Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Sometimes our work is just not cutting it. Everyone knows it, even your mom, even Santa Claus. You need to be honest with yourself in order to bring your work up to snuff. You may have an unsnuffable work that you need to scrap, as I did with my first novel, and that’s okay. Move on. Pick up the pen. Try again.

Really, really, really read books on craft to give yourself good blueprints and so you can write well and recognize quality from trash.

And even if your work IS cutting it, there are some jewels you should always include to make sure it goes from workable to downright awesome.

1. Good flow

Create good flow, pace and rhythm not just in the plot but in your narrative, the way things unfold, the way sentences and paragraphs connect.

This means varying your sentence length, starting with a gerund every now and then, mixing things up, avoiding crutch words or awkward turns of phrase, not having every sentence start with He/She/Sue . You don’t want to have a choppy read nor do you want to one that forces readers to struggle through shattered and plentiful ten-line sentences.

Avoid dumps  of description and backstory. Even if you’re writing omniscience and can do it seamlessly and the point-of-view character is super observant and truly notices everything you point, don’t go overboard. Consider those details to be ribbons, sequins, accessories. They should dress up your work, not make up the bulk of it. If readers are tugged into a quagmire of verbage, no matter how great it sounds to you, you risk losing them somewhere in Ch. 6.

In my novel, Kings & Queens, I made the mistake of including a few paragraphs of backstory  on my character Derek when I opened his POV, but that clashed with my close perspective. I slashed all that and took it down to a line or two, as it applies to his thoughts in the scene.

Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to include everything, and too much info can be overwhelming and annoying. Think of your prose as music. Only important details are needed in that score.

When you think you’re all polished and ready to shop, email yourself the first couple of chapters and random sections. It sounds weird I know, but reading scenes out of your text document will help you notice issues with pace and rhythm especially. I noticed some choppiness and sludgy spots in my chapter 1 this way, which is the first thing agents see. Now I’m good to go.

2. Unforgettable Characters

It sounds obvious. Every wants unforgettable characters, but as a reader, how many times have you read a great book, then a month or too later, can’t recall names?  Then you have to skip over to Amazon to check ’cause the not knowing is bugging the snot out of you.

I have photographic memory, and this happens to me. A lot. Even if I loved a story and the characters in it.

Don’t’ let readers experience amnesia. Let your characters jump off the page and demand to be noticed and not quickly forgotten. Develop your characters so that they’re nearly palpable, then tether aspects of plot to their identity and desires. Give an extraordinary quality or interest that’s rarely seen and this will create the memory stickiness you hope to achieve.

3. Fresh Voice

Your voice is in everything you write from tweets to novels. Be inspired, but don’t emulate the style and voice of others. Let your uniqueness come emerge. Voice is an expression of the weird way your mind works, your personality in written word, your take on things, your way of speaking. Even this post has voice.

It should flow out naturally. Even if you write with different tones or various quirky First Person narrators, a bit of you should still shine through. If you’re feeling unsure or self-conscious, it will be noticeable. The only way you can gain confidence and to findYOUR voice is to practice.

People have called my writing quirky and different. I love giving readers golden nuggets of my weirdness. It puts a stamp of branding on my own works.

4. Balance in The Force

Your work can be packed with darkness, conflict and obstacles aplenty, but it should have some kind of forward momentum. In darker works, add some ribbons of dark or dry humor, irony, hyperbole, romance, tone shifts, brief moments of peace, lightness and success. This will bring more scope and needed contrast into your work.

Also, if your work is lighthearted, you should have present or brewing trouble, a paperboy who wants his two dollars, office cat fights (they happen!), insomnia, a stalker, a death in the family, skeletons in the closet, the annoyance of every Starbucks within twenty miles being out of whipped cream so there’s no way to gloriously top off that Java Chip Frap.

Always think about balance and contrast. My novel, Kings & Queens, deals with violence and psychological terror, but it still has bits of humor and scenes that tug at the heart.

So, I’ve given you some direction towards making your work shine. Go write and make your work AWESOME.

~ CV


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For an aspiring writer, there’s nothing more inspirational than finding a community of writers who want to grow with you. It’s also an experience that can send you cowering under your blanket or hurling your laptop across the room. However, if you use discretion and common sense, a writer’s forum can help you polish your manuscript and take it up another notch on your way to publication. I wish I had known what I know today, but perhaps the following pointers can help you avoid some pitfalls and help you benefit from your site.

When you join a forum, like the one I joined, thenextbigwriter, don’t be intimidated by so-called established writers, those who have been there forever and feel a certain sense of ownership. Just because they have been on the site for three or four years doesn’t mean they’re great writers. Of course, the publishing world is cruel and some of the established writers are diamonds who have simply not been discovered, but be that as it may, you have as much right to belong as anyone, especially if you’ve paid your dues. Feel free to  read their works and offer suggestions.

Seek out works you admire, especially those in the genre you’re writing. Read those authors and cultivate reciprocal relationships with them. This means you have to put in a good faith effort when you critique works. It’s most insulting and annoying for someone to write a drive-by review and expect something worthy in return.

Be humble.  As I’ve said before, the publishing world is a cruel one, so when your fellow writers give you painful feedback, cry a little. Put off responding right away until you’ve had a chance to be objective. Your writing friends are only trying to help you be the best that you can be, and though reading is subjective, that’s the way it works in publishing.  Don’t accept criticism from only those who adore your work. Chances are they may be afraid to be truthful, especially if you develop a reputation for throwing a fit each time someone doesn’t fall in love with what you write.

Stay away from personal issues. Writers are naturally expressive and put everything out there. However, it can be annoying if you post every other day to complain about your miserable life. Pretty soon, it gets old and people don’t want to know. If you form friendships and those friends want to know, by all means share with them, but avoid making a general nuisance of yourself. The exception is when you post updates about your interaction with publishing professionals.  Even then, careful not to abuse the system by posting about every twinge of discouragement you feel. It gets old and discourages others.

If you can, avoid forum threads that quickly become full-blown fights. For one thing, you’ll be emotionally disturbed, waste time and be unable to write for a few days. Just focus on the goal at hand: to develop your craft.

Try to be kind to everyone, even the ones nobody likes. We’re all in this together. Besides, one day, they might buy your book or write books you’ll love.

There are more useful tips, but the above are a start in the right direction. Remember that no writers’ site is going to be good enough. When you’ve got the best out of yours, seek editorial help from a reputable editor.

Most of all, enjoy yourself; you’ll probably make lifelong friends!

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2347682694_dbfa1841a1_mGrammar rules have been around since the dawn of the written word and so has confusion about them. What’s right or wrong can be difficult to grasp, with commas oddly going out of fashion, with rules changing, yes, changing.

Like with alright. Though it is recognized as one word by Spellcheck, many insist it’s not a real word. But times they are a changin’ and as spoken word has adapted, there’s now a notable difference between all right and alright.

All right is preferred in narrative (unless you’re in First Person, then it’s on a case by case basis), but alright can be used in dialogue or thought when it’s clear it’s an exclamation or question [e.g. “Alright! Who made this mess?” or “Alright? Why are you acting so weird?”] and not a state of being or a predicate adjective [“I’m all right, feeling much better now that my migraine’s gone.” or “The pie was all right. I’ve had better.”]  See? There’s a difference. And it’s an easy distinction.

I had one critter insist my use of towards versus toward was unacceptable in America and that TOWARD is the preferred word. Perhaps that’s correct, but in some instances toward sounds off and the dictionary says I can use them interchangeably, so I do. I use whatever sounds right in the sentence. If you’re narrative is richly constructed, leaning towards lyrical (Ha!), your story historical, your characters prim, towards would be perfectly suitable. Do as you will.

Some rules have done back flips to remain jazzy and hip only to end up in the dead zone. Others are still holding strong, aiming to remain etched in the books forever. If you’re wondering what’s dead and buried and what the current standard is, here’s a cute site I just found that contains grammar myths, grammar phobias and little tombstones for those long gone rules of yesterday that have been so kindly laid to rest.

Check out: Grammar Phobia.

~ CV

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