Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avoiding Head Hopping POVs.

Well, yesterday I did something I don't get as much time to do lately as I'd like. I sat and finished reading a book.

Unfortunately, this book was an older romance (published in the early '90's). I ordered it and the sequel from because the sequel had been talked about on an discussion board and caught my interest, and when I looked it up, I found it had a prequel so I got that too.

I'm almost afraid to read the sequel.

The book (no, I'm not going to tell you the title or the author) is a historical set in England and involves pirates. (That narrows it down to about a bazillion books.) And while the story was okay, the characters okay, one thing that slammed home within the first ten pages was head-hopping.

I'm not talking every once in a while, I'm talking all the time. Including dropping into the heads of MINOR characters for just a sentence or two.

I'm guessing the author wanted to write this book in third-person omniscient, and while yes, that IS a valid POV approach, the way they went about it, especially for a romance, totally pulled me out of the story time and again and was executed so poorly I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who the heck's POV I was in.

It was both a lesson in patience and writing for me. I've seen poorly-executed POV shifts before. This...this was just flat-out BAD. Now, I don't know if romances published in this time period had a lot of that, or if this was just a particularly bad example, but jeez Louise, give me a break.

Here's how NOT to execute a POV shift, especially in a romance:
  1. Don't shift multiple times on the SAME PAGE. (Only one or two shifts PER SCENE, and limit them to major characters.)
  2. Don't flip into a minor character's POV for a paragraph or two when it's not integral to the story. (Most of the time, it's not integral to the story.)
  3. Don't make your reader work to try to figure out whose POV they're in. (I cover this shortly.)
  4. Don't give every character their own POV. (See point #2.)
I mean, it was baaaaad.

Limit your POV shifts to the main characters, and only once or twice during a scene. In a romance, that is your hero, heroine, if it's a menage/multiple story then other lovers in the story can have a POV, and if there is one, the antagonist can have a POV. Sometimes minor characters can have their own POV, but ONLY if the scene they're in is one in which they are the pivotal character IN that scene.

For example, in my Tymber Dalton book, "Love Slave for Two: Family Matters," Tommy's mother, Peggy Kinsey, gets several scenes in her POV because she is the lynch pin in those scenes. Nevvie (the heroine) actually takes a backseat to her mother-in-law because of the events. That was a perfectly acceptable use of that POV. There are other scenes where she (Peggy) is in the scene, but I never flip to her POV because it's not necessary.

When you flip to a different POV, CLEARLY indicate that's what you're doing. One of the easiest ways to do this is the following example yanked from my brain:
(Long scene in hero's POV, ending in the following...) He walked over to the TV and angrily turned it off. "I want to talk to you about this." Sue looked scared. Good. He wanted her fear now, because maybe it would mean she would actually listen to him for once.

Sue watched as he turned off the TV and turned to her. She'd never seen him look so angry before. I wonder if he's going to yell at me, she thought. "What's wrong?" she asked him.

Again, that's an out of my butt example. But you can see where when I flipped to the heroine's POV, I clearly indicated it by identifying her immediately by name and by showing an observation from her point of view, followed by a thought, followed by her dialog. Now, I didn't have to have all three of those things, of course, but the key was I immediately identified her and an observation clearly attributed to her, that only she could make, so I anchored the reader in her POV. It is patently obvious we are now in the heroine's POV. And if I was to continue the example, there I would stay for a while. I would NOT immediately flip back to his POV in a paragraph or two.

Another technique for a seamless POV shift is the character whose POV we were in leaves the room or falls asleep and another character takes over. This is effective when you had three or more people in the room and need to flip to a third POV. Then you can avoid a scene break (if the scene hasn't ended).

In a romance, especially during romantic scenes, it's very tempting to flip back and forth in POV during love scenes. I know, because I used to want to do it a lot. But there is a fine line between head hops and legitimate POV shifts, and the more I write, the more I'm finding ways to avoid them so I don't have readers wanting to toss a book. *LOL* I actually approach writing differently now than I used to simply to avoid unnecessary POV shifts. There are a lot of houses now who will not accept ANY POV shift within a scene simply because so many people cannot properly execute POV shifts without it becoming head hopping.

So pay attention to your POV and save yourself agonizing choices later during edits. While writing, anchor yourself as the writer in one character's POV and remember you cannot write something that character doesn't personally think, observe, or say. So if you're writing from the heroine's POV, you cannot write that the hero thinks something while in her POV.

Some POV slips can be taken care of by exchanging an internal thought or observation into spoken dialog. This is an easy fix for many things. Or you can say the other character "seemed" to ______ or "apparently" _______. That would convert it to an observation the other character could make, preserving POV.

Happy Writing!

Monday, November 9, 2009

(Bad Pun Alert) Easy Writer.

I want to let you in on a little secret about writing. (It's not a secret for my fellow pubbed authors, because they already know this, so quit that snickering there in the peanut gallery.)

Writing is the EASY part of your job.


You know, all those gallons of sweat and all those buckets of tears you put into your manuscript, along with a few pints of blood to season the mix?

Child's play.

See, once you get your "baby" accepted and published and then you get your first round of edits back from your editor...let's just say make sure you've got a glass of something stronger than soda water ready to steady your nerves.

And I don't give a rat's ass how many times you went through that puppy before you submitted it, how clean you thought it was. Once it's sat in a darkened corner for a while and you get your eyes on it after an editor has been through it...


I don't mean to sound cold and callous or discouraging to newbie writers, but frankly, if you think getting your words on the page was the hardest part of the process and the rest is all downhill from there, Sunshine, have I got a cold, hard wake-up for you that you're not going to like.

Let me say it again for those who missed it the first time around: Writing your book is the EASY part of the entire insane process.

And that's taking the submission part right out of the queue and jumping to the assumption that your manuscript is placed with a publisher.

Why do I harp on this? Because I'm seeing more newbie writers out there who apparently haven't done any research on how publishing works. They think they can write, submit, and sit back and get paid.

Now, I'm NOT trying to discourage them from writing. Quite the contrary. I think they should be prepared for the process ahead of them so they can survive it without having to be admitted to a mental hospital in the process.

And then, let's not forget self-promotion. You cannot sit back and assume someone will do it all for you. If you already have an evil day job that isn't "novelist," you must find a way to make time in there, along with family obligations, sleep, eating, and car pooling, to self-promote. If you do not self-promote, you will not sell books. Or you will not sell many books.

Now, all that said, you might ask why the hell anyone in their right (write *LOL*) mind would want this gig?

If you are a writer, you already know the answer to that question.

So newbie writers, don't despair. No matter how hard it might feel getting that book pulled out of your brain and onto the page, once it's finished, you'll appreciate it for what it is:

The easy part.

Now gird your loins and go forth and kick butt and know that you're not alone in your post-writing misery. We feel your pain.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Approximately a year ago, about this time, my older Toshiba laptop died. Well, as I panicked when the screen, which had been getting progressively redder upon start-up over several months, went totally black, I realized I still had lights on in the main laptop body. Meaning it wasn't dead-dead, just sort of dead. I unplugged it from everything, raced it back from the living room to our office, unplugged a desktop monitor from a tower and into my laptop...

*Huge sigh of relief!*

Toshi wasn't dead, just disabled. The screen, that is.

Hence started a huge-ass back-up to get all my past and current projects up-to-date on my back-up external flash drive (500gb).

And I went to plan B.

Plan B was my little (and by that I DO mean little) Asus eeePC. Tiny little thing. When put up against my normal sized laptop, it's a leeetle teeny baby computer. But at the time, I was in the process of starting a manuscript that I really needed to finish. Now, I didn't have Word installed on the Asus, but I did have Open Office. Despite the tiny screen and tiny keyboard, I was determined to make do.

Fortunately, my cousin is an uber-geek-god when it comes to fixing electronics and he assured me he would get Toshi up and running.

In the meanwhile, I didn't want to take over my dh's laptop, and I just can't write on a desktop anymore.

So I installed SuperNotecard on the Asus, copied my current works in progress files, and away I went. I did have to invest in a full-sized wireless keyboard/mouse combo, but after several weeks my cousin got Toshi back up and running before I went blind from the tiny screen.

In the meantime, I finished and submitted the manuscript for "Love at First Bight." Written almost entirely on the Asus.

I posed the question on my Facebook wall the other day asking fellow writers what was the strangest/most unusual way you'd written something, usually in desperation. I would have to say since I don't usually write longhand (arthritis), that my month-long stint on my Asus was my strangest to date. Toshi was returned to me as good as new, but earlier this year I upgraded to a new Toshiba laptop, and my "old" Toshi has been relegated to back-up status. (Keep in mind, I use my laptops like most people use desktops, and my laptop is on usually 12+ hours a day.)

So what's your story? My point of this entry is that there are plenty of excuses why you "can't" write. But if you are a "real" writer, you know there are no excuses. Whether it's one sentence or a whole novel, you find a way to write it because it's not just what you do, it's who you are. So feel free to share your strangest/most desperate/unusual writing tales.

(And don't forget to back up your data!)

(PS - For you government FCC blog geektards, yes, I purchased both my Toshiba laptops and my Asus eeePC. But if either company ever wanted to offer me a freebie I'd take it in a heartbeat. So pppptttppp!)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Configuring retro-Word appearance.

Do you miss the old versions of Word where you could use a dark background and light text?

I got this link courtesy of author Douglas Clegg:

You can not only change Word 2007 so the background and text colors are reversed for ease of use, you can make it look like an old-time word processor and reduce your time-suckage distractions by setting it up for full-screen viewing!

Mega-cool, and a HUGE thank you to Douglas for the link!!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

English is hard!

First of all, I didn't write this, I got it through the Writing email list on the Internet Writing Workshop. I don't know who originally wrote it, but kudos to you, sir or madame. I'm classifying it as a "writing how-to" post because frankly? It sort of is. *LOL*

You think English is easy???

Read to the end . . . a new twist

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it, English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

P.S. -- Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this:

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is 'UP.'

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?

Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends.

And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.

We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning.

People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.

In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.

It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP .

When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP... When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP. When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, is time to shut UP!

Now it's UP to you what you do with this email.


(Note to writers from Lesli: "Up" is one of those sneaky little "filler" words we all use without thinking, but really, in many cases, they're extraneous and just pad your word count with worthless extras. For example, you don't need to say the character "sat down." You can say, "He sat." Down is implied. But, if for something particular, like he's going to pay attention to someone speaking, you can say, "He sat up straight in his chair," or similar phrasing to indicate what he's doing. It's easy to say, "He sat back down," when, "He sat again," or, "He returned to his chair," would be better. So beware those sneaky little words!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quick historical research tip.

Just a quick tip today. Here's something neat I discovered with my old friend, Wikipedia. (Yes, I know, you have to double-check what you find on Wikipedia, but it's a great place to start.)

If you need to do research on a particular year for, say, a historical romance you're writing, you can type in something like this:

and it gives you major events, births, and deaths for that year. Substitute the year you want, of course.

Again, it doesn't mean you can get away with no other research, but if you need a starting point to help you get a feel for a year, there you go. Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Recapturing the wonder.

My dad used to go flea marketing every Sunday morning. One day, he came home with what was, to me, a prized gem: a blue Smith Corona 2200 electric typewriter.

I probably single-handedly deforested a small Latin American rain forest with the amount of paper I ran through that puppy. I had it until I wore it out.

I was I think in junior high when this happened, and I had that typewriter for I don't know how many years. It took these funky cartridges, not normal ribbon. And I loved it.

When I was in seventh grade, I asked for a year of band. The Hillsborough County school system saw fit, in their finite wisdom, to give me a semester of Spanish and a semester of typing instead.

In retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My dad, seeing that I was about to wear out our antique portable manual typewriter, brought me the Smith Corona and away my fingers ran.

I remember living for Saturday nights when my parents would go out for the night, usually not returning until after midnight, going all the way over to Gibsonton or the fair grounds to watch the short track races. I would move my trusty blue fantasy machine out to the living room with my notes and spend the evening pounding away at it. (I was a very fast touch typist even then.) I would light a large pillar candle I had and pretend I was Stephen King (only a teenager and a girl) and a Famous Author.

I loved it.

Yes, I was a pitiful geek. But overall, on these nights, I was the world's happiest pitiful geek.

There was a certain magic, to me, when I looked over the pages I tapped out, seeing the stack grow. Now, of course, it's all on the computer and I calculate in words, not pages, of production. I don't know why I thought of that typewriter today. It just popped into mind. I think it was somewhere between me moaning to myself that I'm an idiot to try to write three books in my Deep Space Mission Corps series all at once, and that I need to write more, write faster in preparation for my husband's retirement in a few short years.

Then that little blue typewriter popped into my mind.

I still light candles when I write. It's just sort of my thing. For a few minutes, I was that geeky teenager again (who is still geeky, but since she has a mortgage and a cell phone in her name she's earned the right to be as geeky as she damn well pleases) and the sense of wonder nearly overwhelmed me.

Yes, it's a job. A dream job. A fantasy job. And while I literally spent most of my life working toward this goal, it still sometimes feels like a dream. Two parts, "Holy $hit, I did it," and one part, "Am I dreaming? Please pinch me."

Then I quit my bitching and ripped into my manuscript again.

Sometimes as a writer, with day-to-day challenges and pulls on our time (families, evil day jobs, Twitter, etc.) we tend to lose sight of the wonder of what we do. We paint pictures with words. We reveal new worlds and make dreams come true. We are looked at by some and they think, "Damn, I want that gig."

As a writer, how do you stop to take the time to recapture the wonder of what you do? Or do you? Do you need to? Have you hit a metaphorical brick wall and need to take a step back and get in touch with your "writing roots?"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Home, home on the web...

Every writer today should have a web presence. Period. Full stop.


Because agents and publishers want to SEE you. If they're going to take a chance on you, they want to see you're serious about your craft. The website doesn't have to cost you anything other than the price of registering a domain name. (I recommend for this.) You can then set the domain name to forward to a free site, like Blogger, Word Press, or any other number of sites. Register your domain name, and have it forward to your free site. It's very easy, takes minutes to do.

Customizing your site doesn't have to be difficult either, even if you're using Blogger or Word Press. There are literally thousands of free templates out there (and a ton of for sale ones too) that a writer can choose from.

Just a few?

Word Press:


You get the idea. All you have to do is use Google and put in "free blog templates" or something similar and go to town.

Most importantly - make SURE you proofread your blog entries! Not just for spelling and grammar either. I see way too many entries where it's obvious the blogger doesn't go look at the live blog (not just the preview feature) because there are no gaps between their paragraphs, making it VERY hard to read! (Paragraph breaks are a MUST in online content. You cannot substitute a paragraph tab indent! For one thing, it usually doesn't render anyway. For another, people want breaks in their text or they won't read it.)

Don't just copy willy-nilly from Word into your blog composition screen -- paste it to Notepad, make sure there are line breaks between paragraphs for ease of reading (like in this blog), and then also use find/replace to replace curly quotes and apostrophes to plain text ones. Replace em dashes and ellipses too. And any other "accent" characters. Why? Because more and more, you know how you see the funky little nonsense characters in postings on the web? That's due to problems with a browser or with the browser's rendering settings not displaying the character correctly. Fix it with plain text, even if it takes away the funky characters you really want to use, and you will have MUCH happier readers.

Now go get your patooky over to GoDaddy and register your name/pen name as an url if you haven't already. Register common misspellings for it, too. Have them all point to your blog site, and you're in business!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Solid foundations.

This whole ripping up my carpets to put down new flooring experience has taught me a lot. Including giving me a perfect metaphor for writing. (Bear with me.)

The flooring we picked is like linoleum, but it's not. It comes in planks, like laminate wood flooring, but it doesn't stick to the floor, it has overlapping edging strips that stick to each other. So the floor doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be solid and fairly smooth.

With me so far?

By contrast, when I did my kitchen floor a couple of years ago, I had to rip up the old sheet linoleum that was stuck to the concrete sub-floor. Meaning days of scraping the leftover backing off the concrete so I could put down the peel-and-stick linoleum tile I used in there. It HAD to be dang near perfect, or the tiles would lift.

Now, that job was a damn sight harder than this new flooring. Yes, it's a pain in the ass to pull up carpet and padding. We have to move furniture around like one of those frigging tile puzzles where you have to keep shifting tiles around to unscramble the picture, but you can only move the tiles certain ways. Add to this I have a small house FULL of furniture and six dogs who want to "help." And the new floor has to be laid straight (it looks like dark bamboo) or it will look really weird.

And while concrete sub-floors don't need a lot of prep, I've found as I pull up the carpet tack strips along the walls, usually the nails holding them down (the house is over twenty-five years old, and I don't know how old the carpet is, but we've been here for over twelve and it's the carpet that was here when we moved in) rip out a chunk of concrete when they let loose. So I do need to patch around the edges. If I don't, sure as God made little green apples, my dogs will find those little indentations and rip up strips.

I also have to start each initial row I lay by staggering the length of the strip so it doesn't look fake. My hallway is done, and it looks fantastic. (Although my dogs hate it because now they can't run down the hallway without sliding into the closet door at the far end.)

What the heck does this have to do with writing?

Your prep work needs to be properly done. This means you can't just slap something together and hope it turns out okay. If you slack on the basics (research, grammar, punctuation, point of view, continuity, etc.) then the final result will look like crap, and it'll be a LOT harder to go in and fix things once you're finished. It's much easier to adjust things causing problems as soon as you see them.

I mean, some things, yes, you can fix at the end. I can caulk any edges of my flooring to hide gaps. I can wait until the end to fit pieces into the door jambs. (I can fix misplaced commas and remove/replace overused words.) But if I screw up and don't lay a row properly during installation, it will throw off everything I try to lay after it.

Everyone has their own way of writing. Whether they are a "pants-ster" or a "plotter," whether they throw everything including the kitchen sink in at the beginning and write quickly with plans to trim later, or slow and steady writers who edit everything before they move to the next chapter, that's fine.

What success stories have in common is that they take the time when they begin to do the prep work necessary to make sure their floor (story) looks seamless at the end. Maybe you do a room, realize you need to do more prep work for the next room, and take time to do that. You might realize three chapters into your new work that you don't know nearly enough about one of the topics and have to do research. That's fine. Better to do it sooner than to write yourself into a corner you cannot escape from later.

One of my current WIPs is stalled because it's part of a series. As I was writing and showing it to my friend (who is also an editor and has seen snippets of scenes I've written for later books in the series), she said, "Weren't you going to do X in book six?"


Yes, I was. So now I'm left looking at trying to figure out how to change the manuscript to preserve a THREE-BOOK STORY ARC. (Actually, it's a six-book story arc, but this WIP is book three in the series.)

Fortunately, this was caught early enough that I don't have to rip up any large sections of "flooring" (to continue the metaphor) but it means I need to step back and figure out how to proceed so I can preserve the originally planned story arc. I know there's a solution, I just need to work it out.

So how solid are your writing foundations? You cannot slap something together -- and you especially cannot send it out for submissions -- without making sure it's as "perfect" as you can make it. Believe me, if you don't take the time to do this, editors will notice. (And so will anyone who walks into your house and sees your floors laying at a wierd angle! *LOL*)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The list of lists...

What writer hasn't made a butt-load of lists in their life? I think it sort of goes hand in hand with the whole "I'm a writer" gig.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I was led to this writers "list of lists" (The (Nearly) Ultimate Resource: 176 Tips for Writers) and thought it was a hoot because, frankly, I've done quite a few of them myself, although not all of them, but one of them hit home particularly hard:

65. Approach writing with gratitude, not just with a ‘must do this’ attitude.


Considering this IS my evil day job, and I spend anywhere from eight to fourteen hours a day doing it, there is the rare occasion I whine, "Man, why the hell isn't this scene coming together!" I mean, yes, I'm living my dream, working my dream job, no complaints there overall. But the big picture sometimes gets lost.

So today, I'm going to quit reading lists and following links (yet another tip on the list) and get back to work with an attitude of gratitude. (I actually think that last part was a line from The Secret, but hey, it works.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting feedback.

This post was inspired after I read this article, entitled "I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script." It applies to writers of fiction as well. Now, I haven't really had the problem the author of the article had. Actually, my problem has been the opposite -- who do I ask to read my stuff? Not so much a problem when I was an active member of the Novels-L list on the Internet Writing Workshop. But once I branched into writing romance and erotica, I'll admit my shortlist of critique partners shortened even further.

I am lucky that my best friend is an editor and reviewer of romance and erotica. And being that we are like sisters in many ways, she has no problem telling me if something sucks or not. Fortunately, she almost always has suggestions for de-suckifying it.

My husband has the mechanical editing portion of my life covered quite nicely too, because being a former newspaper reporter and editor, he's good at that. He might question plot issues he doesn't understand, but then I take those points to my friend, who can either say he's right or he's a man, ignore him. *LOL*

But I am one of those writers who, unlike the author of the article talks about, WANT the negative feedback. Not without the positives, if there are any, of course, but I don't want you to say, oh, this is great, don't change a thing, have a nice life. I want you to call me out on errors I make. I want you to politely brutalize my writing so I can... wait for it... get better at it.

I mean, seriously? If we're training airline pilots, if they crash in a simulator, we don't pat them on the head and offer them a "great job!" and a lollipop, do we? We say no, that's NOT how you do it, you killed them all. Here's where you screwed up and doomed them to death. Try it again until you get it right.

Okay, so that's dramatic. But I know there is a flip side to this too, that there are people who will gladly rip something apart without pointing out the strengths. That's as worthless as a meaningless "great job." People need to see where they got it right as much as where they screwed it up. I think as an effective critique partner, you must be able to fill BOTH columns -- strengths and weaknesses -- for the writer asking your input. And yes, it's damn hard to find good CPs. I get that. But handing everything over to your mom or your best friend who doesn't want to hurt your feelings isn't helping you. And then if you end up with a good CP, you get your feelings hurt because they pointed out where you need work.

And don't be quick to take every criticism to heart. If only one person mentions an issue, it might not be an issue, just a reader opinion. If several people start hammering you on the same issue, however, that means you probably should take another look at it.

Don't be upset if someone won't read your manuscript for you though. See, I always feel bad asking new people to read something unless they've previously and spontaneously said, "I'd love to be a beta reader for you." And I am VERY squickish about asking fellow writers for comment blurbs or reviews. That's just me. I always worry they'll think I'm an a$$hole or something for asking. Now, when I read something I love, I make no bones about cheerleading it to others. And I always get the warm fuzzies when fellow writers read and positively review my work as well. (Who wouldn't? *LOL*) I've been lucky not to be placed in the position of the article's author, but I have the legitimate reason that I'm totally swamped at this point. (That's the reason I'm not currently of the Novels-L list, I don't have time to do reciprocal critiques required to maintain membership.)

So when you find effective critique partners, treat them like gold, because they're certainly woth their weight in it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tag, you're it!

Dialogue (or dialog) tags tend to trip some writers. Add to the mix that the US tag standard differs from the UK, and it can add to the confusion.

CORRECT: "I don't like spinach," she said.
CORRECT: She said, "I don't like spinach."
INCORRECT: "I don't like spinach." she said.
INCORRECT: "I don't like spinach." She said.
INCORRECT: She said. "I don't like spinach."

Another problem, besides improperly punctuating the tags, is the tendency to tag with "unspeakables."

"Don't do that," she slapped him.
"I like that," she smiled.

Both of those are wrong. You cannot use an action that is not "spoken" as a tag. Smiled is the biggie and one that even I sometimes, if I'm cranking with a story, will forget and add in. Easy fix, though.

She slapped him. "Don't do that!"
She smiled. "I like that." (Or, alternatively: "I like that." She smiled.)

Some publishers have house styles that will also chop certain things like breathed, sighed, moaned, or gasped as well. Some will allow them. Sometimes it depends on the editor you get.

Here's the thing, one of the fastest ways to pick out a newbie writer is to find one whose characters rarely "said" or "asked" anything. They scream, chortle, yell, yodel, and choke every line. (You get the point.)

There is NOTHING WRONG with "said" and "asked" as dialog tags. Nothing. And you will get far more mileage out of your dialog by bracketing it with actions that put the dialog into crystal clear context. Or if it's a dialog exchange by two characters, let them talk and let the reader put it into context. You don't need to "block" action for the reader. They've got a good imagination, trust me. You don't need to put a dialog tag on ever line either, especially if it's just two characters talking and easy to keep up with them. An occasional tag will suffice and tidy up your writing.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Random writing.

Sometimes our creativity...hits a wall. Whether you want to call it writers block or mental constipation or what, sometimes an outside source can jumpstart you.

Below are a few fun random word and phrase generators for your perusal. Some pull up real words, some make up new ones. Have fun! Try using them for a title or an idea or inspiring a rapid-fire quick writing blitz to refresh your mind. Here's another hint - use random pictures and create a quick 500 word story off the top of your head about the image.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A little hashed phrase to go with the word salad...

Anchors away for our next topic!

Um, no, not really. "Aweigh" is correct, however. This hint goes well with the word salad post from last week. See, the English language is a hair-rippingly funny beast. The bastardized, red-headed step-child of many different languages, it causes quite a bit of confusion. And that's just for those of us who grew up natively speaking it! Imagine the frustration of those learning it as a second language!

For all intensive purposes, it's silly to make the language the escape goat when it's the people abusing it...

(*grin* Yes, there are two mangles in that previous sentence.)

Some people could care less... NERTZ! I mean, they COULDN'T care less if they misuse words and phrases. But let's face it, writers should appear to have a better than average grasp on their BIGGEST TOOL...

*Get yer minds out of da gutter!*

I mean WORDS. Words are your biggest tool. You'd run screaming if you caught your surgeon cleaning under his fingernails with the scalpel he was about to use on you, right? Okay, a little extreme, I know, but shouldn't writers take care to use their tools properly? This also applies to editors.

Another problem with these mangled phrases, a problem many writers fail to recognize, is the cliche factor. They've been used, abused, misused, recycled, rode hard and put away wet - you get the picture. It's time to stop using them as an easy crutch. This doesn't mean going ga-ga for making up your own unknown cliche replacements or avoiding them in all circumstances. It means using your tools effectively.

It's easy to say a character is "madder than a wet hen." It's also cliched to hell and back.

How about if you say something like:

"I hate you!" She threw down her dishtowel and yanked the kitchen door open so hard it flew against the wall before bouncing back into her.

That paints an accurate and even slightly funny picture, depending on what else follows.

Yet another reason to know your words well - malaproprisms. (No, a little blue pill won't cure you of those.) "I resemble that remark." God love Curly Howard, that's one of my favorite quotes of all times. Tony Soprano spouted quite a few in his day, as did Archie Bunker.

Don't get me wrong, well-used, intentional malaprops can be hysterically funny, especially if delivered dead-pan. But unintentional use can leave you looking like...well, one of our recent former presidents.

Ninety percent of writing is, after all, half mental. (Apologies to Yogi Bera.)

Befriend your tools, get to know them well. This is another reason it is so important for writers to have reliable critique partners or beta readers to look over their work, another set of eyes to help them nail these little boogers and remove them from a manuscript.

Here are a few helpful resouces for you:

Stay tuned for our next writing how-to topic!

Monday, July 27, 2009

He said WHAT?

Continuing the writing how-to series, another frequent issue that crops up, especially in romance/erotica novels -- guys speaking unnaturally.

"You little minx."

Now, honestly. When have you EVER heard a modern guy call a woman a "little minx?" I'm not talking a period/historical (although in those I think it's overused too). Or a hellcat, spitfire, wildcat, or any other kind of animal other than a b*tch?

Seriously. Think about it.

One of my pet peeves is reading a story where the guy, especially if he's a hulking, hunky Alpha guy, starts talking in a way I've never in my life ever heard a real guy speak.

I read one contemporary story where the Alpha dude used the word "frippery" in conversation.

Really??? No, seriously?

I would have hurled the book against the wall except it was an e-book I was reading on my BlackBerry and didn't want to break it. (I guess that is one benefit to "real" books, you can throw them.)

When caught up in the throes of writing a story, there is a tendency to write like a romance writer instead of writing what a real character would say. Do us all a favor and write REAL. Forget purple prose, don't even go a faint shade of lavender, and especially when writing male dialogue. Have your guys talk like REAL guys, not romance novel guys.

Also, I cringe when I read a book where the guy is talking non-stop throughout the love scenes, basically narrating what he's going to do. Here's a hint: switch to internal dialog or use a narrative description. If my husband talked as much during making love as some romance book heroes talk, I'd duct tape his mouth shut.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can I get ranch dressing on my word salad?

Continuing the writer how-to series, our next quickie topic: word salad.

That's probably not the best term, because there is a condition called word salad, but for the purposes of this tip it's the phrase I'll use.

Here's how you prevent this condition (and yes, I am screaming):


I read a book in the past couple of weeks - yes, it was from a well-known romance publisher - where the heroine "shuttered." As in, she shook in fear.

The sad thing is, this made it through the author's self-editing process as well as an editor.

(*buzzer* Sorry, we have a nice consolation prize for you. The correct word is "shuddered.")

Even sadder, this was NOT the only instance of this kind of problem, and while the story was good, I doubt I'll buy any other books by this author or this publisher in the near future because frequent editing errors kept pulling me out of the story.

There are a lot of words that sound alike and are commonly misused/swapped. Sometimes this is accidental due to the writer typing so fast (holding up my hand) that their brain doesn't correctly signal to the fingers which version to use. Sometimes this is accidental due to a less than stellar grasp of the language and over-reliance on a spellchecker. Sometimes this is due to sheer sloppiness and failure to self-edit. It doesn't matter what the cause - letting errors like this make it through to a final, production copy is flat-out wrong.

Common offenders: it's/its, their/there/they're, two/to/too, through/threw/thru, by/buy, who's/whose, accept/except, than/then, affect/effect (that one STILL bothers me and makes me drag out a grammar handbook, so much so I'll frequently rewrite the sentence to avoid it entirely), toward (NOT towards), all right (NOT alright)

Another common offender: apostrophe-s used as a plural instead of a possessive (three dog's instead of three dogs)

So turn off your spellchecker and print out your manuscript and use that red pen well and often.

Here are some great resources for you:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Characters Behaving Badly

Characters. Ah, yes, the bane of any writer's existence. Sometimes they just will NOT behave! Or they behave badly. Or they... (fill in the blank).

Here's the problem - you cannot jam a character into a pre-set mold that you've extensively outlined. If you really want to write realistic characters, you have to set your "mileposts" in your story and trust your characters to get you where you want to go. Sometimes they'll detour, but as a writer, sometimes you have to trust they know where they're going even if you don't.

Note: this is not the same as having a detailed character outline, if you're a writer that needs to use such a tool. I'm talking plot outlines at this point.

Have you ever read a story where the characters suddenly seemed to lose their brains and behave in ways totally contrary not just to how they "should" behave inside their constructed universe, but contrary to how they should logically behave based upon their established character (and even based upon "real life")? That's a clear sign of author interference. And I'm not talking a situation where you WISHED they'd done something different, but a situation where up until that point in the story they acted one way, then it's like they were forced by the story to behave...weird.

As an author, your job is to stay the heck out of the characters' way and let them tell the reader the story. Your job is to record the story. When your fingerprints are all over the story, it means you didn't let the characters do THEIR job.

The few times I've gotten totally blocked when writing it was because the characters clearly wanted to go in a different direction than I'd originally planned for them to go, and I was trying to convince them otherwise. Once I let go of the story and let the characters take over again, all was right in their fictional world.

So sometimes, even though they're not "real," your characters DO know best.