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’!

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

untitledLess is more. Five adjectives in one sentence is better than six; four adjectives are better than five; three are better than four; two are better than three…By using fewer words to obtain the effect you desire, you will force yourself to use more accurate and more powerful words-Dean Koontz, ‘How To Write Best Selling Fiction’

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place-Strunk and White, ‘The Elements Of Style’

These are two great sources with amazing advice. They are not alone in their philosophy. I have read this time and time again and I understand completely were they are coming from. I am a self designated skipper. Some of you know exactly what I mean. I couldn’t care less the lady has diamond encrusted buttons running down the back of her evening gown. Unless it winds up in a murder scene, don’t go there.

I love Jerry Jenkins. He has written numerous blogs on the importance of simplicity and avoiding the urge to prettify your prose. He 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 beginner’s work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Whoa! How many times did you have to read that?

None of these authors disparage adjectives and adverbs. They see them as indispensable parts of speech. The problem is when, why, and how many times we use them. Rich ornate prose is hard to digest.

Anything that interferes with communication-excessive adjectives and adverbs, overly complicated phrasing, too elaborate metaphors and similes presented soley for the fact that the writer wants to show off his/her skills, should be omitted.

The best way to communicate with your reader, is to keep your writing simple and direct.

-Jan R

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

The Title Of Your Book Is What?!!!

imagesFFT3CQY4I was looking at some of my older blog posts this past week, when something jumped out at me.

Nine months ago I wrote a blog titled, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” It didn’t get much attention, as a matter of fact only 5 people viewed the blog and 2 of those liked it. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. It was a great blog.

Five months later I was busy and didn’t  have time to research and write a quality blog. I decided to repost, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” I made a few changes to some of the sentences, so they reflected the new time period, but other than that, the blog read word for word.

I also did one other thing; I changed the title. It was the same blog, only it’s new title was, “Edit, Edit or Edit?” The blog did exceptionally well for someone who has been blogging  less than a year. It had 99 views, 50 likes and 3 or 4 reblogs.

I shared this story to make a point. Your title really does make a difference. It’s the first thing your reader sees or hears about your book/blog/poem. Your title creates anticipation and expectation, or, perhaps disinterest. Often your title determines whether or not someone reads your work.

A good title should have the following attributes:

  • Attention grabbing
  • Memorable
  • Informative (gives idea of what book is about)
  • Easy to say
  • Not embarrassing or problematic for a person to say aloud to their friends.

Also keep in mind, that the title you start with, may not be the title you end up with. Getting the title right, may be the most important book marketing decision you make. Many well known authors have had their titles changed by publishers and editors before print. Here are a few you may recognize:

F. Scott Fitzgerald/  The Great Gatsby — Trimalchio in West Egg, On the Road to West Egg, Among Ash-heaps and Millionaires, Under the Red, White, and Blue, Gold-hatted Gatsby, or The High Bouncing Lover. I think he made the right choice 🙂

George Orwell/ 1984 — The Last Man in Europe

Ayn Rand/ Atlas Shrugged –The Strike

Harper Lee/ To Kill a Mockingbird — Atticus

Jane Austin/ Pride and Prejudice — First Impressions.

Frances Hodgson Burnett/ The Secret Garden — Mistress Mary

The title matters!!! Get it right!!!

-Jan R

 

 

The Title Of Your Book Is What?!!!

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

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!!!