Nancy's Books

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dialog/Call for Submissions

In most fictional books, characters talk with each other. The ability to speak makes us human and speech in fiction helps to bring the characters alive, to make them fully developed. Dialog is usually introduced early and each character should have a distinctive manner of speaking. Dialog must be interesting, reflect the character, and carry the plot forward. That’s easier said than done. Here are some key points for writing dialog that will appeal to readers.

1. Avoid accents. Figuring out what the character is saying slows down the story and distracts the reader. If accents are used sentence after sentence, reading is like decoding a message. A word or two is enough to give the reader a sense of the accent. Greater usage makes reading difficult and the reader will likely abandon the story.

2. Listen to how people talk. Words and phrases can identify a region or a particular profession. A teacher would not use the same words as a student in describing a plant or animal. As we vary the style of speech, dialog tags can be removed in a lengthy discussion between two characters.

“Jill, how do you remove this label?” asked Jack.
“What label? Jill turned to look at Jack.
“This label on the ransom note.”

The reader can follow who is speaking without “said Jack” attached to the piece of dialog. And “said Jill” can be eliminated by placing Jane in action following dialog.

3. Reveal portions of the plot through dialog. Maybe the character could hint about a surprise event or threaten harm. This not only develops the character but makes the surprise or threat more real when it is spoken rather than revealed through narrative. The suspense value is heightened.

Next week, I’ll introduce more tips for writing dialog.

Call for submissions for young writers:
Kentucky State Poetry Society STUDENT POETRY CONTESTS -- K thru 12 -- No entry fees -- Cash Prizes. This is a great way to get students interested in poetry.
Deadline: March 1
Details at

Call for submissions for adult writers:
The Flatt Prize for Literature welcomes submissions of short stories (no longer than 3,000 words). “The theme for the short story is to be inspired by the title ‘INTERRUPTED’.” $1,000 prize. No entry fee. Deadline: February 29, 2012.
Details at

Check out more contests on my blog:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Plot Revision

After you’ve finished the manuscript, it’s revision time. Does the plot work? Test the following:

Can you explain the plot of your story in one or two sentences? This is called a logline, a brief summary of the plot. Many editors are now asking for a logline in the submission process.

Look closely at the verbs. Use action verbs—hop, skip, jump—as opposed to is, are, was, were… Strong verbs don’t need adverbs [ly-words] to rev up the action. Screamed is stronger than yelled loudly.

Are the sentences active, rather than passive? Jim rode the bicycle is active. The bicycle was ridden by Jim is passive. Active places the character in charge of the action, rather than being acted upon.

Stories need a beginning, middle, and end. Did you start with action, where the character’s life is changed as a result of the plot or where the day is different from all the other days? Throw the character in the middle of the action at the beginning. Toss away any build up in describing the character or setting. This information can be woven into the plot as the story unfolds. Prune the beginning and up the action. In order to accomplish this, some writers discard the first one, two, or three chapters. It’s important to write them so the WRITER understands the character, but the reader doesn’t need to know as much about the characters as does the writer.

Next week, I’ll focus on dialog.

Call for submissions for adult writers:
“The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award brings together talented writers, reviewers, and publishing experts to find and develop new voices in fiction. The 2012 international contest will award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.” No entry fee.
Deadline: February 5, 2012.
Details at

Call for submissions for young writers:
Storybird.This service lets you create stories based on artwork on the site, then you can share your stories with friends, family and visitors to Storybird.
Details at

Check out more contests on my blog:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Character Revision/Calls for Submissions

Word vomit. That’s the term some writers call the first draft. The phrase is certainly an apt description of my un-revised writing. Good writing is born from rewriting.

Begin revision by examining the main character. Is the character believable? The main character should not be perfect. Instead, give the character flaws. Play up those flaws through the problems the character has to work through. Is the character likeable? If not, the reader won’t care what happens. Create a likeable character so the reader will relate and want to follow his/her journey.

Provide enough description for the reader to envision the character but not so much to slow down the action of the plot. If the color of the hair doesn’t affect the plot, the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know she has red hair. In picture books, the illustrations will provide many of the descriptions.

Is the character’s behavior consistent throughout? The character shouldn’t be mild-mannered and meek in one part of the story and loud and obnoxious in another unless the change in character is fully explored and related to the reader.

The character needs to grow, change, or learn something over the course of the story.

Next week, I’ll focus on plot revision.

Call for submissions for adult writers:
Kudzu. Hazard Community and Technical College’s literary magazine Kudzu is seeking submissions for the Spring 2012 issue. Writers must submit their prose or poetry at
Deadline: January 31.
Details: Contacts Scott Lucero at

Call for submissions for student writers:
Student Poetry Division
Must be currently enrolled in high school or undergraduate
college and have no professional literary publication. Poems
limited to 1,000 words on any subject. Multiple entries will
not be considered.
Deadline: March 1, 2012.
Details at

Check out more contests on my blog:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Publishing Trends/Calls for Submissions

In a blog or two each year, I focus on publishing trends. has compiled a list of trends that exist in “ghastly little numbers” and suggest that these trends need to go away because the trends are “poisoning beloved bookstores and libraries for far too long." Here’s the list:
1. Lackluster graphic novel/comic book adaptations
2. "Self-help" guides doing more harm than good
3. Bandwagon-jumping [writing to trends]
4. Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs
5. "Revolutionary" diet plans
6. Celebrity authors who just can't write
7. "Women's literature" with reductionist views of women
8. Remixing the classics
9. Assuming genre fiction has nothing to say
10. Dismissing all self-published literature
You can read the entire article at
What do you think? Should any of these trends go away?

Check out more contests on my blog:

Call for submissions for adult writers:
Milkweed Editions poetry prize: The Linquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is an annual regional prize, presented in partnership by Milkweed Editions and the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation. Established in 2011 with the aim of supporting outstanding Midwestern poets and bringing their work to a national stage, the prize will award $10,000 as well as a contract for publication to the author of the winning manuscript. The winner will be selected from among five finalists by an independent judge.” NB: “Submissions for this regional prize will be accepted only from poets currently residing in the Upper Midwestern United States, defined as: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.”
Deadline: January 31, 2012.
Details at

Call for submissions for young writers:
"Kids Count for Earthday" Earthday Haiku Contest 2012. Kids
will need to count to create their Earthday haiku and help
all of us to learn how to keep the planet clean and healthy!
The contest is open to individual students 7 -20 years old.
Deadline: March 22, 2012.
Details at

Age Groups:
7-9 years old
10 -12 yrs old
13-15 yrs old
16-18 yrs old
19-20 yrs old

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Beginning

Happy New Year. May 2012 bring you positive results in your writing endeavors.

The new year rings in a new beginning, a time for renewed hope, fresh inspiration, and the setting of goals. I like to review what I’ve done the previous year and determine what worked and what didn’t. Did I spend too much time on a manuscript that is going nowhere or procrastinating when I should have been writing? I also like to look at what worked. Why was one manuscript accepted and others rejected over and over by various publishers? Another question: How can I become more organized so I can spend a maximum amount of time writing? The answers to these questions differ for every writer, but January is a perfect opportunity for writers to question how they work and scrutinize how their routines and writing styles can be improved.

One suggestion for beginning writers is to examine how they view themselves. A positive attitude helps to keep writers focused on the ultimate goal of garnering a publishing contract. Do you view yourself as wanting to write a book or wanting to be an author? In a conference I recently attended, the speaker clarified the difference. Anyone can write a book and get it published, but to be an author, the writer must learn the craft, dedicate time to writing, and believe that a contract is in your future. Positive thinking leads to positive outcomes.

Here’s to a creative year filled with professional dedication. Let’s be positive, stay focused, and devote time to writing.

Next week, I'll discuss some of the latest trends in publishing.

Call for submissions for adult writers
The latest Ploughshares newsletter contains this reminder: “We are on the hunt for Patricia Hampl’s Fall 2012 all-nonfiction issue. Submit online or via regular mail. The regular reading period ends on January 15th, so please polish and send in those essays soon.” NB: If you submit online and you don’t subscribe to the journal, you must pay a fee. No fee for postal submissions. Ploughshares pays “upon publication: $25/printed page, $50 minimum per title, $250 maximum per author, with two copies of the issue and a one-year subscription.”

Call for submissions for student writers
CUCKOO QUARTERLY welcomes submissions of original writing by writers
under the age of 19. We encourage everything from poetry to
prose, short stories to movie reviews, opinion to imagination.
It can be work that fits the categories laid out in previous
editions or entirely different; don’t feel constrained by
form or genre. Cuckoo will be published quarterly
Deadline: December 21, 2011

Check out more contests on my blog: