Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An Extra Month

The end is here.

Another year has come and gone. Like me, do you feel you could use another month to catch up with everything undone from 2014?


That’s one reason Gurutej Khalsa’s book, The 13th Month: How To Get An Extra 29 Days Each Year, caught my attention.

I first learned of this author through my yoga practice – I’ve enjoyed her video, Chakra Yoga, for many years.  So I knew the foundation of the book would be rooted in yoga practice.  However, it’s written in a decidedly accessible and conversational voice, and nothing in the suggestions would keep the average person from applying the techniques.  As I read each chapter, a handful of ideas resonated with me, and these are the ones I’ll apply or ramp up in the new year.

Let’s begin with the areas of food and exercise. I've long had a healthy diet, eating mostly organic (and often homegrown or locally acquired) foods. I exercise daily, in some combination of walking (3-5 miles), weight lifting, and yoga. According to the author, I could improve my energy levels by eliminating coffee entirely from my diet. That idea makes me cringe, but I’m going to give it a go.

Photo credit: ScientificAmerican.com
I already meditate, too, but I’m not as consistent in this area as with my exercise program. I’ll make an effort to meditate twice a day instead of only once, first thing in the morning and prior to my writing hours, then again in the evening before sleep. I know from practice that regular meditation keeps me focused and task-oriented throughout the day, and helps me sleep better, and sometimes less. (Gurutej herself sleeps only four hours per night.) I’m an eight-hour-a-night sleeper, so waking even one hour early each day would “buy” me 30 extra hours in just one month.

Perhaps the most valuable section of the book for me dealt with daily habits. I didn’t learn anything exactly new to me, but I did have an opportunity to face up to my own waste of time. Where do I spend my time every day? Doing what I believe is most important? Writing my novels?

No. 

What I usually do first thing in the morning involves all my social media errands, which include Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well as monitoring blogs. I consider this part of my work day, but the truth is, I sometimes spend more hours online each day, than I do writing or editing my books. I didn’t need my previous experience as an accountant to figure out that my extra month each year could easily be harvested from my social media hours each day!  I bet many of you can say the same thing. How are you planning to change your habits to maximize the time for more important things?

If you need some cheer-leading and advice on adjusting your own lifestyle to better meet your goals, I strongly suggest you connect with Gurutej Khalsa on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, then check out her website and blog for lots of inspiration and advice.  I promise you’ll get motivated to adopt some new and healthier habits, that will help you ramp up your writing life. 

But set your timer, and don’t let your day get away from you while you’re online learning! Or researching. Or connecting. Or any other excuse you come up with to avoid doing what you ought to be.


So what are you doing new this coming year to improve your writing life? Please leave us your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and plans to spend 2015 writing and publishing her own books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and on her News From Nowhere book blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ask the Editor: And then?

This post was first published here on April 8, 2010.

In my newsletter, I told subscribers that if they had a grammar question, they could ask me or post the question here on The Blood-Red Pencil. Kathy Lee Scott, who’s both a dancer and a writer, emailed to ask this:
Is it "and then," or could it be just "then"? One person insisted I make all my "then's" into "and then's." To my ear, it doesn't sound correct. Plus it adds an unnecessary conjunction, in my opinion.
Hi Kathy,

Thanks for this very timely question. I say ‘timely’ because I’ve recently heard several people ask this same question. The long-standing rule is you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses. You can zip over to Capital Community College Foundation’s well-know grammar pages where you’ll find grammar guidance as well as a link to “Conjunction Junction” (Scholastic Rock, 1972).

The hard truth is ‘then’ is not a conjunctive (joining word) like ‘and’ or ‘but’ or ‘or,’ so you’re supposed to use it with a conjunctive such as ‘and’ rather than in the place of a conjunctive.
Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.
You have two independent clauses: Susan went to the store. She hurried home to cook dinner.

You’re combining the two and showing a sequence: Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.

But why that extra word in there? Why can’t you say:
Susan went to the store, then she hurried home to cook dinner.
Because you’re breaking the grammar rule. You could say:
Susan went to the store; then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. Then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. She, then, hurried home to cook dinner.
You can see from those examples that ‘then’ is not a conjunctive, but rather, in reality, a transition that shows time sequence. It is an adverb or a conjunctive adverb.

Some editors, undoubtedly some right here on The Blood-Red Pencil, will say you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses.

I know there will be those who argue with me, but I say using ‘then’ as a conjunctive by itself is acceptable today. In our everyday lives, we say:
I left the house, then I took the kids to school, then I ran by the cleaners, then I headed to the dentist, the grocery store, exercise class, the bank, then back to pick up the kids, and then, finally, home again.
If that’s the way your character talks, then let her talk that way, even if she’s breaking the rule. For now, though, if you’re writing for publication, you might want to stick to the rule in the narrative portion of your manuscript.

Keep in mind, though, that grammar “rules” change over time.

Some editors will not mark an “and then” infraction in your manuscript, even in the narrative. I am one of them, most of the time. I think this rule is in flux.

It hasn’t, however, gone through a complete change and you may find editors at your publishing house who will want you to follow the tried and true rules from the grammar book. If so, go back and add that ‘and’ where appropriate.

Thank you, Kathy, for the great question.

KATHY LEE SCOTT has written dance articles and performance reviews for the online Ballet Dance magazine and articles for several local newspapers. Kathy’s twenty years studying and performing ballet and other dance forms have been an asset to her writing career. A member of the SCBWI and online critique groups, she strives to improve her craft and offer encouragement to her fellow writers. She and her husband share a home with three cats and a dog, nurturing them with classical music.

What’s your take on this question? Do you feel grammar rules change over time? If so, is this one of those that’s in flux?

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of the novels Dismembering the Past and Angel Sometimes, three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Getting Rich by Writing

This post was first published here on Apr 25, 2012.

Let's face it. The prospect of being rich appeals to all of us. That's why millions of people buy lottery tickets and hunt for treasure and prospect for gold. It is the lure of hitting the jackpot, striking it rich that tantalizes us all.

It's not all that different for many writers. They read about million dollar book deals and want a piece of that action for themselves, but the truth of the matter is that those who are really getting rich in the publishing business are only a small percentage of writers. The rest of us are slogging away day by day, perhaps making a decent living, or perhaps just supplementing a partner's earnings, and we will never get rich.

Let me repeat that. Most of us will never get rich by writing.

However, in this era of e-publishing, there are many opportunities for writers to do much better than just making a decent living. Terry Odell already shared her recent success with putting one of her books in the Nook First program at Barnes & Noble here at The Blood Red Pencil, and other authors are going with the KDP Select program via Amazon.

Julie Ortolon is one of those authors. A romance writer with a number of best-selling books published, Julie had a nine year career with traditional publishers before sales of her books in paper started to drop. Not long after that, publishers started dropping her because of the sales record. Fast-forward a few years when Julie got the rights to those books back and published then as an independent author on Amazon.
In evaluating sales for 2011, Julie says that she may have sold more ebooks in 2011 than the total number  of paperbacks sold over the nine years those books were in print. That was a startling revelation.

She is excited about building a bigger readership than she ever had before. "That feels so good after traditional publishers had me convinced that my books weren't selling because readers didn't want what I write. Now I know that's not true. My print books weren't selling because of the realities of print runs, distribution, and placement in the brick and mortar stores. Or lack thereof on all three counts. It's kind of hard for readers to buy your books when they never see them."

It is important to keep in mind that part of the success of authors like Terry and Julie is due to taking a professional approach to indie publishing. This includes paying for professional editing, cover design, and sometimes even formatting. They are also writers who take the craft very seriously and their books are well-written. 

My experience with indie publishing has also brought some measure of success. In 2010, I put my first book up for Kindle, One Small Victory, and it sold a handful of copies a month for the rest of that year. In the spring of 2011, I participated in some promotional events with groups of authors, giving our books away for selected periods of time. In one week I had 30,000 downloads of my book and 1,100 sales. Since then, sales tend to fluctuate a lot. Some months I sell hundreds of books, and other months I'm lucky to sell a book a day, but it does keep selling.

I now have a number of other books and short stories published as e-books, and with the royalties from Amazon and my publishers, I have been making more money these past two years with my fiction than I did in previous years. While I am not getting rich, I am pleased that the increase of sales has been steady, and I anticipate that it will only get better.

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of a good walk.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Are Book Launch Parties Worth It?

This post was first published here on April 26, 2012.

Left is Sally, a friend I sold my first book to in 2006. Seated
is Bill, an old friend (91 yrs to be exact), then me, Morgan
Mandel, to my right is Rosemary, a grammar school friend.
I'd grown complacent with putting my romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, on Kindle and other electronic media; but still, whenever I ran into certain friends, inevitably they'd ask when was my book Launch Party.

Well, that proved print books were still in demand, at least in certain circles, so I bit the bullet and got my book published through CreateSpace, not an easy task to accomplish.

I checked the proof when it came in, found some errors to correct, so sent off for another. When everything looked all right with the book, I placed larger orders.

With books in hand, it was time to set up the party. Here's what I did:
  1. Reserved the venue - Arlington Heights Historical Museum - five weeks in advance
  2. Ordered banners, lawn sign, postcards, a promo tee-shirt, plus rack cards from Vistaprint.com - five weeks in advance
  3. Printed out announcement postcards and mailed them to friends and relatives - A few weeks before
  4. Sent e-mails to other friends and also phone calls - a few weeks before
  5. Sent invite on Facebook - week before
  6. Had the DH reserve the services of the nephew to help carry the books on the launch day - week before
  7. Sent announcement to paper - week before (Should have sent sooner, but forgot)
  8. Sent another reminder on Facebook, which also went on Twitter
  9. Lined up a smattering of my prior books to bring with, plus other promo, along with the new items I'd purchased and serving plates, serving utensils, cups, paper plates, plastic utensils - week before
  10. Got cash box ready, with enough singles, fives, and tens for change - few days before
  11. Put pens in purse for signing, also found Post-its and postcards for those who wanted special autographs, found the sign-in book - few days before
  12. Sent another Facebook reminder - day before
  13. Purchased food, soda, apple juice, ice - day before and day of
  14. Grabbed some different outfits from my closet, couldn't decide which to wear -  day before
  15. Wrote check for rental of the venue - day before, and spoke to manager there again about setup
  16. Wrote note to remember to bring the new books in the other room - day before
  17. Charged up iPhone so I could use its camera - day before
  18. Figured out what to wear and got ready for the signing - day of
  19. Hauled everything over with help of DH and nephew - day of
  20. Started decorating - only half an hour allotted, so I never got to put everything up, even with the DH and nephew helping, because people started coming in
  21. Busy signing and talking, while the DH took in the money, took photos on the iPhone featuring each guest. For each book purchase, the buyer received a raffle ticket.
  22. Held raffle for tee shirt, which featured covers of all four of my books.
  23. Before I knew it, it was 3:30. Distributed some of the leftover food to my brothers while we packed up to get out.
  24. Took leftover food, my serving items and the rest of the books home and unpacked. Fortunately, the book boxes were lighter than before!
  25. Put a photo album on Facebook about the event.
  26. Fell asleep on the couch watching TV - That night
  27. Finally, the next day -  I tried to figure out if I made money or broke even - I seem to be ahead. Sold 30 books, but did expend money to get the author copies printed, the room rental, food expenses, Vistaprint items. The total order amount can't be tallied yet, since one friend broke her hand, ouch, and wants three books later, two friends are on vacation, another couldn't make it, but wants a book.
Was all that work and expense worth it? I say, Yes! I got to see friends and family I hadn't seen in a while. Books were bought. The buzz will go out. Word will get spread.

And, one of the biggest rewards of a Book Launch Party - author validation! It's a heady feeling to know everyone who came there that day wanted to buy my new romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is on Kindle or in Print.

Excerpts & buy links for all of Morgan's Books:
MorgansBookLinks.Blogspot.com/



Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its sequel, A Perfect Angel, or the standalone reality show romance: Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eight Questions for Writers

Originally posted on May 27, 2009

Every story has an arc - a set up, obstacles for the main character to overcome, and a resolution.

Sometimes, I come across a novel from a client that has holes in one or all of these areas. There's not enough set up to get me into the story and the main character. There's not enough conflict in that vast middle of the story to make me care what happens to the main character. There's not enough of a resolution, and I'm left wondering, "Why did I read this?"

When these gaps are found within a story, I get into lecture mode and pose eight questions to the client:

1) Who is your main character (MC)?
2) What does the MC want?
3) What's the main conflict that keeps the MC from getting that want?
4) What's the event/situation that sets the MC in motion to achieve the want?
5) What are the obstacles the MC encounters, keeping him/her from the want? (Obstacles should escalate, building tension)
6) What's the event/situation that makes the MC go "All-or-Nothing" to win the want? (This is a moment in which there is no turning back)
7) Does the MC win or lose?
8) What's the effect of the win or loss on the MC?

I have the client develop an answer for each of these questions, and then we discuss what's missing from the story and how to apply some of these answers to the revising of the story.

The questions are asked in a traditional way, meaning they have a beginning, middle, ending flow to them. However, not all stories are traditional. Some start at the end, and then show the reader how that ending came to be.

The point is most, if not all, stories touch upon each of these questions, so it benefits you to do some prewriting of your story before you jump in, write, and call yourself being "done" with the story.

It will also benefit you to look at these questions after a story is done as a part of the self-editing process.

Editors are there to help writers better their story; however, writers should be working to better their craft and understand the editorial and story development process.


Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hitting the Writing Wall

This post first ran here on March 9, 2009.

“You just can’t get there from here.”

How many times have you heard that direction-giving joke? But often that line describes a type of writer’s block. You’ve written up to a certain point. You know where you want to go up ahead. But what do you write in between? Personally, I have wasted hours, days, even weeks, trying to figure out what to write next, so I can get to that future scene I already have in my head.

But wait. Who says you have to write in a linear fashion? What if you write out of sequence? Aha! Now, you’ve given yourself permission to write the scene from your head and it flows wonderfully. Another Aha! Questions and solutions actually appear about how the character might have arrived here from there. You’re not stuck any more.

As a writing instructor once explained, to build a bridge, one first needs to erect a scaffold. It’s not a lot different in writing. You have several important scaffold scenes in your story or novel that have to take place (there will probably be more than one of each of these scenes in your book):

1. The Introductory Scene where the reader meets your main character.
2. A Meeting Scene, where the main character meets another character (maybe the love interest or maybe his nemesis) This is another form of Introductory Scene.
3. A Conflict Scene where two characters battle it out, whether physically, verbally, or in a match of wits. Or where the character battles himself.
4. A Realization Scene—the moment the character realizes something about herself that is a turning point. Or realizes her “enemy” is really her friend.
5. A Resolution Scene, where a problem is resolved (not necessarily the main one, but a problem nonetheless).
6. A Final Scene, which may or may not be your actual ending. An interesting exercise is to write a scene in which your main character(s) are old and looking back at what happened, what he/she/they learned, how they’ve changed, what they would've done differently, etc. That can give you an insight to “fill in the blanks.”

Another interesting exercise is to write a letter from your main character to yourself, as if this person has just learned you are writing a book about her, how she feels about that, any advice she might have for you, etc. This can be quite revealing. Sometimes you learn that you have a reluctant character, one who doesn’t want her story told. So you have to figure out how to win her over.

A recent article in The Writer magazine talked about writing out of order. The author made similar suggestions to the ones above, such as:

1. Write a scene in which the main character enters a new place.
2. Take a minor character you’ve introduced and write a scene where he/she appears later in the story.
3. Choose a character other than the main character—someone you’d like to know more about, and write a monologue in which she explores or explains herself.
4. Write a scene where your main character has a dream that advances the story.
5. Make a list of at least five crucial scenes that you think will be important for the story/novel (see “scaffold scenes above.)

Any one or all of these scenes may or may not appear in your final draft, but they will help you keep writing and develop ideas.

Have fun, write on and defeat that Writer’s Block! (Now, I just have to take my own advice.)

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, was published in 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Slang and the Art of Authentic Discourse (or “You’re in the groove, Jackson!”)

This post was first published here on August 17, 2012.

Whenever we open our mouths, we access a vast reservoire of linguistic reference material – words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions - that we’ve acquired in the course of our daily lives. Some of the most colorful idioms available to us are derived from the realm of slang, defined in the OED (rather amusingly) as The special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character. Slang is the register of language invoked by fringe members of society (teenagers and street gangs, tramps and thieves, common soldiers/sailors, peons and low-lifes of every description) in order to mock, defy, devalue, or otherwise outmanoevre The Establishment. For this reason, slang never fails to pack a punch.

This precept holds true in fiction. When characters speak, they should communicate more than they say. I.e., their believability as characters is dependent on whether the writer can endow them with a mode of discourse which authenticates the individual’s fictional context.

If you’re writing a mainstream novel, set the real world in the present day, you won’t have to go looking for slang to enliven your character dialogue: the appropriate idiomatic expressions will come naturally to you. By contrast, in the realm of genre fiction (especially Science Fiction or Fantasy), you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Leaving aside specialist terminology associated with high-tech professions (like depth-psychology or astro-physics), real slang finds its way into popular usage in various ways:

a) as a source of creative invective;
b) as a metaphorical synonym for an existing verb or common noun; and
c) as a term of qualitative comparison.

The challenge for the SF/F writer is to simulate the above with reference to the world he/she has created.

One of the best examples of synthetic slang can be found in the British SF comedy series Red Dwarf. As a vehicle for creative invective, the characters regularly invoke the term smeghead as a synonym for asshole. Smeghead resonates alliteratively, metrically, and scatologically with the contemporary term shithead. By a further lateral extension, the term smeg can function as a verb (as in We are totally smegged). It also functions as a comparative: How smeggy is this?

The point being: if your point-of-view character is the first mate aboard a clapped-out space-freighter, he/she has got to talk like a graduate from the school of hard knocks. To invest this character with an artificial, but realistically idiomatic mode of expression, you need to explore the metaphorical possibilities based on what you know.

When it comes to terms of invective, let’s start with something like idiot. Pre-existent synonyms include bonehead, loser, and the fabulously-evocative Scots term numpty (numbnuts + dummy). Working at one remove, one option by analogy might be floozer (fool + loser). Another possibility might be gurk (geek + birk).

When it comes to tech-speak, let’s take the common noun gun. Real-world historical synonyms include heater, piece, and gat. Pre-existent SF synonyms include blaster and phaser. Ok, let’s call your world’s version of a personal sidearm a vaper (as in vaporiser) or a scorch (as in flame-thrower).

The bottom line here is that pseudo-slang is an integral aspect of SF/F world-building. If you can pull it off, you’re on the road to legitimate credibility as a writer. So exercise your imagination to descriptive effect!


Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Resist the Urge to Explain

This post was first published her on May 18, 2011.

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled "R.U.E." Anyone who's undertaken writing has heard "Show, Don’t Tell"—probably more times than they've wanted. This isn't a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion, can put the brakes on the pace of your story, doing exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example,
"Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she'd pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard."  
The second sentence isn't needed; it's explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying "Mary was depressed" doesn't pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary's actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary's actions? That's what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let's say you're beginning to understand "show don't tell" and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:
After Bill cancelled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:
Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he'd cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary's depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill cancelled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?
Mary's feet felt like lead. She couldn't run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don't need both. What about: 
Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary's feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.
Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don't insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?
"I'm sorry," Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you're telling something the dialogue should be showing. They're propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn't strong enough to begin with. All that 'scaffolding' merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can't explain why.

Check your manuscript for 'emotion' words, especially if they're preceded by "was" or "felt." Are you describing your character's feelings? Don't tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don't need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.

Readers are smart. Don't patronize them by 'talking down' to them. Resist the Urge to Explain.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Central Question

This post was first published here on January 28, 2013.

Every plot hinges on a central question. Posing the question at the beginning of the tale and answering it at the end is sound story architecture. Does that task make your head spin? It shouldn’t. It’s as easy as choosing a story skeleton. Let’s explore a few examples.

1) The Romance skeleton poses the central question: Will they or won’t they end up together?

The answer had better be yes or a satisfying equivalent. The girl can find out guy A isn’t what she wanted after all because she found guy B, but this is not the genre for an I’m okay on my own ending. That story uses the Literary (or Women's Fiction) skeleton. Romance readers want passion and fulfillment and are very disappointed if they don’t get it.

2) The Mystery skeleton poses the central question: Who did it and will they catch him?

The answer is yes. The criminal may escape at the last moment to torment the detective another day, but the case that is the focus of the story is considered solved. Twists where someone other than the detective solves the crime or there wasn’t a crime after all should be rerouted to the Thriller section.

3) The Thriller skeleton poses the central question: How will they, and by proxy we, survive the threat to an individual or society? 

For an up ending, the hero succeeds. If you want a down ending, the hero can fail and learn an ugly truth. Twists often provide an unexpected answer in this genre.

4) The Horror skeleton poses the central question: What brought the danger near and how will they escape it?

The answer can go either way as long as you reveal the reason why. Some horror stories ignore the why, but fans consider that a weak story. Fans want the main character to live to be frightened another day, even if every other character is knocked off by the tale's end.

5) The Science Fiction skeleton poses the central question: Will the hero find, change, or stop something in time?

Most fans prefer an up ending. They want to believe that we can overcome the challenges to our existence, especially if you plan a sequel.

6) The Fantasy skeleton poses the central question: Will the hero obtain or learn to use the power to defeat the evil that has disrupted his world in time?

The force is usually with the hero. The wicked witch gets her just due. Lord Voldemort is defeated. If you plan a sequel, the villain can live to fight the hero another day, but the story must show a resolution to a skirmish in the battle.

Once you've chosen a skeleton, the challenge is providing riveting obstacles between question and answer to keep the reader glued to the page. The reader knows from the outset that the hero will likely survive. Your mission is to make her question the outcome anyway. You do that by choosing believable obstacles.


Diana Hurwitz
 is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

He Said, She Said, They Said

This post was first published here on November 13, 2012.

Good morning, dearies! Please excuse the T-shirt and leggings; I’m off to the local jogging track in just a bit to work on my hurdles. I discovered a snake in the rubbish bin and failed to stick the landing.

It’s easy to fall into biased (and colorful) language when one is startled by a scaly percussionist, but what about the written word? The CMOS has a lovely section that covers bias-free language; let’s take a peek, shall we?

First and foremost, the Manual emphasizes maintaining credibility. Getting bogged down in objectionable language or visual distractions should be avoided. Have you ever tried to work your way through a paragraph stuffed with he/she and they? It’s like trying to decipher a store return policy.


While there are many biases to be dealt with, the CMOS focuses on gender neutrality and offers several ways to avoid drawing the ire of readers. Most of these techniques draw on careful pronoun use or omission. A smart shopper knows where he can find the best bargains on coats becomes A smart shopper knows where to find the best bargains on coats.

That was a relatively simple example, but it may not work for every case. Another option is the use of relative pronouns such as who. For example: If your visitor is wearing mismatched socks, she may not have had enough coffee becomes Visitors who are wearing mismatched socks may not have had enough coffee.

One thing to bear in mind is the fact that you cannot please everybody. While you may end up inadvertently irritating someone, a reasonable reader will understand and be pleased by your carefully chosen words. Do your best, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Seeking escape from freezing temperatures and howling winds, the Style Maven has laid in an enormous supply of milk and cocoa, and is pondering the logistics of a hot chocolate bath. If she succeeds, the story will be posted on The Procraftinator.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't Marry Your Writing

This post was first published here on July 17, 2010.

Telling stories to a ghostwriter is like talking to a therapist or a bartender. When they get comfortable with me, my clients tell me all sorts of intimate stuff,often answering questions I never even asked. Then later they may have second thoughts, and wish they hadn’t.

Here’s a frustration with working with non-writers.  Writers know that writing exposes you and makes you vulnerable. The more real and truthful you are, the more vulnerable and exposed – and the more compelling to your readers.  But non-writers don’t know that. They get their manuscript back from the ghostwriter they hired to write their story, read their words and thoughts and feelings on paper, and get scared.  They want to hedge and soften, and turn specifics into generalities, so they will feel safer.

Of course, this will kill the writing.  Readers respond to gut-level stuff; that is what makes stories compelling and readable.  But it’s not just the readers who get shortchanged when the story is “softened.”  So does the storyteller.  By softening those rough patches, by hedging their truths and telling instead of showing their pains and joys, they have dramatically reduced one big benefit of writing – healing their emotional wounds.

From the ghostwriter’s perspective, this is so frustrating! It’s not my story; it’s theirs. If they don’t want to tell the truth, I can’t make them.  All I can do is offer my word tools, and hope they use them.

Many times I’ve been told “I didn’t say that” when I know they did – I have their recorded voices saying exactly that. I had one client who had a bit of a potty mouth, but she didn’t realize it. I didn’t include all of her swear words, but I inserted a few so it sounded like her. She was upset. “I would never use that f***ing word!” she said.

I once ghostwrote a memoir for a lovely man who had led a rich and varied life. He was a touring musician during Vaudeville in the late 1920s and early 30s. His circuit included places like Al Capone’s Chicago, and as you might guess, there were some juicy details in his stories. I loved listening to him, and could hardly wait to get those stories down on paper. But his wife was a very proper lady in her eighties, and she did not want any of those juicy details in his memoirs – they weren’t respectable and she didn’t want anyone knowing about them. They belonged to his youth, before he became a pillar of the community.

The musician himself didn’t actually care, since he was just doing the book at the request of his children. He shrugged and said, “Whatever my wife says.” So I had to take some of the best stories out of his memoir, and make it conform to what his wife deemed proper. It made the story much blander than it should have been. Boy, that was hard for me.

This happens to ghosts. I don’t always agree with everything my client wants to say, or doesn’t want to say. I may have to argue for artistic integrity. I’ll have to defend why I want to put those details in, or why I want to take them out. I’ll have to explain why the story about grandma and the plumber just doesn’t fit in a book about gardening. Even if it is funny.

But I must be aware that I might lose this argument. It is their book, not mine. This is one of the hardest challenges of ghostwriting – you must let go of your own ego. You can’t marry your writing. In fact you can’t even get engaged to it. At the most, you’re simply dating.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Buck Stops Here

This post was first published here on April 27, 2012.

At least we hope it stops here — because that’s the plan. So how do we get from hope to plan to book sales? Where’s the marketing goose that lays the golden eggs?

Last December, a very interesting piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal. After having her manuscript rejected by several publishers and more than 100 literary agents, first-time author Darcie Chan took matters into her own hands. At the time the article was written, she had sold over 400,000 books. When any unknown writer creates this kind of success, we need to sit up and take notice. What is she doing that we are not? Check out the article at the link below, and then tell us what you think. How could you adapt her marketing strategy to your book?

This is a very short post because I really want you to read this article. It could make a huge difference in the success of your books — as well as the size of your bank account.

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ask the Editors: Third Person/Present Tense

This post was first published here on Nov 3, 2009.

Theresa M. Moore, author of ten books, including her latest, Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Publish and Market a Book On a Shoestring Budget, Rev. Ed., and another 4 in progress wrote to ask The Blood-Red Pencil editors this question:
Recently I have received two books for review which were written in third person present tense (action as it happens) instead of the standard third person past tense. I found both books hard to read as I am used to the latter style. Is this an acceptable way to write a book for new authors?

Where did this style originate, and should it be accepted by editors?
Here’s my take on this, Theresa.

Writers are constantly being told they need to write something new, but not too new: something unique, but that the reader can identify with … a plot device that grabs the reader, but doesn’t lock them in a stranglehold … a new twist on an old story … characters who will lead the next rage-wave … and on and on.

What editors want is a story that will grab their attention, carry them late into the night reading, and make them close the book and want to call the writer the next morning to grab them before someone else does. Yeah, they want that unidentifiable “something,” be it a unique plot twist; a new vampire, but not a vampire; a thread that runs through the story that will establish a platform for the writer and create mega sales; a story that moves them; something different, yet not too different; fully developed characters who arc over the course of the book and who live and breathe in a setting that will pull the reader into the story.

They’re rarely looking for a way of telling the story that baffles the reader.
He sees a manuscript on his desk, neatly typed, with a compelling title, and he picks it up, ruffles through the pages. He reclines in his desk chair and begins to read. He is only a few pages into the story when his assistant comes in, sets a cup of mocha on the manuscript. “Hey, I’m reading that.”

“Sorry,” she mumbles. “Where can I put it? Your desk is covered.”

“Set it on top of the Dan Brown tome. I’m gonna pass on that, anyway.” He smiles, watches her leave the room, and picks up the manuscript. He knows it’s not a new ideal; it is, in fact, a remake of a hundred other books: A vampire who craves the blood of young teens, but holds himself in check because he’s in love with a human cheerleader. But it’s written in third person/present tense. He nods his head. Yeah, that’s a twist. He checks the cover page to see if the writer included her phone number.
Yes, there have been books written in third person/present tense. It has the feel of the old gumshoe TV shows. It lets the reader in on everything that happens as it happens. Third person/present tense is not easy to maintain for 300 or 500 pages, nor is it easy to keep the attention of the reader who’s sitting smack in the protagonist’s lap seeing and feeling his every move as it happens.

Before you write this kind of book, get several published books under your credit belt. Establish yourself with your agent and editor, so they know when they receive this third person/present tense manuscript that you can handle it and they can work with you. Or , better yet, you’re close enough to your agent or editor you can talk to them ahead of time and see what they think of the idea before you start. An unpublished writer sending this to an agent or editor probably won’t get far.

She may get the first few pages read, but not much more, unless the agent and the editor think it’s brilliant.

Thanks, Theresa, for the question.

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and the novel Angel Sometimes. Two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out soon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Things That Drive An Editor Crazy

This post first ran here on October 7, 2008 and is another of our most popular and most commented on posts.

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

I’ve been editing for a long time and am still amazed at how often I see common mistakes repeated over and over again. For instance:

Fred walked out, taking the file with him. You don’t need ‘with him’. If he took the file, it’s with him, DUH!! Or the sentence could be rewritten to make it a little more visual. Fred grabbed the file and walked out.

Those gray eyes of his stared right at her. This is an incredibly popular phraseology used in romance novels, and I wince every time I read it. As if he would be looking at her with anyone else’s eyes.

Please note that I am not denigrating romance novels. I have read many that are wonderful, well-crafted stories. Unfortunately, I have also received many to review that I can’t even read past the first chapter because the writing relies on tired, worn out wordage. How I long for some fresh, clever word usage.

Sally shrugged her shoulders. What else would she shrug?

Harry nodded his head. As opposed to his elbow?

Sam found himself standing in the middle of… Was Sam lost? Much stronger to write: Sam stood in the middle of….

It was a picture of Madeline Smith, herself. Could it not just be a picture of Madeline Smith, period? Even my husband asked if the use of the reflexive pronoun was necessary, and he’s not an editor.

And don’t even get me started on all those dialogue attributives. Characters say their lines. They don’t cluck, snort, retort, purr, snigger, interject, bark, and my all time favorite, ejaculate. Most of the time the intent is in the dialogue itself, so there is no need to TELL the reader how the character spoke. Let the dialogue SHOW the reader. And if it doesn’t, the dialogue needs to be reworked until it does.

Also high on the list of things that make me pound my head on my keyboard is the overuse of adverbs. Again, that is often connected to dialogue and TELLS the reader how the person was speaking as opposed to SHOWING them, which doesn’t mean that adverbs should be avoided entirely. A well-placed adverb can be very effective, but they lose their punch when every other line has one.

Sometimes I will have a client say, “But I see that all the time in books I read.”

So?

Weak writing is weak writing no matter who is getting published. Some people don’t care. They just dash off a piece of work, grab the money and run. But I believe we owe our readers more than that. Developing the story and getting it down on paper – or stored on your hard drive – is only the first step in writing a book. The next couple of steps are crucial and infinitely more difficult – at least I think so. Rewriting and editing to find just the right words and phrases can lift an average book into the realm of good and maybe even great.

Maryann Miller is a novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mysteries are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, hardback and digital, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. For her editing rates, visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Busted!—Stephenie Meyer Caught Doing Something Right

This post by former BRP contributor Kathryn Craft was first published here on July 2, 2010, and was one of Kathryn's most popular posts.

Writers love to trash Stephenie Meyer’s prose. Recently overheard: she tells instead of shows, she’s a storyteller more than a writer, her protagonist is vapid, her sentence structure sophomoric, her vampires are just too…sparkly. Who would hold up Meyer as an example on a blog promoting excellence in writing?

I would.

Every time we experience a publishing phenomenon like the Twilight series, we writers have an opportunity to learn about what our readers want. I’d like to point out a few things Stephenie Meyer did right—techniques we can borrow to make our writing more marketable.

In Meyer’s series, success boils down to one essential skill: ramping up tension. Let’s break down its components to see what writers in any genre can use.

1. Cash in on unresolved sexual tension. If you can learn to sustain sexual tension over the course of a thousand pages, you too can be very well published. Bella wants-but-can’t-have Edward; Edward wants-but-fears-harming Bella. The plot keeps these lovers apart while Meyer fans the flame of desire.

2. Master the slow build. Revisit the tension Meyer builds when Bella first sees the Cullens—Meyer knows how to create an important event. Only in the twelfth paragraph of observing them does Bella even learn their names. Then she asks about them for a couple of pages. This raises questions in the readers’ minds: How will these characters be important? Add the fact that Edward acts brusquely towards her at first and the tension people craved in these books starts to crackle. Questions raised + tension born of slowly building conflict = page-turner. The formula is nothing new. Meyer uses it over and over—and so can you.

3. Forbidden love. From the opening description of the house and the bathroom Bella must share with her father, Meyer sets up the conflict: not only is Charlie a cop, and a protective father, they’ll be sharing close quarters while Edward, who is not Charlie’s number one choice to be his daughter’s suitor, secrets himself away in her bedroom. The setting itself points toward a story of forbidden love.

4. Serious complications. To keep her lovers apart, Meyer doesn’t resort to constant interruptions or miscommunications that frustrate the reader. She lets their identities, core values, cross purposes, and some real kick-ass danger do it for her. Just when you think things are as bad as they can get, they get worse. Readers love this.

5. Conflict on every page. I’ve been playing this game for a while now: Hold Twilight in your hand and open to any page. Chances are, you’ll see conflict. Today I find:
p. 441: My voice sounded strangled.

p. 336: “When he knew what he had become,” Edward said quietly, “he rebelled against it. He tried to destroy himself. But that’s not easily done.”

p. 237: Jacob scowled and ducked his head while I fought back a surge of remorse. Maybe I’d been too convincing on the beach.

p. 141: When Charlie smiled, it was easier to see why he and my mother had jumped too quickly into an early marriage.

p. 39: [After native Arizonan Bella is hit by her first snowball, she says] “I’ll see you at lunch, okay? Once people start throwing wet stuff, I go inside.”
Which takes us back to the opening. Tension-filled prologue aside, Meyer even writes tension onto the first page of Chapter One, as Bella leaves cloudless Phoenix to go live with her father:
p. 3: “In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old.”
6. To all this, we can add tension between books. To create the kind of indelible change that is the sign of a satisfying story, you need to go pole-to-pole. In Twilight, Bella moves to Forks. She hates Forks. Later, you can’t get her to leave with a crow bar. That is pole-to-pole change. In like fashion, Edward wants-but-doesn’t-want-to-hurt-Bella (pole # 1), but at the end of Twilight he relents—and puts Bella in mortal danger (pole #2). In Meyer’s early readers, who had to wait a year for the next book to launch, this created a hunger to continue with the series.

Your turn. Flip open to random pages in your manuscript. Can you find tension on every page? If not, take a clue from Stephenie Meyer's success and create some! If you care to sell books, that is…

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her series of posts here at BRP "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks, available from Amazon.com. Her series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Finding Tips on Self-Editing at The Blood-Red Pencil

First published July 14, 2010, this post is one of the most useful we've ever offered! Thank you to Patricia Stoltey. We still miss your posts and your incomparable skills at internal linking. ;)

Most of us who write spend as much time in the revision and self-editing phase as we do writing our first drafts. Since a large percentage of the contributors to this blog are editors, there's a lot of information here to help. Now that we've added a search bar, it's easy to find what you're looking for, whether it be advice on using adjectives and adverbs or different points of view on point of view.

To give you a head start, here are the links to my series, Self-Editing One Step at a Time:

1. Charting the Novel Story Arc

2. How to Identify Dragging Narrative

3. Identifying and Eliminating Your Habit Words

4. Searching for More Silly Stuff

5. Weeding Out Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs

6. Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

7. Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

8. Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

9. Read Your Manuscript Aloud

10. One Final Self-Editing Chore


When I used the search box to look for "self-editing," I found more, including these:

Alex Sokoloff's guest post from June, 2009 is called: Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.

Lillie Amman's post from September, 2008 is Ten Tips for Self-Editing.

You can do the same kind of search for "adjectives," "adverbs," "dialogue," or any other element of writing to see what the authors and editors have written. If you don't find what you want, check the  Ask the Editor free-for-all and post your question or suggest a new post topic.

Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Originally published in hardcover by Five Star and paperback by Harlequin Worldwide, both are now available as e-books for Kindle and Nook. Her November 2014 novel from Five Star/Cengage, Dead Wrong is a standalone suspense. The novel has been described as “…lightning paced…” and “…a fantastic combination of suspense and action…”

You can learn more about Patricia and her fiction at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What does an editor cost?

Our most popular and most commented on post, which was first published 9/6/08. Not much has changed, including debate over fair and affordable editing costs.

It's all well and good to tell a writer they need a professional editor to peruse their manuscript before submitting to an agent or publisher. But, how much does that cost?

An informal industry perusal yields quite a range of costs. Let's take a look at some prices as well as methods of pricing. It depends in part on what you're buying. A line editor might charge $25 per hour and edit on average 10 pages an hour. Some editors simply charge $2.50 per page, which makes the math rather easy. A 300-page novel would cost you $750 for editing services.

But, what does that get you? Just a cleaning up of grammar, spelling, and typos as a rule. Some good editors will take a little longer and make deeper suggestions to improve the writing. But don't expect too much more than the basics for that price. It's still money well-spent, and it can mean the difference between being accepted or the story languishing in a drawer.

Can you get editing for cheaper? Sure. I've heard as low as $300 per manuscript. That's a steal, and the immediate reaction - you get what you pay for - isn't necessarily true. The editor might be great, but just starting out. Or the editor might be really fast and good, so can be highly competitive. Determine the price you can pay, and then look for referrals to get the job done. No matter how good your writing, it can always be better, and a keen eye can be just the tool to polish your manuscript to a gleaming shine.

Have you had your manuscript professionally edited? What did you pay? If you're an editor, what do you charge for what level of service? Interested writers want to know.


Dani Greer is founding member of this blog, and is a professional artist, writer, editor, and is the special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press. You can read more at her blog, or follow her on Twitter. Oh, and make friends on Facebook.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

DRM - Is Digital Rights Management Right For You?

This post was first published here on June 28, 2012.

In the case of e-books, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a type of technology, also known as a digital lock, employed by publishers to control how an e-book is used after it has been purchased. But digital copy protection has been around in software and gaming circles for much longer than in the publishing industry, and it is from these sectors that the greatest criticisms, and lessons learnt, can be found.

Firstly, the point of DRM (and the benefits of using it) is to protect your e-book from unauthorised sharing, copying, or resale – in other words, it protects your copyright. Or does it?

According to critics who have been through the same issue in the gaming and other software industries, DRM is ridiculously easy to crack (i.e. hacking for negative purposes), and is also a target for crackers who enjoy the (albeit apparently slight) challenge of disabling a digital lock. The worse news, however, is that once the digital lock on your book has been cracked the file is usually made available outside of legitimate sales platforms, where downloads don’t count towards any bestseller lists or your bank account. It’s actually more effective to include a simple line of text in your book to encourage readers to ensure they have downloaded a legitimate copy.

Digital Rights Management also inconveniences many of your legitimate readers. It often restricts the device on which the book can be read, although it appears that this complaint has been heard, if not properly addressed yet. DRM activation sometimes affects whether the purchaser is legally entitled to create back up copies of an e-book or software. Some software users have discovered that they are required to re-purchase a licence to use the same software if they have a hard drive failure or buy a new computer, while others tell horror stories of DRM websites going offline, without warning and indefinitely, leaving customers unable to access software or other digital products they have purchased. Could what happened to Borders happen to Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Or Smashwords?

In the e-book world, DRM, in effect, means that someone purchases a licence to read your book; they don’t actually own the file that they save to their device or computer the way they would own a copy of a printed book. Licences can be revoked for whatever reason, or the platform or device the licence is tied to could become obsolete and readers could find their files corrupted or deleted without notice. Imagine building up an e-book library and then discovering that digital moths have eaten your books.

As with most things in life, the more complex you try to make something the more can go wrong. Ultimately authors (and publishers) will need to weigh up whether activating DRM is the right option for them, or whether they want to keep things simple and avoid DRM dramas.

What experiences have you had with DRM, as an author or as a reader? Tell us about it in the comments!

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy novel for teens and tweens. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

6 Questions NOT to ask a Writer

This post first ran here on December 8, 2010 and is also one of our most commented on posts.

~~~~~~~

People mean well. They do. But I believe there are certain questions you should never ask a writer - or never ask many of us.

1. Are you still writing that novel?
A 'no' answer will elicit more questions - like "When is it being published?" or even worse, "Why?". A 'yes' answer will usually result in the questioner giving you a puzzled look while they respond (with astonishment) "Really? Still?"

Of course, you could be marvelously successful and have no problem answering this question. If this is true, you need to go soak your head.

2. Are you famous?
Obviously, since you've just been asked this question, the answer is no. How on earth could anyone answer yes?

3. How much money do you make?
This question never ceases to astound me. I thought it was impolite to ask about someone else's earnings. What kind of answer would satisfy the questioner? My usual response is to smile and say, "the yacht is still on hold."

4. What's your book about?
Here's a loaded question. Some writers will take this as an invitation to go on for hours while others will say "I'm not sure yet." Some will give the genre as an answer: "It's a murder mystery" or "It's about looking for love". I've never found the right answer to this.

5. Am I in it?
The obvious answer is "no". Are you going to tell someone you've based a character on them? Unless this character is flawless and enjoys superpowers, they're going to be disappointed. I try to explain that I invent my characters - they're not based on anyone I know.

And (in my opinion) the worst question:

6. But what do you really do?
The best answer I've ever given to this question is, "I kill people (and then add softly) fictionally, of course." It's best given at a dinner table, as you're putting down a plate full of food. It does give the questioner pause. Of course, remember, I write mysteries. You have to find joy somewhere.

Do you get questions that make you squirm?

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games "A Fatal Fairy Tale" and "Deadly Ever After" are among the top-selling mystery games on the web. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by host-party.com. She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites.

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