Shakazhan Outtakes Part 2 by Dellani Oakes

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00022]All authors have their outtakes—scenes that didn’t make the final cut. Some are embarrassments that we regret ever writing and will probably never see the light of day. Others are wonderful favorites that didn’t advance the plot. Below is one of these scenes. I love it, but it simply slowed things down. I could imagine my readers yelling at me, “Get on with it!”, so I cut it. I couldn’t seem to delete it completely. Instead, it went into a file called Cut from Shakazhan. Now, I’m glad I kept it.

Before reading, in case you haven’t read Shakazhan yet, there are several sentient ships. I don’t mean just cognizant, I mean fully aware beings who cater to their crews by creating whatever they need. Want a bigger bed? The ship will provide it. Thirsty? What’s your favorite beverage? Need privacy? The ship will create a private room that only you can find. They are characters just as much as the humans and aliens are. Their names are Anvil, Hammer – her mate and Styx, their daughter.

The Kindred are another alien species who are highly advanced technologically and telepathically. This scene takes place on board one of the alien ships. Ariella and Caprilla are Fellician warriors commonly called The Cats.

For fun, they put together a demonstration from each class. The camaraderie was growing between the two disparate groups of people. Marines and Miners side by side, sparring happily and cheering each other’s success.

Matilda and Ariella took the stage. Ariella’s tawny coat shown like silk in the lights. She wore the traditional short sarong of the Kaboratta dancer.

Matilda wore the same type of sarong, and had a diminutive bikini top over her chest. Her long, dark hair was pulled tightly back in a cluster of three braids and covered with a matching bandana. Each of them wore six hoops per ear and Matilda had her bracelets in place. Their swords were in a block beside them.

They began with the Ritual of Weighing, where each of the competitors chose her weapon. Taking their stance across from one another, a sharp snap of a bongo signaled the start of the match. Matilda attacked quickly and low, going for her opponent’s knees. Ariella’s reach was longer, but Matilda’s comparatively diminutive stature next to hers, made getting under her guard easy.

Ariella swatted her away with her tail as if she were a gnat. Matilda flew across the stage, landing with a grunt. Shaking her head, she rose, taking her stance again.

The bongo signaled as before, Ariella attacked, moving in on Matilda’s exposed left side. Maneuvering rapidly, Matilda jumped for her block, grabbing her dagger as she sped by. She parried Arriella’s attack, barely avoiding a blow from her other side. Ariella had grabbed her dagger too. Matilda caught Ariella’s knife in her claws, which she had extended for that purpose.

A gasp from the crowd as Ariella extended hers, grappling with Matilda briefly before the woman moved out the of big cat’s range. The two of them slashed, kicked, and danced around the stage, hardly a sound but the bongo accompaniment and the clang of their weapons above their ragged breathing.

Ariella stooped to slash at Matilda’s legs. Matilda jumped lightly up and rolled over Ariella’s back, landing in a crouch on the other side. Back and forth they dodged and parried, swooping into an opening and back out again to avoid their opponent’s blows.

It looked as if Matilda were winning, then Ariella rushed in and got her pinned to one side of the stage, advancing, blade held ready before her, preparing for the killing blow. Matilda, calmly taking a deep breath, ran at Ariella, sprung forward and up, doing a handless cartwheel over her head, flipped as she was landing, spinning to face her opponent. Getting her feet under her, she launched herself at the large feline, knocking her down and sitting on her chest, blade ready at the throat, Matilda prepared for the kill.

Striking her blow, she didn’t notice Ariella’s dagger coming up behind her, deploying the handle blade until too late. Both blades struck home simultaneously, blood sprayed everywhere.

Gasps of horror filled the room. Wil and Caprilla leapt onto the stage, calling for doctors. Wil lifted Matilda’s limp form off Ariella’s chest, clutching her to him, covered in blood.

Caprilla gently moved Ariella, taking her in his arms, wiping the blood from her fur, looking for the wound. There wasn’t any. There were no marks on either woman, just a lot of blood.

Unable to contain themselves longer, Ariella and Matilda levered themselves upward to horrendous applause. Even Wil and Caprilla joined the laughter and clapping.

“Ladies, that was the most amazing display of skill I’ve ever seen! I congratulate you!” Caprilla kissed each of them on the hand, helping Ariella to her feet. Wil scooped Matilda up, kissing her possessively. Caprilla held Ariella close to him, not letting go. Her protests were merely a ploy. She didn’t wish release or she would’ve taken his head off.

“Don’t ever scare me so again, Ariella. I feared you dead.”

She looked slyly at him. “Tell me, Caprilla, would it matter so very much?”

“It would wound me to my heart to lose you. I’m an old fool, perhaps. It took seeing you die before me to make me realize this.”

In a rare tender moment, Ariella kissed Caprilla and rubbed noses with him showing her affection.

“All is well then, Caprilla. For I’ll never do so again, I promise. But you must also promise me something.”

“What would that be, Ariella, anything within my power.” She whispered something in his ear, making him chuckle, then guffaw. “I believe that is something I can manage, Ariella. I swear.” He held up his hand as if taking an oath.

Later, Matilda took Ariella aside. “What did you ask Cap to do?”

“It is rather something I asked him not to do. I made him promise he will no longer bed Escascia. In return, I promised not to take Cavitus or Errollic to my bed. It is a bargain which pleases us both.” She smiled happily, though to many it would look more like a snarl.

Matilda grinned, but said nothing. It wasn’t necessary. She was pleased to know that her friends were happy, that was enough.

© Dellani Oakes 2014

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WHY DOES A WRITER NEED EDITING SERVICES?

Editing, the time-consuming but necessary evil in the life of a writer, eats up an author’s writing time. It’s difficult to see many little mistakes in punctuation and grammar after reading and rereading the manuscript for what may seem like or actually be the hundredth time.

No matter how great the story is, the writer always seems to find a place here, a sentence there, a description, or a bit of dialogue that could be just a tiny bit better if a few words are changed. Constantly tweaking the story or the writing often gets in the way of doing a good editing job on one’s own works of literary art..

That’s why writers need editors – someone whose sole purpose is to find the flaws in spelling, grammar and punctuation that elude the writer but will distract readers.

That’s what editors do, paying special attention to the little things that are hallmarks of good writing. They find all those elusive little mistakes the author may not catch. They make suggestions when they find a sentence that seems awkward or that has grammar problem.

The big problem for Indie Authors is that editors cost money…sometimes BIG money, and some editors are better than others. Finding someone with whom a writer can trust his “baby” – his creation of art – is a daunting task. 

A writer should be spending his or her valuable time creating, not editing. No matter how good the writer is, an objective eye when it comes to editing will make a huge difference in any writer’s life.

There’s a new service in “town” for Indie Writers. Writers’ Wings is designed to help you with the mundane but necessary jobs of editing, prepping for publication, and cover design at reasonable prices. The website is still under construction, but you’re welcome to visit it and watch as it grows. You’ll be interested in what Writers’ Wings has to offer and amazed at how affordable its services are. Stop by… http://writerswings.homestead.com/index.html Let us give your words wings!

 

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Finally Finished That Novel by Dellani Oakes

So, you’ve finished that 460 novel. You sit proudly and pat the cover page tenderly, smoothing the white surface when much to your horror, you see a mistake! Cold sweat breaks out on your brow, fingers tremble, mouth suddenly goes dry. As your eye wanders down the page, more and more errors jump out at you! Fear grips your heart as you stumble from the desk, desperate for a calming cool drink. It’s a nightmare, but you can’t wake up. It’s real. Your brainchild, the fruit of your creative efforts, is flawed and it’s up to you to fix it.

This is a scenario each of us faces. Sometimes it’s as minor as a misplaced comma or a dangling modifier. Other times an entire scene, or even half the novel is so bad it has to be scraped and retooled. I started an historical novel about ten years ago, set it aside since it wasn’t going anywhere, picked it up a few years later and realized the reason it hadn’t gone anywhere was that it was garbage! No other word for it. After careful review, I threw away all but ten handwritten pages. Of those ten pages, perhaps parts of seven survive in the retooled version.

Several things were problematic that I didn’t realize until much later. First, and most important, the point of view and style were all wrong. Set in St. Augustine in the Florida territory in the late 1700s, it was told in first person by a young Spanish woman. I had chosen to do it like a diary (not really sure why) and it was far too limiting to my story.

Second, after doing some more research, I found that the time period would have to be moved from the 1780s to 1739 or I could not incorporate certain facets of the novel. It would have been grossly inaccurate.

Third, and most difficult, the man I had intended to be the bad guy simply wasn’t working. No matter what I did, even in the retooled version, he wouldn’t be villainous. The heroine refused to fall in love with anyone else. Even the good guy couldn’t be relied upon to behave. He became the villain, the villain became the hero, the heroine didn’t succumb to another man’s charms, and they all lived happily ever after. (Except for the villain, because he, of course, was dead.)

It got terribly out of hand. After lots of time and effort reading and re-reading, honing, changing, and fine tuning, it is a really solid piece of literature that I am proud to put my name on. A few years ago, when I started re-writing it, I wouldn’t have given ten cents for it. It was the catalyst that started me writing in earnest and made me realize I had stories inside me to tell. None of the rest are historical in nature because with that novel I learned something else important. You can’t do too much research if you want to be historically accurate. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spend my time bleeding profusely from multiple wounds that tracking down that evasive, all important fact.

Sci-fi is far easier for me to write. Once I have a believable setting, the rest is easy. Don’t ignore the laws of science, throw in some really good fight scenes, add a few interesting aliens and voila! Creating my own world is far easier than working within the confines of someone elses, but that old adage “write what you know,” is nonsense. What I know is boring! Who wants to know about raising kids, doing endless errands, making phone calls and taking out the garbage? No one.

Writing is the ultimate escapism. For that short span of time, things work out; the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after. The bad guy gets his just desserts, the good guy wins, and there is always a happy ending. It’s far more interesting than washing the dirty dishes, cooking dinner or sorting laundry.

But I digress. Despite the thrill of putting words on paper, the hard part is making sure that everything is right. We can live with the small stuff like ending a sentence with a preposition. Frankly, it sounds odd if it’s correct. However, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and subject – verb agreement are very important. Even if a writer can’t name the errors, wrong is wrong.

One solution is to read and re-read your own work, honing and perfecting it. It’s easy to miss simple errors that way. Sometimes running off a hard copy helps, but it’s still difficult to catch it all. Better yet, get people who are gifted in grammar to help you. They might not be able to name the error, but they can spot one and can offer suggestions on how to correct it. If you can afford it, have an editor review it. Few of us can, so it’s up to us to read and re-read our own work until it is smooth and as error free as it can possibly be.

For goodness sake, don’t rely on the grammar check in Word! It’s garbage and will cause for more problems than it solves. I don’t care if it’s the primary word processing program used world wide, the grammar check is terrible. Spell check, on the other hand, is a godsend, but won’t help you if you simply type in the wrong word. I once finished typing out a test for my 11th grade class only to find that I had one very important little word wrong and the spell check hadn’t caught it. Instead of saying, “What is the theme of this story?” I had, “Shat is the theme of this story?” (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. — 11th graders knew that!)

There is no easy way to get through the editing process. It is tedious and time consuming, but if it makes the difference between selling a book and having it gather dust, it’s well worth it.

What’s In A Character by Karen Vaughan

Developing a character people will love or love to hate~
My character Laura in my series can be said to have “balls” but she has a tender side towards people who become important to her and will kick the butt of any bad-ass who gets in the way.  Laura had an average childhood as a tomboy in her family much to her mothers chagrin.  There is tension between mother and daughter as Mrs. Hamilton hated her singularity after her divorce and the fact that she lives in a less than upstanding neighborhood.   Laura doesn’t take much guff from mom but shows up for dinner on Sundays.
Laura’s first marriage was less than stellar. Even though she married her high-school sweetheart, Lou the wheels fell off after a miscarriage and then she found out he was gay when he advertised this publically.
This is all backstory but it gives a character a three-dimensional look and the reader will have empathy and are more apt to root for the protagonist in matters of the heart and ass-kicking.
Give your characters either good or bad a sense of humor. The wise crackers make great protagonists or villains and breaks tension in a suspenseful situation.
I have given some of my villains some redeemable qualities as well so they’re not totally hateful. But when they’re bad; they’re very bad and it works.
TINY TODD CRAWFORD IN DEAD ON ARRIVAL was a little person embroiled in criminal activity but had a soft spot for Laura. Unfortunately taking her and the decoy cop hostage was not a great way to win her heart.
LEENA DUBOIS-BROWN/JULIE WRIGHT IN OVER HER DEAD BODY –is the daughter of a wealthy gangster and is used to getting what she wants and that includes knocking off the competition to her elderly husbands heart and bank account.
KILLER T. FORD MY UP AND COMING DAYTONA DEAD is a egomaniacal NASCAR racer with a bad case of road rage—fellow racers call him a whining prima Dona but don’t piss him off.
DAVE MEECHAM IS A LESSER VILLAIN THE SAME BOOK AS FORD—He unlike Ford has a few redeeming qualities which are revealed in a huge epiphany thus making him a not-so bad ass.
Every character needs a straight man—Laura’s is her fiancé Gerry or the homicide detective Gibbons –they ground Laura when she gets herself in a pickle. They are the ones she feeds off and turns to when things get tense.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 7, Interior Monologue by B.Y. Rogers

One of the greatest gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts: interior monologue…allowing your readers to see what your character is thinking is a powerful, intimate way to establish that character’s personality.

Constant interruptions are just as annoying on the page as they are in life, and this writer (from an example in the book, which you need to purchase anyway) has interrupted her dialogue with interior monologue over and over again.

So how do you know you’ve gone too far with interior monologue? (See answer on page 118)

It is also possible to have too little interior monologue.

(A one page example of dialogue, between a husband and wife, without any interior dialogue, then:) But her (the character in the example) exhaustion and intimidation need to be present in the scene as well as in the context. She doesn’t stop feeling these things while she is on the phone with him. Because she’s too intimidated to confront him, the writer can’t show her feelings in dialogue. It would be difficult to work Nia’s specific feelings into emotionally weighted descriptions without breaking up the rhythm of the dialogue.

So what’s the right amount of interior monologue? (See answer on page 122)

(Throughout the book, there are several cartoons to emphasis a point. In this chapter, there is one that I found especially humorous. In the single panel, we see two women, sitting at a table, in a very sparse room. The caption reads exactly as follows: “So far all her dreams have not come true but she wants high romance and a baby while her husband want to be, and is, a very successful broker, who takes graduate courses at night and wants no baby and at the same time she has more or less recovered from being in love with the well-digger who dug her well, which is good since he is married with three children and is a drug addict and an alcoholic and he claims he’s dying, although there are no signs of this and she says once she finds an outlet for her unrequited love she will lose eighty-five pounds. I enjoyed that sentence.” (Get it?)

(Oh, here is a great one:) It’s rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath.

How to handle your interior monologue depends almost entirely on your narrative distance. (I am still trying to wrap my mind around ‘narrative distance’. I will work on it more the second time I go through this book.)

Thinker attributions. Whenever you’re writing from a single point of view-as you will be ninety percent of the time-you can simply jettison thinker attributions.

Another technique for setting off interior monologue sharply is to write in the first person (often with italics) when you narrative is in third…Effective as this technique can be in letting readers into your character’s head, be careful not to use it too often=

Interior dialogue can easily become a gimmick, and if overused it can make your characters seem as if they have multiple-personality disorder.

Generations of hacks have used italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue…frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. (In other words, don’t use italics.)

How do you set off your interior dialogue when you’re writing with narrative intimacy? (See answer on page 128)

(I failed to mention that this book is the 2nd Edition. I needed to clarify this so you understand the final paragraph.)

We have noticed since the first edition of this book came out that a lot of writers have taken our advice about showing and telling too much to heart. The result has sometimes been sterile writing, consisting mostly of bare-bones descriptions and skeletal dialogue. Yet fiction allow for marvelous richness and depth, and nowhere more so than through interior monologue. You have to be careful not to go overboard, but interior monologue gives you opportunity to invite your readers into your characters minds, sometimes with stunning effect.

In the Midst of Madness by Dellani Oakes

Finding time to write is something every author deals with.  Some of us have more time to devote to it than others, but still find that life intrudes.  I just spent the month of November taking the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.  While it’s invigorating to test my writing abilities, it also tests my patience.

For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, I’ll explain.  The participants make the personal commitment to write a 50,000 word novel beginning November 1st  and ending November 30th at midnight.  There are no money prizes, no one reads the novel but you, it doesn’t even have to be perfect, it just has to be done.  For this, you get a caffeine addiction, sleep deprivation, frazzled nerves,  numb fingers, a nifty little logo to put on your web site, a printable certificate and the satisfaction of knowing that despite everything, you persevered!

It’s amazing how quickly life intrudes when I set a goal like this for myself.  Everyone in the household becomes “needy”, particularly my twelve year old son.  Things he could do for himself suddenly take on far more importance, meaning that Mom has to get up and take care of it.  The phone becomes my enemy.  I can go for weeks at a time when the phone won’t ring, but once the November challenge begins, it rings all the time.  I’m not being paranoid, I kept track!  The week before NaNo began, I had a total of five phone calls in a week – one of which was for me.  As of November 1st, I had at least that many a day – and most of them for me.

Meals are another thing that interfere.  Deciding what to fix becomes a major decision that I usually leave to the last minute.  Grocery shopping becomes a task that eats into my writing time, irritating me further.  When I get home, the actual preparation is the most annoying because it’s accompanied by complaints about the meal.

NaNoWriMo is not the only time that these things are problematic, I simply use that as an example.  During any given day, the precious moments I have to get the ideas out of my head and into written form, are limited.  I don’t know about other authors, but my family fails to recognize that what I am doing is actually “work”.  To them, it’s Mom sitting at the computer – again.  Old hat, since ninety percent of my free time is at the computer.  If I’m not writing, I’m reading what I wrote and editing it with a mixture of brutality and care.  The words, “I’m working”, don’t make much of an impression on three hungry boys.

Somehow, in the midst of all this madness, I find enough time to get things done.  The precious words get faithfully added to the text even as my eyes cross and my head hits the keyboard.  Life, though it interferes, is what I draw from to fill my books with lively conversation, anecdotes and action.  So, though I may resent the interruptions, I welcome them, because it shows me that I am a part of life, not set apart – and that is truly a writer’s richest resource.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 6, How It Sounds by B.Y. Rogers

Guilty! Guilty as charged. Don’t look now but those are my hands in the guillotine (Please Ma, blindfold me first!). And they deserve their grim fate for the sins they have committed. After reading the next chapter in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, I am in abject despair. I have so much to correct in my writing. Time to get on it.

Chapter 6 – See How It Sounds

The problem with dialogue is, more often than not, with the dialogue itself rather than with the mechanics.

There are some mechanical techniques you can use when self editing that will cure one of the most common reason for flat dialogue: formality. (Buy the book to find out!)

The simplest  way to make your dialogue less formal is to use more contractions. (This one crucified me to the wall. When I wrote The Sin of Certainty. I was not even thinking about this. I just wrote. Then, one of my proofreaders (thanks Bob) pointed out to me that I NEVER used a contraction. Not in the dialogue, not in the narrative. I hadn’t even thought of it, it never crossed my mind that I was writing so formally. It wasn’t intentional but it was there. There is another technique mentioned but again, you have to get the book.)

Check to make sure you aren’t trying to shoehorn information into the dialogue that doesn’t belong there. (I like this. Dialogue is a great way to sneak in hints about a character’s past or a setup for a future event, but only if that information is useful to the scene.)

You don’t want your characters to speak more fully formed thoughts than they normally would, just so you can get in some information to your readers.

Weed out fancy polysyllabic words.(Guilty, at least at one time. A friend of mine once told me to dumb down my narrative, that I was using too many words that most readers will not be familiar with. My retort was that most people have already dumbed down their vocabulary and they should read the dictionary and not be so lazy. He was right, but I still think people are lazy and like water, they take path of least resistance when it comes to vocabulary. (Yes, I know ‘dumbed’ is not a word.))

Have your characters misunderstand one another once in a while. (This one gave me pause. I think I unwittingly attempted this with Rose and Mayor Brower in The Sin of Certainty. When I revisit that book, after I am finished blogging on this self editing theme, I am going to work on that relationship because Rose’s misunderstanding of Mayor Brower’s past is a key element and I think I can improve it. Okay, I know I can improve it.)

Good dialogue isn’t an exact transcription of the way people talk but is more an artifice, a literary device that mimics real speech.

Bring your ear into play. (Buy the book. There is several pages about this concept and worth the cost of the book.)

(Okay, this next point is very challenging, to me at least, and I am as guilty as anyone. Because of this single point, I have much to do with my previous writing. I do not think that I have that much dialogue to correct but I know it is there. I took the lazy way out and didn’t even know I was being lazy.)

(The section begins with a passage from Huckleberry Finn.) Beginning novelists, even today are often tempted to write dialect-whether it be southern black or Bronx Italian or Locust Valley lockjaw-using a lot of trick spellings and lexical gimmicks. It is the easy way out. (I discussed this with my wife. This is the very reason she stopped reading Huckleberry Finn. It was way too difficult to understand the dialogue.)

When you use an unusual spelling, you are bound to draw the reader’s attention away from the dialogue and onto the means of getting it across.  (I think there is room, albeit extremely limited, for unusual spelling, but when it is as thick as Mark Twain’s depiction of southern black speech, when it makes the reader stop and decipher what is being said, then it is too much.)

So how do you get a character’s geographical or education or social background across? (For the answer, see page 110)

It takes courage to write like this, but it is worth the risk.

Explanations, -ly adverbs, oddball verbs of speech, trick spellings-these can’t really help your dialogue. They take the place of good dialogue rather than help create it.  Accept no substitutes.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 5, Dialogue Mechanics by B.Y. Rogers

I am positively giddy about this post. The next chapter in Self Editing for Fiction Writers is precisely what Matt Stover preached to me over two years ago and since then, I have had more than a few conversations about these principles, most result with negative results.  But I have held my ground on and will continue to do so. What follows is so important so if you want to learn to write, again, I beg you, get this book.

Again, my comments will be in parenthesis (and there will probably be many of them).

Chapter 5  Dialogue Mechanics

What is the first thing acquisition editors look for when they begin reading fiction submission? (Not going to tell you!)

Because it is such hard work, generations of writers have developed mechanical tricks to save them the trouble of writing dialogue that effectively conveys character and emotion…Not surprisingly, these are tricks to avoid if you want to you want your dialogue to read like the work of a professional instead of an amateur or a hack.  (My graphic artist suggested I take a look at writing.com, which I mentioned in my previous post. I looked at two short stories that were submitted for comments on that site. One was so terrible when it came to dialogue that I could not finish reading it. It was too painful. I suggested to both authors to get this book. They need it desperately!)

Imagine you are at a play. It’s the middle of the first act. You are really involved in the drama. Suddenly the playwright runs out on the stage and yells, “Do you see what is happening here? Do you see how her coldness is behind his infidelity?” (Great metaphor)

If your dialogue isn’t written well, if it needs the explanation to convey the emotion-then the explanation really won’t help. (AMEN!)

It’s showing and telling applied to dialogue.

Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence on the writer’s part, perhaps it’s simple laziness, or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly’s. Which is a good reason to cut virtually one you write. Ly adverbs almost always catch the writer in the act of attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.

(Rennie Browne and Dave King make a reference to “Tom Swifties” , which made me laugh. What got me seriously interested in reading when I was in the 6th grade was the Tom Swift series, by Victor Appleton II. Ah, the memories!)

Don’t make speaker attributions as a way to slip in explanations to your dialogue (“he growled,” “she snapped”)

To use verbs like these last three for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur.

Verbs other than said tend to draw attention away from the dialogue.

Said, on the other hand, isn’t even read the way other verbs are read. It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical device, more like a punctuation mark than a verb.  (BINGO! Think about this. When you read dialogue, do you really pay attention to the word said? We don’t, at least I do not, unless the author adds an attribution, which then makes me pause. Should not the speaker’s words in the dialogue tell me if the character is angry, sad, happy, clueless? If the writer builds the character correctly and develops the scene correctly, I will already know if the speaker is angry or not.)

(Here is something I did not know.) Decide how you are going to refer to a character and stick with it for at least the length of the scene. Don’t use “Hubert said,” on one page, “Mr. Winchester said,” on the next and “the old man said,” on the third. If you do, your reader will have to stop reading long enough to figure out that the old man is Hubert Winchester.

(Purchase the book and learn what “beats” are.)

If it’s clear from the dialogue who is speaking-you can dispense with speaker attributions altogether. (Again, build your characters correctly!)

(Learn the difference between dashes and ellipses.)

The truth is, only editors and reviewers really notice these things. (You may not think these principles are important but they will make the difference not only with getting your tome published but how many sales you make.)

“Mr (Robert) Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the “he said” locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom say anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper, (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “‘I repeat,’ repeated Alex.” The book may sell in the billions, but it is still junk. -Newgate Callendar, The New York Times Book Review

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 4, Proportion by B.Y. Rogers

(If you are wondering what ‘proportion’ has to do with writing, think of it this way. How much do I give to my readers in any scene? Do I give them too much or too little? Then ask yourself this: too much or too little of what? Information related to the plot? Did I take 5 pages to write something that should have been written in 3?  At least that is how I am defining proportion. Your mileage may vary.)

Proportion problems…arise from the same lack of confidence  that leads beginning writers to describe emotions they have already shown.

When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them. (AMEN!)

Sometimes proportion problems arise when a writer is writing about his or her pet interests or hobbies. (This is why I mention taking too long to say what needs to be said. Taking 5 pages to show what you want to convey, instead of 3 pages, will bore your readers. There is a great example of this on page 68 of the book, oh, wait… sorry, you haven’t purchased your own copy yet have you?  Tsk, tsk.)

You didn’t read the whole paragraph did you?  (this is from the book. No I didn’t. I was bored by word 11. Again, get the book!)

Proportion problems can arise inadvertently, sometimes through cutting.

So how do you avoid proportion problems? In most cases it’s quite simple: PAY ATTENTION.

A warning: paying attention to your story does not mean ruthlessly cutting everything that doesn’t immediately advance your plot.

Is it really needed? Does it add? Should it be shorter/longer?

Bear in mind that most readers may not find such topics as interesting as you do.

Once you have trained yourself to see how changes in proportion affect your story, you can begin to use proportion to shape your readers’ response to your plot. (Read this post and pay attention to what you want from your readers)

The safest approach is to make sure the material you’re writing about helps advance either your plot or your narrator’s character.

‘Eternal Voice’ Whispers To Author Who Listened by Grant Overstake

Recently, I was asked how I, being a 55 year-old male, managed to create the heroic female character, Maggie Steele, in my inspirational new teen sports novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.

My answer was that I listened, and Maggie told me what to write, whispering every word, line by line, page by page.

Before embarking on a quest to write my first novel, I read several books and sought the advice of a successful author friend. She told me to ignore the clamoring experts, and just start writing. She advised me to expect characters to appear, and that when they appeared, to allow them to tell me their story without restricting them. So, in the silence and solitude of a predawn morning in August, 2011, I opened a blank composition notebook with pen in hand, and began to listen. In my left-handed scrawl, one word followed another, as the resilient, heroic character of Maggie Steele relayed an amazing story for to me to tell the world.

Maggie met me every morning in the silent place we shared, describing the most painful year of her life. As a former newspaper reporter, I found it easier to quote her verbatim, in first-person. She recounted the scenes as they’d unfolded, as vividly and personally as anyone I’d ever interviewed in my journalism career.

I’d experienced what you might call glimmerings of creativity while writing feature stories, but this experience was more than a brief blast of creative energy; it was an extended epiphany. Truthfully, Maggie and I were so in tune with each other, I felt more like a scribe, as she used me to tell her story.

A wise person once wrote, “Creation begins in mind as a divine idea…. With a flash of insight and inspiration, dreams and desires manifest into thoughts and words…” I can attest that, for me and Maggie, this was true.

Our collaboration continued every day without fail for three months. I recorded what Maggie told me as accurately as I could, in her own words, just as if I were gathering quotes for a newspaper article. By the time she’d told me the entire story, I’d filled five notebooks, front and back pages, with more than 97,000 words.

Journalists are supposed to be dispassionate, detached, and not too emotionally involved with the sources they cover. But as an author, this was different. As the hours, days and weeks went by, hearing Maggie tell her story became so painful, and ultimately, so wonderful, that there are pages in those notebooks stained with tears of sorrow and joy.

When I was a reporter working on a deadline, my habit was to type a story into a word-processor and then to self-edit as long as time allowed before surrendering it for final editing. But if I was going to record Maggie’s story just as she told it, I would have no time to go back and edit what she was sharing with me. My wife, Claire, suggested that I write the whole story out in longhand, instead of trying to type into the computer, without editing anything.

I have my wife, Claire, to thank for allowing Maggie’s story to become so fully formed. Qualifying for sainthood, she transcribed my daily scrawls into the computer at night after long days of teaching sixth grade. She typed in every one of those 97,000 words, just as I’d written them. In the process, she also fell in love with Maggie Steele.

When that first long draft was printed, it totaled more than 400 pages. With Maggie watching over my shoulder, I (we) edited it down to just over 63,000 words, just the right length for young adult readers. (The book was published in October, 2012, through Create Space and Amazon.com.) The final version is a quicker read, capturing Maggie’s story without losing its essence or emotion; allowing the readers to fill in the details with their own imaginations.

To me, the mechanical details are secondary to the deeper mystery of how and why Maggie picked me to tell her story.

When I’m asked what my book is all about, I often say, “It’s a book about girl’s pole-vaulting.”

But that’s not all it is. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is also a story of overcoming life’s obstacles, expressed through the metaphor of pole-vaulting . Maggie told me to call it, “A Triumph Over Gravity.” And so it is.

Inscribed at the beginning of the novel are these words from spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes:

“But always there is that Eternal Voice, forever whispering in our ear, that thing which causes the eternal quest, that thing which forever sings and sings.”

How was I able to capture the character of Maggie Steele?

I listened to her Voice, whispering in my ear.

That listening has changed both of our lives, forever.