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Shut up Already


Dialogue. How do you know when you’ve used it too much? The answer, like most answers, can be found in everyday life with a bit of common sense. You know when you talk too much…people get that glazed-over look in their eyes or they start looking around the room for a distraction that will hopefully help keep them awake. If you are a normal person, you stop talking, apologize for boring them and move on…if you aren’t normal, you talk faster, as if doing so will regain your audience’s attention. Sadly writers tend to do the same thing.

Dialogue is necessary. If your characters don’t talk, your story is just a bundle of scenes with a bunch of mimes. But some writers go overboard. They have dialogue on every page, as if doing so earns them points. There are no points for talking your reader to death…just the steady rejection of yet another boring novel that isn’t telling a story at all but ends up a creepy voyeuristic look into another world. Your reader will feel less like they are immersed in a story and more like they are a peeper watching stuff happen with no sound. (in a bad way)

But how much dialogue is too much? Well, remember that friend you have? You know the one; he/she talks so much that you can’t get a thought in let alone an actual sentence. I have a good friend, who is like that; we have been friends since kindergarten, and she talks so much that I even hate to get a text from her because her texts rattle on for days. Our conversations are usually one sided and she rattles on so much that I literally stopped listening to her in 1982. (She, of course, does not realize this at all and just soldiers on) I love my friend but try as I might, I just can’t join her on that runaway conversation train. Your readers won’t enjoy that train ride either.

Dialogue should support the story not the other way around. If the conversation would bore you senseless in real life, it will also bore your readers. Use dialogue the right way and your characters will add to the story instead of taking it over. Write too much dialogue and there is no room for anything else to happen. When you start writing dialogue…step back in the editing process and ask yourself, “am I prattling on?” If you are…shut up…or that snoring you will hear in your dreams will be your readers…sleeping….and not buying your next book.

 

© 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 16, 2012 in Structure, Writing

 

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The Rule of Thumb is ….Use Your Fingers


Rules…. I almost don’t have to say anything else. I can hear many of you cringing as you read the word out loud. Do you know why? Because rules, while necessary in things like gravity and physics, can hold a writer down and that sucks.

Seasoned writers, (another phrase that describes know-it-all-I-published-one-book-so-I’m-great writers) will fill your head with all kinds of rules. Some of them make sense but then there are others that you kind of have to cock your head to one side and ask, huh? For instance:

Don’t ever edit your first draft: Here’s the thing…you should not focus on editing your first draft but you still can. I admit that there are times when I go back over a scene and feel the need to clarify before moving on. That’s okay. Don’t get bogged down by editing on the first draft but nothing earth shattering will happen if you do edit.

Stay with one POV: While staying with one POV can make you novel easy, sometimes shifting it can be fun. Don’t get me wrong…you have to have an understanding of what you are doing if you choose to switch POV within your story but the rule that you shouldn’t is crap. Ask yourself, does following this rule strengthen my work? If it doesn’t, trash it.

Rules, when it comes to writing, should be fluid. There are times when following them will make your work better. However, there are also times when breaking them will make it better; either way, it is a personal decision, so don’t let some yahoo who has published a book or two tell you different. The way I see it, it’s simple….if breaking the rules will make my novel better, then by Pete, I’m gonna break em…in fact, I just might break em all.

 

© 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 15, 2012 in Writing, Writing Tools

 

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Practice Safe Text


We are writers. Because we are writers, we need to make sure that all of the things we write are indicative of what we do. What does that mean exactly? The short version? If you are writing it, make sure you proof read…even if it’s a simple text. I hate to text. I have no nimble coordination…meaning, as my grandmother used to put it, I use my hands like a man, and I have a great lack of patience when it comes to how long it takes me to write them. I often get caught up in the spell correct feature…(piece of shut!) and I tend to hit the send button before realizing that I should have looked at what I had written. (It can go very, very bad when you send a text to the wrong person…) Even though I hate to text, I know that I need to slow down and do it correctly because I am a writer and for a writer to send out a text that has no punctuation let alone misspellings…well…it’s just shameful.

Because we are writers every little thing we jot down is an open target for non-writers. “Hey you sent me that e-mail and there were 17 misspellings…and you call yourself a writer”, non-writers love to clown us when we screw up. It makes them feel better about being non-writers. And it is human nature to make fun of people who are “supposed” to be good at something but then mess it up, like the basketball star who misses the basket…there is always some fat guy in the crowd holding a bucket of chicken in one hand and a 40 oz. beer in the other screaming…”hey big shot why’d you miss the basket”. (I think people like that ought to be ejected from the game for stupidity…but then who would go to the live games and entertain us by making idiots out of themselves on national TV?)

We do a lot of writing every day that we don’t even realize we are doing. E-mails, text messages, notes, grocery lists, to do lists…it goes on and on and all of it is writing. Since we are writers, all of it is also open to scrutiny. Case in point, I made a grocery list the other day so that my spouse could go to the store after work. I wrote it quickly so my handwriting, which is small and messy, was already working against me. I misspelled cheese (Cheeze), tomato (tomoto) and Canadian bacon (bacoan). In my defense, I was in a hurry and trying to get to other things I needed to do, but my 11 year old daughter was the one who brought the misspellings to my attention. Now I don’t know if any of you have a pre-teen in the house but there are days around here I’d rather have a house full of raptors (the mean little dinosaurs) because they can be nicer. At least these guys kill you and get it over with…the 11 year old seems to enjoy the torture factor.  Well, she found the spelling errors and when they got back from the store she took a red ink pen and lined through the misspelled words, correcting them off to the side. She handed it back to me and announced that I needed to edit my work better. My spouse stood off to the side and said, “awww, look at that honey, she’s your little editor”, little editor my ass…..

So next time you are about to send a text or an e-mail or anything else that requires the use of words…stop and edit it before pushing that send button. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did…because being handed your pen, and your pride, to you by an 11 year old is no fun at all. Just remember, you are a writer…and because of that…someone is always watching.

 

© 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 14, 2012 in Writing

 

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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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