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.




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Editor's Notes #34: What's So Bad about Adverbs?

"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops." (Stephen King, On Writing)

Schoolhouse Rock not only made my Saturday mornings both fun and educational as a kid, but its catchy songs have stood the test of time. Most adults I know—those who grew up in the US during the 70s and 80s, anyway, as I was reminded by S.K. Anthony, who grew up in Venezuela—can still sing the classics like "Conjuction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" with ease. Thanks to a complete DVD set when my children were young (and now the Internet availability of pretty much everything), the younger generation can learn grammar, science, and more without pain.

But I have to say, songs like, "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here" have made it sound like adverbs are all fun and games. Maybe this is why some writers tend to use adverbs like there's no tomorrow . . . until their editors get out the Red Pen of Doom and have at it—also like there's no tomorrow.

It's not that we hate all adverbs. It's just that we recognize them as a sort of cop-out when a writer is too inexperienced or lazy—or ignorant of a better way—to explain something. Stephen King has this to say about them: "The adverb is not your friend. Adverbs . . . seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind." Even Mark Twain was known to say, "They don't excite me," when referring to adverbs, contending that they are best when far apart.

In short, the fewer, the better when it comes to these babies.

And they're not to be feared, either. When people rely on adverbs as a bailout, that's where the trouble comes in. Adverbs are not all bad. They can be useful in so many ways. But the "manner" adverbs—those which typically end in -ly and somehow end up attached to dialogue tags—are a crutch in many cases. If a writer never branches out from the easy adverb, the writing will never grow into something better.

Consider obvious examples such as:
He left the room angrily.                                                                                                   She came to him trustingly.

Can you picture anything there? Is it exciting or descriptive? How about this instead:
He threw his phone against the wall and shouldered his brother out of the way as he raced from the room, muttering words that should have made us all blush.
She put her sippy cup on the table with all the care a toddler could muster, and climbed up beside him on the couch, plopping herself onto his lap as if the seat had been marked "reserved" for her.

There's a little more color to the second example, and hopefully a better picture of what's happening.

There seem to be as many proponents on the "death to adverbs" side of the picket line as there are "we love our adverbs" sign-holders on the other. As with anything, a little common sense goes a long way. One person's hard & fast rule is another person's guideline. One writer may effectively use adverbs and another may feel crippled by them. My personal opinion? As with anything, too much of a good thing ceases to be a good thing.

Perhaps there's an Adverb Awareness Month I haven't heard of, or a support group for those who can't seem to let go. In the meantime, friends (and critique partners) don't let friends . . .

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Editor's Notes #33: The Perfect Character

Mary Sue cartoons property of MissLunaRose at deviantart.com

Readers love to fall in love with your characters. If a character is created interestingly enough, they love to love them, and they love to hate them. I think it's a tremendous compliment to an author when the reader puts the book down, saying something unintelligible through gritted teeth ("arrrrrggggghhhh" will do nicely) because the character is so complex that they relate to them. They get angry with/at them, and can't forget them just because the book is closed.

You do, however, want to avoid having your readers hate the character because they simply hate how you've created him. Creating the perfect character doesn't necessarily mean that the character should BE perfect. In fact, that kind of thinking will backfire in a big, big way more often than not.

Think of real life: the "perfect" man or woman . . . we think of someone who always says yes to us, or fulfills our every desire, acquiescing to our whims. But in reality, someone like that would bore us because he has no spine, no personality, no chutzpah at all—which translates into bland, no give and take, and nothing adventurous to explore and discover. There is no challenge for growth or new ideas when someone is always in agreement with you.

Some of my favorite YouTube videos come from Terrible Writing Advice, and this one about "Mary Sue" (aka The Perfect Character) is a hoot:




Be cautious of the pitfalls of creating a character too perfect/cliché. Your readers will cease being your readers after a while. Characters become caricatures, and your reader will not only be pulled out of the story again and again by things like, What? Perfect grades, chiseled abs, AND he feeds the homeless and is the football captain, too?

When our kids were little, we used to read to them all the time (big surprise there). Most children can comprehend at a higher age level than their own reading level—they may be reading Little House in the Big Woods on their own but are able to completely understand The Hobbit when it's read aloud to them. So when our boys were six and eight, I think, we were reading the Hardy Boys books to them. The first book thrilled them. The second book was great. The third, not so much, and by the fourth book, the shine had completely worn off. Even at their young ages, our kids wondered why the boys were never in school or had jobs but had an endless supply of money and gas for their motorcycles. They always had the exact skills needed ("Frank, an amateur gymnast, was able to flip back and upward onto the water wheel at the mill . . ."), and the last straw for them was when the brothers needed to pick up some broken glass as evidence, and Frank just so happened to have a folded piece of cheesecloth in his wallet. I'll never forget our oldest saying, "Really? Cheesecloth? Who carries cheesecloth with them anywhere?"

Lesson to be learned: if your character has no flaws, your reader will begin to despise the very character you want them to love and connect with.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Art of Having Someone's Back



If I were to take a poll, I'm willing to bet we all know at least one person who is "that" guy. The one who only pops up on reader forums or Twitter to say, "Buy my book!"

Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with self-promoting. Indie authors must do it to survive, and even traditionally published authors should be able to promote and increase book sales. You've worked hard and you should be able to reap the benefits.

But . . . I guess what I'm asking is this: Is that ALL you do? Or do you also take joy in promoting the work of others? Is it all about you, you, you, or is it sometimes about [insert dramatic pause here] SOMEONE ELSE?

There is something . . . call it a necessary skill, call it a natural gift, call it a learned pattern of behavior . . . that benefits everyone at a cost to no one.

S.K. Anthony and her critique partner, Brandon Ax, call it "backhaving." If you're a backhaver, you know exactly what this means. It means being supportive. It means commenting on a blog. It means sharing someone's cover reveal. It means retweeting their links, or even hitting that +1 button to share without having to type a word. It means sharing something on Facebook, such as their book release or Amazon weekend sale. It means reading each other's work, whether it's a simple blog post or a full-blown manuscript. It means being a critique partner or beta reading. It means maybe even buying their book and reading it AND reviewing it.

Granted, no one person can do all those things all the time. And no one should feel pressured to try. But there is a line that begins to draw itself when a person is never, ever a backhaver.  Here are a few of the signs:
  • He "doesn't have time" to interact on forums, whether something like Goodreads or other give-and-take conversational places, for the sake of becoming part of the community
  • He only goes to the forums when it's time to self-promote
  • He doesn't visit blogs and therefore doesn't interact by commenting on them
  • He doesn't click the "share" button on Facebook to promote another's work or post
  • He doesn't give a shout-out or promote his editor or cover designer on writers' forums to help their businesses grow
  • He may post progress reports on a Facebook author page, but only to promote his own work
Is it any wonder that the not-a-backhaver doesn't understand why his book sales aren't through the roof?

Those of us who are backhavers can't imagine how anyone wouldn't be. Of course we share in the joy and successes of others, because we realize it doesn't hurt us to do so. It costs nothing to share someone else's post, promo, or announcement of something good. In fact, it gains you something: community, support, goodwill and more.

Being an independent anything is hard work, whether you own your own plumbing business, make jewelry, are a freelance artist/editor/photographer or whatever. Being a writer, whether self-published or traditionally published, is as much work as anything else when it comes to getting your name out there. Social media is a great tool that costs little to nothing, and is a very effective way to not only get your name out there, but keep it in the forefront of people's minds. It's a lot of work that sometimes pays off. And it's that "sometimes" that keeps us working at it.

I don't know about you, but the people I follow on Twitter, for example, are those who share a little bit of everything. There's the occasional personal tweet that may be funny or ironic, and a mixture of self-promotion and other-promotion. If a person constantly spews political hatred (on either side of the aisle), I unfollow. If a person posts their own books and nothing else, roughly four to five times per hour, all day, I unfollow. (And yes, there have been a few who tweet with that constant kind of bombardment.)

But the backhavers . . . ahh, the backhavers. I remember their names, because I see them when I visit from blog to blog, and on social media in general. They comment. They promote. They have guest posts on their own blogs.

They support. And that's why I know their names, and why I'll most likely buy their books AND read them AND review them.

You may have heard it said that we make the time for that which we deem important. On a related note, if your readers and fellow authors/editors/cover designers/small publishers see you only ever promoting yourself, they'll quickly come to the conclusion that you see only yourself as important—and if they're not important to you, there's no reason for them to support you.

Are YOU a backhaver? If not, it's never too late to start!

*****
For those who have read all the way to the end: I'm working on a future post and need your help!
What is the best and worst writing advice you've ever received?
Shoot me an email at lyndadietz4@gmail.com
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.