Meet Robert Stanek

Robert StanekToday I’m pleased to feature Robert Stanek. In 2014, Robert is celebrating his 20th year in publishing and more than 30 years as a writer. Robert finished his first full-length novel in 1986, won his first writing award in 1991, and signed his first book contract in 1994. Since then, he’s gone on to write more than 150 books, which have been read by readers all around the world.

For those who don’t know anything about Robert Stanek or his books, Robert Stanek has dedicated much of his life to supporting his country and the communities he’s lived in. He spent 11 years in the military, along with two combat tours as a combat flyer, and received 29 decorations from his honorable service. He, along with his publishers Reagent Press, Microsoft and O’Reilly Media, regularly contribute to schools, libraries, and communities.

Cards-In-the-Deck-2-smallWhen he went indie in 2001, Robert Stanek was one of the earliest success stories in the ongoing indie movement. Robert Stanek has been a life-long supporter of independent authors, publishers, and bookstores. From 1996 to 2001, he faithfully wrote a quarterly newsletter featuring new and upcoming authors and also created Internet Daily News, Internet Job Center and Writer’s Gallery to support and promote fellow authors. In 2007, he founded Go Indie, Read Indies and Novel Writers, organizations dedicated to supporting aspiring, new and established writers.

As a full-time working writer, Robert Stanek has written an average of five to seven books a year for the past 20 years (http://www.robertstanek.com). As you might imagine, writing takes up just about all of his time, so he doesn’t have much time for doing the things he loves other than writing. The little free time he does have, he spends with his family, reading, or wandering the great outdoors. As an avid outdoorsman and former military man, he’s traveled the world and lived in Asia, Europe, the Pacific and the USA. On his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/robertstanekauthor), he shares pictures and anecdotes with fans and you’ll occasionally find him tweeting on twitter too (http://twitter.com/robertstanek).

It has been a fairly open secret that Robert Stanek is the name of the more familiar bestselling author William Stanek. His full name is, of course, William Robert Stanek. Many of his books have been or currently are top-sellers. He does in fact have over 50 bestsellers to his credit and his books have been translated into 37 languages.

RuinMist-BooksIf you haven’t read Robert Stanek’s books, I hope you’ll do so. Many of his fiction books are set in the fantasy world of Ruin Mist (http://www.ruinmistmovie.com/). As a former linguist and intelligence specialist who has lived in many countries, he’s tried to bring these cultures to the fantastic world he created, and many of the people, places and things in Ruin Mist reflect the ancient peoples and societies of our world. His Ruin Mist books were #1 bestsellers in Amazon’s Audible store for 14 consecutive weeks in 2005. The Ruin Mist books include:

Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #1, 2, 3, 4

In the Service of Dragons #1, 2, 3, 4

Guardians of the Dragon Realms #1, 2

Dragons of the Hundred Worlds #1, 2

A Daughter of Kings #1, 2, 3, 4

devilsDue-CardsInTheDeck1-small In his NSA Spy Thrillers featuring former agent Scott Madison Evers, Robert Stanek masterfully uses his own experiences as an intelligence analyst working with the NSA to create a believable hero you want to cheer for. His spy thrillers include:

The Pieces of the Puzzle
The Cards in the Deck

 

Find Robert Stanek’s books in the Google Play store

https://play.google.com/store/books/author?id=Robert+Stanek

Find Robert Stanek’s books at Barnes & Noble

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/robert-stanek

Find Robert Stanek’s books at Smashwords

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/robertstanek

I’ve gotten to know Robert through an indie writer’s support group he started, and I’ve enjoyed his comments and his wry wit. You all know how I love fantasy, and promoting the indie writers. Over the next few months I will be occasionally introducing indie authors here, and hope that you enjoy meeting them as much I have.

 

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Filed under blogging, Books, Fantasy, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

The Girl With the Tolstoy Tattoo

extra small caricature of connie  by street artist Stacey DentonYour blog is up. The Template is as well laid out as you could make it. You have your books or relevant social media listed in the sidebar. You have the catchiest blog title on the block. Now all you need to do is start blogging!

1. If you are using WordPress CHOOSE A CATEGORY NOW for your post–do it 1st so that you don’t forget to do it. I published this blog in the categories of Blogging, Self Publishing, Books, Fantasy, Literature, Humor, Publishing, and Writing.  Each blog post may have a different category. If you should forget to choose the category, it will go into the ‘uncategorized’ pile–the dreaded WordPress slush pile where blogs go to die.

Also in WordPress, chose a few TAGS now so that you do not forget to tag the post. That button is below the Categories list. Chose tags that most represent the core of your post, so that searcher for that subject will find it. For this post I am using ‘Blogging, Writing, Self Publishing, Humor, WordPress, Blogger’.   Also, ‘The Girl With the Tolstoy Tattoo.”

blogging 1.1

If you are using Blogger, PICK YOUR LABELS NOW–Blogger doesn’t use categories, so your labels are very important. On the right hand side, click on ‘LABELS’ and simply type your key words into the BOX, separated by commas. In Blogger, LABELS are what TAGS are in WordPress, so use words that are the core of what you are blogging about so that interested searcher will find your blog:

blogging 2.1

Now that you have that out-of-the-way, it’s time to blog!

2. Hook me with that catchy blog post title!  Today’s post is called “The Girl With the Tolstoy Tattoo” — for a multitude of reasons. I have a tattoo (it’s not Tolstoy) but we are all struggling authors, even those of us who blog on the most random subjects. And if you are ever at a writer’s convention, there is no better icebreaker in the autograph line than to offer to show Tad Williams your Tolstoy tattoo. (If you have one, and if you are insane.) (Be sure to add ‘Tad Williams’ to the Tags or Labels for that post.)

3. Put that catchy title in the White box at the top of the page:blogging 3.1

Now there are two paths for you.   You can wing it, keying directly into the Post box as I am doing now, or you can write it on a WORD document and copy and paste it into the body of the post.  I don’t do that often, because word is rife with HINKY FORMATTING that screws up your blog posts for both Blogger and WordPress, and then you have to use the handy “REMOVE FORMATTING” button that is located in the ribbon (tool box) of both Blogger and WordPress:

blogging 3.2

blogging 3.3

Both Blogger and WordPress have spell check functions, and both will save at times as you go, but as in everything, it is up to you to click “SAVE DRAFT” and save your work fairly frequently.

Play around with it. Practice uploading images and inserting them, playing with it until you feel comfortable and know how to ensure the image will appear where you want it, and will be the size you want it to be:

In WordPress, place your cursor in the body of the blog post and click once at the spot where you will want the image. Then scroll up to the left side of the ribbon (tool box) and click on “ADD MEDIA.” This menu will appear:

 

blogging 4.1

If this is your first blog post, you won’t have anything in your media library yet, so Click on “Upload Files.” Select the image you want to post,  then check your alignment, i.e. left, right, or center. Adjust your size options to fit your need for the image in that post (those requirements vary from post to post.) Then click ‘INSERT INTO POST.”

blogging 5.1

 

In Blogger you click on the little Picture in the ribbon (when you hover your mouse over it, it will say ‘insert image’). A pop-up menu will appear, and then you will upload the image, decide the placement and the size.  This nearly foolproof simplicity is why most people who have “never done this before” like Blogger.

blogging 6.1

 

Now your picture of your Tolstoy tattoo is right there, illustrating your hilarious post where you discuss why getting that tattoo while drinking vodka shots at the “Fans of Great Russian  Authors” convention wasn’t as good an idea as it seemed at the time, and that maybe the T-Shirt would have been a better investment.

leo_tolstoy_t_shirt-r207720cff4e14b059c7bba5cdb41c6c9_804gs_512 from Zazzle

 

All you have to do now is post your links to Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler and all other  social media you can think of and Voilà! You are a blogger. Do this regularly, and you will build up a following, and you will develop credibility as an author. Your name will be searchable on Google and Bing, and all other search engines.

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Filed under Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, WordPress, writer, writing

Blogger for the Beginner

science of relationships dot comLife in the Realm of Fantasy’ is a WordPress blog, i.e. I use WordPress, a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.  This means that with very few skills,  I can post a decent blog at no cost to me, using the fine tools and templates provided by the wonderful people at WordPress.

The thing that is so awesome about it is that it is in what my husband the programmer calls ‘wysiwyg’ (pronounced wizzy-wig) or ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ so the user does not have to know any programming or coding–all that is done for you already, and you just organize it the way you want it, within certain limitations.

wordpress logoI really enjoy WordPress, and have become quite fluent in it.  But what other free and open-source content management systems are out there?  Well, I just happen to have a weekly book review blog hosted by a Google company, called Blogspot. Their tools are called Blogger, and I have become fairly adept at using that particular system too, and while it’s not as versatile as WordPress, I like it a lot.  A friend of mine is new to Blogger and had some questions so I thought this would be a good topic for this blog.

First you sign up for a Google account. Then go to  https://www.blogger.com/features and click on the orange button at the top right.

blogger screen 1

 

Then you select the URL, or place your blog will forever be found on web searches by.

My Blogger blog, Best in Fantasy, is located at: http://bestinfantasy.blogspot.com

So if you are an author, use your author name as the URL. This WordPress blog is my author blog, so it is http://conniejjasperson.wordpress.com.

I also have a blogger address, http://conniejjasperson.blogspot.com.  That takes readers to another book blog, Billy’s Revenge, which showcases Huw the Bard and all things pertaining to Billy’s Revenge in the world of Waldeyn. A third blogger blog is http://neveyah.blogspot.com , which is the Tower of Bones showcase.

Whenever you are logged out of blogger, you can access your blog by going to the top right hand corner of your gmail mailbox and clicking the little group of squares up on the right hand side–the apps icon:

apps icon

This will open a menu filled with icons for every Google app like YouTube, or the calendar. Down at the bottom under ‘more’ will be the Blogger icon. Click on that and you will go to your blogger page:

blogger icon

 

Once you have your URL selected, you can move on to building your blog. We start with choosing a template.  This is a lot of fun,  I think. Click on the orange “Customize” button.

Blogger screen 2

You will come to a screen with many options, and I suggest you just start at the top of the menu where it says template, and begin playing around with it, until you find the look and style you like best. You will be able to see most of your changes in the area below the Template Designer.  I pretty much keep the template simple, just because it is easier for people to read it when it is simple.

Blogger screen 3

 

Once you have decided on that catchy title for your blog, and have figured out the color of your fonts and background are all organized, decide the layout. You can make it one column with no sidebar, or with one or two side bars. Sidebars are good places for advertising your books and book trailers, along with many other things you want to share with the world, such as blogs that you follow, and gives a place for those who wish to follow your blog a place to sign up. The trick with sidebars is to keep them from junking up the blog, which I have a tendency to do.

Any way, once that is done click “Apply to Blog” in the upper right-hand corner. This should take you back to the Blogger page, where you will look in the menu on the left and click on the “Layout” button, just above the orange Template button. this will take you to the part where you REALLY customize the look of your blog.

Blogger screen 11

 

On the right hand side (yours may be different, depending on how you chose to display sidebars) click on add a gadget:

Blogger screen 10

This will open a menu that contains 28 ‘gadgets’ you can choose from to add to your blog. (In  WordPress they are called ‘widgets’ but they do the same thing.) These will  dress it up and help gain visibility:

1. A – g+ button (very important)

There are a lot of things, from images to ways to add html code for embedding videos and things.  In that regard, Blogger has a one-up on WordPress, because it is  difficult to embed videos, if not impossible on template I am using, which is free–at least I’ve never found a successful way to do so. I just post the links here on this blog and hope for the best, because so far I have been unable to get any code to work. THAT is why many people prefer Blogger to WordPress, despite the fact that WordPress offers so many more templates and options.

I suggest you take some time to play around with arrangements. You can click the save arrangement icon in the upper right hand corner, and then preview it, but if you accidentally hit publish, no worries– because until you add content and tell folks its out there, no one will see your mistakes. Take as long as you need to get comfortable with the system, and remember that anything you don’t like can be undone.

My next post will conclude the series on ‘Blogger”, detailing how to make your post, tricks to fine tune your layout, and get the word out that you are blogging. I will also have several posts on what I have discovered about WordPress. Authors should blog even if at first they have few followers, because the act of blogging is writing on the wing–and we must write every day or we are not really serious about the craft.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Literature, Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

Hawking Your Wares

Early hot dog merchant,  1936 by Berenice Abbott courtesy EphemeralNewYork.wordpress.com

Early hot dog merchant, 1936 by Berenice Abbott courtesy http://EphemeralNewYork.wordpress.com

Yay! It’s official, I’m an author now!  I wrote a book or four, I had them edited, I covered them, and I had them published.  Now all I have to is sell enough of the darned things and that Hugo award is mine!

So how do we go about that?  There is the tiny problem of that old “getting your name out there” thing…I stink at that.

Roy Huff, author of the Everville series, regularly uses Goodreads to publicize his work. All his Goodreads connections received emails last week like this:

EVERVILLE Roy HuffRoy has modified the event Everville (#3) TheRiseofMallory 99 cent promo begins Midnight Pacific The First Pillar FREE KINDLE PROMO starts in 12 hours.
Date: April 14, 2014 04:22AM

Description: A new promo has begun. You can join that promo here https://www.goodreads.com/event/show/… feel free to invite others to join. Details are below as well. Thanks so much!

FREE KINDLE PROMO April 15 to April 18th for Everville The First Pillar http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BCOQSSQ
FREE KINDLE PROMO April 19 to April 22th for Everville The City of Worms [InD'Tale Magazine's Creme de la Cover March Winner] http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EQZ5T2E

99 CENT KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL April 15 to April 21th for Everville The Rise of Mallory http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HYN 3NXC

Stay tuned on Facebook @http://on.fb.me/1ni21BT
Stay tuned on Twitter @evervillefans 

Well, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a good promotion to me, and I will be quite interested to see how well things go for him with it. Roy has a lot of connections on Goodreads, and he puts a lot of energy into promoting his work, so maybe he will do well. He has given me something to think about, in regard to the whole giveaway thing. One reason I made Tales From the Dreamtime, which is a novella, into the first of my audiobooks was the hope that it would generate some recognition for my brand, which if you remember, is my Author Name.

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inAnother author friend, Stephen Swartz, is promoting his works too. Today is Tax Day in the US, so he is running a twitter campaign:

4/15 TAX DAY SPECIAL! 2 Books! 2 Bucks! ‪#‎Kindle‬ ‪#‎romance‬ 
‪#‎AFTERILIUM‬  http://bit.ly/AfterIlium_US
‪#‎ABEAUTIFULCHILL‬  http://bit.ly/BeautifulChill_US

He didn’t know if Amazon UK will honor the discount, but here are the UK links:

AFTER ILIUM kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009SDW1KC
A BEAUTIFUL CHILL kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

I will also find out from him how well that went.

So, I am going to continue the way I have been, promoting via twitter. I have paid for a Goodreads ad for Huw the Bard, for the next two weeks or so and will let you know how well that went. I will also try the Goodreads promotion route in May, and will keep you posted on that.

 

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, writer, writing

The Eye of the Beholder

finalfantasy12_ps2box_usa_org_000boxart_160wSigh. I read a lot of indie books. I’ve said this before, but I read or at least crack open around 6 books a week. It never fails–just when I am really enjoying reading a book, something comes along to yank me out of it. Like an asteroid landing in the backyard or squirrels taunting the dog–it’s always some darned thing.

Unfortunate phrasings that yank me out of a book:

“She lay there staring with her creamy blue eyes, water pooling in the corners.”

“Her eyes were the same color as the deep purple velvet drapes.”

VAYNE final-fantasy-xii_305674Meh.  Enough about their eyes already. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be told what to think when I am reading a book. The fact is, what I consider beauty is not necessarily beautiful to someone else.   So how do you describe a character in such a way that the reader will find them as attractive as you want them to be?

I think a loose, general description will solve the problem, and give the reader the framework to build their mental image around.  In my TOWER OF BONES series, the men in Edwin’s family have this sort of cachet that makes them irresistible to all women. It is the Goddess Aeos’s way of ensuring that the girl she has selected for them  falls in love with them, and their bloodline is continued.

final-fantasy-guys-xii-basch_255851But what do they look like?  Well, they are blond, blue-eyed, and  well-built, muscular from working on their farm. To men they seem rather average, nothing spectacular. They aren’t the best looking man in town, so what is this charisma they seem to have?

To women, they are an irresistible banquet of masculine  pheromones.  This creates many opportunities for mayhem, and I have had a lot of fun with that  particular plot-line, especially in my current work in progress,  Mountains of the Moon.

For my other characters in various books–Christoph Berryman is dark, with short black hair and elfin features. Julian Lackland is blond, handsome, the image of the knight in shining armor. Huw the Bard is dark, blue-eyed with black curling hair. Friedr Freysson is tall, with long curling red hair and a beard. Aeolyn is small, with dark hair worn in plaits that she coils around her head like a crown.

Final-Fantasy-XII-Balthier-final-fantasy-12-3118596-540-1200This is as descriptive as I get, because I want the reader to imagine the characters’ beauty and magnetism in the way that is most appealing to them.

Because I am a romantic at heart, ALL my characters are exceedingly good-looking in their own different ways. I just don’t want to beat the reader over the head with my personal vision, other than the general description to cement them in place.

In many ways, my mental images of my characters are drawn from the many wonderful characters in the epic Final Fantasy series of games, which these images are also from. I love the fabulous art work that Square-Enix, the makers of these games put into their characters, making them a blend of the best of all we are as humans.  Since a great deal of my time has been spent playing these games, It stands to reason a certain amount of that kind of storytelling will creep into my work.

And this is the way it is for every author–your vision is definitely not what your readers see, and to force them to see what you do ruins the flow of the tale. A good general description, with hints or comments about their beauty or lack thereof is all that is needed. The reader’s mind will supply the rest.

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The 2nd Draft—Part 2, The Last 5 Hurdles

CC_No_06_A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesIn your first draft, the rough draft, you have the basic story down. Once it is finished, and you have let it rest in a dark closet, out of sight and out of mind for a month or more, only then will you pull it out and feel fired up about it once again.

This is where we’ll mend those plot-holes and narrative gaffes that we couldn’t see when we were in the throes of the writing frenzy.

The previous post covered items one through five, and can be found here: Part 1, The First 5 Speedbumps.

So now, we continue working on the second draft of our manuscript, with roadblocks six through ten:

  1. Too Much Description (my own particular bugaboo–I love words)

Take this quote from the ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ the classic novel by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Though it is beautiful writing, and in my opinion, perfect–it would never fly today. In prose as in clothing, fashions come and go, even in fiction. Readers once liked flowery description and even demanded them. People took the time to read a story, and were in love with words. And while some readers, like me, still love this style of poetic description, most readers aren’t so patient. It is sad, but modern editors and publishers don’t want to see this sort of work in their submissions pile.

One of the things that is drummed into us in our writing forums and groups, is that modern readers have no attention span and want action from the first page, the first paragraph. They want it from the first word and they don’t want pretty and descriptive prose unless they are into literature as opposed to modern action-adventure style novels. Therefore, go easy on the descriptions. Use them sparingly as if you were seasoning a good meal. A little bit goes a long way if you are writing modern genre fiction.

The wrong way to slip  in a lengthy description is to use a phrase like: “He felt his eyes roll over his host’s attire”  and then follow it with a paragraph describing the host.

That unfortunately phrased line is from an indie book that I am trying with all my heart to read right now in order to review it, but I’m not sure I can finish it, if this is what I have to look forward to. The thing is, I write goofy stuff like that in my first drafts, too. I try to eliminate them in the second, because if I don’t catch them first, my editors will beat me with them! So for the sake of my bruised ego, I try to slip descriptions in less obvious ways, with no clumsy lead in that announces a lengthy exposition is forthcoming.

Descriptions must be part of the background, so the reader doesn’t notice them, and the second draft is where you weed out narrative boo-boos.

Easter_Bunny_Postcard_19077. Head Hopping (Oh yeah–guilty as charged!)

I love that term! It makes me think of the Easter Bunny! However, head hopping creates confusion. One important rule of good novel technique is to restrict each scene to one character’s point of view (POV). This strategy puts the reader in the character’s skin for a more immersive experience.

For me, writing love scenes is particularly tricky. First you are in her head making sure you have all that down, and then you are in his head, and –oh, the agony of whiplash!

Few things are more distracting for the reader than being in Adam’s head for the first paragraph and then being suddenly yanked into Eve’s head two paragraphs later.

In our first draft when we are just getting the story down we are all guilty of this, and so it is very important when we are working on the second draft that we are mindful of whose head we are supposed to be in, and we must make sure we stay there.

Head hopping turns a book into a tennis match. In each story, there are times when we write from different character’s point of view, but it’s important to remember to shift that POV only at the beginning of a new scene or chapter, and here in the second draft is where we make sure that is done properly.

This is a particularly difficult thing for me, because I want to write EVERY character’s POV all the time!

In the “The Mists of Avalon” Marion Zimmer Bradley handles that POV switch perfectly. One chapter is told from Morgaine’s point of view in the first person as the narrator, and in the next chapter  the author tells the story using the third person omniscient voice.

 

hook-movie-poster-1991-10101960168. A Slow Beginning (I’m sorry! I’ll never do it again!)

We are always told that good novels, even those not considered suspense, should begin with a clear dramatic hook, a story problem big enough to entangle the main character and promise struggle from the opening pages to the ending’s resolution.

Sometimes beginning writers spend too many opening pages or chapters showing normal life and wait too long to start the story. In some ways this is how info dumps happen.

My very first novel that I started writing in 1993 began with an info dump that went on for the entire first chapter. I had no understanding of the importance of beginning with an intriguing, active first page, and sustaining the rhythm of conflict-resolution-conflict throughout the novel.  This was a bad habit I carried though many of my novels until I was fortunate enough to fall in with a good writing group. Dramatic hooks are good and need to be plentiful, particularly at the ends of scenes and chapters.

 

Ulysses9. Long Speeches

Sometimes beginning novelists have characters speak in lo-o-o-o-o-ng stretches, seemingly without pausing for a breath. James Joyce in his novel,  Ulysses, enters the head of Molly, in the final chapter spewing an internal dialogue that runs on for more than 24,000 words with only ONE punctuation mark. The final paragraph of the book goes like this:

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t take too much of Ulysses in college no matter how often our young, rather arrogant professor assured us that a thorough understanding of this book would educate our literary palates.

We are constantly admonished that it is crucial to keep paragraphs short and eliminate long character speeches, in order to keep the attention of your readers. Many gurus who are hosting writing seminars these days seem to have a poor opinion of our readers, implying they have limited intellects. I disagree wholeheartedly–I believe modern readers are extremely savvy and intellectual, but they are pressed for time and we have created an entertainment culture that delivers instant gratification, and now readers expect it too.

There is a rhythm to storytelling—each scene leads to a new struggle for the protagonist, to  either an accomplishment or loss of some kind, and then to new goals, always building toward the completion of the core challenge facing the characters.

Some writing coaches have likened this technique to how a skater moves across the ice. Push—glide. Push—glide.

 


10. A Novel Lacking Overall Direction

Successful novels must present several important ingredients:

  1. A beginning with a bang, some major action or conflict
  2. Characters readers care about, people who immediately strike a chord with the reader.
  3. A big problem that needs fixing, and only your hero can do this.
  4. A conflict-riddled struggle that nearly defeats your hero.
  5. The successful conclusion to the conflict that  winds everything up, even if it is supposed to be the first book in a series.
  6. An ending that leaves the reader glad they read the novel, and wondering what happened afterward.

you've been warnedBeginning novelists often fail to do the necessary pre-planning to make these ingredients work together. They think they can just plunk into the chair and start writing—and a wonderful novel will magically appear. Some seasoned authors may write this way, as James Patterson seems able to do,  but most of us can’t, and it shows clearly when the reader downloads the book.

Good, strong, characters must have incremental goals that complement the story, and the story must move along with conflict, drama, action, and emotion.

Once we have completed the second draft, we set the manuscript aside for several more months and work on something else. Then, after once again gaining a bit of perspective on it, we begin the process of rewriting and formatting it for submission to an editor. We use these same guidelines when we make our final revisions before sending it off to our prospective editor, because despite our best efforts, we have missed a lot of rather obvious bloopers, and I’m not just talking about typos.

You will find that when the editor has her hands on your precious manuscript, that is when the real work begins.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

10 Things to Do—Part 1, The First 5 Speedbumps

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There are things that happen in the natural course of writing the first draft that make it painful for people to read. DO NOT SHOW IT TO YOUR ADORING FANS JUST YET. This really is NOT the time to ask for feedback unless you want to be lied to. They will look at you with a possum-in-the-headlights smile, and say “Wow…this is really…nice.”

What they really are thinking is, “Holy s**t. This disjointed, hokey mess sucks.” That friend will poke needles in their eyes before they read another piece of your work again.

Just sayin’.

But even though the first draft is always stinkaroo, don’t try to edit as you write because it interferes with your creative processes and blocks the flow of ideas. While you’re writing the first draft these bloopers should be allowed to just fall where they may, because you just need to get the ideas down.  You will reshape them in the 2nd draft. So, today I’m posting the first half of a two-part series on 10 Things to Do in the second draft of your manuscript.

Before you do anything, just put it to one side. Forget about it for a while.

A month or so later, after you have gained a different perspective is when you begin to look for these problems.  Fine tuning and rephrasing will settle most of them, and a good flamethrower will take care of the rest!

First we will look at:

800px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Temporary_Sign_-_Detour.svg1. The Info Dump (my personal failing)

Often new authors feel they need to dump a lot of back story at a novel’s beginning before readers will understand the main story. I did this in my first novel, and I have regretted it ever since! It seems like logical thinking: “Before you get this, you need to know this.” But the problem was, I gave the info dump in the first five pages.  Those are the pages that acquisition editors look at and decide whether or not to continue reading the submission. For those of us planning to go the indie route, those pages are also the pages the prospective buyer sees in the “look inside” option on Amazon dot com.

While back story is important for character and plot building, too much outright “telling” freezes the real-time story in its tracks. And for modern genre fiction, beginnings must be active—they need to move.

Here is the opening paragraph of my next novel in the Tower of Bones series, Mountains of the Moon. It is a prequel to the first two novels, and this is the way it currently reads in its second draft stage. It may be changed once the editor gets her hands on it, but right now this is how it stands with the info dump removed:

Wynn Farmer discovered his old boots had holes worn in the soles when he heard the soft, squishing sound, perfectly in sync with every step he took. If he’d known he would be dropped into some strange world when he left the house, he might have planned ahead a little better and slipped some new cardboard into his boots, just until he could get them resoled. Now he trudged along a faint path through a dark, eerie prairie with wet feet, shivering in the cold, misty rain and completely lost.

In the second draft we alter the original words we wrote, subtly slipping little details into the narrative while showing the real-time story, and doing it in such a way that it is part of the action and the dialogue, fading into the background.  The reader will understand what you are showing them without feeling bludgeoned by it.

 

nausea42. Telling Instead of Showing in Prose (heh, heh–my own personal failing)

In the rush of the first draft, of getting all our thoughts about the storyline down, sometime our minds go faster than we can write. We use a kind of ‘mental shorthand’ and write things such as:

Erving was furious.

Martha was discouraged.

These are really just notes telling us what direction this tale is supposed to go. Modern readers don’t want to be told how the characters felt—they want to see. When you come across this in a novel, it is clear the author has published a first draft.

Thus, when you come across this in your first draft, now is the time to follow those road signs and expand on the scene a little. Instead of telling the reader that Martha was furious, you will show this emotion.

Martha stamped her foot, and clenched her fists.

Erving’s body shook with rage, and his face went white.

Show the reader the emotions. It adds word count, but you will also be taking word count away in other places in the manuscript as you go along.

 

cover_art_Billy_39_s_Revenge3. Using Dialogue to Tell, Not Show (oh yeah–my personal failing)

“I’m simply not going to do it,” Vivian hissed. (Reader: “What, is she a snake?”)

“Why, oh why, did I ever trust her?” Greg said dejectedly. (Reader: “Aw, that’s sad. Boring!”) (Closes book.)

Please, OH please, avoid attaching adverbs ending in “ly” to speech tags. They are the devil!

If you want to convey an attitude in dialogue, the words themselves should communicate it.  Greg’s words already communicate dejection. If you need more, add a line of action:

In low tones, Vivian said, “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that.” She turned and walked away.

Greg threw up his hands. “Why did I trust her?”

This gives readers the opportunity to see for themselves the scene you painted with words.

 

4. A Lack of Contractions in Dialogue (Wait–this is my personal failing too!  What’s going on here?)

“Arrabelle, I do not want you to leave me!”

This is one of the worst NaNoWriMo manuscript flaws BECAUSE when we are in the midst of November, we are desperate for word count. “Don’t use contractions” is one of the prime directives of Chris Baty’s  “No Plot? No Problem” and if word-count is all you are in the game for, then fine.  However, IF you ever intend to publish your work you should use contractions in dialogue. Depending on the type of story you are writing, you may want to use them elsewhere, if that is the style of your work.

This problem may also be a throwback to those days in your high school English class, when teachers deducted points for the use of contractions in term papers. But contractions are effective at conveying realistic speech.

You want dialogue to sound natural? Use contractions.

 

Dialogue Tags © cjjasp 20145. Too Many Speech Tags in Dialogue (Hey–I have that problem too! What the heck…?)

“Jake, are you okay?”  Vaia wailed.

 “Of course I’m all right,” Jake groaned. “What a silly question.”

 “But your arm,” Vaia said. “I thought maybe you…well, the way you’re holding it…I guess I thought—”

 “You thought I’d injured it,” Jake said.

 “Well…yes,” Vaia said.

Especially when only two characters are talking, readers should be able to keep track of speaker ID with ease. In those situations, speech tags are rarely, if ever, needed. In fact, doing away with tags entirely, unless they are absolutely necessary, is frequently suggested to be a great strategy, although I don’t go that far. Instead of using a speech tag, insert a burst of action before or after a line of dialogue that identifies the speaker and lends opportunities to deepen character chemistry, conflict, and emotions.

Vaia felt something trickling down her cheek. She wiped it, and her hand came away with blood. Jake was pale, and held his arm at a strange angle. “Jake, are you okay?”

 “Of course I’m all right. I’m always all right.”

 She reached toward his shoulder, toward the torn shirt—but something held her back. “But your arm. I thought maybe ….”

 “I’m hurt, but I think it’s fine. You thought maybe I had broken it.” He willed her to admit that she cared.

 The intensity of his gaze forced her to look away. “Well…. I did think that. Can you still fight?” 

Trade in empty speech tags for emotion-infused writing that can do so much more. HOWEVER—Remember that the reader needs to have clear direction as to who is speaking to whom, otherwise you will lose the reader. And I do recommend you don’t get too creative with them.  Said, replied–those are usually all that is required. If you throw in hissed, or moaned, once in a great while for specific circumstances, fine, but not too much please. It’s too distracting for me as a reader.  I close that book and move on to the next when the  characters do too much hissing and moaning. Just sayin’.

This covers the first 5 things to look for in your second draft. Items 6 through 10 will be covered on Wednesday!

 


 

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