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

So You Thought You Were Finished?

rejectedI read a quote a little while back and thought I would share it on my blog. I don’t know who wrote it. A name wasn’t provided. It reads as follows:

A lot of times that first manuscript needs to sashay out stage left in order for the real blockbuster to break into the spotlight.

If you’ve been working on your novel for a while, you know exactly what this writer was saying. My current manuscript is so different from the original, and while it’s not ready for submission, it is sooooo much better than it was after that first very rough draft.

As a newbie, I had no idea the work involved in creating a masterpiece worthy of publishing. I wrote my book and sent it out. It wasn’t until I started receiving the rejections, and the one response explaining why it wasn’t ready for prime time, that the truth sunk in.

I did have a completed manuscript, a great story, but it was missing the bells and whistles, that something that would make it stand out. Of course, the fact that it was full of grammatical and structural errors didn’t help my case either.

I read another quote years ago that has remained with me and I’ve used in several of my blogs.

Get it done and then get it good.

Don’t expect your first draft to be the final, finished, ready to go version. It won’t be. Once it is completed, the fun begins. At least I hope you enjoy it, since you will be working on that manuscript for quite some time.

If you are new to the writing scene, I would recommend a lot of reading. Not just books in your preferred genre, but also how to books from credible authors. I’ve found some excellent blogs, and of course, the internet is invaluable.

I would also recommend courses on creative writing and writing fiction. I’ve purchased classes through ‘Great Courses’ and ‘Udemy’ that were excellent and inexpensive. I watched webinars and completed a workshop through Holly Lisle on ‘How to revise your novel’.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Know this, your first draft is not ready, and it’s up to you to research, learn your craft, and get it done. Nobody will do it for you.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

So You Thought You Were Finished?

Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

untitledI love doing critiques. Sometimes I think I should have been an editor or professional proofreader.

The one issue that bothers me more than any other when I do critiques, is description overloads, dumps, whatever you want to call them. If you are reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I realize some description and imagery are necessary to help the reader visualize the story, but some people provide page after page of it.

I’m a skipper/skimmer. I own up to it and have stated it as fact in many of my blogs. I don’t want to be, and I don’t like the idea of skimming through pages of writing to get to the good stuff. As a matter of fact, if I pick up a book or go to someone’s writing posted for critique and all I see is paragraph after paragraph of description, I’m not touching it.

Jerry Jenkins says it’s a sin to ask a paragraph of description to stand on its own. Your readers eyes glaze over and then they are gone. He’s written nearly 190 books, including the best selling Left Behind series, so I listen when he speaks.

So, what’s the solution? It’s your job to set the scene, but you want to make sure your readers aren’t skimming the descriptions, or worse, skipping them altogether.

You have to make the description part of the action:

Randall wanted only David to know his scheme, so he pulled him away from the others and onto the deck where he had to raise his voice over the pounding waves. He hunched his shoulders against the whipping wind and wished he’d thought to grab a jacket, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stand it out there for long.

In this example we know the setting because it was incorporated into the action. The author did not take a paragraph to discuss the severity of the storm that was causing massive waves and packing winds at 20 miles an hour.  While Randall is whispering his nefarious plan, your reader is skipping nothing.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this skill, but I have not. It is a technique I continue to work on. A place I aspire to be one day.

-Jan R

Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

I Thought I Knew A Lot, Until I Learned A Little.

Enough already! At least that’s how I feel sometimes. I’ve been through my book more times than I can count. In my own defense, no one taught me how to write. I had a great story idea and decided to give it a whirl.

I thought it was ready, and then real life happened.  My wonderful work was rejected by the five agents I sent it to. One of the them must of seen something promising, she took it upon herself to provide me feedback about what I was doing wrong (there was a long list), and what I needed to do to improve my work.

I was totally humiliated. Grammatical and Structural errors are kindergarten stuff and completely unacceptable. Even I should have gotten those right. I could understand  my issues with head hopping and on-the-nose-writing. Those terms were totally foreign to me.  I wasn’t a professional novelist. I thought all you had to do was put words on paper and create a wonderful story that everyone wanted to read. How was I to know there were rules?

And what was the deal with dragging dialogue? My people were talking. How was I suppose to know dialogue moved the story forward, or had to have some significance?  I couldn’t believe I sent an agent such inferior work!

When you’re a newby, you don’t know how bad your work is, because you lack the knowledge and skills necessary to produce publishable work. While there may be a few prodigies out there, chances are, you aren’t one of them. Sorry!
Like myself and many others, you’re going to have to pay your dues and learn the craft. Then you will be ready to write that New York Times best seller.

One of my favorite saying is, you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m not sure were I picked that up from, but it’s true. I wasn’t intentionally sending out bad work. I just didn’t know.

I Thought I Knew A Lot, Until I Learned A Little.

Another Set Of Eyes Are Necessary

small-eye-shape-400x400I recently started the revision process on my manuscript. One of many, but more importantly, the first after a year of leaving it on the shelf.

I think the one mistake I was making that surprised me the most, was echo words.  I couldn’t believe it. I know better. I’ve been at this for six years. How in the world could something like that happen?

You would be surprised what you miss. I also missed commas, had commas that didn’t belong, and started some sentences in one tense and ended them in another. Unbelievable.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a bad writer, but I don’t think so. I use to see mistakes on other people’s blogs and think, I can’t believe they missed that. I’m sure I missed stuff too, because I’ve gone back to old blogs and corrected mistakes. I can’t believe I posted them 🙂

You have to step back and get another set of eyes on your work. You are too close to your story.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having others review your work. I’m not talking about family and friends, I’m talking about people who will be honest and know what they are looking for.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Another Set Of Eyes Are Necessary

How Long Do You Wait?

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I recently picked up a novel I had worked on for six years. I can’t count the number of revisions I completed on the manuscript. Yet nothing seemed to help. I got discouraged and put it away.

My life had gotten pretty complicated during that time, so I used it as an excuse.  As the weeks went on, I found it easier and easier to let it go. I did  not want to pull that manuscript out. It was a mess and a waste of my time. That’s how I felt anyway.

I didn’t stop writing. I picked up a new project. I had an idea for another novel and began to flesh it out. I also continued reading books written by successful novelists and took some more on-line classes. From my perspective, that first book had a great premise (a fact confirmed by one of the agents who rejected my work), but I just couldn’t see what was going on that made it unpublishable.

So as I stated at the opening, I picked up that novel I had placed on the shelf a year ago and started cutting. I was looking at that work through fresh eyes, and enjoyed muddling through the mess and reorganizing my work.

Most of the blogs I read recommended setting a finished piece of work to the side for a few weeks or a few months, based on the premise it would give you a fresher look at your work and allow you to see those areas that were problematic.

Well, that didn’t work for me. I followed the recommendations, but a few months wasn’t long enough. I know everyone is different, and a more experienced writer may only need a few weeks to a few months before they are ready to roll again. So I am in no way saying you should put your work to the side for a year.

What I am saying, is if you have that masterpiece that started your dream sitting on a shelf, or stored in a remote area of your computer, maybe you should consider pulling it out and reassessing. You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the issues that caused that manuscript to fail come to light.

So how long do you put a completed manuscript to the side before the final edit?

Just something to think about.

-Jan R

 

How Long Do You Wait?

Antagonist-Friend or Foe (Revisited)

1-darth-vadar-skull

My main focus for this particular blog is antagonists. I have two in my novel. One is amnesia, and the other is a young woman determined to marry the man of her dreams, even if he belongs to someone else. She uses his amnesia to her advantage, manipulating and deceiving him.

When you are creating antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act the way they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonists head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. I write in third person omniscient, which allows me to get into the head of any character I choose, as long as I limit myself to one per scene. If this doesn’t work for you, have your point of view characters mull over and try to understand the antagonist’s point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

I have to admit, I’m a ‘Star Wars’ geek. If you’re a follower, you know who Darth Vader is. From my perspective, he is the perfect antagonist. The creator of this series, put a lot of thought into this bad guy. He is pure evil, but as Luke stated, “There is good in you, I can feel it.” Luke was right. Vader wasn’t all evil, as a matter of fact, he started out as a good guy. His motivation for turning to the dark side, was to save his wife.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart, and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. The story could go in many different directions.

Back to the ‘Star Wars saga, Darth Vader was  the most powerful of all the Jedi, even though he turned to the dark side and fell under the control of the Sith Lord. His downfall in the end wasn’t his lack of strength, but his return to the light.  He sacrificed himself to save his son. In a split second decision, he destroyed the empire and brought balance to the universe.

Many professionals recommended that you not use abstractions, such as corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable, but that’s a blog for another day.

If you do feel the need to use an abstraction, put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion, you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type. One of my antagonists is a medical condition that a second antagonist exploits to get what she wants.

Hope this post provided a couple nuggets and got you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

Antagonist-Friend or Foe (Revisited)

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Filler Words!

imagesW5P4TYLKI’ve been a little busy the last few months and have revisited some of my favorite posts. I hope you enjoy this one. Most of the concepts I write about are simple. I just never really gave them a lot of thought before I started writing my novel.

When writing, remember less is more. Stay away from qualifiers. They weaken your prose, and the result is the exact opposite of what your were trying to achieve. I know why you use them. I’m hooked on ‘very’. Other people are hooked on the word ‘too’. If you are resorting to qualifiers for emphasis, odds are, you are using the wrong word in the first place.

These qualifiers are the words your English teacher dreaded seeing, such as very, too, really, and sort of. When you overuse these words, your writing will seem lazy, as if you haven’t taken the time to look for the right word.

This pasta dish is very good.
This pasta dish is superb. (Better)
I’m feeling sort of sick.
I’m feeling nauseous. (Better)
You look really nice!
You look radiant. (Better)

Since ‘very’ is my nemesis, I thought I would provide a list of more powerful words to use to replace ‘very’ ___________.

  • very fast                    quick
  • very dry                    parched
  • very dirty                  squalid
  • very afraid               terrified
  • very angry                furious
  • very hot                    scolding
  • very hungry             ravenous
  • very large                 colossal
  • very clean                spotless
  • very clever              brilliant
  • very beautiful        exquisite
  • very ugly                 hideous
  • very pretty             beautiful
  • very thin                 gaunt
  • very tired               exhausted

I think you get the picture. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this got you thinking.

-Jan R

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Filler Words!