Unconventional Research Sites for Your Writing

writer researchI read recently that 70% of millennials get their news from Facebook. Really? Isn’t Facebook a place to share personal information, stay in touch with friends and families, post pictures of weddings and birthdays? So why do students turn to it for news? And then, not two days later, I heard Twitter has reclassified their app as a news purveyor rather than a social media device. Once again: Who gets news from Twitter? Apparently a lot of adults. No surprise news shows are littered with references to listener’s tweets and the President breaks stories via his Twitter stream.

One more stat — which may explain the whole social-media-as-news-trend — and then I’ll connect these dots: Only 6% of people trust the press. I guess that’s why they prefer blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Research is a similar change. Your grandmother relied on encyclopedias, reference books, and museums. Your mother probably looked to Google. But, if you aren’t motivated by Google’s snazzy list of hits you have to slog through, you won’t get a lot out of it. I have a list of eight research sites that walk the line between stodgy (textbooks) and out-there (Twitter and Facebook), designed by their developers with an eye toward enticing you in and then keeping your interest. Some are more suited to your children than adults — you decide.

It’s notable that most are free, but include advertising. The exception is BrainPOP — there are no ads, but it requires a hefty annual fee:

BrainPOP

Fee

BrainPOP is a collection of three-five minute animated movies, learning games, quizzes, and interactive activities for kids and teens addressing a wide variety of topics such as math, science, social studies, health, art, and technology. With the assistance of two quirky moderators, colorful graphics, and a clean uncluttered interface, kids are drawn to these easy-to-understand discussions on thousands of topics they’re studying. They can search based on subject matter, video topic, Common Core or state standard, or simply browse a list of videos. Selection can be either a theme-based video or a game (called GameUp) — whichever is better suited to their learning style. Optionally, they can take a quiz and send results to the teacher. It can be purchased as a single license or a district-wide offering. Besides BrainPOP, the franchise offers BrainPOP Jr (for K-2), BrainPop Español, BrainPop Français, and BrainPop ESL.

History Channel Great Speeches

Free

The History Channel includes a large collection of the most famous historic speeches in video and audio, including dropping the atomic bomb, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Jackie Robinson on racial taunts, and the 9/11 attacks.

This is a great primary source when researching almost any topic, but especially history.  You hear original phrasing, emphasis, and often reactions to dramatic events that — without recordings — would be simply words on paper to most of them, devoid of passion, emotion, and motivation.

25308581 concept illustrating evolution from books to computersHow Stuff Works

Free

How Stuff Works, available on the web, iPads, and Android, is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works. This includes topics such as animals, culture, automobiles, politics, money, science, and entertainment. It uses a wide variety of media (photos, diagrams, videos, animations, articles, and podcasts) to explain traditionally-complex concepts such as magnetism, genes, and thermal imaging. It also includes Top Ten lists that address pretty much any topic, such as ten historic words that don’t mean what you’d think and ten things made from recycled wood.

You’ll find thorough discussions on topics you’re researching written in an easy-to-understand manner (that was great when I had to research the magnetosphere for my recent novel). There are also add-on articles that enable you to dig deeper. For those looking for more rigor, there are quizzes that evaluate knowledge and challenge learning (such as the hardest words to spell and Who Said That).

Info Please

Free

Info Please provides authoritative answers to questions using statistics, facts, and historical records culled from a broad overview of research materials including atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, thesauri, a calculator, the periodic table, a conversion tool, the popular Year-by-Year tracking what happened when, and the oft-quoted This Day in History.

Students 9-13 may prefer the younger-oriented Fact Monster.

NOVA Videos 

Free

NOVA Videos (part of PBS) offer high-quality, well-researched and professionally-presented videos on a wide variety of topics such as ancient civilizations, body and brain, evolution, physics, math, planet earth, space, tech and engineering, and more. It is not filtered for youngsters (though everything is G-rated), rather addresses topics with the intent of explaining them fully. Of great utility is a series of over 400 video shorts (most two-five minutes) on topics such as robots, ancient civilizations, and nature — all searchable by topic and date.

Besides video, topics may include articles, Q&A, slideshows, audio, documentary (or fact-based) TV shows, timelines, quizzes, links to other sites, and DVDs/books available for purchase.

Condom withSchoolsWorld.TV

Free

The UK-based SchoolsWorld.TV is a wonderful multimedia platform of films, games, and information you probably haven’t heard about. It is aimed at everyone involved in education, including students. Topics include math, science, history, geography, music, religious education, and more.

To use this site, filter by age group and then by the type of information you seek — videos, games, or PDF.

Smithsonian Learning Lab

Free

The Smithsonian Learning Lab curates the more than one million digital images, recordings, and text available from the Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, nine major research centers, the National Zoo, and more. The goal is to inspire the discovery and creative use of knowledge.

During searches, you can easily tag and annotate discoveries, save them into your account profile, and then share with others.

Zanran

Free

Zanran searches not only text (as is done by traditional browsers), but numerical data presented in graphs, tables, and charts and posted as an image. This huge amount of information can be difficult to find using conventional search engines, but not for Zanran (in beta).

If you’re looking for statistics or raw data on a subject, this is an excellent additional site to include in research.

More on research:

My Research at the Library of Congress 

5 Reasons I love Research

Writer’s Tip #26: Be Accurate


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

Why I Love Goodreads

goodreadsI joined Goodreads as a digital way to keep track of the books I read. Over time, it has grown to a community where I chat with like-minded bibliophiles who love books, words, and anything related. Here are some of the activities I pursue on Goodreads:

Chat with those who read the same book

There are lots of ways to connect with like-minded readers, starting with Discussion Groups. I get a lot of feedback from Goodreads’ members on reviews I post which I always follow up on. If it sounds like we have similar interests, I reach out, say hi, comment on their reviews or book choices.

Get recommendations in my genre

Most authors I like only write a book a year so I’m always looking for new writers. Goodreads is a great place to find those.

Add and read reviews

Before I read a book, I check out what Goodreads members are saying about it. Then, when I’m finished, I share my review and always enjoy the feedback I get from others.

Connect with authors I like

Goodreads’ authors are amazingly accessible. Often, when I review one of their books, they drop in on my Goodreads’ stream or my blog to say thank you or chat. Who would think? When I become famous, I’ll do the same.

Receive free preview copies by great authors

Lots of authors offer free books on Goodreads through promotional giveaways. Truth, I have never won one of these, but lots of others have because I see their comments all the time. These are both Indie authors and NYT best sellers. So, I keep applying (and getting turned down).

Promote my books

Goodreads offers a variety of ways to promote your books such as giveaways, free sample chapters, and Ask the Author. I haven’t taken advantage of these yet. Anyone have experience with this sort of advertising? Results?

Enter competitions

Every year, I try to predict how many books I’ll read the upcoming year. Goodreads has a widget that will track my progress. I can stick it in my blog’s sidebar so visitors can check how I’m doing. Here’s an image of how I did this year:

goodreads

I can’t believe how many people participated this year and all the books they read:

goodreads-2

How about you–do you use Goodreads? If so, let’s link up!

More about the love of reading:

What did I write today?

Why do I Write?

I’m in Love With NetGalley


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

My Research at the Library of Congress 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESSMy current WIP is complicated. It delves into the life of earliest man with all of its threats and dangers, as well as the inventions of those big brain ideas that changed the world (like stone tools and fire). I’ve read everything available on the topic from my local libraries and online. The big resource I hadn’t yet plumbed was the US Library of Congress. It is the largest library in the world, with more than 162 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other print materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, and 70 million manuscripts.  It’s had only 13 Librarians of Congress, the current one in that position for almost thirty years. In my case, I sought answers to questions like how did man discover music. How did s/he first organize a system of law? Who was the first person who thought, “I have free time not required to hunt and sleep. I think I’ll draw a picture.”

This is the sort of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Many of the books are not digitized and none of them can be checked out (by non-Congressional folk) so in my recent trip to visit my daughter in DC, I spent a glorious day researching in this amazing building. You can tour the library as a visitor (which I did on a previous trip) but to use the books requires a library card. They’re easy to get, though you must go to a hidden room down a long hallway in a completely separate building. Once I found the right door, it took only about ten minutes to take my picture, input my data, and print the card.

Before going to the library, I went to the LoC website and ordered the books I wanted with a note informing them of my arrival date. The library staff collected my books and had them ready in the reading room I requested (there are about eight–I think).

When I arrived at 8:30 am, I received a rundown of the rules for using the reading rooms. No purses (though I could fill my pockets with whatever from my purse). No food or drinks, though there was a drinking fountain outside the reading room. The reading rooms aren’t easily accessible. You can see them on the library tour, but to enter them requires a circuitous trip down a yellow hall, up an elevator, and through a guard who makes sure you are approved for entry.

When I finally found the room and checked in with the librarian, he had a rolling shelf full of books awaiting me. Because I wanted to spread them out and compare books over an extended period, they gave me a private area with a long table-like desk with the shelves within reach of my work space.

And there I worked for eight hours. From 8:30 when the library opened to 5 when it closed along with a wonderful collection of cerebral fellow researchers. No one talked. No one varied from their task of consuming knowledge.  The books I’d selected were amazing. None of them were available in my local libraries, some being original work from the early 1800s when we still had tribes living independent of modern society. When I got stuck, a helpful librarian found the right book for me (in one case, it was on the origins of counting) and had it delivered to my room. When I finished, I had to walk through an airport scanner to be sure I didn’t take anything I shouldn’t. When my daughter picked me up in the front of the building, I couldn’t stop grinning with the sheer fun of uncovering the answers.

What have you done lately that blew you away?

More on research:

5 Reasons I love Research

How to Virtually Visit a Location You Can’t Drop In On

How to describe …


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

What did I write today?

Since I work out of my house, I like to break my day into three parts:

morning

afternoon

evening

I consign writing jobs to each portion of the day, stopping for lunch and dinner. Often, those three portions will be 1) freelance writing, 2) WIP, and 3) research.

Every once in a while, I like to look at what I accomplish on a daily basis with my writing. I don’t count words like some writing efriends. I count what I get done. My writing To Do list includes:

That’s the goal. Here’s what I actually accomplished this week:

  • edited and researched Lucy: Story of Man. That has grabbed my passion at the moment, as well as most of my daily morning and afternoon writing time. I’ve learned that when I can’t let go of a book, don’t. Everything else will wait.

early man

  • wrote 3-5 posts on each of my three blogs, WordDreams, Ask a Tech Teacher, and USNA or Bust

blogging

contact-me

  • thought about the upcoming AtoZ Challenge. Yeah, I know that’s not until April, but if I’m going to do it, I’ll need all 30 posts ready by then. So, this week, I trundled through what a good topic would be. Let’s call this ‘research’ for future writing.

quirks

  • visited efriends on social media to support them, check in, and learn something new. I use this as breaks in my writing activities. It rejuvenates me to see what the rest of the world is doing.

 

social media

  • attended a webinar in my area of interest, in an effort to keep up to date. This week: Hack the Classroom by Microsoft.

social media

  • prepared for my online class

It doesn’t seem like that much when I list it out. Where DOES all my time go? What do you do with your day?

If you’re curious what other writers do all day, here’s Kate Harrison’s wonderful video on the Life of a Writer and Amy’s Day in the Life of a Writer.

More on writers:

What’s My Writing Space Look Like?

14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

How to Talk to a Writer

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy and To Hunt a Sub, her debut fiction. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member forJournal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her nonfiction books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

12 Surprises I Found Marketing My Debut Novel, To Hunt a Sub

quirksMarketing To Hunt a Sub, my debut novel, is a whole lot different from my non-fiction pieces. In those, I could rely on my background, my expertise in the subject, and my network of professional friends to spread the word and sell my books. Fiction–not so much. For one thing, I don’t have expertise in the topic I wrote about. Nor do I have prior fiction novels that have buttressed my reputation. So I did what I have always done when preparing for the unknown: I researched. I read everything I could find on how to market a novel, collected ideas, made my plan, and jumped in without a backward glance.

Well, now that much of the marketing is done, there are a few pieces I wish I’d done differently:

  • I participated in the Kindle Scout to mentally kick-off my campaign. That took longer than I expected which set me back a few weeks.
  • Uploading my manuscript to Kindle was easy, but took more preparation than I’d planned. The preparation was along the line of ‘tedious’, not ‘complicated’. No brainpower required; just time.
  • Many fellow bloggers offered to help with my blog hop, and I wish I’d kept better track of that aspect. I did have a spreadsheet, but I didn’t include enough detail.
  • I wish I’d included interview questions in the blog hop articles. Several bloggers I follow did this, but I skipped it to save time. I wish I hadn’t.
  • I should have used Facebook and Twitter more. Here’s what Stephanie Faris, efriend and published author of the Piper Morgan series, says about a Facebook account:

Facebook is where you’ll find your friends and relatives. You’ll also find your fourth-grade teacher, your kindergarten best friend, and pretty much everyone who has ever mattered in your life. These are the people who are most likely to buy your book and tell everyone they meet about it. All you have to do is post a picture of your book and your real supporters will ask where they can get a copy.

Stephanie actually suggests the same sort of approach for Twitter. I have a Twitter account, but I forgot to use it enough!

  • Take that a step further: I should have FB’d and Tweeted the posts of my blog hop folks. Duh–that seems so obvious now.
  • I wish I’d reached out to my local library and bookstores to see if there’s appetite for a book signing or chat. Well, I could still do that!
  • I didn’t follow up well enough on fellow bloggers who offered their help. Thankfully, many of them reached out to me–emailed me with questions or confirmation of dates. I wish I’d reached out more.

A few essential pieces that I gleaned from the experience of fellow bloggers and/or just seemed logical but–surprisingly–everyone doesn’t do:

  • Kindle Scout was a good first step because it forced me to create the necessary marketing pieces for the ultimate campaign–blurb, one-line summary, pristine document, and polished cover.
  • Visit the blog hop host and respond to comments.
  • Take blog hop visits one step further: Visit the blogs of those who comment. Join their conversations. Be a friend.
  • Read the books of your blog hosts. Usually, they’re Indies–between $0.00 and $2.99. That’s a small investment to promote your book and often, you come away with excellent entertainment for a few days. Then, review them. Add the review to not only Amazon, but Goodreads which has become the go-to location for readers and writers.

What tips do you have for marketing a new novel? What’s worked best for you?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

I’m in Love With NetGalley

love readingThose who follow my WordDreams writing blog know I read constantly–far too much, but it’s not something I can control. I curl up with a good book, start on page one (or the preface), lose track of time, and suddenly I’ve finished the book and am looking for the next. As I roll through book after book, the cost has become a big issue. I used to buy them on Kindle, but these days, they’re $9-$12 each with Indies when you can find them $2.99-$3.99. That quickly became too expensive so I switched to library books. I set up an online account at my local branch allowing me to search the virtual stacks of all county libraries. When I find a book I want, I have it delivered to my local branch and pick it up for a small service charge of $.25. There’s even a section for ‘New Titles’ so within a week of publication, I can get the latest offerings of my favorite authors. I have never exceeded the 70 book checkout limit, but regularly pick up 5-10 books at a time. The problem with this is they don’t carry all books (of course they don’t) and there are times I’ve waited months for a book to become available.

Another way I defray reading costs is through Amazon Vine. As a Vine Voice, I have a personalized online queue that provides items they think interest me. I can select up to five at a time and add more as I review them. The problem with this is, there are less and less books on my list and too many items I’m barely interested in. For example, right now my queue includes nail polish, books on art, earbuds, yogurt, placemats, dish towels and baby items. Since the law now requires they charge me (albeit at a discounted rate) for items I order, I only pick what I really want, which BTW isn’t any of the ones I listed.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed many of the bloggers I follow review books they’ve gotten for free from NetGalley. At first, I thought the choices would be limited so it took me a while to check it out. When I did, I found a long list of books from authors I have enjoyed (LG Sellers, James Patterson, Ben Coes–NYT best-selling authors like this). All you do is set up an account and request a copy.

That sounded easy enough, so I did just that. First, I had to set up my personal writerly profile, which I did, filling in as little as possible because I’m always in a hurry. Within a few days, I got a rejection of my request, suggesting I add more detail to my profile. What they wanted me to do was sell my qualifications as a reviewer, blogger, writer. OK. Any author knows how to do that, so I spent about twenty minutes fleshing out my creds. Within a few days, I started getting approvals on almost all the books I’d selected (a few had limited availability and I was too late). Now, I have four books on my NetGalley dashboard. I can read them on my Kindle, either in the native format or as a ‘doc’ that downloads to my Kindle app. There were a few geeky steps that took me way to long and now I’m  all set up. With this collection of books, I can’t imagine running out of reading anytime soon.

How do you fill your reading queue affordably?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

I’m Launching My Debut Novel

to hunt a sub

This month, I may not be as accessible as usual. After five years, two hundred rewrites, about thirty sets of eyes to offer suggestions, three exorcist-like breakdowns, and six gallons of virtual ice cream to help me recover, I’m launching my debut thriller, To Hunt a Sub:

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

A brilliant Ph.D. candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky experimental robot team up against terrorists intent on stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. By all measures, they are an unlikely trio–one believes in brawn, another brains, and the third is all geek. What no one realizes is this trio has a secret weapon: the wisdom of a formidable female who died two million years ago.

Here’s what’s coming up:

  • My Kindle Scout campaign is running right now. If enough people recommend me, I’ll get a publishing contract. Feel free to click the link and push ‘Recommend’
  • Just in case the first option doesn’t work, my blogging friends are all set to help market To Hunt a Sub with Cover Reveals, Launch Day Announcements, and a Blog Hop starting mid-July and extending through the end of August.
  • To prepare for the launch, I need to upload the ebook to Kindle and anywhere else I want to market it, set up a landing page for promotions, and whatever else I can’t think of right now.

So, this is my long way of saying, if you don’t hear from me as much as usual, please understand. And feel free to join the festivities or help me promote my book (I’ll return the favor when you’re ready). Just add a comment at the bottom.

Talk soon!


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

19 Self-editing Tips

Help!

Help!

Now that I’m close to publishing my first novel, To Hunt a Sub, I can say from experience that writing it and editing it took equally long periods of time (and I’ve been warned that marketing will be just as involved). After finishing the final rough draft (yeah, sure) and before emailing it to an editor, I wanted it as clean possible. I searched through a wide collection of self-editing books like these:

The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall

…and came up with a list of fixes that I felt would not only clean up grammar and editing, but the voice and pacing that seemed to bog my story down. Here are some ideas you might like:

  • Use ‘was’ only twice per page. This includes ‘were’ and ‘is’.
  • Limit adverbs. Search for ‘ly’ endings and get rid of as many as possible.
  • Watch out for bouncing eyes–
    • He dropped his eyes to the floor.
    • His eyes roved the room
  • Use gerunds sparingly. Search for -ing endings and eliminate as many as possible.
  • Eliminate ‘very’.
  • Eliminate ‘not’ and ‘n’t’–switch them to a positive.
  • Eliminate dialogue tags as often as possible. Those you keep should be simple, like said. Instead of tags, indicate the speaker by actions.
  • Be specific. Not ‘the car’, but ‘the red Oldsmobile convertible’.
  • Eliminate but, the fact that, just, began to, started to. Rarely do these move the action forward.
  • Use qualifiers sparingly. This includes a bit, little, fairly, highly, kind of, mostly, rather, really, slightly, sort of, appeared to, seemed to--you get the idea.
  • Run your manuscript through an auto-editor like Autocrit. It’ll find problems like sentence length variations and repetition of words so you can fix them.
  • Run your manuscript through a grammar checker like Grammarly or Hemingway.
  • Don’t have too many prepositional phrases in a sentence. There’s no set rule, but if you get lost before the sentence ends, you have too many.
  • Secure each chapter in place and time. A quick reminder of where characters are and whether it’s in the present or past is good enough.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. It’s tempting to retell events when a character is talking to someone who didn’t live through the last few chapters, but summarize instead–briefly. Your audience already knows this material.
  • Verify that time tracks correctly in your novel. Make sure the day is correct and that characters have enough time to get from here to there in the timeline.
  • Verify that your characters are wearing the correct clothing and have the right reactions for their position in the timeline. For example, if they were in a car accident, when they appear again in the novel, make sure they act accordingly.
  • Describe with all senses. Add what your character smelled or heard along with what they saw.
  • Don’t tell what you’re showing. Use one or the other, preferably showing.

A great way to find these mis-writings is with Ctrl+F, the universal Find shortkey. It will highlight all instances of whatever you’re searching on the page.

What these don’t address is character development, plotting, or living scenes so you’ll still have to deal with those prior to sending it to your editor.

More on self-editing:

11 Tips to Self-Editing Your Manuscript

How to Edit Your Novel (according to Yuvi)

20 Hints that Mark the Novice Writer


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

46 Transitions That Help Your Story Flow

writing tipsOne of the top recommendations experts share with writers is to read. Anywhere you find a list of tips on how to hone your writing skills it will include 1) read your manuscript aloud, 2) show don’t tell, and 3) read.

I have no problem reading, endlessly, about five books a week. I can’t stop. If I don’t read, I get hyper and dissatisfied with whatever I’m doing. Doesn’t matter what, it always goes better with a reading break. As I read, I collect favorite parts where the author quickly and effectively put me in the middle of the action, made me like their character, and/or fell in love with the setting. At first, I just added them to a bullet list, but soon, the list got out of control so I divided it into categories, like this:

descriptor list

To date, I have over 140 pages and 75 categories–most of which I’m sharing with you over the next months on my WordDreams blog (drop by and check out the category, Descriptors). Today, I’ll share transition phrases and sentences. Transitions are critical to superior writing. Readers must get from here to there fluidly, without losing energy or getting lost in minutiae. Without transition words, stories seem jumpy, awkward, and confusing.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

Another note: These resonate with me. They may make no sense to your muse. That’s fine–just skip those!

General

  1. By the middle of September, he had changed his name three times and was in a new place every night. Today was Room 338.
  2. ten minutes later, top down on the Corvette, Hootie blaring from his car’s speakers, he cleared Candlestick Point and twenty minutes after that was parking in the courthouse lot 25-miles south.
  3. have I done something wrong?
  4. Ten minutes later, Bosch was standing with the remote control in front of the AV equipment…
  5. Well, I believe that about covers the situation.
  6. Ten hours later I was in the coach section.
  7. I was sitting in the front seat of a patrol car talking to a cop named Cataldo. We were cruising along.
  8. I spun my wheels for a couple of days until I finally met with …
  9. Finding Jonathan Parson’s former wife ate up another ninety minutes of his time.
  10. The song was running through his mind twenty-one years later when the bomb went off.
  11. “Good, I’m good!” he shouted. We all looked over to see what he could possibly mean.
  12. It was dark when I got there, and my head was so clear as to be empty. I check in, unpacked, went to the bar and had a sandwich and a couple of beers, went back up to my room and, exhausted from the excitement, went to bed.
  13. Long gone, despite what Hollywood would have you believe.
  14. if that’s all you know about Jack Murtha … you don’t know Jack.
  15. He stopped completely, standing, apparently distracted, outside the hotel, looking at his watch, checking the passersby, watching for someone who hesitated, someone who might slow down and stop.
  16. If she left now, she’d still make it to St. Camillus to light that candle.
  17. Frank sat on the tailgate of his glossy new Ford pick-up, watching the men in the trench work.
  18. After some light-hearted banter about the craziness of the music business and the foibles of the various artists, dinner arrived.
  19. Steered the conversation toward innocuous subjects.
  20. Rainie was missing. How could he be sitting in a luxury sedan?
  21. At the best of times, I’m a slow reader, this wasn’t one of those times.
  22. After hanging up the phone, I ate a solitary late-night snack, did some reading, climbed into bed and eventually got some sleep.
  23. Led him through greening hills and valleys, but he was only dimly aware of the scenery.
  24. The subtext is…
  25. He stirred powdered milk into the dark liquid until it turned the color of caramel.
  26. They’d covered some of this territory before.
  27. She sat for a moment, organizing her thoughts on how to proceed.
  28. Stromsoe was in high school when he met the boy who would someday murder his wife and son..
  29. I waited. The rain came down hard on the roof of the car. A station wagon with fake wood sides pulled in beside us and a man and woman and three children piled out and scooted through the rain. I could hear the running lines of a power boat as it edged along toward where Hog Island would have been had the day been sunny and clear. I waited. Me and Carl.
  30. I was going to be late for Susan if I didn’t close this off.
  31. I was just sitting here wondering what I could do to be nice to you, and now you call.
  32. If you ever find yourself in the part of the world where France and Germany meet and want your heart broken, drive up…. (describe the scenery).
  33. One scene with a character. Next scene on the same topic, but with different characters. Ie, Glitsky interrogating a suspect. Next scene, in his car on the phone, relaying the information to someone else for analysis.
  34. Carrying a tray with coffee and cups and cookies, she set it down on the table in front of Abe.
  35. Kind of guy you wanted out of the gene pool.
  36. While I waited, I read the vulgar graffiti on the phone box.
  37. what’s any of this got to do with…
  38. just couldn’t get the image of her odd blue eyes out of his head, and he had been dazzled by the firelight shooting burnished copper glints through her luxurious hair.
  39. Reminded him of his age, his descending career path and his developing sense of isolation.
  40. I walked all the way around the truck and pondered Weebe’s hypothesis. If I had…
  41. On both sides of the map were framed photographs (use them to provide background).
  42. Standing under the hot water, trying to punch holes in his plan.
  43. Diane was in early the next morning. After a workout at home, she jogged the museum nature trail and took a shower in her office suite. She felt invigorated. Her arm was healing nicely. She did some museum business and had put all the finished papers on Andie’s  by the time her assistant arrived. They spent a few minutes discussing museum business, then Diane went upstairs to the crime lab.
  44. more surprising than the crash was that she was dying in English.
  45. She’d be landing in about an hour. She’d stop at Heney’s, get Pearl, and go home. She’d feed Pearl, unpack and hang everything up carefully, iron things that had wrinkled, take a bath, put on the pajamas she usually wore when she slept without me, get in bed with Pearl, have a half cup of frozen chocolate yogurt sweetened with aspartame, and watch a movie. Pearl would burrow under the covers and then Susan would fall asleep.
  46. I ate in the silence and drank my coffee and looked occasionally at Susan’s picture on my desk.

Click for the complete list of 70 69 writer’s themed descriptions.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

7 Tips for Paranormal Writers

paranormal fictionOne of my writing gigs is as an Amazon Vine Voice. They send me free books (and other products) and I share my honest opinion. If you go to Amazon, you’ll find a label (Vine Voice) by my name, as you will with all of the other Vine reviewers. It just means we accept the responsibility to share our honest thoughts as objectively as possible.

When I log into my Vine account, I find a list of a couple hundred books to choose from. I can pick the genre so I don’t end up reading a travel book when I’d prefer a thriller. But, it’s not an exact science. More often than expected, I’ve been surprised. For example, Richard Bausch’s fantastic new book that I’d consider thought-provoking and more brainwork than I normally subscribe to is included under thrillers–which is usually reserved for plot-driven, non-stop action stories. This is my long way of explaining how I’ve stumbled on and enjoyed several paranormal novels which normally I would have skipped such as Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series and Carsten Stroud’s Niceville trilogy.

WiseGeek defines paranormal this way:

Paranormal stories encompass elements of the paranormal such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proved, such as extrasensory perception (ESP) and alien life.

If you’re a paranormal author or reader, here’s what you’d expect out of your story:

  • paranormal is not fantasy, though it may be similar. The characters include ghosts, vampires, psychics–that sort–set in a real-world setting. Here’s a test: If you can remove the paranormal creatures and what remains is a world much like what you see around you, it’s paranormal rather than fantasy.
  • create a solid mythology. It doesn’t have to match what the standard opinion of vampires or werewolves is, but it needs to be believable.
  • include a strong female lead. From what I understand from my paranormal-writing friends, this is the current trend and a popular one.
  • the main character may or may not have supernatural abilities–or they may be hidden–but should include a core of goodness that directs his/her actions.
  • include lots of conflict between the supernatural world and the human world.
  • the villain is likely darker and more powerful than the main character.
  • if you include a romance as a main plot point or subplot, you’re probably writing for the sub-genre, paranormal romance.

If you write paranormal, what would you add to this list? How can I explain it better?

More on genre writing:

10 Tips for Steampunk Writers

14 Tips for Young Adult Writers

Can You Mix Genres in Your Writing?

Tips on how to write 23 different genres


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.