Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Revising Your Novel

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This is what I’m doing with my mystery manuscript right now. Little by little, it is coming together as I do the rewrite. Getting rid of redundant scenes is something I’m trying to watch closely. It is even harder to keep it in first person POV. Who said this would be easy?

First, you really have to be ruthless with your editing. It’s hard to cut everything out, but it does sound improved after I do, however, I feel better about pasting all that stuff into a Word doc that I can use later, if I want to. Chances are I won’t use it – at least not in this book. It still makes a difference to me to keep it.

Some things to bear in mind when doing this are:

Watching the story line
Are there any plot holes?
Will the reader be confused?
Is my conflict resolved in the end?

Is the POV consistent throughout?
Did I choose the right POV for this story?
Does it make sense?

Have I developed them?
If they change in the story, are there situations that cause the change?
Are my characters realistic with the flaws and quirks of ordinary people?
Do my characters induce emotional responses from the reader?

Are they predictable?”
Do I give concrete details, or am I too vague?
Do I have a good mix of dialogue, action, narrative?
Does each scene move the story forward, or is it filler?
Am I “telling” instead of “showing?”

Does it accurately reflect the character speaking?
Is it essential to the scene?
Is there too much “he said, she said?”

A few other things to keep in mind
Am I repeating myself, maybe using the same word too many times?
Is my sentence length varied and interesting?
Are my characters consistent regarding hair color, age, names, and dialect?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

ABNA Contest Finalists Announced

From ABNA Website

This year the contest at ABNA was different. For the first time, they will have five winners. The judges have made their selection. Five lucky people will receive writing contracts, but your votes will determine the grand prizewinner. This fortunate person will get the contract, plus a $50,000 advance.

You can be part of the determining vote, if you go here to read and vote for the best excerpt. The announcement for the top winner will be June 16.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Using commas

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Wow! I really learned something about commas while reading a blog thread. I am going to quote a post by Susan Uttendorfsky. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I am giving credit to her, and the reason I’m posting this is that there are writers who may stop by my blog and not know this, or not happen upon this thread at Linked In. I hope to post things beneficial to all of us here. So here goes. Please read carefully. This is interesting and important to know.

This is Susan’s post:

Descriptive Listing Commas

Mrs. Grade-School-English-Teacher didn't teach any of us a lot about using descriptive listing commas. One supposed trick is that if you can say a car is small AND blue, then it needs a comma. However, I've recently discovered that this trick doesn't work all the time.

For instance, a "red silk scarf" may indeed be red AND silk, but it doesn't need a comma. Why not? It's because there's a format for descriptions that reads "size - age - shape - color - origin - material". A list of descriptors in this order does not need commas: A large old rectangular black leather brief case. A large new narrow red velour blanket.

No commas. Seems strange, even to me, who wants desperately to punctuate those phrases with commas! But they're really not necessary.

The technical reasons are:

Cumulative adjective stacks, punctuated with no commas: Large red silk scarf.

Coordinate adjective stacks, punctuated with commas: Green, yellow, and red polka-dots.

Unit-modifier adjective stacks, mostly punctuated with hyphens, but sometimes not: long, stone-studded driveway.

Combination adjective stacks, containing a mixture of two or more of the previously listed categories: fast-moving, muddy cold water.

How many of you knew this, or is it more confusing than ever?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

This Year’s ABNA is Winding Down

From ABNA Website

There’s still time to read excerpts from the twenty-five finalists. On May 21, five lucky people will move on to the finals. At that time, people with Amazon accounts can vote for the winners. The voting period runs from May 21-29, 2013. The winner’s announcement will be June 15, 2013.

Here is the link for anyone who wants to read some excerpts. They are only about fifteen pages long, and are the beginning of each of these manuscripts. Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Six Essential Words for Fiction Writers to Remember

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I am no expert in this, as I am learning like most of you here. Sharing what I’ve learned from time-to-time with all of you is what I’ll be doing here between my other posts. We should never stop learning. I love to learn something new. This kind of thing always sets my imagination loose. Sometimes I can go to some wild places while I’m letting my mind roam. I have learned a lot while writing my latest book, even though the mystery genre is new to me.

We, as writers, should never lose sight of certain things while we’re writing. The power of your storytelling is very important. I try my best to get into the head of my characters, which is one reason I decided on using first person POV for my book. I’m hoping this will be the right decision in the end. I find it easier to write what my character is feeling and thinking, if I step into their shoes when they are on the stage.

I am quite a fan of dialogue to advance the story, so I have to mention a few words about this. If I could add a seventh word here, it would be dialogue. Make sure there is plenty of it. A good mix of dialogue and narrative works well. Ideally, there are both on each page of your book. I have also learned not to use your narrative portion for info dumps. It’s okay to dump a little background info, but never a dump truck load at one time.

You need to have a compelling story. It is important to make the reader care about your characters. Is there a hook? Are there questions the story will answer?

Does your story have a heroic protagonist? What is at stake that the main character needs to conquer? This goal will be more convincing if he/she has internal and external conflicts to meet along the way.

There should be conflict in every scene in the story. This is a little hard to keep going in every scene, but remember the reader picked up the book to read about your hero’s quest. They don’t expect a trip to grandma’s house, or a stroll around the block, because that isn’t exciting. What is the bad guy up to? How do they cause traumatic tension for your main character?

Remember the theme of the story as you go along. Everything that has ever happened to your character, past and present, comes into play. Their decisions and thinking always has to do with the past they have lived and the experiences they have had. It is easy to lose sight of this and not remember that the terrible accident you introduced, or the awful childhood, still has an effect on your character in the middle of the book when they are dealing with something else. That’s why you need to stay inside their head and become them when they are on stage.

Structure – Can you keep the story you set up going? Is the story always moving forward with a few twists and turns thrown in to keep it exciting for the reader? There is nothing like an unexpected surprise that you didn’t see coming. Something startling to get in the path to the goal would add some nice tension.

Of course, there should be a resolution. Does the end of your story make sense? Will the reader remember it after they have finished your book?

I’m trying to follow all these things as I write my mystery novel, but it should be helpful for any fiction genre you are writing.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Word about Writing in First Person POV

For anyone contemplating this, it is very difficult. I’m writing my fourth novel in first person. I’ve always wanted to use this to write a book, instead of the usual third person. I’m running into all kinds of difficulties.

Here is something I had to learn: If the main character cannot see, hear, touch, smell, taste, think, know, or feel it, then you can’t include it. This goes for whoever the character is in each chapter of your first person novel. This took awhile to hit home for me, but if you remember that you’ll be okay when using first person POV. You can imply nothing, so the character may be on the phone but they cannot see through the phone lines and know what the other character is doing while they’re having a conversation. You can only write what they actually hear the person say to them.

My original thought on using first person was to be “up close and personal.” First person creates an intimate perspective. It is easier to jump into the characters head. What are they feeling and thinking throughout the story? Put yourself in their place. In my thinking, you can achieve this best by using first person POV, but when you try to work many characters into a novel, it is very difficult, as you have to have a separate chapter for each person. This is quite challenging to do.

This novel is my first mystery. Looking at this now, I can see that this viewpoint would work better in other genres. When looking back, I think I would have been able to achieve the desired results easier in one of my fantasy novels. With mystery, there is a lot of investigation; so many people come into play. How many first person points of view can you actually have in a novel before it becomes too much?

I’m getting there slowly, but I mainly wanted to make you writers aware of the difficulties involved when you try to use first person in your writing. If you’re thinking about using this POV in any future works, think about it closely. I think my mystery will be okay in the end, but I’m not sure I would attempt another book in this genre using this POV.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing the Back Cover Blurb for Your Book

This is something we all struggle with after our novel is finished and we are in the cover stage. It’s probably the hardest three hundred words to write because it has to be concise while giving a good description of your book. We have to market our books for potential readers without giving the story away.

 Back Book Cover example

Do you read the book cover blurb of a book before you make the decision to buy it? I know I always read the back cover to see if it’s a story that interests me. You can see why this is so important because sometimes that is the only thing a reader will look at before putting your book down and picking up the next one. At least that is how it is with me. I rarely skim the book, if I don’t see something that catches my eye on the back cover.

Back Book Cover example

However, even more important than that is having a catchy cover and book title that will draw the reader’s eye, so they will pick the book up and read the back cover. This should reflect the story in the book. Once you decide on a cover design and catchy title, you’re ready for the book blurb on the back.

A word on covers: I always do my own, but if you’re not any good at this and have some experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, or other photo programs, you’re better off hiring someone to do your cover. Some of the POD companies, like Createspace, have a “cover creator” you can use to make it fast and easy using your own photos or those provided.

Back Book Cover example

So what does a back cover blurb entail?

*  Definitely a hook

*  It should be a short summary of your book, with beginning, middle, and end.

*  At the same time, you don’t want to give away the ending, so it is important to word this part carefully.

*  Your main character should be the focus, with maybe an additional character or two. There should never be more than three characters mentioned, in my opinion. Remember that you need to be to the point. Many names will confuse the reader and aren’t necessary if they play minor parts in the book.

*  This blurb should follow the story with the setting, what your main character faces, and how they resolve the situation. Don’t be boring, but don’t give too much detail either.

*  Break up your text by having two or three paragraphs. No one wants to read one big chunk of text.

*  Choose a font and size that big enough and easy to read.

*  Always proofread what you’ve written. There is nothing worse than having spelling errors and missing punctuation on your cover.

*  Have a friend read what you’ve written, so they can give their opinion.

*  If you don’t know how to start, read some back cover blurbs to give you ideas.

*  I’ve read many things about writing the perfect book blurb. Supposedly asking a question is not a good thing to do, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. A question in the book blurb will not stop me from buying a book, if the story sounds interesting.

Back Book Cover example

I hope you find this helpful. I always struggle with this because condensing an 85,000-word novel into 300 words is daunting. I am writing mine now for my mystery novel. Writing this post helps me to stay focused on the basics. Of course, I’m still rewriting my book, but I feel in back-cover-blurb-mode right now, and I know where my story is going.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Do you have a Writing Style?

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Every writer has a distinctive manner when it comes to putting words together. The sentence length and structure as well as the writer’s cultural background and worldview will set their writing apart from that of others. This is your “voice.” Voice is a reflection of your thinking and speaking habits, and the way you put them down on paper.

Good writing style:

Of course, style is very important in every genre. You can’t communicate effectively without it, and it will be hard to sell any books without good communication. As with everything in writing, style is a subjective thing. In other words, you will never please everyone, but you need to be concise and clear in what you want to say.

Good style can be a reflection of your personality, whether it is chatty or serious. You might write short staccato sentences, or long complex ones. You may find yourself writing in a completely different personality than the way you talk when you sit down at your computer to write.

Writers who write for magazines and newspapers use a different style than the ones who write novels. Magazine and newspaper articles require you to be to the point with only the facts. The writer can be more flowery and detailed when writing a novel or other longer piece of work.

If you want to look at some examples of excellent writing style, you may wish to read some works by some of history’s best writers, such as Charles Dickens, George Orwell, and Jonathan swift. Each of these writers has a different style, but it will give you a good idea of the descriptive language each of them uses in their stories.

Developing your own style:

You can achieve this by reading and writing a lot. Now, how many times have we all heard that? We know this is true because we are exposing ourselves to different styles while reading widely, and practicing what we have learned by writing. To develop your style, you have to be self-critical, which can be hard to do.

As writers, we need to check our flow, tone, and rhythm. To check flow, read your work aloud and listen to what you’re hearing. Are you repeating yourself? Have you varied your sentences in length and structure? Do they flow nicely? Do you use the same word too many times to start a sentence? This is all tricky, as I’m finding out while working on my new novel. If anything needs fixing, go ahead and change it.

The tone is how the writer expresses his/her attitude regarding the subject. Tone can be angry, bitter, arrogant, sarcastic, informal, or cynical, but it needs to be appropriate for the audience and the purpose of the story. You could ask yourself some basic questions. Why am I writing this? Who is my audience? What do I want the reader to take away from the story? You may need to adjust your tone to communicate the appropriate message.

Rhythm in writing is similar to a symphony orchestra. Everything needs to be coordinated and flowing in perfect harmony, not just blaring noises that don’t mesh. This is why it’s good to mix up your sentence structure, long with short. As you go through, you can add a bit of decoration to your work to spice it up, such as pertinent questions, or small details that enhance the reader’s enjoyment.

You may have to write and rewrite many times to achieve the perfect balance of everything, throwing some of your perfect “babies” out as you go, until you finally have the right mix. Striking out “perfectly good sentences” can be a challenge. It is hard for me to do, so hard in fact that I pasted them all into a separate Word doc. This made me feel better about cutting them out. In my head, I was putting them somewhere and not just banishing them to “no-man’s-land.” I find this a way to be brutal while still keeping my “babies” safe. You may want to do that until you’re ready to delete that file of throwaway sentences.

To sum it up:

Style is an individual thing. Practice makes perfect. Write until you have confidence in your own voice and make it stand out from the crowd. Them keep learning and practicing consistently. Remember your meaning should always be clear to your readers. Your story must flow all the way through. Small speed bumps along the way to increase intrigue should be okay, but please no honking horns and blaring music that will make the reader wish they had earplugs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Do Writers Really Retire?

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There was a PBS documentary on this recently, and I read an article in the New Yorker about this. Personally, I can’t see a writer ever retiring. If they do, it is certainly not a big announcement like the CEO’s of big companies make, or sports figures that are going to retire. If writers do retire, I think they keep on writing. Perhaps their survivors publish some new works after their death.

I would think that, unlike some professions, you don’t lose your edge, as you get older, like in athletics, when your body can’t keep up with the younger people. Practice makes you better and as long as you still have your mind, I suppose an older writer would still write things worth reading about. New stories may have more depth from life experience, as well as a different POV because an older person would see the world through different eyes.

The word retirement wasn’t even around a couple of centuries ago. Most everyone probably expected to work as long as they could get up and do the job. Today, most people want to take advantage of retirement benefits, or the savings they have accumulated that will enable them to travel and not be obligated to work. However, is writing really an obligation? I view it as more of a pleasure, but also an incurable disease because I have to write.

Many of us writers probably don’t make enough to live on the income we receive from writing, but we are compelled to write because it is in our blood. Perhaps if you have another job you can eventually retire from that, which will leave you more time to write, as well as some retirement income from the job that was earning your living.

Will you ever retire from writing, having used up all your inspiration and everything you had to say? I don’t think I ever will. I can see myself still writing until I drop dead, unless I don’t have the faculties to put any sentences together anymore.