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Monday, April 30, 2007

Emotions – the words you use

Certain words tend to evoke very specific and universal emotional reactions from people.

For example, “jumped” is a rather neutral emotional word. However, “bounded” tends to denote more excited spirits in the person doing the bounding. “Stomping” tends toward anger.

Other examples:

“Protector” triggers a warmer emotional reaction when you read it than “Guardian.”

“She swept the room with a piercing eye.”
“She swept the room with a piercing glare.”
“She swept the room with an observant eye.”

Dwight Swain wrote: “Pay attention not just to words as words, but also to the feelings they mirror when people use them.”

When getting into a character’s point of view, utilize specific words to draw out your reader’s emotions. That way, they’ll feel your character’s emotions with more intensity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See

This is a fabulous article by Pat Holt which gives easy fixes for writers doing revisions.

What’s even better is that she discusses these fixes so that a writer who hires an editor doesn’t pay the editor to do these fixes for him/her.

Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Character dialogue

When your characters speak, worlds should move.

Well, okay, not that dramatic. But pretty darn close.

--Every word out of your character’s mouth has to mean something significant. Don’t let him or her say something that doesn’t have some kind of meaning, whether spoken or unspoken.

--Use double-entendres, also called cross-talk or subtexting. Let them say more than (or the opposite of) what’s actually said.

--“Dialogue is WAR.” Randy Ingermanson, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. This is totally true! Your characters should be at odds with each other every time they talk.

No, they don’t need to have shouting matches. However, they should each be fighting for or against each other in some other way. Fighting to keep a secret, fighting to get the other person to tell them something, fighting to know what to say, fighting to make themselves stop saying something. Conflict, conflict, conflict, baby!

--Don’t let their conversations just serve to reveal their personalities. The conversation has to somehow move the PLOT forward, too.

Conversations that are solely to show the reader the character’s thoughts or backstory or any other aspect of their personality only SLOW THE READING FLOW DOWN. The dialogue has to relate significantly toward the storyline and plot.

So look at your dialogue and make sure worlds are moving!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reactionary characters

About ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, authors would write a story about a character responding to all the terrible things that happen to him/her.

That was fine for twenty years ago. These days, the reactionary character is BORING.

Your character shouldn’t simply react or respond to the horrible situations she finds herself in. Your character should be actively working toward a GOAL (uh-oh, Camy said the G-word). Your character should be PROACTIVE.

For example,

Parson’s daughter Eleanor is invited to her rich cousins’ house for the summer. She has grown up in poverty, and she only vaguely knows her aristocratic distant family.

Various things happen that distress Eleanor. Her clothes are laughed at, the servants ignore her, her uncle tries to marry her to his horrible curate, her aunt falls deathly ill, and the boy she loves is in love with her selfish, spoiled cousin Agatha.

This version of the story has Eleanor simply reacting to the bad things that happen to her. We don’t know what she wants, and she isn’t working to accomplish anything for herself or anyone else.

However, what if we change it up?

Eleanor is invited to her rich cousin’s house for the summer. She sees it as an opportunity to learn refined manners and snag herself a wealthy husband to lift her family out of poverty and provide the money to care for her sick mother.

She can’t dress like her cousins and they laugh at her instead of helping her or letting her borrow clothes. The servants treat her like a poor relation and she feels both lowly and unwanted. Her uncle tries to marry her to his horrible curate, who is not only poor but also gauche and unsophisticated. She finally manages to ingratiate herself with her aunt, who promises to help her find some nice dresses and learn to behave like a genteel miss, but then her aunt falls deathly ill. Eleanor gets along with a wealthy neighbor boy who seems to like her, but her spoiled cousin flirts with him to steal him away.

Suddenly, in this version of the story, Eleanor has a GOAL, and it lifts her from wishy-washy reactionary heroine to strong, determined, proactive heroine.

Many writers don’t even realize their characters are reactionary and not proactive. One thing to do is look at a scene and ask yourself—what is your character striving for in this scene? What is he trying to accomplish by the end of the scene? What object is he working toward in this scene?

If you don’t know, then maybe your character doesn’t have an objective for the scene. In which case, your character is reacting to the conflict in the scene and not working against the conflict. Ideally, your characters should be causing the conflict.

Go through your manuscript and make your characters proactive!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Characters—sympathetic by loneliness

One great way to make your characters sympathetic is to make them be lonely, abandoned, or rejected. Even a villain suffering from loneliness will evoke empathy (which can be a good thing, since villains should be both detestable and interesting to the reader).


Most people don’t like being alone and will sympathize with a character who is. Why else do you think bad boy loner types are so popular? Readers love Harry Potter partly because he’s being shamefully neglected by his aunt and uncle.

So make your character alone. Maybe they’ve pushed everyone away from them for some deep dark reason of their own. Maybe their personality makes them alone. Maybe they don’t know how to relate to people. Maybe they’re afraid.


Readers will often sympathize with someone who has been abandoned. This is a good way to make a villain sympathetic.

This is a great place to dig deep into your writer’s emotions and project your own fears, doubts, anger, and hurt into a character who has been left behind by someone they loved.


This is often tied to abandonment, but it’s a great tool to use to make your reader feel for your character. People love the underdog, the person everyone else thinks isn’t good enough. We love seeing that character fight to accomplish what others said he couldn’t.

So if you’re having problems with readers liking your character, add a little loneliness to their background or to the plot and see if that helps things along.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tip#12 to trim a synopsis—eliminate conversations

In Tip #11, I mentioned to cut dialogue in a synopsis. However, sometimes there are conversations in a synopsis that are just like dialogue, only without the quotation marks.

These conversations can be cut or condensed just like dialogue.

For example:

Duke tells Shelley he loves her. She denies it, saying she’s not worthy of love. He doesn’t understand and asks her why. She explains how her father was never there for her, how his job was more important to him than she was. Duke asserts she’s beloved by her Heavenly Father, and that his love for her mirror’s God’s love for her.


Duke tells Shelley he loves her, easing her feelings of unworthiness by explaining the boundless love God has for her.

Camy here: Look for these conversations in your manuscript and see if you can cut and condense. You don’t need to tell entire dialogues for a synopsis.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Synopsis writing – different points of view

When writing a synopsis that has two protagonists—such as a hero and heroine, for example—make sure you separate different points of view with separate paragraphs.

This helps the reader more easily and quickly differentiate between the two points of view. Easy and quick are the key words here, because an editor or agent skimming your synopsis is going to want to be able to most easily and quickly figure out what’s going on.

And don’t kid yourself—they don’t have much time and they usually do skim that synopsis, so it has to be as clear as possible.

For example:

Shelley is run off the road by the men who want to kidnap her for ransom. She evades them on foot and runs to a darkened farmhouse at the top of a hill. Duke is sure there’s a burglar in his house, and heads to the basement with his rifle.


Shelley is run off the road by the men who want to kidnap her for ransom. She evades them on foot and runs to a darkened farmhouse at the top of a hill.

Duke is sure there’s a burglar in his house, and heads to the basement with his rifle.

Camy here: By separating the points of view, the synopsis is much clearer and a quicker read. It does lengthen it a bit, so try to cut the synopsis in other ways if you’re tying to get it down to one or two pages.
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