Enough with the resolutions. It’s time for a revolution.

By Terri Benson

Unsinkable-finalI’ve been reading blogs and articles, seeing TV advertisements, and generally being inundated by the need for New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight. Go back to school. Start a new job. Everyone must strive to be better. Because clearly, I’m not as good as I should be, according to “them.”

Well, I’ve had it with “them.” I’m not going to resolve to do anything. What I am going to do, is start my own little revolution.

Instead of doing what others tell me to do, I’m going to fight against the tide. I don’t need a new and better me. I’m OK as I am. I’m happy. I’m healthy. At my age, I’m pretty much done with going to school. I will never be Cindy Crawford no matter how much weight I lose—and my husband loves me anyway. As far as a new job—the one I have will do just fine, unless or until I find one that makes me happier. I don’t need to have a new career.

I don’t need to learn all the new technology; to Tweet, Blog, FaceBook and Pinterest on a daily basis. I don’t have to read every blog, Tweet or post that shows up on my social media. I don’t have to accept every LinkedIn request.

My revolution also encompasses my writing. Because while I’m not going to go back to school, I want to learn to write better. But I don’t need to resolve to do that, because writing is as much a part of me as breathing and I’ll never get enough of reading good words, and working to put good words on paper. I don’t need someone to tell me to write “X” number of words a day. I just need to write when, and what, makes me happy. Writers, like alcoholics trying to quit, can’t be made to write by anyone but ourselves.

So the revolution I propose, and you’re welcome to join me, is a “Let’s just be happy and healthy, and remember that we’re writers because we want to be, not let anyone tell us there’s only one way to do it” revolution.

My banner will be a ripped-off cover of Strunk and White, because rules are made to be broken. And I will decide if and when I’ll submit my work, if I’m ready to market it up one side and down the other, and most of all, I’ll decide if I need to envy great writers or be devastated if I don’t get “the call.” Because being happy is really all that’s important.

Are you with me?

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Terri Benson2As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer; she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Those D—- Workshop Proposals!

By Pamela Nowak

The call for workshop proposals for the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference came out earlier this month, spurring my usual under-the-breath comments about preparing them.

Workshop proposal forms force us to think and organize without knowing whether the effort will net results. It’s the reason we hate to fill them out, especially when they ask for detail. After all, who wants to spend time planning out an entire workshop when it might not even be selected? That seems like a whole lot of work for nothing.

Yet, is it for nothing?

Though I hate filling out proposal forms, I recognize their role. Having served as a conference chair and a member of the workshop committee, I am well-acquainted with how hard it is to make selections. A topic may sound interesting or a short summary might make promises of being geared toward advanced writers. In fact, I recall selecting some of those, back when proposals were less detailed. Months later, the presentation failed to live up to the promises. Attendees, drawn by the same short description, left feeling cheated. That dissatisfaction was reflected on feedback to the conference organizers. And, as more and more people submitted proposals, it became very difficult to decide among those on the same topic; there simply wasn’t enough detail to adequately compare them.

Over the years, especially with the growth in submitted proposals, the form has asked would-be presenters for more information, details, and organization. I’ve filled them out and it takes a lot of time and thought.

I am forced to think beyond my general topic to figure out what, exactly, I will teach. I must determine how I will fill the time and what will make my workshop unique and different. Not only must I write a short description, I must also provide a detailed one. And an outline! Gee whiz! Doesn’t anybody realize how much time that takes??

The thing I’ve discovered, though, is how much easier it is to actually prepare the workshop if it is selected. I have a firm outline to guide me and I don’t scramble at the last minute to figure out what I’m going to do. As a result, I have a much more cohesive lesson plan. I flesh it out more, in the months prior to conference and I arrive prepared and ready to fulfill the promises I made in my short description.

And if the proposal is not selected, it goes in a file for another year or another conference, saving me future work. In fact, some presenters have a whole collection of proposals which they can use for multiple conferences. Once prepared, they need only tweak or update them as necessary.

First-hand knowledge tells me how much easier it makes the selection process for the committee. With nearly five times the proposals as available slots (perhaps even more), it allows conference planners to have enough information to determine if presenters will offer organized workshops or whether they will ramble without focus. It reveals details which convey unique takes on familiar topics. The committee knows if a workshop will be hands-on or lecture-driven. Members can see if there is enough information to fill the time or if it appears the speaker will stall.

Still, there is that niggling voice that tells me it might all be a waste of time since there is no guarantee a proposal will be selected. That’s true…but there is usually a benefit to being selected, beyond sharing information with others and enhancing one’s exposure (for example, RMFW provides a conference discount). To increase the odds of selection, there are things we can do.

  1. Choose a topic that is unique yet not so different that it will appeal only to a small group of people. Conference planning centers around offering a slate that will be interesting to a broad group.
  2. If your workshop is centered around a familiar topic (such as an element of craft), offer a new technique or viewpoint. Make your proposal stand-out as something new. Give the presenters a reason to select yours instead of one of the other seven about the same thing.
  3. Select a relevant topic, something that pertains to writing or publishing today. If you aren’t conveying new information, relate how old information is once again (or still) important to attendees.
  4. Be detailed without being minute. If there are several proposals on the same topic, the details will make your proposal standout and will provide the committee with needed information. At the same time, you don’t need to provide multiple pages of detail. If it takes an hour to read your proposal, reviewers might give up.
  5. Show you are organized. This is what the outline will reflect. It will show how you plan to cover your topic, where you will offer information. It is your opportunity to show that you will not just ramble on but will, instead, offer relevant information in an organized fashion.
  6. If you are proposing a panel, you will want to take special care to show how the session will be structured and that it is not just a group chatting about a topic. The most frequent complaints about panels is that the speakers seemed unprepared, that it was too anecdotal and lacked instructive content, and that speakers seemed to lack a united focus. Including specific topics and questions will help the proposal stand out, as will including a moderator to keep the panel on-task. It is important that every panel member prepare ahead of time rather than contributing “off-the-cuff.”

Okay, time to get back to that proposal…

Writing as a J.O.B.

By Robin D. Owens

Some quick bits of advice for the new writer (or reminders for the experienced, though I expect them to just nod, because they know this and don't need to be reminded).

1) Writing is work and it can be hard. Even if your original words spring from a wonderful inspired rush, there is still dealing with agents, editors, reviewers. If you're e-published, there is a mountain of decisions to be made about covers and editing and promo, promo, promo.

I remember when I realized writing was work. I was revising my first book (which I'd written one summer without benefit of critique). I was so new I had a writing buddy (who has since quit) so we could check out our writing BEFORE taking it to our critique group so we didn't embarrass ourselves.

It was Saturday morning and I was not a morning person. I met my friend at a place across town at 7 a.m. and we read each other's scenes. Hers was fine. Mine, that I'd spent hours writing and revising was: "This is great but it doesn't belong in the book." Hours. Mental anguish finding just the right word. Gone forever. Writing, and making a career of writing is not JUST fun.

No, writing is not police work or firefighting, or other physically or emotionally taxing professions, but, yes, it can be hard. As the late, wonderful Rick Hanson said, "Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I was in VietNam." Or, as Steven Moores says: "If writing was easy Ernest Hemingway wouldn't have shot himself in the head with a shotgun."

Note: only three of the ten-twelve of us in that original group are still writing.

2) Ten thousand hours, a million words before your craft is honed. Yes, really. Everyone thinks they can write a book, and write one easily, and (if you are lucky), easy books will come. But this is a craft, a profession, a job like anything else. Whatever hours you put into training for your day job or regular career will have to be worked in writing, too.

Sometimes when I have problems I haul myself and computer to a local coffee shop. One day I was there, and when I powered up and the word processing program came online, it showed my formatted work. I think I had printed pages of revisions beside me, maybe some promo for my last books.

A woman sitting at the next table with three other women (a book club, I think) slanted me a glance and said to her friends, "You remember when we all decided to write a book last year?" Yes, they did, and they talked about the experience. They'd thought it would be easy. No one had gotten to Chapter 3.

3) Don't depend on inspiration to show up before you write. Some days pages will plink out word by word like drops of blood wrung from your brain and heart, slit from your wrist to hit the keyboard with your fingers. If you are good enough, your readers won't be able to tell which words originated from your flushed inspiration and those that dribbled out.

I attend a writing retreat in South Carolina every year, and one year a woman showed up who'd written an award-winning children's book. She'd done that on a fabulous wave of inspiration. She was taking this time to free her mind so she could repeat the process. She spent all that week waiting for the inspiration and it didn't come. I don't think she's ever written anything since.

Stephen King writes about his muses, the boys in the basement. Show up every day at the same time, and the guys will be more likely to show up, too. For me, that means that if you sit down, and your brain and body know you're going to work, it can be easier to do.

Discipline is important. Put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard and write. If fabulous literary words don't come, write workman-like sentences. If workman-like sentences don't come, write whatever does. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can always revise.

You CAN do it!

Go forth and WRITE GOOD STUFF!

For Your “Consideration” – Royalties in Anthology Contracts

This month's RMFW #PubLaw post continues our ongoing series on writing for anthologies. Specifically, it's time to show me the money - and look at royalties in the anthology world.

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When it Comes to Royalties, Anthologies Vary. Know the Terms Before You Commit.

Some anthologies pay contributing authors a royalty on copies sold. Some anthologies do not. Always ask--and get a clear answer--about the royalty structure before you agree to contribute your work to an anthology. Also, make certain your contract states, with clarity, how sales proceeds will be handled and whether or not you receive a royalty share. If the anthology doesn't pay royalties to authors, the contract should state who receives the money earned on anthology sales.

What Does it Mean if the Contract Says I Receive "Consideration"?

"Consideration" is the legal term for value a person receives in return for entering into a contract. By law, consideration can be money, rights, an exchange of promises, or a unicorn--essentially, any (legally permitted) object or value the person signing the contract agrees to accept. One court famously stated that "even a peppercorn will do" if that's what the signatories to the deal agree on.

In many publishing contracts, the "consideration" is money, but where the author is not receiving royalties on sales of the work, the anthology language may look something like this:

CONSIDERATION, AUTHOR COPIES. Consideration of the Work for possible publication in the Anthology and, if appropriate, inclusion of the Work in the Anthology constitutes the full and complete compensation due to Author by [Publisher], under this Agreement or otherwise. No additional compensation is due Author whether or not [Publisher] ever Publishes, distributes, markets, or sells any copies of the Anthology. If the Work appears in the Anthology, [Publisher] will also provide Author with [some real number of] complimentary copies of the first edition of the Anthology, in printed format, after publication. Author acknowledges that no royalties are due, payable, or owed to Author on sales of the Anthology, regardless of the number of copies of the Anthology produced, printed, and/or sold. All receipts, revenues and profits from the Anthology will belong to [Publisher] exclusively.

Note that the language includes the important elements mentioned above:

1. What the author receives: "inclusion in the Anthology (if appropriate) and author copies." This is the author's consideration.

2. Whether or not the author receives royalties (here, no): "no royalties are due, payable or owed to Author..."

3. Who does receive the money earned on sales of the anthology: "All receipts, revenues and profits...belong to [Publisher] exclusively."

The contract may also allow the author to purchase copies of the anthology at a reduced price, and may specify whether or not the author can re-sell those copies at a profit.

Whether or Not to Participate in Non-Royalty-Bearing Anthologies is a Business Decision for the Author Alone.

If you ask three different people whether or not you should publish your work in a non-royalty bearing anthology, you'll get at least three different answers (more, if one of them is a lawyer).

Sometimes, it makes business sense to participate in a non-royalty bearing anthology.

People do die of "exposure," but for authors seeking a jumpstart publishing credit, anthologies may offer a chance for the kind of exposure that earns revenue by another means. Publication alongside more established authors exposes the newer author to readers who may then purchase the newer author's works as well.

Sometimes, non-royalty bearing anthologies provide a financial benefit to important nonprofit organizations. Contributing to these anthologies helps authors "give back" to groups that provide education and other helpful services to the larger community--and contributing work on a non-royalty bearing basis allows the author to contribute to the nonprofit's activities.

Finally, non-royalty bearing anthologies may offer an author a chance to participate in a project with other like-minded authors in circumstances which were never designed to generate a profit. Some groups publish anthologies at cost, or free of charge, as a service to certain communities or to readers. In this case, the author knows from the start (and the contract should state) that the anthology will be sold "At cost" and that its existence is not intended to generate significant profits. (Note: even here, the contract should state what happens to any profits or proceeds the anthology does generate.)

Some authors never contribute to anything which doesn't pay royalties. Others may choose to publish in non-royalty bearing projects now and then. As long as you know up front what kind of situation you're entering into, the choice is yours--and yours alone--and you should treat it as a business decision, taking all of the relevant facts and circumstances into account.

Has your work been published in an anthology? How do you feel about royalties in anthology situations?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Angsting Through the Walls

Under His Touch

I do it every damn time.

I keep thinking one of these days I'll learn, but I never seem to.

In every single book, I hit a point where I'm completely and utterly convinced that it's terrible. That THIS one is the book I'll have to pull the plug on and admit to failure.

It doesn't matter that pretty much every writer I've ever talked to says the same thing, I always feel alone in my despair. It also makes no difference for my brain to remind my heart that I do this on Every Single Book. With the luxury of hindsight, my published books all feel precious, wonderful and perfect. Like a woman who blanks out the pain of childbirth, I remember only the joy and wonder of the experience.

Never the angst.

I'm trying to keep this in mind right now, as UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in my FALLING UNDER erotic romance trilogy releases next week (January 19!), even as I'm writing the third book, UNDER CONTRACT. I'm pretty sure UNDER CONTRACT is *terrible*. Each book in this trilogy has gotten darker and more emotional. I suspect readers will want to kill me with THIS one. I thought about not finishing. I really tried not to go some places in the story. None of that is working and I'm captive on this story train, hurtling to the bridge over the chasm that is surely destroyed.

Did I mention angst?

At the same time, I remember last summer, sitting on the patio and crying as I talked to one of my crit partners (CP) about writing UNDER HIS TOUCH. I was sure readers would hate me. I wanted to reel it back and didn't seem to be able to. I thought I might not be able to finish it.

Yeah, she talked me out of my tree.

I screeched up to the deadline so my CPs and editor at Carina got the draft at the same time. So the CP comments and developmental edits arrived all at once. (My editor knew I was doing this and was fine with it, btw.) You know what?

They ALL loved it.

I was flabbergasted. Every single one of them gave me the fewest revision notes I'd received thus far. Unreal.

And fabulous.

Early reviews are great, too. A balm to my angsty soul.

I'm trying to remind myself of this, as I'm writing the book that ISN'T ANYWHERE NEARLY AS GOOD AS THAT ONE. In fact, it's really quite awful. I'm doomed.

Why do we do this to ourselves???

Short Story Anthologies with Class (for my homework)

By Patricia Stoltey

crossingcolfax150I just finished reading the complete Crossing Colfax anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, then headed off to Goodreads and Amazon to post my comments and rate the book a big beautiful five stars.

Writers who can produce quality stories with unique ideas, imaginative twists, and great characters, and fit all of that into 500 to 10,000 words, deserve our applause. It's hard! The story ideas that appear in Crossing Colfax are very clever. I think I've learned a few things from the fifteen authors whose works are published here. I look forward to many more anthologies from RMFW. To learn more about the individual stories, read Mark Stevens' story-by-story review from January 6th.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverReading in the same genre we write is part of our education process. The more we read, the more we learn about what hooks the reader and what fails. We marvel at the creativity of those who find new ways to tell an old story. That works for short story writing as well. I recently had my first traditionally published short story, "Three sisters of Ring Island" (a retold folk tale) accepted and included in Double Dragon's Tales in Firelight and Shadow. The editor of that anthology is Alexis Brooks de Vita.

The taste of publication was sweet. I want more. Reading a variety of anthologies in a variety of genres is how I'm going to study.

Dessert Sleuths Anthology-Cover-HR-200x300As I looked for the best of the best, I discovered a whole big world of writers and publications. For crime lovers, local chapters of Sisters in Crime offer collections like SoWest: Crime Time from SinC Desert Sleuths. RMFW member Shannon Baker is one of the authors you'll find in that group. You'll find many more if you search on "Sisters in Crime" at your favorite online bookseller.

Mystery Writers of America produces quality crime anthologies on a bigger scale. Manhattan Mayhem is coming in 2015. The 2014 publication was called Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War.

There's a group of authors in Minnesota called the Minnesota Crime Wave that published an anthology called Fifteen Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Malice. Colorado Gold favorite William Kent Krueger is one of the crime writers in that collection.

I have a copy of Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales on my coffee table as well. Katherine Valdez, a member of my critique group, wrote Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance for this book.

Pooled Ink 2014Winners and finalists for the Northern Colorado Writers fiction and non-fiction contests earn publication in the annual Pooled Ink anthology. The 2014 edition released in November. Reading Pooled Ink should help a writer learn what it takes to final in or win top prize in the NCW contests, so I plan to add the 2014 collection to my stack of homework.

If you have been published in such an anthology in any genre, please leave the anthology name and a buy link below in the comments. I need to round out the genres with a bit of romance, a little sci fi, and some great YA tales.

Luck and Timing

By Mary Gillgannon

“How lucky do you feel you are?” My first editor asked me that question as we were discussing promotion for my second book. She went on to say that for most of the successful authors she knew, luck had played an important part in their careers. Her advice was to do “as much promotion as you need to do to feel in control”. Her words were a huge relief to me, as I had little time or money to spend on promotion back then.

My sense of luck being the deciding factor has not decreased over the years. The people I know who have been most successful are talented and hard-working, yes. But no more talented than other authors who saw their careers stall and sometimes fizzle away altogether. The key has always been writing the right kind of book at the right time. In other words, luck.

Now with the changes in the publishing world, there are other “factors of chance”, as I was reminded by a recent article in The New York Times. The article discussed the impact of the Kindle Unlimited program on indie authors and profiled an author named Kathryn Le Veque. Le Veque has published 44 ebooks and until recently was selling 6,000 ebooks a month. Although the main point of the article was that with Kindle Unlimited, Le Veque has had to lower prices to maintain her income and sell more books for fewer dollars, there were other intriguing details revealed in the profile: Le Veque has been writing fiction for over 35 years and had created a huge stockpile of books. For 28 years, she submitted her books to traditional publishers and had them rejected. But then she started self-publishing and was so successful she was able to quit her day job after three months and write full-time. Despite her enormous body of work, to maintain her sales, she has to keep churning them out, and to help her, she has hired a part-time editor and two part-time assistants.

Like most success stories, this is a case of luck, or good fortune, or whatever you want to call it. This particular author’s ability to publish a large number of books at one time, and rapidly write more, is a large part of her success. But that strategy of writing one book after another failed her for 28 years. Then Amazon came along and it was a perfect storm: a market that was hungry for books and that allowed her to directly reach the sub-group of readers who read her genre, plus her huge stockpile of product and ability to keep producing it quickly.

Most of the successful indie authors I know, and a fair number of the traditionally published ones as well, have a similar strategy: write fast and write series, multiple linked books that appeal to a specific group of readers. But being able to do that is a matter of luck. Even if I quit my day job and did nothing else, I could not write six, eight, ten books a year. Ms. Le Veque says that on a good day, she writes 12,000 words. I doubt that in the last few years I’ve written that many in one week!

Another interesting thing I noted is that nowhere in the article does Le Veque mention promotion, social media or on-line presence. While she probably has her assistants do some of that now, I doubt she was able to do much in the beginning. Which confirms my suspicion that even though on-line promotion has made the difference in a lot of authors’ careers, it is not necessarily the “magic bullet”. Because what worked two years ago, or even two months ago, may not work now. Again, it’s a matter of timing, just like it always was. And timing is a matter of chance, i.e. luck.

For some people, the idea that luck is so important may be incredibly frustrating. For me, it’s a relief, just like it was years ago when my editor told me not to bother spending my advance on promotion. It gives me a way out and makes me feel less like a failure. I’m a dutiful person, who wants to do a good job and be responsible and dedicated, and that extends to my writing career. But lately I’m overwhelmed with everything I supposed to do for my career, and I’m getting pretty frustrated and unhappy. And even though it’s discouraging to know I’ll never write fast enough to flood the market and develop an audience like this writer did, it is heartening to hear the story of someone who was successful because they kept writing, rather than they made their name by promoting their work.

The Next Big Thing

We've seen all these phenomenal books take off to best seller status – The Da Vinci Code, Gone Girl, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray – and now there's mutterings within the writing community about what the next "big thing" will be. Well, those mutterings never cease, but it’s a new year and therefore new mutterings.

We know it's unwise to clone what's already selling big at the moment because we're told time and time again that manuscripts bought today won't be on the shelves for another couple of years. We shouldn't follow trends because they're fickle. Most of us write according to our passion anyway, trends be damned. But still, it's fun to speculate what the next big thing will be; what genre, what new idea will spark the reading consumer into buying more books?

Ideas come from everywhere. The next best seller is probably sitting on someone's hard drive somewhere, the queries rejected left and right, partials getting turned down as often as bed sheets in a brothel, but it's out there, waiting for its time. Could it be yours? Hmm…

It's fun to speculate what people want to read in terms of fiction. What appeals to the American reader? We could look to television for our ideas. Not the shows so much as the themes. How about all the reality shows that are taking over primetime? Some authors have taken advantage of this craze by using it in their plots. It was popular for a while, got people's attention, but never really broke out into anything newsworthy.

So if themes aren't where the next big thing will spring from, how about genre? Genre mixing is THE topic of discussion at many writers' conferences. A couple decades ago, authors tried to mix romance and suspense and mystery and horror together, and were told their manuscripts were unmarketable. That’s all changed. I think authors have a sixth sense about these things. Are publishers as tuned in as we are?

So if you were to take out your crystal ball and shine it up, what would it reveal to you about the next big thing? Could it be a style of writing, like what happened with the chicklit explosion when Bridget Jones' Diary came out? Or an Internet chat/email format like a quirky YA novel? Or how about those graphic novels and manga? I'd never in a million years have imagined comic books coming back into fashion this way.

We can't predict for certain, but it's a lot of fun to think about. High concept literary fiction has always been a big deal. Same with up-market women's fiction. Both have a wide audience, which is why it has such broad appeal. How about retro historical fiction, like high concept stories set in the fifties, sixties, seventies? Sex, drugs and rock and roll. What do you think? Care to take a stab at what will be the next big thing?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she just released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

Adventures in Genre Writing Lesson Six: Dialogue

Dialogue – Putting Words in Your Characters’ Mouths
By Jeanne C. Stein

Last month we looked at plotting and defining our inciting incident. In this lesson we’ll touch on one of the most important building blocks in writing: Dialogue.

There are lots of authors who excel at dialogue, but none better than mystery writer, the late Robert B. Parker.

The first thing you notice when you open one of his books is the white space.

White space? What’s that?

It’s all that space on the right margin of a page when the four deadly sins of dialogue are excised. What are they?

1. Info-dumps.
2. Unnecessary attributes.
3. Unnecessary adverbs.
4. Clichés.

White space occurs when characters speak realistically.

Parker is so adept at realistic dialogue, that he practically tells his entire story in dialogue. I suggest if you aren’t familiar with Parker, you pick up one of his books and see what I mean.

If we start with the basics, dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. It should be relevant, advance the plot and reveal something about the character speaking—his emotion or state of mind. Those things are obvious to most of us. What isn’t so obvious is how we actually translate it to the page.

Let’s look at some examples of dialogue that illustrate the four deadly sins I mentioned above.

1. Info-dumps. This is also called “As you know, Bob…” You have two characters meeting for the first time in your book. They have a history. Their meeting involves something that has already taken place, something the reader may or may not know. The conversation goes like this.

“Hello, Jack.”

“Hello, Eddy.”

“Jack, did you hear what happened to our good friend, Jim?”

“You mean the terrible attack that landed him in the hospital with two broken legs and three cracked ribs that occurred just last week when he was caught by rogue demons on his way home?”

Have you ever heard anyone talk like that? Of course not. But it’s seen a lot in unpublished manuscripts and sadly, in some books.

How do you fix it?

“Hey, Jack. Did you hear about Jim?”

“Couldn’t believe it. Cracked ribs and two broken legs. Those demons are out of control.”

2. Unnecessary attributes. May not even need to give you an example, but just in case:

“Hey, Jack,” Mary said.

“Hey, Mary,” Jack replied.

“Where are you going?” Mary inquired.

“To see Jim. As you know, he was attacked by demons last week,” Jack answered. “I’m bringing him a protection charm.”

“Can I go, too?” Mary asked.

“Sure.” Jack replied. “He’ll enjoy the company.”

If you have two characters on stage, we need only the first tags (and sometimes not even that) to follow the dialogue.

3. Unnecessary adverbs. Again, may be obvious. I’ll use the same example as above.

“Hey, Jack,” Mary chirped excitedly.

“Hey, Mary,” Jack replied happily.

“Where are you going?” Mary inquired quizzically.

“To see Jim. As you know, he was attacked by demons last week,” Jack answered soberly. “I’m bringing him a protection charm.”

“Can I go, too?” Mary asked hopefully.

“Sure,” Jack replied, nodding enthusiastically. “He’ll enjoy the company.”

Dialogue itself should reveal the character’s emotions without need of adverbial helpers. In fact, as a general rule, omit adverbs from ALL your prose. If you’re doing your job, you don’t need them.

4. Clichés

People use clichés because clichés are descriptive shortcuts, which is one way to say, they are phrases whose meanings we recognize immediately. They convey universal understanding. Not necessarily a bad thing it itself.

Every cliché was once fresh and witty. Over time, though, some have become stale and will mark you as a lazy writer, especially if overused. When you find yourself writing, quick as a bunny, try to rewrite it. Find a fresh and different way to say the same thing.

A rule of thumb for clichés is that if you think you’ve read it before, try rewriting it.

Bestselling romance author Sharon Mignerey gave us the following acronym for elements of good dialogue: SCRAPE.

Dialogue should reflect:
S - Setting and Subtext
C - Character Consistency
Dialogue should be:
R -Revealing and Relevant
A - Atmospheric and Appropriate

Well done dialogue:
P - Propels Plot
E - Evokes Emotion
-© 1999 Sharon Mignerey (used with permission)

One other aspect of dialogue that can be troublesome is conveying dialect. If you have a character with a distinct pattern of speech or an accent, it’s tricky to carry that off through an entire book. Better to give us a sample when we first meet the character, remind us of it as the story progresses, but write most passages without reverting to the dialect. A hint of the character’s Scottish brogue or Irish lilt or that he has a speech impediment is all that’s needed to remind the reader.

All this is basic, certainly. But good dialogue reflects character and moves our plot forward so much better than long passages of narration. It’s fluid. It reveals our character’s mind set and conveys emotion. It keeps the reader engaged.

Another author who has mastered story telling through dialogue is Jackie Kessler. Her protagonist is Jesse Harris, a succubus-turned-human. Here’s a brief example of dialogue from her second “Hell on Earth”  book, The Road to Hell:

“Oh,” Daun said. “Never mind. I get it.”

I turned back to face Daun, who was straddled over my hips, watching me. “Get what?”

“You’re distracted.”

“Am not.”

“No? You’re crying.”

I was? Shit. Dabbing at my leaking eyes, I said, “Sorry, I’m okay now.”

“Uh huh.”

“I am. Really. Have at it…”

Lots of white space. No unnecessary tags. Conveys emotion. Reads smoothly, especially aloud.

# # # #

So, in summary, to make dialogue sparkle:

Keep colloquialisms and slang to a minimum.

Use a natural cadence and manner.

Be fresh with your dialogue, rewrite clichés.

Read your dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural.

Next up: Conflict. What is it? Why is it important?

POLITICS IN FICTION

By Kevin Paul Tracy

I’ve recently been inundated with fiction manuscripts to critique that contain a fair amount of political commentary. I’m not referring to the kind of politics you find in Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time or TV’s Defiance – those are internal, fictional intrigues that apply only to the fiction milieu in which they are portrayed (though admittedly often they are thinly-veiled allegories for real-world politics.) I’m referring to issues, social and geopolitical, that we face today, in the real world.

Pro-flagMy knee jerk reaction to too great an infusion of real-world politics into modern fiction is to recoil. It pulls me out of the story and leaves a greasy taste in my figurative intellectual mouth. Even if I agree with the assertion being made, it irritates me, much like a lecture from my epically long-winded father would. I resent the author telling me what I ought to think, or, worse yet, giving me, the reader, a rhetorical wink-wink as if there is no question but that we agree on a particular issue. I reject such assumptions and my resentment for the work I’m reading and, by extension, its author grows from that point on with every turned page.

In today’s political climate, as polarized and often toxic a political environment as I’ve ever seen before, you are rarely assured of more than 33% of the population of the US alone agreeing with you. Extend that to international sales and, quite frankly, the numbers become even less predictable. You are guaranteed to alienate at least a third of your audience by infusing too much politics into your fiction.

Con-flagGranted, there are those who deliberately buy books that oppose their points of view merely to be challenged and to see what all the fuss is about, but those folks are quite few when counted among the greater number of readers who read fiction only to be entertained and nothing more. These readers tend to read for relaxation and comfort, and are unlikely to buy more books by an author who has offended or insulted them and their beliefs.

Even political satire in fiction is a delicate thing. An author must take care to be smart and subtle and, above all, funny to diffuse any tension that might be raised by your treatment of those whose politics you oppose. Some good examples of good political satire in fiction are books like Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Terry Pratchett’s & Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and the eminent graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

My advice is, unless you plan to give both sides of the issue fair representation, and are confident in your skill as a writer to do so, steer clear of real-world politics in your fiction. There are social issues you need not avoid: you can feel relatively assured that giving food to a starving child is a good thing, and rescuing a dog from a kill shelter is preferable to leaving him there. On more weighty matters, such as abortion, capital punishment, and immigration reform, tread lightly. You risk alienating as much as two-thirds of your potential fan-base out there, and which of us can afford to do that?


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

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