Friday, February 25, 2011

SCENE BREAKS AND BODY PARTS / Writing Tips #3

Ever wonder what editors think of eyes stuck to the wall, tongues waggling words of discontent?
All kinds of body parts float around the pages
of too many otherwise good books.

Are you guilty?

Hope you enjoy this next installment of the Big, Bad Editor's List of Pet Peeves. With permission of White Rose Publishing.

The Big, Bad Editor's List Of Pet Peeves - Act III
In the ongoing saga of the Big, Bad Editor's Pet Peeves, we come to a host of small problems which can kill a perfectly good manuscript. Scene breaks, brand name dropping, body parts, swearing, one word emotion, and it.

SCENE BREAKS

Let me issue a caveat. Some editors are fine with scene breaks. I'm not one of them. I feel that if you need a scene break, you need to clarify your character's position better. A transitional scene from one to the next makes sense. My fellow editors will respectfully disagree with me and we'll probably have emails flying on our Staff loop. (Don't worry, its good for them to question their beliefs, keeps us all fresh).

So, what is a scene break? It is where you write one scene and then realize your character really should be somewhere else or thinking something else. Or you go to the other character's POV and see what he's doing at the same time. And, CUT! Off you go. Three asterisks and your reader has been beamed like a Star Trek character into the next scene. In most cases, your reader isn't Captain Kirk (unless its fan-fiction) and you don't own one of those transportation devices. Having your reader plopped into a different setting is like Kirk appearing out of nowhere to the superstitious savages. I will occasionally allow a scene break, but you better have 25 reasons to back up why you need it when I ask. I'm just saying.

A scene break pulls the reader up short. It is a stopping point. When you couple it with a POV shift, it can be the kiss of death to the reader - they may not finish the book. How many books have you read where you skipped to the 'good part?' Think about it and you may see a trend. The 'good part' is usually in one POV where you feel what that character is showing. Your purpose is to keep that reader so happy to finish the book that she'll buy your next book.

BRAND-NAME DROPPING

Brand-name dropping seems to be increasing in the manuscripts I've read lately. I kid you not, I got a manuscript in which the characters had to go buy a part for a car and the author listed 22 stores by name that might carry that part. If your heroine drives a 1969 Buick LeSabre change it to an 'older, gas-guzzling sedan.' Mentioning such things will get the red pen from me. These date your manuscript, they also come under 'fair use' laws. It means you can use certain terms, but it is dictated by the owner of the brand name. Since we don't want to constantly be writing letters to the owners asking permission, we prefer you use generic euphemisms for the cars, toys, tourist traps, and sexy lingerie.

BODY PARTS

One of the funniest lines I ever read in a manuscript was a hero who allowed "his eyes to run around the room as he looked for a way out." I had this vision of an alien species whose eyeballs popped out, dropped to the floor, sprouted legs and took off running around the room like a spider on speed. Make sure your hero/heroine's body parts can actually do the tasks assigned (real aliens are the exception to this rule).

SWEARING

Different editors have different views on swearing in a story. If there is no shock value and cussing doesn't impact the story in a profound way, it is unnecessary. I prefer no swearing in a Christian Inspirational. Throwing cuss words around as if they're everyday jargon dilutes the power. When you overuse the words, it is a waste of resources. You want every word to count in a good story. If a character swears for lack of anything else to say, it simply fills the silence, not a good trait. Heroes and heroines need to come across as decisive, firm and in control of their speech.

ONE WORD EMOTIONS

Human beings are not one-dimensional. We laugh, we cry, we share the lives of others for a while (that's a quote from Thomas Carlyle. Go look him up. I don't agree with him on most things but he understood the value of a good book). When we 'get emotional' we are not one feeling, we are a big mass of feelings. That said, sometimes in our intent to show exactly what our heroine/hero is feeling, we think a short, clipped sentence will do the trick. Add a little emotion and everyone gets the point...twice. Sentences like this grate on many editors' nerves.

"Surprised, she jerked back."

How about:

"She jerked back."

The verb tells us something startling happened. Ahhh, mystery. The reader will continue to read because they'll want to know why she jerked back. The 'surprised' part of the first sentence gives away an unnecessary clue that subtly foreshadows what is to come. If a reader knows the 'good part' is coming, they may put the book down to do other tasks, relishing the anticipation of the 'good part' for later. But your job is to make them keep reading a book they can't put down!

IT

And then there's the magic IT. It is not a subject. Sentences with 'it is' or 'it was' instead of a specific noun makes for passive writing.

"It was the man's abrasive tone that got to her."

How about:

Sam's abrasive tone grated on her nerves. (although really, I would do anything Sam Elliott told me to do - I love his abrasive, Scotch-on-the-rocks voice).

Do a find/search of the instances of 'it' and its iterations (ha ha, "it and its iterations!") and work on being more specific.

Once again, thank you White Rose for allowing me to offer these
writing tips on my blog.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WRITING TIPS #2 FOR AUTHORS

You're in a writing contest and you get back your entry with
HEAD-HOPPING written all over.
What? I don't do that...do I?
And what does it mean, anyway?

Following is the Big Bad Editor’s List Of Pet Peeves # 2 by MJ West,
with permission of Nicola Martinez,
White Rose Publishing:


In the second installment of The Big, Bad Editor's Pet Peeves I bring you yet another bane of my existence...

POINT OF VIEW SWITCHES & HEADHOPPING

There are editors who don't mind head-hopping. There are authors who write head-hopping characters seamlessly. And then there's me.

But first, here are the main POV's used in fiction so you'll know what I'm talking about.

Objective Point of View - In objective point of view, the writer tells what happens without any bias towards character or plot. The writer doesn't tell the reader how the characters feel or what they think. The writer is simply an observer telling a story. A lot of children's stories are told in objective point of view. Journalism used to be told this way, too. (Don't ask my opinion on what is called journalism nowadays).

Third Person Point of View - The writer is not a participant in the story, but allows the reader to know and understand the point-of-view of one or more characters. The reader knows how the characters feel about events and what they think, too. The writer is the third person - "the fly on the wall"- hearing and seeing all in the chosen POVs. Most fiction is written in third person narrative.

First Person Point of View - The writer is the narrator of the story. The writer's opinion is not always objective and they may infuse their opinions, thoughts and actions on the reader. This style of writing may not always be trustworthy, because the reader is depending on the writer to tell the truth. Biographies are usually written in the first person. (What, you think some of them are the whole truth??)

Omniscient - The writer knows everything about everyone, how they fell, how they think, what their motivations are. Some police thrillers are written with this style because the POV of the criminal and what the motivation may be is just as important as the POVs of the police. Think of this POV as an army general. The general is looking over a map of the land and moving his armies where he thinks they'll do the most good. The armies have no say, they do not understand or care why they are being moved, they are simply minions of the general and do as he dictates. All action and characterization if any is from the viewpoint of the "all-knowing" general.

Author Intrusion - When an author infuses a preaching tone or opinion that has not been stated as the character's thoughts/feelings anywhere else in the book.

Now, back to my peeving. A point of view head-hop breaks my train of thought.

It is disconcerting to be identifying with the hero and to suddenly be thrown out of his perspective by an invasive newcomer who is a stranger with thoughts, actions and a perspective of her own! When reading, the reader starts to understand the character, starts feeling his/her depth of emotion, starts thinking "wow, that's almost exactly how I feel!" and then BAM! they're kicked out of his/her POV and into another character's thoughts. Even if the second character also feels as they do, the reader is left with a sense of incompleteness. The reader isn't even finished with the first person when they have to deal with the thoughts of the second person.

Wait? What? See how confusing it is?

Think about the classic books you read as a child - rarely are there even two POVs - part of the reason they're classics is because the characterization is so strong with one POV.

I know you feel that you can convey more when you show both sides of the story. I know it is easier to keep them in the same scene while they go back and forth like a tennis match. However, its not strong writing unless you are one of the few experienced authors who've mastered the technique.

Inexperienced head-hopping keeps the reader off balance. And worse, it gives the impression of a play. Each person and their story is produced like the characters in a play - "here is your part, tell your background, move off the stage for the next person." It comes across as very cut-and-dried. I have noticed that many authors who do this are avoiding something.

That avoidance is very telling. What is it telling this editor? In almost every instance, the author is avoiding emotive content. You read that right. Most authors are trying to "wow me with words" so they don't have to delve into their psyche and pull out emotions that may bare the soul of their character. Why? Because every character the writer invents carries a little piece of that writer in it. Most people don't let all their thoughts/feelings hang out. Even overly dramatic people may sometimes be hiding behind an opinionated fa├žade. When a writer puts words to paper, they open up they way they themselves may think. It's a little scary to show that vulnerability to an audience of readers.

Part of writing is that ability to share what we feel. Constantly head-hopping can convey the story you want to tell without having to get emotional about it.

But this is romance, baby. It is all about emotion! It is all about that vulnerable state when you open your heart and bleed until a hero rides to the rescue, wraps a tourniquet of love around that heart and helps it heal.

Open that vein. Strengthen the story by wearing your heart on your sleeve. Don't hide behind pretty words or keep the reader head-hopping so much they can't get a real grasp on how that character feels. Emote! Give me a point of view from one character that strengthens the romance and makes it grow. Give me a point of view that shares its pain, its angst and its passion. And I'll give you a contract for a well-written book that readers will want to read.

Thanks, again, White Rose for the writing tips...
Has this helped in your quest for the PERFECT NOVEL?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GOOD NEWS FOR NEW AUTHORS

For about two years, we’ve been hearing all sorts of “cutting edge” news about the writing industry, and it’s only getting hotter. E-books will kill publishers. Print books will never make room for e-books, and on and on and on.
Everyone has an opinion, and we know what that means. So who and what do we believe? If bigger houses will only look at established writers, and agents want established writers, where does that leave the rest of us?

DON’T LOOK NOW, THERE’S GOOD NEWS FOR NEW AUTHORS!

Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency
has been bumped to the top of the list by Publishers Marketplace as the “go-to” agent for new authors. His track record is amazing!(I’m slightly prejudiced since I am one of his clients, but I couldn’t agree more)

So how about publishers?

Just more good news. A few smaller presses are taking on new clients as we speak. One in particular that is growing faster than weeds, where you don’t have to wade through an erotic section to get to inspirational, is White Rose Publishing, where faith is the cornerstone of love.
For full length novels, they will do print and e-book. Hmm, sounds like this might be the best of both worlds.

Nicola Martinez is Editor-in-chief and as such, has set the guidelines with a godly standard in mind. I asked Ms. Martinez if I could pass along some of the writing tips she and her staff of editors offer on their site to help writers know what they expect in submissions. She agreed, and so for the next few posts, I will be reprinting writing tips from White Rose and their staff. Take the time to read them over, you won’t be sorry.

Following is the Big Bad Editor’s List Of Pet Peeves # 1 by MJ West, with permission of Nicola Martinez, White Rose Publishing:

The Big Bad Editor's List Of Pet Peeves I
I have a lot of pet peeves. I plan to highlight the big ones for this series of articles. The rest I'm willing to work with to find a viable compromise between the author and myself. And honestly, although I prefer great grammar and punctuation, I will not reject your story because you missed a comma or misspelled a word (however, this doesn't mean you can send me a poorly edited manuscript). So, with that said, we shall concentrate on my Pet Peeves. And the Number One Spot goes to...(drumroll)...

BACKSTORY.

Nearly every newbie author (including myself back in the day) is guilty of back story. Back story is when one set ups a scene to tell the reader all about the hero or the heroine before the actual story. Because one is trying to capture the reader's attention, one wants them to understand and identify with the heroine/hero. That's almost always how to TELL a story. Think about it. Remember the stories you told your kids?

"Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose Grandmother was sick. She baked some goodies for Grandma, put them in a basket, put on her little red jacket with hood and headed out the door. Stepping onto the forest path, she met a wolf..."

But in romance, it works better to SHOW a story. Start the story in the middle of the action, preferably when the hero/heroine or protagonists meet.

"Hello, my pretty." The wolf's eyes gleamed as he eyed the girl's basket. He licked his chops as drool ran down his chin. (Right away we can see that this is the Bad Guy - his personal hygiene habits alone tell us his character).

"Hello," Little Red Riding Hood said in a polite tone, furiously thinking that the loaf of bread in her basket simply wasn't an adequate weapon. (Smart, bakes and can multi-task. Obviously, the heroine).

Even if the meeting isn't auspicious, it actually sets the stage you were striving for in the back story. The wolf is established as the bad guy. Little Red Riding Hood is established as being the heroine in deep trouble. The reader has just entered the comfort zone of reading. Reader immediately knows the actors on the page, and is ready to identify with the heroine. The door is open. The page must be turned.

And that, my pretties, is right where you want the reader to be. So excited that turning the page cannot be helped. How many times has someone interrupted you right at the Big Moment in a book or movie? Your job, as a writer, is to make every single chapter have a Big Moment. Or two...or twenty. Keep that page turning.

Don't bore me with the story of how Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother made that coat by going to a specialty store to buy the woolen fabric in that specific shade of cherry red, and how she bought real bone buttons and lined it with silk because LRRH was such a special little girl, what with baking Granny treats and doing the housework and fluffing pillows and all. Granny is a secondary character. She can be mentioned, but I don't want her life story, her choices or her pet peeves even mentioned in the book, okay? Well, unless you can do it in a paragraph or less, as it relates to the hero/heroine. There is no reason to know why Granny made the coat. She's Granny, LRRH is her granddaughter. Grannies do that kind of thing. That is sufficient for readers to know by inference.

Write tight. Your goal is to use as few words as possible to convey character and action. You want to punch the reader in the eyeballs with everything that will make them keep reading down the page and to the next.

The master of writing some of the best first lines ever was Louis L'Amour. Next time you go to the bookstore or library pick up a few of his books and read.

"When I rode up to the buffalo wallow, Pa was lying there with his leg broke, and his horse gone." (END OF THE DRIVE - Louis & Katherine L'Amour Trust)

In that single sentence, the writer conveys a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility, a sense of trouble, and the need to solve the problem fast. And the reader is off and running - reading as fast as possible to find out what happens.

Louis didn't go into back story, he hopped right into the action, left the reader staring at the page thinking "My goodnes, WHAT HAPPENED?" And then they find themselves reading all day and finishing the book at 2 a.m. knowing they have to go to work tomorrow.

As you continue writing the book, and at this point, I'll talk specifically about romance, you must keep the hero and heroine together. Do not go off on a tangent about how the hero's long lost brother shows up with three kids and a dog, and how the hero loved his brother's wife back in the day and now must mourn her passing but is charmed by his brother's daughter because she looks so much like her mother, a pretty girl with brown eyes and blonde hair who sang as sweetly as a lark, loved dogs, and could bake the best apply pie this side of Sara Lee. (It is almost Thanksgiving, I'm into baking metaphors).

The reader doesn't want to know all that. The reader is looking for the romance - the reader wants to see the relationship develop between hero and heroine. Hero and heroine. Hero. And. Heroine. You can allow a little back story as they interact with each other. He can tell her about losing someone he loved. He doesn't need to go into detail. She can see a photo of Mom and notice that the little girl looks like Mom and the hero seems to have a soft spot for the kid. But then, you must revert back to hero and heroine and how THEIR relationship is growing. What are they doing? What are they feeling? What is happening? How do they react when it happens? Do they take action? If so, is it a resolution? If not, why not? Will there be a resolution later? Why the delay?

Every time an author introduces a secondary character, the potential for back story is set. Resist! If you must use a secondary character, give the reader bare bones. A quick paragraph about their meaning in the hero or heroine's life, and then move back to hero and heroine. Don't give them a life history. Don't give them "air-time" in a story about Hero and Heroine. If they have a story, write another book about them.

Don't give Hero and Heroine much back story, either. Heroine's story before meeting hero is hers alone. Hero's story before meeting heroine is his alone. But this story...this story is about them. Together. Developing a relationship in the present. This is their story. Write it wisely.

I hope you enjoyed and took to heart the suggestions by the editor. White Rose is the romance sister site to Harbourlight Books, which publishes novels in many genres outside the realm of romance.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

WOULD JANE AUSTEN BE PUBLISHED TODAY?

Too much telling!

Every contestant’s nightmare critique.
And a favorite complaint of judges
across the industry. Have you read much omniscient lately?
It’s all about the deep POV. Get in their heads and feel what
they’re feeling; don’t tell us what they feel.

But what about Agatha Christie? Charlotte Bronte?
Jane Austen?
Have you read their books---helllooooo!
Are their books classics that have stood the test of time?
Helllloooooo again…
But!!! And here’s my big but
(no comments from those of you who know me),
would they survive, would they be looked at twice,
would they be pubbed today?
Let’s look at a f’rinstance!

Pride and Prejudice
In the first few chapters we were in so many heads,
they didn’t even have time to hop.
And the adjectives were plentiful enough
for a junior high English Comp class.
How about the characters? Let’s look at my favorite.

Mr. Darcy!

He was at the same time haughty,
reserved, and fastidious,
and his manners, though well-bred,
were not inviting.

I can only imagine the comments from a fiction
writing contest today.
“SHOW us how haughty he was. Let us see through dialogue and
actions just HOW his manners were not inviting.
Give us examples that put us in the character’s head.”
And by today’s standards, they would be right.

We really do write what we read, and if we only read books that
aren’t being pubbed in today’s market, how do we expect to get
published ourselves?

Am I saying the classics are bad?
Heavens, no!

But I am saying the market isn’t the same one that
existed when Austen and Bronte,
or even Christie wrote. Shucks, it isn’t the same market as
the one Mary Higgins Clark broke into years ago.

The industry is changing—are you willing to change, too,
or will you be left behind?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Writing Contests

Well, Genesis is just around the corner. Anyone entering?
Go over the material, read it aloud to yourself, and
put your best writing in your synopsis.
GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

PRIDE VS. PUBLICATION?

How about it, Van Gogh?

More interested in battling the system, taking a firm stand, rather than getting your work out there and published? Do you even care what actually sells in the industry and doing a bit of change to meet the needs of the market?
Which writer are you?

It has to be my way or the highway…
or
The editor says I need to change that?
Okay, doesn’t change the integrity of my storyline. Let’s do it.

It’s never easy to change your “baby”.

But are you picking the right battles?
If an editor is anxious to look at your work with some changes, are you willing to make those changes? At least compromise? Or do you dig your heels, resulting in NEVER getting published just so you can keep your manuscript 100% intact?

The publishing industry isn’t Burger King.
You won’t always get to have it your way.

Maybe you’ve just started out; maybe you just got an agent; maybe an editor just took at look at your work and said, “Let’s work on the changes and try again.”
Will you, or won’t you?
Maybe you’d rather be one of the artists whose
work is discovered
long after you’re gone.
I’m not saying one way is right or wrong.

Just what do you want to get out of the writing industry?