Eavesdropping 101

6359627662701758141159765676_6359627662640862281199997867_55150-coffee_shopI read an article today on the importance of eavesdropping. It reminded me of an online workshop I viewed several years ago.

At the time an agent had responded to a submission I made. One of her concerns was with my dialogue. It was dragging and not moving the story forward.

She was right of course. It was dragging, and doing a lot of other things that I will share in an upcoming blog, but for now I will focus on the importance of eavesdropping.

To write good dialogue, you have to understand the art of conversation. What better way to research and sharpen your skills, than to eavesdrop on conversations going on around you.

Some of the best places to eavesdrop are in restaurants and coffee shops. Take a pencil and pen, or computer, and be prepared to take notes.

The number one rule to eavesdropping, as you may guess, is to be inconspicuous. You may not want to sneak a peak of the conversationalists until after you’ve listened for a while.

Eavesdropping can provide inspiration for your character’s dialogue. Below is a list of things to pay attention to while eavesdropping.

  • Notice difference in speech patterns
  • Word repetitions
  • Voice inflection
  • Word choices
  • Differences in male and female conversation
  • Words that reflect mood
  • The lack of sentence structure, poor grammar, such as incomplete sentences

You can tell a lot about a person just by listening to how they talk. Are they educated? What part of the country do they come from? Are they depressed, manic, a busy body, positive, negative, happy, sad, rich, poor, . . .?

Keep in mind that dialogue isn’t conversation, but you could say that conversation is the rough draft of dialogue. Conversation includes ‘uhs’ and ‘you knows’, as you gather and consider your words. Dialogue is direct, to the point, and punchy.

-Jan R

Eavesdropping 101

Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Writing That Cover Letter

cover-letter-impressive-resumesI’m quickly approaching the point in the writing process, where I need to start looking at  submission requirements for the agents/publishers I would like to contact with a proposal.

Agents and publishers have different requirements. It’s very important that you find out what those requirements are and follow them to the letter. Failure to do so could land your proposal in the rejection pile without being reviewed. It doesn’t matter how great you think your novel is. They will never know.

The first step to most proposals is the cover letter.  It should be no longer than one page. Not one and a bit, and not one in an uncomfortably small font. You may have a lot to say, but at this point, remember to keep it concise. Just because your plot is complex, doesn’t mean your letter needs to be.

The main aim of your cover letter is to give the agent/publisher more details about your manuscript and you, the author. Things like

  • manuscript title
  • genre
  • word count
  • manuscript blurb
  • market placement
  • target audience
  • author background
  • contact information (don’t forget this one)

Remember to follow the submission guidelines and tailor your letter to the requirements specified. For example, some ask you to say how you heard about them, and whether you have sent your work to other agents.

In every case, it is very important to address your letter to someone, rather than to a generic ‘To whom it may concern.’ Consider your cover letter an introduction to you and your work.

Also keep in mind that your cover letter, is the first impression any agent/publisher will have of your writing abilities. Therefore it should be straightforward and concise. Treat your cover letter as a business letter-after all that is what it is.

Lots of information and great examples of winning cover letters on the internet. I would recommend that you read a few, or maybe a lot-especially if this is your first attempt 🙂

-Jan Rouse

Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Writing That Cover Letter

How Do I Write A Perfect Opening Line?

first-linesSo how do I write the perfect opening line? I know it has to be great. I know it has to grab the reader and pique their interest from the get go, but I haven’t been able to locate a magic formula.

To be honest, I don’t think there is one. What I’ve observed, is great opening lines come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common. They get your attention or leave you wanting to know more.

Strategies for writing the perfect opening line:

Get an emotional response from your reader. Use strong words that elicit surprise, laughter, anger, shock….

  • “They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.” Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
  • “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road

Leave the reader wanting to know more

  • I have lived more than a thousand years. Ann Bashares, My Name is Memory
  • It was a bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell, 1984
  • Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife Shuyu.  Ha Jin, Waiting
  • They shoot the white girls first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise

Establish a unique voice….

  • If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parent’s were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Use the first sentence to tell us about the story….

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice
  • As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Use a philosophical truth….

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
  • No comet blazed when I was born. Denis Healy, The Time of My Life

A dramatic statement….

  • You better never not tell nobody but God. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

The next time you read a good book, check out the opening line. What makes it great? What about it caught your attention and made you want to read on? What was the strategy the author used to hook you?

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

How Do I Write A Perfect Opening Line?

How’s That Elevator Speech Coming?

63db621ddaa09ed3a5c852aae3758e7f722f_lI first wrote this article about 7 months ago. I attended a conference with my husband and found myself in an embarrassing and somewhat frustrating situation. I like to share information that I hope will help others, and prevent them from making some of the mistakes that I have. What was my mistake? I wasn’t prepared. The thought never crossed my mind that I would be expected to share what I was writing. I knew I would at some point, but the book wasn’t even ready to submit.

Attending the conference was a great get away for me, and a chance to focus on my novel without the distractions of home. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself and making some significant progress.

My husband and I were invited to join some of his peers for supper the evening before we were scheduled to leave. I sat quietly, surrounded by men talking shop. I figured all I had to do was smile and display exemplary dining skills-boy was I wrong.

About half way through the meal, one of the men looked over at me and said, “Your husband told us what you do during the day while he is at the conference. We would love to hear a little more about your book. What’s it about?”

Well, I froze, my mind went totally blank, and it was all I could do to control my suddenly out of whack emotions, as I turned to face this man who had the audacity to ask me such a question.

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have an Elevator Speech. I didn’t think I needed one. I felt foolish and was caught totally off guard. You never know when you’ll come across someone who’ll ask you what your book is about. I’ll be prepared the next time.

Some things to keep in mind :

  • Remember when you are crafting your speech, you are talking to another human being.
  • You only have 30-60 seconds. Don’t try to tell them the entire story.
  • Content is as important as delivery. It doesn’t matter if it’s well delivered if it’s boring and uninspiring. Make them want to hear more!
  • If you are attending a conference, you don’t want to accost agents/editors-wait for an invite or an appropriate opening. They know why you are there. Introduce yourself. Engage in small talk, they will usually ask.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to memorize every word and sound like a robot or like you’re reading a teleprompter, but you do want your Elevator Speech to flow and be cohesive. You want it to sound natural.
  • Always be prepared and show passion.

If you haven’t prepared your speech, you need to start working on it. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody is going to ask.

-Jan R

How’s That Elevator Speech Coming?

Don’t Give Up!!!

34aaed633d9b47ae116fef8987ff47b6--fitnessmotivation-never-give-upI love this quote. It applies to all aspects of life. I am an aspiring author, and remind myself often that the key to success is to not give up.

Since my adventure began over five years ago, I have read numerous stories from well known authors about their journey to becoming published. I put so much time and effort into my craft, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged and wonder what I was doing wrong. It encouraged me to know that I was not alone but in great company.

The one common theme in all of their stories was perseverance. The agent that worked with me on my book, always ended her critiques with don’t give up.

If you have a high quality, marketable piece of work, persevere, and you will eventually find an agent and get published.

Kathryn Stockett wrote The Help over a five year period of time, then had three and a half years worth of rejections. 60 in all. It was agent 61 who took her on. The book spent 100 weeks on the best seller list. Not sure if you are familiar with her novel, but you probably have heard of the movie based on this book. Now I would call that perseverance.

Other notable Authors who suffered rejection but persevered:

  • Richard Adam’s Watership Down- 17 rejections
  • Frank Herbert’s   Dune –   20+ rejections
  • JK Rowlings’  Harry Potter –  12+ rejections
  • Nicholas Sparks’  The Notebook- 24 rejections.

ee09f5759b0ea96ba6e01b6f41b29667I hope you are getting the picture. You can’t give up on your dreams. Revise, edit, do what you have to do to make your story great, but don’t give up.

Hope this offered a little encouragement.  I know how disheartening it can be to send your baby out and have it rejected. Don’t take it personal and don’t quit.

-Jan R

Don’t Give Up!!!

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Powerful verbs list image 1I wish I could take credit for this blog but it was written by Jerry Jenkins. He is probably my favorite blogger and one of my favorite authors. You can find him at jerryjenkins.com

He did give permission to share this blog with any writer who needed to read it. He wanted to get the word out. So I thought about you, my followers.

Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and powerful verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless of what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills, train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 195 powerful verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

  • Is
  • Am
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Should
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it—is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhausted all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose any your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Examples

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

 

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

 

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

 

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

Examples

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

 

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Examples

Before: He was walking

After: He walked

 

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

 

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

The List of 195 Powerful Verbs

  • Advance
  • Advise
  • Alter
  • Amend
  • Amplify
  • Attack
  • Balloon
  • Bash
  • Batter
  • Beam
  • Beef
  • Blab
  • Blast
  • Bolt
  • Boost
  • Brief
  • Burst
  • Bus
  • Bust
  • Capture
  • Catch
  • Charge
  • Chap
  • Chip
  • Clasp
  • Climb
  • Clutch
  • Collide
  • Command
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crush
  • Dash
  • Demolish
  • Depart
  • Deposit
  • Detect
  • Deviate
  • Devour
  • Direct
  • Discern
  • Discover
  • Drain
  • Drip
  • Drop
  • Eavesdrop
  • Engulf
  • Enlarge
  • Ensnare
  • Erase
  • Escort
  • Expand
  • Explode
  • Explore
  • Expose
  • Extend
  • Extract
  • Eyeball
  • Fish
  • Frown
  • Gaze
  • Glare
  • Glisten
  • Glitter
  • Gobble
  • Govern
  • Grasp
  • Grip
  • Groan
  • Growl
  • Guide
  • Hail
  • Heighten
  • Hurry
  • Ignite
  • Illuminate
  • Inspect
  • Instruct
  • Intensify
  • Intertwine
  • Impart
  • Journey
  • Lash
  • Lead
  • Leap
  • Locate
  • Magnify
  • Moan
  • Modify
  • Multiply
  • Mushroom
  • Mystify
  • Notice
  • Notify
  • Obtain
  • Oppress
  • Order
  • Paint
  • Park
  • Peck
  • Peek
  • Peer
  • Perceive
  • Picture
  • Pilot
  • Pinpoint
  • Place
  • Plant
  • Plop
  • Poison
  • Pop
  • Position
  • Power
  • Prickle
  • Probe
  • Prune
  • Realize
  • Recite
  • Recoil
  • Refashion
  • Refine
  • Remove
  • Report
  • Retreat
  • Reveal
  • Revolutionize
  • Revolve
  • Rip
  • Rise
  • Ruin
  • Rush
  • Rust
  • Scan
  • Scrape
  • Scratch
  • Scrawl
  • Seize
  • Serve
  • Shatter
  • Shepherd
  • Shimmer
  • Shine
  • Shock
  • Shrivel
  • Sizzle
  • Skip
  • Slash
  • Slide
  • Slip
  • Slurp
  • Smash
  • Snag
  • Snarl
  • Snowball
  • Soar
  • Sparkle
  • Sport
  • Stare
  • Steal
  • Steer
  • Storm
  • Strain
  • Stretch
  • Strip
  • Stroll
  • Struggle
  • Stumble
  • Supercharge
  • Supersize
  • Surge
  • Survey
  • Swell
  • Swipe
  • Swoon
  • Tail
  • Tattle
  • Transfigure
  • Transform
  • Travel
  • Treat
  • Trim
  • Uncover
  • Unearth
  • Untangle
  • Unveil
  • Usher
  • Veil
  • Weave
  • Wind
  • Withdraw
  • Wreck
  • Wrench
  • Wrest
  • Wrestle
  • Wring

Of course there are many more. Jerry Jenkins just provided a list of examples to get you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing