Tag Archives: good writing

Self-Editing – character & dialogue

Hi,

Further to my blog post about how to manage editing and the stages, here are some specific things to review and correct. I have gleaned these through research, reading, and writing experience. Hope they help.

Character

Ensure your characters are active – they must : speak, act, think, decide, react
Not be passive or described through narrative alone. And limit that narrative.

Describe characters briefly through impressions / metaphors and pick out a few personal details relevant to the story.
Don’t ramble on for pages in narrative form about your character’s many attributes.

Each character should have their own voice, agenda and attitudes which come through in how they – speak, act, think, decide and react.
Avoid having each character appear identical in voice, actions, thoughts, agenda etc.

Major characters must have objectives, agendas, something they strive for and these must be made clear to the reader.
Correct and rewrite major characters who appear unfocused, bland, random in action.

Major characters need to develop as your story unfolds. This needs to be seen by the reader in how they change in: speaking, acting, thinking, deciding, reacting. Show the struggle, down points, their resolve, how they change, their actions to overcome, their elation / dejection at the outcomes.
Steer away from major characters who do not change during your story, especially your hero / protagonist and antagonist.

Dialogue

Keep it snappy, focused and get to the point. Less is more.
Avoid rambling dialogue with unnecessary words or topics.

Use dialogue to show key conflicts between characters & how they work things out (or not).
Don’t miss the opportunities to show how characters differ and want different things.

Written dialogue is not the same as real world dialogue, stay lean and pristine most of the time.
Only deviate when an effect is needed to show a reaction or character trait.

Minimize the use of speech attributions and stick to ‘said’ as much as possible. Often it is clear who is speaking without the label. Said becomes invisible to the reader, variations such as (replied, stammered, shouted, cried, retorted etc.) do not.
Steer clear of passages with lots of: he said, she said, he said, she said. It becomes wearing.

Ensure each character speaks in a way consistent with who they are, what they know and how they have behaved so far in your story.
Avoid making random speeches or having characters sound the same.

Use dialogue as a natural interaction between characters to further your plot.
Don’t have a character expose the entire back story or unexpected plot points through dialogue alone – exposition needs to be limited. Such as if characters are reflecting on a clue or next action or piece of information they have discovered.

Remember to leave gaps for the reader to figure things out for themselves. No one tells people everything they are thinking or feeling.
Avoid explaining every detail to tie up all the loose ends. Over reflection or over explanation can soon become dull and can spoil the plot.

 

Note – these are guidelines to improve the quality of what is left on the page. The ‘because’ is always – to polish and improve the quality of the book. There will be exceptions here and there to the above. However, from experience I find these guidelines to be pretty much on the money.

On a personal level, I seek to continually ‘sharpen the saw’ by reading, researching and writing / editing. These blog entries are from the coal face so to speak.

Hope this helps.

Happy writing.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

www.seanyeager.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choices to improve your writing

Hi there,

We all make choices when we write and the decisions we take fit together to shape our style. Becoming aware of these choices helps the author when planning to write and when writing. Here are some further thoughts and learnings from the coal face of an active writer who is writing while learning to improve the craft of his writing. I hope you find these ideas useful for your own projects.

Perspective

First person, third person or omniscient?

Whose head do you want to get inside when you write? And who are you most comfortable writing about? This makes a big difference to whether you enjoy the writing process and also how convincing the outcomes will be. Expressing motives, thoughts, emotions and characters’ voices are vital to building sympathy or antipathy for the main characters. Of course the writer builds up the story and chooses who to build up in their written characters – the question is – can you be convincing as the part you are portraying in the first person?  Or would it be better to observe their actions from a third person viewpoint?

Balance of parts

How much narrative, descriptive, speech and internal voice?

Seasoned authors move between the different parts of writing with ease, at least in their finished work. The key choice here is what is needed, when and how long to stay with each part of writing. A long narrative can quickly become dull, too little action and the plot will not move forwards. Also be aware that an internal viewpoint can help build depth, but too much deep thought can also become tiresome. In other words it’s all about choosing the balance point for the work in progress. Pieces build up into a tapestry and readers need some space to fill in with their own imagination.

Emotional journey of your protagonist & antagonist

To drive the story you need plot points (events) and an emotional arc to support the main characters’ development. It’s essential that the hero / heroine has an emotional journey at the heart of the plot or the reader will not feel sympathy or pathos for their plight. In other words they need to go through hell and back metaphorically. As writers we need to map out this journey and show how it affects them, then review it in flight to ensure it makes sense and has plenty of twists and turns as the writing on the page develops. I find it useful to have an outline and to allow myself to evolve that outline as the characters react to events in the written story. I also constantly review whether it makes sense how the characters react or adjust to each situation they face. In this way the characters becomes alive on the page or demand a better script – and that’s when you know something is happening…

What to leave out

As writers we choose what to show and we choose what to hide or skip over. This applies particularly to twists, love scenes, violence and how much of the story our chosen writing perspective allows us to show. Often, hinting at events and writing around the outcomes can be as powerful as taking the reader to those places. Then again we have to decide what the book genre needs and how to keep the writing engaging. Wall to wall action, description, erotica and such like can quickly become dull, hence our need to choose what needs to be left out and what is essential to the telling of our story.

Choice of words & structures

Obviously the words on the page can be written in many ways. I recommend reading widely and choosing a style that sits comfortably with your own preference for reading. It is often said that creators create primarily for themselves. That being the case, we choose what kind of book we would like to read and set about writing in a style we would like to read. As a personal check if I find myself reading back work that is clunky or dull, I cut or rewrite. If I don’t recognise that I wrote a paragraph and I like it, that for me is a kind of success. I also recommend collecting lists of words, phrases and structures that you enjoy and to set about using them in the appropriate context.

Pace of your writing

It is often said that the middle of a book can drag or be flabby. I have found this to be true even with genuine bestselling authors. There are remedies available, such as speeding up the pace or introducing new twists at the point where this becomes apparent. In truth, any part of a book could drag and as writers we choose the pacing of each book we write. Too much and heads can spin, too little and they hit the pillow. Perhaps we should start at the end and race to a conclusion? At least it’s an option when plotting out a book or working out how to write in an engaging way.  Personally I am easily bored by detailed everyday life accounts when nothing much is happening in the plot. Then again if the writing includes insights and expressions I enjoy, where’s the harm.

Humour and darkness

What overall tone are we seeking to put across?  Further choices are how we balance light and darkness and the extent to which we introduce humour and horror. My suggestion here is to identify points at which light relief is needed and to crank up the intensity where a climatic sequence is due. Surprising the reader can work, but too much of a good thing can quickly become wearing. Comedy only works when someone is having a bad day, horror only works when it is a contrast to the setting. Much like real life. A series of choices lead to the sequence of scenes and tone that we write, being aware of those choices is therefore the starting point.

Twists and surprises

Clearly we design the slights of hand, the twists and surprises that we include in our work.  A recent trend I’ve noticed in some bestsellers is excessive use of these devices to the extent that nothing that’s left is reliable or plausible. Sometimes the work can become too clever clever for its own good. This may be a good thing for movies, but I suggest choosing a balance and keeping the surprises as big shocks with little or no clues because this can be more effective. Also taking lateral leaps beyond the well trodden path and taking an alternate view can be refreshing.

Editing

As writers we first edit ourselves and then submit to whatever it takes to be published. We should remember the choices that we are willing to accept and reject those that have no proper basis in improving the work. Anything that improves quality and reduces flabbiness is most likely a good thing, but there is a line that someone needs to understand implicitly for each piece – i.e. what makes it work? Perhaps the detail makes the work or the depth of a character. We need to understand this of the work on the page and choose to ‘direct’ the improvement of the work from that perspective. As the saying goes, you can only serve one boss. For me that’s the reader. Editing out all the good bits would of course be a bad thing. The question is – what are the good bits? And are there enough of them?

That’s all for now folks. I hope these ideas help your personal writing journey. I’ve been busy of late writing Sean Yeager Claws of Time, which will see the light of day when my own choices have run their course.

D. M. Jarrett

Hunters Hunted Text 2l

What makes great creative writing?

I’ve been wondering about this for some time now and while there is a no definitive answer here are some thoughts I’ve collected along the way:

Engagement

I find myself preferring a writer who engages me on an emotional and intellectual level. If they don’t, and especially if the writing seems flat, I’m unlikely to continue reading their work. I read because I want to feel something and learn something. To step out from my regular places and thought patterns. As the saying goes – make them laugh, make them cry, take them somewhere.

Flow

Complex writing can be great writing – see the recognised classics – but it needs to flow or I lose patience. There are authors who mystify me with their swirling prose and back to front timelines. If I know where I am in the story that’s fine, but if I’m lost I lose interest. I also look for flow of the words and structures. The best writers make it seem smooth and effortless, though clearly it is a result of graft, revision and polish.

Personality

For me, great writers put their brand of persona into the fabric of their writing. It may be in how they speak to their reader within the book, the kind of humour they employ or the  viewpoint and attitude or philosophy of their writing. In some cases, this personality transcends the story and almost becomes an in-joke of itself. I find this refreshing and enjoyable because it develops another layer to the writing. In a way it builds a feeling of connection of the reader with the author as they tell a new story.

Page turner

I like a good plot as much as the next person, perhaps more so. If the plot fails to move along or surprise, I’m likely to fall asleep. The writing may be great, all the other ingredients may be brilliantly executed, but if the plot sucks – I’m out of there. What makes for a page turner may be at odds with ‘great’ writing, I am though convinced that brevity and economy of words is part of the sweet-spot for a great book.

Mechanics

I’ve scanned several books side by side, hopping from one to the next, simply to understand the mechanics of established writers better. In most cases, they use similar structures, variety, visual and sensory descriptions and impeccable punctuation. Those books that fail in these respects tend to stand out like a sore thumb. That said, if the mechanics are readable and the other ingredients are strong, I’ll read on. I remain mystified at the omission of double speech marks from books, but I guess I’m in the minority on that one.

What makes a book ‘great’?

All the above and then some. The perfect wave, the enduring story.

Ultimately I believe it is a personal preference, accepting that classics are decided over many years. For example, will Harry Potter be considered ‘great’ writing?  I suggest we’ll see in thirty years. Memorable and highly successful, no doubt. Great?  Time will tell. War Horse on the other hand is more likely to be lauded as ‘great’ and with some justification.

 

That’s all for now folks

D.M. Jarrett

 

9 writing tips I learned while writing

I write books for middle grade and young adult readers. And every so often I pause to sharpen the saw and learn more about the craft. Recently I took a break while writing my third book and focused on the editing process. This led to some broader learnings from the web, an editing book and my own realisations.

Tip 1

Avoid speech attribution by being clever with context and implied speakers.

In plain English – keep to ‘X said’, ‘X asked’ and above all avoid the need for explaining who is speaking with paragraph character beats or actions, either before or after the first speech in a section.

Tip 2

Keep to a strict viewpoint per section or better still chapter.

Why? Because only experts can make head-hopping work. Also, it is a far better read if your reader can get to know a character’s viewpoint for a while. Plus, it gives the writer time to develop intimacy with a character.

Tip 3

Use character’s inner dialogue sparingly to show their feelings, thoughts and concerns, but only based on what they can actually see from their perspective.

This helps to engage the reader in who the character is and what they are striving for. Too much inner dialogue though can distract from the plot. Too little and the reader can not get to know the character.

Tip 4

Lose the italics and exclamation marks.

Because – if the dialogue is strong enough it can stand on its own merits without signposts. And vice versa.

Tip 5

Read a lot and make notes as you read.

This won’t help you become the authors you read, but it will help your subconscious absorb the tone, words, structures and flows. Your notes are crucial to retain what you notice. I recommend noting that which you would never imagine writing. And then using similar structures made your own. Never attempt to be someone else, but do try to develop your own voice / style / approach.

Tip 6

Variety matters.

Professionals vary word choice, sentence structures and use of verbs. Because if we repeat the same words or phrases over and again it becomes annoying.

Tip 7

Question arcs for the major characters.

Finding different ways to repeat the core themes of the story as questions posed by the protagonist, helps to drive both the hero’s chains of action and the reader’s perspective of what the story is really about. The context of the question will vary by story type – who did it?  how? where are they? how to survive? where is the prize? how to win? does she love him? etc.

Tip 8

The antagonist has to have a convincing motive to allow the protagonist to be convincing.

In other words, flesh out what the antagonist wants and why to properly define the converse for the protagonist. Too often action movies fail in this respect and suffer as a consequence. Why does your anti-hero do what they do? What do they really want? If you as the writer do not clearly define this, it is unlikely that your work will convey a convincing sense of what the hero / protagonist is struggling against.

For example –

Our hero wants to save the world and get the girl/boy – fine.

But why does the anti-hero want to threaten the world in the first place? What do they gain?  Their own certain demise?  Some weird rebirth from the ashes and a power kick?

What does Jason Bourne actually want?  To kill everyone in the CIA / FBI who made him a super-spy?  Or to figure out who he really is and live a happy life somewhere?  Otherwise he’s pretty much on a survivalist kick and a hiding to endless retreads.

Tip 9

Remove -ly words of all kinds – slowly, quickly, badly – gone… make them active in the verbs – He crawled along. In a split second she drew her gun. He was a terrible shot and he knew it. (Yes I cheated).

And cut out the droning on that gets in the way of the plot. Less is more. More or less. If you need filler (excessive – narrative, back story, inner voice, description or repetition) perhaps your plot or subplots are too thin. You do have a plot outline don’t you?  Read up on the 5 act plot or hero’s path if you don’t.

That’s all for now folks

Happy writing and reading

D.M. Jarrett

Author of Sean Yeager Adventures

 

 

 

 

 

Self publishers – how to reach your future readers…… tips and learnings

Hi,

I thought I would share a few learnings before I start taking what I have picked up for granted. After many hours I’ve learned one thing more than anything – authors need to keep learning and connecting with their readers and peers. Because self-publishing is a constantly evolving enterprise and world.

How to reach an audience online? Partly it’s about luck, mostly it is about toil and being interesting for your audience.

Here in no set order are some tips. I hope you find them useful.

1) Set-up your own website with your own branding and content relevant to your books. Cross-link your online presence in all directions with your website as the hub. Brand your website and link to reviews, sales points, samples and everything else you can think of.

2) Make absolutely certain that your books are as good as you think they are AND as good as they can be. Find some critical readers and correct ALL the typos, mistakes and rubbish parts. Polish, polish, polish. IF the feedback is poor or ‘iffy’ STOP. Re-write your book until it shines under all lights. If you cringe when you read back a section, it is because it is not good enough, YET.  Or it might need to be cut out completely……

NOTE: Omit this step at your peril. Bad reviews can not be deleted later when you attract a level of interest. If your book(s) suck paying customers really will tell you so….. and in so doing tell the whole world. Plus you could spend a lot of hours promoting yourself and your work with a relatively poor product to sell. And that will ultimately prove painful.

3) Join a group or two of like minded self-publishers. I recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors. This will help you to stay in touch with developments, meet helpful people and ultimately keep you relatively sane. And contribute what you can in return as well – it’s good for the soul.

4) Set-up and use Twitter, being authentic, interesting and book / fiction centric in the main. Your aim is to connect with people who can help you, read your work and people you can help in return – by entertaining them with great books or sharing learnings.

If you use Twitter automation tools be aware that Twitter could suspend your account. So be careful and as low key initially as you can be. I do not recommend buying followers or for that matter book reviews.

5) Set-up and use Facebook. Create a Facebook page for your books. Upload interesting content and cross link to everywhere. Friend authors, readers, book clubs and anyone you reasonably ‘know’ or share an interest with. Avoid complete strangers and people peddling non-book stuff.

6) Set-up and use Goodreads. Become an author and ‘claim’ your books. Use the groups to make connections. If you have print copies, create ‘giveaways’ over a 2 to 3 month period. Use a ‘pull’ model to attract and invite interest. Do not chase or hassle on Goodreads, they don’t like it! They could bar you.

7) Set-up and use Librarything. Load your books etc. Use your Bio (that you created way back for your website) and run e-book or print giveaways.

8) Set-up and start writing a blog. Use it as your own lessons learned log and a way of talking about your journey. It’s your blog so experiment with the style you prefer. Do you want to be a book / writing tips consultant? Or maybe a reviewer / blogger? Or perhaps a commentator on a particle genre of media that ties in with your books? Your blog. Your call.

9) Keep writing your books. All the above is pretty much useless until you have written your next and subsequent books. Why? Because it will take you time to do and you need multiple titles to cross-sell to your audience. Satisfied customers will ask – ‘when can I read the next one?’

10) Commercials matter. Price appropriately and DO NOT give away too many books. You are a business and you do not want to promote yourself as a ‘free writer’ who values their work as only good enough to give away. Possibly run promos for limited periods across titles, possibly have a sacrificial promo title that will always be free. Remember basic maths – making one thousand bucks is a whole lot easier if you are charging 2.99 than if you are charging nothing or 99 pennies. Remember, the big indie authors usually have lots of titles and a huge audience. You don’t. Yet.

11) Monitor your SEO and presence online by regular Google and Bing searches. Check what sites are moving up the rankings and promoting your work. Your work will still have to sell itself ultimately, but your page rankings matter if you want to attract browsers. You will also have to take a realistic look at your book market and Google Adwords analysis of terms ‘searched for’ can be a sobering exercise. Are people really looking for funny books about duodenal ulcers and the family consequences? That’s not a dig, but you do need to be realistic about your market expectations. Not every genre sells and that’s a reality.

12) Treat all your online contacts (messages, posts, responses, emails) in a consistently jovial and constructive manner. Never enter a slanging match EVER online. Because it will not go away, it will be recorded for a long, long time. Ignore bad reviews; block inappropriate followers and comments; delete what you have control over if it is plain abusive. HOWEVER – leave constructive comments alone and learn from them.

13) Write this out and repeat it daily. ‘I will learn more from a constructive and harsh critic of my work than I ever will from my friends’.

It’s true. You will. It will hurt initially, but you have to learn how to open your mind to the reality that no one’s work is perfect. Everyone can improve how they write, how they plot, what they write about etc etc. Even the pros. Check out any successful book’s reviews on Amazon to see the array of thoughts if you don’t believe me.

And of course you can select which parts of the feedback to action. Often people will give conflicting suggestions, so look for the patterns. Consider whether they have a point. (That is after you’ve (privately and offline) fumed and vented your initial reaction).

14) Last and by no means least – be yourself across all sites, media and in the real world. Have fun and consider all the new skills you’re learning as positives. In theory, you could now promote almost anything online. You will also have to learn firm time management and how to stay healthy – another time perhaps for those topics.

Good luck

David Jarrett

Sean Yeager Adventures

Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted

Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted

New year, new story…..

Hunters Hunted Text 2 small

So welcome to 2013, not my favourite number, but I’m glad we have all that Mayan nonsense out of the way. Lo and behold nothing happened. Or to be more precise more of the same continued to happen. More meanness, cruelty, deception, opinionated horse droppings etc etc. I dare say if we could turn the clock back to 2013 BC it would be much the same. Power, corruption and lies only a different flavour and some different empires in full flow….

Over the holiday season I’ve been busy avoiding the echo chamber of writers selling stuff to each other. It’s been refreshing. It’s also given me a chance to focus on book 2 – Sean Yeager, Hunters Hunted. The cover is nearly completed and I’m progressing well on the many passes of revision and updating. Not my choice of fun activity, but essential none the less. And even if I say it myself (and I am, ’cause there’s no one else here….) it’s a step up from the last book with loads of stuff going on. It is essentially an action, mystery adventure with lots of action and weird stuff. It’s funny to think this could be a future classic and so far no one but me has read it yet. More on that in future posts….. 

So above there’s a quick sneak preview of the cover while I continue the never ending rounds of revision. I’m also mind mapping out some ideas for book 3, which given the strengths of Hunters Hunted is going to be a challenge, a good challenge. It’s also the part I enjoy the most, so it’s all good. Yep, plotting is where it’s at people! Be afraid characters, be very afraid. Some nasty stuff will happen to some random people among you…. Ha ha ha!

Happy 2013 and happy reading.

D.M. Jarrett

Commas, what is the point of them anyway?

Today I’ve been revising the various rules about correct comma usage. And I’m somewhat appalled at the absurdity of several of them. Who made up these rules anyway? What exactly is the purpose of a comma?

For example – this is apparently correct:

Jim carried the ladders, and his partner cleaned the windows.

It is apparently correct because there are two clauses in the sentence which can exist without being joined. SO WHAT? What is the point of the word ‘and’ then? Would anyone not understand this sentence if it excluded the comma? Really?

Another example this time of an introduction taking a comma.

‘In ancient Rome, it was considered good practice to eat while lying on your side.’

The purpose of this comma? Do we need to punctuate this sentence with a comma? Would it really be so bad if people decided where to take their own breath? Is ‘ancient Rome’ so important as context that we need to dwell on it longer than the rest of the sentence?

More supposedly correct comma madness:

“Yes, Mark, that is correct.”

But we already capitalise Mark to indicate he is a person! Why do we need to separate the word as well? Does ‘Mark’ have herpes or something? Try reading this out loud and take a pause at each comma – does it sound good? Not to my ears. It sounds like the speaker is being sarcastic or aggressive. What if they are agreeing with Mark or congratulating him? Surely the important part of the sentence is the ‘correct’ or the ‘yes’ part?

And the mess all this comma prescription gets us into:

‘I can not attend on Wednesday. However, I will attend next week.’

All to avoid the awful crime of this incorrectly punctuated variation:

“I can not attend on Wednesday, however I will attend next week.”

Apparently you must not place a comma before ‘however’ they say. Why not? The rules insist on ‘and’ being  desecrated with a preceding comma. Is this a case of separate clauses or just rules for the sake of rules? I would take a breath where the second example indicates unless I’m seeking to make a big point about attending next week.

So it appears that rules have reigned comma usage for eons. I wonder how many good sentences have been ruined in the process and how many debates and re-writes have resulted? Why not simply use them to avoid ambiguity or to denote breath taking in a longer sentence? I can hear the chorus of disapproval from purists even as I write the words (without commas).

And lastly consider the Oxford comma. Why? Does this extra mark add anything at all?

“I bought oranges, apples, and bananas.”

“I met Aunt Lucy, Jim, and Peter.”

If we needed to know in what combinations surely it would be better to break up the sentence and avoid the possible ambiguity? If Aunt Lucy is on her own or with someone then simply state that facts we need to read.

So I’m off to howl at the moon and immerse myself in more important things while contemplating the rule book. So much for easily read script and smoothness of language. Far better to pepper the page with commas. Yeah right! Rant over.

Happy reading

D.M. Jarrett