Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever seen a runner trip in a pothole? They’re in the zone, focused on the path ahead, running to the rhythm of their music when all of a sudden they stumble in a pothole. It jars them out of their trance and throws them off their running groove–not to mention hurts like heck.

The same thing happens to readers when they stumble upon a plothole–though it’s less dramatic and doesn’t usually require stitches or Bandaids.

Don't throw the reader off their groove!!!

Don’t throw the reader off their groove!!!

What is a Plothole?

The short definition is anything that can be asked but not explained, or poorly explained (not to be mistaken for an unanswered question like in a cliffhanger).

  • unlikely/impossible events
  • mistakes
  • contradictions
  • forced situations or character reactions for the sake of plot

Examples The Hobbit: In this example I’m talking about the movie. If you didn’t read the book before watching the final installment of the films, you may have asked, what happened to the Arkenstone? In the book, it’s placed on Thorin’s grave. In the movie, supposedly it’s still hanging out in Luke Evan’s shirt. Not a bad place to be necessarily.

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield, or wedged between Evan's pecks?

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield or wedged between Evan’s pecks?

Harry Potter: Usually I pick on George R.R. Martin, but today I’m going to pick on J.K. a little. The time turner is a prime example of why time travel almost always leads to plotholes. Why didn’t he keep using it? He used it to save two people, which seems like an insipid abuse of time travel in the grand scheme of things. What about the other people who died later in the book. Why not go back and save them?

Aladdin: One of my favorite Disney movies of all time. I’ve watched it a hundred times and suddenly I notice a whole new plothole (pun intended). Aladdin uses a wish to become a prince and yet it is considered lying when he tells Jasmine he is a prince. Um, excuse me, he didn’t ask the Genie to make him look like a prince, he asked him to make him a prince. I think he got ripped off. Also he could have given Jasmine the lamp in the end so she could wish him back into a prince, but now I’m just being picky.

Deus Ex Machina

Ok, this is more of a plot device than a plothole, but I think you don’t get one without the other. A deus ex machina is basically where an unsolvable issue is suddenly solved by a new event, ability or super power, character, or God. Essentially, it’s when a writer has written themselves into a corner and doesn’t know how to resolve the conflict.

The result: the resolution is unsatisfactory and the reader is robbed. A prime example of this can be found in (I’m sad to say) The Return of the King. Tolkien wrote himself into a corner by making Sauron’s army undefeatable. Realistically the army of Gondor, even backed by the soldiers of Rohan, a wizard, and a few shire folk could not defeat them. I imagine Tolkien spent hours scratching his head before inventing a ghost army to defeat them. After all, ghost can’t be killed. So last minute, they use the ghost to help defeat the bad guys. It would have been a more satisfactory ending had the characters come up with a battle tactic to defeat the larger army.

Checkhov’s Gun

This is the notion that if you describe something, it better come into play at some point. For instance, if you describe a chair, it better be flipped, thrown, broken, or at least sat on. If it’s described, it better be part of the plot or else you’ve created false promises or suspense.

I’m not a firm believer in this. I do see where too much attention to a seemingly significant item would be jarring if it never came to use, but something like a chair or table is sometimes just necessary to give the reader a sense o place. This is why it’s always a good idea to describe your scenery as the character interacts with it.

A great example of Checkhov’s gun. In A Game of Thrones, Sam gets a blade that several seasons down the road kills white walkers. Also, the necklace given to Sansa in season three or four is used to kill Joffrey. Those are some great examples of Checkhov’s guns coming into play.

Continuity

Lack of continuity is a major cause of plotholes. This could be something small like a sudden change in appearance, or something even more jarring like a character referencing an event they have no idea occurred. It could also be a sudden change in motivation, even age.

Example: Merlin (the television series). Mordred appears in season one as a child, but by season five, he returns as a teenager or young adult. Realistically the oldest he could be is 13, but he is at least 16 if not older when he reappears. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters have only aged 3-5 years. Soap operas do this a lot, because let’s face it, babies get boring after awhile.

When is a Plothole not a Plothole

Sometimes readers believe the unbelievable, especially in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. These genres create a lot of their own rules, abilities, creatures, etc. Just because something can’t happen or doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it’s a plothole. When you event something (like magic), you are relying on your reader’s ignorance of a subject in order to make them believe it. A world with two moons and seven suns probably couldn’t exist or sustain life (could you imagine gravity?); however, your reader is more likely to accept that than if your character’s eye color suddenly changes in chapter two.

This is because of the suspension of belief. You can create super human beings, magical powers, fantastical creatures, as long as you make it as believable as possible and keep it consistent.

Example: Superman For decades, people have accepted that there is a superhuman man who comes from another planet, but they don’t believe that he can disguise his identity with glasses alone.

yeah, you're not fooling anyone, Superman

yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, Superman

How to Prevent Plotholes

It’s easier to prevent a plothole than to fill one.

  • outline your story
  • create character sketches
  • outline the rules and limitations of your magic systems
  • research before writing
  • keep track of the time of day, hour, month, season, and year of your story so you don’t accidently skip summer and fall and go straight into winter.

MontyPython3

How to Fill Plotholes

Break out the shovels!

Break out the shovels!

  1. Identify your plot holes. Read through your MS and look for unanswered questions and things that couldn’t happen
    1. Your character could not have survived that fall
    2. Your character’s hair changed color
    3. Your character is angry in this chapter but fine in the next
    4. Your character’s worst fear is being shot, but you have her bravely confront an armed robber.
    5. Your character can’t swim, but saves a child from drowning.
    6. Your character’s dog went missing. You never explained what happened to it.
  2. Create setup: make sure you lead up to the event so it can realistically unfold.
  3. Make changes: no one likes to make big changes, but think of the big picture. You may have to adjust the setting, events, even drastically change your character so that necessary events can occur.
  4. Ask an outsider. Beta readers are far more likley to identify and resolve a plothole.
  5. Think on your back: they say lying on your back helps you think
  6. Step away from your WIP. Distance can help you see clearer. The solution may even come to you when you’re not thinking about it.
  7. Keep it simple: When filling plotholes, don’t make it difficult or over complicated.

It’s like Yzma’s plan to get rid of Kusco in the Emperor’s New Groove. She’s going to turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then put that flea in a box, and then put that box inside of another box, and then mail that box to herself, and when it arrives smash it with a hammer. She changes her mind–not because the plan was convoluted–to save on postage. She goes for a simple route: poison.

Recently I filled a glaring plothole–in the beginning of my book  no less–by using the methods above (mostly lying on my back and talking to my sister). What’s the biggest plothole you’ve ever had to fill?

Tuesday Tip

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This Tuesday’s tip is about something we all, not just writers, struggle with: How to be positive.

It’s hard to be positive; after all, our brains are innately hardwired to be negative. That doesn’t mean we can’t be optimistic, it just means it requires some effort.

I’ve always considered myself to be a positive person, but the last couple years (weeks even) have really proven it.

For those of you are negatively inclined, Here’s a quick course in optimism.

Tell yourself it will be OK

This sounds like a placating lie you tell to children, but consider repeating this to yourself when you feel down. Remember the last time you felt this way. Everything probably worked itself out or wasn’t as bad as you thought it was.

Rate your problem

On a scale of mole hill to mountain, how big really is your problem? Did you spill your coffee? Break a shoelace? Smear some lipstick on your face? I’d file these in the mole hill category.

Start your day in a positive way

How you start your day sets the tone. Repeat positive affirmations, set your alarm to play your favorite song, call your favorite person on your way to work.

Like a good story, the end is just as important as the beginning. Think of only the good things that happened that day. Don’t dwell on worries before going to sleep.

Fine something positive in any negative situation

This can be difficult. How do you find a silver lining in a bad situation?

Here are some examples from my personal life.

Mom has cancer: Our family spends more time together. She is responding to treatment. We have more time than we were told initially. We don’t take things for granted.

Office closed: Found a job that pays more and has benefits.

Ended a relationship: I live with my sister (it’s like a sleepover every night). I see my son more. I have more money and time. I have more freedom and control over my life.

Remove negative influences

Who is the most negative person in your life?

Divorce them, block their number, break up with them, remove them from social media, avoid them like the plague.

What are you doing when you feel the most negative?

Facebook? Watching TV? Stop doing those things or limit your time doing them.

Don’t stress the small stuff

I cannot stress this enough. Pun intended. Going back to the rating scale, if your problem is a molehill, don’t make a mountain of it. If you lost a five dollar bill. Move on. You dropped some food on your shirt. Deal with it. Some toilet paper followed you out of the bathroom on your shoe. Carry on.

Make a list

If negative thoughts are swimming around in your head, get them out of your mind and put them on paper. Listing your problems helps you sort them.

Be a positive influence

Negativity spreads like the flu. Luckily so does optimism. I’ve had customers enter my store with a frown and leave with a smile because of my sunny disposition.

Have a laugh

Laugh until you sound and look like a seal.

Watch a comedy, go to I waste so much time.com or ifunny. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Heck, my mom makes me laugh about cancer.

Enjoy this funny video that sums it up the message of this post.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Sometimes the simple things are the ones we overlook, especially when we’re editing. Capitalization seems elementary probably because we learned the rules in elementary school. Until I became a copy editor I didn’t realize there were so many rules. I’m here to tell you there’s more to it than capitalizing the first letter of a sentence.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

Hopefully, you saved grammar edits for last. It really is a waste of time to edit for grammar errors until the last pass. One of the things you’ll want to check during this final pass are your capitals. Is it Mother or mother? Captain or captain? It can be either depending on context. If you’re not sure, circle or highlight the word so you can be sure to go back and check.

For the record, I’m not going to go over every rule. The rules could fill an entire book on their own. I’m going to touch on a few basics, ones I think you’re likely to encounter.

The purpose of capitalization: To emphasize important words, people, places, things, etc.

If only it were that simple. Wait for it, it gets more complicated.

First Word of a Sentence

This is the easiest rule. If a word follows a period, it should probably be capitalized. I’m really not going to go into any more depth than that.

You’re rolling your eyes at me. This isn’t hard.

Names

Rule number one: don’t forget your characters’ names. Forgetting to capitalize your characters’ names is like forgetting to put your  name on your final exam. This an easy point, people!

Capitalize the following names:

  • brand names; Coca-Cola
  • company names; Walmart
  • nicknames and epithets; The Kingslayer
  • names of races and nationalities; French Canadian
  • names of religions and the deities: God
  • names of streets, roads, cities, countries, oceans (if it’s labeled on a map, it’s probably capitalized. e.g., the Mediterranean Sea)

Names NOT to Capitalize

  • names of animals; DO capitalize their names (e.g., Mr. Fluffy); however, do not capitalize cat, dog, etc. Except Alaskan huskey and German shepherd.
  • food; the exception being brand names and so forth (e.g., tuna, chips, Ranch dressing)
  • sun and moon. Even though we capitalize Mars, Jupiter, and Earth, for whatever reason, we don’t view the sun and moon to be important enough to capitalize–though we would die if either of them implodes. This is why it’s important to check the rules. Just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be capitalized.
  • seasons; spring summer, fall, winter
  • names that don’t actually affiliate with the word they are derived from (e.g., swiss cheese and American cheese are both made in America)

Proper Nouns

Think of a proper noun as being a more specific version of a noun–or the fancy version.

Mnemonic device: a proper noun is a noun with a fancy top hat.

Examples noun; proper noun

the canyon; the Grand Canyon

the ship; the Titanic

lake; Lake Michigan

Rule of Thumb: With time, sometimes words from a proper noun no longer require capitalization.

Example: draconian (you probably don’t know what this is referring to. Me neither. Probably why it is no longer capitalized)

Rule of Thumb: Don’t capitalize “the” when it comes before a proper noun; however, because rules are not consistent, sometimes it is in special cases.

Titles

I think this is one of the trickiest rules. For instance, you capitalize titles when they are used before names, but not after a name, or instead of a name, or if a comma comes after the title. See what I mean. How’s that for a brain twister.That might be a little bit of an exaggeration . . . maybe a tad.

Example

The president; President Clinton; Clinton, president of the United States

I called Mom; I called my mom; I called, Mom

General Grant; the general

King Arthur; king of the Britains

Exception: When used in direct address: Thank you, Mr. President; I will obey your orders, General

Other

  • days of the week
  • months of the year
  • holidays; Halloween (the best holiday ever)
  • historical events and periods; the Ice Age; the Boston Tea Party
  • terms of respect; (e.g., Your Excellency, His Majesty, Madam, Your Honor

Capitalization with Punctuation

Punctuation: everyone’s favorite thing. Did you know capitalization is sometimes dependent on punctuation.

Colon

It is a common misconception that the word after a colon is always capitalized. The first word after a colon is not always capitalized. It isn’t if the colon is used within the sentence. It is when it is a proper noun or if the colon introduces two or more sentences or a speech or dialogue.

Hyphen

This is one a lot of people forget. Generally capitalize all elements the hyphens connect unless a coordinating conjunction, preposition, or article (e.g., Sugar-and-Spice).

Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. As you edit, keep a handy style guide nearby. I use the one and only Chicago Manual of Style. Do you know how many times I referenced it just for this post? There are also a lot of helpful resources online like Grammar Girl.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

Ask an Author

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If you have a question about writing, the right person to ask is another writer. Once a month I’ll be featuring writers who put the author in authoritative.


book-photo-nr-500My first author is writer, avid reader, and blogger Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series, and children’s books, all of which have repeatedly reached #1 on Amazon. : )

My sister and I have asked Nicholas for advice many times, so naturally he was the first person I contacted to share advice with my readers.

Nicholas is an author who is always eager to give free advice, encouragement, and books–that’s right books. I noticed Nicholas has a lot of success with giveaways and special offers, so I asked him to share the benefits of giving away books for free.


Just Give it Away: Does Free Work?

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

From timashton.org.uk

I keep reading contradictory information on this. One of my blogging friends, Jack Eason, complains that it attracts trolls. Effrosyni Moschoudi – and many others – have told me that free doesn’t work – in the sense that it fails to generate subsequent sales.

So, does free work?

Quick answer: yes and no. It does as part of an overall strategy, and it can do wonders to put a new author on the map. However, it can be ineffective or even counterproductive if not used properly.

For New Authors

As I explain on my A-Z guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon, free books can be used to build a fan base. New authors keen to build their brand have used free to great effect. This can be done in innovative ways, like Matt Mason did with Pirate’s Dilemma, which he distributed via BitTorrent. As he puts it, getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing.

It has also been used in extremely creative ways by authors like Ksenia Anske, author of the Siren Suicides. Readers are encouraged to pay through a virtual tip jar if they enjoyed the book. In a fascinating recent blog post titled I give my books away for free: here are my sales numbers, she announced that she has made $4,000 in little over six months that way. Her books were downloaded 1,600 times within the last 6 weeks. She also used her newly found fame as an author to raise money through Kickstarter, raising an extra $3,000.

What about the Rest of us?

I was reading a great post on how to monetize free, at the Author Marketing Experts blog. Penny, its author, was explaining how free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies. That’s fine, of course, but they are not your customers. She offers some helpful tips to help us maximize the use of free:

  • Why free? You need to be clear as to why you are doing this. Unless you’re a charity, free content should be offered to make sales down the line. This can be done by helping build an email list, raise awareness, build your brand, or get new people into your marketing funnel.
From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

From adamhcohen.com

  • What sort of free? Once you’ve figured out why you want to give away something, you can choose the what. For years, I’ve been giving away my Greek translation of the Tao Te Ching. I set up a virtual tip jar and waited to see what would happen. Four years and 7,000 downloads later, only one person had tipped – 10 bucks. Only ten people had actually thanked me for my work, despite me having a link saying “if you don’t want to pay, that’s fine, a simple thank you would suffice.”Then, a few months ago I decided enough was enough, and set up a mechanism to ask for people’s emails before they can download the file. The book is still free, but I also link to a print version on Createspace. Downloads have plummeted from thirty a day to just a couple, but last month I made more from selling the print copy that I had from tips during the past four years. I also have collected hundreds of emails from people who are genuinely interested in my message.In my book (pun intended), that’s a win. 🙂
  • Make sure it’s really free and worthwhile: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it’s not really free. For example, they will give away only a portion of their book, but  you have to pay to read the juicy parts. This is a big no-no. If you give something away, make sure it’s something really valuable. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver, so put your best foot forward. After all, this is what you will judged by.
  • Take names: One thing I learnt from my Tao Te Ching experience: You should never give free away without asking for an email address. I see people do this all the time; they have a ton of free stuff but never collect emails. If that’s the case, the freebies you are offering may be of great value to your end user, but they won’t matter to your marketing. Get emails. Ask for reviews. It’s called an ethical bribe. You get something (their email) and give them something (the free stuff).
  • Make it easy to download: Don’t make free difficult. It should be easy to get your free stuff. If people have to jump through hoops, they won’t do it and the free stuff won’t matter. For example – put your free stuff on your home page. Add links to it on the sidebar. Remind people at the end of your posts.Accordingly, when you ask for people’s email, make it easy. A simple click or two is all it should take. Don’t ask for too much information. If you ask me for my address, birthday, and whatnot I doubt I will want your free stuff that badly. Shorten the staircase. If you make it complicated, it’s not really free, it’s bait. And people will call you out for it.
  • Make the free stuff work for you: If you give away something, make sure that it works for you. Add links to your other books. Ask for a review at the end. Encourage people to follow your blog, Facebook or twitterfeed. Every giveaway should include a call to action. You are collecting names and email addresses and building your list, and that’s great. But what do you really want people to do? Define what you want them to do, and then include your call to action in the free stuff. You can also offer specials and change these periodically in the giveaway.
  • Follow up! The best kind of free stuff is, as Penny points out, the gift that keeps giving. If you are collecting names and then never contacting your prospects again, what’s the point? People need to be reminded, and reminded again.The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?
  • Will it slow down my sales? This is probably the most common question I’m asked on the subject. On my blog, I link to the free copy of Pearseus: Schism on Goodreads. Surprisingly enough, sales of the book on Amazon have increased since doing this. So, in my experience, free does not slow down sales.

If you still aren’t a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see what happens. If you do it right, free can monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following. But it has to be planned carefully, or it will be an ineffective tool at best.


7182i2gWs2L__SL1500_Speaking of free, check out Nicholas’ children’s book, Runaway Smile on his blog or you can purchase it from Amazon. I’m definitely getting a copy for my son–this would be right up his alley.

If you liked his advice about book giveaways, there’s plenty more on his blog. You can connect with Nicholas here and learn more about Runaway Smile and his other books on Amazon.

Join me again in February for more awesome author advice!

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I’m not the only one offering free writing advice on the blogosphere, and I don’t pretend to be. There are thousands if not millions of people offering advice daily. Once you’ve read one tip, you’ve read them all, right? Wrong. Just because blogger A wrote a post about pronouns doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read blogger B’s post about the same topic. Thousands of people can write about the same thing, but none of them will write it the same. Even though they are all covering the same topic, they all have their own unique point of view.

Choosing the right point of view (POV) is as important to your writing as choosing the right protagonist. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read other authors’ tips on POV; you understand the difference between first, second, and third person, etc. That’s great, because that’s not what I’m going to talk about. See how everyone’s perspective on a topic is different? Some people focus on the writer’s voice. I’m focusing on the narrative voice: Who is telling the scene.

How many POVs should you have: the debate

You might tell the story from a singular perspective or from many–or too many, George R.R. Martin!

Nah, I’m just kidding. You know I like to pick on George. Sometimes he deserves it.

Going back to online advice, some of the earliest tips lies I learned was that you shouldn’t have multiple POVs. I didn’t see how this was possible. Most of the books I read had multiple perspectives, so I thought there couldn’t possibly be any truth to this.

I determined the question is not can you have multiple perspectives, but how many can you have? The long and short of it is you can have as many as you like as long as they benefit your story. What do I mean by benefit? Well let’s look at the pros and cons of multiple POVs, shall we?

Cons

  • multiple POVs confuse the reader
  • some POVs can distract from the main story
  • the reader can lose connection with the primary character
  • the reader can lose emotional investment

Pros

  • with a new POV, you can write scenes that don’t include the main protagonist
  • you can give information that would not be available to the main protagonist
  • you can intertwine two or more stories and watch them come together
  • you can answer questions that you can’t get from another POV

Example:Twilight 

I’m not a fan of this series, but think of how much trouble the author could have saved if she’d given Edward a POV. Fans were so interested/confused/obsessed as to why he chose an average, mediocre girl that they found a partial draft of the sequel online to find out. Again, I’m not a fan, but I am likewise interested: What was it about her anyway? She had the personality of a Lego brick.

Looking at the list, the pros and cons seem about evenly stacked. So what is a writer to do?

My advice (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want my advice), you shouldn’t avoid writing multiple POVs because it’s challenging. Just learn to do it right. Easier said than done. The easy way to do it right? First, learn how others have done it wrong.

Usually multiple POVs fail because the writer was trying to give every character a POV instead of just the major characters. Or the author wanted to make sure all their POVs had an equal amount of scenes.

Easy fix

The main protagonist should always have a majority of the scenes.

Choose POVs that are focused on the main story. If they aren’t, cut them.

How many is too many

qv544423c9Again, you’re looking for an actual number aren’t you. Sorry, there are no black and white writing laws that dictate how many point of views you can have. Most writing laws are unwritten and meant to be broken when necessary anyway. The correct answer varies from book to book. In a nutshell, how many can your story support?

 

Rule of Thumb: You have too many POVs if . . .

One of your POVs is telling a different story. All POVs should be focused on the same story.

More than one story? You have more than one book. You’ll want to eliminate some POVs. It’s as simple as that.

Rule of Thumb to be Broken: I’ve heard it said that you can only have one POV per chapter. Again not a rule. Some chapters split into multiple scenes. You may need to switch to your antagonist or another character before the end of your chapter. Just make sure the transition is clear. I probably wouldn’t head hop mid-scene unless you can pull it off. Every rule is meant to be broken–if done well.

POVs need to be distinct and consistent

Think of your characters’ perspectives like smells. They should have a different scent. After all, no one smells the same, right? Even twins don’t smell alike. I’ll go sniff my sister to prove it.

Getting off topic . . .

Each character should have his or her own, unique tone, mood, beliefs, voice, outlook, and perception. If not, all of your characters will sound the same. This is one of the most common reasons multiple POVs fail.

Choose POVs that are different. I’m going to use my sister’s debut novel, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other” as an example.

Pig: optimistic, delusional, hopeful, idealistic

Kay: grumpy, stubborn, pessimistic, realistic

You can see how those POVs will contrast. No situation, scene, or event will be weighed, judged, or experienced the same for these two characters.

Just make sure readers will identify with all of your POVs. Even though Kay and Pig are so different, readers can relate, sympathize, and understand both points of view.

Choosing the Correct POV

imagesPOV needs to be considered in every scene. Look at the characters in your scene. List them if you have to. If you’re not sure which one to choose, write it from all of their perspectives and choose the best one. Remember that it’s not just your choice. Never write multiple POVs “just because.” That is a horrible reason. The same goes for reason number 2. I really like this character and I think it would be super fun to write a scene from their POV. Tempting, I know, but consider the purpose. POV will impact the reader’s perspective and attitude toward events. Consider the tone you want to set.

Example: You want your reader to see the beauty after a storm. Would you choose:

Character A. He is grumpy and pessimistic. Always sees the glass half empty. He wouldn’t notice the sun because of the puddles.

Character B. She is always optimistic. Nothing brings her down. She’s observant and sees the best in all situations. She keeps her chin up no matter what.

Hands down: you’d choose character B. She’d probably notice the beauty of a storm–she won’t have any trouble seeing the beauty after one. She always keeps her chin up too. She’ll notice a lot more than grumpy gus.

perspective

Which one is the best one?

The easy answer is not your favorite.

The more complicated answer is: which is the best for the reader.

  • reveals information you need the reader to know
  • conceals information you want to hide from the reader
  • most or least reliable (depending on which you want)
  • the character that has the most at stake in that scene

That’s just my point of view on point of view. Now I’d like your point of view. Please comment below.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s time for another Tuesday Tip. Going back to the editing checklist, let’s take a closer look at style.

photo provided by instyle

photo provided by instyle

Not that kind of style–writing style.

The trouble with giving advice about style is that it’s subjective. What one person likes, another won’t. However, writers tend to prefer styles that are clear, concise, and easy to read.

Personal style

Style is simply how something is written. Everyone’s personal style varies. Your writing will convey your voice and personality. Everyone’s voice is different; everyone’s style is different, so how do you know if your style is good . . . or bad?

Potential Problems

1. Passive Voice

Passive voice is not grammatically incorrect; however, many readers prefer books written in the active voice. Sentences contain nouns and verbs, subjects and actions. A sentence is considered passive when the action comes before the subject doing the action.

Example:

Passive: The chair was sat on by the boy. (action comes before subject)

Active: The boy sat on the chair. (subject comes first)

Technically, the first sentence is correct, but the second sentence is easier to read and understand. That is the problem with passive voice; readers get confused trying to decipher the meaning of passive sentences. For clarity, use active voice. To identify and eliminate passive sentences, highlight all to be verbs in your sentences (are, am, is, was, when). Make sure actors come before actions.

2. Too Wordy

Good sentences are clear and use strong, concise wording. Wordy sentences can bore, challenge, or confuse your reader. To cut the clutter, you first need to identify why your sentence is wordy.

  • Too many qualifiers–or what I like to call filler words (very, often, hopefully, mostly, practically, extremely, somewhat)
  • Prepositional phrases (on, in, for, of, from, with, about)
  • Redundant wording (advance warning, 7 a.m. in the morning, a brief moment)

Now that we’ve identified some problems that might be weakening your style, let’s look at some ways you can improve your writing style.

1. Sentence Variety

Instead of rewriting or paraphrasing, please check out my first Tuesday Tip, which was about sentence variety. To read that post, click here.

2. Clear Concise Words

Choose your words deliberately. Use specific words, nouns, and verbs instead of vague or wordy ones.

Example: He is aware that his dog is sleeping on the bed

Correction: He knows his dog is sleeping on the bed.

3. Connect Images, Ideas, Chapters, and Sentences.

When you think of connecting sentences, commas and semi colons probably come to mind. There’s another way to connect your sentences, paragraphs, even chapters. You’re not connecting them with commas, but images. Repeating ideas and images will help your sentences flow and improve your writing style. Before you start the next sentence, look at the last one. Do this with your chapters as well. Look at the last four sentences of your chapter. What is the image, theme, message? Carry this image in the next chapter. Think of it like the transition of a movie. Have you ever seen a West Side Story? Before the dance, Maria is spinning around in her room and the camera blurs on her dress. When it refocuses, she’s spinning in a ballroom. In A Christmas Story, a bathroom scene cuts as the boy opens the toilet lid to the boy or mom opening the lid to a pot of red cabbage. Repeated images make transitions less jarring and help scenes flow.

Example: Your chapter ends with a fire or a character blowing out a candle. The next chapter starts with a sunrise.

Example: You end the chapter with someone screaming. You begin the next chapter with someone singing.

See how these images or ideas repeat. Look for these connections in the book you’re reading or the movie you’re currently watching (when you should be writing). You’ll start to notice the transitions aren’t random.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Choose your words and connect your sentences wisely so your writing style will not go out of style.

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I want to start off by apologizing for not posting a tip last Tuesday. I should have had something prepared in advance since I knew the con was that weekend, but it was just such a busy week. I’d rather miss a post than publish a half-baked one. So here is last Tuesday’s tip today.

Let’s take a look at setting. “Look” is only one of the five senses we’ll be using to describe the world your character lives in.

What Should you Describe?

When introducing your readers to your world, it helps to think of the five senses and the 5 W’s.

Who: This is your character. How does your setting relate to them? Is this their home? What do they notice about their setting?

What: What does it look like? What landmarks, features, buildings, exist in this landscape? What items are important to your setting: a chipped coffee mug? A stack of books? A photograph?

When: This could be the year, season, time of day,etc. You always want to establish this early on.

Where: Does your novel take place in Colorado? Another galaxy? New Zealand? Psuedo-New Zealand?

Why: Why did you choose this place? Is the sunny east coast or an isolated mountain village the best setting for your novel?

Five Senses: Use your sensory details. But remember, the sights, smells, and sounds should be coming from your POV, not you. If your character is deaf, do not describe the sounds of a busy city. If your character is a child, don’t point out things that would not be at their eye level. Also don’t describe something as being soft or hard until your character has touched it. Describe things as they encounter them.

Info Dumping

Often, especially with new writers, descriptions of scenery are dumped into one paragraph like a dump truck unloading dirt. It might be tempting to tell your readers everything you know about your setting, but this is called info dumping. Instead of enhancing the plot, the scenery slows down the action, bores the reader, or distracts from the character or plot. Avoid info dumps at all cost.

  • Only describe what the reader has to know to understand the setting.
  • If your descriptions are a block of text or a paragraph, this is probably an info dump. Cut what you don’t need or spread out your description throughout the narration, so that there is something separating it. Describe the setting while your character moves throughout the world so your setting doesn’t stop the plot but flows with it.

Things to Avoid

  • Info dumping. See above.
  • Remember to describe the setting from the character’s perspective. What would they notice? A major pet peeve of mine is when authors describe the scenery as being “exotic” from their character’s POV. Don’t describe your world as being exotic if it isn’t for them. What you want your reader to find unusual (double moons, red lakes, man-eating trees, giant cats) will be common place to your character. You don’t need to force the image down your readers’ throats like a funnel at a frat party. A sky with two moons hovering over a red sea will sound unusual enough without your character pointing it out as being strange.
  • Not enough setting. Yes, it’s true. While a majority of writers seem to suffer from info dumping, there are those whose characters are floating in space. I recently read a sample of a book where I could not get a grasp of where the characters were.
  • Don’t overdue it. Have you ever red a book where the character seems to have control over the weather? It doesn’t always have to rain when the character is sad or storm during a battle. On the contrary, say you were writing a story about a missing person. They find the body on a sunny Easter morning. It may be more eerie to find a body on a sunny day rather than a rainy one. This also adds realism.
  • Do not start your story with a sunrise or sunset–unless this is an important image that has something to do with your plot. I once checked out three books from the library that all began with the rising of the sun. Not only is this overdone, but it’s often an unnecessary detail. If the sunrise is an important part of your setting, put it in, but try to avoid starting your book this way.

Creating Your Own World

If there is one reason I don’t believe in a god it’s because of this: No one can make a world in seven days. It’s taken me a year to fully develop my own. If you’re setting takes place in a real place, my suggestion to you would be to go there–especially if it’s somewhere tropical like Hawaii. For those of you creating your own world, you have a lot more planning to do.

  • Make it believable. Understand the laws of nature and science. Say your characters land on a planet with no oxygen. What does a planet without oxygen look like? What are the effects of metal when exposed to low levels of oxygen? What about the opposite? Your characters live on a planet with higher levels of oxygen. Not only would they have more energy than we do, but they would also have very large bugs. Research, research, research.
  • Create a world that enhances your plot. Don’t create a boring environment that will stunt your story. Make it vivid. Create a landscape that challenges your protagonist. Your character has been exiled from his tropical kingdom. On his journey to a new home, make him walk across a desert or a frozen tundra instead of a lush, green valley.

Plan your setting like you would your characters and your plot. Make it vivid, make it believable, but most of all, make it the way you want it.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Today, let’s talk about plotting. Before you start laughing maniacally, tapping your fingertips together menacingly, or stroking your cat, I’m referring to plotting your story–not revenge.

Structure

I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan the structure of your story before you write. Planning reduces the time you will spend later cutting and rearranging scenes. Your story consists of a series of scenes and events. You probably have an idea of what is going to happen in your novel, but you may have no idea when. Take those events and put them in a logical order. Think of an event as being a dot on a connect the dot game. Every dot is carefully placed and spaced so that once they are all connected, you get a clear image.

Events and scenes should not be random. There are three things that need to happen in your narrative.

  1. The character decides to take action in order to resolve a conflict
  2. The action
  3. The resolution of the conflict

When planning your plot, you can use whatever method you like. The most popular form of outline is the plot diagram. It should look something like this:

 

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This is a very simple plot diagram. To be honest, it’s a little too simplistic, but it’s a good template when structuring your plot. Without this structure, your plot could look more like this:

classic_bead_maze_rollercoaster

Looking back at the first chart, you’ll notice there are several key plot points: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Exposition: Consider this your setup. The exposition establishes the who, what, when, where, and why. In this early part of your novel, usually the first chapter, you should establish who the leading character is and introduce the conflict. Once you introduce your problem, your character must decide how to take action.

Rising Action: Once you’ve introduced the conflict and your character commits to resolving it, the action should start rising in a series of mini-plots. This is one of the reasons plot diagrams are so inaccurate. They show a straight line to the top. It really should look like the lines you’d see on a heart monitor. Action will naturally rise and fall as ocean waters ebb and flow. Too much dropping action, like a blood sugar drop, will result in saggy-middle syndrome. To avoid the saggy-middle syndrome, every conflict should be worse than the one before. Keep raising the stakes.

Climax: This is the turning point of your story. The climax of your story should not be the result of random events, but the consequence of your character’s actions.

Falling Action: These are the events that wrap up the plot. Tie up loose ends and satisfy your audience. This is not the time to introduce a new conflict (e.g.,The Scouring of the Shire), or introduce new characters.

Denouement: Plain and simply, this is the end.

Rule of Thumb:

  • Do not introduce a new character in the last 10,000 words of your writing.
  • Endings do not always have to be happy.
  • Do not use a Deus Ex Machina to resolve conflict.

Side Plots

The main dish is so much better with a side dish. Likewise, your plot is complimented by side plots. A side plot is the same as the main plot, only smaller. It’s like comparing a king size Snicker bar with a fun size. They have the same ingredients; they are just a different scale. Side plots follow the same structure as the main plot. Like side characters, don’t let the subplot take over the main plot. They should enhance, not distract.

Why have side plots

  • They lengthen your novel
  • They add complexity
  • They carry the theme
  • They develop characters
  • They keep readers interested
  • They offer relief from the main plot

Avoid Plot Holes

What is a plot hole? Simply an inconsistency in your storyline. Something that can’t be explained or believed.

How to identify them

  • motivation or events that can’t be explained
  • inconsistencies
  • contradictions

Some examples of plot holes:

Edward Scissor hands: Where was he getting the ice?

Jurassic Park: They spared no expense, except on security and tech support.

Harry Potter: Can go back in time. Only uses time travel once to save himself and stepfather. Could have used it again to stop the main conflict.

Frozen: What did Elsa eat in her frozen palace? How does ice magic make living snowmen, change a crown braid to a french braid, and completely change an outfit? Only Anna knows about Han’s treachery, but all the townspeople applaud when she punches him.

Toy Story: Buzz believes he is a real space ranger; however, when Andy enters the room, he goes motionless like all the other toys.

The Lord of the Rings: Arguably the eagles. Why didn’t they fly them the entire way. Floating around the internet is a great defense for why the eagles could not in fact take them the entire way, but I’m listing this one because Tolkien didn’t make it clear in his book.

There you have it, a little bit of information about plot to help you plot your . . . plot. Like a road map, a plot diagram will help guide your story in the right direction. Make sure to include those pivotal plot points in your planning, and watch out for plot holes!

 

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Let’s start at the very beginning–a very good place to start–but also the hardest place to start. If you’re like me, the beginning of your novel is the first and the final chapter you write. I’ve rewritten the beginning of my WIP three times already, and I may rewrite it again. The beginning is the most important part of your book. This is the chapter that introduces your readers to your story. It’s how you say hello and how do you do. If done right, the reader will do that one thing we want them to do more than anything else in the world: turn the page. Here’s some advice about what should and shouldn’t be in your first chapter.

What needs to be in the beginning

By beginning, I mean chapter one. A lot of stuff has to be in the first chapter, if not the very first paragraph. When baking bread, if you forget an ingredient, it won’t rise. Similarly, if you miss an ingredient in your first chapter, your story will fall flat. I’m not a very good baker; I once made cookies that tasted like shrimp. When it comes to writing, I always measure my ingredients carefully. So how do you make sure you don’t leave anything out? There are a lot of elements that need to be in the beginning, so to make it easy, they’ve been condensed to this very handy mnemonic device.

The three C’s: context, character, and conflict

  1. context Give the reader a sense of where they are. I’ve read a lot of books lately where I don’t know where the characters are or even who they are. It’s like trying to read a hand-made map written on a sticky note. If you’re wondering what you should tell your reader, think of the five W’s from elementary school (who, what, when, where, and why). You don’t want your readers to be disoriented, but this doesn’t mean you have to explain everything upfront or else your first paragraph becomes a major infodump. Establish only what the reader needs to know to enjoy the ride. Like a roller coaster, give them a handle bar and a lap belt so they don’t fly out of the cart on the loops and dips.
  2. character The reader will assume the first POV is the main protagonist. It’s kind of like how baby ducks assume the first thing they see is their mother.This doesn’t mean the first POV is the main character. There are exceptions to the rule, but it is a good idea, when you can, to start with the main character. Once you introduce them, you need your reader to connect with them. Make them care. Many beginner writers start with the least important information: what they look like. The most important information is what they want. Also what are your characters main positive and negative traits. These are important to know because they are the traits that will influence the character’s decisions. They  may be his foible, his downfall, what he must overcome, or how he achieves his goal.  If those are the only three things your reader learns about your character in the first chapter, that is fine. Physical appearance and back story can be sprinkled in later.
  3. conflict Conflict is simply what’s at stake. Whatever the main conflict in your story is, it should come out in the first chapter.

The hook I can’t type this without thinking of Mr. Krabs from Spongebob. Many of you have probably heard about hooks, but may not know what they are or how to include them in your opening. To quote Mr. Krabs,

 “They dangle down and draw you close with their pleasing shapes and their beguiling colors . . . they grab you by the britches . . . “

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I don’t think I could explain it better than that, especially that last part. That’s essentially what you want to do: Grab your reader and not let them go. It’s like snapping your fingers to get someone’s attention. Where do you put the hook? Why, the very first sentence, of course.

Types of hooks

  • scenery
  • action
  • foreshadow
  • dialogue
  • philosophical statement

how not to start your novel

Recently I reblogged an article about this subject. There are a lot of things you want to avoid, but based on my research, these seem to be the most unpopular beginnings.

  • starting with a dream sequence.
  • too much exposition and description (info dump)
  • starting too slow
  • starting with the wrong POV e.g., a one-time POV to introduce the main character
  • too little or too much action

I’d like to elaborate on this last one because it’s a pet peeve of mine. Action doesn’t always mean a battle. It just means the characters should be doing something. I’ve read a  lot of books where, way too early on, things start exploding, characters are dying, and cars are going through billboards. I don’t even care because I’m not invested in the characters yet. This would be like starting “The Lord of the Rings” with the scene where Frodo is being chased by the Nazgul out of the Shire. Do you know how confusing that would be? Who is Frodo? Why is he being chased? Who are these people with him? What is a Hobbit? Why do I care?

On the flipside, it’s aggravating when a story starts off too slow, like a Jessica Black song. Consider how bored you would be if the author described their character waking up at  7 a.m.  in the morning, getting dressed, going downstairs, eating a bowl of cereal, and going to the bus stop. After all this, her biggest conflict is whether to sit in the front or back seat of a car. Very little payoff.

Now you’re ready to tackle your beginning. Grab your readers by the britches and don’t let them go.