Monday, May 30, 2016

The Wonders and Blunders of Cyberspace

By Andrea Merrell

Many years ago we thought outer space was the final frontier. The Starship Enterprise boldly went where no man had—supposedly—gone before. (I apologize if you’re not a Star Trek fan.)

Today, the final frontier seems to be cyberspace. This is a wonderful, necessary, exciting … and terrifying place. We type e-mails, create posts on Facebook, Tweet, Pin, send DMs, chat, facetime, build websites, and blog—all the while trusting our info is in good hands and will be delivered to the appropriate person or place.

Cyberspace appears to be a type of virtual vacuum, and most of us have a love/hate relationship with the whole concept.  It sucks all of our data into this unseen realm where it remains forever. Sometimes our data gets lost, but it is still “out there” somewhere.

I’ve heard it said that whatever goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. In other words, if you don’t want something there … don’t put it there. It becomes etched into the fibers of an electronic world that we can neither see nor control. Be sure to think carefully before you hit post, send, or reply.

How many times have you sent an e-mail that was never received? Where did it go? Maybe you even sent a proposal or query letter to an agent or publisher that never made it to their inbox.

Besides the problem of things getting lost, we also have to worry about hackers that lurk around in this mysterious realm, waiting to steal or distort our files and info. Just like the Bible warns us about being alert to the enemy of our soul, we must all be wise and alert to the schemes of hackers and cyber predators. There are many things we can do, but here are a few of the most important:
  • Safeguard your passwords and change them often.
  • Don’t ever share too much personal info.
  • If someone makes you feel uncomfortable on the Internet, unfriend or unfollow them.
  • Don’t open e-mails that look suspicious.
  • Don’t post pictures of your wonderful vacation until afterward. You’re letting everyone know you’re not at home.


On the positive side, cyberspace has made the world a lot smaller for all of us. We can reach people in other parts of the country and keep in touch with just a few taps of the keyboard. We can submit a query letter, proposal, or entire manuscript with one click.

There is no doubt that we live in a digital world, and we need to keep up with technology and learn how to best navigate this unseen realm. Use wisdom and make cyberspace your friend.

What about you? What has been your experience with this new frontier? If you have stories or tips to share, we would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

TWEETABLES



Monday, May 23, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part IV - Backstory, Info Dumps, Preaching, & Repetition

by Alycia W. Morales
@AlyciaMorales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the fourth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. If you'll work to improve these issues within your manuscript, your editor won't have to work so hard and you may save money by only needing a copy edit vs. needing a substantive edit.

Last week, we continued discussing character development and went over conflict, resolution, and loose ends. This week, we'll take a look at backstory, information dumps, preaching, and repetition.

Backstory

Backstory is one of the key issues I find in many manuscripts I edit. Many writers don't know how to include backstory in a proper and acceptable manner. Instead of weaving it into the story through dialogue, inner thought, and the rarely used flashback, they write pages of what I call "reflection."

Back story is something that has happened in your character's past. It should only be pertinent to the present-day story if you're going to include it, and it had better move the story forward. If it is neither, leave it out.

There are three key ways to include backstory in your novel:

1. Through dialogue between characters. The past issue can come up in conversation, but it must be natural, not forced. Let the characters discuss it. Maybe your protagonist needs to process something that happened in the past that's causing the issue in her current situation. She can discuss it with a mentor, friend, someone else she trusts. Again, make sure it is pertinent.

2. Inner thought. Most editors like to see deep POV (deep point of view), where the character thinks about something, but we don't use italics or "he thought" to highlight what they're thinking. Instead, it flows right in the story line. This is another place where you can weave in backstory. Don't make it more than one, maybe two, paragraphs long. Otherwise, it's turning into an info dump and no longer serves its purpose to clue in the reader as to a motivation of the character.

3. Flashbacks. This is where the character reflects on something from their past based on what's happening in the present. The trick to writing a great flashback is knowing how to transition between the present and the past then back to the present. Something the character smells, hears, touches, tastes, or sees (the 5 senses) can trigger the flashback. Just make sure it's prevalent to the current story and that it helps move the story forward if you're going to use one. And don't use more than one per novel, please.

If you're not sure if you need backstory or not, ask yourself if the backstory serves a purpose to move the character forward in their character arc. If it doesn't, leave it out. We don't need some sweet memory of your character's grandmother if grandma has nothing to do with the story. If his father abused him and now he's facing charges of abusing his own children, then it may be important to give us a glimpse of his past.

Information Dumps

An info dump is when the author decides their reader surely can't know what x, y, or z is, so they tell them by writing it into their novel. Info dumps look like what they sound like. The author dumps a bunch of information about something on the page.

For example, you're writing about a drug or disease or military procedure or some other thing the average reader wouldn't know a lot about. Instead of showing us through the character's actions or in brief dialogues with other characters, the writer tells us in multiple sentences and paragraphs on the page. We get bored with the book and move on to something better.

Make sure you haven't given an info dump. These tend to show up in dialogue that becomes more like a lecture or, as mentioned above, paragraphs on a page about one topic with no character action or dialogue.

Preaching

No one likes to be preached at. We like to be spoken with. Encouraged. Not told what to do. Understood. Not condemned.

Readers don't like to find preaching in their books, either. If your character goes off on a tangent about any particular passion, rein them back in. Kick them off their soap box.

Let their faith come out in their actions or kindness toward another character. Let them pray a brief prayer. Give them a moral decision to make and have them make the right one.

But don't preach...

Repetition

This is another craft issue I find in many, many, many manuscripts. It's one of my personal pet peeves.

Your reader doesn't need to know that your character is depressed every day. If you've established he or she is dealing with depression in the first chapter, that's all your reader needs to know. Then they want to see him or her grow through it for the rest of the book. Show it. Don't tell it.

I see repetition come up in the following ways:

1. Words on the page. Make sure you're not repeating the same words throughout the page. Find another way to say it.

2. The cliche actions. Sighing. Smiling. Nodding. Watch for repetition in actions throughout the manuscript. Try to find something else for your character to do in response to something.

3. Emotions. We're not always happy. We're not always sad. We're not always smirking. Make sure your characters go through various emotions throughout their stories. Remember that they need to be overcoming their struggles, so their emotions should progress. (They may regress at times, but progress must be made by the end of the story.) And don't name them. Show them.

4. A reminder for the reader. I've often seen writers remind the reader of something they mentioned earlier in the story, as if the reader may have forgotten. Don't do this. It's annoying. It snaps your reader out of their fictional dream.

There are more, but those are the main four that I notice a lot.

Go back through your manuscript and search for these. If you find them, find a better way to convey the same information by showing it, rather than telling it. Otherwise, delete them.

I'm curious: which of these do you write most into your novel? Share with us in the comments below.

Tweetables:

Four things to avoid putting into your manuscript via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Why to avoid putting backstory, info dumps, preaching, & repetition in your manuscript via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Monday, May 16, 2016

Crafting Great Dialogue

By Andrea Merrell


Dialogue can make or break a story—too much, too little, too stilted, or too corny.

When we read, we want to see the characters interacting with each other. Whether they're arguing, sharing secrets, or just getting to know each other, we want the communication to be real and flow in such a way that we get pulled into the story.

As writers, we all have a unique voice. When we create our characters, they will also have a voice. The problem occurs when all of our characters have our voice instead of their own. How boring for our readers if everyone in our story sounds the same.

Tips To Remember When Crafting Dialogue
  • Use believable, down-to-earth dialogue that fits your character.
  • Don’t be afraid to use contractions, since that’s the way most people talk.
  • Be mindful of the setting, especially if it’s historical.
  • Make your words fit the culture.
  • Consider the age of your characters.

Using speaker beats and tags will enhance your dialogue. Let’s look at both.

Speaker Tags
A speaker tag shows the speaker’s name and a speech-related verb (said, asked, shouted). This is generally the best way to show which of your characters is speaking, but sometimes we tend to overuse them. They're not necessary each and every time someone speaks, especially in a long section of dialogue.

Example: “That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Wendy said.
                   “Thank you so much,” Beverly replied.
                    “Would you tell me where you got it?” Wendy said.
                   “Sure. It came from Dillard’s,” Beverly answered.

Do you see how annoying that could get?

Note: This is a common error when using speaker tags:  “That’s a pretty scrawny dog,” Jim laughed. Since Jim cannot laugh that comment, the proper way would be: “That’s a pretty scrawny dog.” Jim laughed. Do you see the difference? In the second example, there is a period after the word dog instead of a comma. The problem with this is that the second example now becomes a speaker beat instead of a tag.

Speaker Beats
A speaker beat describes the action that accompanies what the speaker is saying (like the example above). Here is another example:

“I can’t believe you said that to me.” Jessie grabbed her keys and headed for the door.

Note: Just like the speaker tags, don’t overuse beats. Too many will interrupt the flow of dialogue. They're not necessary every time but work well to help set the scene when used correctly. You can also use them at the beginning instead of the end:

Jessie grabbed her keys and headed for the door. “I can’t believe you said that to me.”

Know your characters well and present them in such a way your readers will not forget them.

What secrets can you share about crafting dialogue? We would love to hear your suggestions.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/cooldesign/Master Isolated Images.)

TWEETABLES


Monday, May 9, 2016

There's Always Something More

This is Alycia. Please help me welcome Dr. Richard Mabry as our guest poster this month. Dr. Mabry's tenth novel releases May 17th. You can check out Medical Judgment by clicking on this sentence. Thanks for joining us today! If you'd like the opportunity to win a copy of Medical Judgment, leave a comment below. We'll announce the winner next week!

by Dr. Richard Mabry
@RichardMabry

When I arrived at my first writer’s conference, I fully expected to show my writing to an editor or The Muppet Movie, refers to as the “standard rich and famous contract.” Those expectations began to fade as I realized how much I needed to learn about the craft. And you know what? After more than a decade of writing, I’m discovering that there’s still a lot to learn.

Part of what we learn is about the craft of writing. For instance, if you look at the midpoint of a novel, you’ll often find a scene or situation that makes the reader sit up and take notice. It's a device to avoid the “sagging middle.” For instance, in my forthcoming novel, Medical Judgment, if I open the book to the middle I find a scene where the heroine goes back to her late husband’s father for advice and a bit more. It changes the direction of the book just a bit. Learning that was one of the things I learned by continuing to study the craft.

When I got my first editorial letter, I expected something like, “This is wonderful. Don’t change a thing.” After all, the editor had liked it well enough to give me a contract. What more did I have to do? You can imagine my surprise (and disappointment) when, after saying how great the book was, the editor proceeded to give me several pages of suggestions to improve it. And, after I’d had some chocolate and stopped pouting, I discovered that she was right. Matter of fact, I still remember one comment of hers—“Are you aware of just how much in love with the word ‘just’ you are?” Believe me, I’ve done a search for that word in all subsequent novels.

Since you’re reading this blog, I trust that you are interested in the writing craft. Let me tell you that editors are important to every writer. Oh, there may be some whose work can be published without change, but they’re few, far between, and—in my opinion—exist only in stories told over coffee at writers’ conferences. For the rest of us, taking editorial advice is a necessary part of writing.

So what about you? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing a novel? Have you changed from plotter to pantser or vice-versa as things went along? Has a writing application made you a better writer? Do you think editorial advice is overrated, or very necessary? I’d love to know. Please share your answers in the comments below.

Tweetables:

After a decade of #writing, @RichardMabry is still learning... He joins us today at The Write Editing. {Click to Tweet}

Why is it important for #writers to keep learning? @RichardMabry shares his wisdom. {Click to Tweet}

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical suspense with heart.” His previous novels have garnered critical acclaim and been recognized by programs including the ACFW’s Carol Award, the Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year, the Inspirational Readers Choice, and the Selah Award. He is a proud member of the ACFW, the International Thriller Writers, and the FHL chapter of the RWA. Medical Judgment is his tenth published novel.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The More You Know, The Less You'll Pay: Part III - Conflict, Resolution, & Loose Ends

by Alycia W. Morales
@AlyciaMorales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the third post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we began discussing character development and went over character arc, flat characters, and motivation. This week, we'll take a look at conflict, resolution, and loose ends.

Conflict

There are two types of conflict: internal and external.

Internal conflict is something the character is dealing with inside of themselves. Think of it as an internal struggle. We all experience them. Our spirit battles with our flesh.

We know we shouldn't eat that doughnut because we need to lose weight, yet our desire for that delicious treat overcomes our desire to be healthy and we consume it. This is a setback in our weight-loss goal, because we just put on a pound we'd worked so hard to lose.

What is your character battling inside? What does he or she know is morally right, yet they can't help but do the opposite? This is your character's internal conflict.

External conflict is something outside of your character that continues to prevent them from reaching their goal or making that change in their life. External conflicts are often beyond our control. They are events or other people who come against what we're trying to accomplish. Yet, these too can be overcome, even when we don't feel like they can. These are what cause a character's setbacks as they try to achieve their goal.

When a novel lacks these types of conflict, the characters and the plot fall flat. Without conflict, the reader won't want to turn the page. There will be no hook to keep them reading.

Make sure you've defined both your character's internal and external conflicts and that everything they think and say and do drives them forward through the story toward overcoming these conflicts.
 
Resolution

Along with conflict, there must be resolution. Your character must overcome both the internal and external conflict before the story ends. Whether this happens in one book or over the course of many in a series is up to you. Usually in a series, they'll overcome some conflict in each book.

Imagine you've gotten into a huge fight with someone you're close to. Whatever you're fighting over is your conflict. What is your point of contention? What needs to happen to resolve that conflict? Do you need to let go of your opinion for the greater good of your relationship? Does one of you need to forgive the other? Do you need to end a friendship because of a great betrayal?

Whatever needs to happen to come to an agreement must happen so there is resolution.

Resolution brings finality.

Loose Ends

Before you finish editing your story, you need to go back through and make sure you've tied up any loose ends in your plot. Everything you mention throughout your story must be followed through on.

Did you mention a court date in chapter three? Make sure it happens before the end of the novel.
Did you mention she struggles with depression? Make sure she's either committed to counseling or has found a way to get past it by the end.
Did you mention he couldn't figure out the answer to the riddle at the beginning? Make sure he's figured it out by the end.

The reader will be watching to make sure you've tied up every detail of your story. Don't leave any threads hanging, or your plot may unravel.

What are your characters' internal and external conflicts? What can they do to bring resolution to those conflicts? Have you tied up all the loose ends in your story? Give us an example from your WIP in the comments. We'd love to meet your characters! 

Tweetables:

A simple look at conflict, resolution, & tying up loose ends. {Click to Tweet}

What battle has your character entered into & what can they do to resolve it? Conflict & Resolution. #amwriting