Today’s Writing Tip

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It’s not always easy to keep your characters’s  physical and personality traits straight. This is particularly true for minor characters who show up several times, but aren’t ingrained in your mind like your protagonist should be.

One way to keep them straight is to keep a file or spreadsheet handy for reference if they’re not vivid enough in your mind without it. This also applies to certain scene locales. I remember reading a book one time where the color of the couch changed. Yes, weird, I know, but I’m the kind of reader who will notice such a thing. I don’t think I’m entirely alone with that, either. Alert readers will notice if your hero’s eyes are blue on one page and green on another.

If you’re writing a short story, this is usually not a problem. But if you’re writing a novel, especially a long one, this can become a problem. Consistency is important and this is one way to be sure you are without having to go back and find where you stated what the person looked like. Another help is making them so unique, as noted the other day, that you can remember.

Think about that for a moment, too. If you can’t remember, how will your readers? The one major difference there, of course, if that you may have taken months to write your book while a reader blows through it in a few days, making it easier for them to remember.

Whatever works for you if you don’t have a steel-trap memory, do it. This is another thing that can throw readers out of the story, a fairly major faux pas.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Be original! If you’re going to rehash an over-used plot vehicle, give it a new twist. If your story is too predictable, you’ll lose readers.

They say there are only a few basic plots, which are used over and over. Boy gets girl; whodunnit? vampires; zombies; psychos; other worlds; other universes; etc. Another example at a more fundamental level is the hero’s journey. More on that some other time.

This is not to say that this is unavoidable. There are some truly unique stories out there, but in most cases, they’re going to be similar to some other story in one way or another. If you want your work to stand out, however, you need to make it original in some way. Some character, setting, or plot twist that makes it different. It can be done, even if it takes some effort.  At the very least, your characters need to be so engaging and real that the reader gets sucked into them, even if the rest of the story is familiar.

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.

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.

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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Book fairs and conferences are excellent places to meet other authors and potential readers. The energy in such venues is magical, but learning how to use it to your advantage takes practice. Many authors, myself included, are introverts, so your first experience in such an environment can be intimidating. There are also numerous conventions and protocols for how your table or booth should be set up. Thus, before you take the plunge, visit a few to scope them out so you know what to expect.

Your best bet is to concentrate on those close to home. Not only can your local fan base find and support you more easily, but others in the area will discover you as well, perhaps bringing opportunities for other appearances.

However, even in your own territory, selling enough books to cover expenses is unlikely until you’ve developed a strong fan base. This definitely applies to venues that require hotel stays or, heaven forbid, airfare, though if combined with a vacation, such bills offer a nice business-related tax deduction.

The main thing is not to be discouraged by expecting too much. Just include the cost in your marketing budget and count any book sales as a bonus.