December 14, 2017
We’re in the middle of the holiday season and creating lots of memories. Seems like a good time to start working on your memoir while everything is still fresh. Oh, I know you don’t think you have time with all that’s going on, but consider taking five or ten minutes before you turn out the light at the end of the day to jot down some memory triggers you can use after the chaos is gone.
You know the old who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, so consider starting there.
- Who warrants a place in your memoir?
- What did he/she do to get that honor of inclusion?
- When is the time frame your memoir will cover (holidays only or longer lifetime)?
- Where will your memoir take you emotionally, mentally, maybe even physically?
- Why write a memoir in the first place (to help you find more meaning in your own life, maybe)?
- How will you decide what to include and what to leave out and how to organize your writing?
It may be helpful to see that what you write fits into three categories: history, biography, and memoir. That way you give yourself permission to include facts and relationships as well as impressions.
As you write, remember this is your memoir and you’re incorporating your thoughts with your experiences. It’s better to write something that keeps pushing you toward your goal of finishing your memoir than to worry about whether you have writing talent or not. Only you can write your memoir, so why not start while you have all the excitement of the holidays around you? Happy writing!
November 9, 2017
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’re responsible for how well your reader understands what you’re saying. No two people see things exactly the same way because everyone uses filters that are unique to each of them when processing information. For example, my experience may show me snow is something to avoid driving in while someone else’s experience may show snow is a great opportunity for play. Thus, if I write about anticipating a snowstorm, my intent may be to show the reader dread but the reader may see fun.
Here’s a checklist to help make your writing more clear for your reader.
- Verbs. Choose words that express your exact meaning. Consider the image your reader gets if your character runs versus jogs versus sprints versus scampers. Choose the verb that shows the reader what you mean.
- Nouns. Again, decide the image you want your reader to see. There’s a difference between a house and a split-level or an apartment or a ranch-style or a mansion. Choose the noun that shows where your character lives or is visiting.
- Adjectives/adverbs. I combine these because they are both used to modify other words. Consider involving as many of the five senses in your descriptions as possible. For example, a dark, cold, smelly, underground room is easier to see than a basement.
- Synonyms. While synonyms may basically mean the same thing, there are connotations (additional meanings) possible with similar terms. For example, delicious, yummy, scrumptious, and good are considered synonyms, but the images for each can differ in readers’ minds.
- Cliches. These are tired expressions that don’t belong in any good writer’s work. Examples are “dead as a door nail,” “poor as a church mouse,” “slow as molasses.” Avoid cliches, period.
- Similes. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar to each other by using the work like. Example: The sound of rescue sirens was like music to the ears of the car accident victims. (Sirens aren’t typically music to most people.)
- Metaphors. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar by saying one is actually the other. Example: The girl was a cat as she crept through the woods. (The girl cannot become a cat, but if you say she was like a cat, you’ve written a simile, not a metaphor.)
- Jargon. Jargon is the language specific to a certain group such as those in the medical, legal, technical fields or those with specific interests such as hobbyists, etc. Jargon isn’t acceptable when writing to the general reader.
- 5 W’s and H. After you’ve checked the list above, remember to ask the basic 5-W (who, what, when , where, why) and H (how) questions to determine if your reader will understand your intent.
I hope you’ll find this basic checklist helpful and consider using it before you submit your writing to your agent or editor. Happy writing!
October 26, 2017
With 2018 fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about your writing/publishing plans for the new year. Technology has allowed so many changes in the book publishing industry that I thought it might be good to get back to basics.
Parent houses are the large entities that publish books. As many of the large houses gobbled up their competitors over the years, fewer and fewer large publishing houses remained, That meant there were fewer places authors and their agents could approach with book ideas.
A solution came when parent houses divided their various (and often unrelated) editorial segments into imprints. Imprints are part of the parent house, but many imprints have their own editorial staff (and most likely their own budgets) dedicated to the specific area that imprint publishes.
There are several reasons a parent house will have various imprints, but the most common are to keep the genres/subject areas separate from each other and the ability to focus its appeal toward each different demographic group. In other words, an imprint is much like a trade or brand name. Having different imprints allows the parent house to expand the types of books it offers under its corporate umbrella.
One important thing for you as an author to understand is the parent house will most likely not allow its imprints to compete with one another for buying your work. Why not? It’s not good business to allow two divisions of your company to bid against each other for the same item.
A new year is coming, so start thinking about how you’re going to make it your best year ever as an author/writer. Happy writing!
September 25, 2017
Many of the authors I worked with over my career told me how upset they were with me when first seeing my edits, but once they realized my job was to help them make their writing better and more clear for the reader, they understood that nothing I said was personal to them–it was about improving their relationship with their reader.
So, what exactly should you expect from your editor? Here are some tips to help you.
- Look for an editor who maintains respect for your ability as a writer while directing revisions to your work.
- Determine if your editor can see the big picture (your general topic) of what your article or book is about while paying attention to the details in your sentences.
- Be clear yourself about why you’re writing your article or book. Ask yourself, “What is this about in general? What are the deeper themes I want to cover?” The point is you want some compelling reason for writing so your reader feels satisfied when done reading. Once you’re clear about the reason, keep your focus on it to avoid going off in other directions.
- Be sensitive to the fact that you know what you’re trying to say, but unless you make that clear in your writing, you’re expecting your reader to read your mind. Editors are the link between writers and readers. Your editor should always have the reader in mind when working with you to make your writing more clear and concise.
- Ask for clarification when you don’t understand your editor’s comment or suggestion.
- Watch that your editor helps you with both copy editing and content editing. Content editing is about clarity, understanding, organization. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, spelling. You need your editor to provide both.
- Remember that a good editor strives for balance between keeping your voice and style while ensuring your writing is clear and grammatically correct.
I told authors I worked with that they the only ones who can write what they write. No one else has their perspective of life based on their knowledge, experience, and observation.
My job as editor was to make sure they clearly communicate with their readers. My job as editor was not to change their voice into mine (which, unfortunately, sometimes editors try to do by rewording or reworking an author’s piece).
Your editor should challenge you to be clear and to rewrite in your own voice to achieve clarity for the reader. Happy writing!
August 24, 2017
Someone once said that writers are observers of life. If you’re stuck in your writing, perhaps you’ve forgotten to take the time to do just that–observe life. Here are some tips to help you improve your writing without actually writing.
- Become well-read. By that I mean read more than just your favorite genre or nonfiction subject. For example, I keep a small notebook handy when I read and jot down a new word or phrase or description that catches my eye so I can refer to it later.
- Expand your social life. When you talk with people, you can learn things you hadn’t considered before. Of course that means you not only talk, but you also listen. You need people in your writing, whether as experts to help you or characters to help your story, so why not include socializing as part of your writing research?
- Get physical. You’ve heard about the physical benefits of 30 minutes of exercise a day, but what do you do when you don’t like to exercise (like me)? My doctor told me to find my guilty pleasure and incorporate it into an exercise. I’m old enough to remember Elvis, Fabian, Annette, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and I like to turn on “Malt Shop” music on my satellite t.v., so I turn on the music and dance around the house. Thirty minutes is not enough time! The positive feelings abound, and I’m ready to write again when I’m done.
- Look at the world around you. I opened this post with the notion of writers being observers of life. Now I challenge you to do just that–observe life. What color is house next door to you? How many windows are covered with curtains or shades? Why is that, do you think? How many cars in the parking lot at the neighborhood church and how long after service do they stay? Does that mean the congregation socializes or the service runs long? What are the early morning sounds around you? Traffic or nature or pets or some combination? Well, you get the idea. Observing the world can help you write setting, time, decorations (inside and outside), etc.
- Sit back and do nothing but let your mind wander. If you’re like me, there are times you need to give yourself permission to sit back and just do nothing for a few minutes (not hours, mind you). Let your imagination run from thought to thought, from image to image, from feeling to feeling. As you do, you’ll reconnect with ideas and emotions you can incorporate into your writing.
I used to teach a class at the local college called “Become a Writer in 30 Minutes a Day” and challenge my students to find 30 minutes each day in their busy schedules for writing. We’d brainstorm ways to find time such as get up one-half hour earlier or go to bed one-half hour later or turn off television for a half-hour, etc. Then I’d ask them what they could do in the 30 minutes besides write that would count as writing. I’ve given you a good start in the bullets above. See what you can add to the list (then do at least one thing on your list every day). Happy writing!
August 17, 2017
Fiction writers (and readers) know fiction takes place in a made-up world and that world may or may not reflect the real one. Add that some fiction takes place in standalone work and some becomes part of a series. This makes the decision on whether to use real places or not even more complicated.
Here are some tips to help you decide when to use real places in your fiction.
- Consider legal implications. I am not a lawyer, so am not offering any legal advice or insights–only common sense. You wouldn’t want anyone saying something negative or libelous about your establishment or business, so don’t do that to anyone else.
- Think about how involved your character is with the establishment. If the character owns it, you might want to avoid using a real-life business since the character is so connected to it.
- Decide how important it is that your reader connect with the establishment. Readers recognize real-life business names and connect with them, but does the world in your fiction have to mirror the reader’s or simply be one he or she can envision?
- Determine location consistency. If you’re writing a series, this becomes very important. No one would appreciate Sherlock Holmes’ address changing from 221B Baker Street. Neither will your series reader appreciate your establishment moving from location to location between books.
- Be aware real establishments move or go out of business. Establishments can move or go out of business over time and books are in print a long time. Creating a fictional establishment keeps you in control of where things happen in your book or story.
Since you’re creating the world around your fiction story, you get to decide when to use real places and names. I hope these tips help you. Happy writing!
August 2, 2017
Adventure novel readers expect your protagonist is involved in action that’s risky with unseen danger or unexpected excitement. This action is connected to the antagonist, which may be human or not. As long as the antagonist is an adversary that provides conflict or puts your protagonist in such jeopardy that he/she has to take action, you’re headed the right way in your adventure novel.
Here are some tips to help you.
- Hold your reader’s interest by keeping things moving. Allow your reader to take a breath once in awhile, but stay mindful of the pace your novel keeps. You can’t have a fight or confrontation on every page, so consider changing the scene or having your character ponder a memory as tools to help slow things down when you need to.
- Create tension either between characters or within your main character. Think about why the protagonist and antagonist are on opposite sides or why the protagonist is fighting with his/her internal demons/doubts/issues, including ways the protagonist is like the antagonist and wants to change.
- Offer your reader some suspense. At some point your protagonist will face a threat or some type of jeopardy. If you’re writing a series, your reader fully expects your protagonist to survive, but doesn’t know how it will happen. You need to create suspense as you answer that survival question.
Keep these three ideas in mind as you write your adventure novel and you’ll have a good foundation for your book. There’s much more to it such as the scenes your action takes place in, the timeline of your story (hours versus weeks versus months versus years), and characters you develop, etc. Readers root for the protagonist, so plan your final scene carefully. Sometimes bad guys get away, sometimes they don’t. It’s up to you as author. Happy writing!