Showing posts from December, 2007

On haitus for the holidays

I'll be back after the holidays! As always, if there are topics you want me to cover, just comment and let me know!

Utilize reader statistics

The Gallup Poll website is fascinating. Okay, I admit, I’m a geek. However, it’s also useful in gathering information about the book business, which is important for a writer. Sometimes the statistics are a bit depressing—about 60% (depending on the house, genre, etc.) of all fiction books don’t make back their advance, for example—but other times, the stats can help writers. This is the poll that talks about readers. It’s from 2005, but I think it’s mostly up to date—especially because the numbers are not much different from the 1999 stats, which are also presented. Which of the following is the main way you generally select the books you read -- [ROTATED: based on a recommendation from someone you know, by choosing an author whose books you like, based on book reviews you've read, by browsing a bookstore or library, based on an advertisement you've seen, by browsing an Internet site] -- or do you select them another way? BASED ON 855 ADULTS WHO READ AT LEAST ONE BOOK IN THE

Characters – external conflict

Your main character’s story problem should be a big enough problem to carry them through the entire story and not be resolved until the climax. If the story problem resolves in the middle, it’s not a strong enough problem. For romance, you also want strong conflict between the hero and heroine so they can’t get together during the story without some serious consequences. There has to be some type of relational conflict keeping them apart. For non-romance, there should be strong conflict between the protagonist and an antagonist. Again, it should be strong enough to keep them from resolving their differences halfway through your story. They should be pitted against each other—with good reason to fight each other—all through the book, not resolving their differences until the climax. The story problem should be deep and personal. Beyond external events, the characters have deep motivations that drive them to fight each other. My friend Janet Dean quoted me this, which she got from bests

Growing attraction between characters

I love romances—I write them and read them—and so I tend to be picky about how romance develops between characters. I got two tips from a workshop given by Jennifer Crusie: Trigger pleasant childhood sensory memories. Early in childhood, we develop sensory memories tied to pleasant events. The cottony smell of Mama’s sewing room, or the buzzing sound of Dad running the saw in his workshop. Happy times linked to smell, sound, touch, taste, or specific visual cues. When two people start to fall in love, one person will trigger one of those pleasant sensory memories in the other. For example, Jenny Crusie gave a scene from her book where the heroine fried eggs in butter for the hero for breakfast. The smell of the butter brought back happy memories of the hero’s mother cooking for him. Another example was when the heroine first glimpses the hero, and he reminds her of the one person she trusts in the world, an old mobster named Joey—the visual cue triggered pleasant memories for her becau

Pacing, part two

There are certain elements that can slow your pacing too much, especially in Scenes. While none of these are absolute no-nos (there are few rules in writing that are completely unbreakable), most of the time, these things slow pacing too much in a story and gives the reader a chance to put the book down. Too much introspection. In a Scene, give your character a scene goal and make it happen. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s head, ruminating over things. Focus on action rather than thought. You can have the character emotionally react to things that happen in the scene, but keep it short. Save the introspection for the Sequel. Too much backstory. While you might think the reader needs this information about the character’s past in order to understand the scene, most of the time, the reader can figure things out pretty well. Keep backstory to a minimum. Pepper it into the scene in a single sentence here and there rather than having a paragraph or three all at once. See my ar

Pacing, part one

First off, pacing is often a bit subjective . What one reader considers un-put-down-able could be too fast to another reader. What one reader considers lovely, poetic prose could be boring and slow to another reader. You are not going to please everyone. Get used to it. So how do we find the right pacing for our books? Aim for a pace that is right for your story —fast enough to keep the reader enthralled, with “sequels” so that they can catch their breath. Be your own critic in this case. Analyze your story’s pacing and figure out if it needs to be faster, or if it needs more breathing room. Also depend on your critique partners. Often, an unbiased third party can tell you if the pace is too fast, too slow, or just right. Utilize Scene and Sequel. Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer says that pacing is dependent on Scene and Sequel . A strong, goal-oriented Scene will increase the story pace because the reader is following the character’s scene goal. The following Sequel

Before you query: To finish or not to finish

You’ve heard the saying from dozens of industry professionals and published authors: Finish your manuscript before you query an agent or editor. But I’ve heard the very valid point from writers that often it takes 4-6 months before you hear back from a query. Why not do 3 chapters, then query, and finish the manuscript while you’re waiting? Why not get the idea out there while you’re working on it? Here’s the reason—the agent/editor may not take 4-6 months to get back to you. They might take 4-6 DAYS. And in this industry, timing is everything. If an agent/editor reads your query and wants the story, they might be thinking, “I know an editor who would want to see an idea like this right now,” or “This type of story idea would be perfect for an empty slot in our line.” If you can’t send them the partial or full manuscript as soon as they ask for it—say it takes you 3 months to finish the manuscript, or let’s be optimistic, say it takes you one month. That one month might already be too


In real life, people interrupt each other all the time (especially in my family). Why not have your characters do it, too? It adds a bit of realism and depth to the dialogue, making it sound more natural. Interruptions can also create more variety in your dialogue rhythm. It adds a nice change of pace without being too much of a hitch in the reading flow. Now, don’t go overboard and have people interrupt each other all the time (even though we know that in real life, that can happen). Moderation is the key, as with any writing style. Finishing a sentence: This is a fun type of interruption, when the other character finishes the person’s sentence for them. “This is a private Christian school, kiddo. You sure you’re supposed to be saying that kinda word around here?” Joel asked. Bradley jerked his head around, his eyes rapidly scanning the perimeter as if they’d just come under enemy fire. “N-no. I ain’t supposed to. Good thing my teacher’s not—” “Right behind you, Bradley?” --From A Sol

When to use italics in first person POV

When do I use italics in first person POV? The beauty of first person is that it’s immediate. It’s like constantly being in the person’s head, constantly hearing their direct thoughts. In third person POV, direct thoughts are indicated by italics. For example: This is from Only Uni . My heroine, Trish, has just showed up for a New Year’s party. Here’s the original with lots of italics. She glanced down at her dress. Well, at least the cut makes me look curvier and slender at the same time. Ha! I love how well-tailored clothes ensure I don’t have to work as hard to look good. She kicked off her sandals— Oh look, my toes have turned blue from the cold —and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her. Here’s the revised version: At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure curvier and more sl