Monthly Archives: September 2010

10 Guaranteed Ways to Alienate Your Reader

Here is a list of errors—or perpetrations, if you’d rather—guaranteed to cut away a significant portion of your reading audience.

1. Center every line in your prose story.

2. Capitalize Every Damn Word In Each Sentence.  What’s That About, Anyway? 

3. WRITE IN ALL CAPS.  PEOPLE LOVE THIS.  IT MAKES READING YOUR WORK SO MUCH EASIER!

4. B kre8ive n ur spyling.  Ppl luv ‘t wen u d0o.

5. Use, commas, whenever, you, feel, like, it.

6. Likewise; semi-colons; the bomb.

7. Punctuation is and I mean this you just see for yourself if it isnt true is for losers

8. Always put a question mark at the end of a statement?

9. Remember, there are three kinds of people in the world.  Those who can count, and those who can’t.

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Raconteur: Word of the Day

Raconteur, n.

A person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly.

Samuel Clemens was considered both a writer and a man who could deliver stories before a group, a true raconteur.

How will you use raconteur in a sentence today?

A Real Editor is Hard to Find

As a writer for any length of time, when showing  your work around to people, you will have noticed a couple of interesting phenomena.

1. Everybody you show your work to knows that they, too,  could write, if they only took the time to do so.  “I should write about my life.  People would be thrilled and fascinated with all my adventures.”  This is often followed by something like, “I could take a week or two off work and whip out a novel.  Piece of cake.”

2. Everybody claims to be an excellent editor.  But they aren’t.  “I’ll go through this and clean it up for you.  I’m great at this.”  “Your story?  Yep, I’ll be getting to it shortly.”  “The story you gave me to *read* last year?  No.  Really, I’ll be working on it tonight.”

What a disappointment.  Or is it?  Showing off your writing to non-writers (often non-readers) is like juggling in front of a group of 4-year olds.  Every one of them knows that they could do that, too, if only you’ll let them have the juggling balls to play with.  Practice not required.

I’m sure we can agree on this, but that isn’t really why I invited you all here today. 

Coaching is a two-way street, more, it is a gift.

If someone cares enough about your work to actually step forward and make suggestions, that’s a true gift.  Unless it isn’t.  OK, so there are mean-spirited people out there who’s lives and self-worth are dependent on putting other people down–but we’ll leave those for a RANT one of these days.

Coaching is like a back rub that does more than soothe sore muscles.  Someone once told me that half the value of a back rub is that someone actually wants to give it to you.  The same can (and should) be said for coaching.

I think that the better reviewers are people who actually spend some time saying more than “hey, good”, “LOL”, or “Can’t wait for more”.  This is not to say that those sentiments aren’t nice.  They’re certainly more uplifting than someone patting you on the head and running off, but how do you as a writer grow from such sentiments?

Good critiques and coaching doesn’t always feel good.  If you want unconditional love, buy a puppy.

Importune: Word of the Day

Importune, v.

To press or urge with frequent persistence.

Twelve-year-old Janey took every opportunity to importune her mother about attending the concert.

How will you use importune in a sentence today?

How to Create a Main Character For Your Next Novel

One of the most challenging things to do when beginning a novel project is the creating of your main character.

Actually, the creation of all of your main-line characters should be done with care, but the “lead” in your story needs… no, demands a high level of care and detail.

First, about your characters in general.  They need to be believable, they need to seem to be people you could meet at any time in any place.  This is essential.  You might have the best story line ever, with well-scripted plot turns, perfect foreshadowing, and excellent craft in general, but if your characters are flat, if your reader cannot tell one character from the next, your reader just won’t care about the novel.

There are any number of lists out there, each purporting to be the ultimate character creation schema.  Some of them are pretty good, but most are so complex, so long, that the process becomes more daunting than helpful.  Do you really need to know your character’s mother’s favorite color?  Hmmm… actually, you might.  But I don’t think you need to plan that deeply when you are starting out.

I do think that each character needs his or her own fact sheet. 

Image: donaldsweblog.blogspot.com

So, what do you need to know about your character?

  • You do not need to start with a name.  In fact some writers on character creation go so far as to say you should NOT start with a name.  Why?  Because we are evidence gatherers, and we are likely to imprint a new character with all of the foibles of somebody else who shares the name.  Let the name come in time.
  • You do not need to know exactly what your character looks like—unless his or her appearance is cemented to the character—Quasimodo, for example, needed to be a hunchback.
  • You do need to know what drives your character.  What is it that your character is driven to achieve?  What does he or she want?  MAKE NO MISTAKE, this is one of the most essential “needs” when building a new character.  In fact, this is the one thing that you should not neglect no matter what level every character may have in the story.  Even the walk-ons need to have a reason for being, and that reason is to accomplish or to obtain something.
  • You do NOT need facial tics, odd habits, phrases that are repeated to form your character.  It is OK for a character—typically a second or third-level person, to have the odd behavioral habit, but consider keeping your main person free from such distractions.
  • Making a character likable is a real challenge.  This is where study comes in.  Look around you.  Look back into your own history.  Who were the people that you just plain felt good being around?  Can you distill some of the things they said and did?  Can you find a way to incorporate those traits into your character?  Keep in mind that the likableness of a character is more than just the way they think or act, but it has a lot to do with how you have the other characters in the story react to him or her.
  • Your character will “show up” in his or her speech.  Will the character be a quick-thinking action-oriented person who speaks in one to two-syllable words, with short sentences and paragraphs?  Or will the character be of a poetic bent, speaking in a flowery way?
  • Earlier I said that every character needs to want something.  A good character may also want to avoid something.  What would that be?

These few ideas may help get the character creation process rolling.  If you look around on the Internet for “fiction character creation” you will find no end of advice.  In the end, however, the process belongs only to you.  You may be at odds with what I say here, you may disagree with everyone on the net, but if your character lives, breathes, and gets the job done, it won’t matter.

Lastly, DO have fun creating your characters.  Be sure to know more about him or her than you ever tell your reader.  Having a bigger picture than you actually use is an excellent way to create a character that seems life-like.

How (and Why) to Create Your Writer’s Network

Everybody is talking about networks.  Work networks.  Social networks.  Blogging networks  It seems you can put just about any word in front of “networks” and you’re off to the races.  Interestingly enough, we all pretty much agree that networking is a good thing.

Swell.  How about a writer‘s network?

Yeah.  That’s the ticket.  But, what would it be?  What would it be for?  …and how, oh how, would you go about building such a thing?

First lets list some of the values of belonging to a network of writers: 

Image: blog.larrybodine.com

  • First, and foremost, a lonely craft gets less lonely.
  • You can bounce ideas off one another; thinking out loud works very well for some people.  Perhaps even you.
  • You can learn the mistakes others have made and how to avoid them.
  • Likewise you can share your mistakes.
  • You can share resources.  Each of us have our own little pocket full of resources, whether they be the next cool software package, or a winning formula for a query letter.
  • You can shore up a friend when they are dismayed, blocked, or “blahh’d”.  Or they can do the same for you.
  • You can count on each other for an honest, unbiased review of work.  (That in itself is worth the price of admission)
  • Oh, and there is NO price of admission.

Not bad.  Probably not every good reason for having a writer’s network, but that’s what you readers are here for.  To find more reasons, and to post them as comments.

Fine.  We see some value in having a writer’s network.  How in the world do we go about getting one.

Big smile, here.  Chances are, you already have a network of writers, and you just haven’t called it for what it is.

Contacting the writers you’ve met on blogs, or in writing club meetings, or in on-line writers sites, and making the distinction that your network exists, and that you offer your assistance to the members of it, and in exchange you expect the same of them.

If you’re really into it, you can even get together on SKYPE once a week or month.  You make it happen the way it works best for you.

Oh, come on.  It can’t really be that easy.  Can it?  It can.  It is.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be all ice cream and roses.  Things can, and usually will, go wrong.  Some people will work better with others, personalities can clash, but even an occasional clash of titans can be a producer of energy and grist for the writing mill.  It is up to you how you go about it, what your goals might be, but I would say this:

The writers you get to know now will not all—or always—be amateurs.  They will grow, as will you.  And you will have known them back in the day… and they will say that about you, as well.

Cognate: Word of the Day

Cognate, adj.
Allied or similar in nature or quality.

Certain languages, French and Spanish, for instance, or Laotian and Thai, are considered cognates of each other.

How will you use cognate in a sentence today?