Many people think writers live the life. Writers lay around in pajamas writing stories and making millions of dollars. They control their schedule, and of course, travel to exotic places all over the world.
I can picture it now. I’m sitting on a lounge chair, drinking a cold glass of lemonade, and looking out as the waves roll in, before I turn my attention back to my computer and start typing my flawless manuscript again. I can’t believe I got it perfect the first time 🙂
Only a handful of writers live out even part of that scenario, and that’s because they have become so successful they can afford to visit, or live at those exotic places, and of course, sip their drink of choice while laying on the beach typing their next best seller.
For the rest of us reality is very different. If you want to become a writer, it’s a tough road. I wanted to take a few minutes to give you a reality check, and I have listed a few things a writer has to do other than writing.
- Writers are continuously reading books in their genre and how to books/tips on writing. We analyze what works and what doesn’t work. How can we use this information to improve our own writing.
- Writers have to plan. What other books are we going to write? What’s next? We develop a strategy and create outlines for our books.
- Writers have to do research, especially if the story line takes place in a different time period or location that we are unfamiliar with.
- Writers have to network. Someone’s eyes, other than our own, must read our work. This is accomplished through participation in critique groups and attending conferences.
- Writers edit, analyze, eliminate redundancies, and then edit some more, before they even send work out to critique groups.
- Writers have to market and promote their work. Another reason to attend conference. You will also find writers on Facebook, Twitter, and keeping up with an active Website.
- Writers have to learn to accept rejection. Unfortunately, it’s a major part of the business. Writers receive many more rejections than acceptances.
- Also just like everybody else, Writers live. They have families and full time jobs.
So if you’re thinking writers live the life, think again. Writing has to be your passion. It’s the motivator that will get you through and ensure your success.
Make sure your characters behave the way they are supposed to, and don’t force them to do something that doesn’t fit with the persona you built.
You know what I’m talking about. Think about the people closest to you. You know them well, and you also know there are certain things they just wouldn’t do. Your characters should be the same. You introduced them one way-don’t send them in the opposite direction, unless you built a bridge explaining their actions or hinted that they aren’t who they pretend to be. Make sure they behave the way they are expected. That doesn’t mean they can’t surprise you occasionally, but remember they should always do what’s true to themselves.
Your character should also grow and change as they mature and face different circumstances in their lives. Felicity may start out being selfish and spoiled, but when she is forced to work at a homeless shelter, her perspective changes. She changes. She learns to empathize and relate.
Your character must act and not merely be acted upon. Nobody wants to read a book from front to back about a victim. The character may start out in peril and face numerous conflicts for which they have no control, but at some point, they had better step up and take control. Even the most passive protagonist must in the end choose to do something.
Narrative summary is a great weapon in the writers arsenal. It can be used to speed through scenes that aren’t important, slow things down after an intense scene to allow the reader to catch their breath, compress time, and to provide exposition(background information).
So what’s the problem?
Narrative summary can sound like lecturing. It’s like somebody broke into the middle of the scene, shared some information, and then stepped back out. Your reader does a double take and then attempts to reenter the story, picking up where she left off before you blind sided her. Resist the urge to explain.
Narrative summary makes the reader unclear whose POV the scene is written in. Set the scene first so we know whose POV we are in, and then add the narrative summary. Another suggestion is to tie the narrative to the POV character’s thoughts. Narrative summary should always be from the POV’s perspective.
Narrative summary runs the risk of robbing scenes of their power. You can’t summarize everything just to get through the scene. If something important is about to happen- Joanie breaks up with the man of her dreams- you need to take the time to provide details and work the scene. If Joanie is flying to Rome to meet the man of her dreams, you should probably skip details about the uneventful, boring plane ride, a sentence or two of narrative will do, but be ready for the climatic meeting at the airport. Important scenes can’t be summarized in narrative. Your reader wants to be there when John greets her at the gate, and then gets down on one knee and proposes amidst the hustle and bustle of the airport.
I had the opportunity to listen to a publisher discuss problems he sees in manuscripts the other day. While he focused on several major components of the novel during his session, I want to talk a little about scenes.
Most of you should have a pretty good understanding about what a scene is and how it fits into the novel. Your story is actually a series of scenes that continue until they reach the climax and finish.
Now there are many ways to mess up a scene, but he called attention to some things I had never really thought about, so I wanted to share them with my readers.
The most obvious mistake is jumping from one scene to the next with nothing in between. John is in the car driving home from work, and then he miraculously appears in the kitchen having an argument with his wife. What just happened? The writer failed to provide a transition.
While some people add a transition at the end of the previous scene, most transitions are provided at the beginning of the new scene. Within the first few lines actually. I never knew how important those lines were, until I saw the podcast.
So what is the purpose of the first few lines of your scene?
- They establish the point of view. With in the first few lines, I should know who’s head I’m in.
- The first few lines should establish the place where the scene occurs. When you open a scene with two people talking, your reader won’t be able to visualize where they are and what’s going on. They could be sitting in John’s living room, or walking the streets of New York City. By forcing your reader to try to figure this out, you are pulling them out of the story.
- Those first few lines should establish a sense of time. Is it day or night? Maybe he’s nervous because he’s suppose to meet someone in 15 minutes and he is 25 minutes away.
Enough about scenes for today. If you need more information, I have a blog post on the anatomy of a scene, and I would highly recommend a visit to Randy Ingermanson’s (the snowflake guy) blog.
I am doing yet another blog on dialogue. It’s one of the most important parts of your novel and will lead to your downfall if not done correctly.
A few important things to keep in mind when writing dialogue:
- Dialogue is not real speech. It is the illusion of real speech. Your dialogue should not be wordy or too formal-unless you’re talking to your boss or doing a presentation. Think about how you talk to friends and family. You don’t always use complete sentences. You trip over each other. Sometimes you don’t even get your complete thoughts out because of the constant interruptions.
- With dialogue, you can choose your words more carefully. When we speak to people, we may think, I wish I had said this or that, or I wish I had said that differently. Well in Dialogue you can. Edit your words to say just what you want, but make them sound natural.
- Fictional dialogue always has a point. You can’t waste words talking about the weather. Your dialogue has to move the story forward.
- Your characters are not the same and should speak differently. Some people are quiet, others are domineering. Some people only want to talk about themselves, are manipulative and downright unbearable to be around 🙂 Are they educated or uneducated? Are they from Alabama or New York? I think you are getting the picture.
- A character will even change the way they speak based on who they are having a conversation with. I speak differently to my husband than I do to my son. I speak differently to my boss than I do my friend.
- Dialogue used for exposition can be tricky. It is almost always better to try to find another route, unless you have mastered the skill. In most cases, a narrative summary is a much better choice. Who wants to read three pages of two characters bouncing back and forth explaining what they already know?
- Try to avoid synonyms for ‘he said, she said’. You know what I’m talking about. She whined, he exploded, she shrieked. All you are doing is driving your reader crazy and calling attention to an action you should be showing. You should even avoid ‘he said, she said’ as much as possible.
- What’s not said is just as important as what is said.
I can honestly say I have been guilty of breaking all of the rules in writing dialogue, and not in a good way.
I hope this helps some of you newbies out there to avoid some of my more memorable mistakes. Dragging dialogue 🙂 Really!
I think I’m ready to present my book to literary agents again. I’ve made numerous revisions and had it reviewed one last time by a beta reader- to make sure it flows and there are no plot holes. I have to admit I’m a little anxious, but this time around I know I am presenting a well written, publishable piece of work.
After my first round of rejections, I had my manuscript critiqued by other aspiring authors on Scribophile. I know I’ve already promoted the site, but let me say it one more time. If you have started a novel, or want to start a novel, sign up. It’s free. They do offer extras for a $65 dollar a year fee, but you don’t need to bother with that. You can post work and do critiques without the membership. Your cost is time. You critique other people’s work and they critique yours.
At any rate, I developed a relationship with one of the members who far surpassed my writing skills, I might add, and we critiqued each others work. I messaged her when I posted a new segment and apologized in advance.
I was always amazed at the number of errors I missed. I would wonder if I was getting any better. Truthfully yes, but my work still looked like a Christmas tree when she finished marking it up. The bad part is, the mistakes were so obvious when she pointed them out. I’m a pretty smart lady. Why couldn’t I see them? The only thing I could come up with, is I was too close to the story.
Are you 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.
I push scribophile because I’ve used the site and know it works. There are other groups out there that provide the same service. Just sign up with one, or join a group in your community. Get another set of eyes on your work.
I’ve been reading literary agent biographies and blogs over the last few days in an attempt to narrow my search and find a few I think would be a good fit for my novel.
While researching, I found myself going on-line and doing searches for words and abbreviations that were totally foreign to me: MG, Dystopian, MS, Upmarket and so on- I guess I still have a lot to learn.
At any rate, I thought I could save you some time by sharing a list of not so common words and abbreviations that I found during my research.
- MS: Abbreviation for manuscript (the plural being MSS).
- MG: Middle grade-ages 8-12.
- YA: Young adult-ages 12-18.
- NA: New adult: features a protagonist 18-25 and focuses on first struggles of adulthood.
- Speculative Fiction: Fiction that encompasses supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.
- Upmarket: Fiction with commercial appeal (book clubs) particularly women’s fiction.
- Dystopian: A futuristic, imagined universe, in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technical, moral, or totalitarian control.
- Literary Fiction: Serious fiction, the style and technique are often as important as the subject matter.
- Commercial Fiction: Written with the purpose of attracting as wide an audience as possible. It includes westerns, romance, mysteries and horror genres.
I’m sure I missed a few, but these are the ones I saw during my research. Who knew there were so many different categories.
I guess I’m old school. In my day it was westerns, romance, mysteries, comedies, and horror. Oh yeah, you can throw children books and youth in there as well.