Saturday, May 13, 2017

Common Writing Mistakes (4)

LISTS
“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over. If you’re going to describe a number of items, jack up the visuals. Lay out the the scene as the eye sees it, with emphasis and emotion in unlikely places. When you list the items as though we’re checking them off with a clipboard, the internal eye will shut. It doesn’t matter what you list – nouns, adjectives, verbs – the result is always static. “He drove, he sighed, he swallowed, he yawned in impatience.” So do we. Dunk the whole thing. Rethink and rewrite. If you’ve got many ingredients and we aren’t transported, you’ve got a list.

SHOW, DON’T TELL
If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re *telling* us. But if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury – shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you’re trying to paint, you’re showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..Handsome, attractive, momentous, embarrassing, fabulous, powerful, hilarious, stupid, fascinating are all words that “tell” us in an arbitrary way what to think. They don’t reveal, don’t open up, don’t describe in specifics what is unique to the person or event described. Often they begin with cliches.Here is Gail Sheehy’s depiction of a former “surfer girl” from the New Jersey shore in Middletown, America:

“This was a tall blond tomboy who grew up with all guy friends. A natural beauty who still had age on her side, being thirty; she didn’t give a thought to taming her flyaway hair or painting makeup on her smooth Swedish skin.”
Here I *think* I know what Sheehy means, but I’m not sure. Don’t let the reader make such assumptions. You’re the author; it’s your charge to show us what you mean with authentic detail. Don’t pretend the job is accomplished by cliches such as “smooth Swedish skin,” “flyaway hair,” “tall blond tomboy,” “the surfer girl” – how smooth? how tall? how blond?

Or try this from Faye Kellerman in Street Dreams:

“[Louise’s] features were regular, and once she had been pretty. Now she was handsome in her black skirt, suit, and crisp, white blouse.”
Well, that’s it for Louise, poor thing. Can you see the character in front of you? A previous sentence tells us that Louise has “blunt-cut hair” framing an “oval face,” which helps, but not much – millions of women have a face like that. What makes Louise distinctive? Again, we may think we know what Kellerman means by “pretty” and “handsome” (good luck), but the inexcusable word here is “regular,” as in “her features were regular.” What *are* “regular” features?

The difference between telling and showing usually boils down to the physical senses. Visual, aural aromatic words take us out of our skin and place us in the scene you’ve created. In conventional narrative it’s fine to use a “to be” word to talk us into the distinctive word, such as “wandered” in this brief, easily imagined sentence by John Steinbeck in East of Eden. “His eyes were very blue, and when he was tired, one of them wandered outward a little.” We don’t care if he is “handsome” or “regular.”

Granted, context is everything, as writing experts say, and certainly that’s true of the sweltering West African heat in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair which had once been the color of bottled honey was dark and stringy with sweat.” Except for “atabrine” (a medicine for malaria), the words aren’t all that distinctive, but they quietly do the job – they don’t tell us; they show us.

Commercial novels sometimes abound with the most revealing examples of this problem. The boss in Linda Lael Miller’s Don’t Look Now is “drop-dead gorgeous”; a former boyfriend is “seriously fine to look at: 35, half Irish and half Hispanic, his hair almost black, his eyes brown.” A friend, Betsy, is “a gorgeous, leggy blonde, thin as a model.” Careful of that word “gorgeous” – used too many times, it might lose its meaning.


The point to the List above is that even the best writers make these mistakes, but you can’t afford to. The way manuscripts are thrown into the Rejection pile on the basis of early mistakes is a crime. Don’t be a victim.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Common Writing Mistakes (3)

FLAT WRITING

“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words – you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:”Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important – his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time – and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension. (This is the editorial consultant giving you the benefit of the doubt.) Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

AWKWARD PHRASING
“Mrs. Fletcher’s face pinkened slightly.” Whoa. This is an author trying too hard. “I sat down and ran a finger up the bottom of his foot, and he startled so dramatically …. ” Egad, “he startled”? You mean “he started”?Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop in the midst of reading and ponder the meaning of a word or phrase. This you never want as an author. A rule of thumb – always give your work a little percolatin’ time before you come back to it. Never write right up to deadline. Return to it with fresh eyes. You’ll spot those overworked tangles of prose and know exactly how to fix them.

COMMAS
Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.”Bob ran up the stairs and looking down he realized his shoelace was untied but he couldn’t stop because they were after him so he decided to get to the roof where he’d retie it.” This is what happens when an author believes that omitting commas can make the narrative sound breathless and racy. Instead it sounds the reverse – it’s heavy and garbled.The Graham Greene quote above is dying for commas, which I’ll insert here: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair, which had once been the color of bottled honey, was dark and stringy with sweat.” This makes the sentence accessible to the reader, an image one needs to slow down and absorb.Entire books have been written about punctuation. Get one. “The Chicago Manual of Style” shows why punctuation is necessary in specific instances. If you don’t know what the rules are for, your writing will show it. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Common Writing Mistakes (2)


When you're writing, are you tempted to use adverbs to punch up your pros. Don't!

EMPTY ADVERBS

Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally – these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.I defer to People Magazine for larding its articles with empty adverbs.

A recent issue refers to an “incredibly popular, groundbreakingly racy sitcom.” That’s tough to say even when your lips aren’t moving.In Still Life with Crows, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child describe a mysterious row of corn in the middle of a field: “It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.” Here are two attempts at emphasis (“in fact,” “actually”), but they just junk up the sentence. Remove them both and the word “only” carries the burden of the sentence with efficiency and precision.(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.)In dialogue, empty adverbs may sound appropriate, even authentic, but that’s because they’ve crept into American conversation in a trendy way.

If you’re not watchful, they’ll make your characters sound wordy, infantile and dated.In Julia Glass’s Three Junes, a character named Stavros is a forthright and matter-of-fact guy who talks to his lover without pretense or affectation. But when he mentions an offbeat tourist souvenir, he says, “It’s absolutely wild. I love it.” Now he sounds fey, spoiled, superficial.. (Granted, “wild” nearly does him in; but “absolutely” is the killer.)The word “actually” seems to emerge most frequently, I find. Ann Packer’s narrator recalls running in the rain with her boyfriend, “his hand clasping mine as if he could actually make me go fast.” Delete “actually” and the sentence is more powerful without it.

The same holds true when the protagonist named Miles hears some information in Empire Falls by Richard Russo. “Actually, Miles had no doubt of it,” we’re told. Well, if he had no doubt, remove “actually” – it’s cleaner, clearer that way. “Actually” mushes up sentence after sentence; it gets in the way every time. I now think it should *never* be used.

Another problem with empty adverbs: You can’t just stick them at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a general idea or wishful thinking, as in “Hopefully, the clock will run out.” Adverbs have to modify a verb or other adverb, and in this sentence, “run out” ain’t it.

Look at this hilarious clunker from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

Ack, “almost inconceivably” – that’s like being a little bit infertile! Hopefully, that “enormous albino” will ironically go back to actually flogging himself while incredibly saying his prayers continually.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Commom Writing Errors (1)

Editors get frustrated by the amount of time they spend on easy fixes the author shouldn’t have to pay for.

Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.

So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.

The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.

So let's get started.

REPEATS
Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a  crutch  word.

Hillary Clinton’s oft repeated word is eager  (the committee responsible for writing  Living History should be ashamed).

Kate White editor at Cosmopolitan magazine uses her crutch word quickly over a dozen times in, A Body To Die For.

Jack Kerouac’s crutch word in On the Road is  sad,  sometimes doubly so sad, sad.

Ann Packer s in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier is weird.

Crutch words are most often unremarkable. That’s why they slip under editorial radar – they’re not even worth repeating, but there you have it, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes your
book, never to be opened again.

But even if the word is unusual, and even if you use it differently when
you repeat it, don’t: Set a higher standard for yourself even if readers
won’t notice. I

n Jennifer Egan’s Look at me, the core word – a good
word, but because it’s good, you get *one* per book – is “abraded.”

Here’s the problem:

“Victoria’s blue gaze abraded me with the texture of ground glass.” page 202
“…(metal trucks abrading the concrete)…” page 217
“…he relished the abrasion of her skepticism…” page 256
“…since his abrasion with Z …” page 272

The same goes for repeats of several words together – a phrase or sentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, draws
attention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeons
us in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, Final
Verdict, with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout the
book:

“His tone oozes self-righteousness when he says…” page 188
“His voice is barely audible when he says…” page 193
“His tone is unapologetic when he says…” page 199
“Rosie keeps her tone even when she says…” page 200
and so on.

“His tone is even when he says…” page 205
“I switch to my lawyer voice when I say …” page 211
“He sounds like Grace when he says…” page 211
What a tragedy. I’m not saying all forms of this sentence should be
lopped off. Lawyers find their rhythm in the courtroom by phrasing
questions in the same or similar way. It’s just that you can’t do it too
often on the page. After the third or fourth or 16th time, readers
exclaim silently, “Where was the editor who shoulda caught this?” or
“What was the author thinking?

1. As an author, don’t wait for the agent or house or even editorial consultant to catch this stuff *for* you. Attune your eye now. Vow to yourself, NO REPEATS.

And by the way, even deliberate repeats should always be questioned: “Here are the documents.” says one character. “If these are the documents, I’ll oppose you,” says another. A repeat like that just keeps us on the surface. Figure out a different word; or rewrite the exchange. Repeats rarely allow you to probe deeper.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MacKenna Sags Book Progress

It's been a while since I posted anything on my books. No I haven't given up, just haven't posted in a while. The series is about 20,000 words from completion

Book One, Dreams and Deceptions, hit the market two years ago. 

Book Two, Plots and Prophecies,  has been out for a year.

Book Three Prophecy's Diversion is at the editor and should hit the market later this year. 

Book Four, The Beguilement Ruse  (working title) I will finish reading it to my critique group next week, then off to my beta readers. 

Book Five, Aeonian Solution  (Again a working Title) is about 60% complete. This book will wrap up the series. I have come up with a last minute twists, and I'm working on flushing out the details

I also have a one off romance titled Almost A Whisper. The manuscript is with my publisher and should be out in about 18 months.

All the research and backstory for the MacKenna Saga left me with hundreds of  files on my PC  and a glimmer of an idea for another series. I've titled this one, Lives of Futures Past. This will the history of Kalen's and Mayla's family's over a 2500 year period. 

The first book I've already written. Titled Lives of Futures Past: Tyree and Marisol, I still have to run it by my publisher. 

So, that's where I'm at for now. Thanks for reading my blog. If you like any of the articles, please join and follow me. 
Facebook: Kalen MacKenna
Twitter: @mackennasaga
on the web @ www.mesatyree.com

Friday, February 3, 2017

A thought about (Politician) Lawyers

I'm not a political type person, but I received links to these three articles on the same day and I pasted them together. I do find it interesting that lawyers flock to the Dems. The party of, "Let Make A Law"


All:
God save your majesty!

Cade:
I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat
and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick:
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cade:
Nay, that I mean to do.

Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78



This sentence, “kill all the lawyers”, has had a much more memorable impact on the public psyche than the character who says it. In fact, this is one of the few memorable lines from the entire three-part Henry the Sixth cycle that Shakespeare wrote. While Cade envisions a kind of social revolution, Dick's idea of a utopia is to remove all the lawyers. Cade supports this by saying that lawyers simply shuffle parchments back and forth in a systematic effort to ruin the common people. This sentiment is rooted in a very calculated appeal to the citizens's desire to be left alone.
—Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor



Yes,  President Trump.... please read the following to understand why this 'win' is a great thing for America and for each of you and your loved ones!
It will reshape the Culture for the next 20 years or more.
Ps: We still need Term Limits!
Remember that both Clintons and the Obamas have all lost their licenses to practice law.

A LAWYER WITH A BRIEFCASE CAN STEAL MORE THAN A THOUSAND MEN WITH GUNS.

This is very interesting! I never thought about it this way.


The Lawyers' Party, By Bruce Walker


The Democratic Party has become the Lawyers Party.
Barack Obama is a lawyer.  Michelle Obama is a lawyer.
Hillary Clinton is a lawyer.  Bill Clinton is a lawyer.
John Edwards is a lawyer.  Elizabeth Edwards was a lawyer.

Every Democrat nominee since 1984 went to law school (although Gore did not graduate).

Every Democrat vice presidential nominee since 1976, except for Lloyd Bentsen, went to law school.

Look at leaders of the Democrat Party in Congress:
Harry Reid is a lawyer.  Nancy Pelosi is a lawyer.

The Republican Party is different.
President Bush is a businessman.
Vice President Cheney is a businessman.
Newt Gingrich was a history professor.
Tom Delay was an exterminator. Dick Armey was an economist.
Once House Minority Leader Boehner was a plastic manufacturer.
The former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a heart surgeon.

Who was the last Republican president who was a lawyer? Gerald Ford, who left office 31 years ago and who barely won the Republican nomination as a sitting president, running against Ronald Reagan in 1976.

The Republican Party is made up of real people doing real work, who are often the targets of lawyers.

The Democrat Party is made up of lawyers. Democrats mock and scorn men who create wealth, like Bush and Cheney, or who heal the sick, like Frist, or who immerse themselves in history, like Gingrich. The Lawyers Party sees these sorts of people, who provide goods and services that people want, as the enemies of America .. And, so we have seen the procession of official enemies, in the eyes of the Lawyers Party, grow.

Against whom do Hillary and Obama rail?....
Pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, hospitals, manufacturers, fast food restaurant chains, large retail businesses, bankers, and anyone producing anything of value in our nation. This is the natural consequence of viewing everything through the eyes of lawyers. Lawyers solve problems by successfully representing their clients, in this case the American people. Lawyers seek to have new laws passed, they seek to win lawsuits, they press appellate courts to overturn precedent, and lawyers always parse language to favor their side.

Confined to the narrow practice of law, that is fine. But it is an awful way to govern a great nation. When politicians as lawyers begin to view some Americans as clients and other Americans as opposing parties, then the role of the legal system in our life becomes all-consuming. Some Americans become adverse parties of our very government. We are not all litigants in some vast social class-action suit. We are citizens of a republic that promises us a great deal of freedom from laws, from courts, and from lawyers.

Today, we are drowning in laws; we are contorted by judicial decisions; we are driven to distraction by omnipresent lawyers in all parts of our once private lives. America has a place for laws and lawyers, but that place is modest and reasonable, not vast and unchecked. When the most important decision for our next president is whom he will appoint to the Supreme Court, the role of lawyers and the law in America is too big.

When House Democrats sue America in order to hamstring our efforts to learn what our enemies are planning to do to us, then the role of litigation in America has become crushing.

Perhaps Americans will understand that change cannot be brought to our nation by those lawyers who already largely dictate American society and business. Perhaps Americans will see that hope does not come from the mouths of lawyers but from personal dreams nourished by hard work. Perhaps Americans will embrace the truth that more lawyers with more power will only make our problems worse.

The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 66% of the world’s lawyers! Tort (Legal) reform legislation has been introduced in congress several times in the last several years to limit punitive damages in ridiculous lawsuits such as spilling hot coffee on yourself and suing the establishment that sold it to you and also to limit punitive damages in huge medical malpractice lawsuits. This legislation has continually been blocked from even being voted on by the Democrat Party. When you see that 97%of the political contributions from the American Trial Lawyers Association go to the Democrat Party, then you realize who is responsible for our medical and product costs being so high!

The Lawyers' Party, By Bruce Walker


Tips and Traps for Effective Character Development. Part II

Traps and Tips for Effective Character Development. Part II

Continuing my post from last time here are five tips to help develop characters to draw your audience into your novel.

Character Development Tips

The Devil Is In The Details. Some writers have a tendency to throw too much at the reader all at once—to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that’s not necessarily the best approach. Think about a character you’re introducing as someone the reader is meeting for the first time. When you are introduced to a person for first time, you do take in that person’s physical appearance, but only on a fairly perfunctory level. Think about the people you met today, you don’t remember very much about them except that she had dark hair, and he wasn’t very tall. You don’t remember every detail about what they’re wearing, because you didn’t notice. If one of the people you met  was wearing a Princess Leia costume, or was dressed as Captain Kirk you would remember a lot about that person, and it would certainly be worth including in a story. So we don’t notice everything at once when we meet a new person. We do, however, notice a few details that can give us some idea of that person’s personality and life situation. Is the character well dressed? Does he or she bite their nails? It makes it easier to stay consistent too, because you have a fully developed idea of the character’s personality right from the start. The slow reveal is the best. You don’t tell the reader your character has a phobia, instead that fear comes out when he or she comes face-to-face with what they fear.

Observe Human Behavior. Another way to develop characters is to observe human behavior. You can base characters on real people you don’t know. Sit at a mall, I like the food court, and take notes. People watching is best done where multitudes congregate. You can observe them when they st thier best and worst. Pay close attention to how they talk, their mannerisms, hand gestures, what they wear, their attitudes and body language. You can pull all that into your stories. Combining gestures and habits from one or more people is another good way to build your characters.

Everybody Has A History: Our experiences determine who we are today. Life  shapes us and molds us. Even if you don’t reveal your characters’ pasts to your readers, you should know about them, at least for your primary characters. You should have complete biographies for your main characters in mind (better yet written down) so you understand what drives them. Why is this important? Because if you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either. An example of an effective character history, is Captain Quint’s back story in the movie Jaws. In one scene, Quint, Chief Brody, and Matt Hooper, are in the cabin of Quint’s fishing boat, and they start comparing old scars. Quint has a tattoo that was removed, and Brody asks him about it. In response, Quint tells the other characters a horrific story about many of his friends on the USS Indianapolis (true WWII story by the way) being eaten by sharks, and all of a sudden it’s easy to understand Quint and his hatred for sharks. Can you imagine Jaws without Quint’s back story?

Don’t Neglect Secondary Characters. Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. Often, they are the readers’ favorites. One example of this is Pippin Took, from Lord Of The Rings. Pippin acts before he thinks about the consequences of what he’s about to do. That leads him into great peril, yet at the same time his brashness propels his character into a driving force of the story. Well developed secondary characters can, and will, enrich your book. They’re like the supporting instruments in a symphony. Secondary characters can be a gold mine of wit and charm, and every one serves a purpose. Some add color or assist in world building, and some act as foils for the main characters. Foils are characters who can’t stand your hero or heroine. They do nothing but gripe about them behind their backs. They can be great fun. Make sure you know a lot about your secondary characters even if you don’t end up revealing all of it to the reader.

Detail Your Villain: Pay close attention to your villain, without whom the story would not exist. Often, I hear authors tell me that the villain is their favorite character, the one they love to write about. Bad guys can be very tough to do well, and it can be even tougher to get readers to empathize with them. Whenever you write a villain, keep in mind that he or she needs to be just as well developed as your main characters. Instead of being flawed, however—because obviously all villains are flawed—the villain should be imperfectly bad. In other words, the villains should have redeeming characteristics where our heroes have flaws. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkin’s use of Gollum is a great example. While we can empathize with Gollum, even feel sorry for him, sometimes, we have hope for him, and wish he could be redeemed. And then we loathe him, and despise him, and because he’s so annoying, we wish somebody would just cut his throat. Gollum is a character who is definitely ruled by evil most of the time, but he also a victim, an unwitting pawn of the ring’s power, so we can empathize with him. He is a great antagonist. These can be among the most difficult of all characters to create but also some of the most satisfying.

So there you have it, five traps and five tips. Whether you write good characters or poor ones will determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the hero’s journey or abandon him or her after your first book. If the characters fail, the story fails. Hopefully this post will help you avoid that, but if it does happen, pick yourself up, write the next book, and develop more complex and complete characters. Remember, always look ahead, but learn from the past.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tips and Traps for Effective Character Development. Part I

Traps and Tips for Character Development
Richard Draude

As fiction writers, we all have the same goal—transporting our readers inside the pages of our novel so they feel like a part of the story. Your characters are that vehicle for transporting your readers to the world you’ve created. Characters aren’t just a way of transporting the readers; they drive the story. In fact, I’ve learned to listen to them when they argue with me.

So as fiction writers, how do we develop, memorable, effective, characters? We can start with deciding what differentiates an effective character from an ineffective one. Most writers like to read, so you can probably think of characters that are particularly memorable for you and also some that you didn’t feel any connection with. Let’s look at traps that lead to ineffective characters. They are all connected, because one often leads to another, and some writers are guilty of all five: they create characters that are one dimensional, they’re stereotypical, they’re too perfect, they’re inconsistent, or they’re just plain dull.

Traps and Tips for Effective Character Development. Part I

Characters Development Traps

One-dimensional: Writers create a one-dimensional character when they don’t devote enough time to developing a character. These characters are flat, don’t seem real. Bear in mind not every character deserves or merits equal development. Every novel has its main and secondary characters. Unless you intendt to write the sequel to War and Peace, you can’t develop each and every one of the secondary characters.

One-dimensional characters are fine if that character’s role is not important. But if your character has a significant impact on your story, then by all means take the time to flesh out your character and developed his or her strengths, weaknesses, habits and foibles. For example, you have a character in your novel who is a detective, and he’s married to a woman who is described as a Southern housewife. She may be described physically, but if all we know about her past, her personality, and her motivations is that she’s a Southern housewife, that’s not very much to go on. We only know that she can cook fried chicken and chitlins. A character like that is going to fade from the stage of our memories quickly. One way or another, we’re not going to care what happens to her.

Stereotypical: Because they’re not unique, stereotypical characters are uninteresting. It’s important to note here that being stereotypical is not the same thing as being consistent. Your characters should behave in ways that are consistent with how you’ve developed them, but that’s not the same thing as being stereotypical. What would you think of a fantasy novel where all elves are haughty and all dwarfs are gruff, and they hate each other? Or a story where all the rich people in your stories are shallow, greedy, and uncaring? Or of the wealthy women are tall and extravagantly dressed, and they’ve all had plastic surgery? It’s when a character breaks free of the stereotype that he or she becomes believable and memorable. These are stereotypes. But a novel where the Elves are pot smoking hippies or the munchkins are cannibals would pull you in and make you keep reading. Real people don’t act according to stereotypes in every respect. Every one is unique in some way. You don’t want your readers to think, Didn’t I just see that character in so-and-so’s work. Only now he’s got another name and brown hair? You want your characters to be unique and therefore memorable.

All-too-Perfect: These characters tend to make reader’s eyes roll. If you’re doing a parody it’s okay to have a character who is perfect in every way. But in real life perfection doesn’t exist, so it shouldn’t exist in your writing. It’s hard to empathize with a perfect person, because none of us is perfect. Everyone, no matter how noble, is flawed in some way. For example, an effective character might be someone who is heroic in almost every way—he’s a good fighter, he’s nice to look at, he rides well and shoots well, and he’s brave and compassionate—but he’s totally indecisive, so if he has to take command in a battle, everyone’s going to die. It’s much easier for readers to relate to someone with a flaw, because they can say, “Yes, that’s just like my buddy, Jeff. He’s a great guy, but he can’t make up his mind to save his life.”

There’s also a particular kind of too-perfect character you could refer to as the Betty Jane or Gary Plain characters. They’re the kind of character that is the  writer’s idealized version of himself or herself. This character comes from humble beginnings, achieves impossible goals, ends up saving the galaxy, and then dies in the arms of the King after having become the first female knight of the realm. How is any reader going to relate to that except you, the author? This is an author living out his or her fantasies. Every writer does that to some extent, but Betty Jane is the extreme version of that kind of wish fulfillment. You need to be conscious and careful of your character.

Inconsistency In Your Characters: Nothing is more jarring and pulls your readers out of your story faster than an inconsistent character. You take the time to developed a character with certain traits. Readers will expect your hero or heroin to behave in accordance with his or her motivations and personality as you defined them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice it every time. Consistency applies to everything from small things, such as a character’s eye color, to big things like the character’s manner of speaking and important choices they make. If a character has blue eyes in chapter one, she’d better not have green eyes in chapter five. Unless you have a good reason why your hero or heroin speaks like an aristocrat one minute and uses street slang the next, its going to take the reader right out of the story. Or if a character slaughters a bunch of innocent children and then goes into a monologue about the evils of child abuse, that’s inconsistent. The fictional characters you create must feel like real people to the reader. If you don’t have a firm picture of them in your mind, they’re going to become shaky on the page. You should be able to see them and hear them speak and watch them go through their actions. And because you know them that well, they will be consistent, they will tell you when you’re stepping out of bounds for them. Do this and you won’t fall into that trap.

Just Plain Dull Characters. Of course, some characters are supposed to be dull, but in that case they’re usually foils for more interesting characters or events. If you think you might have a dull character in your book, the first thing you should ask is whether you need that character at all. Why is that character there? What is his or her role in the story? If you can’t come up with an answer, then that character is just stage dressing. Some stage dressing is allowed, but if you don’t even need the character for stage dressing, maybe it’s time to do away with that character completely. Another option is to make a dull character come alive by adding some unique traits. Perhaps your drab character has a secret fantasy life or an intriguing hobby, indicating that he or she is much more interesting than appears on the surface. That sort of thing will give a character life.

Okay, so now you’ve avoided these five traps. Now your characters are three-dimensional, unique, flawed, consistent, and interesting. My next post will be on tips that can make them even better.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Two Plots and Prophecies

Book two of my MacKenna Saga Plots and Prophecies hit the market for both Printer and E books. Early reviews a good. .
Both book Dreams and Deceptions and Plots and prophecies are available on Amazon Print and for the Kindle

Book Three Prophecies Diversion is back from my beta readers and is on its way to the editior. Reviews for my readers is full of praise. The best so far said one reader and full of action said another

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Active voice versus Passive voice.

“Nothing drives me up a wall quicker than people writing in passive voice. How do you teach people to differentiate between passive and active voice and to avoid passive voice?”

The first step is to help people understand the difference between active and passive voice. Most writers believe they should avoid the passive voice, but few can define it or recognize it.

So, the first question, Active Voice how do you define it?

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence "Al loves Michelle." Al is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Michelle, the object of the sentence.

The Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine” is another example of active voice. The subject of the sentence "I" is the one who is doing the action. "I" is hearing "it," the object of the sentence.

What Is Passive Voice?

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, "Al loves Michelle," the sentence would read, "Michelle is loved by Al." The subject of the sentence becomes Michelle, but she isn't doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Al's love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Al to Michelle.

“It was heard by me through the grapevine,” is how to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive. You would say not such a catchy title, and you would be right.

Many people believe all sentences containing a form of the verb “to be” are in passive voice, but that isn't true. For example, in the sentence "I am holding a pen" is active voice, but it uses the verb “am,” which is a form of “to be.” The passive form of that sentence is "The pen is being held by me."

Notice that the subject, the pen, isn't doing anything in that sentence. It's not taking an action; it's passive. One clue that your sentence is passive is that the subject isn't taking a direct action.

Is Passive Voice Always Wrong?  Passive voice isn't wrong, but it's often a poor way to present your thoughts.

It is important to remember, passive sentences aren't incorrect, though often they are not the best way to phrase your thoughts. Passive voice can be awkward and at times it’s vague. Passive voice is usually wordy. Replacing a passive sentences with an active one, will tighten your writing by

When you put sentences in passive voice, it's easy to leave out the person or thing doing the action. For example, "Michelle is loved," is passive. The problem with that sentence is that you don't know who loves Michelle.

Ronald Reagan said, “Mistakes were made.” when he referred to the Iran-Contra scandal. Politicians are famous for useing passive voice. It a convenient way obscure the idea of who is taking the action. Other examples of passive voice for political reasons include, “Shots were fired,” and “Bombs were dropped.” Pay close attention and listen for examples of passive voice, when you watch the TV news reports or listen to radio news.

Also, a reader named Priscilla commented that businesses at time will use passive voice. It sounds better to write, "Your electricity will be shut off," than "We, the electric company, will be shutting off your power."


Crime Reports: Is Passive Voice OK?

Sometimes passive voice does have its advantages. For example, if you don’t know who is taking the action, then the person can’t named. It can be quite common, especially with crime reports. For example, a security guard submitting his report will write "The store was robbed," this is because, if the thief isn’t captured right away, then nobody knows the robber identity when the report is files.

Can Passive Voice Work in Fiction Writing?

Passive voice is also sometimes useful in fiction writing. For example, if you were writing a mystery novel and you wanted to highlight missing cookies because they are central to the story, passive voice is the best option. It would make more sense to write, "The cookies were stolen," instead of "Somebody stole the cookies."

The difference is subtle, but in the passive sentence “My candies were stolen,” the focus is on the cookies. In active voice, “Somebody stole my candies,” focuses the attention would be on the unknown thief.

Passive voice can be helpful if you want to create a sense of mystery in your sentence, which is also a reason that it's not usually a good choice when you're writing nonfiction and you want your writing to be clear.

Passive Voice is Recommended for Science Writing?

Exception for passive are scientists. They are encouraged to write in passive voice. It lends a sense of objectivity to their writing. Passive voice takes them, their actions, and opinions out of the experimental results. I find it odd. It feels to as if they are trying to hide that real people did the experiments.

Passive voice has its place. In fiction it’s place is in dialogue. People speak in passive voice. “I already went to the store.” or  “She was here and hour ago.” The use of any “to be” verbs, was, were, had, etc, will render a sentence passive in most cases. In your exposition or narrative, passive voice should and must be avoided. Keep your narrative in active voice and the scenes as seen through your main character’s eyes. (POV) This moves your story along and keeps your audience involved. Passive voice slows down your narrative and can take your reader out of the story.

It can turn into author intrusion. (The author telling the reader what he or she thinks the reader needs to know.) That’s a subject for my next blog,