Avoid Speed Bumps

1490400252235When you’re writing a novel, you want your story to keep moving forward from beginning to end. If your reader stops at any point while reading, you have set up a speed bump and created an opportunity for your reader to slip out of their suspension of disbelief.

You want them to continue at a nice, smooth pace until the end, accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable story line. They should be lost in the story not in your words.

Common Speed Bumps of Aspiring Authors

Beautified Prose/Written-eese

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you’re like me, you had to read it several times

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well.

On-The-Nose Writing

Prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

Narrative lumps

Prose that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but describe, is known as a ‘narrative lump’. It can bring your story to a stand still and pull your reader out of the action. Instead of progressing through your storyline, they find themselves on the outside looking in.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings, and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

One word of caution when using research material to make your story more authentic, remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story. Don’t make them centerstage. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

Head Hopping

If you switch POV characters to quickly or dive into the heads of too many characters at once, it can Jar the reader and break the intimacy with the scenes main character. In other words, going back and forth between POV characters, can give a reader whiplash. You should never have more than one POV character per scene.

You should also avoid run-on sentences, close the thesaurus (I think you know what I’m getting at), and purchase a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White-I’m just saying 🙂

 

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avoid Speed Bumps

Write What You Mean

DanglingModifier.jpgAre you writing what you meant to write? Is your prose concise, and easy to understand? You may have one thing in mind when you write that sentence, only to discover it’s ambiguous, misleading, and sometimes quite humorous.

Dangling modifier- When a sentence  isn’t clear about what’s being modified it dangles. Keep in mind modifiers should be near what they modify. These are probably my favorite messed up sentences. While I hope I haven’t written or submitted any for publishing, I’m sure I’ve dangled a few in my time. They are confusing, but on the bright side, very funny.

The company’s refrigerator held microwavable lunches for 18 employees frozen in the top compartment.

Misplaced modifier- A phrase or clause placed awkwardly in a sentence so that it appears to modify or refer to an unintended word.

Lex called to talk about the meeting yesterday. Did Lex call yesterday or was the meeting yesterday? I’m confused.

 Ambiguous writing– It’s not spelled out. You didn’t provide enough information for your reader to understand what you’re trying to say. Ambiguous writing can leave your reader more confused than a misplaced modifier .

My older students know I say what I mean.

Are the student’s older in age or have they just been in his class a lot longer? It could mean either of the two.

Make sure you are saying what you mean. Be concise. Just something to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

Write What You Mean

So You’re Afraid of Failure-Deal With It!

courage-quoteSo you’re afraid you might fail. Truth is, you might stumble the first try, the second try, and maybe even the third try, but that’s part of the learning process. If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you may not finish your novel. You’ll be too busy battling the thoughts of it not being good enough.

No one wants to be humiliated or rejected. Your inner critic will paralyze you by telling you just how bad your manuscript really is (even if it’s not) .  This is an obstacle that I’ve had to overcome. It hasn’t gone away, I’ve just learned to deal with it.

I remember doing a Bible study on the battlefield of the mind. Though it’s primary purpose was dealing with spiritual warfare, it also related to many of the issues that we deal with in our everyday lives. Our mind is a battlefield. In writing for example, all of us worry about looking dumb and never getting published. Fiction writers make a business out of being scared, and not just looking dumb.

It took me six months from the time I started writing my novel, to tell my husband what I was doing. When I finally told him, I was a mess. I knew he would be excited for me and encourage me in my endeavor, and I didn’t want to let him down.

For the longest time I treated my novel as a hobby. That’s not a mindset that will get you published. When I finished and sent it out to the first few agents, I was more than a little anxious. The first few rejections confirmed my beliefs. I just wasn’t good enough.

Note that I said I wasn’t good enough. Well that’s not exactly true. The truth is the novel wasn’t good enough. The fact is, it was filled with grammatical and structural errors, there was some serious head hopping going on, and my dragging dialogue was all but bringing the story to a complete halt. If you are not familiar with these terms, you should be. Go back and read the posts I have written addressing them, or do a google search.

I don’t know that the inner critic will ever go away. So how do you combat it? You keep moving forward and growing in your craft. Don’t stop writing. I still question my novel, but I know, that I know, that I know, that it’s a lot better than it was after the first draft. I’ve learned the hard way and hope to help you avoid some of my pit falls.

-Jan R

So You’re Afraid of Failure-Deal With It!

Do Your Homework!

imagesDoes your manuscript have to be perfect?  If you’ve already written a best seller, your agent and editor may cut you some slack. If not, yes, that book better be pretty darn near  perfect, or nobody is going to look at it.  Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. They don’t have time to read everyone.  If your work is full of grammatical and structural errors, that’s all the excuse they need to toss it to the side and move on to the next one.

I sent my first manuscript out to five different agents.  I was very excited and a little anxious to hear what they had to say.  I expected some rejections but not all.  I had put  over a year into that novel.  It was my baby.

Well, two didn’t respond at all, one said no thanks, and another said it wasn’t what they were looking for. The fifth one responded with a rejection, but also included a why. There were numerous grammatical and structural errors, I was head hopping, and the dialogue dragged.

While I was disappointed, I did take her advice to heart and began the process of editing and correcting structural and grammatical errors.  I was one of those people that fell for the myth that it didn’t have to be perfect, they have editors to clean that up for you.

I also took on-line courses on writing dialogue that moves your story forward. I had never really thought about dialogue moving a story forward, but I see it now, and have a pretty good understanding of what the on-line instructors were trying to get across.

As far as the POV goes, I never heard  of ‘head hopping’.  I went to google and typed it in. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but it can be tricky at times and sneak in when you least expect it 🙂

Truth be known, I was ashamed of myself for sending such poor work to an agent.  I never realized how bad it was until I began the arduous process of editing and revising. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.

Do your homework. When you’re writing your first novel, there is so much you don’t know. You’ll figure that out along the way. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting pen to paper. And you probably thought anybody could do it. 

I hope my blogs help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.

-Jan R

Do Your Homework!

Outline?

Organize-Your-ThoughtsWhen you write, do you have an outline? Do you know where you’re going, or do you wander aimlessly? Maybe you do a little of both.

I don’t use a formal outline that follows each step in detail, but I do use a story arc that pinpoints the beginning, some detours I intend to make along the way, and the end. I allow flexibility, to incorporate new ideas that arise during the writing process.

However, it is possible to allow too much flexibility. In my case, I allowed one of the main characters to take charge. My story went to places that it should have never ventured. As crazy as that sounds, it happens. You start writing and you find that instead of your character following you, you are following your character.

It’s fun and exciting at first, until you find yourself backed into a corner. That’s when you realize how far off track you’ve gone, and it’s usually too late to reign the story in. You end up having to cut through the path your character took and realign it with the rest of the story.

If I had had a more structured outline, and thought things through a little more, I could have avoided a huge headache and a lot of extra work.

An outline helps keep you focused. When you have an outline (and stick to it) you won’t be as tempted to go off on a tangent, or allow your characters to steal the show, as in my case. This doesn’t mean you will NEVER deviate or come up with great new ideas. But if the outline is there, you can see how these new ideas fit into your original intention.

So what do you do? Do you have an outline or do you wander aimlessly?

-Jan R

 

Outline?

Are Your Characters Stealing The Show? (Repost)

imagesGTB2JOL3I’m a little over half way through the revision process of the book I’m working on and dreading the next few weeks.

The first half of my novel flows. I love what’s happening and I love my characters. They all work together to accomplish what I need them to, but then it starts to get ugly.

I’m sure you’ve heard that once you start writing, your story can take on a life of it’s own. Well that happened to me with the introduction of  a new character. She took on a life of her own, stole the plot, and didn’t stop until almost the end of the story.

She did help in one area. She filled in the middle and carried me to the end, but I’ve never really liked the character, and I question where she went. She was nice, smart, and likeable, but  she totally disrupted the flow, and I allowed her to.  I lost sight of the ending I had planned.

I have read through my manuscript many times. I hesitate and play with this character and the events perpetuated by her existence, every single pass through.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that she needs to go. If I’m not comfortable with the character and her role in my story, It’s bound to come across to my readers. It’s time to cut my losses and move on.

This of course means a lot of work for me. I can salvage some of scenes she is involved in by replacing her with existing characters that can fill the role, but I am still cutting about 25,000 words and reworking the latter part of my book to follow the path that I originally outlined.

I’m sure I’ve made a million novice mistakes that brought me to this point, one of the major ones was to give an unplanned character free reign over my manuscript. I allowed her to walk in the door and take my story to places it should have never gone.

I was amazed and thought, how great is this, my story is writing itself. Well in some instances that might have been a good thing, but in my story, it definitely was not. Some may consider it a great exercise in creativity to let a rogue character take off with your story. I would say as long as it’s controlled and she/he isn’t in a free fall. You have to maintain control.

What do you think?

-Jan R

Are Your Characters Stealing The Show? (Repost)

Nobody’s Perfect

imagesWhen you write, you should relax and enjoy the process. Don’t become obsessed with perfection. Nobody’s perfect. Most published novels aren’t perfect.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve developed a keen eye for errors. They just jump off the page. If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably experience the same thing.

I love historical novels and read them every chance I get. I run into at least 2-3 errors in every novel. It usually is something as simple as using ‘the’ for ‘they’ or leaving off an ‘s’ on a word that should be plural, but because I have a trained eye, I see it, and am pulled out of the story.

Does it ruin the experience for me? Not at all. As a matter of fact, I feel better about my own writing.  Nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. With that being said, note I only see 2-3 in a 350 page novel, and not one on every other page.

The quest for perfection leads to writer’s block.  It can paralyze an author. It’s great that you aim for perfection. That is what you want, but don’t allow your fear of making a mess keep you from moving forward.

Truth is, your first draft is going to be raw, awkward, and full of errors. That’s why we go back and edit, edit, edit.

Another question to ask yourself, is what is perfection? I’m not talking about  grammatically and structurally sound sentences, I’m talking about every little component that goes into making a great novel.

Did you know that your idea of perfection changes as you gain more and more experience in writing?

When I finished my novel, I went back and corrected all of the grammatical and structural errors and considered it complete and pretty darn near perfect.

I didn’t know the rules for Point Of View. I was head-hopping all over the place. So my work wasn’t perfect, and I was breaking a cardinal rule, which allowed the agent to pick up on the fact that I was an amateur.

I also didn’t know the rules for writing dialogue. Nobody told me your dialogue had to move the story forward. Most people don’t want to stop and smell the daisies. They want the meat, and they want to get to the action. So my work wasn’t perfect.

Keep writing! Your work won’t be perfect on the first go round. So accept that and get over it. It’s okay, you’re not alone. No writer, published or unpublished, writes a perfect first draft. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

I use to say get it done, then get it good. What I mean by that, is write that first draft knowing it’s full of errors. Get your ideas on paper before they fade away. Then go back and begin the refining process.  You want it as near to perfect as possible before querying an agent or self-publishing.

-Jan R

 

 

Nobody’s Perfect

Are You A Pretentious Writer?

tmp716003483278376960Is your writing pretentious? Do you write to impress others, or is your writing real? I’ve written several blogs on pretentious writing, but I’ve never used those words to describe it.

So what is pretentious writing? It’s writing that uses those million dollar words. You know, the ones that leave the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering what we just read.

Pretentious writing is something you probably learned in college or high school. It may work great in technical or scientific magazines, and would probably fly in government documents or procedural manuals, but please don’t try to pass it on in a fictional novel.  Your attempts to make yourself sound sophisticated will actually backfire and make you appear unsophisticated.

Think of the novels you read. Do they use a lot of flowery prose and million dollar words? The answer is probably no. What the author has done is mastered eloquence. He/she can make even the most simple sentence waltz across the page. Something I’m still working on 🙂

One of my favorite blogs from the past year is Grammar Is A Must-But Lose That English Teacher Writing! If you have the time, I would encourage you to go back and read it. My posts are short, so it won’t take but a few minutes.

I’m not anti-Thesaurus by the way. I think the Thesaurus is a great writing tool. I open it when I find myself using the same word over and over, or when I’m looking for a word that’s a better fit for what I’m trying to say. I don’t use it to sprinkle million dollar words throughout my prose when simple ones will do.

Well I think I’ve beaten this subject to death, and have no doubt you understand what the point of this blog is.

Hope it got you thinking.

-Jan R

 

 

Are You A Pretentious Writer?