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For years I mistakenly thought that writing was just about words. About particularly poignant sentences. Flourishes of the language. Creating a passage so magnificent, it makes the reader stop and ponder the meaning of life.


Of course, it isn’t just about words. It’s about all the words, together. It’s about the story.

So in pursuit of the best story this week, I had to kill darlings. We’ve all heard the phrase before, but what does it actually mean? What are we bludgeoning to death?

In short, “darlings” are pieces of writing that do not further your story. They are superfluous lines only there because you want to admire their shine and glow. Ooh, sparkly!


The reader should not be jolted out of the story by the beauty of your words. The point is to draw the reader further in, not shove them out.

So what do these little darlings look like?


Sorry, not Kristy McNichol.

These darlings may drag a scene on too long. The point has already been made, but you stick it to the reader one last time in such a witty way. Sorry, kill it.

Sometimes we get so caught up in fun devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and onomatopoeia that we end up with gobbledygook rather than glory. Sorry, kill it.

On occasion, we write jokes that fall flat. Sure, we laugh hysterically but to everyone else they go SPLAT, right in the kisser. Sorry, kill it.

You know that character who magically appears, says one important thing and then leaves? Why? Where’d she go? Is she ever coming back? No? Well then, murder must be committed.

And if we’re writing a story based upon real events, we can feel inclined to include things that actually happened, even if they don’t necessarily add anything but word count. Kill, kill, kill.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Single Effect” theory suggests that everything in a short story should contribute to an overall emotional theme. Everything you put into the story, he said, should be carefully selected to elicit the desired effect.

And since we’re writing what can be considered super-short stories, we need to be even more diligent about leading the reader down a specific path. Veering off means higher word count—which can kill the story’s publication potential. Sacrifice some darlings and save the whole village!

Super-short shorts.

Super-short shorts may have killed WHAM!

Finally, don’t be sad about killing your darlings. When you have to kill one or two, just refer to these gifs. They’ll make you feel better. (I know they helped me.)






Flash on over to Flash Fiction Chronicles today and I’ll tell you all about writing micro fiction for children! It’s how I got my start.

Besides writing for kids, I’m raising them, too. (You may have already figured this out by the blog title. I’m not that full of surprises.)

Two years ago I won a Six-Word Momoir contest from Smith Magazine, and now another one of my Momoirs is featured in their new book It All Changed in an Instant: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure:

Wanted independence but had two dependents.

Probably would have sounded better if I went all Duggar and said nineteen dependents, but I digress…

Sometimes we need a break from our current manuscript, but we still want to write. Well, what better way to be succinctly witty and wittily succinct than by writing six-word memoirs? Picture book writers are expected to write short, so here’s the ultimate exercise. In my case, I’m sticking to momoirs. Here’s a few to get your creative sixes flowing:

Woman with awesome body becomes homebody.

Two words bring joy: “She pooped!”

You really do become your mother.

How many years until Kindergarten begins?!

Naptime: my favorite time of day.

Wake me up when they’re grown.

Stuffed animals must breed at night.

Motherhood should require an entrance exam.

Hug tight. The years move fast.

Say “yes” as often as possible.

Except when muddy nightcrawlers are involved.

Grant wishes. Encourage dreams. Inspire hope.

Give birth. Give lessons. Give freedom.

OK, I apologize for the poop. I have no reason to sink that low. But I do have something to tell new mothers in six words: “Stay far away from rice cereal.”

So, give it a shot. If you’re a parent or not, try a six-word memoir. I expect to see at least six below in the comments!

masondixonWhat separates the south from the north? Nope, it ain’t the Mason-Dixon. It’s the road signs.

New Jersey’s exit signs remind us that the road we’re on is not the road we want. Ads for dating websites wilt on the medians. The giant green gecko stares down at our cars, telling us to save on insurance. There’s not much personality there.

But South Carolina? There’s treasures along the roadside. And I’m not talking about boiled peanuts. 

Reading the signs along a rural route, I was reminded of how small, specific details in your writing–like a street name or a slogan on a church billboard–can contribute loads to the mood and setting of your story. 

Here’s the southern road signs that charmed me.

Tractor Service

Christians Like Pianos
Need Frequent Tuning

Minnows Crickets
Worms Sodas

Bee City
Honey Farm
Petting Zoo

Pumpkin Girl Road
Heavy Father Lane

There’s Only One Heaven
and Only One Way
to Get There

Groceries & Hunt’n Stuff

Organic Produce

Today’s Sons
are Tomorrow’s Fathers

Mars Oldfield Road

Vincent’s Venison
Processing Plant

There are stories buried in these signs.

Do you pet bees at Bee City?

Was Pumpkin Girl related to Heavy Father?

Is the welder married to the organic farmer? Or are they the same person?

Did aliens once land on Mars Oldfield Road?

What stories do your town’s signs tell?

Earlier this week I wrote about writers using Twitter to deliver short stories a few lines at a time, á la the cell phone novel craze in Japan.

And today I have a list of TwitLitters. These writers are either telling a tale tweet by tweet, or delivering 140-character and less micro fiction stories.

Bravo to these writers for experimenting in a new fiction format. I’m following them all to see how they merge tales and technology.

  • Sixwordstories. Like Smith Magazine, tales that are just six words long.
  • Jeffrey Somers. Science fiction novelist, short story writer and creator of the zine “The Inner Swine” begins his Twitter serial on January 26th.
  • Matt Richtel. Author of the novel Hooked and NY Times business and technology journalist tells a “Twiller” (Twitter thriller) 140 characters at a time.
  • MyLifein140. Nikki Katz’s  sixteen-year-old fictional character learns that she can change her world by editing photos in the school’s Yearbook room.
  • Slice. A digital story-telling experiment by the UK division of Penguin books called We Tell Stories. Six authors told six stories over the course of six weeks. This teen novel only attracted about 100 followers, but TwitLit is still in its infancy. Teens are typically early adopters of technology, so I suspect once word gets out, they may follow in droves, especially if a well-known author introduces them to this story-telling medium.
  • Fuel Dump. Monk screenwriter Tom Scharpling just began this microblogging book in December. Look for posts marked #FD.
  • Joy Motel. A colloborative effort between a short story writer and an adman, this sci-fi Twitter novel has attracted 145 followers.
  • David Miller. A senior editor with Matador, an interactive travel magazine and online community, David began his Twitter novel in December.

Do you know of other Twitter novels and stories? What do you think about TwitLit? Exciting new venue? Or harbinger of a literary doomsday?

twitter2I first heard the phrase “TwitLit” from writing friend Christopher Cocca. I’ll give him coining credit. We both write flash fiction, so he had suggested using the 140-character Twitter format to tell uber-short stories. His first submission: “His probation stopped on a dime-bag.” Mine? “The gourmand often ate too much, but she was living life to the fullest.”

So how else can writers use Twitter? You might want to refuse answering the assumed question, “What are you doing?” Come on, that’s boring. We’ve got Facebook status for that. Twitter is nimble, Twitter is quick, Twitter has the power to change the world. (OK, a bit of hyperbole there.)

Agent Nadia Cornier used Twitter to update authors on Firebrand Agency’s “query holiday.” From December 15 to January 15, Firebrand invited submissions without a query letter. At final count, she had over 3500 submissions with 387 read and 30 requested. Useful, clever Tweeting. Thanks, Nadia.

Of course, agent Nathan Bransford already covered authorly Tweeting with a guest post by Tracy Marchini two months ago. Marchini suggests 21 ways an author can use Twitter. Yep, she’s got TwitLit covered.

But I’m going further with this.

You may be aware of the cell phone novel phenomenom in Japan. Authors deliver stories a few lines at a time directly to mobile devices and welcome reader feedback regarding the tale’s direction. Once the novel is completed, readers rush to buy the paper copy because they feel invested in the story. After all, they had a hand (or a thumb) in its creation.

Some critics consider mobile novels an omen of a literary doomsday. Others think the platform can’t be ignored, especially with five of the top 10 novels in Japan having originated on cell phones.

So why not tell an entire tale in Twitter a few lines at a time? OK, perhaps there’s a certain level of literary integrity you want to maintain and this ain’t the way. But it’s a fun and interesting new venue for fiction, and one that could elicit reader feedback. Applications like TweetDeck help you to organize Tweets by subject and keep track of responses to others (using the “@” symbol). But be careful not to use Twitter for conversations that will lose other readers.

What about a Twitter account for your fictional characters? Don’t they have something to say beyond the confines of your book? A Tweet or two and they’re brought to life in real-time. Or maybe you can create a new character who only exists in Tweets.

The format is experimental. Who knows if it will catch on for story telling. But with Amazon’s Kindle gaining popularity and cell phones evolving into integrated entertainment devices for music, web browsing, pictures and videos, surely books and zines can’t be far behind. Can you imagine your phone’s screen folding out like a newspaper and delivering any story you want anytime you want it? Will Twitter help push things in that direction? Perhaps with a million authors using it, it just might.

twitterfollowSo how are you using Twitter to enhance your writing career? Are you marketing yourself or using it creatively? Please share your ideas!

You read that correctly: revisolutions. It’s an amalgam of resolution, revision and revolution! Yes! It’s a revolution, do you hear me? This year I am going to work harder than ever to earn that first book contract. Polish up my manuscripts until they shine like a spanking new pair of black patent-leathers! (Hopefully they won’t be as stiff.)

I’ll kick off 2009 by reflecting upon the successes of 2008. It was an amazing year. I finally decided to take my writing seriously and work towards making it my career. Some milestones (be careful, horn tooting to follow):

  • My adult flash fiction was published in four venues.
  • I won a contest from Smith Magazine and received a “Dishonorable Mention” from the annual Bulwer-Lytton fiction parody contest.
  • An agent requested one of my manuscripts after reading my first page. (Alas, it isn’t finished.)
  • A writing friend offered a referral to her agent. (Alas, for the same unfinished manuscript.)
  • I became the coordinator for my critique group.
  • I applied to the Rutgers One-on-One Mentoring Conference for the first time and got in!
  • I attended four NJ-SCBWI first-page events and received encouraging feedback at all four sessions.
  • I joined Verla Kay’s blueboard and learned an incredible amount of industry info from its members.
  • I received personal rejections! Ha!

And most importantly, I made a lot of new writing friends. If you’re reading this, you’re one of them!

What were your successes of 2008? And what are your New Year’s Revisolutions? Do you have an abandoned manuscript you want to complete? A daily word count to meet? Whatever it is, share it. So shall it be written, so shall it be done!

For those writers who shy away from writing an entire novel in 30 days, over on Verla Kay’s Blueboards, picture book writers have another idea for November: one story a day for 30 days.

I’m taking it one step further…or one step back, I should say. I’ll be generating one new PB idea a day for the entire month. By December’s start, I’ll have 30 concepts to share with my critique partners. They’ll help me pick the best three to flesh out, while the rest remain in a file for future inspiration.

While I understand the attraction of NaNoWriMo, getting a rough draft down quickly, I think forcing this avid walker into a marathon will cause a collapse. Yes, it would get me over the painful hump of a novel’s beginning without months spent agonizing over its direction. That’s a definite bonus. But I think those moments of doubt are often what fuel my creativity. Can I make a rich stew with a can of condensed soup? Have I mixed too many metaphors in this paragraph?

But as a mother of two, I have to be realistic. With a daughter’s birthday, Thanksgiving travel, and performing my duties as family entertainment director, I’d have to give up hours of coveted sleep in order to complete 50,000 words by December. And I’d have to desert other projects that I feel too passionate about to set aside for a month.

Natalie Goldberg, please forgive me. I enjoy your zen-like philosophy of writing with abandon, without my critical internal editor impeding progress. But two thousand words a day? Maybe if they don’t have to be in a row. (What? This post was already 346 words? OK, I get your point, wisegirl.)

So yeah, this one PB idea a day is much more my pace. It’s a challenge, but one that I can complete while I work on my other manuscripts. I’ve already got four new ideas and it’s the 3rd of November. One day ahead! Maybe I ought to spend some time writing now, huh?

So how about you? Has NaNoWriMo influenced your November writing plans?

Leaves crackle underfoot and the early-morning air smells like an ice cube. It’s autumn. Time for apple picking and jack-o-lanterns. Time for the annual public library pie contest.

My mother did not bake ordinary pies. Creating a pie was a day’s event, begun with two knives cutting butter and shortening into flour until it resembled sand, a forgotten summer sight resurrected with culinary precision. She floated from cupboard to bowl, bowl to counter with a grace befitting a ballerina. She folded. She whipped. She dolloped. She made the house smell better than Willy Wonka’s factory.

And so, when I was nine years old, I thought my mother finally deserved public acknowledgement of her pie prowess. When I saw a poster announcing our library’s fall pie contest, I entered her name. When I returned home and told her, she was more excited than I was.

Which pie shall it be? The apple-cranberry? No, too predictable. The three-berry pie? No, out of season. Ahh, I know. The chocolate-amaretto chiffon pie.

Children aren’t supposed to have a taste for amaretto. I was the exception. The almond-flavored liquor enhanced the chocolate flavor so well, I thought I might faint. Her creation began with homemade chocolate pudding, then a tall dome of fresh whipped cream, onto which she drizzled an amaretto-chocolate reduction. Slivered almonds and chocolate shavings dotted the top evenly, like she had artfully arranged each piece with tweezers. I do not know how we transported the pie unscathed, but we arrived and unveiled the masterpiece to such gasps of amazement, the librarians had to shush us.

The event boasted eight pies, but zero competition. An apple pie with a rustic crust appeared soggy and deflated. Mom’s hand-fluted crust resembled the delicate ripples of a golden pond. My teeth stuck together at the sight of the gummy shoo-fly pie. The chocolate-amaretto pie melted on the tongue.

A librarian instructed three judges to score the pies on a scale of 1 to 3 according to three criteria: appearance, taste and originality. Yes, yes and yes. She would win all three. I would be so proud. She would remember that it was I, her eldest daughter, who launched her pie celebrity.

Then one judge glanced at another’s appearance score for Mom’s pie. “Wow, you’re a tough cookie!” she said. Translation: Mom probably received a 1 from the Russian Judge instead of a well-deserved 3. There would be a contest after all.

Tasting came next. The judges took one bite of each pie. There was tongue swishing, water gulping, and lip pursing. A gentle scribble, scribble on their note cards.

Finally, originality. With pumpkin, pecan, and plain ol’ lemon meringue, Mom’s fusion of almond and chocolate would take that category for certain.

Our entire family waited nervously for the awards to be announced. The whipped cream on Mom’s pie stood high and tall, proud and confident.

“Third place: the shoo-fly pie!” A tiny, elderly woman shuffled to the front of the room and accepted a ribbon and a cookbook. She posed for the town photographer.

If Mom did not take second, then I knew first prize would be hers.

“Second place: the pumpkin pie!”

Hooray! Victory! A pie for the record books! A pie to launch a career! My mother, the world’s best baker! Or, at least the best baker in this town of 20,000! My face warmed with excitement.

“And the winner is…and we have to say, this was a unanimous decision…the apple pie!”

What?! That sorry-looking blob? It’s just APPLE! Anyone can make an apple pie! It takes a creative genius to pair chocolate with amaretto (especially in 1979, before The Food Network)!

The worst part of the defeat was that the woman who won was not even present. Yep, it was a drive-by pie.

First prize remained on the judging table, unwrapped and unclaimed. I could only imagine what it might be–and it was far grander in my mind than in reality, I’m sure. The big fish that got away, growing ever longer over the years.

Once the winners were announced, the pies were cut and plates distributed. And which pie do you think disappeared first? Mom’s chocolate-amaretto chiffon. Our family snubbed the other pies and dug into our favorite.

In the end, I learned that people prefer the familiar and comfortable. That’s what Mom’s pie was to me, a little piece of her. The extraordinary was ordinary in our home, and that’s a family legacy I’m striving to uphold.

Pie, anyone?

Women Who Write, a collective of aspiring and published New Jersey writers, is hosting a fall reading at the Morris County Library this weekend. Please join us for an inspiring afternoon of poetry, prose, haiku and memoirs. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.

(Yes, I will be there! Hence the tooting horn.)

Women Who Write
Fall Reading
Sunday, October 26, 2 p.m.
Morris County Library
30 East Hanover Ave.
Whippany, NJ

Click here for directions.

Hope to see you!

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