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A Sandwich Always Requires a Good Amount of Meat


I love a good sandwich. Give me a good sandwich, a handful of chips and an Izze and life is good. But here’s the thing, screw up that sandwich and I will be one unhappy camper; especially if you skimp on the meat. I like my meat, it’s what gives the sandwich it’s A rating. Skimp on the meat and all you have is two lonely pieces of bread, some mayo and perhaps a depressing little dab of mustard….what you don’t have is a sandwich.

Stories are just like a sandwich. (Bear with me) You have two pieces of bread…the beginning and the ending…., you have mayo…the description and “dressing” of your story and you have that dab of mustard, something for a little spice and/or mystery. Then there is the meat…the thing that makes your story a story. The meat of your story is what makes it’s all worthwhile. It’s why we came…it’s why we ordered the sandwich…we wanted the meat.

I have read a lot of writers over the years that have plenty of mayo and even more mustard than you can shake a stick at but they left out the meat. Their story is intertwined with description so clear that you can see the places they describe in your mind when you close your eyes. But as you read the story you quickly realize that there is no actual substance to the story. It’s all condiments…who wants just the condiments? (Besides my 2 year old grandson who thinks that ranch dressing is a side dish) A story has to have the whole package. It has to be the foot long sub, the Swiss, rye and corned beef, the BLT with extra “B”. Let’s face it, anything less wouldn’t be a sandwich…ummm…I mean story; you get the picture.

So while you are pounding away at the keyboard this week working on that novel that’s gonna make us all rich…don’t forget to beef up your story so that it has substance. Make those main characters strong parts of your story, focus you main storyline so that the reader feels compelled to read on. You don’t want to feed your readers condiments…if you do…they will just find another deli. (Gotta go, I’m hungry now…)

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Plot, Structure, Writing

 

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When Things are Tense…


I have an 11 year old daughter. She has a bit of a learning challenge in that she still has trouble with tense. She will often say something with the wrong tense and we have to correct her which irritates the crap out of her.  (Did I mention that she is a pre-teen in full bloom too? It’s all kinds of fun at our house.) While pondering this the other day, in an attempt to try and figure out how to help her better, it occurred to me…that’s probably how readers feel when writers screw up the tense too.

There are some types of stories where it is easy to mix up the present, past and future. One of my first novels took place in both the present and, in flashbacks, the past. I was a young writer and that particular novel, “Beyond the Call” (found here…http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Call-Jamie-DAntoni/dp/0877142548/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336756639&sr=1-8) was quite the challenge. If I wasn’t careful I would bring things into the present that needed to have been addressed in a flashback and vice versa. At times it became difficult because with this type of novel, cause and affect are a really big deal. The story’s foundation was firmly planted in both the back story and the ongoing story which, if I did my job right, would meld together at some point towards the end of the story. It wasn’t an easy task, finishing that novel, but it ended up getting me more than a few pats on the back when it was completed and on the shelves.

Is it easier to just stay in one time frame? Why yes it is…but where’s the fun in that? I like giving the reader the history behind why my characters are acting like a bunch of donkeys. I admit that this is a personal thing as well, I’m an answer person…I need answers as to why and so I feel obligated to do the same for my readers. Many writers are afraid to use all or even two different tenses within their story and I get that…it can be daunting. I learned a lot reading other writers who also used more than one tense in their stories. The first one that pops into my mind is Dean Koontz and his story “Lightening”. It’s a great book and great use of all three tenses. (If I tell you any more about the story I’d have to kill you, or Dean Koontz would kill me so buy the book)

Don’t be afraid to bounce around and play with your timelines. It’s a great tool for allowing backstory in and it’s a great way to draw the reader into more than one aspect of your novel. Past, present or future…just allow your story to flow naturally and you’ll know what happens when. Just remember that when you are making more than one stop on the time train…don’t get your train stops mixed up…don’t want to drop your reader in 1941 waiting for the microwave to heat up his coffee because that would just be awkward.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Plot, Structure, Writing

 

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If at First You Don’t Succeed….Lock Yourself in a Closet and Do it Anyways


Writing takes persistence. Let me repeat that, only in a way that most people will understand….writing takes a long damn time and often you have to do the same work over and over again until it is right for the publisher; deal with it.

Too many new writers give up after just one try at the craft. I don’t think that this makes them any less a writer than you and I…I think they lack persistence which is key to being successful at what we do. Persistence isn’t what makes you a writer but it can be what makes you a successful writer. We, as writers, live with rejection; it’s a part of what we do. It’s tough and sometimes we get our witty bitty feelings hurt in the process…that doesn’t mean give up…it means try again, harder.

When I began my writing career just after the dinosaurs died off, (okay maybe not that long ago but some days it feels like it) writers understood the value of persistence. The reason why is because we were told very early on that persistence was a part of the process. In today’s world of digital publishing new writers expect their work to be responded to quickly and then, if it isn’t, they just publish it themselves through a blog or website. Guys…this doesn’t take away from your being a writer but it does skip a part of it that allows you to develop that thick skin we all so desperately need thus making us better writers. Rejection and the need to be persistent are two things that take you through the grieving process when you writing ego takes a dive. It goes something like this:

You finish your book

A publishing house says, “sure send it in” (which is usually editor code for, I haven’t made enough writers cry this week)

You get a rejection letter telling you that your story is great but they would like you to change everything after the first sentence.

You cry, scream at the dog, drink yourself silly, binge eat for 7 days and then swear off Twinkies and start your novel over.

It’s a process and each time you go through it several things happen, (a) you develop a little thicker skin, (b) you learn some things about how to make your novel better and (c) you grow as a writer. Yep, this is a need-to-go-through process in order to become an even better writer because it teaches you persistence…which you need…to write…and get published….an handle rejection…. Trust me, when it all seems like it is going wrong, that’s the time to pull your pants up (because you just mooned the publisher who rejected your great American novel) and start again.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

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I Vaguely Remember Some Guy Doing Something Somewhere


The word today kids is, “vague”…it starts with the letter “v” and ends in the total boredom of your readers… These days we writers are pounded on by critics and “literary” types who tell us what we should write and how we should write it. It’s annoying. If I wanted play by play advice on how MY story should go…I’d let you write it. I want to write my story and I want to make all of the mistakes we are supposed to make in order to be a better writer. It is the only way I will learn.

I have to stop there and say that, if I were honest, (and I try to be most of the time) there are a few mistakes that I wish someone would have warned me about before I made them; like not rambling on in my query letter about stupid crap. (Dear Person I want to publish my crap…I am a wonderful human being who helps small ducks cross the road and doesn’t pummel the neighbors kids ever when they are obnoxious and deserve it…please publish my 15000000 word book on merits of Drain-O…) Or not demanding that everyone I know read my manuscript…(Me to total stranger on the street: Read it…READ it…READ IT) I also wish someone would have warned me about being vague when I write.

I know that when we go vague, we often don’t realize that we are doing it. I started doing it after a “creative writing teacher” (note the quotes…..some of you know teachers like this…they tell you that your stuff is crap and then fill you head with stories about how they could have been the next Steinbeck…yeah sure…DORA Steinbeck maybe) told me that I was too detailed in my work. Be more vague, she said, add an air of mystery, she told me….it messed me up until a nice editor sent my manuscript back and told me that it was crap because it was “too vague”. He used words like “focus” and phrases like, “stay on the path” and “don’t be too vague”…. Too vague??? Hummmm…..so I went back to writing the way I had before and guess what? The book published 6 months later after an extensive rewrite adding more detail. (Take that “creative writing teacher” who should have been a stripper…well she was cute just not a writer)

I know that there is a trend right now to try and not be too detailed…I agree with that to some degree because I know some writers who will kill you with details, however, you must create a balance. Some detail is needed to fill out your story but there does need to also be some mystery; strike a balance. But remember “too vague” is bad…if you leave out too many details you can lose the readers or you will find your story populated with a lot of vague characters that no reader can get to know.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Writing

 

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Why is the Word Abbreviation So Long?


Let’s take a moment to talk about my pet peeve #7230…the over use of acronyms and abbreviations. Seriously…is there anyone else out there who gets tired of writers who take shortcuts by using these?

“Bert discovered he was OCD at the USC after joining the USAF in CA when his mom died of PTSD.” –stupid writer….

It’s annoying, it doesn’t help the reader “get” the story and it’s lazy.

Acronyms and abbreviations are for letter addressing and useless titles given to people who think they are more important than they are. They are not for story writing. It makes sense to use them when writing news stories and magazine articles, but even then, they should be used sparingly. Over use means that a reader who has a short attention span has to keep flipping back in order to keep track of which letters mean what. Even worse, writers who aren’t paying attention can screw them up by getting dyslexic in the middle of their story….now your reader is REALLY confused….does Bert have PTSD or PSTD or DTSP? (or SIYKMS….stop it your killing me syndrome)

No matter how good a writer you are, the over use of these is a bad, bad thing. As a writer who reads…it annoys the crap out of me…enough to make me put a book down and not pick it back up. We don’t speak like that so why would we write that way?

So if you find yourself reading back over your work and it has more random letters throughout than structured words…change it. Isn’t it bad enough that texting has us LMAO, ROFLMAO and ROFLMAOADMS? (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off after dropping my sombrero) Stop it already!

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Healthy Writers, Structure, Writing

 

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Revision – Doing it Wrong the First Time or Making it Better


Revision. Most writers hate having to revise. They figure they have slaved away at the first draft, the second draft and even, at times, a third draft; why should they then have to revise anything else? The thing is, if your novel gets accepted by a publisher…any publisher…there is gonna be some revising. So deal with it.

I have a confession to make, (for those of you keeping track that’s confession # 5) I love to revise. I know, you are now screaming at the computer screen again, “you freak! What is wrong with you?” There’s nothing wrong with me, I have just chosen to look at revising in a different way. You can take revising as a way for someone to say that your work is crap OR you can take it as a way someone has said it has even more potential. I have really low self-esteem so I choose to go with the potential. (every little thing helps)

Revising is that point where your basics are all done, you’ve edited it to the point of insanity and now there’s room for some enhancement. I enjoy revising because it gives me a chance to really flesh out my story. I can add the three legged dog that lives next door because I want to, not because he fits into the story. I can add the quirks that we all love so much. Revision is the time to add in those little things that make your story real. Recently I was working on a piece where the main character was damn near perfect…I had to fix that…no one is perfect, so I gave him a tick…he now tends to clear his throat at inopportune moments. Is this key to the story? Nope, it’s just another way for me to add some life in. I wouldn’t have done that at the editing stage but I have full reign at the revising stage.

I do understand how having a total stranger ask you to go over your story one-more-time can be annoying but try and see it from an optimistic point of view. It’s a chance to make the story even better and it is a chance to breathe real life into your novel by adding all those things that make us human. Revision shouldn’t be something that makes you go all chainsaw massacre but instead grab a carving knife and delicately trim and enhance your novel until it is truly something people will read and say, wow, I felt like I was in a whole other world while reading that.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Revision, Writing

 

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Character Studies – Don’t Spoil Your Characters


A good writer will create meaningful and full-rounded characters. A great writer will create characters that are meaningful and full-rounded who can think for themselves. Think for themselves? Whatever do you mean O’ wise Jai? (lol, some days I tickle myself…) Well, you have a choice when you create characters and embark on story telling….you can either, spoil your characters and tell the story yourself, or you can get the heck out the way making them do the work and let the characters tell the story. No…I’m not crazy – hear me out.

Story characters are very much like children. If you do everything for them you will spoil them, making them lazy, thus goofing up your story. Your characters should be created in such a way that they can do their job…tell the story. I create my characters, give them the storyline and then step back and see what they do. You, as the writer, are sort of a game show host. In my head it goes a little like this:

“Burt Cummings come on down! You are the next character in the story! Now, your position within the story is that of a victim and you’re being chased in a subway by a creepy woman carrying a rather large knife wearing nothing but striped socks! What – Do – You – Do?!”

And then I sit back and watch Burt do his thing, recording what happens like a reporter. You see if I know Burt (and I think I do, I created him) he will react naturally. He will do what a guy like Burt will do, run until he falls down, beg for his life and his last thought will be something stupid like, “hey I have those same socks”. I know this because it is what Burt will do based on his personality and his life choices. I’m not “making” Burt do these things, if I did, Burt would have no life.

You have to allow your characters to be the story and you have to take the role of observer. If you don’t you will spoil the characters and spoil your story. We often hear other authors say that they have no idea how a story will end or that the ending was quite a surprise even for them….I get that, I am the same way. I have had more than one character take a story in a totally different direction because it’s what they decided. So let your characters do their thing and don’t spoil them. They are big kids and they know what to do.

 

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Character Studies – Let the Anger Flow


Building characters for your story is a tricky business. While some writers would have you believe that creating people to populate your stories is child’s play, it isn’t. Creating characters and giving them life can sometimes be as hard as shooting the wings off a fly at 100 feet while naked standing on a wooden stump after having drank a whole lot of tequila. Not only is it hard but, if you do I wrong, people will laugh.

One of the key elements to building a good character is the emotion that you provide them with. You have to remember that the characters in your story are other people and NOT extensions of you. Now some of you may be saying “whoa! But so and so said that every character is an extension of me”…nope…so and so is wrong. (and really needs to think about a name change) If you make all of your characters an extension of yourself you will write into them all of the things that you do ensuring that your characters are all the same person and that, as wonderful as you may be, isn’t a good thing. Your characters have to be different from one and other and they have to have their own reactions to life.

Let’s talk about anger. Anger is one of those emotions that evoke a response that is very personal. No two people do it the same way. If all your characters, for instance, threw things when they were mad all you’d have is a bunch of throwing; let’s face it, someone has to duck…right? Giving your characters an anger reaction makes them real. It allows you to flesh out the story with raw emotion. Think about two of your friends and how they deal with anger. I’ll bet you will find yourself saying that at least one of them has a unique way of dealing with anger and that is part of what makes him/her themselves. That’s my point. Giving your characters a reaction of their own leads to a backstory as to why they react that way which leads to how they handle their own reaction, which leads to how that reaction affects the overall storyline…well you see where this is going. Your story is literally built on the backs of the characters you build and how they deal with their “stuff” is the story that is the foundation of your story. (Whew!) You have to let the anger flow where it may as well as all of the other strong motivators like love, greed, jealousy and even laziness. You are populating a world, a world that you are inviting your readers to move into for a while so don’t bore them with one dimensional characters. Give your characters life, make em angry and see how they react because, after all, that’s life.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Character Studies, Writing

 

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Beware the Internal Editor Zombie


You all know him….he’s that guy, in your head. You know, that guy, who causes you to constantly question what you wrote mere seconds ago and tries to force you to edit as you go. Ignore him; scream at him to go away, try and destroy him by eating as many Twinkies as you can…(ok that last one might not be a great idea) but whatever you do…don’t listen to him!

The internal editor can be your friend such as when you are having a conversation with someone that you don’t particularly care for. He stops your mouth from saying things like, “hello, why are you talking to me” as opposed to, “hello, I need to get going”. He’s the guy who stops you from calling your dad a doody head when he won’t let you borrow the car. In these ways, your internal editor is working for the light side, doing good and keeping you from getting grounded by your dad, but there is also, for us writers, a dark side.

The dark side of our internal editor is the side that prevents us from completing a story because he/she keeps popping in to tell us to edit. Editing while getting the story down on paper will ensure that two things happen, (a) your story will so fluid that the changes can keep you stuck and (b) you might never finish the story because it is so fluid. I have a ghost writing project going for instance where the client seems to think that editing as we go is okay. No matter how many times I explain that the first draft is getting the story down, it doesn’t matter….it’s frustrating. I know my internal editor, I named him Mick and he can be a real pain in the arse. I love him around for the final edits but as I go, chewing on my story…there are times when I want to hire the Boondock Saints to take him out.

You must remember that the internal editor is a bit like a mindless zombie walking around in your head muttering, “edit…edit…I need edits”. You have to control him or he’ll take over your story altogether and it will never get finished. Make him stay away while you get your story on paper and then let him nom, nom, nom on the edits after that. He’s helpful but only at the right time.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Inspiration, Structure, Writing

 

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Search and Research Were Sitting on a Rock, Search Fell off, who was Left


Research! Ok, I admit it that was a dumb play on an old joke our fathers irritated us with on car trips when we were little, but I do have a point. As a writer, research should be right up there with…well…breathing. How many times have you picked up a book, began reading and suddenly found yourself screaming out…”that’s not true”! I know because I have done it. In fact, I have done it while, ahem, reading my own stuff. (Crap!)

Research is required any time you are going to spit out facts in your novel. Nothing is more self-defeating for a writer than to have readers catch them with their pants down on a fact. Granted, if you write fantasy you can play with the facts but that is the only genre where that is possible. AND, even if you are playing with characters who aren’t real, vampires, ghosts and the like, there are still some accepted rules that you must follow or your brethren will stake you. (i.e. vampires don’t sparkle. I know, I know…back, Twilight fans, back!) Even when writing vampire stories, research is still required.

Now you might be talking to this blog as you are reading saying, “now what difference does it make if I get some small fact about quantum physics wrong. No one will notice”, I’m here to tell you, yes they will. It is like a writer’s law akin to Murphy’s Law, if you askew the facts, the only guy who understands quantum physics in five states will read your book. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the kind of book you think geeks would read, one of them will and then your butt will be in the fire for that “small thing that you thought no one would care about”. True story…in one of my first books I had some information about the Vietnam War. I had researched the crap out of that time period and the war itself and I was pretty confident that I would not screw it up. The book was a mystery-thriller, NOT a war history piece yet it attracted the attention of a Vietnam Vet named Scott. Scott wrote me a letter. (Not an e-mail but an actual letter, I still have it) In the letter he explained to me that the place in which one of the flashback scenes in the book takes place was on the south end of the country, not the north as I had stated in my book. I wrote him back, thanked him for pointing it out but stated (I was young) that it didn’t really matter, because the book was a work of fiction. I got another letter from him three weeks later and in the middle of the page there was one typed sentence. It read, (I kid you not) “That’s where my brother was killed as I stood next to him; it matters to me.” I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. It was a fast, hard lesson for me in how important research can be.

So, do your research even if you think it’s silly because that one small fact you spout out will matter to someone; it is really important to get it right.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
 

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