Writing Tips

Writing Goals

If you’re a promising writer, undoubtedly you’re positive this is the YEAR. It sure could be. It’s all up to you. Just how were you going to make it happen? Have you thought of what you’ll do to make your dream come true? How? When, besides sometime this year? Don’t forget – it’s not too early to start planning for next year.

GOALS…BUSINESS PLAN… These are the words you should be concentrating on this week. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Have you figured your goals or written a plan? It doesn’t have to be on the order of a Fortune 500 company. It has to be something that will work for you.

Is it okay if we use me as an example? Thank you.

My goals are:

1 – Edit my present book
2 – Write the second book in the series

Each of these works will be 50,000 plus words when completed. It ain’t never gonna happen if I just sit around and dream. Allow me to share how I approach this mind-numbing task.

I’m a daily to-do list and calendar freak. I like my life plotted and planned. Of course there has to be room for flexibility. By having an ADJUSTABLE plan I’ve got it made.

To work out a feasible system of accomplishing my two goals, I grabbed a legal pad and the calendar, which already has enough social commitments listed for year to make me weep, and parked myself in a comfortable chair.

We’ll lay out the schedule for each goal in two separate plans for easier reading.

Goal 1 – Edit my present book

This novel has twenty-four chapters and an epilogue. Each section has been printed because I work better with a hard copy. I study the chapters, one at a time, scrawling notes to myself all over the pages and any additional info in a spiral notebook. I can take a chapter with to pore over while I’m waiting for an appointment, a slow moving train, or anything else which has me sitting and doing zip.

I want this work done in a relatively short period of time, thirty days. By reading the calendar I know there are many days when editing just isn’t possible. Those days are marked in red for other writing tasks on the next book such as research, characterization, reading trade magazine, and so forth.

The good days have listed a chapter number and a brief note as to what must be done to finish the edits. All Fridays are reserved to re-read that week’s edits and make any changes.

So the calendar looks like the following:

Sunday January 8
No work today. Play with my granddaughters.

Monday January 9
Chapter 3
Bring in tour business somehow / change D’s business purchase to a tax audit? Would it work and simplify

Tuesday January 10
Chapter 10
T must confess credit card over extended / Move dialogue from pg 89 here

Wednesday January 11
Great sale at Carson’s!! If I finished my work I can reward myself!!!
Dentist at 2
Meet Lor for dinner at 7

Thursday January 12
Jesse here at 8 a.m. for her edits
Pick up C from school 3:15 – take along new RWR
Chapter 20
Embellish sex scene / needs more emotion – switch to hero’s POV

Friday January 13
No time to worry about superstition
Re-read three chapters and approve
Out with the friends at 7

Saturday January 14
No work today. Play with Studly.

Please note the chapters are not in sequence. To finish in the allotted time, I’ve selected the easiest chapters to final edit and saved the more involved for the end of my month. It’s a trick I do to reduce the load while I mentally work out those tough scenes that are driving me crazy.

My daily to-do list will embellish on the above such as:

This is the calendar entry:
Monday January 9
Chapter 3
Bring in tour business somehow / change D’s business purchase to a tax audit? Would it work and simplify

This is the to-do list:
1. read chap as is
2. check POV of D – is it all his?
3. embellish D’s anger through his actions
4. is C a big enough pain in the ass?
5. is the setting over described
6. check out tax audit info to be accurate
7. lunch at 1- no exceptions
8. walk around and do neck exercises in am & afternoon

It’s very important to treat your goal plan seriously. You need to work at your writing career with the same diligence as a fulltime yearly income job if you want to succeed. Let the machine pick up those calls, eat, drink plenty of fluids preferably water, take scheduled breaks. And above all, have fun.

Publish this Novel

You have put your heart and soul into a well-edited novel and the time has come to send that baby out into the world. What do you do? Again, it’s time consuming and can get costly so you have to decide what you can afford.

First, I recommend you buy Formatting & Submitting your Manuscript by Jack & Glenda Neff, Don Prues published by the Writer’s Market. This book has all the right instructions, with examples, for your submission.

Following are some extra tips:

  1. By now you should know the publisher you want to target. Read their guidelines, again. Be sure you have the correct editor’s name and spelling. Call or email the publisher if you are unsure.
  2. Print your cover letter, synopsis, and manuscript on clean white paper. Don’t get cute. Editors don’t like cute.
    If you are a smoker, DON’T while you are printing and packaging. The smell will be absorbed by your paper and carry through to the editor bringing about a damned quick rejection.
  3. Be courteous in your letter, but by everything that is powerful, DO NOT suck up. You’re a professional. Act like a professional.

Speaking of professional, here’s a few more things you should do:

  1. Join writer’s groups online.
  2. Join local writer’s groups.
  3. Develop or join a critique group.
  4. Get a web site

Attend every conference you can afford and network. There are rules of etiquette you must follow:

  1. Smile, be pleasant. No one wants to hear about your kid, the brat, or your other half, the jerk.
  2. Don’t interrupt someone who is speaking.
  3. Don’t gossip.
  4. Dress professionally, which means look presentable not like you’re on an emergency toilet paper run.

Produce a business card with the following info:

  1. You name
  2. A slogan to remember you
  3. Your email address
  4. Your phone number but only on cards for editors and friends
  5. Fax number if you have one but only on cards for editors and friends

The card would look something like this:

Mary Johnson writing as Hot Mama
Hot Mama sets your world on fire

Dress your card in the same look as your web site.

Good luck to you all and please let me know how it goes. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me.

Talk it up!

Yak, Yak, Yak

“Hi, Liz. How are you today?”
“Well hi, David. I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m just fine. It’s really good to see you.”
“Likewise. What’s new?”

HELLO! Time to wake up. I know you’re bored beyond relief with that less than scintillating dialogue, but the example was necessary. Why? To show you what kind of dialogue will irk your readers to book burning. As an aside, the only good thing about that above example is the punctuation is correct.

Yes, people really do talk mundane. It’s called idle chitchat and we use it all the time. As a writer you’d better not shovel that kind of crappy dialogue down your reader’s throat or the only sound you’ll hear is the toilet flushing away any future sales.

Your dialogue must:

  1. Push your story along
  2. Give insight to your characters
  3. Be active

You owe your reader a good story. They expect it. They deserve it. You had better deliver.

How do you write exciting dialogue? Good question and there’s no definitive answer.

Look at your manuscript. Read the dialogue out loud. Check for the following:

  1. Does each character speak in a specific voice? Or do they all sound alike?
  2. Are your conversations pertinent to what’s happening at the time? To the progress of the story?
  3. Does your dialogue carry emotion?
  4. Does your dialogue make the reader want to skim and go onto the next section or read every word?

Read your written dialogue out loud. Listen to the sound and rhythm of the sentences. Correct or delete as the case may require. Next, and this is the important part, have someone else read the same passages aloud without knowing what’s happening before and after. Hearing your words from another person will help you pull it together and notice the weak spots.

If you’re writing erotica, please remember couples think and talk during sex. Even if one of your characters is shy, can’t say what they’re feeling, they are thinking. Turn their thoughts into short sentences. It will add more depth to your character and meaning to your story.

Punctuation Marks

“The Elements of Style” by Wm. Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is a must for any writer. I don’t get royalties on it, but without it I won’t get royalties. I strongly suggest you buy a copy.

We all know a period is the mark at the end of a declarative sentence or an abbreviation and a question mark is used at the end of a sentence to indicate a direct question or inquiry.

But there are other punctuation marks which may be a bit confusing. Today we’ll try to clear it up.

The common usage of QUOTATION MARKS is in dialogue:

“Martin can you swim to the other side?” asked Leslie.

If the quotation is the direct object of a verb it’s preceded by a comma and enclosed in quotations marks:

“Mark Twain said, “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

The EXCLAMATION POINT is a punctuation used after and interjection or exclamation. Be sure to use it sparingly in your writing. It’s very jarring to see a multitude of ! on a page.

Not too long ago I had to review a category romance by an established author. The story was excellent, but the exclamation points drove me crazy. Every page in the first chapter had a minimum of fifteen irritating !. I was not a happy reader. Over-usage of exclamation points loses their effect and really piss off a reviewer.

APOSTROPHES show possession no matter what the final consonant:

Claus’s problem

Benny’s bicycle

Hers, its, theirs, yours, and ours do not need an apostrophe. But you do need the punctuation for:

somebody else’s dish

one’s livelihood

Be careful when writing it’s the possessive or it’s the contraction:

Its author is well-known.

It’s the hottest new book on the shelf.

PARENTHESES are used around a word, phrase, or sentence inserted in a passage to explain or modify a thought. The following examples are taken from “The Elements of Style”:

I went to her house yesterday (my third attempt to see her), but she had left town.

He declares (and why should we doubt his good faith?) that he is now certain of success.

In my writing I avoid all use of parentheses for two reasons.

  1. I don’t like the look of the completed sentence.
  2. I don’t really understand why a comma wouldn’t be used in example one.

To work around my dilemma, I rewrite the sentences to work with the punctuations I know and love.

A DASH is a stronger punctuation mark than the comma and should also be used with discretion. It does give your reader a longer pause to gather their thoughts before you impart a pertinent phrase. Again from “The Elements of Style”:

Violence – the kind you see on television – is not honestly violent – there in lies its harm.

Using commas or writing as separate sentences doesn’t give the same dramatic effect as the dash. You must use it sparingly or the effect is lost.

Webster’s definition of the SEMICOLON was about as good as the horrid chop suey I made for dinner last Saturday. So it was back to “The Elements of Style” for a clear understanding:

If two or more clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.

Mary Shelley’s works are entertaining; they are full of engaging ideas.

It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.

Both examples could be written as two separate sentences.

You can also use a comma in place of a semicolon if a conjunction is used:

Mary Shelley’s works are entertaining, for they are full of engaging ideas.

It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.

Romance writing is mood type writing. We are creating a world of love and beauty as it pertains to our hero and heroine. Therefore semicolons seem stark and/or jarring on the page.

Next up is the COLON. Sorry not the organ, which I understand much better. This colon thing is another form of punctuation I avoid as much as a drunk at a bar.

According to “The Elements of Style”:

A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause. The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash. It usually follows an independent clause and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its object.


Your dedicated whittler requires: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch.


Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch.

For me a colon means REWRITE.

The last punctuation mark is the COMMA. In my humble opinion this much used symbol deserves its own lecture. Another day we’ll uncover the mystery; To comma, or not to comma, that is the question.

Squeeze your Reader’s Thighs

The enraptured sigh, the long staring gaze, or quick hops in the sack testing multiple positions are not what writing SEXUAL TENSION is all about. For each type of romance there is a draw between your hero and heroine. If you don’t have the tension, you ain’t got a sellable romance.

Sexual tension can be broken down into the explicit meaning of each word.

SEXUAL: of or involving sex which equates to wanting it.

TENSION: mental or emotional strain which equates to not being able to get it.

So what you have here is a great emotional strain to have sex with a specific person, but it’s not happening. Consider it a form of foreplay. This is what you must create between your characters in your story. The longer you delay the actual act, and increase the attraction, the better your readers will love the story.

How do you build Sexual Tension? In one word, awareness. Each of your characters needs to notice small things about the other. Sure Cassie can appreciate the bulge in Clive’s jeans while he’s admiring her breasts, but it’s not all tits and ass.

You must tease your reader while your characters are slowly becoming more aware of each other. Such as:

Cassie glanced down and was startled by the bulge in his jeans. Her eyes widen in admiration. Clive tweaked a smile, knowing what she’s doing, though she wouldn’t admit it, even to herself.

It’s more than body parts. You also need to write more than the physical. Each character must be aware of the others values, good and bad:

A warmth spread through Clive as Cassie clasped the tiny hand of the lost child.

Cassie’s lips tightened when Clive cursed at the driver who had successfully run them off the road.

Our couple has become more aware of each other and therefore we have successfully drawn them closer.

Think of it this way – Do you remember when you first fell in love? Did you notice everything about this new person all at once? Or did the scent, strength, and mannerisms dribble into your conscientiousness a drop at a time? More than likely the nature and character of your other half slowly made itself known to you.

This is how you need to write sexual tension, a bit at a time. As your story progresses the awareness increases. It may go on for pages, even chapters, until Clive and Cassie are so attuned they have to make love.

Another important key is that by now your reader is begging for Clive and Cassie to make love and live the happily ever after. It’s up to you, the author and the genre you write, to decide how explicit the love scene will be.

If you’re shy, you can bring your couple to the location – bed, couch, floor – then write a few lines before the door closes and provides them with the privacy they deserve. Or you can write it all, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. Either way, it must be fulfilling to the characters and more importantly, to your reader.

Do not cheat your reader. They have invested both their hard earned money, to buy your book, and their valuable time to read it. You are obligated to provide your reader with an afterglow.

How to Handle Rejection

OH CRAP! You’ve been hounding your postal carrier for weeks, begging for The Letter, the one that’s going to put you on the road to success. Nothing. Again. Today. But wait! What’s that stuck inside the newspaper advertisement you usually toss in the recycle bin without reading? Holy Royalties, Batman! It’s from the publisher. Correction. It’s from your publisher.

With shaking hands you tear open the envelope and draw out the letter. Hey wait! Where’s the contract? You spread the envelope apart praying it’s stuck inside. Nada. Okay, okay, they’re probably going to send it after you accept their offer.

Grinning ear-to-ear you flip the letter over and read,

“Dear Author,
We are sorry to inform you…”

Yep, that’s pretty much how a rejection letter starts off. So what are you going to do about it? Sit there and cry? Gorge yourself on junk food until you’re ready to puke? Those reactions are typical. Very few writers entertain thoughts of suicide. And if you do, baby, you need some serious help.

This is the best advice I can give you on rejection: Get Over It. No one likes a whiner.

Sure no one likes to be rejected, be it from a lover, friend, or an editor. But there’s ways to retain your rationale without going over the edge.

Read your rejection again, after you come back from your blue period. If it’s a form rejection, without a real clue as to why your book was deep-sixed, then you’ll need to talk with someone in your writer’s or critique group for insight.

If you are fortunate enough to have an explanation of the rejection, study it. Learn from it. Editors are not evil. They don’t wake up every morning and plan which writers to destroy as they prepare for work. Editors want talented writers with a fresh voice. They are all looking for that one author who can help make the editor’s career. They want you to be the one.

Treat your rejection as a challenge. Frame it and hang it right over your desk. Look at it everyday and promise yourself you will do better. Then make it happen. Read your story again, edit it again, fix the problem areas and make it shine. When you are positive it’s the best you ever wrote ship that baby right back out the front door. It’s just like falling off a bike; you have to get back on to overcome the fear.

Syntax – Tighten the Writing

Let’s work on Syntax and Tighten the Writing. By doing the former you will achieve much of the later.

Syntax is the patterns of formations of sentences and phrases from words and the rules of the formation of grammatical sentences in a language.

Don’t you just love Webster definitions? They make everything so unclear.

In plain English Syntax means the word arrangement and sentence structure.

Remember that old song by Tom Jones, and later Joe Cocker, “You Can Leave Your Hat On”? It was sexy, vibrant, and made you want to, ahh… er… just leave your hat on.

The phrasing is great for lyrics and dialogue but oh so wrong for narrative. Why? You should never end a sentence with a preposition. Yes, it sounds right. Yes, we talk that way. Grammatically it is incorrect.

How should it read? “You can leave on your hat.” Sure doesn’t have the same impact does it?

Frequently grammatical sentences don’t have the same effect and if you find this to be true save the prepositional endings for your dialogue. Sometimes you can’t help but use them in narrative because you need that force or dramatic effect. It’s okay but use it sparingly.

Here’s an example of what Redmond O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo, Vintage 1987, got away with in his novel:

“My companion, James Fenton, however, whose idea the venture was, enigmatic, balding, an ex-correspondent of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, a jungle in himself, was a wise old man in these matters.”

I don’t know if Fenton did this as a joke on his editor, if it got missed in the edits, or he wanted this sentence to read as written. But I will guarantee you won’t get away with this type of writing with today’s editors. Be sure to read your work aloud and correct any sentences that are convoluted.

ALOUD is the key word here. Read your work aloud. I can’t stress this enough. It’s the only way to allow your ear to pick up the errors. Sure you’ll feel stupid doing it, even if you are home alone locked in your closet. Get over it. We all experience the same reaction. Here’s your option; let your book go to an editor with written garble and expect a nice form rejection in the return mail.

When you read aloud look for:

  1. Does your intent come across – action, suspense, romance, sorrow?
  2. Does something detract from your meaning?
  3. Fine-tune your sentences until they sound perfect, rhythmic, to your ear.

To further Tighten the Writing get rid of unnecessary words. It will make your writing sound stronger. Those expendable words are, but not limited to:

  1. A little
  2. Almost
  3. Anyway
  4. At the present time
  5. Began to
  6. By means of
  7. Certainly
  8. Considering the fact that
  9. Definitely
  10. Even
  11. Is/was/were
  12. Just
  13. So
  14. Some
  15. That
  16. Very

Be concise, don’t ramble on with your descriptions. Think about the sections you skim or avoid when you read a novel. Don’t allow that to happen to your reader. Make sure you haven’t flooded a section with so much back story or description you are boring the reader. Get rid of the excess because most of it won’t matter.

Please don’t write you book via Roget’s Thesaurus. Today’s editors want meat in a book not fat. Your reader doesn’t want to be written down to. Use the everyday words of your speech and not some $20.00 word that has your reader reaching for their Webster’s.

Avoid clichés like the plague. Get the idea? You are a writer – so write something new.

I’m not being bitchy here. I want you to get published. We should have the millions of new books available from the reliable E-publishers and on the shelves of every type bookstore. But if you don’t do your job the numbers will be low and our future generations won’t have the role models they need.

To Comma, or not to Comma, that is the question

Webster says a comma is a punctuation mark, used especially as a mark of separation within a sentence. Doesn’t that definition just clear it all up for you? If so, you’re lucky because it never did for me. Back to my Writer’s Bible, “The Elements of Style”.

Here’s the skinny: there are seven comma rules. We’ll take them out of order for simplicity.

1 – Dates are written as:

  1. Jan. 24, 2006.
  2. 24 Jan. 2006.

In the second example no comma is used.

2 – In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, the commas are placed as follows:

  1. I enjoy tennis, skiing, and books.
  2. Jason, Fred, and Esther went to the farm.

You can’t drop the last comma. I don’t know, maybe the Punctuation Police force you to repeat English 101 for eternity if you do.

The exception is if you’re writing a business name. The last comma is omitted.

  1. Jefferson, Clemmons, Blake and Company

3 – Use a comma before and/or after a proper name or place:

  1. “Hi, John.”
  2. “Hey, John, did you see the dog?”
  3. Munich, Germany

4 – A comma is inserted before a conjunction introducing an independent clause:

  1. She was in a situation which should have scared the hell out of her, but didn’t.
  2. In no time the airplane landed, and the passengers clapped with joy.

5 – Don’t use a comma to join independent clauses. If the clauses are grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, it’s the semicolon’s time to come out and play.

  1. It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.

6 – Don’t break sentences in two. Meaning, don’t use periods when you should use a comma. “The Elements of Style” have the best examples:

  1. I met them on a Cunard liner many years ago. Coming home from Liverpool.
  2. She was an interesting talker. A woman who had traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries.

The sentences don’t make sense as written. In both examples a comma should replace the first period.

If you want more dramatic effect in your sentence do the following:

  1. He yanked the cell phone from his pocket and punched in the number. The phone range. No one answered.

Don’t use the above example often in your story, it has a choppy effect and the editor won’t like it. Clipped sentences, as the above example, are more often used in dialogue.

7 – Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. A parenthetic expression is a word, phrase, or sentence inserted in a passage to explain or modify the thought. Again from “The Elements of Style”:

  1. The best way to see the country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.

In a nutshell here’s how it works for the author:

  1. The seven rules are standard and must be followed so you look like a professional writer.
  2. Beth Anderson taught me to listen to the flow of the words. Use the commas when you need the reader to pause and give them a little time to prepare for what’s next.
  3. Use common sense. As you apply the rules they will become second nature.

Author Know Thy People

Characterization isn’t about the ass at your last holiday party everyone laughed at then dissected on the drive home. It’s the life of your hero, heroine, and all secondary characters beyond their height, weight, and eye color in your novel.

Let’s do a cast call.

Starring Roles:
Johnny the Hero
Liz the Heroine

Supporting Cast:
Fred – Johnny’s best friend
Pam – Liz’s best friend
Marge – Johnny’s mother

Taxi Driver

Of the above group, the only roles needing a characterization are the stars and supporting cast. The Walk-Ons are too minor to worry about.

Beth Anderson spent many a long night explaining why writing a characterization is important. Since we don’t have forever here, I’ll crunch it down.

The writer must know the history of their characters. Their past events are what make them be the people they are today. It is what has driven them to be honest, strong, or steal. You won’t know why your hero runs into the burning building to save the heroine if you don’t understand his history.

So how do you so this? Very easy, but time consuming. Don’t fudge on this. It’s too important to writing a novel that will impress an editor.

The stars need an extensive characterization. Following is the process:

  1. 1 – Park yourself at your computer. Each characterization will take several hours so relax and enjoy.
  2. 2 – Choose one of the lead characters.
  3. 3 – Imagine you are that person. We’ll use Johnny for the example.
  4. 4 – Just type. Bang out his life starting at boyhood. Write in his voice. It’s amazing how your phrases will alter as he ages. Bring him up to the starting point of your novel. Include every detail no matter how unimportant it may seem. Let your mind run on and you will be Johnny, living the high points of his youth and what drove him to the man where your story begins. You’re in Johnny’s point of view. Did he pee his pants in third grade? What really happened? What did he see, smell, and feel inside?

Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Just type. No one else will ever read your work.

Do this with your heroine as well.

You have finally finished your stars. It’s time to begin on your supporting cast. They’ll take much less time since they aren’t nearly as important. You don’t have to start in their childhood. Type up a brief bio, something similar to an obituary of a famous person.

I took Beth’s method one step farther to help me drop the back-story into my novel.

Below are the four easy steps:

  1. 1 – Print out each characters history.
  2. 2 – List all the highpoints on a separate sheet of paper. The order doesn’t matter.
  3. 3 – As you write your novel drop in a line or two of back-story at the appropriate time to enrich the action of your character.
  4. 4 – Cross off the lines used and write next to them which page you’ve inserted it.

This method will help you build stronger characters with real motivation your reader and editor will love.

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