Build Your Platform-Now!

imagesSo why do you blog? You have to have a reason. Not many people take the time to type meaningful information or interesting banter without a reason. It’s too much work.

I’m in the middle of a move and was going through old blogs to see what I could recycle, when I took notice of my first blog.  It was all about building your platform, which was the motivator for my starting this blog.

Did you know great manuscripts of first time authors get pushed to the side everyday, because the aspiring author doesn’t have a solid platform.

And I’m not saying my first manuscript was great, as a matter of fact, it was full of mistakes. Something a kind literary agent pointed out on three separate occasions. I suppose she saw potential in my work, because she sort of took me under her wing.

I spent a few years editing and rewriting major portions of my manuscript to address issues that she had mentioned-there were many.  I was confident with my work and sent it to her for what I thought was a final review. I looked forward to a request for the complete story. Well, what I got wasn’t a request but a rejection.

The reason had nothing to do with my novel. I had focused so much on preparing it for publication, that I failed to do one of the most important things, build an audience of potential customers. Is it necessary? Unfortunately yes, especially for first time authors.

The agent who rejected me actually apologized for not giving me better news, but said it was really hard to place new authors, especially those who did not have a solid platform. While she recommended that I send it to other agents, she also emphasized the importance of building a platform.

The good news is with technology, it’s a lot easier than you would think.  Google ‘Building a platform’, and you’ll find all kinds of information.  I would personally recommend looking into Michael Hyatt. He is an author, blogger, speaker, and a former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, so he knows a little bit about what we are trying to accomplish here. I would also recommend his book, ‘PLATFORM GET NOTICED IN A NOISY WORLD’. He provides all the information you need to get started, including websites that assist with the creation of your online presence.

I hope this helps someone out there on their quest to being published.  I chose to discuss platforms in my first entry, because of the frustration I felt after receiving the news from the literary agent. I just didn’t know. This is something I could have been doing while preparing my novel for publishing.

When you start out there are so many things you don’t know. I’ve been working on my novel for over five years now. I actually completed the manuscript in the first year, but then discovered that I had no idea what I was doing. I spent the last five learning  how to write a novel and applying that knowledge to my work.

This blog gives me great joy in knowing that I have provided useful information to others on their journey. And it is my hope that I not only build my platform, but help others avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.

-Jan Rouse

Build Your Platform-Now!

Description Is Not My Thing!

untitledI’m not very good at writing description and have a tendency to avoid it. This is reflected in critiques that I receive on my work. “You need to help me picture the setting in my mind. Where is your main character? It’s like looking at a blank canvas. There’s nothing there.”

You may be like me or you may be on the opposite side of the spectrum. I have critiqued some beautifully ridiculous description. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Imagine your reader picking up a book at the bookstore and reading page after page of description on the gowns at a regency ball or the inner hull of a slave ship. They, like me, would probably put it down immediately.

Think of bad description as that one teacher you had in high school who went on and on putting the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher that got everybody involved in the action. She provided the information we needed but didn’t bog us down with a lot of fluff.

Avoid Huge Lumps of Description

Description 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.

In the past Authors could get away with this, but in today’s society, unless a reader was actively seeking out writers known for lyrical descriptive passages, they wouldn’t put up with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few who get away with it, but it’s only because they are really good, and in all reality, many of their fans are skimming those passages.

Make Description an Active Part of Your Story

Find a way to use description in combination with action, whenever possible. A great example I read during this research is as follows:

Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of the ale trickled under her leather top. I didn’t have to say….The ale was cold or She wore a leather top. That information was provided in the action sequence.

Describe what your Characters Would Notice

Remember you are seeing the world through the eyes of your main character. If that character works and goes to the same office everyday, they aren’t going to stare at the craftsmanship and detail of the bookshelf housing a  wall of books in the office library. They see it everyday, but they are going to notice if a substantial number of volumes were removed. They aren’t going to look around their office and go on and on about the lavishly decorated room-unless they just had it up fitted. They will notice  a vase of red roses sitting on their desk.

Words, Words, Words

Use Strong, active, concrete words. The stronger the writing the better the description. Remember, nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, depending on how you use them.

Avoid adjectivitis. I wish I could claim this word, but again I read it during my research. Adjectivitis is when you use to many adjectives to describe something. The rule of thumb is no more than two.

And you also want to limit your trips to the thesaurus. I know what it’s like trying to come up with different words to avoid overuse. But when I have to stop reading a prose to look up the word the author has written, or I stumble over a  rarely used word, chances are, that author took one to many trips to the thesaurus.

Use all the senses

Most writers concentrate on sight and sound but you can really bring a scene to life by incorporating the other senses. Don’t forget about touch, smell and taste.

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

Fast paced action novels will have less description, as you are trying to get your main character from point A to point B in a hurry. Slower paced novels may take the opportunity to smell the roses, but be mindful of how long they are smelling them.

Avoid Excessive Name-dropping

It’s all right to use brand names in your story. But there are a few basic rules: Get the name right and do not portray the product in a disparaging light. Do not say your main character got food poisoning from the Golden Corral. (Go to the Publishing Law Center website for more information)

You don’t want to go overboard with brand names, but it is a  way to provide your reader with a good concrete description. When you say Chevy Silverado-people know instantly and can picture it in their minds.

Don’t Let Description Hang You Up During a First Draft

Remember you can always go back and add it later. When I started writing my novel, I had a great plot idea and my characters sketched out in my head. I put pencil to paper and wrote until completion.

As a matter of fact, that is were I am, and why I am writing this article. I have completed my first draft, and I’m in the process of icing my cake.

I hope this review on description helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

Description Is Not My Thing!

It’s Your Story! (Repost)

3aefcc38a20542bd3ee999eca594de5eI contemplated what to write about today. If you’re a blogger you know the routine. You want to share something meaningful that will be helpful and not sound stupid. You also want to be yourself and not sound like a reference book.

I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing and stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received from a critique partner.

The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect  her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.

The more I looked at the changes this person suggested, there were quite a few throughout the time period I’ve posted my work, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way the story needed to go, and I had mine.

With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her my story is more believable,  my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.

However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.

Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not?

Remember: It’s your story.

-Jan R

It’s Your Story! (Repost)

Stay Active!

Active vs. PassiveI know I’m suppose to write in the active voice, but why? What is the difference between active voice and passive voice and why does it matter?

In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of  the sentence performs the action. In a sentence written in the passive voice the subject receives the action.

Jan loves Danny. Jan is the subject and she is performing the action of loving Danny.

Jan is loved by Danny. Jan is the subject, but she’s doing nothing. She is the recipient of Danny’s love.

Sentences in active voice are  more concise than those in passive voice, because fewer words are required to express action in active voice than in passive voice, making the sentence stronger.

Many a Tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is or could be heard.

There was a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. Vs Dead leaves covered the ground.

At dawn, the crowing of a rooster could be heard. Vs The cock’s crow came with dawn.

After reading the previous sentences, what do you think? Active or Passive? I would definitely go with active 🙂

This is yet another area I am working on. And while the rule is to go with the active voice, it doesn’t mean you should entirely discard the passive voice. Sometimes it is necessary.

-Jan R

 

Stay Active!

Throw That Baby Out Already!

How-to-Kill-Your-Darlings-and-Survive-the-ProcessSo I’ve been married to my novel for five years. I’ve made some changes along the way, but one thing that has been a constant, is my main character going to Fallujah Iraq.

Anybody that’s been around for a while, knows that Fallujah played a big role in the Iraq War. Camp Baharia was set up just outside the city. It was one of the nicer camps, and the playground of Saddam Hussein’s sons, prior to their demise.

When I wrote the framework of my novel five years ago, it was set at the end of the war .  Fallujah had been won by the allies, and our marines were still there to maintain order and ensure no further uprisings. This was why my main character had been sent there.

Since that time, Fallujah has been taken over by Isis, and there is major fighting going on, as the Iraqi forces, along with the US and other allies, attempt to take it back.
With that being said, my husband encouraged me a year ago, to rethink Fallujah. He thought the current conflicts and notoriety of the region would cause serious doubts and credibility issues with my story.  Well I didn’t want to listen to him, Fallujah was in my story and had been there all along. I didn’t want to change it.

But then I received a critique from a very skilled writer. Her main problem with the story, as you probably guessed already, was Fallujah, Iraq. My husband loved that, and gave me the told you so look. I wish I could say he rose above it and didn’t say anything, but he quickly reminded me that he wasn’t a dummy. He knew what he was talking about:-)

One of the things I’ve heard time and time again from experienced writer, is sometimes you have to throw the baby out. That’s part of writing, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
So I’m throwing the baby out and looking for another Camp, maybe in Afghanistan.

If you’re on the fence, just do it. The sooner you let go and move on, the sooner you’ll get that novel completed. You might miss your baby for a while, but I’m thinking you’ll get over it, especially when your story comes together the way it was supposed to.

-Jan R

Throw That Baby Out Already!

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

controllingthepaceinyournovelPeople who love to read but have never written books are cognizant of the pacing. Pacing sets the tempo of your story. Is it a fast read or did it seem to drag on for days? Hopefully you’ve found a balance between the two and they perform like a fine tuned orchestra.

I have read many good books that I skipped portions of, because I was tired of reading about the duchess’s frilly dress or  inner hull of a slave ship. I’m glad the authors did their homework and provided historical information, but sometimes it can be a bit much and totally bog down your story. I have read other books that were nonstop action that left me wanting; they were missing the details that made the story real and the characters endearing.

So how do you control the pacing of your story since once you start writing it seems to take on a life of it’s own? Be cognizant of the tempo and your audience. You have to strike a balance between the amount of information in the pages you are given and the patience of your reader.

There are three main attributes that effect the pace of your novel.

  1. The number of pages/words in the novel vs. the time period covered – Long books that depict a short period of time are going to move at a slower pace.  you’re going to be providing a lot of detail and back story to fill up all those pages. Short stories depicting long periods of time are going to move at a faster pace. In order to cover everything you have to cover, you’re not going to have time to stop and smell the roses. There’s just too much happening and not enough pages/words to expound-talk about making every word count 🙂
  2. The density of the narrative – The length of the story versus the number of twists and characters within. If you have a simple story with maybe one subplot and a handful of characters, you should be able to move along at a fairly steady pace. You start going all Lord Of The Rings on that book with numerous subplots and characters that are a product of your imagination-you’re going to have to slow down and figure out a way to keep it moving forward without getting too bogged down in the details.
  3. Scenes vs. Exposition                                                                                                          Scenes are the important events that move the story forward.  They are the action and dialogue that occur during the course of the story.                                                    Exposition is the back story or descriptive information that stands outside of the story and slows things down.

I love this chart. It provides some great examples of ways to control the pace of your novel and is very user friendly:-) Some more things to think about when you are addressing pacing.

controlling-the-pace-of-a-story

 

I hope this helped.

-Jan R

 

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

Character-It Matters!

imagesRJ7UAQQJHeroes and heroines, or your lead character, doesn’t have to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and he doesn’t have to stop speeding bullets with his bare hands, but he darn well better know the difference between right and wrong, and he better be kind to animals, and it sure wouldn’t hurt any if he brushed his teeth regularly… Dean Koontz

Funny but true. There are five traits that you should consider carefully when creating your lead characters.

  1. Virtue and no I am not saying that your character should be sexually virtuous, nor am i saying he/she can’t drink, smoke or curse. What I am saying, is he/she should be an upright citizen. They should understand right and wrong, good and evil. They should always come down on the side of right. If at all possible they should never do anything illegal, unethical, or immoral. If your hero does kill someone in self defense or by accident, they had better feel really bad about it.
  2. Competence Your reader doesn’t want to read a book full of idiots, fools, and wimps, unless it’s a comedy, and those idiots, fools, and wimps are funny. Your reader wants a hero who is capable of standing up to a situation. They want a hero who can think on their feet. Most readers would have a difficult time identifying with, or caring for, a hero who is an ineffective, whimpering victim of fate.
  3. Courage Readers also find it difficult to identify with cowards. This does not mean they have to be brave to the point of foolhardiness. If your hero shows courage, your reader will feel he is worth cheering for.
  4. Likeability From my perspective this is the most important of the characteristics necessary for a successful  hero/heroine. Your character can be virtuous, competent, and courageous, but if he’s proud and arrogant, readers will not identify with him. As a matter of fact, they will dislike him to the point, that they close your book and put it away. You are finished! What makes you like a person? Think about it. Is it their ability to laugh at their self? Is it their acts of kindness? Are they sensitive and caring?  Caution-Readers have as much of a problem identifying with a saint as they do with a liar or thief.
  5. Imperfections Nobodies perfect. We all have issues. By making your character perfect, you may fall into the saint category. Who can identify with that? Readers want characters that are real, three dimensional, who could be the neighbor next door. Think hard and choose you flaws wisely. You do not want anything so terrible that it turns your reader against your hero/heroine.

Note- In a genre novel you can get away with an almost flawless hero/heroine, but mainstream readers demand more. With this being said, flaws make your characters more interesting and relatable. It’s your story. You decide.

-Jan R

Character-It Matters!