Thursday, September 16, 2021

Words of Wisdom from Patricia Smith

February 15, 1949 - August 23, 2021 Bellingham, Washington
Patricia Smith
February 15, 1949 - August 23, 2021
Bellingham, Washington
In addition to being part of the Blood Red Pencil Team, Patricia Burkhart Smith was a journalist and experienced professional developmental editor, working for publishing companies and private clients, as well as running her own publishing company. She described herself as, "a writer who wants to explore the creative freedom the Internet provides. I am also the proud mother of two wonderful children, but I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up, or even if I want to grow up. However, I am certainly tired of "growing out," hence, this blog."

Pat always said she had more hobbies than Hobby Lobby and her interests included gardening, cooking, mineral collecting, lapidary work, jewelry making, natural health, herbs, sewing, needlework, and stained glass.

Her published works included:

Fifty Shades of Santa: Clean and Wholesome Romance Short Story Anthology

Christian Family Guide to Total Health

What the Animals Tell Me 

Flipping Houses (Idiot's Guide)

Alzheimers for Dummies

Cupid's Quiver

Shadows After Midnight

In addition to her eclectic books, she graced the blog with great advice for writers:

Being Productive During A Pandemic

Best Ever Hacks for Writing When You Don't Want To

Fear of Writing

Best Ever Excuses for Not Writing

Do You Know Where Your New Year's Resolutions Are?

When A Book Humbles You

Cross My Path - a New Blackie and Care Mystery by Clea Simon

Killer Companions

Fear on Four Paws

Best Ever Critique Groups from History

What Makes You Laugh

What Do Romance Readers Really Want?

Cats and Cozy Mysteries Go Together Like Clotted Cream 

The Futility of Relying on AI Grammar Checkers

How To Tell Good Editing From Bad

How The Internet is Destroying Our Language

Is Editing A Dying Art?

How Not To Sell A Book

Pat's wit, wisdom, and her wonderful spirit will be missed.

Patricia's Obituary


Posted by Diana Hurwitz, 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, September 14, 2021

Villains Are People Too, My Friend

To borrow from a famous politician, changing one word, Villains are people too, my friend. Yes, they are, and they need to be written with the same care that you give your main characters. They need to be full-bodied, three-dimensional people with a backstory that, though you might hate them, you see why they developed as they did. We want to know what made them who they are, and if you fail to do this, you might be writing a cardboard villain. It doesn’t take much finesse to write totally evil characters, sneering and plotting the most dastardly crimes, but that doesn’t make them whole, and it doesn’t make them memorable or believable.

The best villains are pitted against the noble hero/heroine: Lex Luthor vs Superman, Hannibal Lecter vs Clarice Starling.
I remember reading Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, and Lecter was the epitome of evil. A sociopath, he had no moral compass, no reason he turned out the way he does. So why is he so compelling as a character? I believe in the movie, Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal gives Lecter an added dimension. Lecter first appears in Harris’s Red Dragon. In that movie, Lecter was portrayed by Brian Cox, and the hero was played by William Petersen, who would later become the first star of the original CSI.

In contrast, we have DC Comics and The Joker in the Batman films. Evil, yes, but because of his history as a tortured and abused child, we can muster some compassion for the way he turned out. That doesn’t give him a pass, but we better understand the pathology.

Villains are not always killers. Some are manipulators such as big business moguls, like Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Totally amoral in his business dealings and quest for riches, he doesn’t care who he steps on to reach his goal. The screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, known for pushing the envelope. Gekko is a great character, a composite, Stone said, of many real life corporate raiders, many of whom went to prison for insider trading and/or fraud.

Shakespeare created some great villains -- murderous, duplicitous, and evil: Lady Macbeth, Iago, Richard III, etc.
Conan Doyle’s Moriarty, though appearing in only two books but mentioned in others, will always be remembered as the villain, taunting Sherlock Holmes in a battle of wits. I love Ian Fleming’s villains. Goldfinger, Dr. No, Ernst Blofeld, et al. So over the top and so much fun because they are over the top. Other literary villains might include, Anton Chigurh, the psychopathic villain in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men played in the movie by Javier Bardem, the shark in Jaws (I kind of felt sorry for him because he was just doing what killer sharks do), the Corleones in Mario Puzo’s Godfather books/movies, Darth Vader, and don’t forget Grimm fairytales.
The wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel, the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and Disney’s evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, Cruella DeVille, and Scar from the Lion King. There are so many more, scaring children since the beginning of storytelling time. Some are downright frightening.

I’ve written my share of villains. The most evil is Stephen Baltraine in my book Threads.
He has no redeeming qualities, which goes against everything I said above, but he just took over, and I couldn’t stop him. Allowed and enabled by his parents to get and do anything he wants, he turns into a monster. Threads was the very first book I wrote, though I didn’t publish it until thirteen years later. Harley Macon, the villain in Mind Games is similar to The Joker in many ways. Twisted as a child by adults, he knows nothing but evil. But my favorite is my latest villain, Grady Parker, in we are but WARRIORS. He’s a killer for hire but with a skewed moral code that doesn’t always fit who you think he is.


We give heroes all the accolades, but it’s the villains who make our books interesting, as long as we make them compelling. I’ve wondered in the past if there was something inherently wrong with me that I could get into their heads and write them. Then I decided the villain was one of the most important elements of a good thriller, and if I had to become one for the time it took to write the book, so be it, as long as it didn't turn me into a schizophrenic.

Just as an aside, Hopkins, Bardem, Douglas, and Brando all won Academy Awards for playing villains, along with Louise Fletcher for playing Nurse Ratched for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Kathy Bates playing Annie Wilkes in Misery. Who wants to play the hero with those stats?
Polly Iyer is the author of ten novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, Indiscretion, and her newest, we are but WARRIORS. Also, four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Saying Goodbye to One of Our Team

It was with a sad heart that I read about the recent death of author Pat Smith (Patricia B. Smith). Not only was she an accomplished author, she was a valued member of the Blood-Red Pencil blogging team due to the many insightful posts she wrote, as well as her kind and generous spirit. From the time she joined as a regular blogger, she fit into our little family of friends and colleagues. Most of us have never met in person, but we’ve forged bonds through the years that are deep and strong.

Such was the case with Pat.  

Patricia B. Smith

After she got sick and was in so much pain, she still managed to get her blog posts written almost every month. She still managed to respond to the rest of us in our times of need. And she still managed to support everyone with comments on our blog posts.

I was especially touched when she shared her kind spirit with me. We both had episodes of severe pain over the past few years, and if I shared my struggles with the team she never failed to respond with thoughts and prayers. At one point, we talked about praying for each other on a regular basis - something I’ve done with other friends who are experiencing great pain and facing death. We agreed that the only benefit that can come from suffering is to offer it up for someone else.

Once Pat's pain was relieved, all of us here at the Blood-Red Pencil cheered, hoping that meant that she'd recovered.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

When Pat announced a few months ago that her body was failing, and she was resigning from the Blood-Red Pencil team, we were glad that she didn’t leave our private Facebook group that is the Office for team members. There, she occasionally posted that she knew that she was dying, and she shared her plans for making the most of what was left of her life. Primarily that meant spending time with family and doing as much as she could to bring joy and peace to her life.  

In late July she posted the following on her Facebook page: 

“Hi, friends. I've been fighting hard and relying on your emotional support for the past 3 years since my diagnosis. I am now officially terminal, but we don't know exactly what my final date will be. Please just continue to pray for me, particularly for pain relief. 

“I am otherwise content. I will get to see my son and his family before I go, my two sisters as well, and we are trying to figure something out to get my daughter over from Finland to say goodbye. Thank you all for your friendship and love.”

That post brought tears to my eyes, but it also made me more appreciative of her indomitable spirit.

This quote from Kurt Vonnegut Jr that Pat shared on her Facebook page is an appropriate one to include here. “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

My impression of a woman I only met virtually and spiritually, is that she lived up to the message of that quote. She was steadfast. She was strong. She was sweet.

Patricia B. Smith

 Rest in peace, Pat.

 



Posted by Maryann Miller. Maryann has numerous credits as a columnist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. She also has an extensive background in editing. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page read her Blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Her most recent book is a short-story collection, Beyond the Crack in the Sidewalk, released by Next Chapter Publishing and available as an ebook or paperback.

 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Beta Readers and Where to Find them

Beta readers: what are they and where do you find them?

Firstly, alpha and beta readers aren't the same thing. An alpha reader is someone who reads your draft and helps you with story development as you write it. You need someone qualified to analyze story structure with knowledge of the expectations of your genre. A terrific, qualified critique group can serve as your alpha readers. There are many places to connect with other writers willing to work together, virtually as well as in person. I built my critique group by going to local writing events.

Finding Your Tribe

A beta reader is someone who reads your completed, polished novel and spots problems. They react to the content. Some authors consult sensitivity / diversity readers to evaluate their content for political correctness.

Please note that alpha and beta readers are not a replacement for editing, though they catch typos. Unless your critique partners are experienced editors willing to work for free, it is best to find an editor to work with your final, final draft. There is no point in paying an editor until you have input from beta readers and/or critique partners.

Mastering Revision

It helps to have more than one beta reader, but there is such a thing as too many. Every reader comes to your story with their own history, issues, biases, preferences, and pet peeves. Too many opinions will drive you insane. I suggest careful selection of three beta readers. You need, at the very least, one person unfamiliar with your story to make sure the story in your head made it onto the page. The entire story world, characters' backstories, and plot points are available to you as you read the story. That can be a weakness with critique partners. They know the story from inception too. A beta reader catches muddy motive, continuity errors, and missing information. You can do twenty proofreading rounds and still find mistakes. A beta reader will catch a few, but that isn't their primary function.

There are qualities to look for. They should enjoy your genre. If your plot isn't their thing, it will be unpleasant for both of you. It should be someone who enjoys reading, a lot. If they are a writer/reader you hit the jackpot. They should be able to communicate clearly, to specifically tell you what they like and don't like. They should not wish to rewrite your story with their opinions. Everybody wants to write a novel, until it becomes work. Some will read for emotion, others logic. They need to have the time to devote to the process.

Never ask a beta reader to pay for a copy of the book. Depending on their contribution, you may give them an honorable mention in the dedication or author's notes. Asking friends and family to serve as free beta readers is attractive, but they may not give you honest feedback. They may give extremely harsh feedback based on how they feel about you on that day. OMG, that's me isn't it? Is that so and so? But this happened in real life! You want someone who preferably doesn't know you and can give unemotional feedback. Once you gain a following of devoted fans, they may volunteer to be beta readers.

When you contract with a beta reader, be clear in your expectations, timeline, and how you will handle feedback. Are you allowed to ask follow-up questions? Will they take a second look at something? You don't get to ask them for continual advice or request endless reading passes. Shooting out defensive emails isn't professional nor will it help you either. A signed contract is not standard practice. I found a few links, but have not verified their contents with an intellectual rights attorney.

Sample NDA for Beta Readers

Confidentiality Agreement

When you receive feedback, you need to see it as a tool in your arsenal. My rule of thumb is if one person responds a certain way, I may ignore it. If two or more people mention the same thing, I pay attention and fix it. Give them at least several weeks. Reading for analysis is different from reading for pleasure. Are they reacting to craft or their emotions and prejudices?

Do they want a digital file or a printed file? How will they receive it? If they work with an e-file, they can't make notes within a PDF or EPUB format. That forces them to take notes on an electronic device or paper. Ask if they would prefer a Word document or other word processing format. I prefer to analyze a story in Word with comments and track changes turned on. Provide them with a list of questions. It will help focus their attention. Agree on what happens to the file or document upon completion, not that you can guarantee a copy was not made.

A thank you goes a long way when they have finished the project. If you are an impossible client, they not only won't work with you again, they may go negative on social media. If the deadline passes and you haven't heard from them, check in. They are human beings and we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Don't assume they are being difficult. If, for some reason, they aren't keeping to their end of the deal (when you aren't paying them), move on. There is no point in badgering them. If you are paying, know what your remedies are based on your work agreement.

Story Analysis Questionnaire 

Learning from Story Analysis

Beta Reader Ettiquette

Do you need to worry about plagiarism and piracy? Yes and no. Though your work is copyrighted as you write it, there are a lot of unscrupulous people pirating traditional as well as self-published work. They change a few details and upload it as their own, much like the infamous cut and paste thief in the Romance community. It is crucial to get a beta reader you can trust. Most beta readers are not working with a signed agreement. Nevertheless, most book lovers are reliable. They know they could get sued if caught as well. You can't stop someone from buying a copy of your book and typing it on another device, can you? Trust but verify.

The Cut and Paste Thief and What To Do If You've Been Plagiarized

It is possible to find writers who are willing to exchange beta reads. It is possible to find avid readers who love the genre and will happily read new books. Check out Facebook groups dedicated to your genre that allow requests.

So where do you turn when you don't know where to start?

There are multiple online resources for finding and/or hiring a beta reader. If you don't have a personal network, it may be worth it to pay someone. The following is a list of links to help you find a beta reader. I cannot personally endorse them based on experience. I have a great critique group. This is simply for awareness. Always do your research. I find it helps to search for the "name of beta reader or group" + "complaints" or "reviews." It is easier to find complaints than compliments.

https://www.fiverr.com/categories/writing-translation/beta-reader

https://www.upwork.com/hire/beta-reading-freelancers/

https://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php?forums/beta-readers-mentors-and-writing-buddies.30/

Beta Readers and Critique Partners on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1782619931753141/

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50920-beta-reader-group

http://mywriterscircle.com/

https://writerfulbooks.com/free-beta-readers/

https://indiestoday.com/beta-reading-list/

https://thejerny.com/jobs/get-a-job-as-a-freelance-beta-reader/

If you have an unpleasant experience, learn from it but don't let it stop you from seeking the help you need. Beta readers are worthwhile assets.


Posted by Diana Hurwitz, 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, August 17, 2021

Author Intrusion

The more I write and the more I edit, for myself and for my clients, the harder it is for me to read for pleasure and not want to whip out that old red pencil. Sigh...



Most of the time I've been able to ignore some simple craft issues. There seem to be more and more lately in so many published books, so I've told myself to throw away the editing hat, and the writing hat, and just read. That works for a while, then I come across another book by an author with a penchant for going to extremes in finding active verbs that absolutely make no sense in the sentence.  For instance: "Frank ditched around the door and headed for the desk." And: "Sam jammed out of the dining room and grabbed his briefcase before leaving for work." 

Changing common verbs to something unique seems to be a thing now in writing, and I get it. We often tire of using the same ol' same ol' words for a character's movements. I can get so tired of having a character simply walk I want to scream, but sometimes characters walk. Or they run. Or they dash. Or they hop over hot pavement. Seldom, however, do they "jam" or "ditch" themselves from one place to another.

The examples cited above were taken from a book I recently read. I changed up some of the wordage such as character names and places, but left the verb as is. While reading this book, I wondered if the author did a search for "walk" in their manuscript then changed every one to something like the examples cited above. 

By working so hard to find what at first glance appears to be fun, creative word usage, a writer is actually turning the attention from her story to herself. It's almost like saying to the reader, "Oh. Look how clever I am." 

This penchant for finding unusual word usage is a form of author intrusion according to editor Beth Hill on What Is Author Intrusion  

"Author intrusion can come into a story with word choices. Some writers like to pretty up their prose, add a dash of the poetic or use fancy words in place of cheap, everyday words." 

It's not only editors who urge clear, concise writing. Consider the advice of writers like Elmore Leonard and his rules for good writing:

  • Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. 
  • Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

And Stephen King who advises us not to "dress  up our vocabulary."

While doing my research for this article, I wanted to see what Hemingway, the master of concise writing, had to say about using simple words. I couldn't find the exact quote I was looking for, but I did find this: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but it's worth including here, lest we think that the first words we put on paper, or computer screen, are golden. I hold strongly to the belief that a good book isn't written, it's rewritten, which is something I tell my clients and the people who take my editing classes. And I remind myself of that every day that I'm writing.

But back to the topic at hand. 

Before I spent an entire day down the fascinating rabbit hole of advice for writers, I had to give up my quest to find the exact quote about avoiding unusual word usage, but I found this at The Master's Class 16 Tips for Fiction Writers:

"Write simple sentences. Think of Shakespeare’s line, “To be or not to be?” famous for its brevity and the way it quickly describes a character’s toiling over their own life. There is a time and place for bigger words and denser text, but you can get story points across in simple sentences and language. Try using succinct language when writing, so that every word and sentence has a clear purpose."

Note that the article makes it clear that there are times for using big words and writing denser text. Some genres, especially fantasy, call for the denser text, but I don't think there is ever a need for awkward substitutions of words.

What do you think? Please do let us know in the comments.




Excerpted from Maryann Miller's humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and A Paycheck.  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE


Friday, July 30, 2021

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and The Dark Lord of Derkholm - #FridayReads #WeekendReads

Click to enlarge
Pages 50-51 of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
(OMT stands for "Official Management Term")


 
We’ve covered the use of tropes in fiction this month, so it’s apt to end July with a review of the ultimate in tropic tongue-in-cheek fantasy fun.

Diana Wynne Jones
wrote The Tough Guide to Fantasyland in 1996, and followed it up with The Dark Lord of Derkholm in 1998, and its sequel, The Year of the Griffin, published in 2000. Derkholm and The Tough Guide go hand-in-hand, although they can be read as standalones without spoilers. The Tough Guide is a dictionary of fantasy tropes, written as though the reader is on a tour of a theme-park-style world – an alphabetical list of what to expect. The Dark Lord of Derkholm is that tour, from the point of view of the world’s “Dark Lord”.

With a twist.

The people and resources of “Fantasyland” have been exploited for generations by Mr Chesney, the owner of a specialist tour company that runs adventure holidays in their extraordinary magical world for the ordinary people of our ordinary world. At the end of their tether, the citizens of Fantasyland have decided to try and sabotage the tours, starting by appointing a wizard named Derk (pretty much the equivalent of Arthur Weasley) as this year’s Dark Lord (i.e., the equivalent of “Voldemort”).

Yes, it’s exactly as hilarious as it sounds.

With the help of his large family (some of whom happen to be sapient, talking griffins) and a whole lot of farm animals (some of which are also able to talk), Derk must harness a demon and a dragon, and convince one of the gods to Manifest to each tour group, before finally succumbing to the Forces of Good (i.e., the tour group du jour) and “dying” in a convincing and satisfying manner.

Despite being a parody, The Dark Lord of Derkholm has surprising depth to it as it deals with exploitation of all kinds. There’s a delightful subplot of the women of Fantasyland staging their own rebellion. If you’ve read even just half a fantasy book in the past, you’ll appreciate the comedic prowess of the late Diana Wynne Jones as she dissects the genre with effortless precision -- and tells a darn good story in the process.


Reviewed by Elle Carter Neal. Elle is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

 


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Ask Yourself One Question

Others have started their posts this month on tropes with the definition. I shall be no different. A literary trope: the use of figurative language, via word, phrase, or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs, or clichés in creative works.

How does a writer avoid hackneyed plot tropes? The hard-drinking cop/detective who can’t forget his mistake that cost a life. The single woman who goes back to her hometown to either care for an ailing relative, attend a class reunion/funeral, or for a hundred other reasons, and reconnects with the hometown love of her life who dumped her. The serial killer who kidnaps women and how the latest victim does him in or the persistent detective finds him before he kills her. The female cop trying to prove herself in the face of misogynist male cops who typecast her as a lightweight.

We know there’s nothing new. Every plot has been done before in one way or another. I’ve tried hard to write characters and plots that jump out of the box. It’s not easy. Blind psychologist joins forces with a deaf cop to find a killer; psychic is stalked by a psychic killer, powerful cabal kidnaps infants of brilliant parents to create a superior race, A woman creates a different identity to hide from an attacker who changed her life. I’m sure those plots have been done before, but I keep trying to put a different twist on them. I know many authors who do the same thing. As they say, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Sometimes I think everyone is.

Certain overused phrases and descriptions set my teeth gnashing (see teeth-gnashing below). I’m one of those people who latch onto tics.

Tic: a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or speech. "You know" is a verbal tic.

For example, one talking-news head grunts after every comment made by a guest, like, hmm, only more guttural. Once I noticed that, the tic sounded like a gong. Of course, a tic is not a trope, but it has the same effect on me. In too many books, I find certain phrases repeated often enough that I’ve latched onto those too. See if any of these rings a bell:

he said through gritted teeth (different from gnashing)
lips tightened into a thin line
heart banging against her ribcage
blood rushing in his ears
she released a ragged breath, cleansing breath
squared her shoulders
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

You’ve all read these phrases. I've probably written a few of them early on before I noticed everyone else was writing them too. Not sure readers pick up on repetition like I do (except in my own books where repetition slides by me until the third or fourth reading or my critique partner catches it), but these are only a few of the ones that turn neon yellow when I read them.

Writers try hard to avoid certain words but it’s hard to find other words to replace them. Nod is one. Head-bobbing doesn’t do it. Waggle makes me laugh. Indicate agreement? (Insert long sigh here.)
Walk: you can stroll, stride, saunter, march, or amble, but sometimes you just walk, dammit.
I read one book where the character fell into a chair a dozen times. Just plunk your bottom down and SIT, for heaven’s sake.

It was a pleasure to read the latest book from one of my favorite suspense writers, multi-award-winning author Michael Robotham. The book, When She Was Good, the winner of the 2021 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, has some descriptions that were so good that I wrote them down while reading in bed. Nothing tropian—is that a word?—about them.

With hands as gnarled as knobs of ginger and eyes that squint into brightness when there is no sun.

A woman answers, sounding English rather than Scottish, with a voice that could polish silverware.

Lenny doesn’t react, and for a moment, we’re like hovering birds, caught in a pocket of wind.

It isn’t easy to come up with original descriptive phrases that stop you from reading, not because they sound like the author went to the Thesaurus to find a word no one ever heard before, but because they’re so darn beautiful you want to savor them. Really, knobs of ginger? I buy ginger root, and nothing could be more descriptive when talking about arthritic hands with gnarled knuckles. Another author who uses descriptions that puts you in the scene is James Lee Burke. You can smell, feel, and taste his descriptive prose. It’s a gift not many writers have, and if you can’t do it right, it’s that neon yellow again.

Many authors try too hard, using words that stop a reader like me because we know what they’re doing. It might be the difference between reading as a reader or reading as a writer, but when prose and dialogue aren’t natural, they land on me with a thud. Readers know dialogue is stilted or when the writer is striving to be creative and goes overboard.

My test is to ask myself one question: Would I speak like that? Would I use that word? Would anyone in normal parlance? Okay, that's more than one question, but they all mean the same thing. The answer usually gets me on the right track.

 

Polly Iyer is the author of ten suspense novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, Indiscretion, and we are but WARRIORS, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. She’s also the author of four erotic romances under the pseudonym, Maryn Sinclair. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can connect with her on Facebook and visit her website for more information and to read the first chapters of her books.