Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Category: Editor’s Desk (Page 2 of 6)

While wearing my EDITOR’S CAP, I offer tips and examples for improving your writing.

Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 2

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

When your characters speak, allow your readers to hear and see them.

(Note: If you haven’t read my article, Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 1, I recommend you do so before continuing with this one.)

In the aforementioned first installment of this series on dialogue, I said I would address the issue of ensuring that the reader hears and sees the dialogue as it occurs. All righty then… here we go.

First, let me remind you of the key passage from that hub:

      7) For human beings, communication is as much physical as it is verbal. Picture the conversations you have; you rely on facial expressions and body language to help you interpret the spoken word.

          A) If you wish to provide the reader with that image (“show”), do so before the dialogue, where it will be meaningful.

           B) If you want us readers to hear a specific tone of voice, or see a specific expression on the character’s face, or feel the character’s emotion, all as she speaks, you must prepare us for that before she speaks.

           C) Don’t overdo it. You must strike a reasonable balance between action and dialogue, and if you choose precisely the right words and punctuation, those that convey mood, attitude and volume, you can often drop the inserts altogether. In other words, let the dialogue do as much of its own heavy lifting as possible.

The differences are subtle, but consider this simple example:

BAD: “I’m going upstairs to see if the burglar is still in the house,” Jimmy whispered in the corner of the basement, where he and Susie had gone to hide behind some boxes.

      (Note: The real problem here is that Author TELLS us the key emotional elements after the fact. Since the relevant dialogue is over—even if only for a couple of seconds—we’ll no longer hear the whisper, feel the tension, or envision the scene as vividly as we would have had Author reversed the sequence. The character has already spoken the words. It’s too late.)

GOOD: Jimmy and Susie had gone to the basement to hide from the intruder, and they now crouched in the corner behind stacks of boxes. Jimmy whispered, “I’m going upstairs to see if the burglar is still in the house.”

      (Note: In this improved version, I SHOW the scene immediately prior to Jimmy’s dialogue. This ensures that the atmosphere will be fresh in the reader’s mind, that she’ll feel the tension as Jimmy speaks. I also place “Jimmy whispered” before the dialogue, to ensure that the reader hears Jimmy’s soft voice as he speaks.)

I’m sure it’s obvious, but allow me to reiterate the key: …as Jimmy speaks….

The key to any successful action, of course, is for Author to establish the details that support and intensify the action before and as it occurs. Most writers understand this, yet many of them ignore that simple rule when providing dialogue. When I edit pieces, I see this mistake far too often.

The human mind functions in a specific manner. In real life, when you witness someone speaking, you infer from both the sound (volume, tone) of his voice and his body language a wide range of details: emotions, attitude, intelligence, veracity. If, on the other hand, you were not present to witness his conversation, but rather hear about it later from a friend who did, your experience (observations, understanding, opinion and feelings) is much weaker.

The same holds true for the written word. Think of those clunky tags tossed onto the end of dialogue as your friend relaying the story of what happened. It’s a weak experience for you.

However, think of the action leads—the scene builders—as the equivalent of you standing there and witnessing the dialogue. They make your experience much more satisfying.

I will illustrate further through a series of simple examples I’ve seen in some pieces I’ve edited. As always, I shall keep authors’ names and story titles confidential to protect the not-so-innocent. [Smile]

BAD: “Was Beast Eater a man of flesh? Did he bleed?” Greld asked as he walked beside Rom.

      (Note: This is one of the most common, most boring, most unsatisfying examples of a dialogue tag doing more than it should—and not nearly enough. First, the author uses question marks, but still considers it necessary to tell is that the character asked a question. Second, although you may not know it from just these two sentences, the dialogue comes at a tense moment. The character of Greld is nervous, perhaps frightened, or at least he should be. The problem is that the passage evokes no emotion from the reader, provides no detail to help the reader feel what the character feels.)

GOOD: Greld frowned and fidgeted with his hands as he walked beside Rom. He did not want his friend to think of him as a frightened child, but he could contain himself no longer. “Was Beast Eater a man of flesh? Did he bleed?”

BAD: “Bill,” Jane says, “this is Management.” I hear the tremble in her voice.

      (Note: The narrator TELLS us—after the fact—what he heard, rather than allow us to hear it and see it as Jane speaks.)

GOOD: Jane takes a deep breath to control her trembling, but the quiver in her voice remains. “Bill, this is Management.”

BAD: “I’ll let you know all about our heritage when I return,” he said flatly.

      (Note: Yikes! Beware the dreaded weak adverb in dialogue tags. Remember what I said earlier about mimicking real life situations.)

GOOD: He smirked and grunted. “I’ll let you know all about our heritage when I return.”

BAD: “You didn’t have to break the damn door!” Ralph said. He croaked the words like a frog and his eyes swirled as he focused on Ed.

           “I knocked,” Ed said innocently and shrugged. “Your hangover is amplifying the sound.”

      (Note: For the character of Ralph, Author provides the details too late for us to hear, at the very least. Even the part we see would have been better had we seen it sooner. For the character of Ed, say it with me now, “Yikes!”)

GOOD: Ralph’s eyes swirled as he tried to focus on Ed. He croaked like a frog, “You didn’t have to break the damn door!”

             Ed shrugged and rolled his eyes. “I knocked. Your hangover is amplifying the sound.”

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 1

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

“Let your characters sail through dialogue. Don’t weigh them down with awkward anchors.”

The subject of dialogue tags has occupied a large swath of my Editor’s Radar lately. If you’ve studied the art and craft of writing at all, you know how important dialogue it is to us as both readers and writers—an engaging way to advance character, conflict, setting and plot. Nothing brings characters to life—makes them breathing, feeling, thinking beings—quite like dialogue. It generates realistic character interaction and builds their relationships, and provides readers a greater understanding of what truly makes the characters tick.

Dialogue is intimate. In a sense, it makes us more than just readers; it makes us eavesdroppers. Many readers give up on stories that don’t utilize dialogue both quickly and effectively. Some magazine editors feel the same way about submissions to their publications. For example, I’ve seen short story submission guidelines that state—flat out—that stories must include dialogue within the first 150 words for the editor even to consider them for publication. I think that’s a bit melodramatic myself, but to each his own. The editor can do what he wants with his magazine.

You must often mix action with the dialogue—a good thing. However, do so with straight narrative—action leads and inserts—rather than by throwing anchors (tags) onto the dialogue.

Let Subject rules for paragraph construction aide you in providing crisp dialogue. Once you establish a specific character as the Subject of that paragraph, you can simply go to his/her dialogue, using the previous portion of the paragraph as a dialogue lead. Then you needn’t add awkward tags.

Here are some basic rules to remember when providing character dialogue:

1) Always make clear which character is speaking. If there can be any doubt at all, you must clarify.

2) Use proper nouns (names or titles) only when you must; revert to simple pronouns when you can. It helps if you have one character address another by name, thus eliminating the need for an identifying tag. Just make sure it doesn’t sound forced and awkward; in other words, it must sound natural, precisely what a real live person would say in that circumstance.

3) Once you establish a clear back-and-forth between two characters, cut back on the identifying tags. Readers will be able to keep up without any trouble. Revert to those tags only when the dialogue breaks, or when a new character becomes involved, or it’s been a long stretch since you last identified them by name, such that you must remind the reader of who is speaking.

4) People don’t “smile” words, or “laugh” words, or “pause” words, etc. They “say them with a smile,” or they “laugh and say,” or “he said, and paused.”

5) Dialogue tags murder the pace and flow of a conversation, and often smack of author intrusion. A reader will pick-up on it and, depending on how much the author tries to cram down her throat, may think, “Geez, this guy is really forcing it. Does he think I’m an idiot?”

A) Keep the dialogue crisp. Readers want dialogue that represents conversation—period—quote mark to quote mark. They don’t want dialogue that happens like this or as if that, or as he did this, or while she did that, or with heaps of this. Provide those details in the narrative, and keep the dialogue sharp and fast-paced—in other words, real.

B) Whenever you must say more than “he said,” “Mary said,” “John asked,” etc, utilize action leads or inserts in lieu of tags wherever possible. (See “Bad/Good” examples near the end of the article.) The following are examples of the kinds of simple tags you should use.

1) “I’m heading over to Steve’s place,” Dave said.

2) “I can’t believe Sue actually said that,” Linda said.

3) “Take it easy,” he said. “It’s not that bad.”

4) “We have to follow certain rules,” I said.

6) In accordance with #5 above, avoid nasty, lazy adverbs to the greatest extent possible. Schoolteachers often teach just the opposite, but in this circumstance, their instruction is 180 degrees out of phase with the industry. Convey or imply emotion through the actual words exchanged, through the give-and-take, through well-utilized punctuation, through interruptions or ramblings—in other words, through conversation. This is one of the basic tenants of that high commandment of writing: “Show, don’t tell!” The following are examples of what to avoid.

A) …he said angrily.

B) …she said sadly.

C) …she said lovingly.

D) …he said frustratingly.

7) For human beings, communication is as much physical as it is verbal. Picture the conversations you have; you rely on facial expressions and body language to help you interpret the spoken word.

A) If you wish to provide the reader with that image (“show”), do so before the dialogue, where it will be meaningful.

B) If you want us readers to hear a specific tone of voice, or see a specific expression on the character’s face, or feel the character’s emotion, all as she speaks, you must prepare us for that before she speaks.

C) Don’t overdo it. You must strike a reasonable balance between action and dialogue, and if you choose precisely the right words and punctuation, those that convey mood, attitude and volume, you can often drop the inserts altogether. In other words, let the dialogue do as much of its own heavy lifting as possible.

D) I’ll address this issue in greater detail in a future article: “Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 2.”

I will illustrate through a series of simple examples I’ve seen in some pieces I’ve edited. As always, I shall keep authors’ names and story titles confidential to protect the not-so-innocent. [Insert chuckle here]

BAD: “What do you expect to happen now?” he asked as he leaned in until their faces nearly touched.

(Note: First, given the author’s use of a question mark, is it truly necessary to add that he asked? This is, in my opinion, one of the most overused and frustrating dialogue tags. Second, the character’s lean-in implies a softer tone of voice, which the reader will better infer [hear] if it precedes the dialogue.)

GOOD: He leaned in until their faces nearly touched. “What do you expect to happen now?”

BAD: “I knew you’d come back,” she said as she rose from the chair.

(Note: The author can tighten this up and improve the flow without losing any impact and, in doing so, cut the ever-critical word count by three.)

GOOD: She rose from the chair. “I knew you’d come back.”

BAD: “Yes. We fought,” she said, and she looked at the front of her gown. “He…he… He stabbed me,” she yelled. “I heard someone say I was dying,” she sighed, and she placed a warm hand on my arm. “Did I?”

(Note: First, let paragraph POV rules work to your advantage. Second, a simple exclamation point can replace the unnecessary she yelled. Third, action inserts are smoother and less awkward than tags, and people don’t “sigh” words.)

GOOD: “Yes, we fought. He…he…” She looked at the front of her gown. “He stabbed me!” She placed a warm hand on my arm. “I heard someone say I was dying. Did I?”

BAD: “John!” Fred shouted.

(Set-Up: As the author indicated in a previous paragraph, Fred needs John to help his pregnant woman, who is going into labor. Note: First, the exclamation point works here, such that the author needn’t go on to tell us that Fred shouted; it’s redundant. Second, this is a moment that begs for emotion, yet the author gives us none.)

GOOD: Fred clenched his jaw beneath wide eyes. His back stiffened, and he had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could breathe again. “John!”

In closing, let me remind you that we humans are gregarious creatures; we interact and speak with one another. As readers, we expect the same of your characters, or those characters may not seem real to us. You might get away without dialogue in a short—very short—story, but it will always be difficult to satisfy certain readers if you omit dialogue from large segments of your story.

When you utilize that ever-critical dialogue, resist the urge to anchor it with a bunch of awkward, unruly tags. Provide action leads and inserts wherever necessary, and choose words and punctuation for the actual dialogue (the conversation) that provide as much of the necessary details—emotion, volume, etc.—as possible.

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

No Weak Knees Allowed; Write Strong – Part 1

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

“Keep it strong and direct.”

Dear Writer, please make the above quote your watchwords: “Keep it strong and direct.” Your readers will love you for it.

As the author, you must be the authority. Readers expect you to provide a strong and decisive narrative voice, the true authority, and to convey the story with confidence. This, in turn, builds confidence within the readers and makes their reading experience more enjoyable.

Avoid weak phrases that harm the narrator’s credibility. First, you must decide, once and for all, that you’re confident in your own ability to tell a story, that you enjoy the courage of your convictions. Do not allow your narrator to get weak knees, and to use weak qualifiers that display an utter lack of self-confidence.

BAD: She seemed to walk as though her leg was bothering her.

(Note: Please… just say it!)

GOOD: She limped.

BAD: Maybe he should grab the gun from the bureau drawer before he answers the door.

(Note: This sort of weak hesitation in the main narrative is murder on a story. Now, if you employ this sort of weakness in dialogue, or in a character’s silent monologue, it would be appropriate if such weakness fits that particular character. In the main narrative, you need to get right to it and paint the scene.)

GOOD: He grabs the gun from the bureau drawer, tucks it under his belt at the small of his back, and takes a deep breath before answering the door.

BAD: He probably should have taken Cindy up on her offer. If he had, he’d be with her right now.

(Note: This sort of construction is quite common, and is both wordy and weak. You can convey his sense of regret in concise terms.)

GOOD: If only he’d taken Cindy up on her offer, he’d be with her right now.

TRIGGERS

Seemed, tried to, could, should, maybe, perhaps, possibly, might, began to, started to, etc.

When you utilize words such as those above, let them trigger a critical self-review. Ask yourself, “Have I gone weak in the knees?” There are many appropriate uses of those words, of course, but most writers overuse them to the detriment of their stories. If you can answer the question, “Nah, I really need that word here,” then great! Just be honest with yourself, and always keep in mind what readers expect of you, and don’t forget your watchwords: “Keep it strong and direct.”

Another sure sign of weakness is the excessive use of state-of-being verbs:

Am, is, are, was, were, to be, had been, etc.

We call these state-of-being verbs because that’s all they do: convey a state of being. They convey no action, no sense that something is actually happening, which makes them—say it with me now—dull. Most of the time, you need simply stretch yourself a bit in order to create a more action-centric sentence. This typically means you must restructure your sentence(s). Keep it simple, and remain in active voice: Subject commits Act upon Object. If you adhere to that basic structure, that basic concept, you’ll find a solution.

Beware also those verbs that, while not strict state-of-being verbs, nonetheless convey little or no action:

Did, had, went, came, got, took, kept, made, put, had, etc.

In the following example, from a piece I edited (character name changed to maintain author confidentiality), examine the number of weak, inactive verbs, and the weak qualifiers, in the original “bad” version. Then compare the revised “good” version, and examine the more active verb choices. Key: They need not be earth-shattering, thrilling, grab-your-socks-and-hold-on verbs—merely verbs that convey some sense of action, something more than a simple state of being.

BAD: Mary was more popular than I was. It wasn’t any large mystery as to why she was popular with guys, or why she had boyfriends who were routinely among the most good-looking, athletic, etc. In addition, she also had a large amount of other friends who always seemed to be with her and who always seemed to enjoy her company. I had friends too, a fair amount of them; however, being an adolescent, I was a part of the inescapable hierarchy that slated a certain top group of kids as popular and positioned other groups in sequential status order on down. While I was far from the bottom rung of this ladder, I knew that Mary held a much higher position on it within her own respective class.

GOOD: I couldn’t fathom Mary’s popularity. Her boyfriends routinely stood out as the most good-looking and athletic. Her regular friends numbered in the dozens and hovered around her, always placing her, the star around which the others orbited, at the center of attention, pleased just to share her company. I enjoyed a fair number of friends too, but we occupied a lower position in that inescapable adolescent hierarchy, the one that elevated a certain top group of kids to popular status, while relegating the rest of us lower in the pecking order. I stood far above the bottom rung of this tall ladder, but Mary occupied one near the top. She shared that rarified air with friends and members of her own respective class.

Don’t be hesitant. Display your self-confidence as author. You may use the so-called “weak” verbs and qualifiers I listed above, but please do so sparingly. When you do, ask yourself the critical question: “Does it truly add to the tension of the moment, to the characterization, to the conflict or resolution—or is it just weak?”

In very general terms, there is no single right answer. You must determine that on an individual basis, but allow those words to trigger your critical self-review. Be honest with yourself, and then stretch yourself to provide the reader with something more evocative. Don’t move on until you’re confident you’ve made the right choice.

In closing, let me remind you—because I just can’t seem to say it enough—to make these your watchwords: “Keep it strong and direct!”

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Some Great New Books Edited by Lane Diamond

Once again, I have been woefully absent from my website and blog. Apologies.
I’ve been on the road, traveling with my wife, for the past 3+ months, so work time has been hard to come by.
Nonetheless, since the last time we spoke, a few books I edited have been released. Let’s take them one at a time,
shall we?

FRACTURE POINT by Jeff Altabef

One of the things I really enjoy about Jeff’s books are his characters, which I believe are his greatest strength as a writer. Don’t get me wrong–he tells great stories, but I really love his characters.

In Fracture Point, Jeff gives us a glimpse of the futuristic world in which his A POINT THRILLER series all began. This is the world where his book Shatter Point takes place (Book 2 of the series), winner of the prestigious Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. So let me just tell you about Fracture Point.

An untrained spy and a rebel faction.
A mysterious scarlet-haired jazz singer.
Dangerous secrets guarded by a devious killer.

What could possibly go wrong?

Only everything.

Tom’s brilliant, but when it comes to people smarts, he’s clueless. When his older brother disappears, Tom opens the door to adventure and terror—and a beautiful red-haired spy. She stands in the doorway and spins a tale so unbelievable it just might be true. What if his carefree brother is not just a tennis instructor, but a spy who has uncovered a secret so explosive it could trigger a bloody revolution?

Tom will do whatever it takes to get his brother back, even if he’s completely unprepared for what happens next. He’ll need the help of would-be friends and foes, and a whole lot of luck, to outwit the psychopathic killer holding his brother hostage. And maybe, just maybe, he can rescue his brother and keep America from reaching the fracture point, too.

Amazon Kindle ; Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback
;
Amazon Audiobook ; Audible Audiobook ; iTunes Audiobook

THE GHOST KING by Jeff Altabef

Yep, another great book from Jeff. This one is the second installment of his RED DEATH series, following up on the sensational first book, Red Death.

An Ancient Prophecy foretold.
An Evil haunts the land.
A battle looms against overwhelming odds.

Led by a powerful witch, a wild invading army threatens to tear the Soulless lands apart. To survive, the three tribes must join together, but old grievances and hatred divide them. Only Wilky can unite them, but when he glimpses the future, he sees only a glimmer of hope; too much of the future remains veiled in darkness.

As the battle approaches, King Dermot orders his brother, Eamon, to stay behind at the Stronghold and defend against a possible siege. Eamon, who took an oath to fight the invaders, defies his brother, risks everything, and plunges into a desperate race with Aaliss and Wilky to unite the tribes.

Enemies from all sides conspire against them. Only together can they hope to succeed against the witch who will stop at nothing to destroy them. Yet even united, they will need magic to defeat this enemy at their door.

As the battle looms, only one chance at survival remains–the Ghost King–but who is he, and what will be the price of their redemption?

Amazon Kindle ; Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback

ROTA FORTUNAE by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

This one is exciting for me because of the scope of this project–not to mention its quality. The authors’ current plan calls for a series spanning 60+ books, called GRIMS’ TRUTH. I know, I know… but really, if ever I had faith in authors to complete their plan, it’s in the team of Yin & Yang. This one launches October 2, but it’s available for pre-order now.

Everything that has happened, is happening, will happen again.

Several turns after the disappearance of the High Queen’s successor, rumors of a plague spread across the Empire of Mu. Two parties, the Rebellion and the Council, clash over the strange phenomenon and its source, the Tainted.

Cruentus Fate, a young Royal from the second kingdom of Mu, becomes entangled in the battle for the Capital as she and her brother, Abyssus, seek out the truth about their relationship with the enigmatic Grim. Her life turns upside down when she’s separated from her brother and sold to the brothel by their father, the King of Macellarius. The brothel’s Madam, Fortuna, takes Fate under her wing and broadens her knowledge of the Empire, the war at hand, and the secret behind her existence.

With her new understanding, Fate sets out to restore balance to the Empire, and to recover her brother from their father’s clutches. First, she must rally the support of the unstable prince of the neighboring kingdom.

Around every bend lies another dark secret about the world she lives in, and the more she uncovers, the more entangled she becomes in the web of lies her family has spun.

Amazon Kindle ; Barnes and Noble Nook ; Apple iBook ; Kobo ;
Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback

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So that will do it for this time around–3 great books for your reading pleasure,
each of which I edited, and each of which I recommend wholeheartedly.

ENJOY!

Lane Diamond Talks about Editing & Writer Coaching

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS AND INTERESTED READERS:

I’ve spoken on occasion about how hard it is for me to do my own writing because of all my responsibilities as managing publisher/editor at Evolved Publishing. Well, that got to me thinking: Exactly how many books have I edited, or co-edited with another, wherein I do the final polishing edit? And wouldn’t it be about time to do a little maintenance to update this information?

Well… here it is. To date (updated November 15, 2018) I’ve edited 148 books or stories for EP, 110 of which remain active there, and 34 of which have been returned to the authors. Wow. Yeah, that was my reaction when I did the update. And guess what? It explains a lot about my own lack of writing. C’est la vie… and it’s okay.

For the full list, just click over to my Writing Coach page and scroll down.

But really, as I think about it, I can’t possibly view this as a bad thing. Indeed, it’s a fantastic thing for me, and a point of real pride–in no small part because many of these books have gone on to win some very nice awards. I have helped, in my own small way, a number of authors to achieve their dreams (or at least to get started on those dreams), and nothing has been more rewarding for me than that.

And so the first thing I must say to all those authors is this: “Thank you.” Seriously, despite occasional frustrations with scheduling and workload, it has been my privilege and honor to have worked with all of you. I hope you become the superstars you deserve to be in this business. You’re doing great work, and I hope I’ve been able to contribute at least a little to that effort and to your growth as a writer.

I wear two hats in this arena: editor, writing coach. The first is clear enough, as I help authors address structural issues with their work–plot, characterization, setting, etc.–and then I help them not only clean up the prose but to ramp up its power. This is, I think, my greatest strength as an editor. As a writing coach, it’s really quite different, as I take on the role of trainer/educator/mentor. I do all as a writing coach that I do as an editor, but so much more. And make no mistake, this is where I’ve achieved my greatest professional satisfaction.

When I look to authors such as Ruby Standing Deer (I’m sure she won’t mind me singling her out), and I think back to where we started and the journey we’ve taken together, I simply could not be more pleased. Ruby has authored 3 books thus far, all part of the Shining Light Saga, historical fiction pieces focused of the American Indian culture of about 500 years ago: Circles, Spirals, and Stones. The 3 books combined have garnered 187 reviews at Amazon, 130 of which are 5-Star, and another 34 are 4-Star. That’s fantastic! And she has her 4th book coming early in 2016, so as her books continue to perform well and she continues to build her catalog, her future is bright.

And I was there at the beginning. Cool stuff.

Now, I don’t really take on editing jobs anymore outside of Evolved Publishing, because the EP authors keep me quite busy enough, thank you very much. However, I do still take on an occasional client in my capacity as a writing coach. I’m currently working with Melody J. Kaufmann on the beginning of her career as an author of sci-fi and fantasy. Her first book, After the Return, is progressing and getting stronger all the time. What lies ahead for MJ in her future as an author? I don’t know, but I’m hopeful that 5 years from now I’ll be able to look back, as I’ve done with Ruby, and say, “Wow, look at that!”

And who’s next? Hmmm… maybe you?

To be clear, I cannot take on a client right this minute, but if you want to be next up, beginning in September, now would be the time to give me a holler. Just email me at Lane@LaneDiamond.com, and we’ll start the conversation and the plan.

In the meantime, if you really want to know my work, there is no better indication than the books that appear on my Writing Coach page. I hope you’ll read all of them that appeal to your genre preferences. Really… you’re going to love them. Hey, maybe you’ll even take a chance on discovering the wonderful peoples and culture of The Fish People, a fabulous 500-year-old culture lost to time but not forgotten, in Ruby Standing Deer’s Shining Light Saga. Or maybe you want to try Robb Grindstaff’s Hannah’s Voice, or David Litwack’s The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, or Angela Scott’s Desert Rice, all of which I cannot recommend strongly enough! And please enjoy.

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The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples)

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

This post is a follow-up to one I did some time ago: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! If you haven’t read that one yet, this would be a good time to do so.

I’ll not repeat what I said in that post. Rather, I shall move right on the some practical before and after samples, identifying both the problem and at least one potential fix. I’ve used actual examples from pieces I’ve edited/reviewed/read, so as always, I shall not mention any writers’ names, so as to protect the not-so-innocent.

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BAD: When I was young, I pointed out the inconsistencies as if I caught him cheating at cards, which he also did quite often.

Notes: The new opening below is a simple turn of phrase to not make it appear all about “I” at every moment. The second key change was making it not about “I” catching the cheating, but about “he” doing the cheating. Focus on the characters and actions around “I,” making it about them as much as possible, relying on the fact that we’re in the POV of “I,” and trusting the reader to react as “I” would want them to react.

BETTER: As a youngster, I pointed out the inconsistencies, as if he’d been cheating at cards or something—which he did quite often.

~~~

BAD: I used to think I could make a living as a skier, but then I realized that I was wrong.

Notes: This option, with its 4 “I” in just 20 words, is all telling and rather… well, dull. The second option takes us deeper inside the character’s true motivations, and concludes with a striking self-admonition (and commentary) in the form of monologue.

BETTER: I’d imagined skiing bringing me wealth and fame. Yeah, money and girls—a life to make most folks bristle with envy, at least the guys. I’m such an idiot!

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BAD: I hear a sound from behind the garage, and I wonder what it might be. Maybe I should investigate.

Notes: Blah! Ick! Phooey! Where to begin? 1) It’s all telling; nothing actually happens. 2) Yeah? Well, we wonder too, so please give us something. What kind of sound? A prowler? A dog? An alien invasion? 3) The narrator suggests doing something, but again… nothing actually happens. Seriously, haven’t you always wanted to read a book in which nothing actually happens? No? Shocker! In fact, elsewhere in the story, the author suggests (again weakly) that the character is fearful of a stalker. Okay… so…? It’s time to engage the reader.

BETTER: I spin around as a loud crash echoes from behind the garage. It seems those tottering, beat-up old garbage cans are still good for something. I waste not a second in bolting for the back door, zipping inside the house and throwing the deadbolt firmly into place. Next stop: the phone and a 9-1-1 call.

~~~

BAD: I thought I’d be able to figure out how I got here in the first place, but I still couldn’t believe I was lost.

Notes: “But enough about me. What do you think about me?” That’s how these I-Bombs often feel, as if it’s just all about “me” and nothing else matters. Also, this violates almost every rule of Show vs. Tell, failing to bring the reader into the moment. Remember those 3 words: “in the moment.” The best fiction brings a reader in and allows her to experience the story right along with the characters, as it happens. Ah yes, 3 more important words: “as it happens.” In this particular scene, the author attempted—and failed—to paint the character’s fear at being so completely lost. She simply didn’t paint the scene for us at all.

BETTER: How did I get here? For that matter, where the devil was here? What a ridiculous situation, to be so utterly lost. I glanced around again, mindful of the knot growing in my stomach—churning, rumbling, threatening to seek escape at any moment. I spun around and… nope, no toilets out here. Well this is just great!

Another Note: I’m a huge fan of the writer’s directive to “make every word count.” However, you must create the story for the reader. This is a classic case of under-writing. As an author, you can’t keep critical secrets. It’s not enough that you see the image in your mind; the reader must see the image in her mind. So share!

~~~

BAD: I thought I might make her understand. I thought I could appeal to her feminine wiles. I thought I’d probably get lucky, in the end. I guess I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

Notes: At this point, it seems as though I shouldn’t have to say anything. You should be jumping all over this and in your best Arnold Horshack voice (for you fellow old-timers out there), yelling, “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know it, Mr. Kotter.” Nonetheless….

First, if you’re writing a first-person narrative, make it a point to use the Find function in MS Word, and type in “[space]I[space]”, and check the box that says “Highlight all items found in:”. This will highlight with a black box every instance of “I” in your manuscript. In time, you’ll want to do the same for variations: I’ll, I’m, I’d. Then, with the selections highlighted, scroll down and look for instances where those black boxes appear like a swarm of flies. Yep… time to revise.

In the case of the example above, the word “I” appears 10 times in 38 words. Umm… no. Just no.

BETTER: She’d come around in time. After all, how could she resist my manly charms, my smooth moves, my irresistible… well, me?

She didn’t respond at all. She just turned around without a word, and left.

~~~

BAD: I saw smoke rising over the downtown district.

Notes: This is the simplest of all remedies, and it falls smack under the heading of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The first-person narrator, the character, is telling the story, so if he conveys some action, we know it’s because he saw/heard/felt it, etc. So just paint the picture for us.

BETTER: Smoke rose over the downtown district.

~~~

I hope those examples will help guide you in trying to eliminate your own I-Bombs. Of course, my alternatives above are just a single example, in each case, of how you might fix the problem. Ultimately, your own style and voice will dictate the fix, and that’s fine. Just fix it! No carpet-I-Bombing allowed. 🙂

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An Opportunity for Aspiring Writers to be Published Authors

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Over at the Evolved Publishing website today is a post about my services as writing coach. Specifically, I’m looking for that one “special project” to help an author achieve his or her dreams, and to help make Evolved Publishing that much better.

If you’ve created a good novel-length story but your actual “writing” still needs some work, and you think I can help coach you up to “publishable,” then stop by and check out the post linked below.

Would a Writing Coach Make Sense for You?

Butterfly - Mark Twain

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“I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and I love it! It’s so easy on the eyes that I can read on it for hours, just like a paper book, in any light.” – Lane Diamond

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR DETAILS:

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Grab Your Readers Right from the Start, and then Hang On!

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I think it’s safe to say that most folks have a short attention span these days, distracted by a million things going on all at once. Readers are getting harder and harder to find, as the percentage of people who say they read less than one book per year continues to climb. And those readers who are still in the game have approximately 7,629,954,813 books to choose from, and those are just the books self-published in the last 24 hours. :p

Seriously, as writers, our job is to grab hold of the reader quickly – certainly on the first page, hopefully in the first paragraph, and best yet, with the very first line. And yet, too many authors give short shrift to that opening line. These days, they do so at their own peril.

When I set out to write Forgive Me, Alex, my psychological thriller, I recognized the importance of the opening. Indeed, I obsessed over it. I wrote one I thought was quite good… and trashed it. I wrote a new opening that I though was truly excellent… and trashed it. Then I wrote one that was nothing short of brilliant… and trashed it.

I finally figured out that, while it was so critical to come up with a grabber of an opening, I was simply trying too hard. It took me far too long to realize that a literary jab would be the best option, like Mike Tyson throwing a series of lefts – Pop, pop, pop! Furthermore, I liked the idea of not just a quick jab on the first line, but an even quicker jab on the second line, which functioned as something of a punchline (pun intended). Here’s what I settled on:

—–I never expected to be a killer.

—–Who does?

Now, is that stunning, extraordinary prose? Not even close. It’s quick and simple, my version of the Pop, pop!

Reader response has been pretty good, as several have indicated they saw that first line and thought, “Oh, what’s that about?” Perfect.

In my sequel, The Devil’s Bane, (assuming I ever finish the darn thing) this is my planned opening:

—–Not the typical Saturday night out; Maria Molinari would always remember this day, if only she lived through it.

—–Not likely.

Once again, I tried to use the second line as a quick punchline to the first. And once again, I hope it will raise in the reader’s mind a question that he simply must answer. We’ll see.

Quite often, writers make the mistake of starting out with setting, painting a vivid scene for the reader. The problem is that without context – some story that takes place within that setting – the scene becomes irrelevant. Dear writer, please… start with action, drama, intrigue – something that makes the reader sit up straight and yearn to see what comes next. Do it right away, right out of the chute, in the fist paragraph. If you can, give it real punch, that Pop, pop! we talked about.

Of course, you’ll then want to roll right into a scene that keeps the reader engaged, anxious, excited. If you can provide that thrill of anticipation right from the start, all else being equal, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of attracting readers. Remember: many readers nowadays sample a piece online to determine if they might want to buy it. Don’t squander that opportunity.

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Dear Author: Is Your Editor REALLY an Editor?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I’ve been working the last couple of days to catch up on submissions at Evolved Publishing, where I, as managing publisher/editor, am responsible for such things. I always wade into our submissions queue with a sense of hope and optimism, though that doesn’t usually last long. I hate to say that, as it sounds so negative, but it’s the harsh truth.

One of the most frustrating things for me is to have to review a submission for which the author has clearly spent little time revising and polishing. Nothing irritates me more than seeing someone’s rough first draft. I always want to fire off a harsh note, but I refrain out of simple courtesy and professionalism — traits I wish those authors shared.

Equally as frustrating, but aimed at a different target, is the piece that has been “professionally edited” prior to submission. My first reaction to seeing that in an author’s email is to thank the heavens. However, what I find upon opening the manuscript is often discouraging.

A recent submission mentioned this editing, and even included the editor’s name and links to Facebook and website pages. After reading the first paragraph of the manuscript (1 simple mistake and 2 bad choices), then the rest of the first page (2 more obvious mistakes and several more bad choices), I had to go to that editor’s pages to see who this person was. It was another writer who, apparently not having a lot of luck as an author, decided to hang up a shingle as editor. This person’s qualifications? I don’t know. I can’t seem to find any.

Now, I’m sure the author in question paid for this editor’s services in the hopes that she would have a final manuscript that was clean, polished to a fine sheen — a true professional presentation.

She should get her money back.

I’ve also recently received inquiries from authors who stated that they paid for editing services previously, but that they still felt their manuscript needed some work. They wanted to know if I was available to edit their piece, and if so, at what rates. When I told them, they gasped a little, having already paid for editing once. I understand; I really do. However, it’s not my job to work for less than minimum wage to clean up another editor’s poor work.

This — editing or writer coaching — is like any other product or service: you get what you pay for.

The problem seems to be that, just as anyone can publish last week’s grocery list and call themselves an author, anyone can hang up an online shingle and call themselves an editor. In this internet age, the old “Buyer beware!” adage is more relevant than ever. So what is an author to do? How can you be assured you’re getting good work from your editor? The simplest answer is to get a second opinion, and maybe even a third.

Before hiring an editor or writing coach, get a sample edit. The sample should cover at least 1,000 words, and it should offer enough in the way of edits and instructional notes to make you feel comfortable that the person knows what he’s talking about. And then? Get a sample from another editor/coach, and compare the two. Is one apparently far ahead of the other in terms of skill and insight? Well, there’s your choice. Are the two really close? Then maybe a third opinion is needed.

At the very least, hop on the phone (or Skype, as I use) and talk with the editors/coaches, and get a feel for them. Which one sounds like you’ll be able to work with her? Which one can offer you concrete answers to your questions? Which one can point to previous success stories?

REFERENCES: This one is tricky, because I think it’s entirely possible for someone to be both relatively new and very good. Hey, we all started somewhere. However, when in doubt, and lacking any other method for deciding between candidates, let those references guide you. Get contact information on those references, and a blessing from the editor to contact them. Hey, this is a job interview, after all!

Finally, if the editor in question is one of the many who first came to the industry as aspiring writers, then switched modes and became an editor, read their work. If they have a book or two published, at least take advantage of the free sampling available at retail sites. If their work seems less than stellar, not up to your standards, then you know that’s an editor to avoid. Yes, editing and writing are, in many respects, two different skill sets. Just because someone is a great editor doesn’t mean they’ll be a great writer, or vice versa. However, if the editor’s own writing is laden with errors, bad prose and structure, and utterly clichéd stories and characters… do you really want that person editing your work?

So please, be careful in choosing your editor, lest it be money down the drain. No editor can guarantee you success, of course, but a good one will help you grow as a writer, and make your finished product one that you can be proud — and certain — of. In this internet age, there are a lot of unqualified people passing themselves off as something they’re not. Exercise caution and due diligence, and remember: you get what you pay for.

Can Writers Make a Living as Authors?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

A recent article by Jeremy Greenfield in Forbes online asks, “How Much Money Do Self-Published Authors Make?” Well, it’s a fairly simple article that touches on the macro end of the issue, but really, there’s so much more to it.

The immediate point of his article seems to be that self-published (I’ll include the whole “Indie” category here, including emerging small press) authors do not make a living at their craft. However, if you read further, you discover that most authors – period – do not make a living at their craft, regardless of which route they’ve taken to publish.

The figure he presents for self-publishing is an annual median income (I’m assuming this is a “net” figure) of “under $5,000.” That would seem to be his Ah-hah! point – self-publishing is bad (After all, why else would he use the title he did?). However, he then goes on to say that traditionally published authors earn an annual median income of $5,000 to $9,999. Anyone “making a living” on that?

So the real point of his article is that few writers actually make a living as authors.

To which I say, “No surprise there.”

It’s actually always been that way in the publishing industry. A few superstars make gazillions of dollars, and the rest make a little on the side while continuing with their day job. Nothing new here.

What’s new is that more authors can actually take a shot at being in that elite group of authors who do make a nice living. In the past, writers were stuck playing the literary agent/traditional publisher lottery. Now, they have options. Furthermore, I would argue that if they really do it “the right way,” they improve their odds significantly.

THE RIGHT WAY

I sometimes get the feeling that writers get sick of me making this point: the reason most self-published authors fail (in the long run) is that they simply do not go about their business as proper professionals. Why do I think some are sick of that point? Emails like this one are a hint: “I’m so sick and tired of you saying that all self-published work is crap!” Okay, I’ve only received one such email, and just to be clear: I have NEVER said that. I’ve said that “most” self-published work is crap. 🙂

One of the nice things about the new market opportunities for authors is that a lot more good work is making it into the marketplace, and into readers’ hands. A lot of talented folks are discovering that they don’t have to wait to win the traditional publishing lottery to become authors. One of the bad things about the new market opportunities for authors is that anyone can now publish last week’s grocery list – it’s cheap and relatively easy.

The result is a flooding of the market – more good stuff (Great!), but an absolute boatload of utter crap to go along with it.

This, of course, tends to drag down those “median” numbers that Mr. Greenfield cited in his Forbes article.

Yet consumers are not dummies. You might fool them for a short time, but in the end, if you publish crap, consumers will bail on you as if you were Typhoid Mary herself.

It’s actually pretty simple: those who write good stories, make a sincere effort to have it professionally edited, and who put up a professional cover as the face of that book – in short, those who invest in their business – can expect to improve their odds of ultimate success many fold. You’ll note I used the word “ultimate” in that last phrase. Why? Because it’s even rarer for an author to take off after just one book. Usually, an author must have three, four, even five books available before consumers really take note of them in a big way.

Shakespeare - Julius Caesar 1

Success in this business is hard as hell; let’s just be honest about that. However, it’s not impossible – not by a long shot. If you’re dreaming the dream, then go about your business, do it the right way, and work toward that day when you can say that you defied the odds.

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