Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2014

Narrator Intrusion - Part 2

In part one , we began the hunt for elusive narrator intrustions. Here are a few more clues to help you locate them. 6) In third person limited point of view and first person, a writer often tells the reader things the point of view character couldn’t possibly know. Jane sat in the café, sipping a cooling mocha latte, lost in thought, a book open on the table. The man in the booth behind her stared and wondered why someone so good looking was so sad. Unless Jane has eyes in the back of her head, she isn’t aware that she is being watched. Unless she reads minds, she won’t know what the man behind her is thinking. The verbal camera panned away from Jane and followed the man in the booth. This is either head-hopping or author intrusion, depending on the point of view. Another example would be: Sally perched on the edge of a park bench. She closed her eyes, wiping the sweat from her brow. When did it get so hot? A man sat down on the grass, not close enough to be obvious, but

(Almost) Never Say Never

Never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Never write a book based on current trends. Never continue to work on a story that isn’t working. Never ignore the fundamental basics of good story writing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, character and plot development, compelling content, good flow, realistic dialogue, etc. Never try to emulate someone else’s style. Never use clichés. Never start a story with dialogue, weather, excessive narrative or description, a dream, a ringing alarm or cell phone, a prologue, backstory, an information dump, lots of telling and no showing, and the prohibitions go on and on. Yikes! I’ve already opted to mop the kitchen floor on my hands and knees instead of write—and I have a bad knee. Wait! Exceptions exist to every rule, right? Make that almost every rule. (Don’t try defying gravity unless you have a parachute.) Back to books. Starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunctio

Editing Crimes: A Case Study

Identifying facts about the subject of this case study have been changed to protect the author's reputation.  I recently found myself stranded for four days with only one great story and one poorly edited novel at my disposal. Unfortunately both were found within the same covers. The fact that its issues were easily fixable, yet still evident in a book already published, is such a crying shame I want us all to learn from this case study. It was exactly my kind of story, the back cover copy suggested. Great title, lush cover. A hardback, with a price of $25.99, put out by a major traditional publisher, by an acquiring editor whose name is known and trusted in the industry. I opened it with great anticipation. Problems emerged on page one. Unfortunate word pairings At the end of the first paragraph, the author used a phrase such as “ran like a hare” immediately followed by an introduction to “Tad O’Hara.” Like most of the following issues, this is a remnant of the wri

Narrator Intrusion - Part 1

Don't you hate it when someone butts into your conversation or adds their own commentary during a television show or movie? What if someone tells you what is going to happen next? Don't you want to toss your soda onto their face? The biggest problem with any point of view, other than omniscient, is narrator or narrative intrusion. The author interrupts the story to deliver his commentary, thoughts, opinions, or information, creating speed bumps that disrupt the reader's total immersion in the story. Speaking to the audience was used in 18th and 19th century novels and voice-overs are used in modern sit-coms. It is a device that can be used for effect or it can be annoying. Let's learn how to search for it. It is up to you whether you keep it or kill it. 1) Ideally, comments, thoughts, opinions, and information should be filtered through the characters, not the writer. Omniscient narrators are able to be in everyone’s head at all times. They often intrude

Worth a Second Look?

The other night I enjoyed re-watching the first episode of Castle , which I had stored on the DVR player. Funny thing is, I didn't remember much of it, though I'd watched it not long ago. Well, I am a senior, and, at times, forgetful. Also, I tend to watch TV when I'm winding down for the evening. Since I get up so early in the morning, by eight or so I'm in danger of nodding off. Whatever the case, I enjoyed the interplay between the characters, and was glad I decided to watch that episode again, instead of searching for something else on TV. Last night, I again watched The Net , with Sandra Bullock , and was taken in by the suspense and characterization. I have no problem re-watching her movies,  since most all of them are entertaining and engrossing. When it comes to books, that's another matter. Too many years ago, every time I went to the library, I'd look for the Cinderella book to take home again. Now, when I finish a novel, I have no desire to read i

Think Outside the Bookstore

When my first book, Cowgirl Dreams , was published, I was shocked and surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily sell books in bookstores.  That just doesn’t seem logical, does it? Well, it does, if you think about it.  Bookstores shelve thousands of books.  Customers have their favorite well-known authors and usually they go in specifically to purchase that particular author.  Some may browse and run across your book and be intrigued enough to buy it, but unless your name is John Grisham or Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts, don’t count on it. Even when I put on a reading and PowerPoint presentation one time at a local independent bookstore, I had an audience of about twenty people, but I sold two only books. Seems daunting, doesn’t it?  Where do you sell books, if not in bookstores? Since my novels are based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos, I look for any store or event where people might be interested in rodeo, horses, ranch life, and cowgirls.  M

Narrative Voices - Part One: The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person

Image by Joel Montes de Oca One of the fundamental decisions a writer has to make involves selecting the narrative voice(s) best suited to carry the story. The three most common candidates for adoption are a) first person singular, b) third person limited, and c) third person omniscient 1 Each of these options affords a different range of narrative possibilities. To start off this series of posts on narrative voice, we’ll be considering the pros and cons of writing in first person . First person is the most subjective of the three angles of vision cited above. This subjectivity makes it an especially popular choice among writers of middle grade and young adult fiction. For one thing, writing in first person is more economical in terms of word count than the other two options. For another, first person narration gives the reader direct access to the thoughts, emotions, discoveries and experiences of the focal character. This access enables younger readers to ident

Know Your Characters' Skill Sets

When we moved to our home in Colorado, we knew there were a lot of changes we wanted to make, and we were smart enough to know we should hire out. One area that was out of our skill set was laying tile in the bathrooms and entry ways. As I listened to the workers dealing with laying the tile, I started thinking about layers of skill sets for characters. Depending on our upbringing and experience, we might consider those who work in 'blue collar' trades as people who work with their hands, not their brains. I know the focus on my generation was to get a college degree and work in an office, rising the corporate ladder. Slight digression here. I straddle the hippie generation and women's lib. But for the most part, the focus for my upbringing as a female, in reality, was to go to college, but the degree was to have something to fall back, or a way to support the requisite husband. Women weren't expected to work if they were married, and certainly not when they had chi

Writing a Short Story

When the call went out to writers in the Carolinas for short story submissions from the North Carolina Triad Chapter of Sisters in Crime, I thought, no, I write ninety-thousand-word novels, not short stories. The theme was lust, love, and longing, and naturally, there had to be a crime. Then I thought, oh, come on. Give it a try. The worst that could happen was my story wouldn’t be accepted. I had published three erotic romances along with my six mystery/suspense/thriller novels. I could write lust, and I sure could incorporate a crime. My first lesson, or teaching moment, was to read a bunch of short stories. Good ones from good writers. The commonality was each one had a twist ending. Undaunted, and with some idea of what I was doing, I devised my plot—a multi-award-winning director/writer/producer who discovers his beautiful, much younger Oscar-winning actress wife is having an affair with his son from his first marriage. He’d taken this young model with a little talent

Take a Moment for Time

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng Hello, duckies! Forgive me if things look a bit blurry; lack of sleep lends a certain fuzziness to the festivities. Not to worry, though. My failure to rest isn’t caused by any medical problem; I simply have a tendency to get caught up in whatever project catches my eye. The next thing I know, the wee hours of morning have arrived and my eyelids are threatening to mutiny. Speaking of time, I recently had a peek at the “time of day” entry in the CMOS and thought I’d share it with you. While the manual doesn’t state which manner of notation is preferred, it does offer recommendations and guidelines for both written and numeric styles. For example, when referring to even, half, and quarter hours, the time is usually spelled out. This is especially true when o’clock is added. The shoe sale begins at eight o’clock , or The selection of sling backs sold out by half past two. If you wish to play up an exact time, you may use numerals; the CMOS

The Dead Can’t Tell Stories

As a ghostwriter, I have written many memoirs for non-writers. Memoir is my favorite genre to ghostwrite, perhaps because of my educational background in history. I love exploring how our individual lives affect, or are affected by, the events and trends of “big history.” It’s a cliché that “every life has a story” but it is a cliché because it is true. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these stories are never told. How many of us wish they had an ancestor’s story, told in their own words? Sometimes all we know is a tantalizing tidbit: a tiny piece of an ancestor’s story that raises as many questions as it answers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we think, to know the hopes, dreams, wishes and fears of Great-Great-Grandma as she bounced over the plains in a covered wagon? Wouldn’t it be cool to know what Great-Great Uncle Joe was thinking while he robbed that bank? And why did Great-great-great Grandpa leave Scotland in such a hurry? Well, if they didn’t write their thoughts down,

Interiority - Part 2

Last week we began talking about interiority referring to the character's inner life. Today we'll continue with tips on using interiority to improve your story. Internal thoughts and narration do not require quotation marks. It is debatable whether internal dialogue should be italicized or underlined. Style guides insist that italicizing internal thoughts is the same as putting speech in quotation marks. Dick walked down the hallway that smelled of disinfectant. I hate this place , he thought. As mentioned last week, some readers find the switch in tense annoying if the story is written in third person. It can take them out of the total immersion experience. I have seen interiority presented in many ways: Third person without offset: Dick walked down the hallway that smelled of disinfectant. He hated the place. Third person with italics: Dick left the conference room.  I really blew it, he thought to himself . What now? Third person with quotation marks: &

Don't Rush

Finishing a book, putting that last word on the page, usually involves cheering and a sense of accomplishment. Truth is, though, that you're most likely not finished. Create a file on your computer or get a spiral notebook that you label with your book's name and keep notes inside. Now it's time to re-read and catch glitches in the plot or mis-spellings or missing words or impossible feats by characters or…. The list can go on and on. If you make a change that you know will affect a future event in the book, make a note in your file or in your notebook since you know you'll have to change things later on in the book. Take care as you stack up the pieces of your book. Be on the lookout for pet words used over and over. You probably won't even know you're using them unless you search for them. If you do a search and find for, say, weeping, and find that you’ve used it eight times, that may be too many times. Find another word or way of saying what you wan

Fun With Words

Once again fellow toilers in the wacky world of writing, it's time for a chuckle or two to relieve some of the stress of lonely days clacking away on a keyboard. I would be lost without the comics, or "funny papers" as they used to be called. We should go back to that reference, I think. Much more descriptive, wouldn't you agree? To start us off, here is one from the strip Crankshaft : Crankshaft is sitting in the living room and his daughter, Pam steps up to the couch next to him. He says, "I spent $75 of my own money replacing the lottery tickets I lost." "So, did you hit the jackpot? "Naw… we hit the jack squat." I found this one on One Big Happy: Ruthie and her Grandpa are taking a walk. He notices her sour expression and asks, "What's wrong Ruthie?" In her most dramatic Ruthie-way, she says, "Everything grandpa. I tried to make friends with ninja Kitty. To rescue her, but that dang

Book Title Terrors

Coming up with a good title is not easy. Ideally, it will attract potential readers, suggesting what kind of book it is and what makes it different from (and better than) other books of that kind. Good luck. My two absolute worst titles are my first Regency, Toblethorpe Manor , and my first mystery, Death at Wentwater Court , both utterly unmemorable. For the first, I have the excuse of inexperience. For the second: I had to come up with it quickly. My plan for the mystery series was to call the books Death in January, Death in February, etc., so that after sweating over numerous Regency titles, I wouldn't have to think up another title ever again. Each murder would be closely connected with the month. The first, for instance, involves a body in a frozen lake. That notion was swatted down by my editor (though I can't complain, as he bought the book), because the publisher had recently put out a month by month anthology. Just as well, in the end, as I'm n

Increase Your Writing Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

If you're like me, then you know that time has a way of moving fast, leaving you with many undone to-dos. Over a month ago, while getting back into my dissertation writing, a friend of mine told me about the Pomodoro Technique, and since I've started implemented it into my daily goings on, I have seen an increase in my productivity in many areas, specifically my writing and my workouts. For those not in the know, "The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as 'pomodori,' the plural of the Italian word pomodoro for "tomato" (" Pomodoro Technique "). Image from Wikipedia There are five basic principles to the pomodoro technique: Pick a project you'd like to work on. Set your pomodoro to a certain amount of minutes. Traditi