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Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm teaching at the ACFW conference!

Hey guys,
My workshop "The Hero and Heroine's Journeys" just got accepted for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference this year! I'll be teaching on--duh--the Hero and Heroine's Journeys.

If you've never used the Heroine's Journey, especially, and you have a female main protagonist, this will be a good workshop for you for characterization.

The ACFW Conference is in Denver, Colorado this year, from September 17th through the 20th. Information is on the ACFW website.

Registration hasn't opened yet, and only ACFW members can attend the conference (but it's only $50 membership fee for the first year to join ACFW, and believe me, it's totally worth it to join! I talk about ACFW here. If you have questions about ACFW, just leave a question in the comments.)

They'll announce when registration is open for the conference on the ACFW members email loop.

So anyway, I hope you (a) join ACFW and (b) take my workshop in Denver this year!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book in a Nutshell contest

The Knight Agency is holding a Book in a Nutshell Contest Submit three compelling sentences (150 words max) about your completed, unpublished manuscript to submissions@... Write BOOK IN A NUTSHELL in the subject line or it will not be deemed eligible. One submission per project, please. Twenty of the best submissions will be chosen and requested by various agents who will then give feedback on your work...and it may even lead to possible representation. Hurry, the deadline is April 20, 2009. Winners will be notified by May 1, 2009. For more info, go to

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Avoid Info Dumps in Dialogue

I admit, I'm prone to info dumps in my dialogue, especially in my first drafts, and I have to edit them out in my revisions. I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, with some of my tips and tricks.

Avoid Info Dumps in Dialogue

Strengthen Your Dialogue By Eliminating Telling

Eliminating the Info Dump in dialogue will create mystery that keeps your reader riveted while strengthening the prose.

In publishing days long past, it wasn’t uncommon to find a character who starts a line of dialogue with the infamous, “As you know ...”

For example:

Gerald walked into the living room and announced, “Phillip, our mother is at the door. As you know, she ran off twenty years ago with the family lawyer and we haven’t heard from her since.”

Today’s readers and publishing industry has moved toward eliminating this technique, which is “telling” and not “showing” the story to the reader.

Emulate Real Life

In real life, people don’t need to remind their listeners about something the listeners already know.

For example, if Gerald is speaking to his brother Phillip, who is fully aware of their mother’s infamous behavior, he wouldn’t need to say something like, “Phillip, our mother, who ran away twenty years ago, is at the front door.”

That would be silly. In real life, listeners would be insulted or confused.

When writing your own dialogue, think about what information the other characters already know. Even if the reader doesn’t yet know the information, make your dialogue appropriate for the characters who are speaking.

Withhold Information From the Reader

If the character has some backstory the reader doesn’t know, a good writing technique is to hint at the backstory but not reveal it at once, especially if the dialogue is early in the book.

This tantalizing hint of some trouble in a character’s past will create an aura of mystery, and it will often spur the reader to keep reading simply to find out what happened. A reader who knows all the character’s backstory upfront can easily get bored with the story.

Some Dialogue May Not Seem Like Telling at First Glance

Beware of dialogue that “sneaks in” an info dump:

“Phillip, has it really been twenty years since she ran away?”

Phillip already knows she ran away. Gerald doesn’t have to include that information in the dialogue. Instead:

“Has it really been twenty years?”

Trimmed dialogue strengthens the overall feel of the prose and also makes a manuscript more crisp, more professional.

A Rewritten Example

Gerald rushed into the room. “Phillip.” His voice scratched out of his tight throat. He didn’t want to tell his brother, but he had to.

Phillip did a double-take when he saw Gerald’s face. “What is it? What’s wrong?” He left the fireplace to stride toward him.

Gerald’s mouth opened, but he couldn’t force words out. There was a raging in his chest like a wild minotaur.

“Gerald.” Phillip grabbed his arms. “What is it? Tell me.”

He was frightening his brother. He finally managed a single word: “Mother.”

Phillip’s face became corpse-like. His jaw locked, even as his lower lip trembled.

“She’s at the front door.”

A moment stretched out like a decade. Finally Phillip said, “Let’s see what the b___ wants.”

The characters’ emotional reaction to the news of their mother at the door makes the reader want to know why they react that way, and spurs the reader on to find out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shorten Your Dialogue

Sometimes, in my haste to make sure the reader knows something, I'll have a character go on and on in a line of dialogue, and I'll have to edit it out in revisions. I wrote this article, which originally appeared in Suite101.

Shorten Your Dialogue

Improve Pacing and Add Emotion With More Deliberate Dialogue

Often, shorter dialogue lines with more deliberate word choices can improve a scene’s pace and create greater emotional impact.

In real life, people don’t often have long speeches. Most of the time, someone will interrupt them—maybe when they pause for breath—or the speaker will purposefully pause for a reaction from the person they’re talking to.

It should be the same in your fiction.

Contemporary Fiction

The dialogue in a present-day novel should be more back-and-forth, give-and-take, which is what real-life dialogue is like. One person says a sentence or two, the other person responds to what they said. A character who goes on and on for a paragraph or two is bound to be interrupted at some point if it were real life.

Shorter dialogue lines tend to be more believable to the reader, immersing the reader more fully into the story world. If you can get a reader to forget where they are, you’ve done well.

Shorter lines of dialogue also make the reading pace faster. A paragraph of dialogue is very ponderous to the reader, making the reading flow sluggish.

Even slower-moving contemporary women’s fiction novels need a good reading pace—if it’s too slow, the reader is more likely to put the book down.

Shortening Dialogue

So go through and try to break up a paragraph of dialogue into a sentence from one character, a response by the other, etc.

Also, in shortening your dialogue, be more deliberate in the words you choose. A good, strong word can replace an entire sentence, heightening the emotional impact of the sentiment.

A good exercise is to write an entire scene in dialogue—no tags, no action beats—and limit each line of dialogue to FIVE WORDS.

You will be amazed at the stronger word choices you come up with when your dialogue length is so limited. The exercise stretches a writer in terms of choosing words deliberately and finding stronger, more vivid words to use.

Historical Fiction

In general, historical fiction writers can get away with slightly longer lines of dialogue, but that’s not license for a writer to go overboard. While the time period of the story is a different era, the reader is still contemporary.

The same rules apply—long sections of dialogue slow the reading pace and make the prose hard to read. A good book is one where the reader can move easily through the story.

This does not mean a historical novel’s dialogue should be as fast paced as a contemporary novel. It simply means that a historical writer needs to balance the fine line between the long, ponderous dialogues of “classics” and the snappy pace of contemporary novels.

A good idea is to read bestselling historical novels purely to observe the dialogue pacing, and to emulate that in your own novel.

Classic Authors and Best-Selling Books

Despite the injunctions above, most of the “classics” and many NYT Bestselling books have long paragraphs of dialogue.

However, there are two things a writer needs to consider in these cases:

(1) “Classics” were written many years ago, and both the audience and the publishing industry has changed. Writing that was acceptable back then is not always as acceptable today in this tougher publishing market.

(2) NYT Bestselling authors can pretty much write whatever they want. An unpublished writer trying to break into the publishing industry has to adhere to stricter standards in order to rise above the thousands of other manuscripts editors see every year.

So while classics and bestselling authors can get away with long paragraphs of dialogue, an unpublished writer should try to do all he/she can to make their writing as professional and vivid as possible. The competition is fierce.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The first page, part 5 - Establish the tone or atmosphere

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part four.

Establish the tone or atmosphere of the story

In addition to using key words to indicate genre, use key words to develop a certain feel to the writing, setting, and story in that first page.

Remember, you are dumping the reader in a completely new story world. You want them to be able to know what type of story this is going to be right off the bat. If they’re expecting a gripping, emotional story and the first page is heavy with action, they’re going to close the book.

If your story is going to be humorous, start it out humorously. Also, use key words that indicate whether it’s dry British humor or slapstick comedy or sarcastic chick lit.

If it’s going to be a roller-coaster ride, start it out quickly. Use strong words and sharp sentences to strap the reader in for a wild read.

If it’s going to be deeply emotional, start it out emotionally. Use words that evoke strong emotional responses so that the first page tugs at the reader’s heartstrings.

It is not just your reader you’re trying to orient in your story world—it’s the editor or agent. You want to let them know as soon as possible what type of story this is—it marks you as a professional and not someone who still needs lots of unnecessary fluff edited out of your story.

Click here for part six.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reciprocal blog links?

Hey guys,
Sorry I've been AWOL the past week, I've been too busy!

Anyway, before I continue on with my series on The First Page, I wanted to know if any of you wanted to trade blog links? I'm going to set up a Blogroll on this blog and if you already link to this Story Sensei blog, please email me or comment below to let me know!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Medicals for Harlequin Mills & Boon

Have you ever considered writing Medicals for Harlequin Mills & Boon? Want the inside scoop? Wednesday, March 11 Laura Iding will be in Seekerville sharing about the Medicals line. Laura has written 18 books for Harlequin Mills & Boon over the past five years. Her most recent book is Emergency: Single Dad, Mother Needed. And she's giving away a copy of her latest release.

See you there.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Two Dogs. One Bone

Pam Hillman wrote a really great article detailing character conflict in a novel. She simplifies the concept of conflict but also makes it easy to grasp, a jumping off point for writers:

I’ve started a new wip (work-in-progress) and while I’m excited and have a lot of angst and conflict planned for my characters, the core conflict between my hero and heroine doesn’t feel strong enough to carry the entire book. Or at least it’s not fleshed out enough for me to see it. So I started looking around for ways to define that backbone and nail it down. (Ouch, that sounds painful, doesn’t it?)

Click here to read the rest of "Two Dogs. One Bone."

Monday, March 02, 2009

The first page, part 4 - Indicate the genre

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part three.

Indicate the genre

When an editor opens your book, he/she should be able to tell what your genre is right off the bat. Genre does not have to be established in the first line, but it should be fairly obvious by the end of the first page.

You don’t want to open your story with:

The wagon train left a dust cloud that Shep could see from seven miles away.

when your story is a contemporary thriller.

Use key words to indicate to the editor/reader what genre your novel is. Certain words or phrases are indicative of different genres by tapping associations in a reader’s mind.

“Glock” will usually indicate a suspense or thriller or crime drama.

“Wagon train” will usually indicate a Western or a historical prairie romance.

“Desire” in context will typically clue the reader in to the fact that the story is a romance of some sort.

Another benefit of indicating genre in the first page is that it will reassure the editor that you did your homework and researched what the editor acquires before submitting. Nothing says “unprofessional” like a writer submitting a romance novel to an editor who only acquires mysteries.

Click here for part five.
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