Monday, January 25, 2016

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference this past April made the Do As We Say, Not As We Do of the modern publishing industry very evident. Right now you’re scratching your head, wondering, What’s he talking about?
I’ll explain after I say this. Yes I am a writer and the first version of my novel was, at best, horrible and rejected numerous times. My current publisher took on the story, but required a complete rewrite. My editor beat me over the head with the rules you’ll find in the next few paragraphs. I will be expected to adhere to these standards in every book I write, going forward. No, this is not a ‘hit piece’ in retaliation for past rejections. We all get them, it’s part of the process. This blog comes in response to what is presented as the Publishing Standard versus what we see in print from established authors.
Throughout time writing styles and requirements have changed. How an author presents a story to his or her readers is determined by the publishing industry and varies from publishing house to publishing house. In the late seventies publishers required their authors to stop Telling their story, and let the reader live it through the characters’ eyes. Show, Don’t Tell,  is what all authors are expected to adhere to today.
At every writer’s conference you’ll attend, the people presenting the classes are, for the most part, agents, editors, or an acquisitions editor. They will stand in front of a group of eager writers and present material searching for the best road to publication.
Of the many tips offered these stood out to me: 1.Write in Active Voice   2. Have a Fixed POV (Point Of View)    3. No Author Intrusion (Stay out of your story)   4. Show, Don’t Tell   5. Limited Use of Adverbs. (Limited to use in dialogue not in exposition.) Some of these concepts are foreign to new writers. They take copious notes, read anything they can find on the subjects. At home they are determined to write their story or rewrite their existing novel to the accepted standards.
Later, after a lot of hard work, a writer will submit their work to a publishers. Five or six months later they receive a curt rejection note with no explanation.  They then start over submitting their novel to another publisher or agent, only to wait another five or six months to get rejected. An added note, many of the manuscripts submitted in any given year are terrible at best and warrant a rejection. Some, however, are never really given a fair shake. Legally Blonde is a good example. Turned down by most publishers as too frivolous, it became a self-published novel. The author, through perseverance,  brought it to the attention of Hollywood, and became a film with a sequel.
So where does publishers Do As We Say, Not As We Do, come in? Go to any book store and pick up a book written by an established author with a following, with a copyright/first print date after 2001 up to the present. Once you understand the concept of Write in Active VoiceHave a Fixed POVNo Author IntrusionShow, Don’t Tell, and Limited Use of Adverbs, you will see how the rules fall away for the publishers’ money makers.
Take for example the novel Frozen Heat, by Richard Castle, ghost written by an unknown author.
I too am a huge Castle TV show fan, but I have to disagree with many of the reviewers. I looked forward to reading any of the Niki Heat novels. I picked up Frozen Heat, read the first chapter and a half, and close the book. Whoever the writer is, may be sticking to the show’s formula, but the complete overuse of adverbs kept throwing me out of the story.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King.
While I can read and enjoy novels written before publishers made a big deal of the "Show, Don't Tell." standard, and limited use of adverbs. This book falls way short of either of those standards. Publishers reject a new writer's manuscript if it contains lot of tell and uses too many adverbs, yet in the first 13 pages the 15 adverbs used, are unnecessary. (I'm not counting the ones used in dialogue. Those are fine.) For example, on page 4 line 8, the ride in the elevator. "-. . . is back against the wall then SUDDENLY hers.” The use of the word 'suddenly' is ambiguous.
Anton Chekhov said, “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
How did Niki's back wind up against the elevator wall? Did she pulled Rook in front of her, or did Rook twist her into that position for more control? Those actions would have painted a much better picture of the scene. On the same page, line 16. "He appeared at the door COMPLETLY naked." Use of the word 'completely' is redundant. If you're naked, you're without any cloths. Your nakedness is complete. This continues throughout the book. For me what was an anticipated read turned into a big disappointment.
One more noteworthy misuse of adverbs. On page 12, 2nd paragraph 5th line. "SLOWLY, METHODICALLY she ran the beam of her flashlight from right to left along the bottom edge of the case." Starting a sentence with an adverb is bad enough. Two in a row, please! Whoever the writer is, go take a creative writing class and reread the quotes above by Stephen King and Anton Chekhov. I gave this book one star because I had to give it something.
This is what Twain had to say about adverbs. 
“I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't.”

Pick up any established writer, say Patterson for example, and you will find violation of many, if not all, of the above standards. Why? Once an author is established, he or she becomes lazy. Their publishers require them to crank out a number of novels per year. Publishers want to get another book out for cash flow and profits, so the editors let a lot go, if they edit at all. Because the author has an audience, their fans are going to buy and read a new book simply because it’s their favorite author.
When a book falls short of a publishers own self-proclaimed standards, fans and the so-called major reviewers should complain.  By offering bad reviews, we tell publishers  their established authors should have to conform to the same rules publishers expect new writes to follow. We of the reading public would be treated to stories with more depth and impact, instead of publishers’ hypocrisy along with author and editor laziness. If publishers will live up to their own standards, the bottom line will follow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Your Book Cover

The popular idiom is "Don’t judge a book by its cover," might be true in an idealistic sense, but it usually refers to judging people by their appearance.

There is a reality for publishers and the book industry in general. For the vast majority of readers the cover of a book is a deciding factor in not only whether or not they should buy the book, but if they will enjoy it as well.

There are literally millions of books for a reader to choose from, Your cover is the first "sales pitch" so to speak. If it doesn’t catch a buyer’s eye, their imagination, or their attention, he or she will pass it over in favor of a book with more appeal on either side.

Text and Font If the title is not clear enough to read from a distance, or when it becomes a thumbnail image online, then a great sounding title will be lost on a potential customer. Your font is critical. If it’s sloppy, illegible, unappealing, or just unprofessional, such as the overly-used, you could even say abused fonts of, Comic Sans or Papyrus, it will immediately turn off most readers.

Not only is your cover a billboard for the book, it is in a sense, the first page of your story. The graphic chosen can communicate, at a quick glance, the style and mood of the tale inside. A dark cover, with lots of shadow, can suggest a danger or even horror. A bright white cover with clouds could suggest a motivational text book. Why is this important. It speaks to the emotions of the reader, engaging them on a deeper level, and thus potentially not only securing a book sale. A sale sets the stage for whether or not any reader will like the book in the first place.

A cover can also create preconceptions in a reader’s mind about what the characters or the setting look like. It is debatable whether or not this is a good thing, as the cover design may not match the author or reader’s ideas, but it could act as a visual aid where necessary. Romance and erotica obviously make good use of this fact with appealing models on the front cover, enticing readers as much as they might entice each other as characters in the story.

A reader first assurance that the book is of a high quality, is a well-designed cover. The cover can scare away a customer or lure them in. Bad covers, with pixelated images, watermarks clearly visible, text badly formatted or aligned, and so forth, suggest to the reader that the interior of the book will be equally sloppy.

A poorly designed cover, creates preconceptions in the mind of the reader, setting them in "critical" mode instead of "enjoyment" mode. With their attention already drawn to errors and sloppiness, they will more easily spot mistakes in the text, and might even go looking for them. They are also likely to be less forgiving of typos than they would of what appears to be a more professional work.

The importance of cover design Big publishers to come up with different covers for different markets, catering to the unique culture of each region. Design principles are not the same the whole world over, leading to, for example, simpler designs on many UK covers, with more frequent use of negative space, and more detailed designs on US covers that cram in more imagery, potentially speaking to different cultural perceptions of "value for money."

Thanks to different meanings of words in different countries, titles on covers can also change. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is a classic example of this. The book was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States. The word "Philosopher" does not have the same connotations with magic here as it does in the England. The artwork also changed, helping reinforce the magical themes of the book. The font itself became much more mystical, ending up being the form was not only for the books, but employed for the movies as well.

Great cover designs needs to draw the reader’s attention, engage them on an emotional level, suggest the tone and style of the work, and showcase the quality of the book itself, all the while taking into consideration the potential cultural expectations of the reader. This is a monumental task, without doubt, but one that could be a deciding factor in making a book a best-seller.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Adverb crutch.

Amateur writers wind up succumbing to at least one major pitfall, the use of adverbs in dialogue tags.  Adverbs are those pesky –ly words that modify verbs.

For example:

happily replied.

said angrily.

quickly asked.

pensively said.

In fiction, adverbs tend to weaken your writing. The general rule for fiction of any genre is to eliminate as many adverbs as possible, replacing them with stronger, more specific words.

What do we do with adverbs. (In a perfect world they would cease to exist.). With dialogue, you cannot just replace the adverb. An adverb in a dialogue tag means, in most cases,  you’ll need to rewrite the dialogue itself.

Here’s why:

Amateur writers (but not limited to them) often rely on adverbs in a dialogue tag to convey emotion and tone. That is wrong. A good writer will make that happen in the dialogue itself, and will not rely on the dialogue tag.

For example:

“I've had enough of this,” Karnic shouted angrily.

This tell us Karnic is angry. But that emotion isn't demonstrated through his actions or the dialogue itself.

Remember, dialogue tags have one purpose, to tell the reader who is speaking. Readers read right over them. I you want your reader to feel Karnis’s anger, you have to show them–through the dialogue itself.

Here’s how you might accomplish that:

“You disgust me. This conversation is over,” said Karnic.

Karnic’s dialogue is stronger and his emotion is clear.  Kaenic’s words are angry, so you don’t need to rely on the adverb angrily to convey that.

Including some brief actions or descriptions to eliminate the adverb and convey the character’s emotion brings more depth to your story and power to a scene.

For example:

Kaenic shoved his chair back and slammed his fist on the table. “I've had enough!” He clenched his jaw. “This discussion is over.”

The actions and description here help show how Kaenic feels, eliminating the use of the word angrily from the dialogue tag.

Here’s what you don’t want to do, however:

“I've had enough,” Kaenic said, angry.

This replaces the adverb, but we still have the same basic problem: You are telling the reader  instead of letting the reader feel the characters emotions through their actions. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re all set just because you don’t have one of those pesky –ly word in there.

Adverbs become crutches, even for accomplished writers.  They're lazy writing and a huge red flag for agents and editors.

Here’s how good way to test your writing. Read your dialogue out loud without any dialogue tags. If the lines of dialogue by themselves don’t convey the emotion you’re trying todraw from your readers, that means you're relying on adverbs and your dialogue needs to be rewritten.

Every Rule has An Exception

Of course, there’s alaway an exception every rule. Here’s the one for adverbs in dialogue tags (though a good editor will flag it and ask you to rework the sentence.). If the tone or emotion of the dialogue is confusing or unclear to the reader, you might use an adverb in a dialogue tag. This strategy is most often used when the character speaks sarcastically or ironically, jokes, or struggles to be polite.

For example, consider this piece of dialogue:

“Maybe I should come upstairs for awhile,” Martin said.

“No, thank you,” Alicia said.

Let’s assume your protagonist is at the end of an awful first date, when he suggests he should come upstairs with her. He reply of,  “No, thank you.” could be taken many ways. So in this case the “No, thank you.” doesn't tell us much, of Alicia’s emotional or mental state, does it? We’d have to assume she’s politely declining. But what if the same line of dialogue were rewritten as the example below?

 “No, thank you,” she said emphatically.

Now the reader gets there’s force behind her words, she's making sure he doesn't come upstairs.

The adverb makes her tone clearer even though her words are exactly the same.
As I said. There are other ways so as to eliminate the adverb.

“No-thank-you!” she said, then turned and stabbed the elevator call button with her index finger.

Linking the words with a dashes and using the exclamation point add emotion to the sentence. The action of turning and stabbing the call button shows frustration, anger, etc.

Bottom Line

You want to use adverbs as sparingly as possible. In general, it’s better to use stronger, more descriptions and specific words to move your readers and fans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The MacKenna Saga Book Progress

After a long uphill battle I published  Dreams and Deceptions, the first book in my series The MacKenna Saga. Then NewLink Publishing was taken over by Mystic Publishers Inc.. NewLink Publishing became a Imprint of the parent company. My book was reviewed by the staff and they requested I bring the writing up to their Standards. ( See Post Publishing Hypocrisy). I spent the next few month in a rewrite and the second edition of Dreams and Deceptions, came out in April of this year,

Book two Plots and Prophecies is in final edit and is due for release in November in time for Christmas. It picks up right were the cliff hanger ending in Dreams and Deceptions, left off

Book three tentatively titled Retribution is completed and will go in to editing later this year.

Book four is complete. Book five is 35% complete and book six is 20 % complete.

You can find Dreams and Deceptions in the following places:

Authors Page

Amazon Dreams and Deceptions Book Page:


Evaluating My Hook (By Jo A Wilkins)

As an author and a publisher, I have seen some bad openings to novels and short stories alike. Most new authors seem to think that they must tell you every detail of background that pertains to the story at the beginning. When an author dares to start his/her story with backstory the reader yawns and thinks to himself, Do I have to read all this? When will the story start? Most of the time they never get past those first five or six pages.

When (in 2001) my co-author, R.R. Draude and I had trouble getting anyone to take our first book seriously, we fell into an opportunity of having a book doctor, William Greenleaf, evaluate our work.  His first comment, after complimenting out story and character development, was to tell us to throw away the first three chapters of our book because they were all backstory.
After I picked myself up off the floor, he handed us a twenty-eight page evaluation of the book. We told him there were key plot points in those first chapters. He said that we should go through the chapters and underline all the portions that were necessary for the plot of the story. We should then incorporate those plot points into the story throughout the book. We went away with his suggestions and rewrote our book.
Through this experience and through talking with agents and other publishers at writer’s conferences over the years I came up with the following handout – Evaluating My Hook.
Jo A. Wilkins, CEO and Director of Acquisitions at Mystic Publishers, Inc

Evaluating My Hook
Does your story start in the right place?  Do you hook the reader for the genre you write?
If you contrive an opening meant to grab the reader, but it does not stay true to the genre of your story, you must start again. Avoid backstory at the opening of your book; it brings a yawn, not curiosity, to the readers mind.
The correct hook for any story must fulfill the following requirements:
  1. Openings must grab the reader and draw them into your story.
  2. Start at a life-changing moment for your main character.
  3.       A detective in a mystery may stumble on the body of his client in a mystery.
  4.  A woman may throw a vase of Roses from the wrong man across the room in a love story.
  5. It must introduce the main character as someone the reader will like, sympathize with, and/or care about.
  6. Set your story from a fixed POV character.
  7.  A frightened young woman walking up to a castle and her new job as a governess.
  8. Who is she?
  9. How does she feel about this new job?
  10. Why has she taken this job?
  11.  A man, running for his life from his killer or the person who wants to take his family from him.
  12. Who is he?
  13. Why is the antagonist chasing him?
  14. What will he do about it?
  15. You must let the reader feel the mood of the chapter.
  16. Every opening chapter must set a mood for the rest of the story.
  17. The opening battle in space that starts Star Wars.
  18. The creepy house rising from the fog in Fall of the House of Ushers.
iii.  A confused young boy pretending to be asleep, listening to his mother discuss his situation with her mentor in Dune.
  1. This is the time for the author to set his voice for the reader.
  2. Be true to the story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it.
  3. Your opening must set the place where your story takes place.
  4. Help your readers envision the surroundings.
  5. Remember that your setting should be equal in importance to your characters.
  6. What would Gone With The Wind be without Tata or Atlanta?
  7. Stay true to your genre.
  8. Don’t start a science fiction story with a love scene.
  9.   Introduce the story with the appropriate action that defines the type of story the readers will find surrounding your plot.
  10. Satisfy your readers.
  11. Your ending is just as important as your beginning.
  12.   Know your ending before you begin.
  13.  You can’t hit a target if you can’t see it.
iii.  Are you planning a linear or circular ending?

Writing a novel is not much different that journalism.  Remember to set-up for the reader the Who of your story, the What he is doing, the When it takes place, the Where it takes place, the Why it happened and Why they should care. It all has an impact.  If you forget any one of these key ingredients, your reader may not go past the first page of your story.

Monday, June 22, 2015

5 Senses—How to Invoke Them In Your Writing (Denice Whitmore)

This piece is from mt editor at NewLink Publishing

We all use description in our writing. We describe characters and settings, actions and reactions. Most of what we write is description of some sort. By using the 5 senses, we can broaden our descriptions from a list of attributes to an experience for our readers.

Touch—How do you describe touch? The word feel/felt is passive so how can we describe how something feels without using that word? Let’s think of some words that describe something that you’ve touched.
Silky, smooth, rough, scaly, sticky, slimy, hard, soft, ribbed, slick, grainy slippery…you get the idea.
It’s not the adjectives themselves but how they are woven into the nouns, verbs and phrases that will truly help a reader know how an unfamiliar, or even familiar, object feels. Let’s have an example.

He ran his hand through her _______ hair.
A little cliché, I know. But what if we didn’t go with the obvious choice? What if we chose sticky? This would have a huge impact on his reaction.
He ran his hand through her sticky hair. He stared at his fingers, squishing them together. The skin peeling apart from top to bottom and then he did it again, fascinated at the suction the sugary substance caused.
We’ve all experienced that as kids and, while unexpected here, we get a clear picture of how sticky feels.
Smell—We all know what things smell like. Describing the actual smell without using comparisons can be a challenge. Let’s think of some words that describe smells.
Foul, sweet, burning, smoky, pungent, fruity, rancid, decayed, fresh, stale, dusty, minty, woody, earthy, sweaty, musty, dank.
How would you describe fresh cut grass? Or, the smell of baking bread? How about the smell of a dirty diaper? These are all things we have smelled before but putting words to a description can be hard. A lot of times we rely on common experience of the readers to fill in the blanks. When we write things like, fresh cut grass, or the smell of baking bread, or even dirty diaper, they definitely evoke something in each of us. But because everyone’s experiences are different, what they think of will not be the same as what the writer intended.
Scent also has the strongest connection to memory. Who hasn’t walked into the house while cookies were baking and thought of visits to Grandma’s or baking with Mom? But we can’t just rely on ‘tells’ and the readers experience to describe scent. As an exercise, try using adjectives to describe the following. Some may be harder that you think. If you come up with a good one, share it in the comments.
  • Fresh cut grass
  • Baking bread
  • A garden/your favorite flowers
  • Two-week-old leftovers in the fridge
Taste—How would you describe the taste of salt to someone who has never eaten it? Not as easy as it sounds, is it? Especially since we use ‘salty’ as an adjective. So, on to the list of taste words.
Salty, sweet, sour, sweet and sour, savory, rich, tangy, bitter, bittersweet, fruity, starchy, flavorful, raspberry(or all the fruit flavors), mild, spicy.
When writing about taste, your goal should be to evoke the memory of a specific taste in your reader by giving the description of the item and the characters reaction to it.
She loaded the chip with salsa. Opening wide, she crunched down and chewed rolling the tomatoes, peppers and lime flavors around in her mouth. She smiled at her date, but then her eyes watered and she gasped for air. She swallowed the mouthful and the heat slid down to her stomach. Drawing in a deep breath, she plunged her head into the punch bowl, cooling the burn with huge gulps of the sweet, fruity drink.

Or how about the taste of ice cream?
He slid his tongue over the cold scoop on the cone. Flecks of bittersweet chocolate mingled with the sugary cream. He closed his eyes savoring the mix of flavors.
Draw on your personal experiences and sensations to help the readers identify and make their mouth’s water.
Hearing—Sounds are important to our lives. If you describe a setting and leave out the sounds you haven’t given the reader a complete picture. Would you describe a carnival without the barker yelling, the music of the merry-go-round floating on the breeze, a bell ringing and people cheering as someone wins a prize, and let’s not forget the shrieks of the daring souls brave enough to ride the roller coaster. These all add to the setting.
But sometimes we can use sound to convey action.
Pop! Pop! Pop! He ducked, bullets peppering the wall above his head.
This is called onomatopoeia. These words imitate the natural sound of things. Think of them as sound effects for writers. Here are some examples of onomatopoeia.
Boom, crash, pop, splash, drip, plop, warble, whoosh, croak, whistle, giggle, growl, bawl, clang, clap, clink, slap, thud, buzz, chirp, meow, moo.
These words mimic the sound they describe. They are often found at the beginning of a sentence and signify the sounds themselves. They can also heighten the tension or surprise the reader as in the example above. So don’t forget the sound of your setting for a complete picture.
Sight—Last of all is sight. As writers, we are used to describing the visual aspects of our characters and setting. But we have to remember to make them part of the story and not just a laundry list of description. Here’s an example.
He was tall, about six feet. He had blond hair and blue eyes. He wore blue jeans and a black t-shirt.
Pretty boring, right? Now let’s make it part of the story.
I looked up into his face when the gun cocked. The boy’s blue eyes shifted around the alley. Switching the gun to his left hand he wiped his palm on his tight, black t-shirt. He turned and ran away, his messy blond hair blowing in the wind.
Making the details part of the action makes it more interesting for the reader.
Using color can be tricky. Ally Condie stands out to me as someone who has mastered the use of color in her writing. Here are the first few paragraphs of her book Matched.
Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night? My wings aren’t white or feathered; they’re green, made of green silk, which shudders in the wind and bends when I move—first in a circle, then in a line, finally in a shape of my own invention. The black behind me doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead.
I smile at myself, at the foolishness of my imagination. People cannot fly, though before the Society, there were myths about those who could. I saw a painting of one of them once. White wings, blue sky, gold circles above their heads, eyes turned up in surprise as though they couldn’t believe what the artist had painted them doing, couldn’t believe that their feet didn’t touch the ground.
Those stories weren’t true. I know that. But tonight it’s easy to forget.
She uses color seven different times in that passage alone. Never once did she ‘tell’ us something about the color. She didn’t tell us her dress was green or the night was black or even that the painting was of angels. She ‘showed’ us the thoughts of her POV character and worked the color in. So let us find better ways of using sight in our writing to make it vivid.
By employing all the senses in our writing, we don’t just tell our readers a story, we let them share in the experience of our characters. We can evoke emotion and memory. We can create well-rounded settings and vivid, colorful pictures. So go forth and try something new. Expand your descriptions to artistry.
Keep writing.

Balance (By Jo A Wilkins)

My co-author Jo offers this on writing Balance

What I mean by balance is that each and every piece you write must have a balanced portion of narrative, description, and dialogue. To understand each of these concepts individually is not enough. A successful author must understand how to weave these three essential portions of their story into every scene. It may help if you study each technique for its contribution to your writing, and whether or not you are drawing on the full potential of them all. Take a look at each concept individually.
Narration is the vehicle by which an author sets the mood for the scene they are writing. Without knowing what time of day or what weather the characters are putting up with, how can we understand why they are reacting like they are? Without this element in our scene, the drama you are creating seeps off the page. But, be aware, if the author uses only, or primarily, narration in his work, the end result will be a fairytale-like story that carries slim chances of being published.
Description, an equally important ingredient in building a story, sets the background the characters work around, and it lets the reader see your characters. Have the character walk through a dark room, with only a penlight to illuminate his way. How spooky would the character’s face look in the shadows cast by the weak light?  The skillful use or omission of description in your writing can make or break a scene
And then there is Dialogue. Dialogue is the vehicle that moves your story from page to page. If dialogue is not handled correctly, you can lose your audience when the first character speaks.
As William Noble says in Conflict, Action and Suspense, (A Writer’s Digest book published in 1999) he states that dialogue is not conversation. Conversation is boring. We, as writers, should avoid chit chat and include only key information in our dialogue.
So, it might be a good exercise to look through your current manuscript and see if you are using your skills to their fullest potential. Do pages of your manuscript resemble a script with primarily dialogue?  Do you find a fairy tale on your pages that only the young in heart can appreciate having read to them?  Or is your story a full out description of the world in your head that would bore the most hungry reader?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two Bits Worth 25 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors

Two Bits Worth

25 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors

Writing success boils down to hard work, imagination and passion—and then some more hard work. Here are 25 writing tips from some best selling fiction authors.

Print a copy to put on your desk, home office, refrigerator door, or somewhere else noticeable so you can be constantly reminded not to let your story ideas wither away by putting off your writing.

Tip1: TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies says,  “Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”

Tip 2: "Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you." — Zadie Smith

Tip 3: "Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution." — Michael Moorcock

Tip 4: "In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it." — Rose Tremain

Tip 5: "Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever." — Will Self

Tip 6: "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." — Jonathan Franzen

"Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet." — Zadie Smith

Tip 7: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: Memoir of the Craft

Tip 8: "Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear)." — Diana Athill

Tip 9: "Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." – Anton Chekhov

Tip 10: "Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted 'first readers.'" — Rose Tremain

Tip 11: "Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money." — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 12: "Don't panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends' embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there's prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too." — Sarah Waters

Tip 13: "The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply." — Will Self

Tip 14: "Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!" — Joyce Carol Oates

Tip 15: "The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator." — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 16: "Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful." — Elmore Leonard

Tip 17: "Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." — Neil Gaiman

Tip 18: "You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished." — Will Self

Tip 19: "The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter." — Neil Gaiman

Tip 20: "The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’" — Helen Simpson

Tip 21: Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.” ― Lloyd Alexander

Tip 22: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” ― Stephen King

Tip 23: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Tip 24“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  – Mark Twain

Tip 25: “There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way.

One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day.

Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles.

The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” ― L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New Dialogue tags vs Descriptive Beats

In any good ‘how to write fiction’ book you’ll find at least one chapter if not two on the use and formatting of dialogue. Since dialogue can reveal a writer’s strengths or weaknesses, crafting good dialogue can be difficult. There are many pitfalls that writers can stumble into with dialogue.

There are skills you can develop to strengthen your dialogue. I would like to offer some insights into dialogue tags, descriptive beats in place of tags, and how to punctuate them. While these mechanics aren't actually dialogue, they do draw attention to it and can influence how your readers will read a character’s dialogue and draw a reader into your story.

Accepted writing practices change over time. When Jules Verne wrote Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, etc or Wells wrote The Time Machine, the mode of writing for the time was 'Let Me Tell You A Story'. Throughout the narrative Verne and Wells tell you what each character is doing and thinking.

As I said writing practices change over time. Go to good writers conference and listen to any book editor. The word said is the acceptable dialogue tag. Any good editor will tell you the word asked is less acceptable  now-a-days. Ask that editor about authors like Asimov and he or she will tell that the author of over 4000 book not could get published under today writing standards.Why, because writing styles have changed. Among those changes are the use of dialogue tags and descriptive beats.

This is let me tell you a story.

Three year old Reese walked up to his grandmother and asked for another drink of milk.

Now a dialogue tag.

 "Grandma, can I have some milk?" Reese asked.

The dialogue tag 'asked' is redundant here or anywhere. The dialogue by Reese already tells the reader it's a question. But how old is Reese? By the above sentence you have no way of knowing Instead you could put an action in to enhance the scene and let your reader know more about the child..

Reese held up his sippy cup. "Grandma, can I have more milk?"

Here your reader can tell Reese is a young child, because of the style of cup he presented for a refill.
To make the scene even clearer, you can put the dialogue into a child's language.

Reese held up his sippy cup. "Grandma, more milk pease?"

Now can you show Reese is very young  without telling the reader anything else. By this simple method the reader can figure the child is about 3 years old.

Dialogue tag: A manner of speaking. Comes before or after dialogue.

she said.

I find there are two common mistakes or misconception we all have with the use dialogue tags.

First: Being afraid to use said.
Second: Believing said becomes repetitive.

As a result, many writers have their characters constantly, stating, shouting, mumbling, murmuring, whispering, responding, commenting or commanding. When we feel the need to explain how a characters says something, then his or her dialogue isn't strong enough. At the other end of the spectrum, if your dialogue is strong enough, then your tag only repeats to the reader what your character has just shown them.

There is a time and place for non said dialogue tags. The excessive use of these tags is considered weak writing.

I've asked and heard the question asked, "Doesn't the use of ‘said’ become repetitive and boring?"

The short answer is: No. As writers we are attuned to words. We pay attention to them. But if you’re doing you job right, the average reader is engrossed in the story and connected to the characters. A reader's eyes tends to pass over ‘said’ or ‘asked.’ If these tags stand out, it usually means your narrative isn’t being woven sufficiently into the dialogue.
Another mistake is over using the said or asked tags when there are only two characters in the scene. An occasional tag should be used in a long scene of dialogue to help the reader keep track of who is speaking. In scenes with more then two characters a combination of dialogue tags and descriptive beats will keep the story moving and the reader engrossed.
In his book ‘The Sixteenth Man" Thomas B. Sawyer’s entire manuscript is written without a single dialogue tag. Rather, Tom effectively uses descriptive beats for two person dialogue and for scenes with multiple character

Descriptive beat: A sentence before, after, or breaking up dialogue that describes a character’s response or action.
Janet finished brushing her hair. "I’m ready for my close up."

Len held out a steaming mug. "Coffee, Mark?"
These examples are very basic. You can effectively eliminate all or most dialogue tags by weaving descriptive beats into your dialogue. However, any writer must be cautious about the use of descriptive beats. You need to pick quality descriptions, ones that reveal a character’s personality, motivation or adds to the setting and feel of the story. Having a characters make too many meaningful glances, or smiles, or nods will make your descriptions feel repetitive and unoriginal.

Another area easy to fix, that will strengthen your writing is punctuation.
Dialogue tag: "Hand me that book," he said. (Comma inside the quotation marks)
Descriptive Beat: He pointed to the tome. "Hand me that book." (Period inside the quotations)
It’s as simple as paying attention to what you’re writing. Ask yourself this question. Is this a way of speaking? If yes, then punctuate with a comma. If no, use a period.
A final note, there are always gray areas. Groaned for example, is it a way of speaking or a noise made?
"Oh no," he groaned.
"Oh no." He groaned.
This is where you, the writer, has ultimate control of your story, by determining the best way to use the rules of the craft to tell your tale.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Once in a while I come across an article that nails the subject I'm working on better then I ever could. This is one of those articles. The following is taken directly from, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. I refer this PDF extensively with working a difficult scene. It is quoted word for word. (Reformatting is mine)

By definition, nonverbal emotion can’t be told. It has to be shown. This makes it difficult to write because telling is easier than showing. Here’s an example:

     Mr. Paxton’s eyes were sad as he gave her the news. “I’m sorry, JoAnne, but your position with the company is no longer necessary.”
     Instantly, JoAnne was angrier than she’d ever been in her life.

This exchange is fairly easy to write—but not so easy to read. Readers are smart and can figure things out for themselves. They don’t want to have the scene explained to them, which is what happens when a writer tells how a character feels. Another problem with telling is that it creates distance between the reader and your characters, which is rarely a good idea.

In the preceding example, the reader sees that Mr. Paxton is reluctant to give JoAnne the bad news and that JoAnne is angry about it. But you don’t want the reader to only see what’s happening; you want them to feel the emotion, and to experience it along with the character. To accomplish this, writers need to show the character’s physical and internal responses rather than stating the emotion outright.
       JoAnne sat on the chair’s edge, spine straight as a new pencil, and stared into Mr. Paxton’s face. Sixteen years she’d given him—days she was sick, days the kids were sick—making the trip back and forth across town on that sweaty bus. Now he wouldn’t even look at her, just kept fiddling with her folder and rearranging the fancy knickknacks on his desk. Clearly, he didn’t want to give her the news, but she wasn’t about to make it easy for him.
     The vinyl of her purse crackled and she lightened her grip on it. Her picture of the kids was in there and she didn’t want it creased.
Mr. Paxton cleared his throat for the hundredth time.
     “JoAnne…Mrs. Benson…it appears that your position with the company is no longer—”
      JoAnne jerked to her feet, sending her chair flying over the tile. It hit the wall with a satisfying bang as she stormed from the office.

This scene gives the reader a much better opportunity to share in JoAnne’s anger.
Through the use of sensory details, a well chosen simile, specific verbs, and body cues
that correspond with the featured emotion, readers can see that JoAnne is angry, but they also feel it—in the straightness of her spine and the cheap vinyl in her grip, in the force it takes to send a chair flying across the room simply from the act of standing.
An example like this also reveals a lot about the character. JoAnne is not well-to-do.
She has children to support. She may be angry, but she’s also strong minded, family
oriented, and proud. This information rounds out JoAnne’s character and makes her more relatable to the reader.

Showing takes more work then telling, as word count alone will indicate, but it pays
off by drawing the reader closer to the character and helping to create empathy. Once in a
great while, it’s acceptable to tell the reader what the character is feeling: when you have
to pass on information quickly, or when you need a crisp sentence to convey a shift in
mood or attention. But the other ninety-nine times out of a hundred, put in the extra work and you will reap the benefits of showing.

     • The grin that stretches from ear to ear.
     • A single tear pooling in the eye before coursing down the cheek.
     • Quivering knees that knock together.
Clichés in literature are vilified for good reason. They’re a sign of lazy writing, a
result of settling on the easy phrase because coming up with something new is too hard.
Writers often fall back on clichés because, technically, these tired examples work. That
grin implies happiness as certainly as knee knocking indicates fear. Unfortunately,
phrases like these lack depth because they don’t allow for a range of emotions. That
single tear tells you that the person is sad, but how upset is she? Sad enough to sob?
Shriek? Collapse? Will she even be crying five minutes from now? To relate to your
character, the reader needs to know the depth of emotion being experienced.

When writing a certain emotion, think about your body and what happens to it when
you’re feeling that way. Excitement, for example. The heart races and the pulse quickens.
Legs bounce. The speech of a methodical person becomes fast paced with streaming
words. The voice is pitched higher and louder. For any given emotion, there are literally
dozens of internal and external changes that, when referenced, will show the reader what
your character is feeling. The lists in this thesaurus are great for providing ideas, but your
own observations are just as helpful. Watch people—real flesh-and-blood specimens at
the mall or characters in movies. Note how they act when they’re confused or
overwhelmed or irritable. The face is the easiest to notice but the rest of the body is just
as telling. Don’t overlook changes in a person’s voice, speech, or overall bearing and

Secondly, know your character. Individuals do things differently—even mundane
activities like brushing their teeth, driving, or making dinner. Emotions are no exception.
Not every character will shout and throw things when angry. Some speak in quiet voices.
Others go completely silent. Many, for various reasons, will cover their anger and act like
they’re not upset at all. Whatever your character is feeling, describe the emotion in a way
that is specific to him or her, and you’re almost guaranteed to write something new and


If all emotions were of average intensity, they’d be easier to describe. But emotions vary in strength. Take fear, for instance. Depending upon the severity of the situation, a person might feel anything from unease to anxiety to paranoia or terror. Extreme emotions will require extreme descriptors, while others are relatively subtle and must be described as such. Unfortunately, many writers make the mistake of assuming that to be gripping, emotion must be dramatic. Sad people should burst into tears. Joyful characters must express their glee by jumping up and down. This kind of writing results in melodrama, which leads to a sense of disbelief in the reader because, in real life, emotion isn’t always so demonstrative.

To avoid melodrama, recognize that emotions run along a continuum, from mild to extreme. For each situation, know where your character is along that continuum and choose appropriate descriptors. Just as extreme emotions call for extreme indicators, temperate emotions should be expressed subtly. The indicators for intermediate emotions will lie somewhere in the middle. It’s also very important that your character follows a smooth emotional arc. Consider the following example:

     Mack tapped his thumb against the steering wheel, one arm dangling out the window. He smiled at Dana but she just sat there, twisting that one loop of hair around her finger. “Worried about your interview tomorrow?” he said.
     “A little. It’s a great opportunity but the timing’s awful. There’s too much going on.” She sighed. “I’ve been thinking about cutting back. Simplifying.”
     “Good idea.” He nodded along with the radio and waved at the biker who thundered past on his Harley.
       “I’m glad you agree.” She faced him. “I think we should break up.”
     His foot slipped off the gas pedal. The air grew heavy, making it hard to breathe. The car veered toward the middle line and he let it drift, not caring whether he lived or died.

Unless Mack has a psychological reason for doing so, he shouldn’t jump from placidity to depression in a matter of seconds. A realistic progression would be to move from contentment to shock, then disbelief, and finally to grief. Done thoughtfully, this emotional arc can be shown with relatively few words:

     “I’m glad you agree.” She faced him. “I think we should break up.”
      His foot slipped off the gas pedal. “Break up? What are you talking about?”
      “Mack. We’ve been headed this way for awhile, you know that.”
      He gripped the steering wheel and took deep breaths. Sure, things had been rough lately, and she kept talking about taking some time, but she always came around. And she’d definitely never uttered the words, “break up.”
     “Look, Dana—”
     “Please, don’t. You can’t talk me out of it this time.” She stared at the
dashboard. “I’m sorry.”
     His insides twisted. He darted a look at Dana, but she was curled against the window now, both hands resting easy in her lap. He gaped at her. They were totally breaking up.

Make sure that your character’s feelings progress realistically. Map out the emotional journey within the scene to avoid unintended melodrama. All of this is not to say that real life doesn’t produce extreme emotion. Birth, death, loss, change—some situations call for intense responses that may go on for awhile. Many writers, in an admirable attempt to maintain believability, try to recreate these events in real time. This results in long paragraphs or even pages of high emotion and, inevitably, melodrama. Though real life can sustain this kind of intensity for long periods of time, it’s nearly impossible for the written word to do so in a way that readers will accept.

In these situations, avoid melodrama by abbreviating. This method is often used for other real-life scenarios—conversations, for instance. Small talk is left out to keep the pace moving forward. Mundane tasks are also cut short, because the reader doesn’t need (or want) to see the entire car washed, a piece at a time, while Bob ponders a problem at work. In the same way, extensive emotional scenes should be long enough to convey the appropriate information, but not so long that you lose the audience. Write the emotion well, develop empathy in your reader, maximize the words that you do use, but don’t overstay your welcome.
Because nonverbal writing is so hard to master, it makes sense that some writers shy
away from it, choosing to rely more on thoughts or dialogue to express what a character
is feeling. But an over-reliance on either leads to problems.

     “Are—Are you sure?” I asked.
     “Without a doubt,” Professor Baker replied. “It was neck-and-neck right
up to the end, but you came out ahead. Congratulations, William!”
     “I can’t believe it,” I said. “Valedictorian! I’m so happy!”

Word choice is important in expressing emotion, but it will only go so far. After that,
the writer is reduced to weak techniques like telling the reader what’s being felt (I’m so
happy) and over-using exclamation points to show intensity. Without any action to break
up the dialogue, the conversation also sounds stilted. On the other hand, conveying emotion solely through thoughts has its problems, too.

     My pulse was pounding somewhere in the 160 range. I did it! Valedictorian! I was sure Nathan would come out ahead—he was a phenom in the physics lab, and he’d been a ghost at school all month, practically living in the library.
      I threw my arms around Professor Baker. I’d think about this later and cringe with embarrassment, but right now, I didn’t care. I’d done it! Take THAT, Nathan Shusterman!

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sample. Bodily cues, both internal and
external, are included. It’s clear to the reader that William is excited. Yet it doesn’t ring
true. Why? Because this monologue screams for verbal interaction with others. Professor
Baker is there and has clearly been talking to William. For William to be so incredibly
excited and not say anything comes across as…odd.

Internal dialogue is an important part of any story. There are many scenes and
scenarios where a paragraph or more of contemplation is appropriate. This isn’t one of
them. For this scene, and for the majority of scenes, emotion is much more effectively
conveyed through a mixture of dialogue, thoughts, and body language.

     My pulse jittered somewhere around the 160 mark. No, I’d heard him wrong, been tricked by an over-active, sleep-deprived, twisted imagination.
     “Are—” I cleared my throat. “Are you sure?”
     “It was neck-and-neck right up to the end, but you came out ahead. Congratulations, William.”
     The leather chair squeaked as I collapsed into it. Valedictorian. How’d I beat out Nathan, who’d been a ghost all month, practically living in the library? Not to mention that B- I scraped in physics.“But I did it,” I whispered.
     The professor stood to shake my hand. I jumped up and threw my arms around him, lifting him off the floor. Later, I’d remember this and die of embarrassment, but right now I didn’t care.
     “I did it! Take THAT, Nathan Shusterman!”
     “Knew you had it in you,” the professor said in a strangled voice.

When expressing emotion, vary your vehicles, using both verbal and nonverbal techniques for maximum impact.

Every character is unique, influenced largely by events from the past. One surefire way to gain reader empathy is to reveal why a character is the way he is. Take the movie Jaws, for example. The first glimpse we have of shark hunter Quint, he’s raking his none too-clean fingernails down a chalkboard. Hardly endearing. As the movie progresses, the viewer’s dislike is justified through his crass manners and bullying of young Mr. Hooper. But once he tells his story of the sinking of the Indianapolis and his five days and nights treading water with the sharks, the viewer understands how he became so hardened. His behavior hasn’t changed and we still don’t like him very much, but we empathize with
him now. We wish him better than what life has served up to him.

This is just one example of the importance of back story in building reader empathy. People are products of their past. As the author, it’s important for you to know why your characters are the way they are and to pass that information along to readers. However, it’s hard to know just how much to share. Many writers, in an attempt to gain reader empathy, reveal too much. Excessive back story slows the pace and can bore readers, tempting them to skip ahead to the good stuff. Undoubtedly, Quint’s path to crusty and crazy contained more than that one unfortunate event, but the rest didn’t need to be shared. That one story, artfully told, was enough.

In order to avoid using too much back story, determine which details from your character’s past are necessary to share. Dole them out through the context of the present time story to keep the pace moving. For inspiration, consider your favorite literary characters, even those who may have been unlikable. Revisit their stories to see what clues from the past the author chose to reveal, and how it was done.
Back story is tricky to write well. As is true of so many areas of writing, balance is the key.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi., is available in downloadable PDF format here:  As well as on Google, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

This is a must have for anyone needing help finding ways to write and emotionally charged scene. (And we all do.)