Lane Diamond

Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Page 2 of 19

Build Tension through Structure – Part 2: Punctuation, Fragments & Italics

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Help your prose to pack a powerful “punch.”

In my article Build Tension through Structure – Part 1: Introduction, I mentioned several ways in which you can use the structure of your prose to build tension.  In this follow-up, I’ll focus on a few of those in greater detail, and provide some practical examples to show you how it’s done.

PUNCTUATION

I’ll focus here on three specific forms of punctuation that help to elevate the tension for the reader.  These are effective because of how we learn to read and write as children, and because of how our brains are subsequently wired to process the written word psychologically.  Writers grossly overuse one of these forms, in my opinion, while underutilizing the other two.

1)  EXCLAMATION POINTS: This would be the grossly overused punctuation.  Amateur writers too often act as if they just came from the composition store, where they had a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale on exclamation points.  Many writers think they can create momentary tension—a quick punch—by throwing in an exclamation point.  And they would be right… if they do so only on rare occasions, when it truly lends some excitement.  The trouble starts when a writer thinks every fourth sentence is just that opportunity.  It’s not.  That’s just sloppy, lazy, melodramatic, in-your-face nonsense.  If, on the other hand, you use exclamation points only as often as you should, you’ll get a real bang for your exclamation buck.

      A)  HINT: Most exclamation points should occur in dialogue, not in the standard narrative.

      B)  The most effective exclamation points are those that convey not just emotion, and not just volume, but both.

      C)  You readers are not dullards and idiots, and you won’t fool them into thinking you’re offering powerful writing just because you lace it with exclamation points.  In fact, quite the opposite is true: you’ll convince them that your writing is so weak that you feel it necessary to mask your insecurities with a slew of exclamation points.

      D)  Treat exclamation points like thumbtacks: one or two to hold your piece of paper to the bulletin board is functional; eight hundred for the same purpose is just plain ridiculous.

      E)  If excessive exclamation points are bad for serious fiction (and they are), then doubling or tripling them at a single point is evil incarnate.  Don’t do it!  Ever!  One exclamation is always enough (at best), and often too much as it is; two or three is a sure sign that an amateur is at work.  The same is true of combining exclamation points with question marks (?!), which is a clear signal that the writer doesn’t know if he’s asking a question or making an exclamation.  In his confusion, he does both.  Bad.  Very bad.

      F)  Search your document for exclamation points:

              i)  If you have one for every 250 words or less, you have too many.  Period.  Self-edit with scalpel in hand.

             ii)  If you have one for every 250-500 words, you probably—and I mean very likely—have too many.

            iii)  If you have one for every 500-1,000 words, you’re probably okay.

            iv)  If you have one for every 1,000 words or more, don’t sweat it.

2)  DASHES: First, most editors prefer the Em dash (no spaces before or after).  However, the En dash (with spaces before and after) is still in use in some places.  Check the publisher’s requirements; if they have none, go with the Em dash.  Use a dash for its essential purposes, of course, but also use it occasionally—be careful not to overdo it—to give a little oomph to a sentence, as follows.

      A)  To offset an abrupt aside: I long to charge across the street to destroy him—no remorse—as if stepping on a cockroach.  This tool can provide a nice punch to a sentence.

      B)  To provide an abrupt interruption, which creates momentary excitement—tension—for the reader.  This is a useful tool in both narrative and dialogue.  See an example of this in the sample segment at the end of this article.

3)  ELLIPSES: Use these in the same way you use a dash as described in 2-B above.  The difference here is that, unlike the abrupt interruption of a dash, an ellipsis provides for a more gradual interruption, as your current thread fades away.  As with each of the tools we’re discussing here, use ellipses sparingly, and only where they provide an extra punch.  See an example of this in the sample segment at the end of this article.

FRAGMENTS

Sentence fragments (incomplete, technically improper sentences) can pack a real punch for your prose, as well, but only if—and this is a big, gigantic, humungous “if”—you use them sparingly.  Many modern writers use these so frequently that they not only lose their efficacy as a “punch” tool, they appear just plain sloppy and lazy.  One might reasonably ask if the writer simply never learned the rules of grammar and sentence structure.  A writer who offers fragments every third or fourth sentence inflicts upon readers a kind of “mental hiccups.”  I hate it!  Call me old-fashioned, but I believe writers should write.  In the following example, I utilize a number of fragments (in bold) to provide some punch to the segment.

————

Frozen forever in time at the age of thirty-six, Mom was beautiful and warm—she was love itself—and now she was gone.  Along with my childhood.  What choice did I have?  Was I ready?

               It hardly mattered.

               Law enforcement took rather a cursory glance at me, given both my young age and the circumstances of the event.  A state-appointed psychiatrist determined that, for just a moment, and in accordance with strict legal definitions, I was simply insane.  Temporary insanity?  Sure.  Why not?

               The psychiatrist thought so, and that was good enough for the judge.  They declared me healthy and normal, and sent me home.

               Ah yes, home.

————

ITALICS

Use italicized text for two purposes:

1)  Force a reader to emphasize a particular word.  I’ve done so a number of times throughout this article, so you have plenty of examples already.  The key is this: you want the reader to hear the written words just as he would if you were speaking them aloud.  We all do this in everyday conversation: elevate our volume and pitch to emphasize a particular word.  You create that effect in writing through italicized text.

2)  Show a character’s private thoughts.  Just beware of POV issues.  You must be in that character’s POV, or an all-seeing, omniscient POV, for the narrator to know the character’s private thoughts.

SAMPLE SEGMENT (Uses each of the tools mentioned in this article; expletives replaced by asterisks)

————

I floated still, adrift in an endless gray ocean of broken thought, struggling to make sense of the fluid that drenched my hands.

               It’s… it’s….  Oh, God, it’s Mom’s blood and brains.

               The maddening, driveling voice, like a spear in my gut, stabbed me again.  “For Christ’s sake, kid, stop ****ing around and give me a hand, will you!”

               Rage burned a red sheath over my eyes.

               I stood and walked to the killer, who looked up with drunken eyes that meant nothing to me.  They were evil.  I focused instead on his neck, called up all that I’d learned in Master Komura’s martial arts classes over the previous seven years, and….

               …and struck.

               Though strong for a fifteen-year-old, my success rested on the fragile physiology of that small patch of neck.  Indeed, to crush his trachea required more precision than strength.

               The slobbering murderer collapsed, clutched his ruined throat, and gasped for air that would not come.  His eyes blazed in one final, sobering realization.  They pleaded for mercy and begged an answer to the simplest question: Why?

               It didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered.

               Yet I had to make sure he understood.  “You rotten ****!  Did you think you could murder my mom and get away with it?”

               Anger roiled, and I started to shake.  I should have been crying for Mom.  Why wasn’t I crying?  I’d never known such fury.  I wanted to pummel him, again and again and again and again, as he lay helpless on the street.

               “What do you think now, you murdering **********?  Still feel like laughing it up?  How about another drink, you miserable—”

               His empty eyes stared back at me.

               I’d done it.  I’d meted out justice—simple, swift, final.

               Now I needed to… to….  I shook off the cobwebs as my neighbors gaped in stunned silence.  I turned to the right and—

               Oh God.  Oh God.

               My little brother, Alex, knelt at the edge of our driveway with a face painted in tears, confusion and terror.  Just seven years old, he wept alone on the worst of all possible days.  My feet were as tree stumps sprouting from the bottoms of my legs, as I shuffled over and crouched before him.  All the while, his gaze shifted between Mom’s car and me, and he blinked through the tears no dam could contain.

               He choked and sputtered, “I… want my… mommy.  Where’s Mommy?  I… I… I want my mommy!”

               His scream clawed at my heart, and I could barely whisper, “Me too.  I want her too.”

————

Tune in soon for more on “Building Tension through Structure,” and on other matters related to effective writing.  In the meantime, and as always, remember this: Writing well is not easy.  It takes work.  You mustn’t be lazy.

Build Tension through Structure – Part 1: Introduction

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Use punctuation that “punches,” and breaks that keep the reader breathless.

When you think of tension, you probably think in terms of plot – of a storyline that keeps you glued to the page. However, “tension” is also a momentary psychological effect you can create through the manner in which you structure your prose. It is this literary device, in my opinion, that often separates the great, thrilling reads from the merely satisfactory.

In a book, you can promote tension through structure in a number of ways:

1) CHAPTER BREAKS: This is perhaps the most obvious mechanism, the one with which we’re most familiar as readers. Every author looks for just the right spot to break chapters. The ideal chapter break accomplishes two key tasks:

      A) It closes out the chapter in a way that satisfies the reader. Think of each chapter as a mini-book/story, requiring its own unique conflict and resolution, and you’re likely to ace this requirement.

      B) It sets up the next chapter, providing an anticipatory thrill for the reader, such that he won’t even think about putting the book down.

2) STORY BREAKS: Formats vary on these, from simple multi-line breaks in the text, to line breaks before and after a 3-asterisk (***) designation (my preference), to a long centered line between segments. Think of these as sub-chapter breaks. They typically indicate one or more of the following:

      A) You abruptly change scene, often skipping forward in time or flashing back.

      B) You change POV from one character to another.

3) PARAGRAPH BREAKS: As basic as it sounds, this is, in fact, one of the most difficult aspects of writing for beginning writers to grasp. You simply have to develop a feel for it, as there are many reasons for which to break a paragraph. We tend to focus on the most elementary of reasons: a change in subject or a need for a little “white space.” However, one of the most underused tools is the isolating of the last sentence of a paragraph (at least under normal circumstances), making it a stand-alone paragraph. This might give that final sentence extra punch, greater impact.

4) SENTENCE BREAKS (CADENCE/RHYTHM): Should that be one sentence or two? Or three? At what point does a series of short sentences become too choppy? At what point does a series of long sentences become too wordy and long-winded? How should you alter the sentence lengths and syllable counts? You must mix it up, or you will create the “Lullaby Effect,” and your readers will lose interest, or even nod off. Use what Harry Chapin, the late, great songwriter/storyteller, called “the rhythm of time.” Make your words sing.

5) SENTENCE FRAGMENTS: When does a 1- to 5-word fragment provide an extra punch? When is it just plain lazy, sloppy writing? Fragments are a powerful tool, when used sparingly and to good effect. When overused, however, they cause readers like me to start fuming.

6) PUNCTUATION: This most basic element of writing remains one of the most confusing. The comma must be the most misunderstood, misused, abused, and amusing symbol in the English language. It can be the writer’s greatest friend… or fiercest enemy. For that matter, did you notice that little ellipsis I just used? When should you use them? And I haven’t even mentioned the almighty dash or – hold your breath now – the exclamation point! At what point do you overuse these types of punctuation?

7) ITALICIZED (EMPHASIZED) TEXT: When you want a word to really jump out at a reader, as it would if you spoke the word, italicize it. Just be careful; don’t overdo it.

Okay, so I’ve listed a number of ways in which you can promote tension through structure, but I left many questions unanswered. It’s a long and detailed subject, so I’ll be tackling them one-by-one – not necessarily in order – over the next few weeks. I wanted to plant the seed, so that you’ll be thinking about these as you sit down to write your masterpiece.

Tune in soon for the rest. In the meantime, and as always, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

When is good grammar required?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

“Great Story, Poor Prose”

When can you sacrifice good grammar in the name of personal style and free expression? The short answer: anytime you want.

Ah, if only it were that simple. So much depends upon your goals for a particular article, short story or book. Or for your career as a writer, for that matter.

Question #1

Do you hope to publish through traditional venues (magazines, anthologies, mainstream publishers), or do you plan to enter it in a contest?

If you answer any part of that, “Yes,” your options just dropped.

Well-established authors, having established a loyal and hungry readership, might get away with occasionally cavalier disregard for proper grammar. On the other hand, they might disappoint their fans and drive them away. For example, I am, or have been, a fan of several contemporary authors, reading anywhere from three to twenty-three of their books. Two of those authors, however (no, I shall not name them), have finally driven me away after I’ve read a half-dozen or more of their books. Have their stories and characters become too formulaic and predictable? Perhaps. Yet the thing that really jumps out at me is how sloppy their writing has become.

What happened? Did they become too big to have to worry about mundane details such as writing properly? Are their editors afraid to confront their cash cows? Are they so driven to produce two or three or four books a year that they can only offer prose that reads like a Dick and Jane elementary school primer? Frankly, I assume those authors no longer respect me, the customer, enough to provide a quality product.

So be it. I read enough authors producing enough quality work that I don’t need to settle for that.

Now, if you’re a new or emerging author, someone who’s not bringing buckets of cash through the front door, agents and editors will hold you to strict professional standards. They’re unlikely to forgive poor grammar. Even if you have a catchy, compelling style, they may not read enough of your submission even to discover that fact. They have precious little time to review unsolicited queries from first-timers, so they often, upon seeing poor grammar and structure on the first page (or paragraph), set it aside and reach for the rejection slip.

First impressions mean everything. If you’re an unknown, you’ll have exactly one opportunity, and a short one at that, to sell yourself as a professional. And professional writers know how to write. It really is, as it turns out, just that simple.

Question #2

Do you hope to attract a broad and regular readership at sites such as HubPages.com, a blog, or other online content farms?

If you answer, “Yes,” your options remain limited. Avid readers know instinctively (from experience) or definitively (from education) what constitutes bad writing. Even if they muscle their way through one of your articles, short stories or book chapters laced with poor grammar, they’re unlikely to return to your site in the future.

Haven’t you had this experience yourself, as a reader? I sure have—more often than I’d like to admit.

Why would you toil to promote your work, to build your readership, only to chase them away after they’ve finally found you? How much time do any of us have in our busy schedules to read?

Yes, you must provide interesting content, and a style that readers enjoy, but you must also provide quality. For a writer, that means you can… well, that you can write. Respect your readers, treat them as the treasure they are, and you’ll likely build a lasting relationship.

Question #3

Are you planning to self-publish, whether electronically or in print? If so, why are you publishing? Is writing just a hobby for you, an emotional outlet, a true vanity project—something for which you never intend to make any real money?

If you answer, “No,” you would do well to return to Question #1.

If you answer, “Yes,” I offer this follow-up question: So what? You still want readers, don’t you? You still want your first few readers to recommend your work to others, to advance your readership. You don’t want them to post bad reviews or comments, or chase potential readers away. Even if the financial aspect of your publishing isn’t the most important, surely you want readers. Why else would you publish it?

In which case, everything I’ve said above still applies.

Bottom Line

In the art of writing, no such thing exists as a “100% Rule.” We writers routinely break the rules, yet we do so for effect, to provide a nice punch at just the right moment. When we violate the rules because we don’t know them, or don’t care to exercise diligence or respect in following them, then the writing devolves into a sloppy, amateurish mess.

Style preferences are completely and extraordinarily subjective. One reader’s garbage is another reader’s most brilliant piece ever. Readers’ tastes and preferences are as diverse as writers’ styles, so you may well carve a niche for yourself with your catchy style and utter disregard for the rules of grammar.

Just don’t expect editors or agents to trip over themselves to gobble up your material. Or to become anything more than a niche writer.

‘Til next time, remember this: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy.

Serial Commas: Should you use them?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

“Commas: Serial Killers of Pace”

A serial comma, also called the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma, is the comma that precedes the last item in a list.

Example: The huge barn housed cattle, horses, and goats.  The comma preceding “and goats” is the serial comma.

Opinion varies on whether or not to use the serial comma, which ultimately makes it an issue of stylistic preference.  Some publications may have specific requirements in this regard, which you may want to investigate before submitting to them.  However, given the relatively even split of opinion on the issue, I’d advise you decide on your own preference, or that of your personal editor, if you don’t have a strong opinion, and just stick with that.

As an editor, writer and reader, I have a strong opinion: I hate commas unless they’re absolutely necessary.  Why?  Because I’m a big fan of maintaining a rapid pace in prose, and commas are anchors on the Ship of Pace.  Usually.  It’s not quite that simple, since quick, choppy prose that makes the reader feel as if she has the hiccups is not good either.  We must mix it up from time to time to avoid creating the Lullaby Effect and putting our readers to sleep.

Thus, minimizing commas is a general rule—for me, at least—and like all rules of literature, not a 100%-er.

While in college back in 1979, I read an essay about the use of commas—not in a writing class, but in a psychology class, of all places.  I wish I could remember the name of the essay or its authors, or that I could find something on the internet about it, but I’ve been unable to do so (They wrote the piece in the pre-internet era.).  Thus, I will have to paraphrase in summary here.

1)       Three psychologists completed a 5-year study about how people read—not what they read, but how.  Their entire subject group consisted of American college students.

2)       Their study covered many different facets of writing, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on only that portion relevant to the use of serial commas.

3)       They determined that we process the written word primarily at the sentence level.  They went to great pains to explain that this didn’t mean words were unimportant—of course, they were.  Paragraphs and chapters were also important.  However, the sentence surpassed those elements in its impact on readers.  The sentence was the primary unit of measure, if you will, at which the reader derived emotional involvement, interest, curiosity, intellectual growth, etc.

4)       Because of that, readers were most satisfied when they completed a sentence and moved on to the next one.  They felt they were making real progress when they did so.

5)       As a result, readers were most frustrated by sentences that ran too long, or that offered too many breaks.  The breaks could take any form—commas, semicolons, dashes, etc.  If they got hung-up in a sentence; if they couldn’t escape it and move on to the next sentence; readers became agitated.

6)       Long, multi-segment sentences with multiple commas were particularly frustrating for them.

7)       For some readers, this reaction was a conscious one of which they were perfectly aware.  For most readers, however, the impact occurred at the subconscious level.  They couldn’t explain why they disliked certain pieces; they just did.

As I read that essay, and as I engaged in subsequent discussions about it in class, I came to a couple of conclusions.  First, the authors’ study was well prepared, well presented and compelling.  Second, it struck me as logical.  After all, as a reader, I felt that way about commas myself.

Indeed, when I read A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, later that year, I shook my head at all the discussion about what a brilliant opening paragraph he offered.  Huh?  I hated it—not its message, but its structure: 1 sentence with 17 commas, and 1 dash thrown in for good luck.

My approach to commas is simple: you must use them when you must use them.

1)       To separate independent clauses

2)       To break after a transitional introduction

3)       To set off a non-restrictive clause in the middle of a sentence

4)       To set off an appositive, an aside or a parenthetic expression in the middle of a sentence

5)       To set off a name or title in direct address (dialogue)

6)       And much, much more.

#6 above is rather my point.  There are so many instances where you must use a comma, where you must force the reader to pause, that to add them where you don’t need them strikes me as foolish.  That’s just my opinion, folks—well, mine and the authors of that study, not to mention a good percentage of everyone else.

If the conjunction prior to the last item in the list makes the separation clear and unambiguous, I prefer to leave off the comma.  If there is any possible confusion, I add the comma.

Example: The flag is red, white and blue.  This sentence will confuse no one.

Example: The four shirts in my closet were blue, white, black and green and yellow.  Uh-oh, this is a problem.  Regarding the last two shirts, is one black and green and the other yellow?  Or is one black and the other green and yellow?  The reader has no way to know unless you plug in a serial comma to separate them.

Thus, a little common sense goes a long way.  Use the comma if you must.  Cut the comma if it adds nothing more than another pause for the reader.  If you achieve perfect clarity without the comma, leave it off.

This, by the way, applies to all commas, in my opinion (based on the study, which I continue to believe in).  If you can restructure your sentences to eliminate commas, at least consider doing so.  If that change doesn’t reduce the impact of your sentence/paragraph, or disrupt the rhythm and flow negatively, go with the non-comma (or fewer commas) alternative.

Most readers will love you for it, because they love a quick pace.

NOTE: If you’re writing a literary piece, you’ll have a little more flexibility than in genre fiction, as reader preferences often vary from genre fiction (quick, wham, bam, pow) to literary fiction (make the words dance).

‘Til next time, remember this: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy.

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.

Award-Winning Books Edited by Lane Diamond (6-10)

Back on August 30, 2019, I started what will be a series of posts with Award-Winning Books Edited by Lane Diamond, in which I posted the first 5 (alphabetically) “active” award-winners edited by me. Today, I continue that thread with books 6-10.

THE CONFESSIONAL – A Short Story by A.K. Kuykendall

Altar Boy Reinhold Commons Webster was an innocent child—scholarly, devout—whose trials and tribulations weighed heavily upon him. He continually prayed for deliverance, but in the end, only Lucifer answered.

WINNER: Literary Titan Book Awards – Gold Medal

The Websters were devout Catholics who, like all the families within their parish, stood steadfastly in service of the church. They even prayed that their only son, Reinhold, would one day become a priest. When he became an Altar Server, it seemed as if their dream might come true.

Yet deep within the church lay secrets too painful to consider, too scary to fathom—a horror too excruciating for anyone to dare seek give it an audience.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a short story with a peerless message, based on true events—an execrable horror parable that will take the reader into the darkest corners of the mind, where fictional events may be just a bit too real for comfort.

CONUNDRUM by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

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

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award

Reviewer Sheila D. says: “What a magnificently woven puzzle, like a spider’s web. Each strand offering a path of answers/clarity while raising even more questions. I felt like some of the answers to my questions were well hidden in plain sight….right under my nose..while raising new questions .Do YOU know who the spinner is? Are the black smokey wisps part of a web? Then who is the fly? It created a satisfying chaos of the mind. It provides an itching curiosity for Book 3.”

In a world where light has taken reign, the Queen’s Dog, Akira, seeks true balance, but only the righteous may thrive. Driven by malice, he fights his need for blood, his desire to live, and his assignment to solve the murders occurring throughout the Empire. Amidst the strife and warring factions, Akira leads a commanding third party, the Organization, to power. Their drive to raise a New World of misfits is tireless, brutal, and costly. In order for this vision to come to fruition, Akira must first conquer his mother, his fate, and his one true obstacle, the Mortal Affliction.

THE DAUGHTER OF THE SEA AND THE SKY by David Litwack

A thought-provoking look at the line between faith and fantasy, fanatics and followers, and religion and reason.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Best Fantasy
WINNER: Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

A mysterious nine-year-old from the Blessed Lands sails into the lives of a couple in the Republic, claiming to be the Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Is she a troubled child longing to return home, or a powerful prophet sent to unravel the fabric of the Republic? The answer will change the lives of all she meets… and perhaps their world as well.

“…a fully imagined, gripping read….” ~ Kirkus Reviews

“Author David Litwack gracefully weaves together his message with alternating threads of the fantastic and the realistic…. The reader will find wisdom and grace in this beautifully written story.” ~ San Francisco Book Review

DESERT RICE by Angela Scott

WINNER: Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal – Young Adult: Coming of Age
WINNER: League of Utah Writers – Gold Quill Award
FINALIST: The Kindle Book Review Awards – Literary Fiction

When Sam meets “Jesus”—who smells an awful lot like a horse—in the park, life takes a different turn. He saved her once, and may be willing to save Sam and her brother again, if only they admit what took place that fateful day in West Virginia. But Sam doesn’t remember, and Jacob isn’t talking.

Moslimah says, “I’m a VERY difficult reader to please and this isn’t a book I would typically read but I read it and boy was I blown away. This novel captivated me, not from the first page but from the very first sentence, where we are brought smack in the middle of the action.”

Tina says, “From the opening chapter to the very last word, the book was a masterpiece of storytelling, presenting me with a barrage of twists and turns that kept me riveted to the book.”

Timeosanthos says, “I’d heard a lot about this book before reading it, so I worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I needn’t have worried at all–it not only lived up to them, it surpassed them. While this book is heart wrenching and painful to read at times, it’s also brilliant, poignant and beautiful.”

DREAM WARRIORS by D. Robert Pease

In the dream world, not everyone is what they appear to be.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award — Best Young Adult Fiction

Joseph Colafranceschi is a fifteen-year-old, self-described geek, living in the Bronx. The second youngest of twelve sons of the former U.S. ambassador to Italy, Joey discovers that a small Egyptian statuette, given to him by his father, endows him with power to control his dreams.

After his brothers throw him down a manhole, Joey is drawn into a hidden society of warriors who have been battling a reincarnated Egyptian Pharaoh for over 3,000 years. In the dream world, it’s impossible to tell who to trust. As Joey slips deeper into a world of gladiator battles and clandestine missions within other people’s dreams, he catches the eye of a beautiful Egyptian princess.

The only thing that keeps him grounded in reality is his best friend Alex, but even she may not be who he thought she was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, those are numbers 6-10 (alphabetically), all of which I heartily recommend. I’ll be back soon with the next five.

Award-Winning Books Edited by Lane Diamond

So… once again I’ve gone months without posting here. Yeesh! Well, as it happens, I have a good cause to jump in, as we at Evolved Publishing just learned of a whole slew of new awards won by our books, including some that were edited by me. And this got me thinking…

How many award winners have I edited? Well, it’s a lot, and it includes some books with which I’m no longer “officially” affiliated, so I’ll leave those out. But here are the award winners (that I know of) with which I am still affiliated. Pretty gratifying.

To keep it simple, I’ll list them here in alphabetical order, and the link I provide will be to the publisher’s main listing, which itself will include retail links (in case you’re interested). I’ll also list only the first 5 books on a much longer list, and then I’ll be back in the days to come with the rest of the list, 5 titles at a time.

BORN – AGAINST ALL ODDS by Hope Silver

Who said we can’t choose our parents?

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Summer 2019 – Best Fantasy

“…a dramatic, uplifting and thought-provoking piece of literature that anyone can enjoy.” ~ K.C. Finn (5 Stars), Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews

“This book will satiate your appetite for magical realism. … It makes us feel better after reading the last page.” ~ Vincent Dublado (5 Stars), Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews

When we’re born, we start with a blank slate, forgetting all that happened before. Most people think life begins at the moment of either conception or physical birth, but what if it really starts much earlier? What if we meet our parents even before they meet each other? What if we have a choice, and can shape our own destiny?

Take a remarkable journey with a young soul who, upon finding his ideal mother, stops at nothing to make her his own. From the instant he first lays eyes on Lera—so cheerful, charming, and eccentric—’Peace’ knows she’s the only mom for him.

Yet things don’t always go the way we planned, even for souls desperate to be born.

CHAOS THEORY by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

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

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Summer 2018 – Best Fantasy

Stefanie F. says: “Awesome and Engaging! — Ten Stars for this amazing story continuation! Hero and Fate are back and delving into Hero’s memories. So much takes place in the story and I don’t want to give anything away so just get on with it and start reading!”

Shortly after the Royal Wedding, Hero and Fate return to Nex, prepared to fulfill their duties as the new rulers of Nitor. For the first time, they enter the Dreamscape, an inner realm full of broken memories, to uncover the truth about the murders and the perpetrator.

As they delve deeper into Hero’s past, their path appears more harrowing than they had imagined. With the truth comes great sacrifice and determination. Each door within the Dreamscape leads them closer to the answers they seek and the consequences of learning about the crimes that have been buried.

Shelia D. says, “My suspicions are confirmed. This is not your run of the mill thunderstorm, it is indeed a Tsunami!”

THE CHILDREN OF DARKNESS by David Litwack

A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a terrible time of violence, fear, and social collapse when technology ran rampant.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Best Science Fiction
WINNER: Feathered Quill Book Award – Gold Medal: Science Fiction/Fantasy

“But what are we without dreams?”

The vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” and by eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything.

Childhood friends, Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas have always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the rigid status quo. When they’re cast into the prisons of Temple City, they discover a terrible secret that launches the three on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in jeopardy, for a truth from the past awaits that threatens the foundation of the Temple. If they reveal that truth, they might once again release the potential of their people.

Yet they would also incur the Temple’s wrath, as it is written: “If there comes among you a prophet saying, ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the Light.”

“The plot unfolds easily, swiftly, and never lets the readers’ attention wane… After reading this one, it will be a real hardship to have to wait to see what happens next.” ~ Feathered Quill Book Reviews (Awarded “The Children of Darkness” the Gold Medal in Science Fiction & Fantasy)

“A tightly executed first fantasy installment that champions the exploratory spirit.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

CIRCLES by Ruby Standing Deer

A Dream Vision, a terrifying destiny, a journey of a lifetime—the future of an entire Peoples may rest on the shoulders of one young boy.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Best Historical Fiction

“This novel of historic fiction is a must for any fan of Native American history, or seeker of knowledge, or lover of life. It is expertly crafted with vivid imagery and characters that will become beloved. If you don’t know what it means to sing someone home, prepare to swallow hard. It is heart warming and moving. Truly a thing of beauty.”T.W. Griffith

With much of the world still undiscovered, a small band of people live a peaceful life, until the Dream Vision of a young boy changes everything. Only nine winters old, Feather Floating in Water’s dreams turn his seemingly ordinary childhood into the journey of a lifetime. He must help his people face a terrifying destiny from which they cannot turn away. He must find a way to make his people listen.

Bright Sun Flower, the boy’s grandmother, guides his beginnings, teaching him about the Circle of Life, and how without it, no life can exist. But he needs a bigger push, and gets it from a grey wolf and a Great Elder. The boy’s journey leads him to discover that the Circle of Life involves all people, all living things, and not just the world he knows.

In the end, an ancient People guide the boy in his Visions, toward an unexpected place hidden from outsiders.

“A beautiful story of what should have been. ~ The story is strongly written and will appeal to those who believe that mankind should live in harmony with nature. If you expect savagery and blood – look elsewhere.”John Chapman

THE CISTERN MISSION – A Short Story by Michael Dadich

WINNER: Mom’s Choice Awards – Gold Label – Young Adult eBooks: Fantasy, Myths & Legends

WINNER: Readers’ Favorite Book Awards – Silver Medal – Short Stories

Captain Rostand knows the importance of his undercover mission. The families of Azimuth’s proud officers have just been slaughtered as a statement by the evil dictator Hideux. But how did Hideux know where Azimuth’s forces were hidden? How could his Nightlander army be one step ahead of the powerful Azimuth Alliance at every turn?

The hard truths he discovers on his quest for justice may mark the incendiary beginning of the war of all wars. Will Azimuth survive the great onslaught?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, those are the first 5 (alphabetically), all of which I heartily recommend. I’ll be back soon with the next five.

Forgive Me, Alex – A New Look

Forgive Me, Alex has undergone a couple of face lifts, and it’s kind of interesting to see the past (old), present (soone to be new past), and future (soon to be new present).

This was the original version back in 2011, which I really liked, but various feedback and analysis suggested that it just wasn’t performing.

Every genre has its tropes, of course, and for the thriller genre, this one might have been just fine in the early days (December 2011, when it first launched). Maybe.

The marketplace changed, though, as it is wont to do, and eventually this one fell a bit outside the norm, and we just needed to replace it.

Up next would be what’s live now (as of 4 February 2019) at a few sites and in a few versions, but I’ve already started uploading changes.

And then came version two (with blood spatter in the background), which morphed into the version three you see here. The blood spatter had to go because Amazon Ads wouldn’t run it. Seriously.

As you can see, we kept some of the thematic elements (from version one) for the imagery, but we really changed up the textual elements. However, once again, we know from some testing that the cover is under-performing.

And now, as of this writing (4 February 2019), the process has begun to once again update the cover. The new eBook cover will appear first, then the paperback, and finally the audiobook.

NEXT UP: Fourth Editon (and I really hope this is the last time this cover will change. That’s the plan, at least.)

Once again, genre tropes and expectations have caused me to move this in a whole new direction. With the invaluable help of Dale Pease, the cover artist, we’ve brought this in line with current THRILLER genre covers.

It was also important to get this done before the launch — or even the pre-launch activities — of the second book in the “Tony Hooper” series, The Devil’s Bane.

I have ZERO plans to EVER change the cover again, so this one better accomplish all I hope it will.

Early feedback from some targeted groups has been quite positive, so I’m excited to see what happens. Of course, I’d love to have YOUR feedback! 🙂

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