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Why Italics Are a Problem in Fiction

2016 August 10

The Problem with ItalicsIn writing a story, the key to reader participation is point of view. Whether an author agrees that a simple point of view (simply keeping the viewpoint in the head of the lead character for the scene) or a deep point of view (drawing the reader into the story to experience it with your characters) is best, authors are still finding ways to draw their reader out of the story.

The most popular, annoying, irritating, exasperating, for-crying-out-loud-stop-it habit has become italics.

My gut wrenches when I see italics inundating a published book or submitted manuscript. Yeah, it’s that bad.

So, why are italics a problem?

Before we get down to the problems with italics, let’s look at the reason italics are used in fiction: 1) authors use italics to indicate internal monologue; 2) words are italicized by authors to provide emphasis; and 3) italics show that a word is being defined. We won’t get into that because when this occurs the italicization is correct.

Now, we can dissect the problems with the first two uses.

No matter the reason they are used, italics jar a reader out of the story. In internal monologue, italicized thoughts remind the reader that they truly aren’t a part of the story. They are simply reading what is going on.

For italicized emphasis, the author is telling the reader one of two things (and possibly both in some instances). Either the author isn’t confident in his or her ability to get the dialogue across without the emphasis or the author isn’t confident in the reader’s intelligence to understand what is being said.

In case you need a translation on these, it boils down to one hard fact: the author is telling rather than showing. Yes, these methods have been used, and they continue to be practiced, but italicization is a shortcut, and when you breakdown the shortcuts of authors, they seem to have one thing in common: they are a form of telling.

Internal monologue can be shown much easier in point of view. I understand that there are still some hold-out authors who balk against deep point of view. Also, there are some writers who are studying it and struggling with the concept because internal monologue gets in their way. Those authors use a mixture of both, often putting deep point of view into italics and leaving internal monologue as if it were deep point of view.

Here’s a deep point of view primer: in third-person, quite simply, a scene is set as the lead character’s scene by giving that character an action. Everything stays in third person, and every thought in that scene is recognized by the reader as that character’s point of view. Take out telling words such as heard, knew, recognized, thought, etc., and you have deep point of view. Practice makes it better, and the practice is a lot of fun. Internal monologue in third person is changed to first person and italicized. Can you see why the continual use of that practice would become annoying to the reader? There are two instances when I feel that internal monologue is necessary: 1) when the character is in silent prayer; and 2) when the author truly feels that the emphasis of a statement of internal monologue is necessary. Believe me. That instance is rarer than most authors want to believe: Big Foot rare, if you get my meaning.

Let’s not get started with novels written in first person. In all honestly, the reader should be in that character’s point of view. Italics in first person stories are utterly useless, so I’m not even going there.

Look at the following paragraph written with and without internal monologue:

Abra let the wind blow through the open car window. This winding road to Shane’s was one of her favorite places. Who would have thought that in only five and a half months, she’d be used to the mountains. Cruising them was so much more fun than traveling on straight roads where you could see miles ahead without a break in the scenery.

So, after reading this paragraph, what do you think she’s doing? She’s driving. She’s not only driving, but she’s driving to the home of someone named Shane.

How long has Abra been in this area where she’s driving and how do we know she’s a little new to the area? She shows us in her point of view. She been there a little over five months; she likes the mountains. She’s obviously from some place void of their beauty—like Florida. (Writing what I know). She shows us these things in her deep point of view, without italics. Four sentences of the first paragraph, which gives Abra the action and the thought, and we’re driving on that mountain road with her.

Let’s see how the same four sentences sound with internal monologue:

Abra let the wind blow through the open car window. This winding road to Shane’s was one of her favorite places. Who would have thought that in only five and a half months, I’d be used to the mountains. Cruising them is so much more fun than traveling on straight roads where I can see miles ahead without a break in the scenery.

Yes, the information is the same. The delivery is what kills the second version. As a reader, I’m in the car with Abra driving to Shane’s house for the first two sentences. In the last two, I’m outside the car, as Abra is kind of alone with her thoughts.

Keep the italicized thoughts out, and I’m still sitting in the car with Abra heading to Shane’s. I’ve been there five and a half months with her, and I’m winding around those curves, loving where I am at the moment.

Now, to emphasize (notice I didn’t use italics for the pun) my next point, Abra isn’t alone in her car. She has two little boys with her, and they can help us see how italicization for emphasis can be unnecessary, for the most part. Let’s look at a bit of their conversation with the italicization included:

“Maybe we’ll see Bumblebee today,” Paulie whispered.

Shu-ut-ut up,” Peter hissed.

“Buzz, buzz,” Abra let them know she heard. “Is that what Shane and Taffy film for their music CDs and DVDs? Bumblebees?”

“Shane films lots of stuff. Last week we got to watch two otters play in the stream at Mount Tabor. It’s really not a mountain. It’s a place where the mountain levels out to one side, but it’s higher on the other. The stream roars down. Shane owns it.”

Would you believe that none of that emphasis is necessary? Look over the paragraph again. Without the italics would you understand that Bumblebee might not be a bumblebee? Yeah. Because the author (me) has capitalized the name of whatever it is.

Do you get the idea that Paulie and Peter don’t want their mom to know that Bumblebee isn’t a bee because maybe she won’t let them continue to do whatever they do with Shane and Taffy? Duh! That’s why Peter tells his twin to sh-ut-ut up, and the boys evade Mom’s questions.

Not one piece of italics is necessary. The dialogue and the way it is delivered take away the need for the telling emphasis. The reader is shown what they need to know. They aren’t talked down to, and the reader also feels as if the author believes he or she is smart enough to catch on to the interplay between a mother and her two boys.

Okay, to the authors who argue that rules are meant to be broken and authors do live to break rules, the fun in breaking the rules comes when you do it at the right time and not every time. Seeing every other word italicized for emphasis or paragraphs of internal monologue weary a reader and plain wear thin on an editor or agent. The secret to breaking these rules and any rule is first to understand it, and when it is understood, use it to the utmost in one, maybe two instances. As stated above, I call that the Big Foot rule. Break the rule so sparingly that the reader will remember it as if they would remember stumbling across a Big Foot or make Big Foot so stealth that they wonder if it existed at all.

Book Poster

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

 

The Danger of Killing Characters

2016 July 29

The Danger of Killing CharactersRecently, while heading toward the last scene of my work in progress, I pondered killing off the hero. In this tale of suspense, a lot of people fall prey to mayhem. I thought perhaps offing the hero would be a twist for my reader. I pondered this thought for all of two seconds.

Spoiler alert: I kept him safe and returned him to the arms of the heroine. Believe me. I wouldn’t write this unless I knew that the twists and turns in this story will keep a reader turning the page wondering how the heroine will ever have a happy-ever-after.

Here’s why I didn’t end the character’s life:

I’m not Nicholas Sparks. He can get away with it. Those who continue to read his books look for someone to die. I don’t read his books any longer. If he left a heroine or hero alive at the end of a story, I would be surprised. In turn, if I killed a hero or heroine, my readers would be flabbergasted. Readers do not like their favorite writers to surprise them in this manner without very, very good reason.

When readers pick up a book, they are investing their time and their imaginations in the lives written on the page. For an author to kill a main character without necessity is a waste of both a reader’s time and imagination. Once a reader has realized the author has wasted her valuable investment, she is less likely to allow the writer the opportunity to do so again. Some authors do have very good reasons for not providing a happily ever after romantic ending. In A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks, there is no story unless the young heroine dies. That’s what the story is about. She’s dying. A miracle cure would really aggravate the reader. The same is true of The Notebook. The jury is out on some of Sparks’ other titles, though. I stopped reading the books because my costly investment yielded nothing of uplifting value. I don’t like to close a book and walk around bummed about it for days. However, there is one title by Og Mandino where the story is imprinted on my heart because the young hero of the story died. He had to die. Without it, like the aforementioned Sparks’ title, there would be no story, but The Twelfth Angel sits among my favorites on my bookshelf.

Killing off a secondary character can be tricky as well. The best example I have of this is from the movie, The Mummy. Good old Bennie. He was a rascal, but he was a funny rascal. Even when Evie stands in the desert with him after she believes the mummy has killed her hero and she declares, “Nasty little fellows like you always get their comeuppance” (yes, I have seen the movie over 200 times. I can quote every line), I was still not prepared for that comeuppance. I was angered. How dare they kill off Bennie?

Well, they dared because he was akin to most of Peter Lorrie’s characters in the classic movies. When the shock and anger wore off, I understood Bennie had to die. The screenwriter had a reason. Fans of the movie realize that the directorship and the appeal of the movie is the classic formula, especially in characterization: hero, heroine, sidekick, villain, villain sidekick.

Now, secondary characters with four legs—our little furry friends—that an author kills off are another story altogether. Very few times when I have read a novel or a proposal have I believe any animal killed within the pages was done for anything but author suicide. Oh, the readers might cry over the animal’s death, but the emotion turned on the author is anger, hence, author suicide. The writer becomes dead to the reader.

I get those folks who say, “You have more compassion for an animal than you do a human being.”

Great. Those people are right probably not only in a story world but in real life.

Shame on me for being honest.

However, the majority of readers, if they will admit it, feel the same way about the books they read. Kill off a secondary two-legged character, and I might not like it, but I will continue reading. Kill off an animal without real reason and the book is trashed, as in hurled into a wastebasket, never going to tell anyone about the story because I would never do to another reader what an author did to me by suggesting they read the story.

If I’m editing for acquisition and an animal dies, the author is in trouble unless I see why it had to happen. And I have had one acquisition—only one—where I accepted the death, and I have to say that the reader did it so well that when it happened, I jumped up from my chair with my hands covering my mouth. The killing was necessary, but we had to tone that well-written death down a tad. In fact, the actual act was not shown, but the reader got the gist when they turned the page to the next chapter. You see, when I jumped up from my chair, that was the ultimate case of what I refer to as “jarring the reader.” I was taken right out of the story–horrified by the action. I don’t like to be horrified. I don’t watch horror movies. This book, while an action/thriller type story, was not horror, yet I was unsuspectingly jolted by the terribly vivid end to an animal.

The truth about the risk of killing off important secondary characters was brought home to me through the untimely death of a real-life feline who didn’t even live in my country let alone in my home. I was on staff as secretary for my church at the time. I was in an evening service. My pastor had just returned from the Philippines. That particular evening service, he was reporting on the mission team’s trip. Within the first five minutes, he mentioned that on the way from the airport their driver ran over a cat. The next day in a meeting, he asked his staff if the report had conveyed the importance of the trip. I looked up at him, and with all honesty, I declared, “I don’t know. The last words I heard were about the dead cat.”

So, the lesson I learned is this: whenever an author decides to kill a character (whether it is hero or heroine, a secondary character, either two legged or four legged), the result of said death should be weighed carefully. An author could have a great message or theme woven through the pages of his or her story, but kill off the wrong character, and that message or theme will be lost to the reader. The only part of the story that will be remembered is the death of the beloved.

The death of the Filipino cat, an animal I would have never known about otherwise, clenched my heart and squeezed so tightly that I heard nothing else of what the pastor said. Though the pastor’s words had been important, they were lost on me. He’d made me love the cat by telling me of its death. The story wasn’t about the cat, but my heart stayed with the dead animal, imagining its suffering on the road in the same way I imagine you, as a reader, are imagining it right now. I did not learn about the missionaries we support or the souls reached during that trip.

What I just did to you by telling you the feline’s story (and I made sure to share it at the end of the post) is not what you, as an author, want to do to your readers–without good reason.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

Three Techniques to Add Heart and Mind to Shallow Characters

2016 July 11

Shallow CharactersI’m in the midst of edits for my next release. I love the story. The complexities and the twist and turns have me feeling as if I’m on a continual roller coaster of fun. This is my subjective analysis, I know. Right now, I’m tickled that this is a story I can’t wait for others to read. Usually, as I’m coming to the end of a project, I worry if it is good enough to put forth for my readers.

However, as I dug deep into the story, I found some shallow areas, and each of those little pits had to do with characterization. I’m being honest here, my hero and heroines are the ones that sank into the short abyss and needed to be plucked out, cleaned up, and the holes filled, I’d like to share some ideas with others who might run across the same problem in their fiction.

This first technique must be explained carefully, but let me put the word out there. Those who know how I feel about this element of fiction will gasp. The word is backstory. Now, for the careful explanation. All characters (both real and imagined) have a backstory. The most colorful individuals have faced events in their lives that make them unique, that make them think differently from others, that either make them fearful or infuse them with bravery, that make them sad or cause them to hide the sadness behind a happy face. I can’t get around that truth. In fact, if you read my stories, the characters’ backstories are very important. However, many writers use backstory as filler. They’ve missed the beauty of this element of fiction. Not only does backstory make a character unique, but it also adds fodder for the front story. Working on a character’s backstory, knowing all you can about them is key to building character. The problem, though, with so many authors, is that they’ve worked on this intensive study of their characters’ pasts, and they feel it is a waste not to stop the story and place block upon block upon block of what happened in the past right in the midde of the front story.

Rather, backstory should be gleaned for the little nuggets that can be placed along the path of the reader. Those nuggets should come forth as front story and nothing else. Never, ever let anything stop the front story. Bring your past to the future, and keep it in the moment. Don’t linger in the past. All that’s needed are those little golden gems. A reader should be placed on a forward path to run across a small nugget here and there, reach down (or turn the page) to grasp that piece of gold, and continue forward. Don’t give it all away, though. Each nugget is a piece of the puzzle that will be solved as the story moves on. Placed just right, those nuggets pull out the truth of a character and bond them to the reader. When the character is shallow no more, the reader plunges into their lives and hopefully will not want to be moved from the story world. They’ll wish the journey could continue forever. A writer’s job is to bring the story to a satisfying close that makes a reader wish to linger for just a while more.

Another technique I use is to study the roles of different actors and actresses. Some of my friends simply use a picture of someone they’ve seen, and they develop a character around that. This is my usual technique with secondary characters, so I know it can work. I tried this method with my hero in my work at hand. I searched and searched for just the right face to put a character behind. That face is still my character, but it wasn’t until I concentrated on how he moved and how he acted with others in various roles, that he began to grow and to open himself up to me. This particular face behind the character came from a man who plays a dark role in the one show he is known for. My hero can be moody because (see the first technique above) his backstory has some depth to it, but he’s a nice guy most of the time. I couldn’t rely on the dark role to carry my character forward. Relying on one role of an actor or actress tends to build a cardboard character. So, I had to search deep to find clips of this particular man in real life and in other roles, and what I found put flesh and bone and heart into my hero.

As noted, be careful with this technique. Don’t mimic a screenwriter in building your character. Examine the many facets of the roles the actor or actress plays. My favorite actor to develop characters from is Andrew Lee Potts. Quite simply, the man has a wide range of acting abilities. I first ran across this actor in a movie called Alice. He played Hatter, and in that role he made American women swoon. Before Alice, though, he played Connor Temple in the British show Primeval. In Primeval, Mr. Potts played a quirky genius who specialized in dinosaurs and later worked on developing scientific equipment. His portrayal took the character through a range of emotions and behaviors. In Primeval, he was hopelessly in love with one of the other characters. In Alice, he was a brash, reluctant hero. In other movie and television roles he was tough, homicidal, mentally challenged, mean-spirited, and often funny: a very wide range and a pot of gold for characterization.

This last little secret is what I use when my characters are particularly tight-lipped and I need to psychoanalyze them a bit. Allow the character to write a journal entry. Just as in real life, we often pour our souls into our private writings, our characters, which are pieces of us, feel secure in doing the same. While I have no trouble sitting down and talking to my characters–they’re chattering at me all the time–sometimes, they don’t want to share everything. That was the case in my novel Better Than Revenge. I had a conflict-filled scene going between my heroine, Issie, and her sister, nicknamed Sissy. While the girls waged a war with words, Sissy’s husband, an ambitious prosecutor who’d risen to his position by his wrongful prosecution of Issie’s fiance, sat by and watched. I’d known this scene was coming. In fact, the scene was a pivotal turn in the novel, but I couldn’t get to the heart of why these two very different sisters, who seemingly loved each other, were at odds. Issie, who always tried to protect her baby sister, wasn’t being forthcoming, so I  took out a journal, a real paper journal; I put a date on it, and I became Issie. She poured out her heart, breaking mine as she did. She explained that her sister had been lied to by her husband, and worse, Sissy had believed her husband over Issie, drawing conclusions about Issie’s hero, Michael, that were wholly untrue. Since Michael’s imprisonment, Issie has not seen the man she loved. In her mind, he left her behind when released from prison. The argument between the sisters was prompted by the fact that her brother-in-law’s manipulations of the facts have been reported and a sadistic rapist, whom he urged  Issie not to prosecute to protect her unborn child, is about to be released. Because she followed her brother-in-law’s advice, the rapist never knew about his son, and her silence was surely what sent Michael to prison. Under the laws of that particular state, her son, whom she loves more than life, despite the circumstances of his birth is in jeopardy should, upon his release, his father ever learn of his existence.

Can you see how that journal entry not only helped to add heart and emotion to the characters and the scene, but also gave me insight into a family dynamic gone horribly wrong and desperately in need of repair? That journal explored a part of the story that truly became its heart and soul, a plot I wouldn’t have ventured into without the character’s input. Also, with that information in my writer’s arsenal, you can imagine how furious a reader could become at the man who set all of this conflict in motion and sat back and allowed his wife to do the arguing. So, those emotions flowing through your character can pour into your reader as well.

Characters can be a challenge. There’s no doubt about that. I struggle with characterization in every novel I write, and until each of the characters, whether they are lead or secondary, dig themselves out of their shallowness, my job as an author is not complete. I’d love to hear from other writers on the techniques used to add flesh and sinew, heart and mind to your character creations.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

How to Drive an Editor Crazy

2016 July 5

How to Drive an Editor CrazyI’m back …

The straight jacket has been removed, and I am able to conduct business with dangerous tools such as a computer and a website.

Okay that was a joke. Maybe.

On my time away in the asylum, I came across a few suggestions that might help as authors continue to apply edits to their work. I suppose this first post is appropriate.

I have enjoyed life as an editor both in acquisition and in freelance, but there are some things that authors do, and I’m including myself in the author category, that can drive an editor to the brink of insanity. Granted, when these things are done correctly and sparingly, they may make an editor’s heart soar, but when done incorrectly and to the point of overdosing the reader, the editor … this editor … can be brought to momentary lapses of villainous derangement. Editors can be very dangerous when they cross the threshold into the land of the demented, so I thought I’d share a few of those treacherous areas with you:

  • Creative punctuation: Authors who tiptoe through the field of em dashes, ellipses, parentheses, semicolons, commas played by ear, and run-on sentences, or as I refer to them “end of sentences played by ear,” must know why these wonderful marks of punctuation exist and how they are used before they can break the rules. Editors develop pet peeves. We develop them because of writers. Some editors, and I’m not one of those, hate semicolons. I love a properly placed semicolon when they are not used in every other sentence. Some editors don’t mind parentheses in fiction. I’m not one of those editors. I abhor parentheses in fiction. (However, if you see me write posts or other non-fiction, you are liable to see me use one or two or a dozen. I’m trying to break that habit.) The key to keeping an editor within the margins of sanity is the correct use and the lack of overuse of various creative punctuation marks. A special note about commas: as an editor, I am a comma Nazi. However, when advised by an author that the comma is creative license, as in “I want a pause there,” most often I will agree. Try to pull that stunt with a semicolon, and we’re going to war. The same applies with a run-on sentence. If I can’t get away with them, neither can anyone else in my realm of influence. And believe me I’m notorious for the longest sentences in recorded history, all chopped down by the ready pen–or track change–of an editor.
  • Stage direction instead of a sentence: Stage direction in a screenplay might read something like this: “You don’t understand. I must see what’s in that closet.” Stepping toward the door.
    There’s a running gag in the movie Murder by Death where Peter Sellers, as Mr. Wang is told by the host (and I’m paraphrasing out the terrible language), “You’re a highly educated, intellectual detective. Why can’t you say your pronouns.” That’s exactly what I remember every time a writer dares to cross over from the art of literature to screenwriting … a perfectly fine art with its own set of rules, but a screenwriter can get away with leaving out the pronouns. A writer of literature should not even attempt to do so.
  • Alright is not a word (even though my spell checker on my website seems to think so.It is wrong, terribly and utterly incorrect). Already is one word; all right should always be written as two words. And if you don’t believe me, start looking on Facebook or Pinterest for the memes. Most editors have one that declares that “alright” is not all right. This also applies to “a lot” of other misspelled and incorrectly used words.
  • Continuing with the last note, let me tell you what will really have an editor plotting against an author with manic fury. Yes, I’m exaggerating. The truth is probably closer to the editor stoking a little fire or irritation. All an author has to do is to refuse to believe what an editor is telling him or her. Careful here. I’m not saying that questioning an editor is out of the question. I’ve learned how wrong I can be on some edits because the author has dared to say, “Yeah, but …” However, when an editor tells an author, “Thou shalt not use alright” or indicates to the author that the publisher requires a space on either side of the ellipses, or prefers “OK” to “okay,” continuing to do as thou wanteth, doth not make the editor happy.
  • Starting every sentence with a conjunction: I love conjunctions. They’re beautiful sitting in the midst of a sentence. I even like them at the beginning of sentences, but I like them only when they are used correctly. Little known fact: when a conjunction starts a sentence, a subject and predicate are still necessary. Okay. There is some poetic license given in this regard, but the key is to not over use it. Once per novel should suffice. Oh, and here’s another little known fact, or so it seems not well known: then is not a conjunction. A poetic license shall not be issued, at least from this editor. If the publishers would let me get away with it in my writing and in my editing, and then would be used. Many of the run-on sentences mentioned above actually should start with the word then.
  • Misplacing the modifier: While misplaced modifiers are often a source of comic relief for editors, the practice can wear on us after awhile. I laugh when I read something like, “Chopping the onions, her eyes teared up.” Can’t you just see the little arms on those eyes chopping away one moment and wiping the tears the next? The giggles stop if the modifiers continue to be misplaced.
  • Drop in a plot device only when it is needed: Oh, it’s perfectly okay to drop in a plot device, if it is placed in the story long before it is necessary. If Pauline’s on the railroad track, and she’s able to somehow dig out a knife from her pocket and cut the rope, the reader better have seen that knife dropped in her pocket at some time prior to the scene.
  • So far, the advice, while true, has been tongue-in-cheek and mostly for the authors who have honed their craft and, like me, continue to do certain things that annoy our editors. This next bit of advice should be taken quite seriously, and it is to the individual who believes that all there is to writing fiction is sitting down to the computer and plunking words and thoughts onto paper. That individual can be identified by an editor in the very first paragraph, and sometimes they might be spotted from line one. Writing is an art. Some elements of this special craft come easy, but I guarantee that no one picks up a pen on day one, story one, and masters the art without practice, much practice. Nothing drives the insanity  in an editor more than picking up the first draft of an individual who then delays the author from reviewing the work of truly talented, well-studied, serious authors waiting for their chance in the hard-fought world of publishing. In all truthfulness, nothing brings out my madness quicker than picking up a published novel (whether traditional or self-published) that harms the talented authors in much the same way.
    I would love to hear from editors about their own pet peeves or “thou shalt nots” and from authors who have learned what not to do to keep their editors happy and healthy and out of the asylum.

Book Poster

 

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

Posture and Prose

2015 September 9
by Fay Lamb

Girl with books on her head holding thumb upWhen I wrote down the title I intended to call this post, I had no idea why I envisioned my grandmother telling me to sit up straight, but I gave it a thought, and it gave me a smile.

When a person slumps or slouches when walking or sitting, she doesn’t look put together or efficient. Actually she looks disheveled and ineffective.  Think about writing that tends to slouch or slump. Why does it appear that way? It needs posture. In other words, it needs to walk straight.

Meandering prose is one of the first indication that the writer lacks editing skills necessary to strengthen the story. Slumping or slouching content contains unnecessary words, repetitive narrative, dialogue that has nothing to do with the story, or dialogue and thought that repeats what the reader has already been shown. Weasel words and telling phrases are used throughout.

Let’s look at an example of a lazy, slouching, ineffective scene:

Mary walked down the street with her head hung down. Her stomach growled. She was hungry. She walked because she had nowhere else to go. No one would take her in. What was she to do if no one would open her doors to her. “Kindness and mercy are all I ask for. Why won’t someone show me some kindness and mercy.? She trudged along, looking down at her feet. Snow flakes began to touch the pavement under her feet, little white flakes. Without kindness and mercy things would never change in her life. She placed  her hand in her coat pocket. The coat was worn and tattered. Something crunched in her hand, like paper, but not paper. Green paper. She knew it had to be green paper. Money. She lifted it from her pocket. Where had this come from? It hadn’t been there when she put the coat on. Maybe, after she put the coat on, maybe at one of the stores where she’d begged for money, for something to eat, someone had placed this hundred dollar bill inside. What a blessing. She was so blessed.

“Ma’am?” Someone tugged on her coat. She stepped back. She had to step back. The old man was filthy, sitting on the street. “Ma’am, I haven’t had a meal in two days. Could you spare an old man enough for a meal.”

Mary looked at the green paper, the hundred dollars. Her blessing.

She shook her head and walked away. “Get your own blessing, old man.”

**

Some might think this is an exaggeration of awful writing, and it is. I haven’t seen anything that badly written for a long while, but it makes my point. The writing slouches. I look at it like I would my kid if his body lay bowed on the couch with his feet on the coffee table. In the same way I would reprimand my child, I’d have to say something to the writer whose prose has no backbone.

Let’s straighten out that scene:

Mary walked the street, her head lowered. Her stomach growled, and she placed her hand against it. She’d exhausted her last chance at finding food for the day. “Couldn’t someone, somewhere just offer a little grace and mercy,” she mumbled. “A little boost to make things better.” Flakes of white fell on the sidewalk, and she pushed her hands into the pocket of her tattered coat. Paper? No. One could never forget the feel of something she had coveted for so long, but how much? She lifted the bill that had not been there before her previous stop to beg food at the grocers.  A hundred dollar bill. A blessing.

“Ma’am?”

Mary stepped away from the man who sat on the street, his clothes filthy, his face dark with dirt. “I haven’t had a meal in two days. Could you spare enough for a hamburger. They’re only a dollar down the street?”

Mary shook her head and walked away. “Get your own blessing, mister.”

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

Christian Author Identity

2015 September 7

Christian Author IdentityI’ve heard it said that an author’s identity can suffer when she chooses to write different genres. I don’t believe that. If a reader of thrillers isn’t a fan of romance, they simply won’t read a romance written by an author who writes both.If the reader enjoys the authors writing in her genre of choice, she will continue to read that genre written by the author. Who knows, maybe the reader will  trust the author enough to pick up a simple romance and to become a fan. In my own list of favorite writers, I admit that I might pick up one series and not another, but there are those readers who prefer the others series instead. The author has two fans of differing genre. That’s a plus in my opinion.

There is another change of author identity that can be harmful to an author, though. Whether the writing is openly evangelical or clean writing without a Christian message that the author feels is safe to read, a bond has been forged between an author and her fans. The reader feels that they can safely recommend a title the author has written even before reading it. The Christian author has presented herself as someone of faith who values her identity as a Christian.

What happens when a reader picks up a book written by the author she believes she can trust, and finds that the author has stepped away from the Christian venue entirely? Scenes are played out that the reader never expected. A reader is taken into a bedroom scene or their eyes fall upon offensive words, even improper innuendo. When this occurs, a Christian author’s identity has come unwound. The reader feels that trust has been broken and that maybe even the author who presented herself as a Christian only did so for monetary reasons.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with writing Christian fiction and making money. The trouble comes when someone who truly wasn’t a Christian or who has walked away from Christian precepts changes identities.

When the identity is changed, the author is bound to lose loyal readership already gained. In some cases, loyalty might have been misplaced. In other cases, it was well-placed for a time. The result either way is a broken bond, and most authors understand the value of bonding with readership and the devastating losses (not only monetarily) that can occur when an author breaches a reader’s trust.

I do wish to clarify that in a perfect world, every publisher of Christian fiction would truly be Christian. That’s not true today. Most large Christian publishers have been purchased by secular companies who keep the Christian imprint because Christian fiction sells. That does not mean that a Christian should not write for that imprint. Christians should be the guards for Christian fiction and make sure that what that publisher presents is suitable for Christian readers. Likewise, a Christian author who writes clean fiction in the secular world should not be chastised. They should be considered missionaries. They are definitely on foreign shores.

I guess the questions every author should ask are 1) what identity do I wish to embrace; 2) why do I wish to embrace it and 3) does the identity that I wish to present glorify God or does it glorify me and in so doing, does it glorify the enemy?

The answers to those questions should be thought of long and hard. A change in the middle of a career can be very hard to overcome, and for a Christian author, the breach of trust gained from a reader hurts more than the author’s reputation.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

 

You Call That Marketing? Hello?

2015 August 28

Handsome happy man pointing himself isolated on a white backgroundI have a pet peeve when it comes to marketing. Before I begin my rant-less rant, let me clarify: authors must be their own marketer, but some of us take it to the extreme. Self-confession: I have tended to do this on occasion as well.

When pitching a book to an editor or an agent, authors are asked to detail a marketing strategy. A common response to this request is, “I have a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and so on and so on. Yes, it is good to point out the fact that an author has friends and followers, but it is more important to have engaged friends and followers. When I look on the social media sites for authors who declare they have a strong presence, I seek to find the following:

1) Are they truly engaged with their presence online? Social media management is a lifeline for me, but it needs to be used strategically. I’m still learning, and I expect for my presence to grow more engaging overtime. However, it is a big mistake for authors to string hundreds of self-promoting tweets and posts about themselves. That’s like sitting down with a friend who only wants to talk about themselves. I can be quite self-centered at times, and my friends who engage in  real conversations with me are very gracious. I also have the ability to apologize to those friends. Someone who is self-centered online, doesn’t get that chance. However, it’s never too late to change a strategy. Authors should vary their posts. As hard as it is for some, authors should work at being entertaining and insightful. Don’t bow away from politics or world events–especially if an author’s circle of online influence is like-minded. Even if some of an author’s friends think differently, there is nothing wrong with engaging conversation that pulls people into the topic. The key is to keep it light. My friends might all think the same about issues, but not all of them share my views on having a G-rated page. When engaging in topics, an author should make sure that the G-rated policy isn’t violated, and when it is, deal with it with tact and graciousness.

2) Are they providing helpful information for their circle of influence? Anyone who’s read my post or listens to me for any length of time knows that my first lesson in networking came with the best advice I’ve ever taken. Networking isn’t about what others can do for you. From the very beginning, this is why I had a negative idea about the term. I didn’t want to friend someone simply for what I thought they could do for me. When I mentioned that to a well-known mentor those are the words of wisdom she spoke into my life. What I learned from following her advice is that I had a lot to offer authors, organizations, and readers. I was blessed from the giving, and as it said, it is better to give than to receive. My first foray into this upside down marketing was to moderate a very large critique group for a major organization. That led to running for the board of said operation. In return, I have learned that my work was a blessing to others. I also received great insight into the business of publishing. My critique experience led to my editing experience. Now, I offer my circle of influence the Tactical Editor portion of my personality, and I love the giving it allows me to do. And when I give, people do learn about me, but in learning about me, my hope is that they also learn from my posts. An author should think about what they have to give to readers and to writers alike.

3) Are they engaged with other legitimate authors in helping to promote others rather than themselves? I chose my words carefully here. Legitimate does not refer to the type of publication an author has chosen (self-publish or traditional publish). To the contrary, I’m asking writers if they vet those they help promote, whether self-published or traditionally published. I found myself in a quandary sometime back when I opened some promotion for anyone who had a book to publish. Then I began to read the books others wanted me to promote. I will never do that again. Authors want to promote well-written authors. Authors in the Christian publishing venue also want to avoid promoting books that misrepresent Scripture in very obvious ways. The reason? An author’s promotion of books that are not written well and are off-the-rail theologically will hurt the promoting author’s reputation as well as the author being promoted.

4) Are they predators or parasites or are they helpful to their community? This is the main reason I wrote this post. The fact that some ill-mannered authors are predators and/or parasites has not escaped by attention. You can tell these blood-sucking creatures by their actions. They invade an author’s social media space by promoting their work on a page or by using another author’s name without permission. They follow you on social media for one purpose and one purpose only: to make the authors following them hunt them down and block them from every social media page they have. Nothing stirs my anger more than following someone on Twitter and receiving a pre-written, set to launch, direct message asking me to like their Facebook page or give them a review (knowing full well that their lack of sales means I probably am not one of the few who have read their book). These type of promotions show too clearly that an author has no intention of being a help to their circle of influence. Rather, they’re the vampires of promotion, wanting to bleed everyone else in “competition” with them dry.

The best way to promote is to promote in groups. Find groups (maybe even authors from your own publisher) and agree to promote each other. There are also groups on Facebook and elsewhere who have like-minded authors who would love to promote for you while you promote for them. The authors’ reach becomes ten-fold rather than centered on self. Again, authors should always vet what they promote. For example, a book with a seedy looking cover of a naked man and woman isn’t about to be personally promoted by moi, even if the book purports a Christian message. For that matter, I’m also very cautious when I’m posting on Facebook or Twitter. There are a lot of funny things out there to share, but they are ruined by a curse word or a terrible action. Authors should be careful with what they share even to the point of looking at comments that might come with the share and be made a part of an author’s page.

One other world of caution: while other writers can be great promotional helps, the truth is, many writers in a circle of influence do not sell books. An author has to also engage readers. As mentioned above, The Tactical Editor is primarily a “helps” page for authors. I am, at times, active with another blog that interviews characters and authors. That blog is directed to readers. While my Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages help promote other writers, I also try to include friends from outside the writing world.

You know the type: they either read or they know someone who reads, but authors shouldn’t expect everyone they friend to be a fan. Mostly, they should be seeking to make friends.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com

 

 

 

 

Dream, Hope Believe, Dare, Risk, Try: Advice for New Writers

2015 August 26
by Fay Lamb

dream, hope, believe, dare, risk, try - motivational concept - aI spend a lot of time picking on individuals who shout to the world, “I’m going to write a novel” or tout their newest written concoction as a bestseller when, actually, they haven’t studied one piece of literature or haven’t taken any steps to learn how to put together a well-written novel.

I spend far too little time applauding the writers who write while they learn. Those are the ones who understand that writing isn’t liking speaking. Some folks can weave their words into the most terrific audible stories. I envy those who leave listeners spellbound. Garrison Keillor I am not. I find it easier to put the words down on the paper designed for me by Microsoft. Why? Because there I can play with the words I have chosen to tell my story. I can backtrack and eliminate mistakes in plot before anyone sees them. I can advance my learning through practice of the art that has chosen me.

That’s my encouragement for new authors today, especially those who are sitting down daily and struggling to learn the elements of storytelling. I want to shout to the heavens that the maddening structure will fall in place and soon your voice will emerge as you adapt the structure to suit your needs.

For those who are thinking about entering the fray, I’d like to share a few tips that might have helped me along my way faster, if I’d but known:

1. Find a writers’ group. Many towns have groups that meet to critique or to discuss the publishing world. Otherwise, there are a myriad of groups online. If possible, find a group that teaches and also offers critique. More importantly, find a group that has members who are a little more experienced. Don’t avoid other new authors though. Newbies who are learning to write are sponges that you don’t even need to squeeze in order to elicit information. What they’ve learned pours out of them. They soak it up and ooze it out in their enthusiasm. Oh, and make sure that you find the right group with regard to the industry. Whether it’s the difference between secular and Christian fiction or between genres, a deliberate decision needs to be made to join a group that feels comfortable. For example, while I read every adult genre for edits, hand me a children’s book, and I’ll hand you poor advice every time.

2.  Learn the elements of fiction. Other authors might break these down differently, but I view and teach the elements as follows:

  • Plot
  • Pacing (includes specific to the genre and how to avoid back story dumps)
  • Conflict
  • Character (I place description under character as it is the character’s job to provide the description, saving the author from mucking it up)
  • Point of View (and I believe the deeper the better)
  • Show (and not tell, which is aided tremendously by deep point of view)
  • Dialogue

The only element that is in a preferential order is plot. A story cannot be written without plot, and every element underneath goes inside the plot, always moving it forward (never backward). After plotting, I always suggest that a writer work on point of view because a good knowledge of point of view lifts every element in the story up a notch or two.

3.  Not every author approaches a book the same. Authors hear a lot about word counts per day, hours per day, stay off social media, get the job done. The truth is, all of this advice is good advice, but an author needs to find the approach that works best for him or her. Perhaps the weekends are the time when an author can let every scene she played in her mind break forth on to paper. She exhausts the scenes and through the work week ahead, she lets the characters play in her mind again only to start it all over again the next weekend. Other authors are methodical with word count. Others put in a set amount of hours every day. Others are flighty and hardly know how to manage time, but in a moment here or there, come up with brilliant material. Me? I usually put so much in front of my writing that I edge it out. I’ve found recently that setting a 500 word count per session (with  more than one session set per day) usually gets me to 2,000 words in the first session. Basically, in telling myself that I have to quit at a certain time, the rebel in me comes out and says, “Oh, yeah. Watch this.” I look up, and I realize that I’ve poured words into more than one chapter, and I wonder how I got there, but the trip was a great one even if I didn’t remember how I got there. Moral of this point: be proactive in the time put into writing, but don’t let anyone declare there is only one right way. Truth is, there’s only one wrong way, and that’s not to write at all.

4.  When new writers are starting out, they are basically at the mercy of anyone who will teach them. That’s why the advice in #2 above is so important. If someone doesn’t know the basics of a job, how are they going to receive instruction. Someone could inadvertently send him or her on the wrong path. Before an author knows it, she’s Lucy Ricardo in the chocolate factory stuffing bonbons in her mouth trying to keep up with the job. I don’t know a single individual who ever purposefully gave me bad information on writing. Everyone I know has been very gracious in their efforts to help me succeed. However, I have learned the hard way that not everyone who offers advice understands why they give it. In other words, they’ve heard it from someone who heard it from someone, who heard it from someone. On down the line information is perpetrated, and no one seems to understand why. For instance, have you ever been told not to write passively? That is good advice that turns bad when a writer then tries to make every sentence active–even those that require a passive structure. He went to the store says something entirely different than he was going to the store. He went means he’s been there. He was going means that he either had the intent or the person who is making the statement believes he’s on the way.  When I started learning the whys of the rules, that’s when I began to enjoy grammar and punctuation, which leads to my next point.

5. The little things do matter. I’ve told this story many times about a New York Times bestselling author whose work I love dearly. She scoffed at my need to study grammar and punctuation. She indicated that those little things are why we have editors. First of all, she might have gotten away with that statement because she’s published, and well-published. She doesn’t have trouble selling her work. However, I’m talking to new authors. Editors and agents aren’t going to take an author seriously if they don’t know the little things. In the business, those little things are usually the first indication that an author isn’t approaching the work professionally. As I said, my author friend might have gotten away with her statement, except that she had an idea for a series that didn’t fit with her big city publisher. A small publisher jumped at the chance to print her work. Too bad they didn’t have a competent editor to work with her. The spelling and grammar errors were atrocious. Oh, I loved the story, but my editing eyes were jarred from its telling many times.

6. Learn as you go. Authors don’t need to learn everything overnight. The truth is, some authors are going to shine with some elements and not in others. Some are going to paint beautiful pictures of sunsets for their readers. Others are going to zero in on a character and bring that character so alive the reader believes him or her to be a best friend. If we all wrote with the same intensity in all the areas of writing, chances are readers would give up reading. Readers truly do judge a book by the elements a writer uses. They are prone to authors who focus on the elements they like in a story. The funny thing is most readers who do not write, have no idea why they enjoy one author over another. Knowing all of the elements allows an author to develop a voice, which comes about as the author’s knowledge of an element and their focus on certain elements develop.  The key is to learn the elements and practice them, one or two at a time and to realize that authors write differently. Some, like me, use description only when it is absolutely necessary to the story. Readers who read my books aren’t looking for heavy doses of scenery. Another author might be high on conflict. Readers who like to read on the edge of their seats are going to migrate to that author. Those who like subtle conflict are going to settle down with an author who presents that for them. Your voice will be determined by your strengths and weaknesses, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

7.  While I have a friend who started writing thirty years after I began and she was published a couple of years prior to me, I’m still going to say this: don’t think that from The End to contract is an overnight occurrence.  Start learning the market early and when the final revision of the story is ready for pitching, get it out there to the right places while you’re working on the second or third or fourth book.

8. Don’t give up.  If you’re a writer, don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams aren’t worthy. Realize, though, that sometimes our dreams need action behind them to make them happen. In other words, if someone says an author isn’t ready, and that author doesn’t truly know if they can write or not, the next step should not be to give up and go to a vanity press or to self-publish.

At this point, I have self-published authors gasping and thinking, “She hates the independent author.”

That’s not true. I love all authors. Authors don’t give up. They keep learning, they realize they will always need to learn, but they will get to a point when they will know–through the wisdom of others or through diligent study–that they have arrived at a point where their work is ready to sell. Some authors get unwise counsel. Their stories are published, even by traditional publishers, when they are far from ready. The result is a loss of trust in the author’s abilities by those who spent money on the book. Whether self-publishing or under contract, an author needs to be very wise and objective about his or her abilities. The lack of knowledge and the lack of objectivity can cost them–and others–which leads to my final point.

9. Whatever you do, do your best. I know that my audience is mostly Christians, so authors, don’t think that God has set a task before you, and just because He has sent the orders means that whatever you present will be a worthy offering. Like Abel, no matter the cost, give God the first fruits of your labor, and make that offering the best that it can be.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com

 

 

Never-Dos: Keep Your Readers from Pulling Out Their Hair

2015 August 24

Young angry teenager pulling her hairI’ve read a couple of novels in my lifetime that had me mad enough to reach up and pull out my hair. Let me be very specific. These are published novels, self-published and traditionally published. At least one book I’d picked up to discover the author’s secret for winning awards got thrown against a wall on the far side of my room.

Yes, writers can do this to readers, so today, I thought I’d share a few “never-dos” so that other authors can work hard at helping readers to maintain their hair or from throwing temper tantrums that would keep the reader from every returning to read another book by that author.

  • Never do episodic writing: Episodic writing lacks conflict. These types of stories are either written entirely as the normal, everyday life of a character or they are driven by conflict that starts and ends within a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or a chapter. Characters can be normal every day people, but what happens to them in their story world must shake their normal every day life to the core. Also, a story where conflict ebbs and wanes or disappears entirely puts a reader on an emotional roller coaster. Most will eject from the ride at the most exciting point because they get tired of conflict after conflict after conflict. Rather, readers desire to have one or two different conflicts  arc throughout the story until the conflict is resolved at or near the end.
  • Never do italics to the extreme. I’m not saying italics should be eliminated. Instead, they should be utilized for ultimate impact. Silent prayer should always be italicized, but be careful. Too much prayer weighs the story, and it begins to lack the necessary impact. With regard to internal monologue, I like it less than I like my next ‘never do.” Internal monologue is a lazy writer’s way of telling. The author is allowing the character to tell his or her emotions rather than showing them in action or words or in a deep point of view (DPOV). In a DPOV, internal monologue should all but be eliminated.  Used sparingly, internal thought in italics will give that all-important thought emphasis. Oh, and authors should understand that it is a very rare occasion when the reader won’t get the emphasis of a word without italics, especially if the writer has worked to show the emphasis in the dialogue rather than tell it with italics.
  • Never do more than one or two exclamation points per manuscript. I do not like exclamation points. I do not like them says Fay Lamb. Well, okay. Sometimes characters do have to yell. Otherwise, using exclamation points to impact every conversation gives a reader a headache. Our brain is programmed to read exclamation points for what they truly are–an indication that the speaker is yelling, screaming, shouting, hooraying, or cheering. Excessive exclamation points (more than two in most novels) indicate that a character is always shouting. Readers will tune out or walk away if characters are always talking loudly with one another.
  • Never do consistent name calling in dialogue. By this I mean using a character’s name in the speech of another character. This especially gets tiresome in one-on-one conversation. Authors who study dialogue will note that a husband and wife do not sit across the table from each other and use each other’s  name every time they speak. Friends don’t do this either.  Only occasionally in a group conversation are names used in dialogue necessary. I have solved the mystery on this one because I have noted when I am most prone to exercise this “never do.” Intense scenes draw out the name-dropping. Authors automatically think that this heightens the intensity of the dialogue. Believe me. It does not. What this practice does is weary the reader.
  • Never do strange words. The dictionary is full of perfectly fine words. Why do we need to invent new ones? If a word an author wants to use doesn’t work, seek a Thesaurus. My reasons for this are quiet selfish. You see, I’m OCD, and in this world, people don’t think about something when they see it. I don’t want an entire generation of people thinking that a made-up word is a valid one. Now, this does not include dialect. Words like gonna, thunk, and whatcha are all fine as long as a character is speaking them or if the book is written in first person viewpoint. Then the dialect needs to reflect the character, and if done well, the dialect adds to the story.

Heeding the never-dos will give readers one more reason to keep turning the page, so long as the story that is missing the never-dos always does us the elements of storytelling with practiced ease.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com

 

 

How to Date Your Story

2015 August 19

How to Date Your StoryOkay, I’m not talking about taking your manuscript out to a movie or sharing a candlelight dinner for two. No, the type of dating I’m writing about is not good for a novel.

Some authors like to bring items into their story that they feel make the work relevant for the moment. To do so often indicates that the author is shortsighted in his or her goals for what is being presented to the reader.

I’d like to share a few of the details that will date your book so that in the future, readers will be less likely to take it seriously:

Cover Details:

Recently, I was asked to review my church library for any titles that were outdated. In actuality, the subject matter of both the non-fiction and fiction titles had not gone out of style. Truth is Truth. However, when I looked at the covers of the books in our collection, I was transported back to leisure suits and bell-bottom pants. Some covers even had women with bouffant hairstyles and men with thick mustaches and thicker black framed eyeglasses. I recoiled from those books. The images triggered a time past, and whether the material inside was valid or not, I didn’t want to read them. Others apparently didn’t care to look at them either, because they had been on  shelves for years. Not any longer.

Yes, times do change, and unless you’re writing a historical, make sure that the people on the covers, the items depicted, and the scenery will not appear dated in the future.

Electronics and Other Technological Wonders

What might be cutting edge to us today, will be old-school tomorrow. I’ve told this story many times, but while managing my son’s Little League concession stand, kids would come to the side door to use the phone. One day a young boy asked if he could call his parents to pick him up. I said sure. I was busy working, and when I finally turned to look at the child, he stood, staring up at the black box hanging on the wall. Now, this was in the days before cellphones, and push-button phones were the norm. The kid turned and said, “Mrs. Lamb, how do I use this phone?” He had absolutely no idea how to use a rotary dial telephone. However, when I was a kid, that’s the only phone we had, and we were lucky to have the one in our home.

Today, iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, and other brand names are the must-haves. In a year from now, a new innovative technology might take the place of the current brand names. Look at what Apple has presented already.

The one assurance we have, is that phones will more than likely always be relevant. So providing generic terms will keep a story from becoming dated before its time.

Names of Celebrities, Song Titles, Movies and Other Cultural References:

Believe it or not, your kids don’t know the names of some of your most loved celebrities, television shows, or song titles from the past. Likewise, I don’t know the names of many of the artists, songs, and shows that my children and grandchildren watch, and when I sit and watch or listen with them, I feel as if time has passed me by. Placing cultural references such as these into a story will truly date a manuscript or some of the references might go above an older reader’s head.

So for those writers who like to drop names and other reference into a novel, here’s an example of why it shouldn’t be done:  If she hadn’t looked twice, she would have thought the man before her was Peter Noone…”

Now, a very few of my generation might get the reference, but for those who haven’t a clue of Peter Noone’s identity or description, this reference goes beyond my generation to my sister’s generation, thirteen years older than me. Peter Noone was the lead singer of a very popular band in the early sixties called Herman’s Hermits. Can you imagine a ’60’s rock star look for a hero in a contemporary novel? I didn’t think so.

Okay, do you want a more recent example. A few years back, all the little girls were fawning over a young, clean-cut, all-American young man named Justin Bieber. He was just so cute and adorable. Girls loved him. Guys hated him. If he had been used in a novel to describe a teen hero, everyone would think of this nice kid. Now, if someone read that book written not too long ago, those who know who he is would most likely make a face and might even take a dislike to the hero. Most readers wouldn’t think of him as hero material.

Name dropping, whether it be celebrities, songs, movie titles, or brand names should be avoided in contemporary novels. The place for name dropping is historical novels where a mention of an individual, a title, or an item might bring a bit of nostalgia for the reader. Be careful, though, and make sure that the names being used are shown in a nice light. You wouldn’t want to get yourself or your publisher into trouble.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com