Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's So Great About A Writer Being Invisible?

You should think about being invisible when you write, really you should. 
Immediately I hear the distant wails," I don’t want to be invisible! I want to show my own distinctive style, I want to be a really GREAT WRITER and entertain my readers! I want the world to praise ME!"

Well you can go that route, no invisibility for you! But if you do take that course you may miss out on creating the really great story you intend while you’re obsessing with being a ‘great writer.’ The wise writer’s focus is more on clear, crisp sentences that creates pictures for your readers, phrases that evoke emotion, words that touch an empathetic place. So if you've thought about it a moment and have decided you want to try out this "be invisible" thing and have your work take center stage, gather your patience, thoughtfulness, empathy and direction and read on.

First, move your focus away from yourself and what you expect to accomplish, think about your reader and what he or she hopes to get out of your book. How do you get them to that place where they suspend their disbelief and dive head-first into your story, wrapped in the conflicts you’ve created, the worlds you’ve painted and the characters who inhabit them? How to get them to forget about you, become unaware of you until you are really no longer visible and your story and characters are all they perceive?

For starters think about what you learned in your English classes and your Composition classes, then recognize you have to unlearn a great deal of it. As a writer you don’t need to throw your impressive vocabulary in your reader’s faces. Keeping it simple and clear is better. Try not to use alliteration often. Don’t write long, complicated sentences. 19th Century novelists did it, it’s past, get over it. Your goal is not to fill up many pages to pile on long descriptive passages. All of this just serves to put the writer (you) center stage and that’s not really a good place to be.

Don’t stop your reader with a particularly long sentence, detailed phrase or a word they need to run to a dictionary to understand. Mark Twain would slap you, so would Hemingway, and unless I miss my guess, Stephen King as well. Use familiar words and make them count. Instead of vague phrases like “the librarian walked slowly down the aisle with a painful limp,” think more colorfully and concisely. How about, “the librarian hitched her way down the aisle, cane thumping in hollow rhythm.”? Don’t have a character of yours simply ‘eat’, when he or she can, ‘gulp, crunch, slurp or inhale’ the food. And learn to trust your gut instinct and depend on the context of your story. There are times when a more ‘fancy’ word is better. Just don’t constantly search your thesaurus for a replacement for that straight-forward word you began with.

Don’t jerk your reader out of our story with too many things like exclamation marks. This really does just point to the writer as being a bit too lazy to make the sentence exciting enough to get the reader’s attention without punctuation. Or perhaps the writer is just too inexperienced. Either way is not good. Use words to build that excitement, not marks on paper at the end of a sentence. Practice, you can do it.

Beware figures of speech. When you use one you momentarily pull your reader out of the story to consider what you’ve put forth. Forget old, boring ones you’ve heard forever like ‘a stitch in time…’ They don’t belong in your writing or mine at all. If you’re creative enough you may well come up with delightful ones on your own. If you need to, use an old, boring one as a place holder and highlight it in your writing, then come back later and replace it with something sparkling, and new. Something like “I felt like Van Gogh’s ear,” or “the water was cold, almost frozen, swimming through it was like dog-paddling cold oatmeal.” Plainly you can do better – so please do.

Lastly, for the moment, don’t make mistakes in your writing. Your readers pay attention and you’ll hear from them. If you use real places, spell the name correctly. Writing a western (I’ve written a number of them) remember a shotgun doesn’t shoot bullets, it shoots pellets. Chicago is not in Florida. Double-check and then check again. Don’t let this jerk your reader out of the reader’s trance you work so hard to create.

Always remember, it's not about you, it's about your reader.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - Fantasy Name Generators

An assortment of fantasy name generators.  Visit The Forge and see what names you can create for your fantasy characters there. You have the choice from several generators, and what they come up with  can really be a hoot. Great ideas, great springboards.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Want to Avoid Things Editors & Agents Hate From the Very First Chapter?

Writing is tough, writing well is even tougher. And at the top of the tough list is writing, while you keep in mind things that might turn off an agent or perhaps an acquisition editor in that very first chapter. Things that could stop your hopes for that book dead in it's tracks.
Then you have to decide, while keeping these things in mind, if something is important enough to your story to go ahead and do it anyway, despite the added risk of rejection.


Reprint in large Print Ed

But what follows below is, in general, a list of ‘don’ts’ for when you’re trying to get past that first hurdle and have your work seriously considered by those who can give the green light to your project. Those things you might waytto know about before you decide to go ahead and do them anyway.

For starters if you're thinking about a prologue, you  might think about skipping it – in general agents hate them and usually they’re just a lazy way to give readers a whole lot of back story that could actually be handled better throughout the novel.  BUT, you may have an excellent reason for a Prologue that doesn't fit into these niches. If you do, have at it. Just remember that magical word "Prologue" may well send chill up the spine of the editor or agent reading it.

Okay, I think we all agree the first chapter has to move quickly and draw the reader in. In General avoid any discussion of the weather here, i.e. “it was a dark and stormy night’. Also avoid lengthy character descriptions such as, “her hair was a silken black, curly and dropped to well below her hips. The color was the perfect contrast to her crystalline, sky blue eyes, large in a heart-shaped face with flawless alabaster skin. Her clothes clung to every voluptuous curve, caressing a hip here, cupping a full breast there, lace accenting the décolletage of her designer dress.” Somebody's head will be spinning after reading all that, unless he or she has fallen asleep.  My advice? Drop it in in small bits and pieces throughout the story instead. Give a tease and a taste, don't bombard your reader. 

In general the opening ‘my name is____’ is a real turn-off. Rarely it works. If you have some compelling reason to do it, hey, it's your book, go ahead. But, be aware, it sends up red flags.

Don’t create a first chapter in which nothing happens. People wandering around, streets getting described, people eating breakfast.  Nothing is worse than just laying background for a first whole chapter. SOMETHING needs to HAPPEN! Physical, emotional - something!

As a general tip, don’t have a lot of adventure and action throughout the first chapter turn out to be a dream. As a reader I find it terribly annoying and there are lots of agents who’ll tell you they hate it too.

Give your heroes and heroines some flaws.  Don’t make them too perfect. Boring. Hey, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes. Odd Thomas in Dean Koontz's novels has plenty of problems.  They're just more interesting if they have flaws and find ways to overcome them as well as 'suffering' from them.

Don’t get yourself stuck in the ‘information dump’, the feeling that you need to cram in to the first few pages all the information you think the reader needs to know to understand the story. You’ve spent time getting to know your characters, do the reader the courtesy of allowing them to get to know them over time (the course of the book). Let their personalities evolve and be revealed. We don’t need a crash course - and besides, the end of the book is too late anyway.  I've probably stopped reading before then if I can't see the story and backstory unfolding as I go.  Same applies to agents and editors.

Mostly it's just common sense, but sharpening your attention to be focused in on it. Whatever bugs you as the reader will also bug the editor or potential agent. If you're overwhelmed by description, if you feel like you're being spoon-fed information and not discovering it on your own, if nothing is happening and the characters are just going round in circles, you don't want to go down that road as a writer yourself.

Now, all that said, sometimes you need to write with speed and go back and look for these flaws - they aren't always easy to avoid as you write.  That's why so many writers emphasize the rewrite stage as the most important.  You may want to do some of what I've brought to your attention  above. If you do, well, go ahead, I'm not the ultimate authority, no one is.  Sometimes you can make it work, but it is always a very difficult sell.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - Author Tech Tips

Okay writers - today I pass along a site with hints for the techno-challenged author. Author Tech Tips. Helps the author wrestle with techie questions and get some good ideas to  help.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Want to Develop Some Character?

A lot of us writers, when faced with a new story, or a sagging middle think I know, I'll enter a new character.  I'll give him a tatoo or a scar, or a lisp.  Or I'll have her twist her hair, purse her lips like a blow-fish or dress in dominatrix garb. Oh, Oh, I know, it'll be some short phrase the character utters at moments of extreme tension that is always the same!

Well, actually, all that is what character is not. Oh, you can give your character any of those traits and more, that's not the problem.  If that's ALL you give them, that IS the problem.

Let's consider here.  What is character really?  Think about yourself. The character you create for a book is basically the same as you. It's what's inside. What you're like when there's nobody around. "Character" isn't what happens when life is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, it's more about what happens when things go wrong, when life throws unexpected bombs our way. So the same thing applies to your characters in your story.

How would your character react when confronted with real temptation, money, sex, whatever?  How would he or she deal with hardship? When challenged or attacked or hunted, how would that character move forward? What is your character willing to do to get what he or she wants? Those are elements of character and your fictional people need to possess them as much as do you.

Depend on your own experiences in life. Everyone has had moments of challenge.  Everyone has had times of temptation, managed to resist, or fell victim to it.  As a result we've felt bad or we've felt good about ourselves. The characters you create should have those moments as well. Present them with moments when that character may have been strong or weak, stalwartly honest or somewhat sleezy. A time when he or she did the right thing in spite of risk, cost or pain or did the wrong thing and felt regret or rejoiced in it.

And remember, it's not just the good guys who have these moments, these feelings, you need to give them to your bad guys as well. Obviously your bad guys have made more of the wrong choices and that's what makes up their character. The 'bad' guy pretty much acts more out of self interest than the 'good' guys.

So how do you get inside your characters' heads and dig deep to find out what their 'character' is all about?

One great way is to ask your character a lot of questions.  What does he need?  The basics, food, water, rest, safety from pain and more.  Think about it.  Work your way through and higher.  Once basics are met what else does he need/want? You might check out Maslow's Hierarchy of Need  for some ideas on how us humans operate and what we all need.  Beginning from the bottom up it's an interesting angle when working with character.

And keep it firmly in mind - if you want to create fleshed-out characters for your story, don't make any of them perfect.  Perfect can be terribly boring.


Monday, November 15, 2010

New Writer Discovery

This isn't a how to on writing. 

I just had to write about a new writer I've discovered, Ben Jones. At least new to me though he's been writing a while!

Benjamin Jones was born in Greeneville, TN but currently resides in Little Elm, TX with his wife, two daughters, two dogs, and one cat. Ben's been writing for close to 15 years while working various 9-5 jobs but, all the while, finding time to keep the writing the main priority and always  honing his craft.  A writer of many genres, his H.U.B. series of books, Volume 1 and 2 on sale now at with Volume 3 coming out fall 2011, takes place in a world where vampires and humans co-exist though a rogue faction is pushing both sides to the brink of war. Benjamin also has a romance novel coming out early 2011 called Head Above Water and is also working on a collaborative effort with Tiffanie Minnis, author of ~D.I.V.A.~ - Domestically Involved in Violent Affairs.
Ben's a busy writer and like many writers juggles writing with a 'day job' and turns out really great stuff.  Visit his site, check out his H.U.B. series, download as a PDF and enjoy the read.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - The Big Bad Book Blog

The Big Bad Book Blog offers something to every writer.  From the beginner who's trying to get published for the first time to the pro who wants to do more promotion. There are posts and blogs on almost every subject and additional resources as well. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Need Some Help Editing?

I've been doing some editing lately, breaking one of my own rules (which you'll note later in the article), but of course 'rules are made to be broken,", right? Well yes and no, but that's another subject for another blog post altogether.
Anyway, I decided since I'm doing it I might toss out a few simple tips to help in the process of editing. Now editing your work is a big job and these few tips certainly aren't everything you need to do/know, but they'll give you a push in the right direction.

Editing your own writing is difficult. No maybe, might be about it. There's a lot to pay attention to and there is frequently the 'flavor of the week' in regard to the continually evolving dos and don'ts and 'forbidden words'. Most of the time I tell folks not to go crazy every time a new trend or a new word to be avoided is announced. However, I've created below a list of a few things you can keep an eye out for. Things that just might smooth your writing, make it flow a bit better and help to draw your reader in. At the same time take heart. Don’t worry if there are a lot of the so-called forbidden words scattered throughout your work. After all there are plenty of the classics and lots of current best sellers that are peppered with them. Consider theses helps, not commands and write from your gut and your heart. After all, nothing is perfect and we probably wouldn’t like it if it was!

One well over-used word is “Very”. There are times it’s necessary, but those are ‘very’ rare indeed. Just leave it out or reword. If you said, “The detective, a very tall man, stood close to the accused” how about “The detective loomed over the accused.” Or search your thesaurus and find another descriptive term that fits your style better. And that's just that one word. Examine your work for others like it. Believe me, you'll find them.

Shed clichés like a ‘duck sheds water’. Unless your character is one who spouts them (and even then, please don't over do), or there is another compelling reason for you to use one, remember, they’re just boring and worn. Their time is past. Come up with something new and fresh of your own. Start your own cliche!

The words ‘up’ and ‘down’ seem to be greatly overused and can be generally eliminated. “Elizabeth put her book down on the bedside table.”  It's just redundant unless Elizabeth put her book somewhere someone normally wouldn't put it. Try "Elizabeth set her book on the bedside table with gentle respect.” Or, here's another: “The drought dried up the earth to the point of cracking.” Eliminate ‘up’ and we might have instead: “The drought dried the earth into deep, dusty fissures.” A bit more life in the passage, don't you think? 

Consider eliminating phrases like “John could hear,” or “John could feel.” This is where showing your reader something is much stronger than telling. Instead of “John could hear the train in the distance.” Try making it more direct. Bring in the reader's senses and put your reader right there. How about: “John heard the distant rumble of the train.” Or, “The sound of the approaching train reverberated in John’s head.” Or: "The train's approach caused the walls to tremble and the knicknacks to dance on the shelves." Another example: Instead of: “Jane could see the vultures circling in search of their next meal.” Try “The vultures floated in widening circles in search of their next meal.- Jane seemed a good candidate.”

Verbs ending in –ing can get to be a bit trying. That’s not to say you need to eliminate them altogether, you can sprinkle them in occasionally, in fact I doubt you could eliminate them altogether. But watch out for excess. Things like, “Joe was watching the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band.” Better would be: “Joe watched the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band.” Or “Joe tapped his feet to the rhythm of the band as the parade moved on.” Experiment, turn things around a bit and try to stifle the –ing urge just a little.

Don’t repeat words with great frequency. Scan your page. Does any one word jump out at you? Does it pepper the page or reappear frequently throughout a chapter? Grab your thesaurus and have at it or visit

Now here's the rule I mentioned above that I am currently breaking. Edit after you've completed your piece. Don't try to edit as you go along. There are the occasional times when I have to go back and edit something when I'm in the middle of a story, but mostly I try to write quickly and save the editing until I'm done with the project. It just seems to work better, separating the two tasks - right brain, left brain.

Oh, and much as I love to save paper, many times the only way to really see what needs to be tweaked is to print your work and read from hard copy. People are different. Some can edit onscreen perfectly well, but others need to have that white paper with black print in front of them to do a great job. Decide which kind you are and do it the way that works best. Reading it out loud is a great help as well.  And use both sides of your paper in draft form and don't forget to recycle!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - National Novel Writing Month

It's on, it's happening, it's already under way. NANOWRIMO But you can still join, it's only three days in. If you want to write a novel by the seat of your pants join up and have at it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Anticipating Writer's Money Realities - Working Toward Writer's Security

Break out the champagne, start the celebration, whoo-hoo, you've sold a book, your first novel! Wow, well-done. Now you think you’re going to quit your day job and live on the advance and launch into literary stardom. Well, maybe, but don’t count on it just yet. Much as we'd all like to think of that as the writer's reality, it just isn't and forewarned is forearmed, right? Hmm, well, maybe a bit of a downer, reality can bite, but if you want your eyes open read on. If you'd rather be surprised, than stick your head in the sand and stop here.

Okay, you're still with me.  So, your book is being published by a large New York publishing house. This means you get a lot of money, right? Ah, probably not. Advances are small, when they happen at all, unless you're a big name in which case you wouldn't be reading this.  Writers with several books in print can usually support themselves with a lot of planning, but frankly even they are rare. Only the really big names get away with that stuff.

For starters, for all fiction, in all genres (and we’re talking large and small publishing houses here), the average advance for a new author with a first book is about $5,000. And that, remember, is average, many get less than that for statistics to reach that average.

But that looks pretty good for a first one out of the gate.  However out of that you may well have an agent to pay and if so that is a 15% commission right off the top. Then, the way things are these days, you’ll need a website. If you’re technically inclined you can save some serious bucks, but if you’re not it could cost you about $500 - $1,000 (or a whole lot more) to get that website created and put up. And to this point we haven’t spoken about the cost of self-promotion (yes you have to promote yourself), possibly attending a conference of one kind or another or other promotional items.

At this point you don’t have a lot left over – oh, and be sure to save receipts and track expenses closely because I won’t even touch the subject of taxes for the self-employed. Just let's say as a guesstimate you need to allow around 35% or so off the gross because yes you have to pay income tax and you also get to pay more on your social security as you are your own employer - you might think about incorporation at some point, but I'm not you financial advisor.

But, you say, after the book finally is published, then you’ll see some serious bucks, right?

Maybe. Hope so, but again, don't count on it. Remember the publisher pays itself back the “advance” you received before you see any more cash. So, if you’ve sold your book to a house that puts it out in paperback format and sells it for $7.99 which seems to be a very common price point these days with an 8% royalty rate (also common in contracts), they you’d get about $0.64 per book. To pay back that advance you received you need to sell over 7,800 books before you earn more cash from your new baby.

Okay, before you panic, most print runs from large New York houses are at least 10,000 copies (last time I checked - and these things change) so plainly they’re expecting to sell that many, which is more than the base needed to pay back the advance and then some. If that’s the case you’d earn about another $1,400 minimum and hopefully more. We won't discuss 'remainders' here.  That's mostly for hardcover and newbies don't usually start out with hardcover - though it can happen, in fact did happen for me (for better or worse).

But here’s something else to consider. Publishers pay author royalties twice a year. Usually for the periods of January through June, then July through December – and they don’t cut that check until about three months AFTER the cut off of the pay period. So plan ahead for some waiting for any additional monies.

Now, is this depressing? Well, yes, a little. But if you keep things in perspective and plan ahead you can build a nice career. And you can write in other areas as well to keep those writing checks coming in. spread your wings. Explore other venues. Write articles, reports, shorts for the magazines that have such. In general look into any other writing that appeals to you to help supplement.

And remember there are many variables. The rare first time author is very fortunate to receive a large advance. It can happen. There are multibook deals, maybe you’ll get one of those. A series can be a profitable avenue (look at Harry Potter or Orson Scott Card's 'Ender' series). Then there are other possibilities out there like sale of movie rights or audio rights, or foreign reprints. And, down the road, as you build your ‘library’, don’t forget to look into reversion rights after a book goes out of print so you have the possibility of placing it again.

So keep writing and producing those books. Oh, and don’t forget to keep up with publishing trends so you can work contracts to your best advantage and avoid the idea that writers always have to be broke. Forewarned is forarmed (had to toss in the cliché yet again - sorry).

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