.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Pros and Cons to dialogue and narrative in Too Much Dialogue

Q. What’s the poison thing vampires have?
A. I don’t know, Googler, I don’t know… Apparently rather than turning someone into a vampire by feeding them your vampire blood (a la Anne Rice) in some books it’s “vampire poison” ( though I suppose it would be “vampire venom” if you’re going to be technical on the poison vs. venom thing) that turns a human into a vampire (the bite infects them or what not and if they don’t die the poison/venom changes them into vampires). Of course, it’s fantasy, so your guess is as good as mine.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: One of the many where I talk about writing problems where Twilight just happens to pop up…

Q. Is it ok to use song lyrics for writing prompts?
A. Absolutely. I’ve used a couple of different songs as the original inspiration for characters, plots, or even entire stories that have now been published. What you don’t want to do, however, is quote the song lyrics in your story (you can get into a whole host of problems with copyright infringement then).
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Writing Prompts

Q. What’s the shortest word count a publisher will accept?
A. It depends on the publisher (look at their submission guidelines as to what they accept before sending a query). It also will depend on if the publisher only publishes novels (generally considered to be over 50,000 words, but many publishers put novels in the 70,000+ words range) or if they also publish novellas and short stories. Of course, word counts are generally guidelines. One novel I have coming out this summer is around 51,000 words and the publisher generally doesn’t publish things that short, they just liked mine and made an exception. If nothing else, and you have an awkward word count, try searching for a publisher on a site like Duotrope which will let you search based one word counts accepted rather than just “novel/novella/short story”
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Word Limits

Q. Why do people say “dahlin'”?
A. Regional accents (in this case Southern US more than likely). If I remember my history of language class, that exact morphing of “darling” come from the fact that a US “Southern” accent is actually closer to an old English accent than many other US accents (supposedly Shakespeare would have sounded sort of Southern to us?) and thus it shares the same ‘h’ sounding ‘r’ as a British accent today (“dahling”). As to spelling it like that in a novel, “dahlin'” might be one you can get away with for phonetic spelling of accents (people generally will know what the word is without struggling) but as always, I’d be wary of trying to go overboard with “fonetik” spellings.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Wy I Hayt Fonetik Axsents

Q. When are info dumps necessary?
A. Never. Ok, ok, probably not never, there’s always an exception to all writing advice and times you can do things that aren’t suggested amazingly, but as a general rule? Stay away from info dumps unless you’re parodying a Bond villain. There are almost always better ways to get information into a story than info dumping.
– Likely articles(s) they were interested in: Tips on how to get information in without info dumps in Info Dumps

Q. Is J. K. Rowling a bad writer/J. K. Rowling bad writing examples/examples of awful writing in Harry Potter/[and the list goes on]?
A. It’s interesting to see just how many different people are looking for examples of what makes J. K. Rowling a bad writer. Honestly, I enjoyed the Harry Potter series as some light reading as a teen, but no writer is faultless, so for those looking for some of J.K.’s weaknesses:
Over uses adverbs
– Clichéd plots/characters/etc
Flat Prose
Contrived Plot Points
And I’m sure there are more that people will point out (believe me, if you were a best seller, people would be picking apart every little problem you have in your novel too) but those are some major ones. Just remember, no author is infallible.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: But They Did It… about why best sellers aren’t always the best role models.

Q. Some real stories on why you shouldn’t use i cant believe it’s not butter?
A. All right, not really a question, and I don’t have an answer for it, but some how it linked someone to my blog. I really have no clue how. Still amuses me enough I felt the need to end with it. If someone has some sites with stories on why you shouldn’t use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” (other than that meaningless “margarine’s a molecule away from being plastic” myth) please let me know, since obviously a search engine thinks I can help people with that.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: …um…I really have no clue…

Writing Prompts

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone. Hopefully everyone’s doing something fun today. And, I admit, while I’m going to a party later, I am bringing my notebook along with me (darn inspiration after a week-long writer’s block…) So, for all the other writers out there looking for some non-football inspiration, we have today’s post on Writing Prompts.

Now, there’s a reason I’ve never taken a true creative writing course. I can’t stand writing prompts. For me, if I didn’t think of the idea organically, I just can’t write about it. Or I can, but it sounds awful. I have the sneaking suspicion I would do very poorly in a class that required me to write a certain type of story off a certain prompt.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t sometimes need some inspiration after a dry spell. I’m lucky in that I almost always have some idea bouncing around my head, but every once in a while I really want to write, but can’t think of anything I want to write about.

As I’m sure most people know, there are plenty of writing prompt generators out there, like this or this or… But I don’t think I’ve ever actually been inspired to write a story based on any sort of set prompt. Maybe I just don’t want to write a story about a dog saving the world or an evil hairdresser (the second would probably come out a little too close to Sweeney Todd anyway…) So, what to do?

Prompts like that may work for some people (I assume they do, since I’m not sure why’d they exist otherwise) but I tend to find my inspiration from different sources:

1. What ifs: These are always fun. What if zombies were an endangered species protected by law? What if a high school student was accidentally elected president? What if, we’re all the dream of an eight year old girl, who lives in Slough? Similar to regular prompts, but at least I feel like they leave much more room for originality. And even if you don’t want to consider the exact what if, they give you a place to start and let your mind wander. You can come up with them yourself, a movie/show you’re watching can bring one up, or you can go to places like the NaNoWriMo “Adopt a Hypothetical” Thread, where other writers drop ideas off when they have too many “What ifs” and not enough time/plot.

2. Pictures: Rather than just general prompts (“You wake up one day and find out the world is black and white. Write that story.”) I find some pictures help give me more ideas, that often seem more original than something another prompt might (insert comment about a picture being worth 1,000 words and all that). Though it wasn’t entirely inspired by a picture, the first scene from a book I am currently shopping around, The Copper Witch (excerpt here if you like), came from looking at this painting. Go ahead, read that excerpt, I’ll wait. … See how the main character is positioned for her portrait? Yeah, they’re staging some version of that painting (sorry for spoiling it those who didn’t actually go and read. I promise I understand. Your time is precious).

For prompt sites, if you don’t just want to click around google image searches hoping to find something interesting, this is one of my favorite, because it also gives interesting pictures with the actual “prompts” and I find those more inspiring (I mean, look at this picture. How couldn’t there be a story there?)

3. Song Lyrics: Perhaps my favorite in terms of generating random ideas. While you don’t want to quote actual song lyrics in a book (can get into nasty, nasty copyright infringement suits that way) I’ve always found lines to be a good for inspiration. My other novel, The Bleeding Crowd, is a good example. The plot and characters weren’t inspired by a song lyric, but the title was inspired by the song “Easy to be Hard” from the musical Hair, and that shaped how the two main characters related to each other and their political causes.

I don’t actually know if there is a site that lists song lyrics as novel prompts, but by listening to whatever music you prefer, it’s possible to pick out your own lyrics you find inspiring and start a list that can give inspiration when you come to a writing roadblock.

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