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!

Do You Wannabe?

booksWhen I first decided to write my novel, I was so excited. My thought was how hard can it be?  I had a great idea, all I had to do was get it down on paper. I’ve read a lot of books and my story was every bit as good or better than some of them.

So I wrote my first novel. It was over 90,000 words. I thought I did a great job conveying the gist of the story. I had family members read it, and they thought it was great. So I sent it out to agents.

Only one of the agents I submitted to responded with why my book wasn’t publishable. My dialogue dragged, I had on-the-nose-writing, and I was head hopping. Well what the heck was all of that suppose to mean. I didn’t realize there were rules other than grammar.

Well there are rules, and if you expect an agent or a publisher to take you seriously, you’d better learn them. If you haven’t heard the terms mentioned, I would suggest googling them. I have blogs that cover the highlights. Visit me as well, and I will give you the Cliff-notes version.

My initial thought after receiving the rejections, was to throw in the towel. I must admit, I was pretty bummed. I had worked on that manuscript for over a year, faced criticism from family and friends, and developed some unrealistic expectations along the way. But I am a wannabe, and I have no intentions of becoming a wannabe that won’t.

What are the main characteristics of Wannabes that Won’t?

They take their own counsel-That’s a nice way of saying they thought they knew it all. They convinced themselves that they were experts in publishing which led to numerous mistakes. One of my favorite sayings, is you don’t know what you don’t know 🙂

They go rogue-Instead of doing their homework and getting counsel from editors and others in the business, they plunge ahead, falling all over themselves. I’m guilty of this one. I took my own counsel. So I guess I’m guilty of the first characteristic too 🙂

They follow a trend-It takes more than a year to get a book to the market(traditional publishing) and that’s after you find an agent who sells it to a publisher. By the time the book is released the trend could be over.

They believe in overnight success-Overnight success happens about 1 in 1,000,000 times. When the wannabes synopsis or proposal isn’t received with enthusiasm, they quit.

They start their career by writing a book-This may be surprising, but it is highly recommended that you begin with short stories and articles. You have skills to hone and polish, and a quarter million clichés to get out of your system. Another thought is to start a blog 🙂

They are imitative-One of the most common traits of destined quitters is their attempts to imitate famous writers. They quickly grow discouraged and quit when they realize they can’t keep up.

Writing a novel that is publishable is hard work. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are no shortcuts. If you won’t to be successful, you have to learn your craft and not give up.

-Jan R

 

Do You Wannabe?

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

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?

untitledHave you noticed some of the books you pick up, you can’t put down. I have stayed up until 3:00-4:00 in the morning finishing a book, because I had to know how it ended. I’ve  changed my plans for the day, because I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

There’s a writer I’ve followed on scribophile, who is way beyond most of the other aspiring authors on the site. My biggest frustration with her, is she doesn’t post her work fast enough, and I have to wait to see what happens next. She is great at building suspense and ending a chapter right before the climax. You have to read the next chapter to find out what happened. Or, she will dangle a little carrot in front of you and lead you by the nose. Pair this with charming characters, and you have a winner.

So, what tools are available to a writer trying to hold their reader hostage?

  • Surprise-Curiosity kills the cat and your reader. What on your first page is the reader not expecting to see? What is your hook?
  • Mystery-The thing about curiosity is that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on; what’s going to happen next. That’s why they have to keep reading.
  • Conflict-Your reader isn’t looking for a perfect world filled with love, joy, and peace. That may be your ultimate goal and resolution, but it had better be a little rocky along the way. What on your first page sets up conflict?
  • Charm-Your reader has to like your characters and be drawn into their world. Those characters are like family, and it matters what happens to them.
  • Resonance-The reader has to be able to relate to what’s going on. Your writing should evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.

When you read that next great novel, think about why you can’t put it down. What is the author doing to keep you hooked. Are they using conflict, mystery, or maybe throwing in a couple surprises to pique your interest?

Hope this got you thinking. Make your novel inescapable.

-Jan R

 

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?

Why Do Publishers Reject Your Manuscript?

1e7cba28f25210164154825f3d16c176After I completed the first very rough draft of my manuscript, I couldn’t wait to send it out to literary agents. It was a great story and I was soooo excited. What if I got more than one offer. I am a realist but a very positive one and I new that story was great.

When I started getting rejections, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe it. Well as I like to say-you don’t know what you don’t know-and I didn’t know much of anything about writing and publishing.

All I knew, was I had a great story and maybe it wasn’t perfectly written, but publishing companies have editors-right? The answer of course is yes, but that editor is there to clean up a mostly polished manuscript. Publishing companies don’t have the time or money to put in to tearing your story apart and rewriting it for you.

If you’ve ever submitted to a literary agent or publisher, you know they don’t want your entire manuscript. They want a small segment of your writing/story. A professional editor can determine if your work is worth their time within the first two to three pages.

So what are they gleaning from such a small segment?

  • Editors can tell within the first two to three pages how much editing would be required to make a manuscript publishable.
  • Are you grabbing the readers attention from the beginning?
  • Have too many characters been introduced to quickly?
  • Are you head hopping (remember only one POV character per scene)?
  • Is the setting and tone interesting?
  • Is there too much throat clearing (skip the description and backstory and get this thing moving )?

An editor can answer all of these questions within the first two to three pages. If you find yourself saying, “but they didn’t get to the good stuff,” then you need to put the good stuff at the beginning.

One of my rejections did come with notes. A gracious literary agent praised my premise stating that in fact it was a very good one, but the novel was not ready. The list of shortcomings included: grammatical and structural errors, head hopping (something I had never heard before), on-the-nose-writing(another term I had never heard), and the dreaded dragging dialogue.

She ended the list by encouraging me to not give up, learn my craft, and apply it to what I had written. I would like to encourage anyone else who has received the dreaded rejection letter likewise. Literary agents and publishers are not our enemy. They want us to succeed. When we succeed, they succeed. Give them something to work with.

-Jan R

Why Do Publishers Reject Your Manuscript?

So You Thought You Were Finished?

208-6I read a quote the other day and thought I would share it on my blog. I don’t know who wrote it, as 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 the 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’ that were excellent and inexpensive. I’ve watched webinars and also signed up for a workshop through Holly Lisle on ‘How to revise your novel’.

You don’t know what you don’t know until it’s to late. Know this, your first draft is not ready, and it’s up to you to research, learn your craft and get it done.

-Jan R

So You Thought You Were Finished?

Is Your Novel Believable?

Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?Unknown

Well that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway, but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s were research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time-can break a reader’s suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch instead of a sundial, or maybe, Scarlett O’Hara, from “Gone With The Wind”, comes prancing down the stairs in stilettos and a mini skirt; your reader would be instantly  drawn out of the story. These are extreme examples but I think it helps to make the point.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail.  Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about fireman, you do a ride along, shadow a precinct, or become a volunteer firefighter. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews.  The internet puts everything at your fingertips. My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas, but my main character is deployed to Iraq for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Iraq and have no intention of ever going there.  For that short, but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage from Camp Baharia. I also read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area describing what it was like for them. My oldest son is a sergeant in the Marines and has served in Afghanistan, so I was able to glean some information from him as well. Point is, I did some research and found what I needed to make that small but very important part of my novel believable.

It is always best to set your novels in cities that you know.  A good example of this would be Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to bog your readers down with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Is Your Novel Believable?