Monday, July 25, 2016

Speaker Beats That Can Ruin a Manuscript

By Andrea Merrell

We’re taught the concept at writers’ conferences, read about it in helpful blog posts, and hear it consistently from our critique group and editors: show—don’t tell. This key to writing well can make or break an otherwise good story. There are many ways to describe this key element, but today we’re going to talk about speaker beats that are not only telling, but redundant and, well … flat.

Here are a few of the most common:
  • She smiled.
  • He laughed.
  • She cried.
  • He shrugged.
  • She nodded.
  • He cleared his throat.
  • She blushed.
  • He flexed his jaw.
  • She sighed.
  • He winked.
Am I saying it’s never okay to use these beats? Yes and no. (I recently edited a manuscript that used "he nodded" over forty times.) An occasional “she smiled” or “he shrugged” might be acceptable, but not just as a filler. And not if you want the reader to relate to your characters and feel like they are watching them on the big screen. (Check out Deb Raney’s post on Writing Cinematically.) As writers, we need to show the emotions and inner conflict of our characters. Let’s look at an example.

Flat Speaker Beats
“It won’t be long before I’m home,” Steve said. “Sorry, I forgot about the party.” He laughed.

Julie sighed. “You don’t listen to anything I say, do you?”

“Sure I do.” Steve shrugged. “I just don’t have the best memory.”

“You don’t care about my feelings. That’s the problem.” Julie cried.

What do you get from this section of dialogue? Not much. We don’t even know whose point of view we’re in. Let’s see if we can set the scene a little better.

Speaker Beats that Tell a Story
“It won’t be long before I’m home,” Steve said with a nervous laugh, wishing for the hundredth time he had put the event on his mobile calendar. He would have a hard time talking himself out of this one.

Julie’s weary sigh cut through the phone like a knife and reminded him of all the other important things he had forgotten. “You don’t listen to anything I say, do you?”

Steve shrugged his shoulders in a nervous gesture as he always did when he knew he was wrong, even though no one could see him. “Sure I do. I just don’t have the best memory.” Well, that was at least partially true.

“You don’t care about my feelings.” As usual, the sound of crying replaced the sigh. “That’s the problem,” Julie said between sobs. “You’ve never cared.”

Do you see the difference? Can you feel the conflict and tension between the two?

Another bad habit we have as writers is overusing our pet words and phrases. The list is endless, but here are some of the most common:
  • That
  • Just
  • Really
  • Seriously
  • Slowly
  • Gently
  • Silently
  • Softly
  • Carefully
  • Began to
  • Determined jaws
  • Lips twisting
  • Color rising to the face
  • Running hands through hair
Anything overused in a story will wear on the reader. If you are aware of redundancies in your manuscript, do a word search and see how many times you have used a certain word or phrase. Then get creative and do some rewriting. Make your words count. Be sure they show what’s going on in the scene and drive your story forward.

What about you? Do you struggle with overusing certain words and phrases? Can you add to the list? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Isolated Images/Idea Go.)


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part VI ~ Chronological Order

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the sixth 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 time, we continued discussing character development and went over Point of View. This week, we'll take a look at creating an accurate timeline.

It would seem obvious, but our stories need to be in chronological order. 

You may be writing a novel where your characters are traveling in time from one era to the next. For example, in the movie Midnight in Paris, Gil travels to Paris with his fiance in modern times, but when he takes a walk at midnight he finds himself in Paris in the 20s, hanging out with the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.

Sure, the scenes may not happen in chronological order on the dated timeline, but when your character shows up again in 2016, he or she should be picking up where they left off, not jumping ahead two years or falling back three days or even three hours. If they do, your timeline is out of order and you'll need to rearrange it.

Unless your character is Dr. Who and your reader knows he will show up months after he departed with Rose. In this case, he has control of the timeline. He can go back in time to fix things or forward because time has passed since he left. In which case, Rose's life will look different on earth. Her mother is aging, times are changing, and the story continues.

When editing, I have often found that authors struggle with keeping the timeline in order when switching points of view. This is the area where I would caution you to be careful. It looks like this:

Character A is going through the motions and having conversations and moving the story forward.

Author switches POV to Character B. Only, instead of picking up where Character A's timeline left off, the author moves Character B back several minutes or hours or days in the timeline and starts telling Character B's story there.

The two characters' stories should not be happening side-by-side like that. Where one leaves off, the other picks up and vice versa. Otherwise, you're doing what I like to call "time hopping." It's very similar to head hopping. The reader will find themselves all over the place in time and end up confused.

The fix is easy: Keep the stories fluent. When you switch Point of View, don't switch time. Pick up where Character A left off when you start writing Character B's POV. Your readers will thank you.

One way to keep track of timelines is to keep it on paper. Make yourself a timeline like we did when we were in history class. Write down what your characters are doing. If you make two side by side, you can easily track where the characters are in their timelines and where you need to leave off with one and pick up with the other.

Another way is to create that timeline with sticky notes and keep them in front of you. You could even move them around if you found yourself wanting to change the timeline. This method would also help you find gaps in your timeline and easily fill them in by adding another sticky note. No need for erasers or starting over here.

What other struggles do you have with timelines? We'd love to know. Feel free to leave us a comment below!


Tips for Keeping Your Timeline in Tact via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Are your characters time hopping? A few pointers on chronological order. {Click to Tweet}

Friday, July 8, 2016

Another Winner...

Alycia here. I've been rather busy for the past month as my kids have been home from school and we traveled for a week, so I never had an opportunity to announce the winner of Dr. Richard Mabry's book, Medical Judgment.

Drumroll please!

Laura Watts, please contact me at alywmorales (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address so we can get your prize in the mail. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save, Part V - Point of View

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the fifth 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 time, we continued discussing character development and went over backstory, information dumps, preaching, and repetition. This week, we'll take a look at Point of View.

The first thing we need to know is how to stay within one character's Point of View (POV). Many first-time novelists (and even some second- or third-time novelists) struggle with this concept. What happens is they write a scene with two or more characters interacting and the reader suddenly finds him or herself wondering which character is doing or saying something, because the writer has jumped from one character's POV to another. This is what we call "head hopping."

So how do we write without head hopping? Most writers will tell you to imagine your character has a video camera attached to their forehead. Your character can only experience what he could record on that camera. I would go one step farther and tell you to imagine yourself in your character's shoes. Think about the things you can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think. These are the things your character can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think. For example, I can see my husband. I can reach out and touch him if he's standing within my arm's reach. I can smell his scent because he's close enough. I can smell his breath if he's eaten a garlic and anchovy pizza or forgot to brush his teeth this morning. I cannot taste his garlic and anchovy pizza - except if I kiss him, then I may taste the oil from the garlic or the fish. Blah. I can then wrinkle my nose. I can hear him ask why I'm wrinkling my nose at him, but I can't read his mind. I can't know that he's thinking, "She must not like what I'm doing right now or she wouldn't be making that face at me." I can only know that if he asks, "Why are you making a face at me? Is there a problem?"

Get it? Your characters can only experience what they can see in front of or near them. So if one leaves the room, they can't see what the person left in the room is doing. Unless the walls are super thin, they can't hear what the person left in the room is saying. This is a common mistake in manuscripts that I edit, so pay close attention to what your characters are doing and saying and make sure you aren't switching from one to the other or having them assume to know what another character is thinking.

There are three points of view I'd like to discuss. Omniscient/Narrator. First Person. Third Person.

Omniscient/Narrator: This point of view is often the POV of the writer. Some refer to this as being God in your manuscript. As the author, you narrate the story. You know everything going on inside the characters and in their world around them, and you let the reader know this. But the characters may not know everything happening. Oftentimes, this POV is frowned upon in writing fiction.

And many times authors will accidentally slip into the omniscient POV. It tends to happen when trying to show what a character is doing or setting up a scene. To avoid slipping into the omniscient POV, make sure you stay inside your character's shoes, only allowing the reader to experience what the character is doing.

First Person: When we write in first person, we use the pronouns I, Me, Us, and We. Remember, we are staying within one character's POV at a time. Usually first-person POV stories are written with the lead character being the one whose POV we remain in throughout the story. We may see a hero and a heroine's POV, but we generally don't see outside of those two. Maybe we'll see the antagonist, the villain. Otherwise, the secondary characters remain very secondary.

Third Person: When we write in third person, we use the pronouns he, she, they, and them. Again, we are staying in one character's POV at a time. In third-person POV stories, we may see the secondary characters' POVs on occasion. But they never override the main characters' story lines.

Which leads me to our next and final topic for today: Primary vs. Secondary Characters and Their Roles.

Your primary character/s are the lead characters in your novel. This is the protagonist - the hero or heroine or both, depending on how you set up your story. Your antagonist/villain may also play a primary role. It's their story you're telling.

Secondary characters are the supporting actors in your story. They assist the lead character/s' story lines. But again, they never overtake them. They remain somewhat in the background. They're there for moral support. They can speak and act. They can give advice. They can cause problems for your main character. But they are not the main character. Think of Job. He had three buddies who came along and were part of his story. They even offered him ill advice. But they didn't run his story. It was still his. He was always the main character. We get glimpses into their lives and their thoughts, but they never take the lead character's place. If you notice your secondary character is trying to overcome your main character's position in your story, you may need to reconsider whose story needs to be told.

Do you struggle with POV? Do you have a burning question to ask? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.


A quick review of Point of View. Helping #writers save time & money via @AlyciaMorales. {Click to Tweet}

Understanding head hopping and how to avoid it. {Click to Tweet}