Tag Archives: writing

You Need Critique

By Lesley L. Smith

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

There's a stereotype of the writer hammering away on her typewriter late into the night in a cold lonely garret in Paris. Okay, nowadays, she's stereotypically hammering on her computer keyboard. Maybe she's wearing those gloves with the fingertips missing. Maybe she's drinking bourbon or scotch or rye. In pretty much every scenario, however, she's writing alone. That part of the stereotype is true. (Why can't it be the Paris part?) Generally, writers write alone. That's why we need feedback. We need someone else to put his or her eyes on the page and tell us if what we've written makes sense (and to warn us about wandering body parts). Another word for feedback is critique.

Like many of you, I've been writing a long time. It wasn't until I became a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) and joined a critique group that my writing really started to improve. It's hard to see our own work objectively. Getting input from your significant other, your BFF, or your mom is not the same thing as getting input from another writer. Your friends support you by saying nice things. Your fellow writers support you by critiquing your work.

There are many reasons to join a critique group:

  • Get feedback on your writing. Find out what works and what doesn't work in your own pieces. Learn about the mechanics of writing. Learn about the art of writing.
  • Get to know other writers. Be part of the writing community. Help other writers become better writers.
  • Experience those "Ah ha!" moments. When you have to stop and think and explain to another writer why something works or doesn't work it often leads to an increased understanding about writing.
  • Meet writing deadlines. If I'm being honest, usually the only reason I finish my pages for the week is because they're due at critique group.
  • Your reason here. There are almost as many reasons to go to critique group as there are writers. Please share in the comments.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses. Sometimes you go to a critique group and it's not a good fit. But, if this is the case, there's an easy fix: leave the group and find another group.

Another thing to keep is mind is you don't have to change your work because of critique, it's your work, after all. Listen, consider, and then, do what you want.

How can you find this wonderful thing called critique?

  • Many local libraries and bookstores have critique groups.
  • There are a lot of critique groups online these days (search for "online writers critique groups"). Also check out Meet-ups.
  • I've met critique partners at local writers workshops and conferences.
  • Many local Writers Groups have critique groups. For example, RMFW has an entire critique webpage, including critique guidelines and listings of critique groups in the Denver metro area and online.

Please ask your questions about critique and critique groups in the comments.

Finally, I couldn't write a post about critique without including a shout-out to my many critique partners over the years. There have been a lot--and, no, I'm not reading anything into that. :) Thank you for all your help! Thank you Rebecca, Grayson, Jamie, Adrianne, Donna, John, Jim, Mary, Emily, Deb, Mike, Susan, Joseph, Monica, Barb, Nancy, Judy, Zuzana, Jill, Jordan, Dave, Betsy, Renata, Georgia and all the rest. I sincerely appreciate your help, support and insight! Maybe we should have our next meeting in Paris?

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

Lesley L. Smith has an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and her short
fiction has been published in various venues. She's an active member of
the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction
Writers. You can find her on the web at www.lesleylsmith.com.

Do You Need To Warm-Up Your Writing?

By Colleen Oakes

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The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours.  In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write.  Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words.  At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.

It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.

So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?

I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to.  To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life."  Instead, let's compare it to vocal music.  When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up.  A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument.  If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time.  More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.

So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?

Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts? 

Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences? 

Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"

Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?

Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration? 

If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.

First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness.  Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning.  Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy.  You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on.  Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend.  What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write."  By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them.  And don't worry about quality  -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing.  Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing.   Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.

How long should you warm up?  I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels.  I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out."  Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up.  Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft.  Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.

Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift.  Step out on the stage and wow us.

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Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.


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.

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.

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.

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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Do Yer Own Thing

Xmas TreeBy Katriena Knights

Over the holidays, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems like we get inundated with messages about how we “should” celebrate the holidays. What you’re supposed to eat, how you’re supposed to decorate, who you’re supposed to invite where—it gets overwhelming.

A few years ago, I realized Christmas was getting far too stressful for me, mostly because putting up the tree was so time-consuming, and the tree itself took up so much room. So we went out and bought a 3-foot-high, purple, pre-lit tree. My daughter decorates it every year with pictures from whatever fannish thing she’s into that year. This year it’s a Sleepy Hollow tree, and instead of regular Christmas lights, we have jack-o’-lantern lights hung among the stockings. We’ve had a Luigi tree, a Teen Wolf tree, and an Assassins’ Creed tree.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided to mix things up with that holiday, as well. My kids took a vote on what we wanted to eat and discovered nobody really likes turkey. So we had tacos for lunch, then for dinner we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with corn, and green bean casserole.

What’s the point of this, other than that my family is weird? Well, I often find myself similarly overwhelmed with what I “should” be doing with my writing career (and even more overwhelmed sometimes with what I “shouldn’t” be doing). With all these differing voices, I end up chasing other people’s ideas, following other people’s advice, and never quite focusing on what I want from my writing.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to apply my holiday strategy to my relationship with the publishing industry. If the “experts” say I should be eating turkey, I’m going to stop and think really hard about whether I really want to eat turkey. If I’ve got a major jones for a drumstick, then fine—I’ll grab me some drumstick. But if it feels like the right thing to do, I’m going to have tacos instead.

This is my last monthly post for the RMFW blog. I want to thank everybody who’s read my posts for the last year or so. It’s been super fun, but I’m going to focus on my own blog for a while and see if I can’t blow some of the dust out of its nooks and crannies, as it’s been pretty neglected lately. I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season, followed by a new year overflowing with successes and a career direction that feels right for you—even if it means your Christmas tree is full of Abbybod fan art.

Writing Through The Dark Times

By Robin D. Owens.

I reached the end of a book in a long series I love and found a note that the series, which the author had anticipated writing for years, had abruptly ended. She'd had a major upheaval in her life and couldn't overcome her new circumstances to reach back into the core happiness and central theme of that series and continue.

This is an epublished author and series and she designs her career. Of course, I empathized, and I'm deeply sorry that she's going through this, and I will darn well miss that series.

I know she's crafting a new life, but I think she is making a career mistake.

I've seen the promo for the new series she's writing under another name and I don't think the majority of her readers will follow her to it. Or if they do, the first book will have to be so EXTRAORDINARY, the characters so completely engaging that she'll pull her readers along, and that's a tough job. And I think her new genre is too niche to attract more than a few new readers.

Now I know something about the above. I know about writing a niche series. I know about readers following you (or not) to other series. I know about being the sole support of yourself and your family with your writing. I know about a train wreck happening in your life that changes it into a shape you'd barely imagined.

For me, in 2010, I hung onto my series (and I do write lighter, more humorous stories and that was a concern) and added a collection of stories to what I'd already contracted for.

And there is the big difference. I was contracted for more books in the two series I was writing at the time. I didn't have the luxury of walking away from them without paying back money that was mostly spent and thrashing around in legal complications.

I had to reach into myself and still pull up what I needed to continue those books, and hope that what I found inside would be sufficiently close to what my readers expected.

I'm sure if someone really analyzed my writing before and after April 2010, you'd see it's changed, perhaps gotten an edge here or there it didn't have. But one of my series, the Celta "Heart" books (all the stories have "Heart" in the title) is still continuing. The other series, Mystic Circle for Luna did not, but due more to the publisher and the changing face of publishing than my personal angst.

If I presumed to give advice to this writer (who I believe is much more successful than me), I'd tell her: fake it until you make it. Or perhaps that's not quite an exact a phrase: wring out what you can minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and string it into a story.

Yes, writing is an emotional experience, based on inner feelings. But writing is also technique, and writers CAN be professional and carry on, especially if you have no choice.

Like I said before, you find that spot, that core of you that you reveal in bits through every story and you hang on tight to that and go there and mine it.

You also do exactly what you do during the darkISH times – the tough times we all have learned to write through. You use those processes you already have in place that work for you such as journaling (Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), venting to friends, afternoons away (Artist Dates), rearranging your office or going to somewhere else to write. You use everything to keep on track.

You also depend on your beta readers and critique group to see if the technique and the emotion you can put in will carry you through as you limp, then return to your stride.

With this particular writer, I think that she will find she has to go back to her previous series, first because it is a money maker, then because she loves/loved it too, and she can. And I think she will try shorter pieces first with enough of the emotional resonance of her first series until she can return. Her writing may be different, but perhaps not as much as she anticipates. Time helps.

Now, that's emotional darkness. What about LITERAL darkness? In these short days of winter light, writing can be a problem. I know it is for me. As I learned through research for my Summoning series, Denver has an average of three hundred days of sunshine a year. I have trouble writing when it's gray. Gray days are for snuggling and reading.

Personally (and I don't know the facts), this November and December have seemed grayer for me, and I've struggled, but, again, I have procedures in place and have instituted new ones. These work for me: a full spectrum light on my desk; taking a walk in the sunshine if/when it appears and if it doesn't taking a walk in the gray; writing with friends: online in a war room, sprints on twitter, and in person.

Or grab yourself some strong coffee (or tea), some music that will put you in the mood, and just march forward word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

May all your writing dreams come true and may next year be even better than this year!

Robin