What are your favorite reference books on writing? We all have them. I learned following my first very rough draft, that I didn’t know a thing about writing a publishable novel. I thought I did, but the rejections and the one agent who responded set me straight.
Like many of you, I learn from my mistakes, but I am totally hoping I can keep some wannabees from making the same ones that I made.
If you follow me, you know I’ve said many times, ” You don’t know what you don’t know.” So needless to say, I began to research various sites and successful authors. I had a great story, but I didn’t know how to write a publishable novel, and no they want edit it for you even if you think you have that next number one best seller.
This led me to three of my favorite resource books.
The Elements of Style William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
How To Write Best Selling Fiction Dean R. Koontz
Eats, Shoots & Leaves Lynne Truss
I found The Elements of Style and Eats, Shoots & Leaves at a library book sale. They cost me a dollar. Unfortunately, the Koontz book is highly recommended but nowhere to be found. I purchased mine from a dealer on eBay for $65.00. I do believe it was worth the price, but you can find all of the information contained in the book on the web.
I didn’t include the Dictionary or Thesaurus. I think they are a given.
These are a few of my favorite things. Yes, I do like Mary Poppins 🙂
Hopefully, at this point, you know what plot holes are. They are gaps or inconsistencies that go against the flow of logic established by the stories plot.
When you are writing, you know what’s happening and you may not question why Suzie is talking to Jeff about needing a job in one paragraph and working for him in the next. I’m not saying you need every little step in order for your reader to follow what’s going on. I’m sure most people don’t want to know she woke up, took a shower, put on her favorite dress, ate some Cheerios, and brushed her teeth with Crest toothpaste before walking out the door to go to work, but if Jeff gave her a job, I think that’s pretty darn important. This is a missing plot piece.
Like I said, you know what’s going to happen next so you can smooth out the inconsistencies in your mind while you’re reading, but your reader does not. They are left confused and questioning how the character got from point A to point B, or why they can’t progress to point C – when it’s the logical choice.
The following pictures showcase a few infamous plot holes that should help you understand a little better what I’m trying to say. Enjoy!
I think you get the picture. Make sure your plot makes sense. Your reader is smart, and they will catch on. Push them too far and you may lose them.
You’re an aspiring author. Your ultimate goal is to find a great agent and get published. Who doesn’t want to be the author of that blockbuster book/movie of the year with a million-dollar payout?
Newbies have a tendency to set unrealistic expectations, and I can attest to this from personal experience. I’m not saying you won’t achieve your goal, but odds are, you’re going to have to start at the bottom and work your way up like the rest of us.
I’m not trying to discourage you. You can do this. I’m just trying to help you set realistic goals. I want you to be prepared not only for successes but the failures that you will most likely incur along the way.
There are some things you can and should be doing as you build your platform and prepare that first novel for publishing.
Get your life out of the way. You don’t have control over everything that goes on around you. We all have situations that arise. Don’t allow them to impede your daily writing time.
Find a trusted friend or spouse who will listen and respond intelligently. You need a cheerleader/an accountability partner.
Until you become successful, write in one genre. Once you’ve achieved success, you can spread your wings and venture into different areas.
Don’t be picky about where you get published initially. Use your experience and publications to build on new ones. You will get there.
Learn what’s selling. You want to cater to your customers.
Develop tough skin. You will probably hear a lot of things you don’t want to hear. Everybody has an opinion. Let it roll off your back!
If a bad review holds merit, adjust your writing and admit your mistakes. This is a learning process. You won’t get everything right the first time.
Don’t give up! The number one characteristic of successful authors is as you probably guessed, they’re persistent. Don’t allow a bad review or hateful word to get in your way.
Why do you choose one book over another? What’s the attraction? They’re both romances, and historical novels at that, but you can only afford one. Which novel will you purchase?
Most likely the first thing that catches your attention is the cover. At least that’s the first thing I notice. I do look at the title and the author, but they’re not the only determining factors. They catch my attention and cause me to take a second look. The front cover photo and back-cover blurb are what seal the deal.
I remember standing in a discount store looking at books when I first started this journey. An employee put the price tag over the face of the heroine on the book that I was interested in purchasing. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted so bad to yank that tag off.
The cover matters, and yes, that tag could have been a deal breaker. I saw enough of the cover to know that it was an inspirational romance set in the civil war era. That was a plus and enough to encourage me to read the back cover to determine the premise of the story.
I know some people read the first couple of pages, but I have to admit that is not something I do when determining my selection. Maybe I’m shallow. I have no doubt I have missed out on a lot of great books because the cover failed to get my attention.
I can tell you this, the process of determination I use to choose a book appears to be the norm based on my observations of others in bookstores. The author’s name may catch a customer’s attention, but when they pull that book off the shelf, they look at the cover photo and then read the summary on the back before deciding to purchase.
What’s important to you? What compels you to choose one book over another?
Just something else to think about as you prepare to publish your work.
Leading with the setup. If you’re like me, you thought you needed to give your reader some information up front so they could better understand your characters and what was going on. I guess it was a little boring, but my reader was well prepared for the good stuff they never got to 🙂 Setup, regardless of how well written, is boring. Try to weave in small amounts at a time.
Telling too much. Yes, I’m guilty of this one too. Remember backstory and passive voice distance the reader from the action. If your reader’s sense of immediacy is lost, meaning she can’t visualize the events as they occur, you may lose her.
Scenes that lack conflict. You probably guessed I was guilty of this one too 🙂 I had scenes that were nothing but backstory and setup. I really feel bad for the family members and friends I asked to read my finished manuscript.
Writing unsympathetic characters. Yes, I got this one right 🙂 Readers want to connect emotionally with the heroine and hero. They want to root for them, laugh with them, and cry with them. Clearly establish the character’s motivation for behaving in any manner that might make them appear unsympathetic.
Giving the reader a reason to stop reading. Don’t allow a chapter or scene to end in an anti-climactic moment. Always end scenes/chapters with a hook. And yes, I’m guilty of this one too 🙂
Everybody wants to get published. Once my first manuscript was completed, I didn’t hesitate to send it out. I knew it had a few grammatical and structural errors. There’s no way you can catch them all. That’s what an editor is for, right? My story was so good, or so I thought, an agent would jump on it and have their editors correct my mistakes.
Well, that wasn’t exactly what happened. I’ve written numerous posts outlining the errors I made in that first very, very rough draft. When you begin your writing career, odds are you don’t know what you don’t know. Writing a publishable piece of work isn’t easy.
I received a rejection letter from every agent I submitted to with the exception of one, who I like to think saw a promising new author in that mess somewhere. She did reject my work as well, but instead of sending a form letter, she praised what was right and pointed out what was wrong.
Her list was long, and I was more than a little shocked once I realized how rough that first draft really was. She used words like head-hopping, writtenese, and dragging dialogue. That didn’t even include the grammatical and structural errors. You know, the ones the editor was going to correct :-), although she pointed those out too.
Do your homework and remember, that first draft is the first draft. Get it done, then get it good.
I remember my middle sister as a child. She would often be found sitting in the corner with her nose in a book. She didn’t play well with others. Well to be honest, she didn’t want to play with anyone at all. Her friends were imaginary. I always thought that she was a little strange, and she probably was, but she is also one of the most talented writers I know.
You haven’t heard of her or read any of her work. Why? Because she writes in a vacuum. I have encouraged her for years to reach out and join the writing community.
She is an introvert, like most of us who seem to enjoy the keyboard much more than a group of pretentious people. I would be okay with that if she belonged to writing groups, or had people she related to that could help motivate her to move forward with her craft.
You don’t have to interact with others face to face, at least not at first. If that’s not your cup of tea, go online. Join writing groups and form relationships with other author want-to-bes. There are some great ones out there that cater to just what you’re looking for.
I am a member of Scribophile. It’s a great site to seek critiques and suggestions from fellow writers. Members on this site operate at different levels of expertise. I have gotten some great feedback, but I have also received feedback that was not up to par. I was pleasantly surprised at the community in the group and the willingness of total strangers to help me with my work.
Romance Writers of America rwa.org
Mystery Writers of America mysterywriters.org
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sfwa.org
I think you’re getting the picture. I was a member of Romance Writers of America and need to renew. You can get excellent information and discounts from these sites. They will keep you informed on contests, conferences, writing groups/forums, what’s selling, agents looking for new works, and information on how to improve your craft.
Hands down the best advice ever. A friend gave me a beautiful plaque that I sat on my desk at work and read often to remind myself that success was just around the corner. Failure was simply a steppingstone. I would like to share it with you today and hopefully provide some encouragement and motivation to keep moving forward.
Pursue your dreams! Prepare yourself for success! Pick yourself up when you fall! Don’t you quit!!!
I’ve shared this blog before, but it’s been a while, and a message I think needs to be heard. As new writers, we sometimes listen to everybody but ourselves. Friends and critique partners mean well, but if you let them, some will try to take over your novel and mold it into what they think it should be.
I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing and stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received from a critique partner.
The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.
The more I looked at the changes this person suggested, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way the story needed to go, and I had mine.
With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her, my story is more believable, my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.
However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.
Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not?
If you find yourself reading a sentence more than once, or adding information for clarification, that’s a red flag.
Your reader has less information than you. If you are confused by your work, you can only imagine what your reader is going through. I love a great mystery, but my writing shouldn’t be one.
It’s not the reader’s job to interpret your work. You should be clear and concise. If your writing causes a pause something isn’t working.
I have to admit I love dangling modifiers though. They are some of my favorite mess-ups. I even wrote a blog entitled ‘just for laughs’. They are funny, but not in the middle of a serious scene. You don’t have to try to hard to imagine how quickly they can pull your reader out of their suspension of disbelief.
Dangling modifiers occur when the modifier has no clear referent, and twist the meaning of your sentence in an unintended fashion.
I saw a tree walking down the street. Who knew a tree could walk 🙂
The babysitter handed out sandwiches to all the children in Ziplock bags. I just want to know how those children got in those bags 🙂
Misplaced modifiers are similar but not nearly as fun to read. As with dangling modifiers, there is no clear referent, which can lead to a clumsy and confusing sentence.
Lucy carefully studied the situation. Lucy studied the situation carefully.
Another mistake new writers make that isn’t always as obvious but makes for a clumsy sentence that will cause a pause is comma splicing.
Comma splicing is when two sentences are linked by a comma, but they don’t really work because they’re two separate ideas.
John saw the rabid fox and ran to the house to get his gun, and he forgot to eat lunch and his tummy rumbled.
What about ambiguous sentences? The sentence is grammatically and structurally sound, but the reader has no idea what you are talking about.
My older students know I’m extremely careful with my language. Is the teacher referring to age or length of time the students have been in his/her class?