Contests and Competitions

Tis the Season

NEW YORK - APRIL 29: Atmosphere at the 2010 Edgar Awards banquet at Grand Hyatt Hotel on April 29, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)

Now is a unique time for writers. In the mystery world, early in the year is the time when judging is beginning, nominations are being requested for a number of prize awards or Awards are being announced. Probably because the awards are for books published in the previous year. That said, RMFW's call for judges got me thinking—what is it about awards that make them so important? Who nominates your books for awards? Should you submit your own book? How does it all work?

Unpublished

Clearly there's a difference. The competitions for the unpublished are geared toward evaluating manuscripts and proposals for submission to editors and agents. The plus for entering is, in nearly all the contests held today, your work has a chance of getting into the hands of an editor and/or agent—once it passes the hurdle of the published writers who are judging most of these competitions.

Traditionally vs. Independently Published

For anyone published, honors are awarded based on any number of criteria, and they're usually readers' choice or judges' choice (including librarians, readers, writers, reviewers, etc.). Sometimes they are for best overall, sometimes they are for best in a genre, they can be given by any number of writers' groups and organizations, and who is eligible to enter varies.

I know the mystery genre, so I'll speak to that. For the Edgar Awards (the Oscar for Mystery Awards), up until now, entries must be traditionally published. Even so, judges receive hundreds of books in a number of categories. I have judged the Edgars twice in the Best Novel category, and both times we had over 500 submissions. There are also awards given at many of the conferences: The Anthony Awards at Bouchercon, The Lefty Awards at Left Coast Crime, the Agatha Awards at Malice Domestic. Writers' organizations also offer award opportunities. The Private Eye Writers of America have the Shamus Awards. There are the Barry Awards, the Macavity Awards, etc., etc. Many states have individual book awards, like the Colorado Book Awards, and then there are also a number of national awards, such as the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize Award, etc. Just know, as long as you meet the criteria, all of these are available for you to enter.

Note : Independently published authors are sometimes barred from entering some of the organizational awards, but they have their own list of opportunities. Some indie-pub only awards include: ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award, the Independent Publisher Book Awards, the Natilus Book Awards, and here at home the Colorado Independent Publishers Association Evvy Awards.

So why enter?

For the unpublished, the most important thing is feedback. I am constantly amazed at how many people don't request critiques on their work. The fee for a critique when entering these contests is so nominal. Don't pass up the chance to learn what works and what doesn't work in your manuscript, something crucial to your ultimate success as a writer. Plus, I'm blown away by how quick we are to discount criticism of our work. As unpleasant as the message can sometimes be, we should be grateful that someone (almost always a volunteer) cares enough to tell us what works and what doesn't work for them—for them being the key words. You're bound to get some bad or conflicting advice, or advice that just doesn't resonate with you. However, never forget, the intent of the judge is to help you in your quest for publication. This isn't about them showing off their own skills, or about anyone trying to change your work or your vision. They just want to offer assistance to you in reaching your goals. In my opinion, it should be welcomed.

For the traditionally and independently published, awards are all about increasing exposure for your work. Nearly every award receives some media attention, which results in additional book signings, which means more sales, and that's what it's all about—at least for most publishers. Winning an award (even being nominated) is also a sign that others love your work, and that's invaluable to the author who writes alone and wonders what type of reception their work will receive. Last, awards can open doors!

Which award contests are worth entering?

This is where you have to do your research. You need to be cautious. All of the awards are run differently, and certain awards are more prestigious than others. It depends on your interest what will serve you best. There are hundreds of literary awards given yearly in the United States.

Be sure and weigh the costs. Many charge a fee for entry. In Colorado, the Colorado Book Award's entry fee is $53. They accept ALL published works. Plus, some competitions pay prizes. The National Book Awards has an entry fee of $125, but the winner in each category receives $10,000.

If you win, milk it!

Get as much mileage out of being nominated and/or winning as you can. Get the word out early. Tell your publisher, your agent, your family and friends. Shout it out through social media, on your website. Attend any and all scheduled signings in relation to the awards.

Many organizations will give you stickers for your books. Use them.

Make bookmarks, stickers, flyers.

Leverage solo appearances at bookstores that may not normally welcome you to sign and get in touch with your local library. Consumers like to read books that have hit the bestsellers list and/or won awards. It signals that the book is worth their time to read it.

Send out press releases.

Remember the rule of three. It takes at least three times of someone hearing about your book or reading about your book before it sticks in their memory. Make sure to use every avenue you have to get the word out multiple times in multiple ways.

So, how do you create a winning book or proposal?

The correct answer is: write a great book. But even with a great book, you may need to generate some buzz to make it successful. Buzz garners attention. Buzz drives book sales. Awards help create buzz.

Green … by Rainey Hall

In kindergarten, my teacher read the class Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. She then treated all of us to—you got it—ham, scrambled green eggs, fried green potatoes, green milk and green biscuits. Ah, those were the days.

That night after regurgitating green stuff, I swore off eating, touching and smelling anything that resembled mold. Ten years later, hunger summoned the courage to ingest green beans, lettuce and fresh peas.

Can you believe green-colored food and drink showed up again during my teen years? Do you know some people actually drink green beer? No. No, I don’t touch the stuff, green or otherwise. I’ve come to the conclusion people ingesting said color of beer must have had the same kindergarten teacher as me.

Here’s another thing about green: summer meadows with rainbows. I was actually at the end of a rainbow. No gold. No leprechauns. My big brothers finally noticed my disappointment and eagerly encouraged me to investigate the opposite end of the bow because, “You’re at the wrong end.” Bums! Foiled again by siblings, I learned two ends do not a pot of gold make.

Maybe that’s when I began writing as a form of therapy? But I digress.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have been pinched only once when I accidentally-on purpose forgot to wear green to school on a bleak March 17th. Sort of an experiment gone haywire. Who made up that little gem of a game? With that one and only pinch and accompanying bruises, I promised myself, all my stuffed animals, and the family dog, Zipper, to wear green every day of the year. Since that day, I have never utilized pliers or wire cutters, or eaten crab and lobster. Of course being within close proximity of a Doberman is out of the question too. I can guess the capabilities of those K-9s.

Was Saint Patrick even Irish? Did he ever wear green clothing?

Corned beef and cabbage? At the risk of sounding like a spoiled American, are you kidding? I’ll stick with grass fed beef and carrots—both dishes lacking green. Speaking of cabbage, my grandmother used to make sauerkraut in the basement, (around the same time I was pinched, discovered the truth about rainbows and learned how the Grinch stole Christmas.) Amazing I can smell anything now, let alone eat Brussels sprouts.

Okay, here’s the point: how about a new March holiday like “Don’t Fly a Kite Because the Wind Will Rip It to Shreds Day”, or “Take Time to Smell the Celestial Blooms of Spring Hyacinths Day”, or “Irish Soldiers in the Civil War Day”, or “Irish Soda Bread—even though it may not have originated in Ireland—Day”, or “The Best Irish Authors of the 20th Century Day”. I’ve got a million suggestions.

Here’s to just a few (20th century) Irish authors—get it out of your mind—I have never been green with envy over, but have admired and enjoyed the wonderfully varied talents of:

Oscar Wilde

Bram Stoker

CS Lewis

Anne Enright

Jonathan Swift

If you have the opportunity, please visit irishtimes.com and check out an article written in ‘The Guardian’ by Justine Jordan on Irish authors.

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

A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.

*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.

Distractions: Writing, Wait, Cleaning. No! Writing! New Computer! No! Writing. Promotion…

I should be preparing for a trip I'm leaving for later this morning, but I'm running late on the blog, and, let's face it, will I want to finish it up in California? No.

Wait . . . the airport. I could do it on the plane or at the airport (I intend to arrive two hours early, as usual). I could do it then. Face it, ramblings about the writing life, which I usually do here on the blog, are not research intensive, and are, in fact internals, which is the easiest writing for me. Well, in addition to having an intelligent Familiar Companion animal saunter, stroll, or zoom onto the page. Those scenes tend to write themselves, too.

As you must have figured out from the above, distractions are, for me, a terrible thing. Even cleaning can be a distraction, even (whispering), washing silverware (which I always leave for last).

The moment I got my first computer, I took the games off it, the solitaire, whatever. (We won't go into online gaming right now). This was to keep myself focused on writing.

Naturally, I had a day job, so I wrote in the evenings. I lost years of popular television shows, because, like most traditionally published people, it took between 8-9 years for my first manuscript to sell. Those bad old days.

I had to focus, or I wouldn't work on my writing after my regular eight hours of work, and that was the most disciplined time in my life (except the 3 jobs in grad school).

But now that I'm a professional writer. . . my focus is usually fragmented at best, even when I'm at retreats where all I'm supposed to do is write. "I can make my wordcount in two hours today, I'll do it later." I tell myself almost every day. This is a blatant lie. I can make a minimum wordcount in two hours with the great blessing of steady inspiration from the muse. I believe my lie anyway.

Laundry is important. Cleaning is important. Definitely loading up a new computer for my travels with all the right software is important.

Exercise, for me right now, is hugely important.

Most important is promotion of my novella, especially that which is self-published. I can really get side-railed by that, because it, too, can bring money in.

But writing should be the number one priority. It is the way I support myself and my two cats (they do not lift a PAW).

Still, distractions abide. So, I turn to the tried and true to help me through:

1) War room. I belong to a chat room where writers meet and do writing sprints. Sometimes it's too chatty, sometimes I'm the only one there. At those times, I have to shore up my own focus.

2) Timer. This is good. Butt in chair for 30 minutes, set the timer, write. Do NOT go back and re-read that previous scene for the 20th time. JUST. WRITE. This can get me (you?) through the "thinking" time.

3) Setting Goals With Other Writers. I belong to such a group, we post goals and results every week.

But, most of all, is just RECOGNIZING MY PROBLEM WITH DISTRACTIONS, AND PUTTING MY BUT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITING.

Easy to understand, easy to say, but hard to execute. But I WILL do that. Because that's what professionals do.

Wait, doesn't the fireplace need brushing out? (Just joking, I don't have a working fireplace).

May the muse be with you and your writing and your worlds push all distractions from your minds.

Robin

How to Obtain a Reversion of Publishing Rights (At Least, How to Try)

While wearing my publishing lawyer hat, authors often ask me about how to terminate an old (or unprofitable) publishing contract and obtain a reversion of their rights to the relevant works.

Obtaining a reversion of rights can be tricky, and is always dependent on the terms of the contract (and/or the author's relationship with the publisher). 

Normally, the contract states the terms--if any--under which an author can terminate or obtain a reversion of publishing rights, and if the conditions in the contract are not met, the author cannot terminate unless the publisher is willing to release the rights.

However, the fact that a work is under contract isn't always the end of the story.

Here are the recommended steps for authors hoping to terminate a contract or obtain a reversion of publishing rights from a traditional publishing house:*

1. Review the Contact.

In almost all cases, the contract will state exactly when and how (and by whom) it can be terminated.

If the contract allows you to terminate under the current circumstances, follow the procedures in the contract to request a termination and reversion of your rights. (Note: if you only want to revert certain rights--for example, foreign translations--follow the procedures for requesting those rights only.)

If you have questions, or don’t understand the contract, get help from a publishing lawyer or a literary agent.

2. Ask the Publisher (Nicely) to Terminate the Contract and/or Revert the Rights.

By law, the parties to a contract can always modify or terminate their agreement by mutual consent, even if the contract doesn’t say so.

If the contract doesn’t grant you the right to terminate, you can still ask the publisher to terminate the contract and revert your rights voluntarily. Some publishers will agree to termination, or reversion of certain rights, when sales have dropped so low that keeping a work in print creates more obligations than benefits. Make sure your request is polite and professional—regardless of your relationship with (or opinion of) the publisher.

As my grandmother used to say, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

3. Consult a Publishing Attorney or Literary Agent.

If the contract doesn’t grant you termination rights and the publisher refuses your polite request for termination (or reversion of certain rights), seek the advice of a publishing attorney or agent. Sometimes a third party can help negotiate solutions that authors cannot obtain on their own behalf.

However, be aware that in most cases your right to terminate a contract and obtain a reversion of publishing rights is limited by the terms of the agreement. Unless the publisher breaches the contract, you may have no choice but to wait the contract out.

Which brings us to one final, forward-looking step:

4. Ensure all Future Contracts Give You Unilateral Termination Rights and Out of Print Clauses Tied to Royalty-Bearing Sales.

Admittedly, this doesn't help you with the old agreement, but it will ensure you don’t end up in the same situation again.

Tying out of print status to royalty-bearing sales, and giving the author the unilateral right to terminate if the work goes out of print, helps ensure that authors can retrieve their rights if a book stops selling (and stops a publisher from keeping works perpetually “in print” simply by listing ebooks on Amazon).

When it comes to publishing contracts, the best defense is a good offense—negotiating  unilateral termination rights and reversion clauses into the agreement before you sign.

*Note: These tips apply only to traditional publishers, and in situations where the publisher is NOT in breach of contract. If the publisher IS in breach of contract, consult a lawyer or literary agent immediately.

Note also: Author-publishers should always be able to terminate any contracts or publishing arrangements at will, subject to payment of fees owed and other pre-existing legal arrangements. If you self-publish, make sure your contracts give you all the power when it comes to termination.

5 Tips for Successful Audiobooks … by Richard Rieman

You wonder if an audio version of your book is a good idea. Maybe you listen to audiobooks – perhaps a Harry Potter book with Jim Dale doing over 150 different voices – and you think, it’s probably much too complicated and expensive.

Here are some common audiobook misconceptions:

1. Underestimating Audiobook Popularity

At a time when eBook popularity is waning, audiobook listening on Audible grew 38% last year. Audiobook sales growth is up 35% worldwide after 20% increases 2 years in a row. Listening on smartphones is the fastest growing way people are enjoying audiobooks. Automakers such as Honda and GM are now including audiobook apps from Audible and iTunes in their new cars.

Audiobooks also have their own fan base, so it’s a way to sell more books!

2. Overestimating What Creating an Audiobook Costs

As recently as 10 years ago, audiobooks could cost $30,000 or more to produce. Getting a recording studio, voice actors, audio editors, music rights and more meant that a major publisher would be needed.

Now, thanks to the growth of self and independent publishing in the audiobook world, and the explosion in the number of narrators with home studios and editing skill, high quality audiobooks can be produced for less than $3,000. If you are willing to share your sale royalties with a narrator/producer, the upfront cost can be reduced to several hundred dollars or less. Amazon created ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange, to make it easy for you to find narrators for both fiction and non-fiction titles at relatively low cost.

3. Settling for a Good Voice Instead of an Actor

When choosing a narrator, you can easily be seduced by a beautiful voice. But what you need to look for is a voice ACTOR, who can distinguish characters by subtly using different vocal tones and inflections and glide easily into the changing emotions of your story. For nonfiction, a skilled narrator can hold your interest for hours by talking to you, not by reading to you out loud. Get a great storyteller, not just a great voice.

4. Narrating It Yourself When You Shouldn't

There are a few good reasons to narrate your own book:

• It’s your book and your words, so you can tell your story best. You know your characters, your story or subject, and the thinking behind your words better than anyone else.
• You keep more money. If you pay a narrator, you will either share royalties or pay them upfront to produce your audiobook. When you narrate your own book, your audiobook royalty payments go to you (after your publisher or Amazon take a big chunk of it.)
• You can be your own narrator if you have acting or radio/TV experience or have done lots of public speaking.

None of the above? Then get a professional to do it. It's a lot harder than it looks, and do you really want the bad reviews that come from a poor narrating performance when listeners judge you against the professionals?

5. Not Promoting Your Audiobook

It’s great to produce an audiobook, but if it falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Your audiobook needs to be shouted out to your fans and new listeners.

• Include an audiobook sample in all promotions. The “retail sample” required by ACX is ideal for this. Your book cover and audio clip can be used in all social media and your website.
• Request listener reviews from all your contacts and use a review service like Audiobook Boom.
• Create a promotional video like this one for Denver author Catherine Spader’s dark fantasy “Feast of the Raven.” You can engage a book trailer expert or use a resource like Animoto for less than $100.
• With future books, try to time your audiobook release with the print and e-book versions, so all your efforts can simultaneously share your promotion efforts.

Audiobook production, just like producing a paperback or eBook, is not easy. But it is worth it, especially when you are creating both a new fan base and new revenue stream for your already existing work.

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

RMFW member Richard Rieman of AudiobookRevolution.com is an audiobook self-publishing consultant, a top Audible narrator, and an in-studio producer of authors narrating their own titles. Richard is author of “The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation,” Gold Medal Winner of the 2016 Global eBook Award in Writing/Publishing.

You can learn more about Richard and his projects at his website Audiobook Revolution Productions. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and You Tube.

This is part three of a four-part series on audiobooks by Richard Rieman. Part one: Bringing a “Mostly Dead” Book Back to Life in Audio. Part two: Voices in Your Head: How Audiobooks Can Improve Your Writing.

Tom Sawyering Your Writer Friends into Helping Revise Your Book

Boy am I enjoying revising this book…it’s so much fun!

Take that passive verb!

K-pow! Adverb say whatly?

What am I doing, you ask? Well, I’m not so sure I should say. It’s just…I’m having such a great time…and I don’t want to make you jealous…

Is it working? Are you wanting to help me revise this dumpster fire of a novel?

I knew you liked me. I just knew it!

Okay, so I’m going to outline how I revise and would love for you to jump in, giving tips, tricks, tools, and general help for anyone stuck in revising hell, which is the first level for those keeping track.

 This is my process, and mine alone. It’s probably not ‘best practice’, but it works for me (sometimes):

After typing THE END (which oddly, I don’t ever type at the end, but bear with me), I start back at page one, copy and developmental editing as I go. For those who might not know, a copy edit is placing the right period, fixing a run-on, and/or adjusting a passive verb. Developmental is the bigger picture stuff, keeping eye and hair color consistent, and/or tying up hanging loose ends.

Once I run through it once, I do the same thing again, looking for deeper POV/Showing options. And that means, if I come across this: He was cold. I would likely go into a deeper POV, and change it to: The air chilled his flesh, raising goosebumps along the hair follicles.

And that’s usually it until the editorial letter hits my email.

Sometimes I might have an added step of critique from trusted sources, if available. This is up for much debate, but I prefer one or two readers I trust rather than wide critiques. Too much of a good thing for me. I try to please everyone and end up with a bigger mess.

So how do you revise?

What sort of software helps? A time ago I used Rainbow Editing, which helped before I started to use active verbs in my first draft. I sometimes use those word count programs--ones that find my overused words or adverbs.

Tips or tricks you find helpful?

How much do you put into a revision? Meaning, you have to eventually let the book go. How many times do you go back to revision before sending it on its way?

Really any advice on revision is helpful. Maybe we can, as a collective, help each other become better at the awesome, super fun art of revision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things You Need to Know About 2017 Colorado Gold

We're working hard at Conference HQ, processing workshop proposals and getting registration ready for opening day. Here is an update on what's happening now:

1) Workshop Proposal submissions are closing MARCH 31 at midnight. Be sure to visit the Conference Home Page for the link to the submission page as well as a worksheet to help you prepare your proposal before you log into the form. PROTIP: Have your workshop details ready to go in a separate document so you can copy and paste to speed up the process.

2) The Agents and Editors who have signed on for 2017 Conference have been added to the Conference Home Page! We're very excited about this year's line-up, and hope you'll find several agents that are a good fit for you and your manuscript. Check them out on the Conference Home Page.

3) DONATE to support Conference Scholarships! RMFW is pleased to offer a limited number of scholarships to help members attend conference who would otherwise be unable to join us. We also accept donations to help fellow members attend conference. Scholarships will be awarded to RMFW members in good standing on the basis of stated financial need. Scholarships will cover the regular conference fee, not including hotel room costs or add-ons. The Application period is open June 1 through June 30. You can donate online at any time through our donation page, or you can add a donation during your conference registration. (Registration Opens May 1)

4) Conference Facebook Group: Have questions about conference? Looking to connect with other attendees before September? Join us on our RMFW Colorado Gold Conference Facebook Group!

5) Registration opens May 1, with early-bird pricing available through MAY 31. Plan to register early!

We're very excited about conference and look forward to a fantastic schedule of workshops, panels, mentors, special guests, speakers, agents, and editors to help you learn, grow, and connect with others in 2017.

If you have any questions about conference, email Corinne O'Flynn at conference@rmfw.org.

Social Capital

A lot of attention gets paid to social media without really understanding a fundamental concept - social capital.

In addition to all its other characteristics and traits, social media transactions depend on - for lack of a better term - a currency. You earn it as you give and pay it when you ask.

This makes a certain amount of sense if you think of the pesky neighbor who always wants to borrow your lawnmower but never returns it with gas in the tank. It doesn't help matters if he returns it with a bottle of beer when you don't drink beer.

That underscores a different - and more common - problem with social capital. So many people work to "create compelling content" without realizing that their "compelling" is my "no thanks." What should have resulted in a deposit to their social capital account winds up being a big fat withdrawal.

Most of the time - and I think, most people - fall into the "revenue neutral" portion of the continuum. Sometimes what they post is interesting enough but not engaging. They're the crazy uncle who tells a story about his trip to the grocery store when some kid was whining for candy and his mother wouldn't let him have any. They're the people who scour the web looking for "compelling content" to "share."

If you want to build up your social capital, don't do that. Reach out to somebody and talk with them. Authors, artists, creatives of all stripes can make a huge impression by reaching across the web to talk with fans. Congratulate them on a new job. Sympathize over their recent loss (even if it's only hair). Treat them like people - not contacts you count like coups. Every time you do that, you get a few bits of social capital. Every time some lurker sees that, you get social capital. Every time somebody notices that you're not asking for something but offering something without expectation of payment, you're earning social capital.

Sure it's only a few tiny slices. You need to do it a lot to get a pile big enough to make a difference, to accrue enough in your account to be able to spend it effectively.

When you spend, you don't spend little slivers. You spend big chunks.

Every time you ask somebody to look at your book, or read a new 5-star review, or even just link to your website, you're spending capital. A lot of people are running a deficit budget and wondering why things aren't moving.

Even things that you'd think would pay off big - like recommending a book that's not yours - can backfire on you if the person getting the recommendation doesn't like the book you recommended. If they remember who promoted it to them, they'll blame the you - not the author. The obvious advice is "don't recommend a book you don't like" but too many people recommend books because the author asked them to - or because the author is a friend. If you love it, say why. If you only liked it, say why. If you didn't even like it - or its in a genre you don't read - don't do anybody any favors because you're spending social capital that's difficult to recoup.

Before you make that next social media post, remember: You earn in pennies but you spend in Benjamins.

Image credit:
Steve Snodgrass: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass
Creative Commons: SA-BY

Crafting Dialogue–or Avoiding it Altogether

Photo by Brian Lary from freeimages.com

My TV-watching habits, well documented in my earlier stint as an RMFW blog contributor, have started me thinking a lot about dialogue recently. Going to the movies last night kicked those thinky thoughts into high gear, so today I’m going to translate those thinky thoughts into writey thoughts.

Many new writers think that dialogue should mirror the way people talk in real life. Well, in a way it should, but in most ways it shouldn’t, because when people talk in real life they’re quite often repetitive, stutter, and boring. Not that what people say isn’t important, but when you’re writing a book you don’t really want lines and lines of dialogue discussing how much toilet paper you really need, where it’s cheapest, and whether the generic brands are suitable for every day use. In real life, this is an Important Conversation. In a book, not so much.

I think the ways in which dialogue should mirror real life are mostly about speakability and appropriateness to the situation. I get thrown out of a story bigtime when someone says a line of dialogue that I can’t imagine someone actually saying. Usually this is because the dialogue is too precise, too grammatically correct, or artificial sounding. If I try to say it out loud, it just sounds off. Reading dialogue aloud helps with this. If it doesn’t come trippingly off the tongue, it might need some revision. (I’m reminded of Harrison Ford’s comment about dialogue in the original Star Wars: “You can write this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”)

So, this is a good theory. My TV-watching habits have given me some examples that both break these rules and follow them, but still manage to be great examples of good dialogue.

Aaron Sorkin is often touted as a great TV writer because his style is immediately recognizable. I’ve often argued (mostly to myself) that this doesn’t make him that great a TV writer, because it’s my feeling that stylistic quirks shouldn’t pop up in TV dialogue (and probably not in written dialogue, either) unless those stylistic quirks are particular to the character. Stylistic quirks in dialogue that reflect the author tend to bother me, because it makes the reader immediately aware of the author behind the curtain.

I used to watch Sports Night back in the day when it was on. That was a great show. I wish it hadn’t gotten cancelled so soon. But especially toward the end of its run, every character sounded like Aaron Sorkin to me. Later, I started watching Studio 60, and I lasted about two episodes because the Aaron Sorkin-ness of the dialogue permeated every character and every line. That just didn’t work for me. (I haven’t watched West Wing, but based on clips I get the impression the balance might have been much better on that show.) Basically, my thought is that if every character sounds like you, the writer, then you, the writer, aren’t doing a great job of inhabiting and individualizing your characters. (I could be wrong. After all, Aaron Sorkin isn't exactly unsuccessful.)

My next example is Hannibal. If you really focus on the dialogue—the structure and word choice, length of sentences, etc.—you quickly realize that nobody ever talks like that. It’s a very stylistic approach to dialogue, but the characters don’t all speak in the same cadences. Nobody on that show talks like somebody would in real life, but they don’t all talk like Bryan Fuller, either. But the dialogue is so stylized that a lesser cast of actors would have a very hard time pulling it off. This isn’t a criticism. It’s just an observation. In fact, the writing here is so well structured and so well acted that I didn’t even tune in to the overly stylized dialogue until partway into the second season. If you can pull off that kind of charged, carefully weighted dialogue in a piece that is, at its core, genre fiction, then you’ve done something pretty damn impressive. Hats off to you, Mr. Fuller. (And Mads and Hugh and Gillian and everybody else in the cast...)

The next two examples—and they’ll be short—are examples of lack of dialogue. This is something else that’s hard to pull off in a story or a book without relying on POV to carry your narrative, but I think it’d be a great exercise to try just to see what you can tease out of yourself.

Wall-E is a fabulous example here. About the first third of the movie has no dialogue whatsoever, but during that time the film manages to do a lot of heavy lifting, including some major worldbuilding and introduction of two characters with very distinct personalities. We’re able to immediately tune in to the vibe of the world, the story, and the two main characters without either of them saying an intelligible word. Would this be hard to pull off in a book? Sure, but if you try it, I bet you’ll learn a ton about how you structure your stories and whether or not you’re using dialogue as a worldbuilding/characterization crutch.

The second example is Logan, which I saw last night, and which is still burning up my brain because holy crap what a freaking good movie go see it immediately. Without dishing any spoilers, there’s a character in that movie who doesn’t speak a word until about the last third of the film, and yet we’re able to tune in immediately and know exactly what’s up with them from the moment they appear on screen. Everything is projected through body language and interaction with the other characters. Again, hard to pull off in a book? Maybe. But try it. Body language is a difficult thing to convey in narrative, and if you try to present a character using only that tool out of your toolbox, I bet you’ll learn a lot and end up with even more weapons in your arsenal.

I’m going to end this with a quick moment of Blatant Self-Promotion… My latest book, Call Me Zhenya (which has a lot of dialogue because I like dialogue) is on sale for .99 right now at Amazon, so this would be a great time to grab it! I promise you’ll get at least a dollar’s worth of entertainment out of it.

(Thank you for your patience with this quick moment of Blatant Self-Promotion.)

Writing Romance – Starting with a Great Hero

Which came first, the plot or the character? Likely a question as old as fiction writing.

I’m not going to answer this question so you can relax.  But what I am going to say is that, at least for romance novels, readers fall in love with characters.  Not plots.  So where do we start writing a romance.

My opinion is that we start with a hero.

Let me tell you a story.  Years ago, I was driving back to Westcliffe from Pueblo West, along that stretch of Highway 50 that is straight and barren.  I zoned out for a moment.  When I zoned back in, for just an instant I didn’t know where I was.  My “what if” took off and, by the time I got home, I had the beginnings of the plot for True Valor.  More important, though, I had Nic.

What I did in that instance is take a germ of a plot - what if the heroine finds herself behind the wheel of the car, not knowing where she is, how she got there, or even who she is.  She needed a hero.  But what sort of hero?  Nic D’Onofrio is an Air Force PJ (Pararescue Jumper) whose nickname is Batman.  He simply can’t help himself - he HAS to rescue those in trouble.

That was a little side trip.  But let’s get back to what makes a romance hero.

Well, that sorta depends.

Susan May Warren, in her book How to Write a Brilliant Romance, says that first of all, a hero much be NOBLE.  I think she’s right.  I’d add honorable, gallant, virtuous, courageous, valorous.  In my True Heroes series, I used those in the titles of the five books. 

Did you realize, though, that within the romance genre, there are categories of romance heroes?

Author Alicia Rasley breaks down the categories this way.

  • The Alpha Hero
  • The Beta Hero
  • The Delta Hero
  • The Theta Hero.

Jo Beverly adds a Gamma Hero.

And what about the Warrior Poet?

Tami Cowden has these hero archetypes:  Chief, Bad Boy, Best Friend, Charmer, Lost Soul, Professor, Swashbuckler, and Warrior.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s all good.

Laurie King has her list:  the Duke, the Laird, the Golden Boy, the Lone Wolf, the Warrior, the Brain, The Libertine, the Black Sheep, the Sorcerer

The thing to remember here is this: 

Powerful Characters create Powerful Drama. 

So, above all, we want our hero to be a character that catches the imagination of the reader and holds her in place, flipping pages, until that last kiss.

In the next few articles, I’ll go into detail on some of these hero types and what makes them tick.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Feel free to comment.  That will be fun!

Until next month, campers, remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Jax