Today’s Writing Tip

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The entire point of fiction is to create a story. Nonetheless, it needs to be convincing. It may have never happened, but the reader needs to believe it did or at least could. When a story isn’t credible, it becomes one of those items mentioned yesterday that throw you out of the story, a huge faux pas.

Create any possibility you want, just make sure the reader will be convinced. Characters need to be believable, situations credible (no matter how extreme), and plots convincing. This is the fun of creating a world, making it real. If it’s real inside your head, that’s only part of the battle. You need to convey enough detail to your reader for them to believe it and envision it, too.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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One of my favorite sayings is “No life is ever wasted: You can always serve as a bad example.” Of course as an author, replacing “life” with “book” works as well.

Nothing is more disruptive to enjoying a story than being thrown out of it for some reason. This can occur due to the usual suspects like typos and misused words, an inconsistency such as an eye-color change, losing track of who is speaking, poor scene transitions, viewpoint character unclear, and so forth.

When this happens, put it to good use. If something throws you out of a story, stop long enough to figure out why. Then make sure you’re not guilty of the same thing. You can learn from all writers, whether more or less skilled than you are.

“Shadowed by Death” Another Excellent Historical Novel from Mary Adler

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Mary Adler has done it again, sweeping me away to another time and place with this second book of her Oliver Wright mystery series. Like the first one, it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 40s, while the country was in the throes of WWII. Again I experienced the culture in that locale during that era as well as the prejudice and suspicion that prevailed against immigrants.

Of course the fact we were at war with some of the counties from which these people hailed, to say nothing of all sorts of intrigue in progress due to the convoluted political situation in Europe, nothing was simple. While the majority of these immigrants came to the USA to escape oppression as well as possible annihilation, it’s not surprising that their motives could be questioned. These interactions and the history behind it, most of which few of us know, made the story that started out as a murder mystery all the more interesting.

The characters were engaging and well-drawn, including Oliver’s awesome German Shepherd, Harley. Relationships are believable and convincingly complex, both interpersonal and familial as well as between ethnic group. The plot is gripping, loaded with historical information, and full of suspense and surprises. Mary Adler is one of my favorite authors with her smooth, imagery-rich style, historical value, and authentic cultural context. All in all, an outstanding read.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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As noted yesterday, editing is important. Nothing ruins what would otherwise be a good story faster than typos, misspelled words, misuse of homonyms, poor sentence structure, too many adverbs, etc.

The first level of editing is your responsibility as the author. You will miss things such as typos and missing words because you will “see” what you expect to be there. One way to avoid this is to read your work out loud. That way you are more likely to focus on the words on the page and notice anything missing.

It’s also helpful for line editing. If you find yourself saying something different than what’s written, it is likely a hint that you should reword it accordingly. If it’s awkward when read aloud, it needs to change. A few of my books have been produced as audio books. In a few cases, my narrator caught some awkward sentences that were reworded for clarity, demonstrating how well that works.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Editing is essential, but it’s extremely difficult to edit your own work. Hiring an editor isn’t simple. Besides the fact there are several different types of editor who perform different functions, many are simply clueless. Just because they can read they think they can edit. I have seen many indie books where the poor, unsuspecting author paid someone to edit their story and definitely didn’t get their money’s worth.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is put out money and then not get what I expected in return. There are a couple ways to approach this problem.

1. When you read a well-written, nicely edited book, find out who the editor was from the author. There’s always a chance the author did a flawless job and the work wasn’t a credit to the editor at all, but it’s still better than no reference at all.

2. Make sure you have a clear understanding what you expect the editor to do. As noted earlier, there are many different kinds, from someone who functions largely as a proofreader who identifies typos (and if you’re lucky, incorrectly used words like those pesky homonyms), to those who essentially rewrite your entire story or even check your research.

3. In most cases you’ll get what you pay for. This, of course, is often the problem. Struggling authors can’t always afford an editor. This can be a huge mistake, just like slapping one of those rather pathetic canned covers on it. However, there is a way around it that can work and that is to arrange a beta exchange with another author. Just make sure both of you are skilled enough to do the job and you agree on your expectations, format, etc.

There’s a description of the different types of editor on my other website here. Yes, I do editing and my rates are based on what you want as well as the condition of your manuscript, of which I’ll want a sample so I can give you a personalized bid.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Knowing the genre(s) into which your story fits is essential. There are also various sub-genres, more than you can imagine. This helps you get them into the hands of your target readers.

Unfortunately, not all the places where you may distribute your books will include them all. This is understandable due to the fact there are so many, but not good in that it would make it easier for readers to find you, especially if your book is unique. It can also help your book’s ranking in outlets such as Amazon. I have seen books blatantly miscategorized as a ploy to achieve ranking because there would be so few that fit that description. Cheesy, yes; effective, yes.

The official name of these codes is BISAC which stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications. I wrote a detailed blog about them last October which you can find here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Yesterday I mentioned the importance of expanding your vocabulary. One way to do this is to make it a habit to look up every new word you encounter. While you may be able to deduce its meaning from the context, often the official definition provides important details. In some cases, it may have even been used incorrectly.

One skill every writer should develop is the ability to use exactly the correct word. The more expansive your vocabulary, the more easily you’ll be able to accomplish this. Such precision contributes to imagery, emotion, action, and all the other elements you want to capture. Learning new words is often useful in this way since it may be just the one you’ll need later.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Words are an author’s tools and you should be adding to your vocabulary on a regular basis.  One way to do this is to subscribe to services that provide a word of the day or even read the dictionary. You’d be surprised the cool words you’ll find!

I know I’ve mentioned the book “The Superior Person’s Book of Words” by Peter Bowler previously. It contains a collection of words that are obsolete and thus seldom if ever heard, making many of them ideal for use as veiled insults. For example, did you know an alliaphage is a garlic eater?

I came across one the other day that had me laughing for two days. I kid you not. I don’t know how it escaped me for so long. The word is blivit. Feel free to google it. There is quite a wide variety of definitions, many of which are quite amusing, albeit crude. My personal favorite is “10 lbs of crap in an 8 lb bag”, i.e. an overstuffed sack of you-know-what. If you don’t know anyone (or have a character in one of your stories) that fits that description, then you are definitely missing out.

Personally, I think there should be Blivit Awards, similar to the old Golden Fleece Awards from years past. Washington D.C. and Hollywood are loaded with candidates.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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Have you ever read a scene in a book and realized you had no idea what that character looked like? I really appreciate it when the author provides that information. However, I’ve heard some say that they think the reader would prefer to imagine him or her as they like. Personally, I think that is the author’s right and responsibility. If I want to invent a character, I’ll write my own story.

There’s also the matter that some descriptions need to be repeated as reader reminders. This is especially true of minor characters who may have been described several pages or chapters previously. It never hurts to drop a hint every now and then. Another great identifier is a gesture or some other habit that is linked to a given character. For example, maybe she tosses her hair or he plays with his mustache.

This same advice goes for certain settings and locations in your story. If you do a good job the first time, you can minimize them later. Imagery makes a story come alive. If you want your reader to visualize the story as you did, you need to provide this information.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Avoiding Deus ex machina endings should go without saying. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, literally it means in so many words that God intervenes. If you have built a faith-based story in which this is a credible outcome, then that’s okay. However, it’s not acceptable for other types of fiction.

Other than the literal translation, it refers to an ending where something or someone comes along out of nowhere, like some sort of literary superhero, and takes care of wrapping up the story. These are annoying to say the least. As an author, if you get your characters in such an incredible mess you can’t fix it more appropriately, then you need to go back to plotting with your thinking cap securely in place.

If you write sci-fi or fantasy, you have a bit more freedom provided you set up the possibility for a dramatic ending beforehand so you don’t spring it on the reader out of the blue. Miracles are fine, as long as you develop the possibility beforehand.