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Writing Exercise from Cliff

Posted by on Nov 4, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Writing Exercise from Cliff

Here’s a writing exercise by one of my friend’s Cliff Cardin that will help you YA writers develop your ability to set scenes and add descriptions to your work.

The intriguing thing about film is the ease in which it can take you to a back-alley crime scene and completely immerse you in the surroundings. Everything is there. No background information is necessary. You don’t have to guess what color the victim’s purse is, or what the detective is wearing; you can see it. The expression on the actor’s face is readily apparent, no need to say, “she cast a sly grin.”

As a writer, our work is not so easy. We have to set the scene for our readers if we want to successfully convey our original intention.

When I write, I am often short on detail. I consistently have to re-edit material. I assume this is because I began by writing screenplays. My motto was, forget the detail, that’s what actors and set designers are for.

When I switched to novels, I realized I had to do something to beef up the descriptive process, so I started looking for helpful hints. I recently attempted a writing exercise that worked well for me—so well; I thought I would share it with you.

To begin the exercise, take a scene from one of your favorite television shows. I chose Castle. Record the scene on your DVR, and then watch it. After you watch it a couple of times go back to your desk and write out the scene. Jot down everything you can remember, including dialogue. I selected a scene from a recent episode set inside a precinct office. That meant I had to describe, what the characters were wearing, what office furniture was in the room, the expressions worn by the characters, and, of course, what was said.

After writing the scene, I went back and re-watched the recording. I specifically looked for things I may have missed. Was the room dimly lit? Did it cause the characters any problems? If so, what were they? I then went back and edited the original copy, adding components I believed were important.

At some point your experience will reverse. You’ll read what you have on paper and then watch the completed scene only to find it was shot as written.

Your now ready for the final test. Have someone read your writing, and then show them the segment. Ask if what they were watching was the way they visualized it when they read your text. If it was, you have mastered your craft.

Of course, the amount of detail you enter into your book will vary depending upon your pacing, but being able to describe what you visualize is a skill worth cultivating.

Just a Thought,


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Talk about being punctual!

Posted by on Oct 31, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Talk about being punctual!

Let’s have a look at how punctuation is used in dialogue. This used to confuse me all the time, but there are some simple rules to follow:

1) It’s all one sentence.

Many people separate the sentence in the dialogue from it’s dialogue tag, but that’s wrong. What’s a dialogue tag? That’s the part of the sentence that tells you how the dialogue is expressed. For example “he said.” “she screamed.” “they whispered.”

Look at the following sentences:

“Let’s try again,” he whispered.
 “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed.
“Where do we go?” she asked.

The first thing to note is that the dialogue tags aren’t separate sentences as shown by the lowercase “he” and “she.”

Next, while “Let’s try again,” looks like a complete sentence and should end with a period, it doesn’t. Use a comma because the sentence isn’t over yet. We use a “!” and “?” in the other two example because they’re show how the sentence is read.

Finally, note that the punctuation at the end of the sentence goes inside the quotes.

Now you may be thinking, “I’ve seen dialogue that ends with a period.” You probably have, but was that dialogue  followed by a dialogue tag? If we’ve established the speaker we can often omit the dialogue tag altogether because the context has been established.

“Let’s kill him now,” Eric said, holding the blade of his sword to the king’s throat.
“No!” exclaimed Bart. “We need him alive or we don’t get paid.”
“Fine.” Eric slammed his blade back in its sheath before dropping the king to the floor.

Notice in the last line, the dialogue stands as its own sentence yet we know who’s saying it and how it’s said.

2) What if the dialogue tag comes first?

Bart picked up the king and asked, “Are you going to behave or must I tie you up?”

Notice here that the comma comes after the dialogue tag “asking” and the dialogue begins with a capital even though technically this is still all one sentence.

When the dialogue finishes the sentence it can end with a period like you’d expect.

The king nodded, replying, “I’ll behave. Please don’t hurt me.”

Now we get a little tricky because there are two sentences in the quotes. This is easier to handle when they come at the end, but if they start the sentence then the sentence just before the dialogue tags end in a comma instead of a period if it doesn’t need a “!” or “?” at the end.

3) And if the dialogue tag splits a sentence?

The following two sentences look a lot alike, but the difference is in how they’re punctuated.

“Alright. But,” he said, raising a knife, “if you try anything you’ll not only be bound, but missing a finger.”

See how the whole thing is a sentence? This is because the dialogue is separated by an action occurring as it is said. You have to pay attention when you do this because it doesn’t work usually work with just a plain dialogue tag.

“You have my word,” said the king, “just put away the knife.”
“You have my word,” said the king. “Just put away the knife.”

In these two examples the second one is correct. Saying it out you can hear why the second example works and the first doesn’t.

When you split dialogue this way, always have an action occurring or a reason for a pause in the sentence. When in doubt, read it aloud.

4) Bad dialogue tags

Be careful not to use bad dialogue tags. These are tags that don’t really express speech.

“Hello,” he smiled.

You can’t smile “hello.” You can say “hello.” This is a very common error.

“Hello,” he said with a smile.

Think about what you’re trying to express. Word like “agreed,” “laughed,” and “sobbed,” express actions not speech. You can run your story through the Story Analyzer to find many dialogue tags you may be misusing.

Any questions? Leave a comment.
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Book Trailer: Starling

Posted by on Oct 21, 2012 in Trailers | Comments Off on Book Trailer: Starling

If you liked Leslsey Livingston’s young adult novel trilogy Wondrous Strange, then you’ll love this new book featuring one of its key characters: Fennrys.


Mason Starling is a champion fencer on the Gosforth Academy team, but she’s never had to fight for her life. Not until the night a ferocious, otherworldly storm rips through Manhattan, trapping Mason and her teammates inside the school. Mason is besieged by nightmarish creatures more terrifying than the thunder and lightning as the raging tempest also brings a dangerous stranger into her life: a young man who remembers nothing but his name—the Fennrys Wolf. His arrival tears Mason’s world apart, even as she feels an undeniable connection to him. Together, they seek to unravel the secrets of Fenn’s identity as strange and supernatural forces gather around them. When they discover Mason’s family—with its dark allegiance to ancient Norse gods—is at the heart of the mystery, Fennrys and Mason are suddenly faced with a terrifying future.

Set against the gritty, shadowed back-drop of New York City, this first novel in award-winning author Lesley Livingston’s epic Starling Saga is an intoxicating blend of sweeping romance and pulse-pounding action.

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Make the Universe what you want it to be

Posted by on Oct 4, 2011 in Inspirational | Comments Off on Make the Universe what you want it to be

Although this comes from an actor about acting, I believe it directly applies to us and what we are trying to achieve as Young Adult Writers.


If you’re interested in The Alchemist, you can check it out here.

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Posted by on Sep 20, 2011 in Inspirational | Comments Off on Write!

“Start early and work hard. A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.” – David Eddings 

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. It states that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. This does not mean you have to write for 10,000 hours before you can create a book worth publishing, but with every word you write, your experience and skill increase.

If you’re nowhere near the 10,000 hour mark and the book you’ve written isn’t getting the praise you expect, perhaps you should re-examine your ability to write. Every one of us can always improve. I recently looked at a novel I wrote ten years ago (which I thought was amazing at the time) with shock at the rookie mistakes, awful pacing, incredible wordiness, and countless clichés. That book is due for a complete rewrite.

Remember a five years ago when you thought you knew it all, and now looking back you realize just how much you’ve learned since then, how much wiser you’ve become? Do you think you’ll be thinking any differently about who you are now in another five years? True humility is not the downplaying of our skills, but the realization that we still have much to learn no matter what our skill level may be. True wisdom comes from learning this fact. You don’t know it all, not about writing, relationships, business, or life. You never will. But you will learn more. You’ll always learn more.

Write to improve your skill, write to learn how to write, write because you love to write. You’re a young adult writer. You want to produce amazing YA novels. Finish your novel, and as you start to shop it around, put it up online, or whatever you choose, write some more! It’s who we are. Embrace that. Write!


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