Monday, December 23, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners: Underestimating the Reader

The Ten Writing Tighteners Series is coming to a close. Since Christmas is this week, like a huge portion of the world's population, I'm a bit pressed for time. So, assuming many of my readers might be as well, I'm going to run through this one in a no-nonsense manner (sorry, no photos to break up the text blocks).

Never tell the reader what they already know or will assume.

Trust their memory

An author shouldn't repeat information they've already given the reader.

For instance, once the audience knows the character's physical attributes, they've formed a mental picture. It's unnecessary to beat them over the head with hair color, eye color, or skin tone. It's almost as though the author is telling them, "Sorry, you just aren't bright enough to remember this character has brown hair, even though I told you in chapters 3, 7, and 9."

I've made this mistake numerous times, and probably will again. Recently, I went through my first novel, looking up the key words I used for the male MC's eye color. I was shocked at the number of times I told the reader his eyes were blue.

It's understandable

If the writer has told a story well, when something happens (i.e the characters think or act in a certain way or some other circumstance comes about), the readers already knows it's understandable. It isn't necessary to tell them.

It's understandable I didn't want to go into the dark room.

If the author has done their job properly, the reader will already know why the character is concerned about entering the room.

It's neither here nor there

Whether writing present or past tense, it isn't necessary to explain to the reader the character is/was here or there. 

For example, one thing I run across in my own writing when I edit (I write first person), my character saying/thinking something akin to this:

Here I am, looking through this window at the firetruck racing by. 

If the character is looking out the window, commenting on what they see through the window, the reader already knows they character is here doing so.

In a similar vein, when written in past tense it might look like this:

There I was, with the hose in my hand watching the fire destroy the house.

If the character describes the house burning, it's obvious to the reader the character was there

It's all in their head

When prose are written in first person, or even third person, deep POV, and a thought occurs to the character, it isn't necessary to explain that the thought is in their head. Where else would a thought be? Their foot? Their elbow?

For example:
I'm sawing the log and a thought pops into my head. Why am I using this handsaw when there is a power saw in the garage?

My arm aches as I push and pull, struggling to cut the log. Why am I using this handsaw when there is a power saw in the garage?

In the second passage, the reader gets the same meaning, without the writer having to spell out details which would be assumed.

It is WHERE it is

A reader will always assume an expression is on someone's face. Always.

An expression of pure terror flashed across her face.

Unless there is another place the expression flashed, such as her eyes, the writer can skip that part of the sentence.

She wore an expression of pure terror.

Also, a smile will always be assumed to show on someone's face. After all, where the hell else would it be?

A smile spread over his face.

It's certainly not going to spread over his belly button or his toes. Yes, I'm being ridiculous, but I'm trying to make a point.

His smile spread.

Also, a heart pounds in a person's chest. Unless it's pounding elsewhere, there is no point in explaining where the character's heart is. The audience will assume that's where it is. This falls under that same principle of never tell the reader what they already know or will assume.

Dialogue speaks for itself

I have probably already covered this at some point in this series, but just in case someone doesn't read the entire series, I would be remiss if I don't point it out here as well. There is no need for a writer to explain that someone asked or said something when the dialogue itself shows the reader this happened.

"Where did you put the apples, Jim?" I asked him.

First off, there is no need to add him at the end, the reader knows who the character asked. It's right there in the dialogue. Secondly, unless there is some ambiguity as to who is speaking, there isn't a reason to use the dialogue tag I asked. The reader knows the person speaking asked a question, after all, it's right there between the quotation marks.

All the wonders of the world

When a character wonders something, it isn't necessary to tell the reader that's what they are doing. Just having the question in the text is enough.

I climbed the steps into the attic and wondered if there might be a ghost waiting in the dark.

I climbed the steps into the attic. Is there a ghost waiting in the dark?

The same goes for third person.

Sammy crept down into the root cellar and wondered if there might be a giant spider waiting to wrap him in it's web.

Sammy crept down into the root cellar. Would a giant spider be waiting to wrap him in it's web?

No directions necessary

Authors do not have to tell every step of every action. If a character goes somewhere in a car, the reader will assume certain things about it the character’s actions. They will automatically imagine the character pulls the door handle, opens the door, and closes it upon exit. Unless there is something special about these actions, there’s no need to mention them.

Also, falling under this category is stating the obvious and movement words which imply the direction. Take a look at the following sentence, and yes, it is an over-the-top example, solely for demonstration purposes.

Once inside the room, I crossed over to settle into the bed and sat down, and then I lay down and lifted my arm up over her waist to pull her toward me. (31 words)

Once inside the room[Ex1] , I crossed over to [Ex2] settle intthebed and sat down, and then I lay down [Ex3] and lifted my arm up over her waist to [Ex4] pull her toward me. 

 [Ex1]Obviously they went inside a room, if it wasn’t a room, that would be worth adding. i.e. "Once inside the warehouse...", but even then the reader probably already knows the character is at a warehouse. J

 [Ex2]When the audience reads that the character settles into bed, they will automatically assume they must have crossed the room to the bed.

 [Ex3]By using the words settle into bed, you’ve eliminated the need for "sat down and then I lay down”, all of this is conveyed by settle.

[Ex4]The reader will assume the character has lifted their arm and that he put his arm over her waist if he’s going to be able to pull her toward him. How else would he do it? If he does employ a different method than one would expect,then it’s worth showing the reader. (i.e. if he grasped the back of her nightgown and dragged her to him in that manner.)

Now it reads:
Once inside, I settled into bed and pulled her toward me. (11 words and could probably be pared down even more.)

It is of utmost importance for an author to never underestimate their readers. In my opinion, it insults their intelligence. Audiences pick up a book to be entertained, they don't leave their brain laying on the desk while they do so. They're fully engaged and still using all their faculties while enjoying a good story.

Thank you for taking time to visit. Please share ways you avoid underestimating your readers in the comments section

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing 11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/9/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13

If you have enjoyed this post, or ones related to it, please share or tweet about it. I also invite you to follow this site and/or follow by email (upper-right sidebar). 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners Series: Head Hopping

Photo by dbbent
Encompassed in my first real line-by-line critique were a lot of notes on all the things we've covered thus far in the Ten Writing Tighteners Series. None confused me quite as much as head hopping. Luckily, I didn't have to tell my shiny new critique partner I had no idea what she meant.

She must have sensed I was clueless. Very kindly, she noted the POV character couldn't possibly know what the other characters were thinking or their reasons for doing x, y, or z, unless the acting characters were to tell her. After all, my MC wasn't psychic, nor was she telepathically inclined.

At its core, head hopping means the reader is given information about the thoughts, emotions, or motives of a character other than the point of view (POV) character, without the information having been conveyed to the POVother than the writer endowing them with it.

Everyone possesses a certain amount of intuition, along with the ability to read facial expressions and body language. However, a person can't know for certain what they see in another person's physical reactions to a situation actually translates exactly what that person is thinking or feeling at any given moment. One can only interpret the other party's response to stimuli.

Example (Mike is the POV, 3rd person):

Mike throws the toy and Penny runs after it, thinking she'll catch it mid-air.

Though it might seem Mike would know what his dog is thinking, can he really? What if the dog's thinking she'd rather take a nap, but her master seems so excited, she feels sorry for him, so she's running after that stupid toy?

The only way the narrator can know what's going on in other characters' minds is if he or she is omniscient. In that case, they know every other character's thoughts and reasons for every move. However, there's no way a normal POV can see into the other person's mind and know.

At most, a POV character can guess, think, assume, or surmise another character's thoughts or motives. Unless they are able to read the other characters' minds and emotions, or if the character they are reading is somehow projecting their thoughts and/or feelings into the POV character's mind.

Of course, no rule is unbreakable. There might be a time when it's okay to do a little head-hopping. I can't think of one at this moment, but this is just a guideline. In the end, each author has to decide what works best for their story.

How to fix head-hop problems.

In my opinion, it's fairly simple to correct these issues. Either remove the line completely or add a qualifier. The other options are to choose kick-ass verbs that say it all without making a description necessary, or use those showing skills instead of telling the reader what the character is thinking or feeling.

Non-Head-Hop Examples (Mike is still the POV):

Mike throws the toy and Penny runs after it, she must think she can catch it mid-air.

OR (here's the verb option)

Mike throws the toy and Penny launches herself into the air snapping her jaws as she nears the squeaky.

Example 2 (Mike is the POV, 1st person):

The poor pooch needs a playmate, she misses her litter-mates.

Non-Head-Hop Example (Mike is still the POV):

The poor pooch needs a playmateI bet she misses her litter-mates.

OR (here's a SHOWING option)

The poor pooch needs a playmate. For the last week, she's worn the carpets bare, nose to the floor, sniffing out all the places she and her litter-mates used to tussle. 

I really appreciate you stopping in. Please share on Facebook and/or tweet about it, if you found this post helpful. There is one more installment of The Ten Writing Tighteners Series to go. FOLLOW BY EMAIL so you don't miss it. I also invite you to join this site. Thank you for visiting.

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/9/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners: Brevity Blunders


Minds are filled with them. They overflow mouths everywhere. Swimming through oceans of consciousness, they zip through the fiber-optic cables connecting us to the world. Hell, they're even converted to ones and zeros, so they float through the air on wireless networks.

On the eighth day, God created words. And they were good.

BUT too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.  

Authors must walk the tight rope stretched between too much and too little. In order to present enthralling prose, they have to balance enough words to tell the story well without drowning their readers.

Concision is an author's friend.

The Ten Writing Tighteners Series was born from my desire to spotlight some of the most common things I mark in manuscripts as I critique for othersalso the items which get pointed out about my own work. Brevity Blunders could encompass several things already discussed in this series. So, previous posts would be a great place to start, especially Filters, Dead-weight Words, Echoes, and Redundancy. Those are great ways to cut unnecessary words from one's prose.

A few things to help ensure a manuscript is walking the line:

No dumping allowed

Ever heard the term 'data dump'? Well, it's what I type in notes next to parts of MSs where the author has unloaded a whole lot of back story, or exposition on one thing or another that really could be skipped, or at minimum sprinkled throughout the story. The narrator doesn't need to tell about the main character where they've been, what they've done, or who they are. It's always better to show these things.

Storytelling shouldn't seem like storytelling

Though the character is telling a tale to the reader, the reader should still feel as though they are in the story. If it feels like they are being told a story, it will drag, making it a chore to read. Any areas of an MS used solely to explain things the author thinks the audience needs to know might fall into this trap. It's best to look objectively at one's writing to make sure everything moves the story along, and very little is added simply as explanation. Again: Sprinkledon't pour.

Sentence length should vary

It is possible to write paragraph length sentences. But it isn't necessary most of the time. A few long sentences here and there are fine. However, if you have several all bunched together it may make the audience feel as though they are wading through molasses. So vary sentence length, just like you vary sentence structure.

Never say in two words what you can say in one

I didn't come up with this adage, but I use it all the time as I make notes for critique partners. My first novel's final word count before edits began in earnest, was a hefty 171k words. Yup, you read that right. It was a wee bit long. Okay, it was a shitload of words and way too long. Now, it sits at a very tidy 70k. Take away from that: I'm a pro at cutting unnecessary words.

As I edit, mine or anyone else's MS, the thing I try to keep in mind as I read each sentence is, "can this be said with less words?" A lot of the time it can.

Instead of:
She moved her head up and down in agreement.

She nodded.

Instead of:
He nodded his head.

He nodded. (after all, what else on our bodies do we usually refer to as nodding? Therefore, 'his head' isn't needed in this sentence.)

Don't give directions

Unless a book is an instruction manual, a travel guide, or an atlas, the audience doesn't need step-by-step directions. They most likely won't take a book on vacation with them to search out the hidden tunnel in the bottom of the cavern behind the railroad shed three miles down the road past the old gas station on the left side of the road after passing the abandoned church. (see what I did there?)

Nor will readers use a novel to learn physics, chemistry, medical procedures, or any other of a million things taught in classrooms around the globe. So, no matter how important it seems to the story, make those as brief as possible. If there is anything in a book which would make a student fall asleep learning it, then, chances are, it will have the same effect on readers when explained in painful detail.

Set the scene, but don't clutter it up

Details are important, but too many details will bog down the prose. Descriptions should be light enough to allow the reader to use their imaginations. If they didn't want to use their imaginations, they'd wait for the movie. It's fine to describe a few things about the setting, but don't go too far, or it becomes boring. Readers just want to get on with the story; action is what draws most audiences. Keeping descriptions brief works just as well, and will help move the story along better.

The same could be said for characters' clothing descriptions. Unless their wardrobe is important to the scene or characterization, minimal is best. Readers have good imaginations, give them a little credit and let them fill in the blanks. They'll enjoy the experience so much more.

How do you avoid brevity blunders? Share in the comments and help your fellow writers out.

A couple of other blogs to supplement this one

Casablanca Authors' Leah Hultenschmidt, Senior Editor, in her 7/12/12 post Toning Up Flabby Writing 

There are also some great hints in a post called Slash and Burn: Cutting Words By Janice Hardy (@Janice_Hardy) at The Other Side of the Story 5/11/09

I really appreciate you visiting. If you found this post helpful, please share on Facebook and/or tweet about it. There are still two more installments of The Ten Writing Tighteners Series to go. FOLLOW BY EMAIL so you don't miss them. I also invite you to join this site. Thank you for visiting.

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/9/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Critique Partners and Groups

The Pitch Wars writing competition got cranked up on December 2 (if you don't know what that is go check it out here). This year, I'd decided I wouldn't join the stress-inducing activities, because I wasn't sure it would be worthwellthe stress. The more I said I wasn't going to jump into the fray, the more my critique partners encouraged me to enter my newest novel SECRETS I KEEP. It wasn't until the illustrious Fiona McLaren reminded me the most important part of Pitch Wars happens OUTSIDE of the actual contest that I reconsidered and decided to take the plunge.

"What's that?", you must be asking yourself with bated breath. ;) It really has nothing to do with the amazing Brenda Drake, all those awesome mentors, or even the killer manuscripts. The best thing to come out of Pitch Wars for many writers are the new friends they make while stalking the Twitter feed. This year, there's an added feature, the PimpMyBio blog hop, yet another way to get to know your fellow warriors. I've met several really lovely writers, who I'm excited about getting to know better even after Pitch Wars is over. Some of my best friends I've made on Twitter.

highly recommend critique partners, as you can tell if you've read almost any of my posts on this blog. I’ve learned more about writing from critiquing others' work than having my own shredded (not to say I haven’t learned from that too, because I have—truckloads). The reciprocal nature of a CP group is very helpful.

Yes, that's me, well, my face
It just so happens, I've been able to play Critique Partner Cupid for a few Pitch Wars warriors today. This makes me exceedingly happy. As they were tweeting about their new writer's group, I thought of several things my own CP group has learned since we formed. I offered to share some CP group tips with the warriors and they expressed interest, so I decided to just do it via blog post.

My critique group is  The Off Beats. We've been together for over a year now and have become a close, cohesive group, even though we have everything from MG to Erotica writers. I'd be completely lost without them. Before I explain how our group operates, I want to make it clear this is what works for us. Meaning, each group must figure out what works best for them.This post is just meant to be informationala jumping-off place, so to speak.

1. Communication

The Off Beats are scattered across the world, literally. One of our members lives in Cyprus, the rest of us are dotted on the map from Pennsylvania to Texas. We communicate primarily by Facebook Messenger, like chat sessions. We’ve also used Google Chat, but we like the way FB is formatted better. Facebook shows profile pictures, and when there are several people on at once it really helps keep everyone straight (and there are ‘stickers’ we can play with too, which are fun.)  We also email and Tweet to and about one another, all the CPLOVE tweets, not negative stuff. One thing to note about emails, if a group is more than three or four people, email strings can get cumbersome and fill up an inbox pretty quickly.

2. To critique or not to critique

Not everyone writes or reads the same genres. My group’s policy is, if someone doesn't have the inclination to CP a particular project, it's fine to bow out. Or perhaps it’s an issue of time. Sometimes we’re just too busy with our own writing and/or everyday lives to be able to critique. When this happens, we cheer-lead the rest of The Off Beats from the sidelines.

3. Giving notes: be constructive

Honestly, I have a hard time remembering to say the good things. When a manuscript is reading well, I'm too busy just reading. It isn't until I run into a snag that I remember to make a note. Though I do always try to say things in such a way as to not tear down, but to build up and encourage—try being the operative word. Remember, no one communicates their feelings perfectly all the time. I’m sure there are times when my CPs read my notes and then have to remind themselves I’m not a horrible, mean person who just wants to stomp on their manuscript as well as their souls. I usually preface my notes with an email reminding my CPs everything is said because I want to help them make their book the best it can possibly be. Sometimes, I have to say "O_o, this didn't work for me and this is why..." THE WHY is very important—if you can give it. Constructive criticism isn’t actually constructive, if you don’t at least try to give a suggestion. Then again, suggestions should be framed as such. It’s never a good idea to go into someone’s work and mark something, saying, “That sucks. THIS is how it should go.”

4. Asking for critiques

There are different levels of critiques. Our group usually makes it clear to the critique what they are looking for. After all, you don’t want to use up someone’s time as they give you in-depth line-edits if really all you wanted was an overall idea of how they like your project. In that same vein, if you aren’t clear that you’re ready for serious line-by-line edits, you may end up with only plot notes. Be specific, this helps everyone.

5. CP from the NON-SMOKING section

Meaning: DON'T BLOW SMOKE UP THEIRS, and ask the same of them. Taking criticism isn't for the faint of heart, but neither is the publishing business. So if you hear something you don't like, take it for what it is, just a personal thought of one person, it could be helpful to listen or to ignore. But the CP relationship does no one any good if you just tell each other how great your works are. That’s not to imply it shouldn't be said when someone LOVEs something. Then again, don't hold back if something’s not working.

6. Grow a thick skin

It's sometimes difficult to hear bad things about one’s work, but what good will it do to get fluffed-up, positive feedback only to receive all the negative remarks—in the form of rejections—from agents? Better to have an honest CP tell the unvarnished truth so the bugs can be worked out BEFORE the manuscript is sent to those dream agents, than waste that ONE chance with said agent for that MS.

7. Take it, or leave it

Always feel free to IGNORE any or all comments by a CP—it’s YOUR book after all. If something feels wrong for your MS, DON'T DO IT. In that same vein, realize if you CP for others, they may choose to ignore your comments too—and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you must learn as an author is how to take criticism for what it is: a help to you whether you choose to make the suggested changes or not. Because sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Then again, if more than one CP makes a suggestion, you would be wise to seriously consider it, because, chances are other readers [read as agents/editors] will also have these same thoughts about your work. There’s no point in having a critique, if the writer on the receiving end NEVER listens.

8. Give your CPs your tightest possible manuscript

This one is huge! It’s great to get overall feedback on unedited chapters or even a completed first draft, sometimes we just need to know we’re headed in the right direction. However, before anyone asks a CP to give them line-by-line edits, they really should do everything they can to tighten up their prose as much as they possibly can. There are tons of blog posts out there giving tips on how to do this. *queue shameless plug* As a matter of fact, I’ve got a blog series covering this very topic. The Ten Writing Tighteners Series is a perfect place to start. Handing off your baby before it’s been burped and had its dirty diaper changed is just rude, no less so for your book baby.

9. How to find CPs

There are some websites geared for this. CPseek is one I think of off the top of my head. Or you can just put the word out, via Twitter/Facebook, that you’re looking for CPs and you might like to form a group. My experience has been the writing community is very helpful. If you ask, you will most likely be rewarded with people passing on the tweets and FB posts until you’re able to get enough people together. Plus, there are always writers looking for people to help them hone their craft. So offer to critique someone’s book for them, they might just return the offer. Though, I would suggest you not just go asking others to critique your book, without being willing to return the favor. What I’ve done in the past is simply tweeted something like, “I have a [genre] book that needs a critique, willing to trade MSs. Anyone interested?”

10. There is no “cheating” on your CP group

I’ve done a lot of critiquing for authors outside of The Off Beats, as well as having my MSs critiqued by them. Even though I have this awesome assembly of friends/CPs, I still stretch further to seek and offer assistance to and from others. It never hurts to have fresh eyes, especially when the entire CP group has gone through your MS. By the time you've done three rewrites, they may be getting weary, so reach out to get fresh feedback, and in doing so, give back to those outside your circle as well.

11. You’re just dating your CPs, not marrying them

When a person joins a CP group, it’s important to have an open-door policy. If for any reason the person doesn’t mesh with the group, they can leave without any hard feelings on anyone’s part. Also, within the group, if one or more writers find they just don’t work well with another member, it’s okay to agree to just be each other’s cheerleaders, confidants, and so forth. You might still want to have or give feedback on a query or synopsis, without the necessity of the actual manuscript critique. Also, when you are just getting to know someone as a potential CP, you don't have to stick with them forever. It’s perfectly fine to do a one book exchange CP, then see if you like each other’s CP styles. After that, decide if you want to stick together for future projects. There is one author in our group who doesn't care for my style of critiquing, so I don't do hers—and it's okay, because I still encourage her in other areas, as she does for me. There is so much more to being a CP than just the actual manuscript critique.
There are a million writers who have even more great suggestions to add to this list. Are you one of them? Please add a comment below. Thanks for visiting and I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please consider sharing it on Facebook or tweeting about it. Also, I'd love for you to follow this blog via email and join this site through Google (check upper right side bar).

Monday, December 2, 2013

My Pitch Wars Bio (#PimpMyBio )

I know, many of you expected the next installment of The Ten Writing Tighteners Series: Brevity Blunders, but because of the holiday weekend that will be posted on 12/9/13. Instead, today is the official kick off of 2013 PITCH WARS! Whoot! If you don't know what Pitch Wars is, go check Brenda Drake's blog.

Pitch Wars is officially underway, so a few authors collaborated on Twitter and decided the mentors did such a great job telling us about themselves and why we'd want to work with them, we should return the favor. Mentors interested in learning more about potential mentees can take a look and maybe, just maybe, it will give them that one extra piece of information that will make decision time a little less painful.

#PimpMyBio is the official hashtag... I'm keeping my bio short, because I saw some tweets about how many entries all you mentors have to get through, and it looks like you guys are all swamped! We really appreciate all your hard work, by the way.

Top 10 reasons awesome mentors might wish to throw down, brawl, fight, or otherwise open a Texas-sized can of whoopass on those other mentors in order to work with me:

Penny on Halloween

10. I have the coolest poodle on the planet 

(unless you have a poodle, then I could be talked into sharing the title) Her name is Penny and she'll be three in February. And no, I don't normally dress her up.

9. I write YA and NA

Though I left these age groups behind myself *cough* a *cough* few years ago, I stay connected to what's going on for current YAs and NAs through my daughters and their friends. Karina is sixteen and Alex is eighteen, so basically I live on Teenage Drama Island. Alex is always one of  my first readers, and she loves to tell me when I've got it wrong and if the dialogue just doesn't cut it.

8. I am multi-talented

I crochet, sew, scrapbook, make homemade jams (and I'm not afraid to use them as bribes), I paint-okay, I paint walls not canvas, just to be clear, and I'm a helluva Pictionary player.

Mike and Kelley, July 2011

7. I will celebrate my 20th anniversary on December 10th

This is with a man I've married twice. The first time we were married for three years. His name is Michael and he's the love of my life. I know what it's like to be in love, on the rocks, in pain, and run through the ringer, all to come out on the other side of the fire whole and closer because of it.

Super CP, Fiona McLaren

6. I play around with photoshop to make those I admire look even more awesome...'s Fiona... she's a SUPER PC! ;) YOU TOO could earn a cape!

5. This is my second book. 

So, yes, I know it's not as perfect as I'd like to think. Though it has been CP'd by no less than 5 of my 6 amazing CPs (refer to shameless namedrop in number 2), as well as a couple of other betas, so hopefully it's pretty damned close.

4. I am brave.

I kill my own spiders and I am known as Kelley Killer of Snakes around this part of Texas (okay, so in all honesty, only two of my friends call me that...but still, I should at least get a point or two for this). Also, I've written about a tough topic (sexual abuse) and am not afraid to dig deeper if needed. Plus, I don't shy away from hard work.

 Photo by jmkizer

3. You can be yourself with me. 

So what if you crack another mentor over the head with your laptop in order to get the manuscript you want most? I won't judge. Like to work in your pink tutu and bunny slippers? That's fine by me. Curse like a sailor after one too many pints o'ale? I was in the military, I can handle it.

2. I live a completely NON-Smoking life.

 Read as: I won't blow it up yours if you won't blow it up mine. If you need confirmation that I can take solid constructive criticism, ask any of my CPs The Off Beats, one of which just happens to be *cough cough**prepares to shamelessly name drop* Fiona McLaren, also a Pitch Wars Mentor.

and the NUMBER 1 reason you should PICK ME PICK ME:

1. You love my manuscript

If you really love the premise and want to help me polish and shine it up real pretty, we can win this bitch! Um...I mean... we can win Pitch Wars. YAY!

Oh, one last thought...if you aren't finished stalking me, you can find me on Facebook here.

To all the other potential mentees, I wish you the best of luck! If you want to stalk other mentee bios, here's the PimpStation :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners: Voice Not Character Appropriate

Photo by Anirudh Koul

From what I can tell, almost every single editor and/or lit. agent has said, or will say, they're looking for fresh or strong voices in books they choose to champion. Good voice will bridge the gap for the audience to think of characters as real people, at least during the time they're reading. I, like many others, connect to some characters on such a level they almost become as real to me as actual people. 

Voice helps readers connect to characters. 

Some voices stay with me long after the story-line has faded from memory. As discussed several times during the Ten Writing Tighteners Series, it's a writer's job to immerse the reader in the story using certain techniques and avoiding pitfalls. One snag, which pulls me out of a story faster than almost anything else, is if the voice doesn't stay true to the character the author has created.

sophisticated character will not only speak in a manner which portrays this, but they will also think in more refined terms. Country bumpkins will likely use expressions from the region they currently live or places they grew up. Sometimes country of origin can have a huge bearing on the voice of a character. The English employ distinctive colloquialisms and attitudes, where Americans have their own. Characters from California need to be portrayed slightly different than those from Texas.
Photo by perpetualplum

Vocabulary is important to refining a character's voice. People from the UK could use the bollocks where Americans may say nuts or balls. A girl from England would describe having sex as shagging, but one from America might say screwing. Or if the character is unique, they may have their own words. For instance, sometimes I use the word scrogging for sex. I've only ever known a couple of other people who used that word, so it might be useful to set a character apart as quirky.

World view has bearing on character's voices.

What makes up one's world view is determined by many factors. Family dynamics, the way they interact with peers, religion and/or political views, even their physical appearance can affect their world view. It's the author's job to develop their characters fully, even if they never reveal ninety percent of the information to the reader. It helps to have a clear mental picture as to what motivates characters to act in certain ways and think in a particular manner.

Children see and describe the world in completely different terms than adults.

My daughter Alex, 16 months
When the point-of-view character is a child, writers also have to take into account the child's family situation, their family's background, and the child's level of maturity. A four year old would describe things much differently than a twelve year old. Even the difference of a couple of years can be a huge leap in maturation and thought processes in children.

If a character is young, but unusually mature, their voice will be different than an average intelligence character of the same age. However, if the writer goes too far they can make it unbelievable. Take Bella from Twilight as an example. She's a teen, but early in the book Bella remarks that her mom said she was 35 when she was born. So the reader knows she's very mature and smart. When she uses big words and acts more adult-like than your average seventeen year old, it doesn't seem out of place. 

Imagine a teen-aged country boy, with only an eighth-grade education. He's portrayed as illiterate and not particularly bright. The last thing I'd expect him to do is use descriptions more fitting for a middle-aged woman working in the medical field. He wouldn't use a lot of medical jargon or even probably have a vocabulary that included a lot of big words. If an author writes their characters to speak and think as s/he would think and speak, their character's voices aren't going to ring true. 

Here's an example from my book, DEVASTATION. Gabe is a teen boy, who grew up in rural Texas. He works on a ranch. Here is a passage which I think shows his voice without using actual dialogue.
 Photo by Divine Harvester

Need rips through me with a force that might be scary if I didn't already know how connected my heart is to hers. Tied up with wax string, duct tape, and bailing wire. There's no way it'll ever come undone, and I don't want it to.

Gabe uses terms he's familiar with to describe his feelings. H doesn't use flowery words a girl might use, nor are they words of a poet--he's not poet after all. He's just a guy who works on a ranch.

Here's a scene from my newest book, SECRETS I KEEP. Lily is twenty-two and Sophie's eight. Lily's POV is actually in the book, but I've added Sophie's reaction here so you can see the difference in their voices. 

The fridge may as well be the barren tundra of Siberia and the cupboards are in the same sad shape. We’re down to our last three pieces of bread, and not much choice for what to put with them; mustard, crackers, or tartar sauce. Freaking great.

I draw a mustard smiley face on the slices and crumble crackers around the edges for hair. Maybe Sophie will think it’s fun and not realize this is a terrible meal with almost no nutritional value. Her little feet swing over the yellowed linoleum as she sits at our rickety table in the one unbroken chair.

Lily’s talking to herself again. I’m not sure what she’s saying, but her eyebrows are twitchy, which usually means she’s mad. So I sit in the good chair, because she doesn’t like it when I make the broken ones wobble, even though they’re way more fun to sit on. She sets the plate in front of me. Mustard smiley faces with crumbly hair. Ugh. Lily thinks I’m three. Oh well, at least she’s not mad at me. 

Photo by akeg

Rules are made to be broken.

As always, there are times when a writer will employ different tactics to shape a character. Perhaps the point-of-view character's words are a complete departure from his thought patterns. He might speak sweetly to the woman in the wheelchair, while in his mind he curses her for being in his way. The author can use this technique to show a two-faced character. 

Or perhaps an author is showing the prowess of a spy. He might think like a sophisticated businessman, but when he speaks at certain times during the story he uses simple language and perhaps sounds illiterate. This shows the character's ability to pull off working undercover.

My best friend is a kindergarten teacher. She's a different person with her class than she is when she's on vacation with just adults. If I were writing her as character, depending on thr scene she might think curse words and swear in her dialogue. Other times she'd use words and phrases that five-year-olds could relate to. So, it may seem as though the two things can't be intertwined in the same person, but they can. It all depends on how the character has been developed.

What things do you do to ensure your character's voice is being heard loud and clear? Share your techniques in the comments section. 

If you found this post helpful, please share it on Facebook and/or tweet about it on Twitter. I'm trying to grow my readership, so please become a member. There are three post left in the Ten Writing Tighteners SeriesWant to receive them directly to your inbox? Just follow by email. 

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing 11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/09/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13