If You Build It They Will Come

if-you-build-it-they-will-come-haha-just-kidding-you-still-have-to-sell-itWhen I started writing this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was I needed to start a blog. One of the agents I had queried, told me I needed a platform, and while it didn’t guarantee a book deal, it would make placing my book with a publishing house a lot easier.

So I read a book on platforms from Michael Hyatt and went to the WordPress site. I created my blog and decided to write about things I have learned, and/or had problems with during my journey to being published.

There’s so much we don’t know. So much I still don’t know, but my thought was if I shared information, it would hopefully help others to avoid some of the crazy mistakes I have made.

I was excited when I wrote that first blog. I sent it out to the world and waited anxiously for that first view. It never came. I wrote the second blog and again, there were no views. As a matter of fact, for almost six months, I wrote my blog faithfully with only a handful of views. I could literally count those views on one hand for each blog.

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I reread Michael Hyatt’s book and looked at a few articles on successful blogs. Guess what? I finally realized that just because you write and put it out there, doesn’t mean they will come. This is not ‘The Field of Dreams’, you have to do your part.

I began reaching out to fellow bloggers. Like me, they were trying to build their platforms as well. I started visiting the websites of bloggers who shared the same interests that I did. Not only did I gain some great information in the process, but I picked up followers. I didn’t have to ask people to join me. I read their blogs, offered comments on their writing, and they responded by checking my site out and doing the same.  I discovered this was a win, win for all involved.

A delightful surprise, was the friendships that arise from exchanges with other writers.  Totally unexpected.

I have added a block of time to my weekly schedule for reading blogs of fellow bloggers (those I follow, as well as new ones I would like to follow). It’s not a chore, it’s fun!!! And you will build your following 🙂

I would caution  that your writing has to offer something. Once those viewers start visiting your site, it’s up to you to keep them coming back.

-Jan R

 

If You Build It They Will Come

Grammar Is A Must-But Lose That English Teacher Writing!

English teacherI wasn’t an English major, but I never had an issue with stringing words together and making a coherent, easy to read sentence. I know most of the rules, but I also know those rules are meant to be broken, especially if you are writing fiction.

The purpose of English Teacher grammar is to understand how to create sanitized, standardized, easy to understand, impersonal, inoffensive writing. If you’re looking for a job writing pamphlets for the government, instructional manuals, or news reports, then that’s the way to go.

These rules aren’t meant for fiction. That does not mean your story shouldn’t be grammatically and structurally sound. We are talking about styles here, not mechanics.

Fiction writing is nonstandardized, complex, personal, and occasionally offensive. It is the best way to reach into your readers head and show him your words. In order to bring your voice to life and get your world on the page, you need to say goodbye to English Teacher writing.

Fiction Writing Vs. English Teacher Writing

Fiction Writing-fits the world of the book, the mouths of the characters, and the writer who wrote it. English Teacher Writing– incorporates a specific, caricatured, extreme form of writing without regard to the story’s world, characters, or even the writer and what he or she is like.

Fiction Writing changes with the situation. English Teacher Writing is unchanged.

Fiction Writing does not look to impress, it’s sole purpose is to present the story. English Teacher Writing is self-conscious, self-important, and looks and feels forced and out right silly at times.

Fiction Writing is not always pretty, but it always fits the circumstances, characters, and story. English Teacher Writing is always pretty and always smooth, but rarely fits anything.

Example:

Fiction Writing

“Get away! Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley curled into a tighter ball, her scarred, skinny arms pulling her knees up against her chest, her eyes white-rimmed, her hair wild.

English Teacher Writing

“Get away from me! Don’t lay a hand on me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley, already in a fetal position, pulled her knees tighter to her chest. she wore an expression of dazed panic, and radiated the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

-Jan R

Grammar Is A Must-But Lose That English Teacher Writing!

Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

BizarroDay-edDo your characters have their own voice or do they sound the same? I had a critique partner tell me that she couldn’t distinguish characters in my manuscript based on dialogue. They all sounded the same. If I hadn’t provided a dialogue tag, she would have had no idea which character was speaking. She was right.

This was something I definitely had to correct. So I did some research, watched a webinar, and took a class on dialogue. Distinguishing between characters is a lot easier than you would think.

One way to differentiate characters and determine who they are is through dialect.  We can learn a lot about a person based on their accent, grammar, and choice of words.

You don’t have to ask a person if they are from the North or South-just listen to how they speak and note their word choices.  While this is one of the most obvious examples for me, you can also distinguish education level, social status, race, and ethnicity from the way a person speaks.

One thing you want to avoid is coming across offensive or stereotypical(racist).  Look at your word choice or variation of syntax as tools to differentiate your characters and suggest their ethnicity.

Use slang, nonstandard syntax, or grammar to suggest race, social class, education i.e. gonna vs. going to,  kinda vs kind of,  holler vs hollow, don’t matta vs It doesn’t matter. If you have a character from abroad throw in some regional slang ( Scottish say-aye for yes and bairns for children).

The next time you read a book take a close look at your characters and their dialect. You will learn a lot, and the fact that you didn’t even think about it while reading the novel is a plus for the author. It was woven seamlessly into the story.

Creating a characters speech pattern is less about reproducing dialect and more about knowing your character. If your character is……

  • terse                –   short burst of speech
  • angry               –   speaks through clinched teeth
  • nervous           –  stammers or rambles
  • domineering  –  silent and threatening or rages

If you’re writing science fiction you can develop you own language and your own rules. There is no limits. Just be consistent.

Hope this gives you something to think about when writing dialogue. Remember to differentiate using dialect, and the dialect should match your characters position in society. Also remember to be consistent with speech patterns, unless an evolution in speech pattern is an integral part of the story (Flowers for Algernon, My fair lady).

-Jan R

 

Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

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!

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?

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. If you realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledI ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginners work he was editing.

“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 are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

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.

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 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?