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.

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Writing Tips from Four Famous Authors by B.Y. Rogers

A few minutes ago, not more than twenty, I was checking my Twitter messages and one of the tweets caught my eye. I clicked on it (imagine that!) and it led me to the Facebook page of Reno Pete. I scrolled down the page and noticed a link to a blog called Brain Pickings. I have run across this blog once before but this particular link made me stop so I clicked on it. It brought me to a post concerning writing tips. The blog offered writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut with links to more tips by David Ogilvy, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck.  I quickly opened the links and copied them into my Evernote file. I then went to bed but my mind was racing and I knew I would not fall to sleep until I read these tips carefully.

I do not know what to make of them. Some are obvious, some I need to think about. In any case, I think each of the tips are valuable to authors who, like me, are still perfecting their craft (are we ever finished?).  So here they are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I have not attributed them as I should, but the link to the original blog is above. If you want to know who said what, please click on that link. There is another link to even more writing tips, in the Kurt Vonnegut blog post, but as they are mostly business related and not fiction writing, I did not provide the link here.

My favorite tips are in bold.

~~~~~~

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Write the way you talk. Naturally.

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

Start as close to the end as possible.

Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Work on one thing at a time.

Don’t be nervous. Work Calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.

Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.

When you can’t create, you can’t work.

Cement a little every day rather then add new fertilizers.

Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Don’t be a draught horse! Work with pleasure only.

Discard the Program when you feel like it. But go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Beating the Block by Dellani Oakes

Writer’s Block – these ominous words send shivers down the spine of any writer. Insidious, it strikes with no warning, clogging the brain, paralyzing fingers, bringing grown writers to their knees. There are many types of writer’s block, each with its own pernicious characteristics. Below, I have listed those which plague me the most often.

1) Mid-Line Crisis: This is less destructive than its brothers, but still annoying. This is the unfinished sentence, incomplete thought or dialogue left hanging. The tortured …. of the soul. Though frustrating, it is not insurmountable. Usually a little brainstorming, trial and error and copious use of the delete button get me past this tiresome creature.

2) Ex Thesaurus: Also known as “What Word”? This usually runs with mid-line crisis and is fairly easy to circumvent. A visit to Thesaurus.com or a quick flip through the desk copy of Roget’s can pull a writer past this hurdle.

3) Post Climactic Stress: Or “Where Do I Go From Here?” The hero has saved the day, villains vanquished, lovers unite, children dance around May Poles – celebration time! All right, where does the story go now? It’s not over, but it needs to be soon. However, these pesky little loose ends suddenly electrify, screaming “Solve Me!” What to do?

Falling action after the climax isn’t always easy. The one question a writer fails to answer is the one readers will point to and say, “Hey! What about this?” To avoid the lynch mob, sometimes it’s better to eliminate a secondary thread unless it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. Otherwise, it’s a trip to blockage category # 4.

4) The Never Ending Story: As much as we might want our book never to end, it must. Sometimes though, we can’t seem to find a stopping place. The book goes on forever, until we get fed up and stop writing, or force an ending.

I have one book that is 873 double spaced, typed pages. Not only can I not find an end point, I can’t even read all the way through it without getting lost. The problem is too many sub-plots. (Hearken back to Post Climactic Stress.) Everything needs resolution, making the book go on forever. It will require a might re-write or splitting into multiple books.

None of these minor blocks are as frustrating as the fifth category. It really needs no introduction because even the most prolific writers have, at one time or another, suffered from it.

5) The Full Monty: Like its name implies, this is full blown, frontal exposure writer’s block. Insurmountable, uncompromising, frustrating, infuriating, aggravating, annoying, constipating….

There are no words at our disposal formidable enough to fully describe this condition.

Any writer who has never experienced Full Monty Writer’s Block obviously hasn’t written long enough. Suddenly, out of nowhere, completely by surprise it strikes! I equate it with being hit by a Volvo station wagon at 90 mph. Maybe an Escalade?

In any case, WHAM! In the face, hard core, heavy metal writer’s block. There’s no way to avoid it. Once in awhile the Muse takes a coffee break and so must we. As frustrating as they are, embrace these blocks. They force us to leave the security and sanctity of our homes and participate in life for awhile. Use this time to observe others or engage them in conversation. Each encounter gives us a little more grist for our imagination mill.

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.

When a Character Won’t Do What You Want by Dellani Oakes

My husband thinks I’m crazy. This is nothing new. We’ve been married almost 31 years and he’s been sure most of that time that I’m out of my mind. That’s okay. I accept that. Ever since I started writing full time, he’s become more convinced that I’m even crazier than he previously thought. I can’t imagine what makes him think this, but I suspect it’s conversations like this.

“He’s doing it again.”

“Who’s doing what again? Is one of the boys misbehaving? I’ll jerk a knot in his tail.”

“No, it’s not the boys. It’s Manuel.”

“Who’s Manuel? The kid next door?”

“No, that’s not Manuel! You know, Manuel! In my book!”

“Manuel. In your book.” He’s starting to give me that look and take a step or two away.

“Yes, you know. He’s not behaving again.”

“Ookay…” He takes another step or two back. “What’s he doing?” He puts a piece of large furniture between me and him.

“He won’t be bad!”

He takes a dubious sip of coffee, moving another step away. “Ookay…. Are you sure you’re alright? You’re starting to look a little wild eyed.”

“I’m fine! Pay attention! He won’t be bad! I’ve tried to make him the villain and he simply refuses to misbehave! I’m going to have to make him the hero! He’s messing it all up. Oh, and Gabriella? She won’t fall in love with anyone else. I’ve given her two other choices and she wants him. What am I going to do?”

“I dunno. Let her?”

“What? Are you out of your mind? That messes it all up! I’ll have to write a totally different book now. I don’t get it. They just won’t behave like they’re supposed to.”

“Honey, they’re characters.”

“So? I know that!”

“Darling,” he says in a very calm and soothing voice. “You made them up.”

“SO??? They won’t behave! I should just kill them all off and start over! I am so frustrated!”

By this time I’m looking for things to throw and he’s beating a hasty retreat to his garage sanctum for a couple of cigarettes and a cup of coffee. It’s cold out there, but it’s safe. He stays there until he thinks the manic phase has ended and comes back in, keeping a very low profile as he skulks to his computer.

I swear, I’m not crazy. It does happen, characters take over and won’t cooperate. They will refuse to go the direction I want if I take them down a road they wouldn’t follow. The second I try to do something with them that’s out of character, they stop dead in their tracks, the story grinds to a halt and nothing moves until I go back through and correct it. I can’t tell you the countless numbers of times this has happened. With my NaNoWriMo novel this year, I’ve had to cut over 11,000 words because I kept getting off track. I’m still not sure I like where it’s going, but the characters seem more comfortable, so I guess I’m stuck with it.

As crazy as this might sound, you have to keep in mind that characters that are well developed do take on a personality. As a writer, you get a feel for where they will or won’t go, what they will accept and what they would refuse to do. Like real people, they have their stubborn moments, but usually only when the writer tries to push them in the wrong direction. The example conversation is based on a real one I had (more than once) with my husband about my novel, Indian Summer.

Manuel, the hero, was intended to be the villain, driving Gabriella into the arms of Sailfish. Well, he refused to give her up. Instead, he changed his wicked ways and became the man she would love and marry. Did I intend that? Not a lick of it. Would Gabriella accept another man? No. She wanted Manuel. Once I accepted this and let them go their own way, the story grew and I moved on to compensate.

A writer has to stay flexible. The minute you get too rigid, the story is going in the toilet. Keep it fluid, malleable. Don’t get so locked into what you want that you can’t see the big picture. Maybe your instincts as a writer are what is guiding those rebellious characters. Part of you sees that the direction is wrong and tries to correct it. Whatever is the case, try to look at the character rebellion in a positive light. Look at the story from an objective point of view – and don’t throw things at your spouse, it really isn’t his (her) fault.

The Plot Thickens by Karen Vaughan

Stories are either character driven or plot driven. Some writers will argue that there can be a bit of both.

This is good when there are rich characters and a good plot to carry them. My plots are usually quirky and most people who have read my books will know they are humorous but we have covered that already.

I have had plots where victims have been dropped on living room floors, face down in a bowl of cereal after being beaten over the head and in Daytona dead a car is the weapon of choice.

A good plot can be picked from either the headlines or ones imagination. I haven’t pulled one out of the headlines yet as most of them have been done by others or it’s just a subject I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.

I prefer to write things using people in my life as models or some experience I have had. I also take requests. For example my gay character Lou (Laura’s ex) had the same name as a friend’s ex-husband. At the time of her impending divorce she requested that I kill her hubby in a book but I didn’t want to have a second Lou so I just knocked off the gay man.  I revisited the premise of using a car as an instrument of death since Stephen Kings Christine. The time had come for the plot to be revisited.

I love revenge plots where some ones karmic mac truck is set to kick butt and justice is served but in DEAD COMIC STANDING some very funny people die before the killer gets what is coming to him.

So the next time you are looking for a good plot for a story think outside the box.

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.

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

Midnight in Paris, A Morning in Rome? by Eileen Register

I’d love to write a romantic story that features the exotic ambiance of Paris or Rome.  It would be fun to write about traveling across the savannahs and through the jungles of Africa.  Rio would be so exciting!

So why do I use my home state of Florida as the backdrop for my novels? Is it because I’m lazy and don’t want to do research? Eh, maybe a tiny bit. For the most part, though, I want to concentrate on my characters and storyline. By writing about a setting with which I am very familiar, I am able to put most of my effort into creating realistic characters and dialogue with which to develop a story that is colorful and interesting.

One prime example of this is the setting for Book II of my Grisholm County Series, Sylvan Creek. My hometown of Sebring, Florida was originally designed with a circular park at its core and streets branching out in all directions from that circle. Sylvan Creek follows the same pattern except that the park is much bigger and there’s a creek running through it.  I enhanced the fond memories I have of my hometown and made the setting for the story even more interesting and much better as a backdrop for the murder that takes place.

I’m very visual and find that writing about things I’ve seen and persons I’ve met is a more comfortable way for me to develop stories. I’m sure I could read a few National Geographic magazines and learn what I need to know to write a story set in some exotic place. There are plenty of pictures available online and in books that would give me the visual boost I need in order to be able to write about such places. However, nothing would be as real to me through research as it is through my own experiences.

As an English teacher, I always encouraged my students to “write what you know” when they were doing creative writing assignments. Instead of reaching to write about something they had little knowledge about, they would start out by thinking about a place, person, thing, or event in their own lives. From that origin, they could spring forth into a fantasy, a true story, a poem, or even a play. The result might end up having a setting nothing like their own lives, but it would be grounded in what they knew.

I’m not saying everyone should write only about places they’ve been, people they’ve met, or things they’ve experienced – far from it! What I am saying is that it works for me. If a writer is having trouble getting the story rolling, perhaps simplifying its development will help. Choose two most important aspects of the story – which, for me are plot and characterization – and concentrate on them. Selecting a setting that takes less time to develop because it resembles a real place the writer has experienced will free his/her mind to concentrate on other things.