Today’s Writing Tip

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If your story gets too long, you might want to consider breaking it into more than one book. Reader attention spans are short these days. They may be put-off by a story that will take weeks to complete.

Another angle is that you might make more money in the long run with two shorter books than one long one. Many people have personal limits on how much they’ll spend on a book, regardless of length. Perhaps the best way to optimize your income is to break it down.

I’m current wrestling with this dilemma myself. I’m up to close to 120k words in my WIP and am not entirely sure how long it will ultimately be since it’s not yet close to being finished. I’ll finish it before I decide since if it really goes on for a while, it might even be best to break it into three instead of one huge doorstop-type novel.

What’s your opinion as a reader? Do you appreciate a meaty tome that keeps you engaged for weeks or prefer one you can finish in a matter of a few days? Are you willing to pay a bit more for a long novel when you know the author puts out quality stories?

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Today’s Writing Tip

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When you use actual scientific or historical facts in your story, you can include the source in a bibliography or perhaps individually as footnotes. This is particularly helpful if you’re using your story to make a certain point. This shows that any substantiating data you’ve included is real and may give your story a bit more punch and credibility.

If you do so, you’ll want to include a note to that effect on the copyright page or perhaps a page of its own to alert the readers that the footnotes are real, not a creative device. If done correctly, this can provide an even stronger “what if” to your story’s premise. It you’re trying to make a political statement or bring attention to something, such as a rare disease, or the plight of a certain social group, this is not only a good way to show that you’ve done your homework, but perhaps even gather support, official or otherwise, from those you’re highlighting.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Don’t ever underestimate the importance of a quality cover. But it goes beyond that. When designing your book cover, look at best sellers in your genre for ideas. General layout, font styles, and even the predominant colors should be similar. You want to fit in with the best.

If it doesn’t fit in with what readers are looking for, they’re likely to ignore it. Make sure it’s an accurate representation of your story, its genre, and good design. You want it to be worthy of all the hard work you put into writing it, not look like it was thrown together just to get the book published.

It’s acceptable to change your cover after your book is published, if you realize you goofed after the fact. Sometimes this can give it new life all around and attract readers who missed it the first time.

Today’s Writing Tip

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If you write anything of a technical nature, such as science fiction or a techno-thriller, make sure you have your facts straight. If you’re not an expert in a given field, find someone who is to give it a sanity check. Most people find it fun to help out an author, especially if you promise to acknowledge their help in the front of the book. That may be the only time a person gets to see their name in print!

Often you’ll get more ideas that are even better than the original. Authenticity builds your credibility as an author. Even if the person tell you that what you want to do or say is impossible, it’s helpful. In some cases you can work around it in an even better way than your original plan.

If you don’t someone personally who’s an expert in the field you’re addressing, you may be able to find someone online who will chat with you. I needed to know some of the particulars of how dash cams work. I went to a site that sold them and had a very useful chat with one of their technicians who gave me useful, accurate information. I suspect he had some fun, too.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Acronyms are a part of modern life. GPS instead of Global Positioning System; TV instead of television; CSI instead of Crime Scene Investigation, etc. streamline speech. Since the best writing is tight writing, feel free to use them in your story. Remember to define them at first usage, a standard practice in technical writing.

This can be done in a variety of ways. When I was a NASA technical writer the standard format was to write “Global Positioning System (GPS)” but there are others ways that work. Some authors use the acronym initially and include its definition in a footnote. Others would say “Global Positioning System, or GPS.”

An occasional reminder doesn’t hurt, either, especially if you have several in your story. If that’s the case, you might even want to include a list in the beginning or end of the book.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another way to avoid too many he’s and she’s, at least when you’re in their point of view, is to not say he saw, he heard, he thought, etc. Instead of “He heard the crow of a rooster in the distance, reminding him of his childhood” say “The crow of a rooster in the distance reminded him of his childhood.”

The viewpoint character is the one experiencing the story. Specifying how he perceived something is somewhat redundant. It also nudges the reader out of the story rather than assimilating the character and seeing the story through his or her eyes.

This is another thing to watch for in your final edit. With enough practice, you may be able to shift to this technique in your early drafts, but don’t worry about anything that might interrupt or inhibit your creative flow.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are ways to avoid starting so many sentences with he or she followed by a verb. For example, instead of saying, “He looked out the window to the traffic at a standstill below”, you can simply say, “Beyond the window, the traffic below was at a standstill.”

Too much “he this” or “she that” gets choppy, which distracts the reader. However, don’t worry about this when you’re writing your first draft because it will interrupt your creative flow. This is something to look for when you’re doing your final edits. If you have too many “he’s” or “she’s” in a given paragraph, look for ways to say it differently.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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Expanding on yesterday’s advice to read the type of story you aspire to write, keep a writer’s notebook where you jot down particularly memorable phrases and descriptions. While you may not use them, study their structure and figure out why they were so effective.

A skillful combination of carefully chosen modifiers can convey a vivid image. Here’s a paragraph from Michael Crichton’s State of Fear as an example:

“It was brighter, the sun now higher in the sky, trying to break through low clouds. Morton was scrambling up the slope, still talking on the phone. He was shouting, but his words were lost in the wind as Evans followed him.”

How much did he tell you using only 42 words?

Today’s Writing Tip

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Read the type of novel you aspire to write. If you want to write a best seller, read best sellers. Your writing style is likely to assimilate high quality writing if that is what your brain is exposed to and thus programmed to think that way.

Reading poorly written stories can be instructive as well, since it’s easier to notice flaws in other author’s work as opposed to your own. However, if you really want to write well, you need to immerse yourself in high quality literature.

As an author you need to learn to not just read for the enjoyment but to study and learn from the masters. Take any particular scene or character who is well-defined and study what they did. Figure out why it works and then incorporation the technique into your own writing. Being an outstanding writer is not all about luck or talent. It takes study as well. Having a great idea is only part of the battle. You need to be able to convey it skillfully to your readers. Again, we’re back to the concept of showing versus telling.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Remember the journalistic cardinal rule of who, what, when, where, and why. Including these in the first paragraph of every new scene helps keep the reader connected to what’s happening and who is doing what.

If this isn’t clear, the reader can get confused and have to back-track to figure out what is going on. Any time this happens, it breaks their engagement in the story, which is not a good thing. Most books aren’t read in a single sitting. I suspect that most readers do like I do and will stop at the end of a chapter or scene. Thus, when picking it up again it’s helpful to immediately know what’s going on.

Pick up an action novel by someone like Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy sometime and check their opening paragraphs. They are skillful at this technique which is worth emulating.