Thursday, May 30, 2013

Going Overboard (and a Self-Editing Life Preserver)

Hello, from the land of rivers, hobby farming, and rapidly warming weather...

I'm writing again! (Well, re-writing would probably be more accurate). And it's fun. But as I settled down at the keyboard last week, surrounded by notes, outlines, and freshly envisioned scenes, I found myself tapping away and falling into the old trap:


Ah, yes, the scourge of the writer who knows what they're doing, but is feeling insecure, or trying too hard, or not trusting their skills to engage the reader. Or...or...or...

I've been here before and will no doubt head down this dark road again. My only comfort is that I critique for a lot of talented writers, and I know I'm not the only one who suffers the affliction. But there was a time when I received critique notes to this effect and wasn't always sure what they meant. So here are a few tips to help you identify if you're overworking your words:


1. Too many adverbs, adjectives and modifiers

The most straightforward version of overwriting comes in simply using too many words to describe - especially feelings or common objects. The writer is attempting to add magic to the story. The problem with this approach is that it needlessly slows the pace of the read - so actually has the opposite of the desired effect.

SOLUTION: An outright seek and destroy mission. Remove words ending in "ly" and those lists of three adjectives in a row. Or three actions to imply a feeling. They just plain aren't necessary. If your story isn't grabbing attention without them, the excess words won't help.

2. Extensive metaphors, similes, and analogies

It's the detailed comparison to a sunset to describe the hero's hair, or a multi-sensorial image of the dirty dog bowl... Whatever it is, it forces the reader to focus on the words you're using, or an Image that has little to do with the actual story. It stops the reader from falling into the character's skin and seeing through their eyes. It's especially deadly (and especially common) in the opening pages of a novel. Impatient readers won't keep reading.

SOLUTION: Use a metaphor of three words or less, or just delete it altogether. As with the above, if your story isn't grabbing the reader without them, then the problem is with the story, not the effusive mental images you're painting.

3. Overly-complicated plotting

This one's harder to spot on your own, but it's common in stories that hinge on a reveal of the past. Rather than grounding the reader in the world, the author is feeling unsure of their ability to engage the reader's curiosity, so employ overly-action-based scenes, or convoluted clues and foreshadowing.

SOLUTION: You'll probably need a solid critique from an experienced novelist if you're prone to this. But first self-editing efforts should focus on identifying plot-points that answered the question "what would be really cool?" Or "how can I lay a false trail?" Foreshadowing is subtle and generally doesn't require it's own scenes. Scenes that are designed solely to get the reader's blood pumping are essentially pointless. Your goal should be tension, not sweat. (Trust me, when you get that balance right, the sweat will happen on its own).

I hope this is helpful. In all these situations, and more, the main problem is our propensity as writers to discredit our own abilities. But when you're feeling that way, pull out your favorite book. Look a how the author paints the picture - the minimal descriptive words, and usually simple plotting.

Remember, the thing that really pulls a reader into a story is first empathy with the main character(s), then sensory information that allow them to feel like they're really in your world. It isn't complicated. Just...interesting. Readers want to be a fly on the wall. Not an ant getting stomped underfoot.

Your Turn: Any tips for identifying overwriting, or solving it?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just Keep Going

There are moments in life that loom in the crosshairs - leaving you breathless with anticipation. Will I hit? Is my aim off? Instead of the bullseye, am I tracking for the mediocre alternative?

Sometimes the fear of failing overcomes the hope of success. Sometimes it feels safer to drop your bow, step back, pretend there is no target. I'm just fine right here, thanks.

I know that feeling. I lived there for a long time.

You see, in my late teens I took a shot at the publishing bullseye and missed the target completely. A single failure convinced me it wasn't worth trying anymore.

But then, almost nine years ago, I pulled my metaphorical crossbow out of the figurative attic where it had been collecting dust. I'd begun to hope again. And dream two very big dreams.

Last week, after several false starts, a few obstacles and a couple failures, the first of those dreams came true: My family has traveled half the globe and returned to Oregon. We're now living just a few miles from a bunch of the extended family, and a morning's drive from my parents. My son has been hanging out with his great-grandfather. And I'm cooking in my late grandmother's kitchen.

The first of my two big dreams has finally come true, and I've taken some big steps on the path to the second.

Last September I signed with an amazing agent. Brittany has already gotten my book in front of some big editors.

And now, we wait...

After all the years I've already been waiting, this last hurdle is hard to be patient about. It's hard to stand still, staring down the barrel at the thing I want, knowing I might take a shot and miss.

But if the last nine years have taught me anything, it's that failure only comes from lowering my weapon. When I keep my eye on the sight and keep pressing forward even when my arms are shaking, dreams can come true.

So, today I'm thanking God, because I'm one target down. Only one to go.

I didn't get the bullseye first time. So I made another arrow and I'm lining up to shoot again.
I'll let you know if I hit.

Your turn: What keeps you going, working towards your goals, even when it's really hard?

Monday, May 20, 2013

When Technology Stinks

So, it's official. I've returned to the homeland! Oregon has welcomed me home and my family has finally settled in the home we expect to enjoy for at least the next couple months.

It's a beautiful spot on the river in Southern Oregon. But that semi-rural lifestyle we've been craving comes with some challenges....including a current lack of wireless access.

I'm going to do my best to get this sorted out so normal broadcasting can resume. But until then, I'd love to hear what you're favorite fiction craft books are. I need some new fodder for forward motion in my writing.

So, while I'm on the phone with service providers and such-like, tell me your tips! Then hopefully we'll all learn something, and I'll be back later in the week with something useful.

Talk soon!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

From a Finalist of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2012 - C.H. Griffin

As a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, I’m a huge supporter of entering writing contests.  

I first heard about the ABNA contest from a critique partner in 2011 and entered my first novel.  When I made it as far as the quarterfinals, it was pretty encouraging, so it was a no-brainer to enter in 2012 with my YA novel DREAMCATCHERS.  To be honest, it wasn’t ready and I knew it.  It was really only a first draft.  But I thought, “Why not?”  I hate missing an opportunity.  Because you just never know.  Right?  

I remember the day I received THE phone call.  Actually, I stopped stressing over the contest after I’d made it past the quarterfinals, telling myself that I was happy with that. But it never even crossed my mind that I’d make it to the finals.  After I received the great news, I went into shock.  And I must have sounded that way because the rep on the phone suggested I sit down.     

Sure, I made it to the finals in Seattle and lost, but somehow I came away feeling like a winner.  I had a great experience, met some wonderful people, and got the attention needed to land my fantastic agent.  But there are pros and cons to entering each contest.   

So why is it BENEFICIAL to enter a contest?  You know, besides the obvious - winning prizes. 

·      Get noticed.  By readers, by writers, by agents, and editors.  Your name is out there now.  It’s attached to an actual piece of writing.  Even if you don’t win, you can meet others who have entered, start conversations, and build long-term connections and relationships with them.  That’s the beautiful thing about the writing community.  Writers love helping writers (that’s why I’m here talking to you today).  We support each other.  Yeah, everyone wants to win that contest, but others want to see you achieve your goals too. 

·      Gain publishing credits.  Even if it’s just getting published online or in a small periodical or collection of works, hey, congrats!  You’re still published.  You’ve now got bragging rights.  Even if you don’t win, the semi-finals is enough to gain some attention.

·      Pump up your resume.  Agents and publishers want to see that you’ve been active in the writing community.  That you’re not a complete and total newbie.  That you didn’t just jump on the “I think I’ll write a novel” bandwagon.  You’re a serious writer now.  You’ve got credentials - something other than “It’s a really great book.  I promise!” to put in your query letter.

·      Grow some ba… err, confidence.  It’s scary to put yourself out there.  It’s like your writing is going on a dating show.  Will people like it?  Or will it get voted off the island?  Hmm, I clearly don’t watch enough TV.  But seriously, it’s good practice for once you start querying agents, shopping for publishers, and attracting readers.  The publishing world is not for the faint of heart.  It is overflowing with rejection and ridicule.  At least with contests, you’ve never met the judges and probably never will.  You are just another faceless contestant.  So if you don’t make it, it doesn’t hurt quite as bad.  It helps prepare you for future rejections, which will inevitably become more brutal as you attract more attention to yourself and your writing.

·      Open doors.  Even if you don’t win, it can still create opportunities you didn’t expect.  By entering the Amazon contest, I came away with 5 new writing friends, some generous consolation prizes, and the attention of agents.  If that was considered losing, then I’m a happy loser.

BUT BE WARY.  Not all contests are made equal.  They can be a great opportunity, but don’t rush into it.  Do your research first, and familiarize yourself with the rules to protect yourself and your hard work.  

·      Is it legit?  Check out the company’s history and past contests held by the website.  Also look into past winners.  Maybe even contact them.  If they had a good experience, they will be more than willing to share.  It’s also a good sign if agents or other writers are involved in judging and are willing to put their names on the line.  If you’re having difficulty contacting any human beings associated with the contest, that’s a huge red flag.

·      Does it cost anything?  Most contests have an entry fee.  That’s usually where the winnings come from when it’s a low-profile contest.  It’s not unreasonable.  Holding and judging a contest can be a time-consuming, gruelling event.  But if the cost is outrageous, or the math doesn’t seem to work out (ie. not all the prize money goes to the winners), I’d be doing a little more research before handing over my Visa.  Also, make sure that once you win, you’re not obligated to spend more money, like an agency offering representation to the winner… for a small fee.  

·      What’s the fine print?  Make sure you read the rules thoroughly.  This is your baby we’re talking about here.  If you win, what rights do you keep or lose?  How long before they revert back to you?  Can you search for other publishers in the meantime?  Or is your search on hold?  This is not unusual, but again, make sure it’s reasonable.

After the ABNA finals in Seattle, I began to query agents.  As an unpublished author, it’s tough to get attention in today’s overloaded market.  You need something that makes you stand out.  And now I had it.  As a writer, you pray to the publishing gods for just one interested agent, but to have several requests for partials and fulls was better than I had anticipated.

Do you think I would have had the same response without those contest credentials?  Probably not.  It’s easy to get lost in the slush pile.  As one of the top three novels chosen out of thousands worldwide in a contest run by major players like Amazon and Penguin, I was able to turn a few heads.  It was like having a reference letter from someone in the industry.  In the end, I signed with wonderful Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron and Associates and have been moving forward ever since.  

The publishing industry is tough to break in to.  So why not give yourself the best chance possible?There are so many opportunities out there for writers.  You just need to put yourself out there.  Happy writing and good luck!

Your Turn: Have you entered any writing competitions? What were your experiences? Do you have any advice for other writers thinking about the same competition themselves? 

CH Griffin is a true geek at heart, enjoying anything from Star Trek expos to comic conventions on her days off from driving 400 ton dump trucks in Northern Alberta.  As a jack of all trades with a resume boasting registered nurse, English teacher, and photographer, writing is the one thing that is here to stay.  She was a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest for her novel Dreamcatchers.  She writes YA fiction and is represented by Pooja Menon from Kimberley Cameron and Associates.
You can find Cassandra at: or tweet her @chgriffinauthor



Saturday, May 4, 2013


While you read this I'm probably sitting in a pressurized cabin, crammed into a seat that's about two inches too narrow for comfort, trying to convince my six year old that curling up in that tiny seat and cuddling Mr. Monkey and SLEEPING is a good idea.

Tomorrow morning, we arrive in LA. Then on to Oregon.

Hence the reason I have absolutely NOTHING useful to offer to you today. Or for the rest of the week for that matter. Or part of next week either. Sorry. Until we're back on the 16th, enjoy this little piece of awesome. AKA, one of the best book trailer's I've ever seen:

See you on the 16th! (Be it virtually, or IRL)

Your Turn: Anyone know of, or headed to, a good writer's conference in Portland, Oregon this year? BECAUSE I COULD TOTALLY GO...


Friday, May 3, 2013

Cover Reveal for S. M. Johnston's SLEEPER

I am SO excited to introduce you to my friend and critique-partner's soon-to-be-published YA speculative novel:

After a life saving heart transplant, eighteen-year-old Mishca Richardson is plagued by nightmares and an urgent desire to find her birth parents, which she puts down to post-operation depression. But her new heart seems to bring more than a second chance at life in the form of speed, strength and love at first sight.

Sharon is a writer from Mackay in Queensland, Australia who has short stories published in anthologies and was also runner-up in the Australian Literary Review's Young Adult short story contest with KARMA. By day she is a public relations executive and by night she writes weird fiction and soulful contemporaries while her husband, two sons and cat are fast asleep.

You can find her at:
Your Turn:
Mark this one To Read!!!