Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Talk with Lynda: Special Guest Brandon Ax


Hey, everyone! Today marks the beginning of something special, and I’m glad you’re here to share it. Back in the day when free time was in abundance (about three or four years ago), S.K. Anthony and I used to get together for coffee on a weekly basis and talk about all kinds of things bookish. Pure intellectual stuff, it was. Or something like that.

[Side note: If you ever have time—and brain cells—to kill, check out my Coffee Chat tab. But start at the beginning or it will never make any sense. Um . . . and starting with the first one doesn’t actually guarantee the subsequent ones will make sense, but it helps.]

Here I was, missing the days when S.K. used to break into my house (before she had her own key made), take over my kitchen, and chat with me awhile about everything relating to writing and reading. So I decided to invite someone over today to talk about book stuff. I thought about who would be too polite to say no, and chose Brandon Ax because he’s from the South, and we all know how polite southerners are. Right? Not only did he say yes (I knew it!) but he just so happens to have a new book coming out in a few days, so I won’t have to pull out my 3x5 index cards of Conversation Starters for Awkward Moments.

[Heads toward the kitchen.] Hmm . . . he’s actually waiting outside the door. How odd. I guess I’ll have to get used to guests waiting for me to let them into my house.

L: [Opens door to let him in.] Hey, Brandon! Welcome to the very first Book Talk with Lynda. Make yourself comfy and I’ll grab you a cup of coffee.

B: [Walks in and takes a seat at the table.] Oh thanks! Actually a glass of water would be great.

L: [Pours cup of coffee and plops it down in front of him.] Here you go! Drink up; I made plenty.

B: Um . . . thanks.

L: So hey, I’m pretty excited that the third book in your Light Bringer series is coming out on Monday. I’ve actually read it and I’m still excited because that means it’s official, and everyone else can enjoy it too. Are you feeling any sadness at saying goodbye to the characters?

B: [Nudges the coffee cup around.] There is a bit of sadness. Although who knows what the future holds. They have been a part of my life for so long I don’t know that I can truly stop telling stories about them. However, I am really excited about the things I am working on now. [Waits for Lynda to turn her attention to the oven, where something smells wonderful, and promptly pours coffee in the cat’s dish.]

L: I’m excited about homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast! They go so well with the coffee, and they’ll cheer up your sadness. [Hands over full plate.] So of course I have my favorite characters—seriously, Zander is my fave—but I loved the addition of new characters in Light Bringer. Some of them, I wanted to punch, but I’m sure you may have felt the same way. Have you ever had a bad-guy character where you were like, “Ooooooh, if you weren’t essential to the plot I would kill you so fast . . . better watch yourself, mister . . .”

B: [Takes a soft, warm roll from the plate and tries not to make too many “mmm” sounds as he bites in.] Well, I try not to write villains as much as antagonists. As such I get into their heads and find their motivation. In the end, although I don’t like the things they do, I understand where they are coming from. Having said that, there is a Weaver in the first book who made me contemplate interesting ways to kill a character. She was particularly vile and her motivations were pretty self-centered and obnoxious.  

L: She really was. I was hoping she’d get it good. And what if Lynn or Sidney or Connor or any of the gang starts talking to you again? Would this particular storyline continue somehow, or would you come from a completely different direction?

B: That’s the thing, right? They never really stop talking to me. There may or may not be a document. In this possible document, there may or may not be the beginnings of something. I will just have to wait and see what happens. I do have a prequel in the works mostly geared around Aiden. Also there are a few side characters in this last book who are screaming for a spin-off.  

L: What a tease. I would love any or all of those, so write as quickly and as often as you can. [Looks to the side as something whizzes by.] Whoa! Check out AndyAndy! I don't know what that's all about . . . that cat never moves that fast! But anyway, I know you're also an artist . . . does art have anything to do with what you're working on right now? And let me refill that coffee for you.

B: I'm really not that much of a—

L: Here you go! [Places a steaming mug in front of him.]

B: [Sighs.] Thanks . . .

L: So, those other interests and projects . . .?

B: [Watches the cat run laps around the table.] Yeah, I do a lot. I have always drawn, but I also love to paint and make clay figures. I have illustrated a book for someone and even dabble a bit in writing songs. Writing is my first love and will always win out, but I figured I could use some of those others here as well. So one thing I am doing as part of the giveaway is painting pictures so I can give away some prints. Would you like to see them? [Goes to grab another roll and promptly pours the coffee in a house plant.]

L: Are you kidding me? YES. I’ve seen some of your clay figures in the past, and think the book you illustrated has an adorable cover. Of course I’m a big fan of songwriting, too, and taking a peek at your paintings is naturally the next step. Doing a giveaway of the paintings is a phenomenal idea and I think your readers will really love it. What are you waiting for? Gosh, you’d think those two cups of coffee would have kicked in by now. Let me refill that cup while you grab your paintings.

B: But I—

L: Bottoms up, my man. [Lifts mug to “cheers” him.]

B: [Clinks mug in despair.] Thanks . . . Oh, by the way, can I have a glass of water, too? Because . . . coffee makes me . . . thirsty. Yeah, that’s it.

L: There you go. [Hands over a tall glass of water, almost dropping it as Brandon grabs frantically at it.] Hydration is the key, right?

B: Right!


 


L: Wow, these are great! Connor, Lynn, and Zander. But I thought you said you were bringing four with you.

B: I did. But now I can't— [Cuts off abruptly as AndyAndy races by with a painting in his mouth.] Never mind.

L: Uh . . . sorry.

B: [Sighs.] So I was thinking, it may be cool for people to read an excerpt from Light Bringer. I mean I wouldn’t want to spoil anything big, so some stuff may be redacted. In fact, it's in that file right behind you. [Waits for her to turn and pours full cup into her nearly empty one.]



L: That was . . .

B: Riveting—I know.

L: I’m still catching my breath.

So hey, everyone, I hope you enjoyed the very very VERY first Book Talk, with my special guest, Brandon Ax. And if you haven’t read Brandon’s first two books, Elemental and Ashes, then I have no idea what you’re waiting for, but you’re in for a treat when you do. Light Bringer will be released on Monday, September 25, so you will want to be caught up and ready to continue the adventure.

You can find Brandon at his website: Brandon Ax
At his blog: Writer's Storm
On Facebook: Brandon Ax: Author
On Twitter: @BrandonAx
And on Instagram: axbrandon

I’m here, of course, because it’s my blog and nobody invites me anywhere else. But you can also find me on my ERE Facebook page and on Instagram as easyreaderediting. Follow me to see what kinds of trouble I can manage on other social media (I post different things in different places), which basically means take your chances on being bored, or completely stunned and amazed.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Editor's Notes #38: Dialogue Part 3—Those @#$!$%^ Tags



This is the third and final part in my series on dialogue. Click HERE to read Part One—Regional Overkill, and click HERE to read Part Two—Sounding Real.

Book after book has been written about them. Blog after blog has featured articles with cautionary tales. And yet . . . the overly awkward dialogue tag still manages to work its way out of the garbage can and into manuscripts the world over.

In fact, while researching for this post, I was astounded at the number of articles I found which advocated "the death of 'Said'" and "making your dialogue more interesting with anything but 'said'" and other generally bad advice.

I'm not saying there's never a good moment for a shout here and there, but the advice to young writers on various teaching blogs & forums goes directly against the advice of best-selling authors, who sometimes advise to skip tags altogether as often as possible, and more often suggest "said" or "asked" as a way of making the tag disappear.

Personally, I tend to skim over dialogue tags when I'm reading, so I like the idea of eliminating them more often than not, unless the conversation becomes confusing. Maybe it's because I read decent books that use "said" and "asked" and, as promised by those high-level authors, those two particular words become invisible after a little while.

No one wants to read the old-fashioned (and thankfully, almost never used) "he ejaculated" as a dialogue tag. The more obscure tags will pull a reader from the story as physically as tipping him out of his chair. Think of how often you've read "blustered," "queried," "wailed," "bellowed," "quipped," and the like. I don't know about you, but when I read those words, in my mind the character is instantly replaced by the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, a blusterer & bellower from way back. Or suddenly the character is Lucille Ball, wailing her trademark waaahhh.

Elimination of dialogue tags in certain spots can be effective for quick back-and-forth action. If your characters are written distinctly, their manner of speech should indicate easily enough who's talking.

Another mistake inexperienced writers often make is to use dialogue tags that don't work in the physical world:

  • "I love you," she breathed. Nope. You can't breathe in while speaking. And breathing out is not the same as forcing air through your mostly closed vocal cords.
  • "Don't do that," he growled. Nope again. Try growling and saying anything intelligible. You're not Batman.
  • "Get over here, NOW," she hissed. Double nope. Hissing and speaking don't mix, and hissing sounds usually require the use of the letter "s." Just ask Harry Potter.
  • "What do you mean, you won't?" he barked. Nooooope. Unless it's a dog literally barking, and you understand that he sounds like arf arf woof woof grrr but you can translate it in your head like a foreign language, or—oh, forget it. You get my point.
So . . . to recap these three posts neatly: don't overuse regional dialect and slang, make sure your characters sound as real as the people around you, and make those dialogue tags disappear, whether literally or figuratively.

I'd love to know: Have you ever read a truly abominable dialogue tag? Have you written one you regret (or that your editor made you regret until you removed it)?


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Editor's Notes #37: Dialogue Part 2—Sounding Real


This is Part 2 in a series about dialogue. If you missed reading Part 1 where I talk about regional overkill and writing accents, feel free to check it out here.

I'm not sure how this happens, but for some writers, there is a major disconnect between conversing with people in real life and writing about people conversing. Why is writing dialogue so difficult for people who talk to others on a regular basis?

I think the major hurdle for many writers to overcome is making dialogue "proper" according to grammar rules. There's only one problem with that: dialogue rarely sounds grammatically correct.

Before you write dialogue for your characters, watch people for a while, and listen to them talk. Yes, I'm asking you to stalk a little . . . for research purposes, of course. I'm willing to bet you see at least a few of the following:

  • Contractions—Most people use contractions when speaking, and yet so many writers are shy about using them for dialogue. "I do not understand" sounds a lot more stiff than "I don't understand." I did edit a novel once with one character who never used contractions (much like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation), but that was used as a distinguishing trait for a particular purpose.
  • Multiple Threads at Once—Any parent can relate to this. Or anyone who's looked at a chat window between S.K. Anthony and me. More often than not, there is more than one conversation going on at once, even if there are only two people involved. Somehow, we keep it all straight; conversation is rarely linear.
  • Mishearing—Conversations happen in a variety of places, and not all of them are quiet. Is your character talking on the phone, or are children playing around those talking? Someone is bound to say, "What?" at some point. My specialty, according to my husband, is talking to him from two rooms away in our house. I get a lot of responses that sound something like, "I can hear you but I can't understand you," and "You're not talking to me, are you?"
  • Getting Sidetracked/Self-Interruption—These two sort of go hand in hand. I get sidetracked all the time when I'm talking, and my kids make fun of me for it. I tend to be thinking of lots of things while talking, and this results in my sentence either changing midstream, or fading off altogether. Real conversation between me and my daughter in the car:
Me: I'm so thankful . . . [gets distracted by oncoming traffic]
Ellie: [waits a few moments, then speaks] . . . for . . .?
Me: [looks around] Four what? Where?
Ellie: Thankful. For. What. What are you thankful for? You never finished.
Me: Oh . . . I'm thankful someone's picking up your brother so I don't have to.

  • Body Language/Movement—These are essential in conversations. People don't stand straight at attention, facing each other to deliver their scripted lines in a tidy order. They move, they fidget, they pace, they do the dishes or fold laundry or any number of things. Sometimes their bodies reveal more than their speech does. S.K. Anthony did a four-part series on Using Body Language in Your Novel that shows how many ways your body language can help you or give away all your secrets.
  • Sentence Fragments—These differ from self-interruption or getting sidetracked, in that you don't need to be sidetracked to speak in fragments. People don't converse in the manner we all had to use in high school English tests, where we had to put our answer in the form of a full sentence. "What's for supper?" "Chicken piccata." You'll hear that as an answer far more often than "For supper, I'm making chicken piccata."
  • Age is Relevant—Children don't sound like adults when they speak (though they do come up with gems every so often), so don't write the six-year-old's dialogue as if she has the insight and wisdom of a sixty-year-old. Kids are pretty simple: they want things and are happy when they get them.
These examples are a fraction of the things to consider. There are awkward silences. Sometimes when people talk, they can't always recall the facts, so their speech is peppered with uncertainty and fishing around in their brains for the right word. Someone might always say, "Ya know?" between phrases.

Something I hadn't considered when writing this post is the dialogue info dump. I'm so glad I ran across this gem in an article by Janice Hardy on NowNovel. Her number one tip on writing dialogue is "Stop using dialogue for information dumps." She points out that starting a conversation with "As you know . . ." is ridiculous. If the other person knows, then why is Person #1 repeating it all? Her advice on how to tell if you're info-dumping in dialogue or not:
When characters share information, says Janice, "If the information is for the reader's benefit, chances are you're dumping. If the information is for the character's benefit (or detriment), chances are it's fine."
In the situation above, I always think of the boss who talks to his employee while perusing through the employee's file folder. "As you know, Joe, ten years ago when you were just a rookie, you took down that laundry-laundering operation singlehandedly even though your dog's cousin was going through psychotherapy for his issues with the neighbor's cat. I know that caused your divorce, but you can't keep blaming yourself by refusing to go to the laundromat."


Don't be afraid to read your dialogue aloud after you've written it . . . to "speak it out." It may sound natural or you may come to the sudden realization that it doesn't. Picture yourself saying those words to a friend (or an enemy, depending on the dialogue). Think of those awkward homemade commercials—Hey, Susan, you're looking so fit and trim! What's your secret? Is it that new 24-hour gym, Fat2Fit, at 123 Barbell Street?—and . . . don't do that.

People don't speak perfectly. Dialogue is not structured the same as a prepared speech given to a crowd, and is more often than not grammatically incorrect. Just let it happen and don't stress the specifics.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Editor's Notes #36: Dialogue Part 1—Regional Overkill


I love listening to people speak. I love the differences in their voices . . . some are clear, some are husky or gravelly. Having a husband whose voice is very deep, I tend to notice when a man's voice is more in a tenor range, and it bothers me a bit, probably because I'm used to a lot more color and richness on an everyday basis. But accents . . . I enjoy listening to people who didn't grow up near where I did, because their accents are different than mine.

Everyone has an accent. Whether it's a "foreign" accent or not is all in the perspective of the person speaking and the person listening. Of course I can't hear my own in the same way a friend from England would, and vice versa. I grew up near Pittsburgh, and I don't know how I escaped it, but I do not speak Pittsburghese, and thank God for that. I love my Pittsburgh friends, but that accent gives the listener a distinct impression of IQ level at times, and it's not a flattering one. I imagine every part of the world has its own area that sounds "lesser" to others, whether those people deserve that label or not. Why else do scriptwriters call for a twangy Southern US accent when there's a dumb guy to cast, or a Cockney accent when auditioning for a working-class Londoner?

Writers face a special challenge when trying to convey speech accents in a novel. Not only do they have to incorporate regional speech patterns, but they have to do it:

  • authentically—if the local flavor doesn't sound right, anyone from that area who reads the book will be put off, perhaps even insulted
  • accurately—if the correct region isn't used, readers will know it and won't hesitate to pan it in a review
  • without overkill

Authenticity and accuracy sort of go hand in hand. Whereas a British person who is writing about an American character may be under the impression that all Americans say "y'all" (and sometimes "all y'all") when referring to more than one person, those from Pittsburgh (my easiest frame of reference for this post) tend to say "yinz." And if you've written a character from New Jersey or parts of New York, they may say "youse" instead. Not everyone speaks like that, certainly but you should at least get it right if you use it.

Accuracy means that you won't have your Australian character calling a woman "mate." According to The Contented Traveller, men only use "mate" for other men. Italians have a phrase, "to give bread for focaccia," which means you've responded to an offense with an even bigger offense . . . perhaps the American version that comes closest would be "to add insult to injury." And before the Harry Potter series and the advent of the more casual British literature, how many American readers knew that "trainers" were sneakers and a "jumper" was a sweater?

Overkill is a factor that should be given great consideration. How much is too much slang or regional-ese? Dialogue can be enhanced and made more authentic by the use of these things, but there comes a point when it can become a distraction to the reader. I don't want to read about the guy from Western Pennsylvania asking, Yinz gone dahntahn to wutch the Stillers n'at? which translates to "Are you (all) going downtown to watch the Steelers?" The n'at ("and that") is one of those things people add and I don't know why. But it's tiresome to read line after line of dialogue that's essentially a foreign language while still written in your own.

One of the ways to show some regional color without becoming laborious is to highlight a phrase or two without making it a constant thing. Arlene Prunkl from PenUltimateWord has a terrific article on dialogue and foreign accents that I read a while back, and she mentions this: nobody speaks the way words are spelled, and if we wouldn't think of writing all our characters' dialogue phonetically, why do we assume we should do it for the characters who speak with an accent we don't consider "standard"?

There are ways to show it without forcing it. A character can lapse into southern drawl when she's tired or angry, or a person can say a phrase like the above-mentioned downtown Steelers game (written typically) and another character (or the narrator) can note something like this:

Though she'd lived all over the world for more than two decades, there was something about being in her hometown for a few months that brought her own accent to the forefront and made her words come out sounding more like dahntahn to wutch the Stillers, and he smiled as he watched her in the midst of her family, each of them talking over the others in their excitement.

Do you write characters with particular accents or regional "giveaways"? How do you manage it without overdoing it? Or have you suddenly realized you are overdoing it and want to thank me with chocolate? (In that case, you're welcome, and contact me privately for my mailing address.)

I'd love to hear how you pull it off without bogging down the writing.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Editor's Notes #35: Edits Is Important


One of the editors I follow on Twitter posted a thought last week, and I instantly felt a kinship. She stated that she could not count how many books she'd edited after they'd already been published. I have done this a number of times, and for a number of reasons. Her comment ended with "Don't make this same mistake!"

Someone replied to her tweet with, "Why is this a mistake?" I think he thought she was saying it was a mistake to get a book edited after publishing, whereas I am 99.99% sure she was cautioning against publishing before proper editing. Tiny detail, but important. It is NEVER too late to get a book properly edited if you plan on writing more books. As the post title states (or should state), edits are important.

As an editor, I feel it's important to see what other editors are up to, so I follow a number of editing blogs and editors on the various social media outlets. There's so much information (and misinformation) out there that I figure by following them, I can only increase my chances of learning something I may not have found on my own—or without hours of extensive research. After all, I realize there are people who read my Editor's Notes who are astounded at what I've come up with, because it's the first time they've ever heard this stuff. Nouns? Verbs? What? She's a genius!

Work with me here, people. I can dream.

There are also those (probably the majority) who already know 90% of what I have to share. They most likely do what I do: you read the stuff you already know and consider it another mental nail to hold your knowledge in place on that particular subject. Repetition is great, and I'm always thrilled to not have to look something up because I've used that particular rule from the Chicago Manual so many times that "it's in there."

So why are edits (prior to publishing) important? I have worked with and spoken with a number of authors who have experienced the following (and I will use "him" as my pronoun here, though some are men and some are women):

  • Wrote a book, had someone close to him read it, published it. Got bad reviews due to lack of editing. Hired an editor and republished. Didn't realize the editor was a hack, got more bad reviews. Hired a better editor and got the book fixed but found it almost impossible to get anyone to reread the corrected version because they'd already given up on that author, due to so many other books out there to sift through. Lost all the oomph and has had a hard time wanting to continue writing. Enough years have passed now that a fan base will have to be built from scratch all over again, should the writing ever recommence. 
  • Wrote a book, ran the book portions through an online editing "help" service which helped a little but did not substitute fully for a real, live editor. Lack of edits was pointed out, he hired an editor, book quality and fan base improved.
  • Wrote a book, hired an expensive editing house to edit book. As much was missed as was caught in a fairly clean copy to begin with, but enough had been overlooked that he hired a new editor for half the price and twice the trustworthiness.
  • Wrote a book, published it. Realized an editor was needed and hired one. Editor was so-so but not horrible. Still, enough problems remained to prompt the hiring of another editor to proof. Book is cleaned up and shiny, ready to go.
  • Wrote a book, hired an editor who turned out to be a hack. Same hack as the first example I listed, in fact. Realized after getting the edited MS back that the editor had actually made the book worse, and hired another editor, who "edited" many things back to their formerly correct selves and polished up the remainder. Book cleaned up prior to ever publishing, well received, won two awards.
  • Wrote a book, published without an editor. Wrote another book, tried to hire an editor but did not want to make the changes suggested, so second book was also published without edits. Both books on Amazon have almost no reviews, and those only from admitted family and friends. I'm assuming the sales are in tandem with the number of reviews.
In some instances above, the writers didn't think they needed edits. In other cases, they truly thought they were doing the right thing by hiring someone who didn't come through. All cases mentioned (and there are many more) highlight the fact that editing is essential, and that it's not always possible to make a good impression after making a bad one. In some of the cases above, the writing was so impressive that people were willing to reread an edited version and subsequent books. In a few other sad cases, that was not the happy ending.

When in doubt, listen to those around you. Get some beta readers. Get some ARC (advance reader copy) readers. Research editors and get free sample evals. It's not just about subject/verb agreement. It's all about making sure that what seems "good enough" is actually correct.