Friday, July 30, 2010

Literary Devices Part 5: In Medias Res

I have a local writing friend to thank for this one.

When I started writing poetry and fiction, my wise professor-friend Todd told me to remember the technique of "in medias res", latin for "in the middle of things."

One one level, plot-wise, it's about starting a story in the middle of things, not at the beginning. Classically, the Iliad is the example often cited, as it spans a few weeks in the last year of Trojan war, instead of starting at the beginning.

In poetry, for me at least, it's about bringing the reader right into the meat of the emotion or experience I'm trying to portray. Sometimes it's also about writing from within, as opposed to as an outsider.

In medias res has the ability to capture us by the throat with the first line and not let go.

Have you tried this technique, or like it in stories?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Memorium: Killing Our Darlings

We all have to do it, one time or another.

Maybe it's a character we loved. Or a subplot that didn't work out.

Perhaps it was that 50 pages of backstory that needed to get cut. (*Lydia raises hand*)

Or an incredibly well-written scene that just didn't need to be.

It could have even just been a great word. (Oh! Farewell transmogrification! Sniff.)

Today, we'll wipe a tear and lay to rest those bits of creativity that didn't get past the editing chopping block.

What have you been sad to say good-bye to?

Remember to take a minute to check out this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post by Zoe Courtman on writerly habits! And check out previous posts by Laura Diamond, Danyelle Leafty, and myself!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Medical Mondays: A Tale of Two C's

Happy Monday! Erica from Chapter by Chapter had a great question of what the difference was between being catatonic and being in a coma.

The words "catatonic" is thrown around in conversation all the time. But what does it really mean?

A person with catatonia can exhibit several different symptoms, such as:
-bizarre posturing
-waxy flexibility (staying in awkward positions when placed in them by other people)
-purposeless resistance to commands or being moved
-repetitive, meaningless actions or spoken phrases
-echolalia, or repeating phrases spoken to them
-echopraxia, or copying other people's gestures

Catatonic persons may maintain rigid postures for hours, and ignore external stimuli. There is another form, called catatonic excitement, in which the person exhibits constant, hyperactive activity.

Catatonic schizophrenia is a subtype of schizophrenia, but catatonia can also be seen in other psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

Medically, it can be seen in encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), drug overdose, autoimmune disorders, and neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

So. What's the difference between catatonia and a coma?

A coma is a state where the person is deeply unconscious and cannot be awoken. There's one huge difference. Catatonic patients are awake when exhibiting these symptoms.

Also, the causes of coma are exclusively medical, rather than psychiatric, such as head trauma, overdose, stroke, a low oxygen insult, amongst others.

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Title Envy

Okay, I've seen a lot of blog posts lately about book covers. A good cover can lure us in for a good (or bad) read, or capture so much about a book. Or not.

But what about book titles?

Take Twilight, for instance. Gorgeous title. Okay, gorgeous cover, too. But the original name, Forks, just didn't cut the mustard. Heck, it couldn't even squeeze the mustard, either.

Giving my manuscript a title isn't easy for me. Just think. It's the first thing an agent will see when you send them a query. It's the first words a potential reader will read when they see your book on a shelf, or online. It has to mean EVERYTHING. And often I hear that even after you've got that perfect title, a publisher might make you change it anyway!

So forget about covers for a while. What about titles? Have you ever bought a book because the title was just too delicious?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Genre Hopping

When I started writing fiction, I was drawn to YA. But within this genre, I can't be pinned down. I've tinkered with urban fantasy, dystopian, and historical romance. I have no idea what will tempt me next. When a story comes to me, it doesn't pay attention to what sub-genre it's in.

I have no problems with stepping outside the realm of YA if that's where my story leads me.

Some authors stay within the confines of their genre. Some may step here and there. Laurie Halse Anderson comes to mind--though she's solidly in the realm of children's lit, she's done picture books, middle grade, and YA, in both contemporary and historical settings.

In your writing, do you tend to stick to one genre, and stay put there? Or do you also genre-hop?

Remember to take a minute to check out this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post by Danyelle Leafty on writerly habits! I posted last week, and the week before was Laura Diamond. Next week will be the oh-so-lovely Zoe Courtman!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Medical Mondays: An Eye for an Eye

This week's question comes from Theresa Milstein.

I'm writing about a thirteen-year-old who loses her eye when it gets poked by a scissor. If none of the surrounding bones are damaged, what would happen at the hospital afterwards? Would she need to wait to get a glass eye? If so, for how long? How would she care for her eye both without and with a glass eye?

If the eye suffers enough trauma that it's not salvageable, then the character would need surgery to have the eye removed (it's called enucleation). Her eye would be packed with a dressing, she could take tylenol for pain, and might be given some antibiotics to take. Her eyelids will be puffy and bruised. In six days, the dressing would be removed from inside the eye socket. At that time, if the swelling is down, she'd be given topical antibiotics to use.

Within 2-6 weeks of surgery, she would go for a fitting of a prosthetic eye. After a final fitting she'd be set to go with her new eye. The eye willl need to be cleaned daily with soap and water, and be polished every few months. The socket requires very little care, from what I've read.

There is a newer type of prosthetic eye that is quite different. With the above prosthesis, it won't move or look around like a normal eye does. (People with the traditional type of prosthetic often learn to move their heads to look at extreme angles, in order to keep both eyes parallel and normal in appearance.) The newest kind is an orbital implant. (image from Bio-Eye)They take an eyeball-sized piece of material made of a bioprosthetic material similar to bone. It's placed in the eye socket at the time of surgery and the muscles for eye movement are sutured to it. After about 4 weeks, the body grows tissue over this prosthetic, and then a removable sliver of a plastic prosthesis (that looks like the white of the eye and the iris) is attached to the implant. So the person can look all around like a normal eye. Of course the person can't truly see, though. The plastic layer has to be removed once in a while to be cleaned (2-3 x per week, and polished every few months).

As I was writing this post, I came across something called Phantom Eye. I posted once about phantom pain, in which a person feels sensations in the place of a lost limb. Occasionally, after the loss of an eye, patient will sometimes have visual hallucinations (usually fuzzy shapes and colors) and eye pain.

I can't help but think how a lost eye could be a great idea for a Sci-Fi plot. Imagine a lost eye that can see beyond your world! But then I remembered that this was kinda of covered in Toy Story 3, with Mrs. Potato Head's all-seeing eye she left in Andy's room.

Oh well. Those Pixar people are so darned clever.

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The MC growth spurt

Has your MC grown lately?

I'm not talking about wastelines, or height. Unless of course, that's an essential part of your plot!

No, I'm talking about Oprah-style internal growth.

Become less selfish? Braver? Learned to see their own self-worth?

I try to have my MC change for the better in some ways between page one and The End. In each story, it's a little different, but it happens.

When you sprinkle some Miracle-(character)-Grow on your MC, what's happened to them?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blog Chain: Writerly Habits

Hi all! Today's my turn to write about weird writerly habits. It's time to confess.

1. I feel very uncomfortable using my laptop when it's not plugged in. I fear the world will implode if the battery actually runs down to zero.

2. I read things backwards. Magazines, in particular. Often the last few paragraphs I've written before I realize it's insane and I need to read like a normal human. I believe this is the manifestation of some inner desire to be left-handed or something.

3. I don't need a special place to write. I can write in a coffee shop, in bed, on the floor, or in a car (waiting for the bookstore to open but still using the free Wi-fi as I wait. Hey, I'm gonna buy some hot tea from the cafe in five minutes, so why not?).

4. I can't eat and write. Perhaps I need my brain to eat food. I don't know. But I'll eat before, and I'll after, but never during. Not even chocolate (I can hear the Luke Skywalker-like screams right now—"THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!")

5. I write best crumpled up into a small ball. Criss-cross, applesauce, one leg up, one tucked under, but hardly ever lady-like in a chair. Can't do it. Apparently my creativity is wired to work only when the knees are bent at extreme angles.

There you have it. That's me when I write. So what weird, writerly habits do you have?

Remember to take a minute to check out last week's post by Laura Diamond!. Next week will be Danyelle Leafty, and the week following, Zoe Courtman!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Medical Mondays: La Bella Donna

Today's post is on a chemical called atropine. It has a rich pharmacological history, and just yesterday I recommended it to a writer as a treatment for pesticide poisoning. So here we go!

Atropine is a substance extracted from plants including Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna), Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). The name "atropine" derives from the the Greek fate Atropos, who cut the threads of fate.

Remember Harry Potter's work with the deadly Mandrake plant? Those weird, ugly little baby-rooted things whose screams were deadly and whose juice was the antidote for the petrified victims of the Basilisk?

Well it turns out the Mandrake, or Mandragora is real.

(Image from Warner Bros, 2001)

The root structure is sometimes described as taking on a humanoid appearance, as in this botanical print. J. K. Rowling wasn't too far off the mark with her baby mandrakes!
The importance of mandrake and belladonna in human culture has been traced back to ancient Greece and in the Bible as well (Genesis). As early as 4th Century B.C., it was used as a sedative and before surgery. It was also thought to improve fertility.

These herbs have been used in pagan rituals, has been used in witchcraft texts from the 1800's, and still have an important usage in modern medicine today.

It was said that women in Renaissance Italy used Belladonna berries to dilate their pupils to make them look more alluring, hence the name "pretty lady" in translation.

Other effects of atropine include reducing secretion in salivary and sweat glands, increasing heart rate, and can treat the symptoms of poisoning by organophosphate compounds found in some pesticides and nerve gases like saran. These agents cause sweating, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, and tearing.

Atropine is found on every "crash cart" in every hospital and ambulance today, as a treatment for a critically slow heart rate and asystole (flatline). Even today, these fascinating plants have left their mark.

In literature, these herbs are constantly popping up. Outside of Harry Potter, I remember these plants popping up in the Clan of the Cave Bear books, as well as Shakespeare, The Eragon series, John Steinbeck, and many, many other's everywhere!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

Friday, July 9, 2010

Literary Devices Part 4: The O. Henry Ending

I was told recently that I had an O. Henry ending in my last WIP. It's actually for a subplot element that ends in a twist, rather than the main plot, but I didn't realize I'd pulled an O. Henry.

O. Henry was the pseudonym for writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910). He wrote several stories that became famous for their clever twist endings. Here's a classic one, which has been redone in various ways over the years:

"The Gift of the Magi" is about a destitute couple who desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. Unbeknownst to Jim, Della sells her most valuable possession, her beautiful hair, in order to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch; while unbeknownst to Della, Jim sells his own most valuable possession, his watch, to buy jeweled combs for Della's hair. (from Wikipedia)

O. Henry type of twist ending seems to work well in short stories, but I can't seem to think of ones in fiction.

Any books with twist endings of the O.Henry type that you like? Or do twist endings leave a bad taste in your mouth?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Character Sheets: Greet and Meet Your MC

Hi all! So I'm thick in the middle of fleshing out a new world for my WIP. And I decided this time around I'd fill out some character sheets.

At first I thought, "Hmm, this feels like I'm applying for a job...for a fictional character."

Then I thought, "Darn it. This is making my brain hurt. Must...invent...personality traits...and...favorite colors? Gads."

And now, I'm loving it. It forced me to think about other dimensions of my MC's world I hadn't considered, like what gestures she has, her relationship with her society, and her goals in life.

Here's one sample of a character sheet I used. I looked at others but this was the one I liked the best.

Also, Adventures in Children's Publishing has some good worksheets on their sidebar.

Do you use character sheets? Have any good ones to share? Or do the idea of character sheets make you cringe?

Remember to take a minute to see this week's blog chain post on weird writerly habits by Laura Diamond!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Medical Mondays: Some Don't Like It Hot

Happy 4th of July! In honor of our holiday, when we usually celebrate with hot weather, hot fireworks, and hot dogs, I'd like to post about none other people.

As a response to last week's post on hypothermia, a few questions came up from Terri Tiffany and Jai Joshi.

Terri's question: I've got a scene where a guy goes onto a hot attic in Florida to replace a fuse and becomes disoriented, sweaty, chilled and can't move much--am I close? I know people have died in attics here due to the extreme temps. I have him rescued and given water and cooling cloths.

Jai's question: How long does it generally take for the symptoms of heat stroke to show themselves. I know that in lots of people it's immediate but is it possible for the symptoms to not become obvious for an hour or two hours? Or that someone (another family member) might not notice the symptoms?

Heatstroke occur when the core body temperature exceeds 105°F because the body cannot eliminate excess heat through the usual ways--that is, sweating and dissipation of body heat into a cooler environment.

In heat exhaustion, the core body temp doesn't exceed 104°F.

Overheating occurs if the person is working too hard in hot environment (or also hot and humid--perspiration as a means of cooling off doesn't work if the humidity is >75%). It can also occur if a debilitated person (such as a frail, elderly person) can't remove themselves out of a hot environment. Another possibility is if a lack of hydration makes it harder for a person to sweat.

The initial symptoms of heat exhaustion can be nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness. The skin may be cool and clammy, sweaty, and they may be very thirsty and feel faint or dizzy.

Symptoms of heat stroke include hot, flushed, dry skin, fast breathing, and a rapid pulse. They might have hallucinations, confusion, agitation, symptoms of stroke, inability to urinate (this is bad--a sign of kidney failure), seizures and coma.

Treatment is to get the person to a cooler environment and decrease the core body temperature. An excellent way (at home or in the hospital) is to mist the person with water and put a fan on them in a cool room. But if the patient appears to have more than just heat exhaustion, the hospital is a better place. Heat stroke holds a mortality rate of 21-63% because at sustained temperatures above 105°F, cellular processes in the body stop working properly and people can have multi-organ failure, including lung, kidney, liver, brain, etc.

So for Terri, the situation for your character sounds perfect for heat exhaustion, but the symptoms wouldn't include shivering (that is a bodily mechanism to increase heat, not decrease it). And they'd more likely be dizzy and weak rather than overtly confused. Using cooling cloths, misting with a fan, or a cool bath would also help, along with giving fluids to drink.

For Jai, if the person just had heat exhaustion, they might be able to get away with other people not noticing so much. But if they had heat stroke it would be very obvious--they'd be quite sick and disoriented. One thought would be if the person can't get to a cooler environment with adequate hydration--and their heat exhaustion turned into heat stroke.

Thanks for the questions guys! Keep it cool, everybody!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pat Your Back Party

Blogging is a mixed bag of experiences. You make new friends. You get to practice your writing skills. You get to blow steam.

I've met so many great people in the blogosphere in the last few months, and I wanted to have a little cyber party here.

I've been blogging for almost four months now. I hear that it's a big hurdle to just blog consistently for three months after you start. So I'm popping a little bottle of bubbly (Fresca, okay. I've a low tolerance!)

What blogging accomplishment are you proud of? A new layout? The fact that you simply have one? Been blogging for a month? Or two years? Made it to 50 followers? 500?