Writing Tips – Page 2
The Show and Tell Game
Show Don’t Tell is a confusing phrase that has many new writers yanking out their hair. What does it mean? How do I do it? Leave those Clairol locks in place because the explanation is simple.
Showing is action. It is what your character is doing at that moment. Telling is a passive writing, a way of explaining what your character is doing. It can also be considered author intrusion, a big no-no to editors.
Here are a few examples:
Telling – Liz had on a red suit with a white rose in the lapel and a white linen blouse.
Showing – Liz plucked a white rose from the bouquet on the coffee table. Carefully she slipped the short stem into her lapel then glanced in the mirror and smiled at how perfect its creamy color looked against the red jacket. She tugged on her blouse cuff, gently so as not to wrinkle the linen.
T – There was shouting from the balcony.
S – Shouts echoed from the balcony.
T – The dog show was judged by Frank.
S – Frank judged the dog show.
T – Mary was sad.
S – May sobbed.
In many cases showing requires more words to paint the right picture and that’s a good thing if the scene requires them.
To easily locate the places where you Tell, hold down the Control key while you press the letter F key. It will bring up a Find and Replace panel. Type in the word ‘was’ without the apostrophes and press ‘Find Next’. Read each sentence and/or section that appears. Should it or could it be more active? You may be surprised at how your novel will improve by this simple exercise.
It’s time to put your manuscript on a diet. Cinch your belt as tight as you can and let’s self-edit.
What’s self-edit? It means you eliminate all the fat, all the extra words that don’t move the story forward, and all the passive words bogging down your scenes.
REDUNDANCIES are unnecessary words over describing an action.
The following are examples and if you look hard you’re bound to find several in your work.
David pulled out the bench and sat down in the chair.
The word ‘down’ is unnecessary because that’s the only way David could sit.
David jumped up. David stood up.
‘Up’ is unnecessary because, again, that’s the only way he could go.
Melissa shrugged her shoulders.
I love this one because it eliminates two words, ‘her shoulders’. What else could Melissa shrug?
Melissa loved to see David’s well-toned chest and how it tapered down to his narrow waist.
‘Well’ and ‘down’ go. The sentence should read:
Melissa loved to see David’s toned chest and how it tapered to his narrow waist.
The corrected version is cleaner and right to the point.
A few other examples are:
- Blue in color
- Climbed up the stairs
- Eased slowly
- Nodded his head
- Stomped heavily
- Stood to his full height
- Terribly bad
PASSIVE WORDS are used in our speech but should never be used in writing. You’re telling a story and must keep the action moving. These words are showing not telling.
- Started to
Readers want action therefore you must construct your sentences with powerful verbs.
The same reasoning applies to adverbs and adjectives. The following is but a small select and offer little to help paint a picture.
- A little
Most, if not all, adverbs and adjectives weaken your writing and need to be eliminated from your story.
PREPOSITIONS are not your best friend. Go through your work and highlight every preposition, including prepositional phrases. If you have an abundance you must clear them out to create stronger sentences.
THAT is a word we seldom need in a sentence. Its filler and a word you need to eliminate from your writing and your vocabulary.
The Best Tip of the Day:
Do a word search to discover how many times you’ve used a specific word. Reread your sentence and replace the overused word with a stronger verb or noun. Your editor and readers will be happy you made the changes.
Line Editing is simple, but very tedious. You must line edit carefully before you submit to a publisher. You have about thirty seconds to catch the editor’s eye and entice them to read more of your book. If he or she sees typos, incorrect words (buy vs. by), or skewed sentence structures, it’s the rejection pile for your baby. And by all means, pay close attention to your punctuation.
This is how you do it:
- Print out a hard copy
- Grab a 12 inch ruler.
- Lay it under line one.
- Read each word slowly. Aloud is best.
- Make the corrections using a colored pen on the hard copy.
- Insert the corrections into your computer text.
- Take breaks or your mind won’t see the flaws.
Some authors like to line edit from the back of the novel and work forward. It stops your mind from assuming the words are correct. I’ve tried it and it does work. All you do is read and edit the last page first, then proceed forward, one page at a time.
It’s a tough job, but you have to do it.
Editors like dialogue. It provides ‘white space’. Readers like dialogue. It moves the story along at a faster pace. You, the author, need to master writing dialogue. Let’s try and make it easy for you with two important factors.
He said, she said, they all said are what is known as tag lines.
Many writers wax poetic with; he replied angrily, she screamed out the words, they hissed their answer as one. After you yank your finger out of your throat consider why the three examples are bad.
He replied angrily.
Replied is good but angrily is over kill. Your dialogue should show the character’s anger. Add an action to emphasis instead of an adverb.
Once in awhile it may be necessary to add an adverb. Hester Kaplan wrote in a prize short story:
“Cold as hell in New York”, she said hoarsely, as though clots of snow were lodged in her throat.
In this case “hoarsely” is important to the reader or they would be confused over a person choking on clots of snow.
She screamed out the words.
Over the top. If your character has to scream, then so be it, but it’s unnecessary to add “out the words”. Again, your verbs in the dialogue should be strong enough to show the reader the character is screaming out the words.
They hissed their answer…
Snakes hiss, people generally don’t. Write your dialogue to show their anger or do it with an action.
Every sentence of dialogue by a different character doesn’t need a tag line. If you have two people talking the occasional “said” is sufficient. But if you use an action after the line of dialogue then drop the “said”.
“Your perfume is very unusual.” He sniffed at her neck.
“Thank you. It’s my favorite.”
“It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite name it.”
He snapped his fingers. “Exactly.”
Nary a he or she said added and you know who is talking.
A few more tag lines will be required when you have a group in conversation. It will also be necessary to add the character’s name.
“Your perfume is very unusual.” Max sniffed at her neck.
“Thank you. It’s my favorite.” Eva smiled at what she hoped was a compliment.
“It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite name it.”
“Rosemary?” asked Ron.
Max snapped his fingers. “Exactly.”
Every character in your story has a different voice, the way they say things. Be true to that character and write the dialogue as if they were really speaking.
Now that you have the idea, go though your manuscript in hard copy. Read the dialogue aloud or, better yet, have a friend read it. Then ask yourself these questions;
- Does it seem stilted, unnatural?
- Is that character’s dialogue true to them or do they all sound alike?
- Have you over dramatized the tag lines?
- Is the dialogue too long?
- Important enough to move your story along?
Are You Having Fun Yet?
Writing is your chosen job and you need to make it fun. Flip on the stereo, dress up your writing space, do anything to bring out your creativity and keep you planted in your chair for hours on end.
Read your calendar to determine when you’ll have blocks of time to write. I need blocks of time, hours, or I get confused. I can’t work well with ten minutes here or thirty minutes there unless I’m editing. For me short spells are good for editing, otherwise I lose my critical eye. Write your schedule on the calendar, in red. You’ll feel more committed and will spot in an instant when you can work.
Maybe you have a fulltime job. It’s not so easy then. Author Judy Powell used to eat her lunch in her car, just to get away from her desk, and write. She had a kitchen timer set for her return time and was never late.
Judy’s habit may not work for you. If that’s the case then set your writing time, at least an hour, in the morning before you head out. Only do it if you’re a morning person otherwise you’ll have wasted an hour’s sleep. Maybe evenings are your creative time but you’re too tired and hungry after work. Eat a light dinner, clean up, and grab a short nap. Better yet skip the nap it’ll only add unwanted pounds.
Look, everyone has a real life with doctor appointments, grocery shopping, cooking, family, friends, and lovers. You don’t want to aggravate or alienate but you do have to put your career in prospective. Some things just have to wait. As an FYI, so can house cleaning and most laundry. So as far as friends go, they can probably live without you for two weeks. Explain what you’re doing and why. Inform them you and your phone are out of commission for two weeks, unless they die. You love them dearly but you must be selfish and think of yourself. Spread out your socializing until week four. If they are your friends they’ll understand. If they don’t….
Appointments, groceries, cooking, family, and lovers are another matter. Let’s discuss them individually.
Appointments – Either schedule them as far apart as possible or cram them into one day. You have the ability to grant yourself blocks of time to write.
Groceries – Stock up! Write a concise list and do one giant splurge. Yes, you may blow the budget but it will even up down the road when you don’t have to do an emergency run for toilet paper.
Cooking – Easy, either buy frozen ready made food, fresh with a far out expiration date, or cook up a storm during Week One, and freeze the extras.
Family – If you have children at home you’re time is going to be occupied with a gazillion things. All you can do is make a serious attempt to carve out blocks of time around their schedules. It’s okay if you take longer then the ten weeks to get your novel written. You have the ability to grant yourself that permission. If your children have moved out, tell them to get a life and leave yours alone for two weeks unless there is a grave situation.
Lovers – Not so easy. It’s important to keep them included in your life and not make them feel like they’re a bother. Studly’s cool on this. When we’re watching TV, I have my work on hard copy and do what’s necessary. This way we’re together during the evening and I can ask a question at halftime or he’ll bring up a short subject. Neither of us gets into anything deep, those topics are reserved for dinner. Not only are we together but we’re each doing what we enjoy. A huge Thank You to my Brazen Vixen pals for their insight on this area.
Now to the real fun.
Have your notebook with the outline and characterization list at hand. Remember you’ve written in the daily log section how many words you wanted to write? Go for it.
Turn on your computer, block out the world, and type. Don’t think about spelling, grammar, paragraphs, or anything else, just think about your novel. Consider this the outline your freshman English teacher would have hated. Pound it out. Let your words flow. Week four you’ll concern yourself with editing. Weeks two and three are strictly for writing. You’ll be surprised at how much more you accomplish in laying down your story when you kill your Internal Editor.
If you get stumped or tired, get up and walk around, grab a bottle of water, or a snack. Do not sit there and stare at your monitor. Maybe you need music, a break, exercise, and unless you want to turn into Waddling Wilma you’d better exercise. On a 9-5 job you’d have two breaks and a lunch time. Do the same with you’re writing. Hello! It’s your job.
And since it’s your job you will know and must adhere to quitting time. If you don’t, burn out. Nothing worse than a writer with nothing left to write.
1. Keep pen and paper scattered throughout the house and car to write down those ideas/phrase
popping in your head.
2. Revitalize your creativity by reading outside your genre, walking, a movie, or my all time favorite –
eavesdropping at a restaurant.
3. Sit outside, anywhere, and commune with nature and your higher being. It may not be a bad idea to
thank him/her for your success.
What the hell is that and where does this broad come up with these phrases?
Well, this broad will tell you what it’s not. Chapter setting is not the grace and charm you display as you lay your manuscript into yet another unsuspecting friend’s hands.
Chapter Setting is where you break the chapter and determine its best location within your manuscript.
As you well know, every adult book has chapters. You, as the author, get to decide how many there will be, how they begin and end, and the placement of each chapter. You, as the writer, have to create such an impact on your reader that they want to turn the page.
I had one chapter in Teddi Turns On that had 8,843 good, edited, words. My critique partners, Beth Anderson and Yasmine Phoenix, listened patiently as I read every single one of those words. Did I mention their eyes glazed over about half way through the diatribe?
“Too long?” asked I.
“Aahh,” they muttered between yawns and stretches.
I didn’t need the infamous 2×4 to get the hint.
We went through that chapter, line by line, scene by scene, to determine the best point to break. It turned out to be a logical scene where the chapter went from one point of view to another. Simple enough but there’s more to chapter setting.
Every chapter ending must make the reader want to continue, excite them enough to want to find out what happens.
Here’s a little sample:
Gina was tormented with indecision. She tossed and turned, twisting the sheets into a knot, until she finally rolled over and fell asleep.
Make you want to turn the page? Not hardly. Why should your reader go any further? Gina slept. End of story. The reader will probably toss your hard work into the fire and bitch about the $10.00 they wasted. Will they buy another book written by you? Not likely.
End every chapter with a cliff-hanger. You can’t? You’re going to let chapter fifteen slide? Guess you don’t want to be published let alone aim for the best seller list.
How about a slight alteration to our example?
Gina was tormented with indecision. She tossed and turned, twisting the sheets into knots.
Better, not great, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.
In my humble opinion, the best ending is:
Gina was tormented with indecision.
Now your reader wants to find out what the indecision is and how Gina handled it.
Tease your reader. They’ll flip the page with the hope of discovering the resolution.
Surprise! You’ve taunted them again by inserting a chapter that doesn’t give the conclusion. Instead it’s a new chapter, in another character’s point of view, about a totally different phase of the book. The reader may have to continue for another forty pages to discover Gina’s outcome. And they’ll love you for it.
You must withhold the information from the reader. It’s the old carrot and horse thing. You can’t let go of the carrot until the timing is right.
This is the time in your novel writing to go through your manuscript and make sure:
- chapters are ended in the correct spot
- each chapter is a cliff-hanger
- chapter placement is timely to your story
Who Thought That?
Let’s discuss the topic POINT OF VIEW, commonly referred to as POV, and what it means to your novel. Following are the frequently asked questions by new writers:
1. What is Point of View?
POV is the thoughts and five senses of a specific character. You can not write POV effectively if you don’t know your character. Hence the reason to write characterization sheets.
It also allows your reader to “get inside David’s head”. What the hell is that, you ask? Simple. For your reader to love (not like but LOVE) your book and recommend it to others, they must feel a rapport with your hero, in this case David. It can not be accomplished if you haven’t given David enough time to develop.
2. Why use a specific POV?
Doesn’t it seem you should be able to just tell your story and get on with it? Not have to worry about all this technical stuff? Here’s a heads up; readers today are savvy. They want to like your main characters, especially in a romance. They want to relate to your hero and heroine. Unless you SHOW your characters to be living, breathing, beings, the reader will never be happy. For that fact, neither will a publisher, therefore no sale, therefore no readers. It’s your decision but if you want to sell you MUST master POV.
3. How do you determine who should have a POV in a specific scene?
This isn’t always easy to decide. You, the author, must choose whose POV you need to use at that precise moment in your story. Consider these points:
- Who has the most to gain in this particular scene?
- Who has the most to lose?
- Which character’s part of the story needs to move forward the most at this exact moment?
- Which character’s POV will be the most interesting to the story at this exact moment?
4. Length of POV?
As long as the scene warrants. Most, if not all editors, want to read a minimum of 500 words in a specific POV which is easy to accomplish in your edits.
5. What is Head Hopping?
One of my greatest, and funniest, mistakes when I first started writing was head hopping. It means each paragraph is in a different POV and very confusing to the reader. A good author controls this rotten phenomenon while writing. I correct it in my edits.
6. What POV can’t be:
It can not include lines such as:
The car roared to life and he peeled out onto the street, cutting off a delivery truck. David never noticed the driver when he flipped him off.
A very dramatic way to write but if David can’t see the driver flip him off then it never happened or the scene is in someone else’s POV. Your POV character sees everything that occurs around him/her.
The POV character can not see the color of their own eyes or hair at that moment. Therefore she can’t think, “My green eyes have brightened at the sight of David.”
The POV character doesn’t think of their own name or the full name of their parents or friends.
Other characters thoughts cannot jump into the middle of your hero’s POV.
Consider how you think when you’re watching or speaking with someone. What is it you see, do, and think? It’s the same actions and reactions your POV character will have.
7. Correcting POV
We have finally hit on something easy. When I edit the first draft I mark the margin in whose POV the paragraph was written. Should I see, and believe me I do, a mix of POV’s in one scene I go back and rework asking myself the questions from above number three.
Many times it only requires changing a few words. See the examples below:
Original which should be in David’s POV
David stared into Gwen’s eyes searching for an answer. Beyond this incredible desire to be in her, he realized he really liked her. She was kind, funny, and intelligent. Her ability to discuss any topic sensibly excited his brain, perhaps even more so than her scent and soft eyes sent his body into a sex-driven frenzy.
Corrected which now is in David’s POV
He stared into her eyes searching for an answer. Beyond this incredible desire to be in her, he realized he really liked her. She was kind, funny, and intelligent. Her ability to discuss any topic sensibly excited his brain, perhaps even more so than her scent and soft eyes sent his body into a sex-driven frenzy.
Original which should be in Gwen’s POV
David watched through narrowed eyes, his mouth grim. A blue vein throbbed in his forehead and his hands gripped his glass like a vice. Unmistakably, he was pissed watching Gwen enjoy herself with another man.
Corrected which now is in Gwen’s POV
She noticed David watching her through narrowed eyes, his mouth grim. A blue vein throbbed in his forehead and his hands gripped his glass like a vice. Unmistakably, she thought, he was pissed watching her enjoy herself with another man.
Just a few word changes will bring the paragraph into the right POV and maintain the continuity of the scene.
Go through your work and edit it to be sure you have all the correct POV’s within your scenes.
It’s a great Bears (Go Team!) defense team cheer and precisely what you should do with back-story when you’re writing fiction.
What’s back-story? It’s the life chronicle of your characters. All of your characters. Every person in your novel has a past. They think, feel, and act based on their history.
You’ve written your characterization, which is Thursday’s talk, and now you’re good to go. Wrong!
My Brazen Vixens online group is always willing to read a member’s work and constructively correct the flaws. Kate Lang, (check out her blog at katelang.blogspot.com for a great read) the leader of our pack, sent me an insightful e-mail after reading my first chapter.
“A suggestion is to perhaps cut back on back-story a little. I’d like to see your heroine’s issues be a mystery to me as a reader. After reading the first chapter there’s no mystery. I understand her, I understand her issues, and I know her history. Let her be more of a mystery, don’t tell me everything, let it come out in dribs and drabs.” Kate’s words made me think.
Beth Anderson and Yasmine Phoenix, my critique partners, are brutal with sloughing off. At our next meeting I broached the subject. They both agreed it was “too much waaaay to soon”. These buds made me think even more and to these three authors I am forever grateful.
This is what I finally learned;
If little Johnny peed his pants in third grade and the teacher shamed him in front of his class, we don’t care. It’s only important as a brief mention or a thought timely planted in the story. Johnny knows what he did and the reader only wants an indication if it brings out some deep dark secret which leads him to act as he does in your book.
This is what I finally figured out to correct my problem;
1 – List all the high points from your characterization. (Don’t panic; remember on Thursday we’ll discuss characterization.) Skip the height, weight, etc. You only want the important events, i.e.
a. Johnny peed his pants
b. He feels shame whenever he wears brown
c. He won’t talk in front of groups
d. He has a fear of public bathrooms
Get the idea?
2 – Write your story and drop in a line of back-story here and there but only where it’s appropriate.
3 – Cross out the line from your list after you use it and note in the column which page it’s on.
This method taught me to sprinkle in the back-story for the proper effect and not put the reader in a coma.
There will be pages in your book with plenty of back-story, but if the timing’s right it’s fine.
Time Management is the most important thing for a writer to learn. It doesn’t matter if you have plotted out the best novel mankind will ever read because if you can’t get the damned thing finished – who cares?
So what if your day job takes all your extra time or the kids are whining and your husband is just being a shit. Here’s a cyber phone card, go call someone who cares because obviously you don’t.
No one has ever procrastinated more than me. I am the Queen of Procrastination and have ruled my domain with an iron broom. That was until I figured out I would be a wannabe for the rest of my life. Do you?
So as you sneer and grab for the mouse to click off what you can’t bear to read, let me tell you STOP! Because baby, unless you pull yourself together, you’re never going to make it in this industry.
The solution is so damned easy it’ll make you wonder why you never figured it out.
Set a daily writing goal. Sounds good, right? It is.
1 – Make a to-do list every morning, i.e. Today I will write 100 words on chapter five.
Don’t be stupid, list out what is feasible for your life pattern. So you only have ten minutes before work or dropping the kids at school, think about your manuscript while you’re driving. Well, not so in-depth you wrack up the car but enough to keep your mind flowing. Every moment you spend thinking, plotting, doing a characterization, is time spent on writing.
2 – You can’t write and drive, you snidely say. Correct. Buy a pocket tape recorder and talk your story. How tough is that?
3 – Carve out a specific time in the day or night to write. I don’t believe in getting up an hour before the family to work. My mind isn’t ready, my body is too tired, and my meager attempts suck. You’re the only one who will know the best time for you to pull it all together and write your hundred words.
4 – Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet your schedule because you have to go to Aunt Bertha’s funeral. Do feel guilt if you blow off the day by watching TV or napping. The longer you stay away from writing the harder it is to go back again.
Learning the art of writing is an on going process. Come back next month for new additions on Writing Tips. Please email me with any suggestions or favorite websites you want to share.
Editors and friends have asked where I get my inspiration to write erotic romance. It’s simple since I’ve traveled to some of the most romantic countries in the world. How could a word lover not be flooded with plot lines when looking at the gorgeous gondoliers of Venice?
St. Mark’s Square is filled with enough motivation for me to pick up a pen and scrawl everything I see and hear. There’s always a pair of lovers strolling through, wrapped in each others arms, with no outside world to interfere. You might even find them sharing a Cinzano while the soft strings of an orchestra fill the chilly night air.
Cute, right? You got to see some of my travel photos but how do they apply to writing tips? Glad you asked!
1 – Inspiration is all around you every single minute of the day and night. Take the time to notice it, absorb it, feel it, then let your imagination soar.
2 – Always carry a pen and paper with you to record those scenes blossoming before you.
3 – Carry a disposable camera to photograph anything of interest, no matter how trivial. Drop the pictures into a file for future use.
4 – I like to work with visual aids and compile images of location, people, clothing, maps, language, and anything else that lands me smack-dab in the middle of my story. Nothing is too trivial to Glue Stic to my poster board. It puts me in the mood but I always make sure it’s hidden before company arrives.
Here’s two websites to check out for great advice:
Beth Anderson – www.bethanderson-hotclue.com
Beth has excellent tutorials on Point of View and Writing the Tight Synopsis.
Adrianne Lee – www.adriannelee.com
Adrianne’s site has the best for Conflict and Stupid Heroines.
Learning the art of writing is an on going process. Come back next month for new additions on Writing Tips. Please email me with any suggestions or favorite websites you want to share.