Archive | October 2012


LiftWriters, if you do not want to look like a newbie who is just starting to learn your craft, there are a few things to avoid. Things that mark you as inexperienced—meaning your story is going to clunk. These things get between the reader and the story. These are things you need to fix, and that means you need to go hunting for these weak points.

1 – Show more by eliminating dialogue tags that tell everything. This means no more tags such as: he taunted, she exclaimed, he smirked, she pouted, he expounded, she tossed back, he leered, she sighed. All of these are telling the reader an emotion. You want to show emotion on the page.

Replace every telling dialogue tag with an action that better shows the character expressing an emotion. To do this, you must know your characters. How does your character pout? Does she stick out her lower lip, or bat her eyelashes? Does she fold her arm, or twirl a curl around her finger? How does your character leer? Does he overdo it, making it into a joke, or does his stare strip a woman bare? Show the emotion with actions.

2 – Show more, also, by eliminating places that simply tell the reader information. This is where you the author slip in to add a note.

For example, maybe you want to say something about a man’s grin, that it’s infectious, so you write: His grin widened and Sally found it infectious, so she smiled back.

This is you, the writer, are telling the reader the exact information instead of showing and letting the reader figure things out. Again, you have to know your characters—and this is where you show the grin being infectious, as in: His grin widened. Sally’s lips twitched, lifted; laughter rose like a bubble in her chest. Now you are showing Sally smiling back instead of telling the reader.

3 – Watch those lovely “writerly” phrases. Maybe you’ve come up with a clever line. The trouble is, if you’re deep into a character’s viewpoint and emotion, that clever line could throw the reader out of the scene. You have to look at the overall effect of the line—and you may need to cut it if you’re jumping out of character just to fit in the clever phrase.

For example, maybe you’ve described a woman as: Her honey-blond hair floated around her, a golden nimbus, a heavenly aura. That’s a fine description. But if you’re in the viewpoint of another woman who actually hates this honey-blond, you’ve gone for the clever phrase instead of showing the enmity between these women. This is where you save this clever phrase for another time and go for information that shows these two women being bitchy with each other.

4 – Do remember to show; get the emotion onto the page. A lot of novice writers forget about this vital part of the story. This is where you’ve got action, but the reader has no idea what the character feels about all that action.

For example, maybe you’ve got an exciting moment where the heroine of the story has jumped out to save a small boy from being hit by a car. She jumps out, grabs the boy. Great stuff. But…what’s she feeling? Is she frightened? Amped up on adrenaline? Is she angry, furious because this is her son and she’s told him five times not to go into the street after his baseball? Is she shaking? Is she covering up her feelings by acting tough because she’s a cop and she thinks cops should show emotion?

Again, you have to know your characters—and you have to give your readers a chance to get to know your characters, too, by putting in those emotions. Once you’ve finished the book (or any scene) go back and look to see if you wove in all those emotional reactions—or did you get just the action?

5 – If you show, don’t tell. Repetition shows insecurity—it means you are the master of your story. Trust the reader to get the information you’ve shown. You don’t have to show a guy slamming out the door and tell the reader in the next sentence: He was so angry he could spit nails. Trust your readers to get what the actions mean.

6 – Cut the clichés. We’re back to needing to know your characters—and needing to know them as unique individuals who do not have cliché actions and reactions. You want to show who your characters are by having them reveal their personalities with their actions and reaction—if you go for cliché actions, the characters become walking clichés, too.

This means no stalking into the room like a panther. No gazing into a mirror and doing an inventory of hair, eyes, and the standard description. No women (or men) who had their hearts broken once and so that person has vowed never to love again.

You want to know exactly why your character reacts or acts—you need to know that character’s motivations, and those motivations need to be based in deep, core personality issues. Your character must react in character.

7 – Show your character in action right away. This is vital. If you want the reader to believe your character is a kick-ass vampire slayer that character has to slay a vampire right off. It’s no good telling the reader this information, you must show the character being what that character is supposed to be. This is why Superman has to be super right off. This is why a crazy cop has to do something crazy right off so that everyone “gets” this is one crazy dude.

Start off by showing your character’s strengths and weaknesses right away—get those onto the page. It’s no good saying your hero is a healer—you have to have the guy heal someone. And it’s no good saying the healing costs him some of his own life each time—you have to show him aging or losing strength each time he heals.

Show more, tell less. Know your characters better than you know yourself and put that into the story. Get out of the way and let the characters carry the story. Everything else an editor can fix.

Getting the Good Stuff In First

There’s one think about all young writers (and I mean young by number of books written not age)–they all want to hold back on stuff. This crops up either in a synopsis (but I want to make the agent/editor want to read the book so I don’t want to tell the secret or big surprise), or in the manuscript (but I want the reader to get to the last part of the book before I reveal this big twist).

Darling writer–you’re not going to get that agent/editor to read the book nor are you going to get the reader to the last part of the book if you hold back on all the good stuff.

Get the good stuff in first. Or look at it this way–does a flower say, “Oh, I’m only going to blossom half way because I want to hold back.” No–it goes all out to give you its best as soon as it can.

Lead with your best. It is not wise or kind to hold back on this because basically you’re risking boring the reader (or worse, confusing the reader). Lead with your best because that’s the best way to hook a reader.

Ah, but now I hear you ask, “What about mystery? What about suspense? What about my great surprise?” Mystery and suspense comes from keeping information from your CHARACTERS (not from your readers). Play fair with the readers. Give them all the stuff they need to know. Then put in suspense by having your characters in the dark–make the characters struggle with understanding everything. Also, keep in mind that most readers don’t really want huge shocks or surprises–they can be very uncomfortable and if not handled well will throw the reader right out of the story.

So get the good stuff in first–it will give you happy readers who can’t wait to turn the page to see what the characters are going to do next. Getting all the good stuff up front, right where it’s going to temp readers into reading more.

Now I hear you say, “But if I use up all the good stuff up front then what goes into the rest of the book.” This is where you have to put in even better stuff. This is where your job as a writer comes into play–you think up even better stuff and get that to the reader as soon as you can.