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.

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

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
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Shady Publishers

So you've written a book. Good for you! You should be proud of yourself and possibly a little impressed at your own perseverance. You've written and (hopefully) rewritten at least a few times, have gotten people to beta, rewritten yet again, hired someone to edit the manuscript, gotten a cover designed, and now . . . well, the world is waiting and you need to get your book into their hot little hands.

How, exactly, does that happen?

I’m going to talk about how it should NOT happen. As in most of life, if there is something worthwhile, there will always be someone who figures out a way to pervert it to their own advantage. It's no different when it comes to the printed word.

Every so often, there are articles posted about this (and I’ll give you plenty of links at the end), but it never hurts to put it out there again for those who may not be aware. What am I talking about?

Shady publishers, that's what.

They prey on the newbies, the eager, the naive. They know you want to see your book on the virtual shelves of Amazon and the physical shelves of Barnes & Noble, and they're counting on your eagerness to translate into ignorance in the rush to become famous.

Bottom line: you can self-publish through a variety of avenues (and I'll cover that in a separate blog post someday) but if you're looking for a publisher, you need to know one basic fact, and this is it—getting a publisher should not cost you a penny.

There are so-called publishers out there—vanity presses—who charge authors to publish the work, do their scam thing for a while, disappear, and then come back under another name to do it all over again with more unsuspecting people. Often they'll charge more than it would cost to self-publish, and my guess is that people fall for their deception only because they're fearful of the unknowns of self-publishing.

Part of what may drive some to go for the scammers is that self-publishing involves doing all the steps on your own, and all the research that accompanies those steps. Seeking out an editor, a good cover artist, formatting, etc. is such a hands-on thing. I can see how it would appear to be easier to allow a publisher to do all that legwork. All the promotion is your own as well when you self-publish, and scam publishers will try to convince you that your book will be promoted for all the world to see, buy, and love if you sign with them. Instant fame and fortune.

In addition to the appeal of the work being done by others, I think a good number of newer authors may lean toward vanity presses because . . . well, let's just think about the name of a vanity press. Their actions appeal to a person's vanity—the need to be liked and to feel approval. Though there's nothing wrong with being proud of your work and wanting others to enjoy it, the scammers count on that being a driving force in your choice of how to publish.

Vanity presses don't have the same criteria that traditional publishers follow (whether large publishing houses or small presses). Publishers who are on the up and up must be careful to only accept those manuscripts they believe will earn money for them. Their profits come from book sales, and their investments must be wise. Vanity presses, on the other hand, accept pretty much any submission because the money is flowing toward the press, not the author. Scammers have nothing to lose when you say yes to them. And those who don't know better are excited and flattered that a "publisher" is interested in them. Wiki even mentions that “a vanity publisher's intended market is the author and a very small number of interested members of the general public.” Ah, vanity.

As a musician, I can understand this completely. If someone doesn't like what I'm doing, that means, of course, that they don't like ME. Never mind the fact that perhaps they don't like the song itself, or the style in which it was performed. Or maybe they don't like my voice. Does that mean they don't like me as a person? It shouldn't. And yet, we tie our art so closely to ourselves . . . because displaying our art—whether it's music, writing, photography, drawing—often means we've revealed something very deep and personal. Rejection of that "something" is all too easy to link to rejection of "inner me."

And that may be the biggest factor of someone succumbing to the “oooh, shiny” appeal of a vanity press: they love you . . . the inner, personal you! They can make you rich! They won’t be able to stop themselves from bringing up your name during business dinners! The world will sing your name to small children in lullabies!

[Please note that vanity presses are NOT the same as small presses. There are plenty of legit, wonderful small presses out there that may be a good fit for you and your book-publishing needs. I may feature those in a future post.]

Thankfully, there are watchdogs out there. Even if there weren’t, a simple Google search would give a solid heads-up as to who’s been complaining about whom in the publishing business. Here are a few good places to check out, and some interesting blog posts on the topic of how to tell one type of publisher from another:

Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check —Exactly what it describes, and one of the most useful forums on Absolute Write.

Predators and Editors —This site's listings have temporarily been removed (P&E has called them "stale and outdated") until they can find a new caretaker to update the site. However, they still have a few good links to other resources such as SFWA's Writers Beware.

Scammers (and How to Avoid Them) —Author Megan Morgan put together a helpful post about a year ago with good advice about this. If you have time, check out her 2017 A to Z Challenge posts (which was how I found her in the first place). The woman is hilarious and her theme, 26 Things to Hate About Writing, had me laughing every day in April.

Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price —This is an older post but covers things thoroughly, and reading through the comment section gives almost as much insight as the post itself.

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
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Editor's Notes #32: Inner Dialogue & How to Punctuate Thoughts

Punctuating dialogue has so many rules, depending on whether there are dialogue tags, split sentences, spoken words, or internal thoughts. Most of the rules are hard and fast, but there can be a little bit of flexibility when necessary.

As with any guidelines that allow for exceptions, the key is to be consistent. There's nothing more confusing than a lack of consistency, and nothing that will turn your readers off more quickly by pulling them out of a story.

My partner in crime, S.K. Anthony, covered all the how-tos of punctuating spoken dialogue in her article "How to Correctly Punctuate Dialogue for Novels" (aptly named, eh?), so if you'd like to know how to . . . um . . . correctly punctuate dialogue for novels . . . then pop over to Writers After Dark and read all about it. As for me, I'm going to tell you what to do if the dialogue is all in your character's head.

So here are the basics, and the POV you're writing from can help you decide which is best for you with relative ease:

Most people will write a character's thoughts in italics, either with or without a dialogue tag. It makes sense because the italics set off a visual cue in the reader's mind that we're hearing thoughts, not spoken words. The sample using omniscient POV uses a dialogue tag, since the reader needs to know who's doing the thinking, and the omniscient point of view gives you a little bit of everyone while keeping the author as the dominant voice.
I don't understand, Lynda thought as she looked around the kitchen in a panic. Why would Kat have eaten all my brownies without telling me? And to think I was going to surprise her with them for breakfast! 
Kat walked in, empty coffee cup in hand. "Heyyy, 'sup? Any of those brownies left for breakfast?"
You don't need the dialogue tag for regular third-person POV, since it will be clear who's speaking and whose thoughts are happening.
"G'morning." Kat yawned, holding out an empty coffee cup and glancing around the kitchen. "Any brownies left? I couldn't stop thinking about them last night."
Like you don't know. Unless you're a sleepwalker . . . and a sleep-eater. "Well, I was going to ask you the same thing." 

You could also do this exact exchange with no italics, and it would still be clear because of the POV. All it needs are a few tweaks in the verb tense.
"G'morning." Kat yawned, holding out an empty coffee cup and glancing around the kitchen. "Any brownies left? I couldn't stop thinking about them last night."
Lynda looked as baffled as she felt. Like Kat didn't know. Unless she was a sleepwalker . . . and a sleep-eater. "Well, I was going to ask you the same thing." 
There's an additional complication, though, in certain instances when characters communicate telepathically. In Alex Cavanaugh's CassaSeries (CassaDawn, CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm) the Cassans have the ability to communicate this way. Cavanaugh does a nice job of differentiating the types of thoughts. If a character is simply in his own head, then there are no italics or dialogue tags. If two characters are sharing thoughts with each other, italics come into play.

Two important things to remember:

  1. NEVER use quotation marks for internal dialogue of any type. They're reserved exclusively for spoken words and will only confuse the reader if you add them anywhere else.
  2. Be consistent, whether you're using italics with a tag, italics without a tag, no italics and no tag, or a mixture as in the book series mentioned above.
So what do you think, folks? Did you learn anything today? Did you already know it? It's entirely possible that you just don't care, because you're never going to use ANY dialogue in your book—and I would love to read a book that used only clicks, grunts, shrugs, eyebrow raises and elbow nudges to communicate, don't get me wrong—but I doubt any of you currently have that as your WIP. 

I hope.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What's Your (Tag)Line?


noun \ˈtag-ˌlīn\

Definition of tagline

  1. 1:  a final line (as in a play or joke); especially :  one that serves to clarify a point or create a dramatic effect

Have you ever had an "off" season? A terrible month, or—worse yet—a terrible year?

Those are the times when you need your friends the most. But you're kind of screwed if they're also going through an awful time . . . unless your friend is S.K. Anthony. Then your friend comes up with a tagline you both can live with until saner times prevail. And yes, the following screenshot is typical of our conversations. Off-the-cuff genius, says I.

So far, 2017 has not proven itself to be our friend. We've complained, we've laughed, we've cried, and we've gotten belligerent about it. But somehow, having a tagline/punchline to perfectly sum up the joke that passes for each of our lives right now has brought the humor back to where it should be. There's something to be said about being able to laugh at something so awful that it borders on the ridiculous. That, I think, is a superpower unique to certain individuals, and I'm glad I'm one of them. It doesn't make the garbage go away, but it reminds me that someday I will look back at this bump in the road—and maybe not laugh, but at least realize it didn't kill me.

What would be your perfect tagline? Whether you're going through a good season or a bad one, do you have a one-liner that would perfectly sum things up for you? I'd love to hear it. And if you don't have one, I have this really creative friend who pops 'em out like Pez from a dispenser.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Editor's Notes #31: My Role as the Enforcer

For those of you who have editors you love (or at least love the quality of their work): how much control do you give them over your manuscript?

I find myself with a multitude of "control levels" when I edit, depending on the author. I tend to be rather tentative when working with an author for the first time, for a number of reasons. I think part of it is that I don't want to scare anyone before they get to know me. I believe (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that most authors are a tiny bit possessive of the manuscripts they've worked so hard to polish. By the time they give it to an editor, they're about as ready as they can be, but they're probably apprehensive of what the editor will tell them. [Love it? Hate it? No affirming comments whatsoever? And what does that mean?] 

My job is to correct what's wrong, yes. But my job is tricky, because I need to do these corrections in such a way that I don't break anyone's spirit or cause discouragement. Make no mistake: there are some things that are black-and-white wrong or right, and those things need to change no matter what else happens. But there are other items that often need attention, and tact is the name of the game.

When I'm working with someone new, I tend to leave a lot of margin comments. Sometimes I do this to explain why I've changed something—such as when there's a common error that "everyone" assumes to be correct, or there's a situation where I appear to be inconsistent but am actually correct. For example, the average reader isn't aware that the word after a colon isn't usually capitalized unless what follows the colon is a question. There are, of course, exceptions, as there always seem to be, but that's the basic rule. So if I have a capped word after a colon in one spot but not in another, the author may think I have no idea what I'm doing. Many authors do know this particular rule—but just in case, I figure it's better to be safe than sorry, so I'll add a margin note to explain the edit.

My basic premise when editing (and I tell people this up front) is that I correct and approve all changes that are nonnegotiable. I'm not going to take the chance that someone will either a.) undo everything I've worked on by hitting the wrong button, or b.) think that proper punctuation is optional and only a suggestion.

I once edited someone's short short (nonfiction) story about her husband's descent into Alzheimer's-induced dementia, and each time she sent the paper back to me, all the changes I'd made were gone. Now, I need to clarify that she was not a paying client—just a friend—and is an elderly lady who admittedly was "just dumb sometimes" (her words) when it came to word processing programs. I must have edited that thing six times for every one time the changes stayed put. She kept saying things like, "I thought I'd mentioned that I wanted to add such and such," and "What happened to the section on so and so?" and I would point out that I'd already added such and such, and the section on so and so was right where we'd left it. In my copy, that is.

Lesson learned. I ended up making all the corrections one final time, approved every dang one of them, relabeled the document, and sent it to her with strict instructions to DELETE every other copy she had in her possession. I told her I still had her original if she needed it, but that the final copy with all the corrections was the only one she needed to keep and/or read through. It was frustrating and funny at the same time, because she was obviously not an experienced writer and couldn't figure out what she was doing wrong.

My tentative attitude goes away bit by bit as I work with an author more often. Those authors I've worked with multiple times trust my judgment on what needs to move along and what can stay, and it makes my job easier with each subsequent book.

Each author has his or her own preference, though, and I will abide by their wishes if the reasoning makes sense. Otherwise, I will of course tell them why they are wrong and need to obey listen to me. S.K. Anthony is a classic example of someone I trust completely when it comes to doing the right thing. She trusts that I know what I'm doing, but she wants to approve all changes herself (even the nonnegotiables) because she uses the read-through as a teaching tool. Her theory runs along these lines: if she has to approve every change, one by one, then she will know what she did wrong for next time, and there will be fewer errors. She also describes herself as a control freak when it comes to her manuscripts, and though I won't argue with that (there really is no winning an argument with her), she is a lovable control freak so I go with it and she approves all changes.

Other authors run the gamut from "this is what I pay you for and if you do it wrong, your name is on the editing credits for people to blame" (fair enough) to "we've worked on enough books that I trust your judgment even on the subjective stuff; just do it and I'll be fine with it." The cool thing about the latter sentiment is that the author gets back a pretty clean-looking manuscript and has the ego-boost moment of "hey, there weren't many changes to be made . . . I rock." Of course I'm always quick to wipe the (fake) sweat off my brow and talk about how hard I worked to make it look that clean.

Overall, the important part is to have an ongoing communication between an author and me so we're all clear on what responsibilities fall on which side of the table.

What is your preference?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Editor's Notes #30: A Question of Random Capitalization

One of the things that stands out to me whether I'm reading for edits or reading for pleasure is the misuse of capitalization. It reminds me of handwritten letters from previous centuries and their Randomly Capitalized words of Importance. In fact, the US's own Declaration of Independence is full of them.

As I puzzled over this, and—more importantly—researched it, I discovered that the German language capitalizes their nouns. Not just proper nouns (those words which describe a specific person, place, or thing) but all the nouns. Trust me, it's a thing.

Because Johannes Gutenberg (inventor of the printing press in Europe, circa 1440) was German, this was undoubtedly his practice when using his shiny new press to produce any number of papers for distribution. As more and more people became literate, this capitalization habit was already commonplace.

In the English language (as in most other languages), nouns are only capitalized if they're indicating something specific. In older writings, people would capitalize words they deemed important—to heighten emphasis or simply for dramatic effect. These days, we can show where to put the oomph in our words with italics, or hit the bold key for the force we need, but back in the day, they used capital letters. It's all they had, the poor dears.

The problem I find these days is not a matter of emphasis, but rather a matter of not knowing. When people capitalize things like "I saw the King waving from the castle balcony," more often than not it's because they assume the word king should be capitalized because he's someone important. Of course, if it's Elvis waving from the balcony, then yes, capitalize it, because the King is one of his names rather than an official title. Also, have your eyes checked, because he really is dead and shouldn't be up on a balcony at all.

There is much confusion when it comes to titles of all types, whether religious, civil, academic, sovereigns, or military. Because I've edited a good number of books with characters in the military, and a handful that include royalty, I feel I'm fairly well versed on the yeses and nos. Here are but a few to keep in mind, most of them directly from my beloved Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Civil titles
    • the president; George Washington, first president of the United States; President George Washington
    • the chief judge; Timothy C. Evans, chief judge; Judge Evans
  • Titles of sovereigns and other rulers (Most titles of sovereigns and other rulers are lowercase when used alone.)
    • Nero, emperor of Rome; the Roman emperor; Emperor Nero
    • the king; King Abdullah II; the king of Jordan
  • Military titles (These vary, depending on where they are. Military titles are routinely capitalized in the literature of the organization or government with which they are associated. Nonetheless, in formal academic prose, most such titles are capitalized only when used as part of a person's name.)
    • the general; General Ulysses S. Grant, commander in chief of the Union army; General Grant; the commander in chief
    • the captain; Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the Starship Enterprise
  • Religious titles 
    • the pope; Pope Leo X; the papacy; papal
    • the archbishop; the archbishop of Canterbury; Archbishop Williams
    • the Dalai Lama is traditionally capitalized, but previous dalai lamas are not
Something I run across with regularity is the title commander in chief. Most people want to capitalize it because, of course, the guy is in command of important stuff. Many people also want to hyphenate it, and I'm not sure where they get that idea but they need to get rid of it. No hyphens and no caps. (I had a beta reader once tell me, "It seems to me that it should be this way." I replied to him that it seemed to me that the actual written rules on this were the way it should be.) 

One of the first things I do when editing a book with military or medical titles is to do a find/replace for doctor, captain, lieutenant, sergeant (often misspelled "sargent"), commander, ambassador, and the like—and there are usually a lot of replacements. When referring to a captain or a doctor and not addressing that person directly, no caps are needed. However, if your character says, "Well, Captain, I've blown out our last remaining engine," then the word captain requires a capital letter because it's a substitute for the captain's name. The rule is pretty consistent for most titles.

If you are prone to randomly capitalizing words in your sentences, you may find yourself and your own reasons somewhere on this terrific list I found on The Straight Dope, where their motto is "FIGHTING IGNORANCE SINCE 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought)." I don't need to know where you fall on the list; the important thing is to learn from it.

And here's one final gem for fun or the development of a permanent twitch: a sign that not only showcases random capital letters, but random punctuation, a misplaced apostrophe and an unexplained lighter ink color for the most important part of the sign: WHAT is closed for repair? 

*For those who care: the best explanation I found for the capitalization of nouns in the German language was on Quora from July 21, 2012, in an answer written by a German exchange student. I'll just give you the link, rather than take the space here. Cool stuff.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Editor's Notes #29: Apostrophes v. Plurals

I think apostrophe placement is sort of like spelling: you either have the gift of it or you don't. This is not to say it can't be learned, but let's face facts and say that most people who don't "have it" will probably struggle their entire lives with whether or not to use one—and if so, how.

Here's the basic rule:
The apostrophe's primary job is to form a possessive
to stand for missing letters in a contraction.
Why do so many people get it wrong?

I firmly believe—and this is based on zero scientific evidence, mind you, but you are likely to agree with me here—people who misuse apostrophes figure they're going to add a little flair to their words to . . . "fancy it up," so to speak, in the same way some try to speak more formally by using the word "I" instead of "me" in their sentences, regardless of whether it's correct or not. This usually results in such conversation as, "It's been a splendid time in Paris for her and I." The written equivalent for these fancified people would be something like We drank many fine wine's and went on numerous tour's.

While looking up information on this phenomenon, I saw it mentioned as the "greengrocer's apostrophe" more than once. (Picture BANANA'S on sale.) Perhaps grocery stores are the ones who made the error commonplace for so many others, because many people are under the assumption that any printing posted for public use is automatically correct. Many of us can attest to this being false as we look around our cities and towns and shake our heads in dismay. My city, in fact, has a bar which advertises itself as YOU'RE NUMBER ONE NIGHT SPOT, right up there on an expensive, lighted sign for all to see. Well, I'm flattered, but I was unaware that I was the number one night spot. Don't tell my husband.

We can't base our apostrophe use on things like "I think it looks good" or "it seems to me that I've seen it this way" when we should be weighing in with the "because it's correct" factor. There are hard and fast rules that need to be followed.

  • When forming a possessive, the apostrophe goes at the end of a noun, followed by the letter "s":
    • The girl's coat fell to the floor. [One girl, one coat.]
  • If the possessive is a plural noun, the apostrophe goes after the "s":
    • The girls' coats fell to the floor. [More than one girl, more than one coat. Notice that "coats" is a plural and has no apostrophe.]
  • When forming a contraction, the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters:
    • The girl's coat's dirty from falling on the floor. [One girl, one coat, and the apostrophe is used in the contraction for "coat is" dirty.]
  • Or how about this?
    • The girls' coats' mud was falling off in clumps. [This is a ridiculous sentence, although it is technically correct. More than one girl, more than one coat, and the mud that belongs to the coat. You're best off rephrasing the entire thing for clarity.]
  • Never use an apostrophe for a plural, especially when dealing with abbreviations or numbers:
    • The 1920s were a roaring good time for all. [All the years included in that decade.]
    • There were so many CDs to choose from and only so much cash in his wallet. [It bears noting that Blogger keeps trying to force me to put an apostrophe here, much in the same way MS Word will "correct" your grammar to the point of gibberish. But that's for a future post.]
  • Feel free to use an apostrophe with numbers or abbreviations if they're possessive:
    • The DJ's speakers had too much high end, making them painful to listen to. [The speakers belonging to the DJ.]
    • I have to say, 1987's recording artists were a mixed lot. [The recording artists "belonging to" the year 1987.]
  • Also feel free to use an apostrophe with numbers or abbreviations if they're part of a contraction:
    • The DMV's known for taking some awful photos. [Used here for "DMV is."]
    • Overall, 1989's a year I'll never forget. [Used here for "1989 is."]
  • There are some tricky areas, though, and here's where a nice, thick Chicago Manual of Style comes in handy:
    • No apostrophe is needed in the word "how-tos," even though, once again, Blogger and MS Word will try to tell you otherwise.
    • No apostrophe is needed in the phrase "dos and don'ts" other than the apostrophe in the contraction for "do not."
    • No apostrophe is needed for "ins and outs" and other similar phrases.
  • Aaaaaaaannnnnd it would not be the English language if there were not exceptions to the rule that seem completely in opposition, such as this gem:
    • It's = it is. Simple enough, because it's a contraction. But . . . 
    • Its = the possessive form of "it." A possessive which does NOT use an apostrophe, which seems to fly in the face of all we've been talking about. Just memorize it and you'll be fine.

Use these examples the next time you're in need of a little help when using apostrophes and plurals, and anyone who reads your writing (including your editor) will mentally shoot you some instant credibility for your diligent work—and a huge "thank you."

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Editor's Notes #28: Parentheses in Fiction: Do They Break the Fourth Wall?

Breaking the fourth wall: this stems from a theatrical term. The "fourth wall" is where the audience sits—they're basically looking "through" it when viewing a traditional stage with three sides. If an actor spoke a line directly to the audience, he broke the wall, removing that separation.
I think one of the toughest things for a writer must be finding a way to say everything he wants to say while keeping the reader entertained and not bored or overwhelmed.

Sometimes, however, an author needs to pop just a bit more information into the narrative here and there, and there's some disagreement as to the best method of doing this. The one I'm going to focus on today deals with a character's thoughts.

In a first-person POV, every so often I come across a writer who uses parentheses in the thought process, and I've got to tell you, it bugs the crap out of me.
I didn't understand. All my brownies were gone, and Kat was the only person who'd been in my kitchen. (I'd known her for years and couldn't imagine her doing something so unthinkable.)
Why are there parentheses in the first place? This is not really any different from the rest of the thought, and it follows through with the "why" of my confusion about the brownies.

I've also seen things like this:
He saw the officer coming toward him, and recognized his old friend, Jim, from military school. "How in the world are you, buddy?" (He remembered spending holidays with Jim and his wife, going to his children's birthday parties, standing by him during loss, and more. They'd had too many adventures to count, lost track of each other over the years, and now here he was, assigned to the same base.)
In the above situation, by the time the "buddy" responded with "Not so bad," I'd already forgotten what the answer was in reference to and had to reread. And what about this?
I knew I had to check the basement to find the source of the awful stench. (I had noticed the smell days before and had tried to pretend it wasn't there. Why did I buy this haunted house, anyway? And what made me think I could avoid the basement for the rest of my life?)
More often than not, using parentheses for thoughts in a novel can be a negative experience for the reader. It's almost like the author is physically tapping you on the shoulder, saying, "Oh, and I forgot to mention this, but . . ."

Parentheses can have a more "formal" feel to them, whereas an em dash—most writers' favorite form of aside—is slightly informal in nature. Em dashes feel more like when you're talking to a friend . . . let's say an Italian friend . . . and she can't quite stay on track because she feels the need to add the odd detail here and there. Not bad, because you can still follow the story. But parentheses remind me of when someone puts a hand to the side of his mouth and whispers, "She's completely crazy, you know," while talking loudly in positive tones.

Breaking the fourth wall can be jarring, a reminder that you're reading and thus a pulling from story immersion . . . unless you're a character in Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair or any of his Tuesday Next novels—in which case, the characters are fully aware that they're characters in a book but they need to keep living their lives anyway. In his case, though, that's the way the story is designed, so it's more a whimsical tool rather than a diversion, cleverly done and entertaining.

In Fix Your Damn Book! How to Painlessly Self-Edit Your Novels and Stories by James Osiris Baldwin, his view is clear:
"Brackets/parentheses should be avoided as much as possible in fiction. You can get away with it in some kinds of novels (expository, experimental, some first-person point-of-view books), but they tend to annoy readers and editors if used too often or at all. You especially should never use them during dialogue unless you're planning to break the fourth wall. Replace them with commas or em dashes. Brackets in non-fiction are fine (within reason)."
Brackets (parentheses as they are known more commonly in the US) are found more often in business documents, so that might contribute to the overall feel of wrongness in fiction. A happy skimming of the Chicago Manual of Style can give you a good idea of how many things are great in technical manuals or propaganda, but NOT okay in fiction writing. Parentheses rank right up there.

As I was working on this blog post, in fact, my hubby, who has read G.R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series multiple times, showed me a passage he just happened to be reading in the third book, A Storm of Swords, and said, "Doesn't this look weird to you? Why are these even here?" and he pointed to this:
Then came some strolling pipers and clever dogs and sword swallowers with buttered peas, chopped nuts, and slivers of swan poached in a sauce of saffron and peaches. ("Not swan again," Tyrion muttered, remembering his supper with his sister on the eve of battle.) A juggler kept a half-dozen swords and axes whirling through the air as skewers of blood sausages were brought sizzling to the tables, a juxtaposition that Tyrion thought passing clever, though not perhaps in the best of taste.
Is it just me, or did any of you also picture Tyrion looking away from the feast and directly into a camera (or the reader's eyes) and saying that line? That one line in parentheses pulled me away from saffron and peaches and feasting, and it took more than a few lines to get me back to the story, rather than my awareness of the writing.

One person describes it as such: parentheses "joggle" in the same way footnotes "joggle," like someone bumping your elbow to get your attention; it's also described by others as "intrusive" and "jarring." Who wants their writing to be intrusive and jarring?

The answer is: no one. Authors want to keep their readers engaged and lost in the world they created. Period.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Come and Visit Me Somewhere Else Today!

Hi, everyone!

My friends at Writers After Dark asked me to do a guest spot this week, so you can find my real blog post over there today.

It's called "Parentheses in Fiction: Do They Break the Fourth Wall?"

Some pretty exciting stuff, eh? I live a wild life.

I'll be putting the post up here on Wednesday so I have it in my own archives, but for the first couple days, I'd like to give them the blog traffic. If you've never visited Writers After Dark, you're missing out on a great resource for authors. There are terrific how-tos, there's news, and there are videos from our two wonderful co-hosts, authors Raymond Esposito and S.K. Anthony.

Show them some love today, and then don't forget to come back here in a couple days to read the exact same article all over again, pretend you've never seen it before, and leave me comments so I don't feel lonely and ignored.

Thanks, everybody!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do I Have to Love a Genre to Edit It?

As a reader, I can choose whatever book strikes my fancy, and if I don't like it once I've gotten part way into it, I can simply stop reading it.

As an editor, the "put it down" option is nowhere to be found. If I take on a job, I finish it. That's what I'm hired to do. So there's the question: Do I have to love a genre to edit it?

The answer is a big fat NOPE.

I've edited a decent number of books from a decent number of authors, and it goes without saying that those authors don't all write at the same level of skill. If a book isn't ready for edits (major issues), then that's one thing, but if a book is ready and I take on the job, it's now a matter of accepting that the writing level is either good or waaay good. Genre really doesn't factor in.

[I should clarify: genre is only a factor if someone asks me to edit erotica. I'm no prude, but I don't think editing erotica is compatible with my job as assistant to the worship leader at a large church. Call me crazy if you must, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.]

Anyway, I've found that, regardless of my typical reading preferences, the genre of a book I'm editing doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed certain books I wouldn't think to pick up for pleasure reading. Now that my kids are no longer of the age where I sit down to read to them—and we did read aloud to them well into their teen years as a nighttime thing so we could all enjoy a good book at the same time—I rarely pick up juvenile fiction, or even young adult fiction, and yet I enjoy editing those books when they come my way. Part of it is, I think, that it reminds me of how much discovery is out there for kids who read, and part of it is that I've just worked with good writers who tell an entertaining story.

The one thing I have to be cautious about (and I don't think I actually do this, but it's always good to be alert) is to not change an author's voice while editing something I'm not really enjoying. A few years ago, I agreed to beta a novel for someone who approached me through Goodreads. I was between edits at the time and thought it would be nice to do a new author a favor. The book was science fiction, which I love, so I thought it would be enjoyable.

Silly me. The book was not enjoyable. It was a confusing read, because it was full of time travel and the dialogue was written in the present and future tense at the same time . . . and it took me a long time to get into the flow of it enough to read without constantly rereading. It also pushed an agenda, which I do NOT like in works of fiction, even when it's a viewpoint I might agree with. It was super lengthy, too, and was only the first part in a ten-part series, from what I gathered.

The bottom line: even though I was beta-reading this and not really editing per se, I had to be careful to not let my (lack of) enjoyment cloud my judgment of whether the book was ready to publish. The book was written skillfully, and the author did a heck of a job self-editing (which I would never recommend to anyone as a general rule). Though there were many things I would have wanted to change, it was just fine the way it was. I felt like a huge success just by being able to give a neutral opinion when I did my report.

It may be difficult, but editing should not be a matter of opinion. I try to think of it like a doctor thinks of his/her patients. Wouldn't you always want to deal with the pleasant people who are fit and attractive? Or be the dentist whose patients all have great teeth?

Editing is like that in many ways. The manuscript is the sum of its parts, and it's my job to make sure all the parts are in the condition they're supposed to be in so the whole is at its best. It's not my job to judge whether the parts are attractive to me personally, because those same parts, when put together as a whole, will be attractive to someone else.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Editor's Notes #27: Hooked On a Feeling

Writing fiction is all about plucking at people's emotional strings, whether you're aiming for tender feelings, indignation, laughter, fear, or any number of the bajillions of things that encompass the spectrum of emotions.

How do you get people to feel what you want them to feel? I've gotten steaming mad at a character's stupidity or self-centeredness. I've also laughed along with a protagonist who happens to be a serial killer. [Only semi-related side note: if you've never read anything by Tim Dorsey, you're missing out on an absolutely entertaining killer named Serge and his sidekick, Coleman, as they enjoy everything Florida has to offer. "Quirky" is not quite the word for it. I came across the "why dead people show up in later books" section of Dorsey's site, and couldn't believe how many more books he's released since I last picked one of his off the library shelves. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program . . .]

The classic "show, don't tell" is one way of getting those emotions across. Think about it: if you're telling someone about a traumatic event that happened to you, they're going to respond in a completely different way depending on whether you're listing "this happened, and then this happened," or whether you're trembling and fighting back tears as you struggle to choke out the words. Why would writing a scene be any different? Show how a character is physically dealing with things, and you're on your way.

With a sympathetic character, you can create a sort of bond between the character and the reader, so there's a bit of investment there. This can be brought about in a funny way, like how you just can't help but root for Tuck Watley (Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter by Brandon Meyers and Bryan Pedas) because he's just so . . . well, he's indescribable, but trust me, you're rooting for him for the sheer entertainment value. Or you can root for the underdog who's been screwed over way too many times, because everyone's been treated or judged unfairly at least once in their life. Or maybe you can even root for Nick or Kevin from S.K. Anthony's series, The Luminaries, because they're incredibly sexy, yet intelligent good guys who are also some of the baddest guys around. Whatever tugs at you will pull you in if it's done well.

You could also create a character who is NOT sympathetic, and make the reader hate him. The emotion is still a strong one, and they'll not forget him easily. However, take care to not make him unlikable in every way—I edited a book once where a character was such an absolute jerk that I couldn't stand him . . . and he was supposed to be one of the protagonists. I ended up telling the author that I didn't even care what happened to him and would not want to keep reading if I had bought the book. Fun fact: turns out this particular author (who I knew was actually a skilled writer) had cowritten that particular book and was not happy with the other person's contributions (that awful character being one of them). All that was needed was a neutral voice (mine) to allow the author the necessary backup to break ties with the other writer and redo the book completely.

Letting your emotions into the writing can be an odd thing. If your character is insane, I'd imagine it's a tough call for exactly how crazy to write him. Will people think he's over-the-top freaky? Will they think you're like that in real life, and that's how you write crazy so well? Will they think you're wimpy if you're a guy who writes a really tender scene? Do writers even care if anyone thinks they're writing from experience? I need to know these things.

Have you ever written anything really strange and wondered what someone would think of YOU after reading it, even though it was fiction?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Can You See It?

When I read, one of the things I take for granted is that I can picture what's happening in the book as easily as if I were actually watching the action in front of me. Some writers make that experience richer than others, adding texture galore that rounds out the feel of things.

The ability to "see" what I'm reading is a perk for me, although it can backfire at times when a movie is made, and I'm irritated that something is "not how I pictured it at all." Of course, with books nearly always being better than their movies, I just tell myself I'm right and the movie director is horribly wrong.

A friend of mine who's an avid reader has always said, "I guess I must have no imagination, because I can never picture how anything is supposed to look when I read a book." When Fellowship of the Ring was made into a movie, I remember saying something about how so many scenes were even better than I'd pictured, and she stated that she loved seeing it because she hadn't been able to imagine any of it.

Turns out she's not lacking in imagination, or comprehension, or anything else. She simply suffers from a condition called aphantasia, the inability to conjure up visual imagery.

Doctors and scientists are only recently discovering how this works—or doesn't work—in the brain. Aphantasia may affect up to one in fifty people, so it's certainly more common than you'd think. Those who suffer from it are often unaware that most people can easily do what seems impossible for them.

As a reader, a person can compensate by focusing on the facts and descriptions of a character or a scene, even if that person can't conjure it up visually.

But what if you're an author? If your mind's eye is essentially blind, are you able to write scenes that will move your audience? Can you add the elements that stimulate all five senses in a way that's vivid enough?

Ever since I read about this a year or so ago, I've wondered if there are, indeed, authors who suffer from this, and if that's why some writers can take a scene over the top while others fall flat. Perhaps it's not immature writing or lack of skill, per se, but simply a lack of ability to see it as they write.

What do you think? When you write, do you picture the scene and write what you're seeing in your mind, or do you write the action and then go back and fill in the details? I'm curious.