Literary Engineer
Because reading and writing are my only obsessions

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Morning or Night?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

I recently read a post by a friend who admitted she was an insomniac. Since she was talking about getting her novel finished, I assumed she was saying she did a lot of writing at night. And this got me thinking about myself and others.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 /

I’ve seen some people say they write better in the early morning, and others in the evening.
I’ve done both. Written at 6:00 am and stayed up until 2:00 am.
For me, it doesn’t really matter the time of day. What matters more is that it’s uninterrupted time AND if the story is flowing well out of my head. That may be in the early morning, afternoon, or later at night.
So I’m curious how it is for others. If they write better a certain time of day, or if they’re more like me where the time doesn’t matter.
(I apologize if there are a lot of mistakes in this post, because although I really like getting my sleep at night, right now I am wide awake and it’s 5:00 am.)

Isn’t it ironic

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Irony is totally misunderstood and misused. Many times I’ve had people relate a story and then say, “Isn’t that ironic?” And I want to say, “Why no, it’s not. You know, if you go by the definition of irony.” But I wouldn’t do that because I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings.
Many people use, ‘that’s so ironic’, when they mean something is weird or silly or funny.
This also crops up a lot in writing, so if I use that phrase, I usually make sure it is truly ironic. But I will admit, I’ve used the phrase incorrectly even though I know how to use it.

Image courtesy of Natara /

So today, I’ll give the definition of irony and then show an example that happened in real life–which was totally funny to me, along with being ironic.
According to, Irony is an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
A few weeks ago, we decided to replace our dryer. I was home when the 2 guys from Best Buy delivered and set it up. When all was done, the guy explained everything and asked if I had any questions.
He told me not to use dryer sheets because the lint collector doesn’t need one, and that the particles from dryer sheets actually clog up the filter.
No problem, cause I rarely use them.
Later that afternoon, I pick of the pile of papers he left behind: copy of delivery receipt, dryer manual… and out falls a sample of Bounce dryer sheets.
Yes, a few hours before he told me not to use dryer sheets, and then he left behind a sample of dryer sheets.
I rolled my eyes. Not because of him, because he’s just one guy who works for Best Buy and I liked him—he had a good sense of humor and was very helpful. The Bounce thing wasn’t his decision.
But someone at Best Buy made some deal with Bounce to include dryer sheets with their dryers, when it’s recommended NOT to use dryer sheets.
I did not expect to find dryer sheets after being told not to use them.
That is irony.
Do you sometimes use the phrase ‘that’s so ironic’ incorrectly? You can admit it; we won’t think any less of you. :)

Novels in Verse – Part II

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Last week I had Amy Sonnichsen here to tell us about RED BUTTERFLY, her debut middle grade novel written in verse, which will be coming out in 2015. This week I’ve got her back to talk more about her writing process.
So are you a plotter or pantster?
For regular novels, I’m a pantser. I like to figure out what my character is going to do as I go along. This novel was a bit different because I’d already written it twice in prose. It wasn’t working, so I tried it in verse. The plot did turn out to be very different in this version, mostly because my character’s age changed from 16 to 12, and I had to consider my middle grade audience.
How do you determine the style/layout of the page?
Determining style and layout is tough and time consuming. I read a ton of verse novels and realized there were no strict rules—anything goes! Of course, you have to be consistent to whatever style and rules you devise. For instance, in the middle section of my book, the main character, Kara, feels lost and emotionally ruined. All her poems in that section are written entirely in lower case. That’s just one example of the fun you can have with a verse novel’s style.
Some of my poems are longer than others and do use several pages. Other poems are only a few lines. Each poem should be able to stand alone, so I guess they could be the equivalent of chapters or scenes. My book is also divided into three sections.
Is there any order to the layouts or do you follow a certain pattern?
It is random. For instance, at one point I wanted a back and forth conversation, so I left justified one line and right justified the next. Poetry is so visual, it comes down to what is best for each poem. I know some verse novelists actually make pictures out of some of their poems (which is a very cool affect), but I’m not that talented!

Does it take you longer than writing a regular novel?
It depends on your perspective. It took me about the same amount of time to write this verse novel as one of the contemporary YAs I normally write, but verse novels are considerably shorter. So, yes, it took longer if we’re looking at number of words per hour. Then again, it was my first time writing a novel in verse. Next time might be quicker (or not).
Even though novels in verse have many pages, they read so much faster since there’s less words per page. How do your word counts compare to regular middle grade novels?
When I started querying RED BUTTERFLY, it was at 17,000 words. When I signed with my agent, Kate Testerman, she recommended expanding the ending, so now it’s up to 20,000 words. My editor, Christian Trimmer, is requesting that I expand it even more. I’ve heard that most middle grade novels top out at about 40,000 words, but I doubt it will be that long.
I’m sure everybody’s process is different, but it was fun to see how you do it. And although you make it sound fairly easy, I don’t think I’m ready to try it.  Thanks for answering all my questions.

Thank you for having me, Suzi! This was a lot of fun!

Novels in Verse – Part I

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Have you ever read a novel in verse? I’ve read several, all contemporary YA issue stories, and I’ve loved every one. When I saw Amy Sonnichsen mention a while back she was working on a middle grade verse novel, I wanted to find out how she did it, because I know nothing about writing in verse. So I sent her a few (okay, a ton) of questions and today I’m sharing her answers.

But before we get to that, I’m excited to share that Amy’s novel will be published by Simon & Shuster in 2015. So congratulations, Amy, and welcome to my blog.

Can you tell us about your novel?

RED BUTTERFLY is a middle grade verse novel about a Chinese girl raised in solitude by her American mother, who must navigate China’s strict adoption system when she is torn away from the only family she has ever known. It’s scheduled to be released by Simon & Schuster BFYR in February, 2015.

For those that don’t know, Amy grew up in Hong Kong and has lived in China, so she’s very familiar with the countries and cultures. I think the premise and characters are the things that make her story so interesting and unique. It’ll be fun to learn more about the Chinese culture, and since she spent a lot of time there, we know it will be authentic.

Novels in verse are not very common, so how did you get your inspiration to write RED BUTTERFLY?

I started reading Caroline Starr Rose’s blog. I participated in her verse novel challenge and read five or six verse novels. I was hooked! Through that challenge, I won an ARC of her middle grade verse novel, MAY B., which was wonderful! /font>

RED BUTTERFLY is my first verse novel, so please don’t be fooled into thinking I’m an expert! (If you want excellent guidance on verse novels, check out Caroline’s blog.) But I’m happy to share what I’ve learned through the process.

Was writing a novel in verse difficult compared to a regular novel?

It was easier in some ways and harder in others. (How’s that for an answer?) I found I could write quickly, but I had to go back and edit and move poems around. I’ve heard the analogy that writing a verse novel is like piecing a patchwork quilt. Cutting out individual squares might be quick, but fitting them together in a cohesive pattern is challenging. (Of course, some “squares” were more difficult to write than others, too!)

My biggest challenge is world building, believe it or not. The novel is set mostly in China and my character’s circumstances are very complex. I had to maintain the light, verse-novel touch throughout without confusing my readers. This was something I’d dealt with before in my multicultural YA novels, but it seemed harder in verse because brevity is so foundational.

One of the things I’ve learned about writing is how important it is to tighten your writing, and I guess with a novel in verse, that’s even more important.

So what are some of your favorite verse books?

MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose, OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse, HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate, INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai.

I have not read any of those (I don’t read much middle grade), but will have to check them out. Here are some of my favorites, which are YA: CRANK by Ellen Hopkins, BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE by Thalia Chaltas, GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Wlliams and EXPOSED by Kimberly Marcus.

Since I had so many questions for Amy, I had to break this up into two posts. So come back next week to learn more about the technical aspects of writing in verse.

Thank you to Amy, and we’ll see you here next week for Part II.

A new direction?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Last week, I mentioned that I’d decided to stop doing one of my blog features: Sloppy Writing. If you want to find out why, just go back to last Sunday’s post.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

So then I started thinking about what direction I’d like my blog to go, and I asked myself what I like best about other blogs. There are tons that have great writing information, and often times, I don’t even read those author’s books, but I love their blogs.
And of course, a lot of blogs I read are my writer friends, and it’s a great way to keep up with what they’re doing.
But what I figured out was, that some of my favorite blogs are the ones that make me laugh. And they’re usually writers because those are the blogs I frequent the most.
Anyways, here are a few that give me many laughs.
Cassie Mae: She is so open and silly and fun, how can you not love her and her posts?
Kellie at Delightfully Ludicrous: She takes articles from around the world and humorously points out the ludicrousity (I like that better than ludicrousness) of things people do and say.
Eileen Cook: I love her blog. Whether it’s the little cartoons or posts about her writing life, the always make me laugh.
AuthorLife: Okay, this is tumblr, and I’m not sure if tumblr is really considered a blog, but this writer posts gifs with their added caption and not only does she make me laugh, but I can also often relate. (Although not always, because obviously this author is published, but I still get it.)
Andrea at Maybe It’s Just Me: She does these random posts about her life and family and they always make me laugh. And I love her title because I have that thought often: maybe it is just me.
To sum things up, I would like to write funny things and make people laugh. But this puts a lot of pressure on me, because what if people don’t think I’m as funny as I think I am. I mean, that’s totally possible.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

So maybe I’ll try something like the writer Mindy McGinnis, who was one of the first writerly blogs I started to followed. Her Thursday Thoughts are small random musings about whatever, but once again, they make me laugh. And maybe if I just try go for that once a month, that’d be a good way to test the waters and see how funny I really am. I will not put pressure on myself, so if I don’t have any funny thoughts, I won’t worry about it.
What do you prefer to read on blogs? Funny? Serious? Writerly tips? Politics? Personal stories? Anything? Everything?

For Self-publishers: Black Firefly

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Are you one of those people who is overwhelmed with self-publishing? Right now I’m committed to trying to find a literary agent and one reason is that I don’t want go through the whole learning curve for self-publishing. The other is that 100% of the marketing is up to you.
If you want to jump self-publishing but are scared to take that first step in, my friend Jade just started a new business, Black Firefly, that you should check out.

It looks really cool because they can help you with whatever you need: editing, cover design, marketing: all those steps that come after you’ve finished writing your story.
I’m really excited to see her new venture because this is something that so many people could use. And… she’s offering a terrific giveaway, so go check out her site and see if it’s something you might be interested in.
Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | Goodreads

So I guess I was wrong

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

I was wrong. It happens sometimes. Well actually, it happens a lot in my writing, but luckily I’m discovering how to right those wrongs. I’m learning.

Image courtesy of ningmilo

One of the things we’re supposed to do in writing is to vary sentence length. I thought I was doing so, but I was wrong. I’ve gotten several comments from agents and others about my short, choppy sentences, much to my surprise, so I decided to take a look.
First, I looked to two authors/books I really admire. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and JH Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go. I did my super scientific analysis of multiple pages, by counting the number of sentences that were approximately one line in length and the sentences that were less than ½ a line in length. Then I counted several pages in The Proper Way to Say Goodbye.
Imagine my surprise ( ;) ) when I found that, huh—I had way more short sentences than them.
Echols/Trumble’s Results
1 line sentences per page: Range of 6 to 12, with average of 8.
½ line sentences per page: Range of 2 to 6, with average of 3.
Approximately 1/3 of the lines being ‘short.’
Suzi’s Results
1 line sentences per page: Range of 7 to 17, with average of 12.
½ line sentences per page: Range of 4 to 11, with average of 8.
Approximately 2/3 of the lines being ‘short.’
My next analysis was made by Word and their neat feature which counts average words per sentence. According to many sources on the web, here are the general guidelines.
Average words per sentence
< 14 is too many short sentences
14 to 22 is where you want to be
> 22 is getting too wordy
Guess, where I came in? Bet you won’t.
Eight. Yes, 8. And < 14 is supposedly too short. Now, I understand some of that is dialogue, which I consider different than narrative, but even so, it's too short.
Varying sentence length is important because when too many sentences are short, the writing might be choppy and ideas may be hard to follow. Too many long sentences might mean there's too much detail, also making it hard to follow.
So I guess I'm going to be doing some revisions.
How about you, have you ever analyzed your sentence lengths?

Image courtesy of ningmilo

Is this just me?

Sunday, June 16th, 2013


Are you one of those people who get annoyed when you find grammatical errors in a novel? (Or novella, short story, newspaper/magazine article, children’s book… :) )
And do you get annoyed a lot? Or just a little?
I fall into the I-don’t-get-annoyed-much category, with the exception of if it’s a mistake that happens consistently throughout the book. But sometimes I get into a story that has style issues I don’t like. Of course that’s a totally personal thing, but I’m gonna talk about the ones I don’t like. Actually, I’ll only talk about one today because:
1. People tend to skim posts when they get too long
2. I want to drag this out into two posts cause it’s one less posting I have to create. :)
So have you seen any novels where the author didn’t use quotation marks?
A few years back I ready LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard. I loved the story and would still recommend it to others, but one thing about it frustrated me. Her lack of quotation marks. She used dialog tags, but still, sometimes it got confusing. In the end, it took away from the enjoyment of the book.
It was just weird. I’ve never read anything else by her, so I don’t know if she’s used that style a lot, or if LABOR DAY was the only one. But it is the only novel I’ve read with no quotation marks, and I’m sure there are others. It won’t stop me from read a book, but it will slow me down.
Have you ever read a book that didn’t use quotation marks in their dialogue?
Did it bother you?
Have you read LABOR DAY? (If you haven’t, you should.)

If I had more time…

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

If I had more time, I’d write…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

-An adult contemporary novel involving air traffic controllers. Cause that’s what my husband does, and I think that’d be cool.
-Many more contemporary young adult books because I’ve got lots of ideas.
-An adult thriller that takes place on a construction site with the main character being a woman engineer.

Image courtesy of hyena reality

-An adult or young adult horror story. Maybe a psychological or serial killer story. Perhaps a supernatural horror. I haven’t really decided. I’ve got one idea written down, but I haven’t yet explored it. (Because I have too many other projects right now.)
-A middle grade book, which was the first novel I started and set aside probably 15 years ago. (I didn’t get far.) It’d be a fantasy involving the middle ages. That would be totally cool, because who doesn’t love kings and queens and princes and princesses? (No need to tell me if you don’t. :) )
-A children’s book. This is probably about the least likely as I have no desire into researching the proper way to write children’s books.
If I were really good, I could write a horror with a civil engineer working on the construction site at a airport where of course they have to deal with air traffic controllers. I could knock three things off my list at one. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.
What would you write if you had an endless amount of time?

Secondary Characters Blog Hop

Sunday, May 12th, 2013


I’m excited to be co-hosting for the first time a bloghop with some terrific ladies. The Secondary Characters Blog hop was created by Rachel Schieffelbein in honor of her new story Secondary Characters.



And we have a lot of fun prizes. So here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes secondary characters steal the show, (or the book) and become our favorites. On May 22nd we want you to tell us about your favorite secondary characters from books or movies, or both!
Whether it’s the funny best friend or that goofy kid next door,
we want to know what secondary characters
you just couldn’t get enough of and why.

All these lovely ladies (including myself) are offering critiques as prizes:
Theresa Paolo, Kelley Lynn, Jessica Saylor, Jenny Morris
Rachel is also planning on giving away a three chapter critique along with an ebook of Secondary Characters, which releases on May 28th.
Cassie Mae and Kelley Lynn will also pick a winner to get either an ebook of
Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend,
or a signed copy of Fraction of Stone.
So sign up on the linky list below and start thinking about your favorite secondary characters!