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Changing directions…

Posted by Dave on July 4, 2010

I know it’s been a while again since my last post. I decided to take a different direction with Jaben’s Rift, which incidentally has been renamed to From a Far Land: Jaben’s Rift book 1, and I’ve been hard at work following that path.

I’ve decided to self-publish this first one (and perhaps the sequel, just for continuity’s sake). Now, before you say anything, it’s not due to any feedback I’ve received (or not received) from my queries. I only sent out five on this book. And it’s not due to any negative feedback I’ve received on the book or the writing. No, this was due to an overwhelming desire to see the book in print sooner than I would have if I had gone the traditional route. I still think I could have been published via an agent and publishing house, I simply didn’t want to wait.

It’s been a bit of work, but I will say that it’s been worth it. I’ve learned a few things going the self-published route that I’m not sure I would have going through a traditional publisher. Plus, I think this experience will help me with future novels that I will be going through agents with. I think it will help me work with editors, agents, and publishing companies, having gained at least a tiny insight into their side of the process.

I learned about book layouts, and when to leave the blank pages so everything lines up right and looks more professional. I designed the cover for it. I’m also learning about self-promotion. Last night I submitted the press release to twenty-nine newspapers, four television stations, fourteen radio stations, and nine area Chambers of Commerce. I have also designed fliers to put up in my town and surrounding towns. Hopefully, those will generate some response, perhaps an interview or two along with an article or book review here and there.

Will I be as successful with this one as I would have been going the traditional route? Honestly, probably not, but I think the extra insight I’ve gotten doing it this way will be worth it. I still believe in this book. I think the finished product is just as good or better than most of what’s on your neighborhood bookstore shelves. I hope you’ll take a chance and pick up a copy from Amazon.com. You can order a copy here (the publishing company) or here (Amazon). Or you can find it by searching Amazon for “Jaben’s Rift.” Author name is G. David Walker. The title will say “From a Far Land: Jaben’s Rift book 1.”

I won’t be posting as often here anymore. I’ve started a website where my future updates will be. You can find me now at the World of Walker at http://www.gdavidwalker.com.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs, and I hope you’ll stop by and see me at my website.

Taking another step on the journey,
Dave

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Feedback Fun (Pt 1)

Posted by Dave on April 13, 2010

Well, another week come and gone, but hey, that’s another week closer to publication. Right? (Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket! I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.) Sorry, just drifted off into a little self-encouragement, but we’ll talk about that a little later. Schedule’s been crazy, so I’m a little late on this post. Sorry about that.

Again, just one time to the track last week. Still haven’t been able to make the different family schedules work together. On the plus side, I did get four miles this time, even right after mowing the lawn, so I don’t feel so bad.

For all that I huff and puff around the track, though, I truly feel for my daughter. She’s on the seventh grade track team, a league softball team, and a league volleyball team. Thursday night, she had track practice right after school. After that, she went straight to softball practice. Then, after that she went straight to volleyball practice. Needless to say (why do people go on after that phrase if it really is needless to say? Hello, Captain Obvious!), she was one pooped peep by the end of the day. I, on the other hand, would’ve been a corpse, or at the very least, in the E.R.

Now, before you get the idea that we’re the type of parents that push their kids into everything, that’s not the case. She wanted to do all three. We’ve never told our kids they had to do everything, and we’ve never told them they had to be the best. What we have told them is that IF they’re going to do something, we expect them to TRY their best. If it’s not good enough to win, oh well. Try again next time. Just as long as they give it their very best shot each time, we’re okay with the results.

Now, back to that encouragement thing…

Fiction writers do what we do because we like to tell stories (bonus if we get paid for it). At some point in time, if we ever plan on being published, we have to let other people see those stories. When other people read our stories, we generally expect some sort of feedback.

Now, not all feedback is created equal. There’s “yes, grandma, I know I’m your favorite author, but I don’t think I’m as good as Hemingway just yet.” And there’s “Wow, after reading that critique, I think I’m going to quit writing and just go sob in a corner for about a year.”

As writers, we have to be ready to get the harsh critiques. Let’s face it; not everyone is going to like our stuff. Writers have to have a thick skin if they want to survive, especially beginning writers who are still learning the craft. Lots of mistakes will be made, with lots of people more than willing to point out each and every one. But just because someone doesn’t like what we’ve written doesn’t mean it’s not good. And, on the flip side, just because someone does like it, doesn’t mean it is.

We have to consider the source (i.e. grandma may not be exactly impartial), and the tone of the critique. By tone, I mean how it is presented. Some critiques sound like they were written by someone who just got home from a crappy day at work and couldn’t find the dog to kick. I generally tend to ignore those.

The critiques I do listen to are the ones that point out issues that need work, but that do so in a way that lets me know that the reviewer is really trying to help me improve. I know I have a ways to go before I’m an “accomplished” writer (whatever that may be), and I actually appreciate it when someone pointing out my mistakes, as long as I’m fairly sure they’re trying to help me improve and not just venting because of something that has nothing to do with me or my writing.

I’ve got more to say on the subject, but I don’t want to make this too long. The next post will take a look at how to give and how to receive feedback, especially when it involves family and friends.

Have a good one!
Dave

What do you do if your reality check bounces?

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One down…

Posted by Dave on April 4, 2010

Happy April, everyone, and Happy Easter. I hope your Easter Sunday is going (or went) wonderfully, and I hope you pulled more April Fool’s pranks than you fell for. Due to schedules and weather, I only made it to the track one time this past week again. But, I did make three and a half miles this time. That’s a half mile more than last week. I might try to get there this afternoon, but I’ve got to mow the lawn for the first time in 2010 first. I’ll see how I feel after that.
My son and I planted a tree in the front yard yesterday in honor of Arbor Day. He got it from his elementary school. We’ll see if it survives the treatment of a rambunctious fourth grader and his definitely-not-a-green-thumb father.
I finished the first edit of Jaben’s Rift Friday night. From a starting word count of 125,295, I trimmed 7,178 words, bringing the new word count down to 118,117. Not bad considering I was focusing mainly on the little stuff I mentioned in my last post. It’s a really good feeling, getting through the first edit. I know there’s more polishing to be done, but each time through is a step closer (hopefully) toward publication.
Now it’s time to go back through the manuscript again and “kill the darlings.” (No, not my children!) When a writer kills the darlings, it means they go back and get rid of all of those witty little phrases, passages, and such that they were so proud of when they wrote them, but that really don’t add anything to the story. I mean, they seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you read the story, they don’t really do anything except make the author feel clever.
I did find at least one place where I think I need to do a little rearranging on the manuscript. I realized that, at least in this first book, I had a tendency to bring up a question for the reader to ponder, but then I turn right around and answer it too soon. I need to move some stuff around so that my readers have time to wonder what’s going on before I let them know.
Another thing I noticed is that my writing toward the end of the book took a lot less editing for the little things than the first half. I mentioned in my first post that it took me six years to write the first half and a year to write the second half. During that time I was also studying the craft of writing and reading as many books as I could on the subject. I was pleased to see that it looked like at least a small percentage of what I read sank in. We’ll see how the editing goes on the next one once I get to that point.
Okay, just about time to eat Easter dinner. Have a great week!

Dave

My doctor thinks I may have a split personality, but we don’t think so.

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Sighing and Nodding

Posted by Dave on March 27, 2010

I hit the track for the first time in 2010 this past Tuesday.  The weather didn’t really allow it any other day (for which I sent a “Thank You” card to the local weatherman).  Ouch.  Between walking and jogging, I managed to make it three miles.  It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be the next day, but I was still walking a little slower than usual.  This week looks like better weather, so I’ll be able to go more than once.  My running goal is five miles with no walking by the end of the summer.  My weight goal is 200 with a starting weight of 230.  We’ll see.

Our brief respite is almost over.  We had a couple of weeks after the kids’ basketball season ended, but now it’s time for baseball and softball to gear up.  Plus, my daughter is also going to be playing volleyball in a summer league at the same time, and she’s on the school track team as well.  I’ll have to really stay on my own case to keep the writing on pace.  I love to write, but one of my favorite things to do is watch my kids in their games or school functions (plays, singing, talent shows, etc…).  I’ll have to make it work somehow.  To paraphrase Tony Little, “I can DO it!”

Writing update:

Well, I’m almost halfway through the first edit of Jaben’s Rift.  I say first edit because I will definitely be going through it again.  This first time through is looking for basic stuff like words or phrases that aren’t needed, or are redundant.  I was surprised at how many unnecessary “he said,” or “to her,” there were, or simply phrases that restated something said previously, or that weren’t needed at all.  Just looking for things like that, I’ve been able to trim almost 4,000 words off the manuscript, and I’m not quite halfway through it.

Here’s a breakdown of a paragraph from my first draft, and how I changed it:

“The sun had already begun its climb into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door to begin their journey.  Stepping out into the yard, the first thing Jason noticed was the multitude of various odors filling the air.  Noting the direction of the breeze, Jason looked upwind.  What he saw caused his steps to slow until he finally came to a complete stop in amazement.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, some quite impressive, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

At first glance, it doesn’t look all that bad, but there are some things that could definitely use a few tweaks.  So, here’s what I changed, and why.

  • “The sun had already begun its climb…”  This is a little wordy.  I changed it to, “The sun was climbing…”
  • “…to begin their journey.”  Not needed.  I’ve already established at the end of the previous chapter that they’re going to start their journey this morning, so this is redundant.
  • “Stepping out into the yard, the first…”  Not needed.  If he stepped outside, it’s a given that he’s stepping into the yard.
  • “…various odors…”  I dropped various.  If there’s a multitude of odors, they have to be varied or he wouldn’t notice that there’s a multitude.  They’d all smell the same.
  • “Noting the direction of the breeze…”  Again, not needed.  For him to know which way upwind was, it’s a given he’d have to figure out which way the breeze was blowing.
  • “What he saw caused his steps to slow until…”  Wordy and not really needed.  If his steps slow, we can infer that whatever it is he’s looking at is the reason.
  • “…in amazement.”  Same as the last phrase.  I ended up combining this sentence and the previous one instead.
  • “…some quite impressive…”  Not bad, but again, not really needed.

After the first edit, the new paragraph reads like this:

“The sun was climbing into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door.  The first thing Jason noticed as he stepped outside was the multitude of odors filling the air.  He looked upwind, and then slowed until he finally came to a complete stop.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

See how much unnecessary stuff was in there the first time?  The new version, while perhaps still not perfect, is cleaner and more concise without really losing anything from the original.  It’s just that now, instead of assuming the readers need every little thing explained to them, they’re given credit for enough intelligence to figure out some things on their own.  Remember, never insult your reader’s intelligence.  Plus, the original paragraph was ninety-six words.  The revised version is seventy-one.  That’s a reduction of twenty-six percent.  Obviously, we can’t to do that with every paragraph, but if you’re a beginning writer like me, you might be surprised at what you can get rid of without hurting your story.  And if you’re not a writer, the next time you read a book (especially if it seems to be dragging), see if you can spot places where the author is using extra words and/or phrases that really don’t need to be there.  These can bog a story down if there are too many of them.

Another thing I noticed is that my characters tended to sigh and nod a lot.  Now, this isn’t all that different from what we do in real life (just think about how many times you nod in the course of a conversation), but if a writer puts every single nod into the text, it can get distracting.  Same thing goes with sighing, or taking a deep breath, or being silent for a moment, etc…  While we want our dialogue and associated actions to be believable, there is such a thing as too much detail.  (And, by cutting out all of the deep sighs, I’m conserving oxygen, hehe.)

Finally, there are the “he said,” “to him,” and other little tags that we put into our dialogue, a lot of which aren’t needed.  This is especially true if there are only two characters in the scene.  Here’s a quick and dirty example:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill,” Jenny said.  “How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said.  “How about you?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“So, how’s your mom doing?” he asked her.
“She’s doing great,” she told him.  “Thanks for asking.”

This could just as easily have been written:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill.  How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay.  How about you?”
“I’m good.”.
“So, how’s your mom doing?”
“She’s doing great.  Thanks for asking.”

Okay, so it’s not the greatest example, but do you see how, even when the tags are left off, you still know who’s talking?  Removing unneeded tags also speeds up the dialogue instead of bogging it down.  Read the second section, and then go back and read the first section again.  See the difference?  Now if this were to turn into a long discussion, you would want to add some sort of tag every so often, either dialogue tag or motion element, so that the reader doesn’t lose track of who’s speaking.  But for sections like this, a lot of those tags can be tossed out the window.

Enough for today. Have a good one!
Dave

Every day, every moment, is another step on the journey. Are your steps taking you in the direction you want to go?

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Let the carnage begin

Posted by Dave on March 21, 2010

Okay, the time has come to pull Jaben’s Rift back out of cyber mothballs.  It’s been sitting (with me trying very hard not to think about it) for almost four weeks.  Now it’s time to start snipping, chopping, shredding, ripping, and whatever else it takes in order to turn it into something readable.  I’ll be trimming away the fat, working on dialogue, getting rid of excessive adverbs, and dropping things that don’t add to the story.  The official starting word count (including chapter titles) is 125,295 words.  My target range is 90,000 to 110,000, which means trimming away about 20% of what I’ve written. Oh, the pain!  Too dramatic?

It’s really amazing, though, what you can get rid of or move.  On JR, I tended to edit as I went.  I remember one section that I went over a couple of years ago, that I dropped from 1,100 words to 300.  Looking back, I realize I had fallen into a trap that catches a lot of writers (especially new writers, such as yours truly), that of the dreaded info dump. 

An info dump, sometimes called a data dump, happens when a writer is so eager to make sure the reader understands the story and main character that they throw every detail of the character and his or her motivation into one long section of prose right at the beginning.  The problem is that’s not how we get to know people in real life.  In fact, part of the fun of a relationship is the time it takes to learn about the other person.  It’s that way in books too.  Dump everything about the character out at the beginning, and there’s nothing left for the reader to anticipate learning about them, no questions for which the reader can anticipate answers. 

So, for any prospective fiction writers out there, take a little time giving out the information about your characters and the situations they’re in.  Give us just enough to get us interested, and then dole it out in little bits and pieces, in either dialogue, or memories, or inner thoughts, whatever.  Don’t dump it all on your reader at once, no matter how tempting it may be.

******

We interrupt our normally scheduled blog for the following quick rant. 

Attention Google!  I am so tired of running a search on your engine and clicking on a link only to have it take me to some other page full of “related links.”  Then I have to click on the “back” button and click on the first link again in order to get to the page I wanted to go to in the first place.  Oh, it only happens once in a while, but it’s still annoying!  Instead of hijacking my web surfing, how about you just put the link to your “page o’ links” on the search results and let me make my own decision, thank you very much. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

******

Alright, since I’ll be using my time to edit Jaben’s Rift, the next novel will be placed on hold for now.  Once I have JR ready, a synopsis written, and my query ready, I’ll get back on the second one.  It’s almost 16,500 words now.  Better than last week, but still a little off the pace.  Once JR is edited and the best I can make it, I’ll need to hit this next one even harder.

Hope your weekend was a great one,

Dave

Dreams that are never dreamed can never come true.

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Distractions, distractions…

Posted by Dave on March 14, 2010

Please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way because I love my children dearly, but I’m really wondering if they had a bet this week about which one could make me stroke out first.  First, I check my daughter’s grades online, only to find almost a dozen missing homework assignments threatening to put her grades in the cellar (there went her social calendar).  Then, my son gets into a fight at school.  The next day my daughter loses her brand new cell phone that we just got her.  I always thought it was an old wives’ tale about going grey overnight.  Now I’m not so sure.  I know that this is miniscule compared to what some parents have to deal with, but with it just coming out of the blue like that from two normally very good kids was a little surprising (and distracting).  But, everything’s been dealt with and we’re back on an even keel now.

Well, the annual let’s-all-set-our-clocks-ahead has come around.  So, back to going to work in the dark.  On the plus side, though, it will be light an hour later, which means that I’ll be able to start heading back to the track.  I started jogging late last summer, and took off a few pounds (which were gifted right back to me over the holidays).  I’m hoping the earlier start this year will help me reach my goal of dropping 25-30 pounds.  I played in a fund raiser dodgeball tournament this past Saturday, and believe me, I need to put in some time working out.

The writing took a hit this week.  Only added another 1,000 words.  Up to 13,800 now.  I need to learn to make myself write no matter what else is going on.  Either that, or work on another project when I hit a block on my main one, which is part of what happened this week.  But I’ve told myself I’m not going to use the minor irritations as excuses anymore.  Bottom line is that I fell down on the job this week.  I’ll have to hit it even harder this week, ‘cause next week I start revising Jaben’s Rift.  At that point, my next book will be on hold for a bit while I get the first one ready and start sending out queries as soon as it’s done.  I’m ready to start editing it now, but I’m going to make myself wait one more week.  Remember, Dave, patience is a virtue.

Okay, enough for now.  Back to the book.

Hope you had a great weekend,

Dave

I rite….the editor spells.

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Slow motion

Posted by Dave on March 12, 2010

One of the things I noticed as I got closer and closer to the end of Jaben’s Rift, is that I started writing less and less.  Oh, I came up with the typical excuses.  The kids are too noisy, my job’s stressing me out, I’m too tired, I don’t have enough time, blabbidy, blabbidy, blah.  Maybe all those things were true, but that’s not why I wasn’t writing.  The real reason was that, once the book was finished, then it was time to either put up or shut up.  I couldn’t say “I’m writing my first book” any more.  The book would be done, and I would have to face the real world of publishing and find out if my stuff was good enough for someone to take a chance on.

I read on an agent’s blog where her agency receives almost 500 queries a month.  Of that number, they typically reject 90%.  Of the survivors that get to send in their manuscripts, only one or two are actually ready to be pitched to a publisher.  And there’s no guarantee that any publishers are going to want the one or two.  Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?  I worked in Vegas casinos for six years, and let me tell ya, those aren’t good odds.

Fortunately, it’s not a numbers game.  It’s not about beating the odds, it’s about writing a good book.  It’s about getting something into a publisher’s hands that they think might have a chance of making more money than they spend on it. 

Is Jaben’s Rift good?  I think so, but I’m hardly impartial.  I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think it was good.  So, my job is to make sure it’s as technically correct, as close to a publishable form as possible, before it crosses an agent’s desk.

So, what if it doesn’t get selected for publication?  Do I give up because I obviously don’t know how to write?  Do I lock myself in a closet for a couple of days while I think about how unfair it all is? 

No, because somewhere along the way I figured out that, while it would be awesome to get published and make a few bucks writing, that wasn’t why I was doing it.  I found out that I enjoy telling the story.  I like creating new worlds for new characters to explore.  The writing became the end, not the means. 

So, maybe I am a writer after all.  Will you ever see my stuff at Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks?  Who knows?  I hope so.  But the stories will be told whether they’re on the bookstore shelves, or just sitting in my computer. 

 TGIF,

Dave

Be yourself.  You’re the only one of you there is.  (Unless you count parallel universes.)

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Oops, my bad.

Posted by Dave on March 8, 2010

With apologies to previous visitors…after looking over my last entry, I realized that this blog took a wrong turn.  It wasn’t a “how in the world did we get here?” wrong turn, but I still zigged when I should have zagged.  I never meant for this to become Writing 101.  It was, and is, intended to be one man’s journey from the mundane world to (hopefully) the magical land of ink and parchment, the wonderful world of Publication. (cue inspirational music)

I read the last entry and thought to myself, who am I to be telling someone else how to write?  I’m not a published author.  I don’t have a degree in Journalism or English Literature.  I’m not an editor and I’m not a publisher.  My only “credentials” are that I have a decent imagination and a fair command of the English language, traits shared by a large portion of the populace.  I’m just an average shmoe that finally figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up:  a writer.  Or more specifically, a sci-fi/fantasy author.  Then again, they say there are two sides to every story.  Maybe I’ve always been a writer who’s just been masquerading as something else all of my life.  Yeah, that sounds better. 

So, while I will still discuss certain issues pertaining to writing overall, the focus will shift more toward my own personal journey down this strange road, along with some other tidbits here and there.  A little less techie, a little more Dave.  I hope that’s okay.

This past weekend I picked up a few more books to read.  Lately, I’ve been reading different authors’ books, trying to get a feel for their different writing styles.  Recently, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson, Dragonriders of Pern by Ann McCaffrey, Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by my favorite author, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris.  (I’m not a big vampire person.  The last book was a mix-up by the book club I belong to.  But it was an interesting read, just the same.)  I just picked up Anthem by Ayn Rand (I’ll get to Atlas Shrugged later), 1984 by George Orwell, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I picked up Lee’s because I realized that all I’d been reading was sci-fi and fantasy.  I decided I should branch out.  The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are on the horizon. 

So, from here on out, I’ll be keeping you up to date on my quest for publication, the stuff I’m currently working on, and what’s going on in my little neck of the woods.  And if I do reach the shelf, you’ll be the first to know.  Well, okay, maybe not the first to know…but close.

Good reading!

Dave

If driers didn’t have lint traps, would the pockets in blue jeans work just as well?

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He Said, She Said (or was that he interjected, she exclaimed?)

Posted by Dave on March 7, 2010

Well, I mentioned that I was letting Jaben’s Rift sit for two or three weeks before editing it.  Several sources recommend this, not just for a first book, but for any manuscript.  The reason is so that when the author begins the revision process, he or she can see the book through relatively fresh eyes.  What no one seemed to mention was how difficult it would be to just let it lie in the virtual drawer without looking at it.

Although I’m working on another book, I find myself thinking about different passages in the first one, things I need to change, or portions I just want to go back and re-read to see if I still think they work.  The temptation to jump back in is hard to resist.  But, no, I must be strong.  Slowly, ever so slowly, the details are starting to fade.  Oh, I still remember all of the scenes, but at least I don’t remember every comma and italicized word.

Once it’s time to pull it back out and begin the revision and editing process, the first thing I plan to go over is my dialogue.  In particular, the use of the word “said” vs. other alternatives.  Getting ready for this has been a little confusing.  Basically, there are two main schools of thought on this issue:

School A says: 
Avoid overuse of the word “said.”  Vary the text up using other dialogue tags (murmured, cried, shouted, etc…).
There was a thread in one of the writing groups I belong to about this.  One guy said a fellow writer had sent him a list of over two hundred possible substitutions for “said.”  Talk about your variety!

On the other hand, School B says: 
Only use “said” if you must use a dialogue tag at all.  “Said” is an invisible word.  Using other descriptive dialogue tags will interrupt the flow and take the reader out of the story.
This viewpoint prefers the use of action to enhance the dialogue, resorting to “said” (and pretty much nothing but “said”) only when necessary.

So, which is right?  Which one will help me create the most amazing manuscript possible?  As Vinnie Barbarino once said, “I’m sooo confu-u-sed!”

So, hoping to bring a little clarity to the subject, I thought I’d check out some successful writers to see how they handled extended passages of dialogue.  Wanna know what I found?  (Are you sure?)  Okay, here goes.  I won’t mention the novels or authors, but my three examples are very well known in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  I’m not going to write down all of the dialogue, but I will show what the tags were for each piece (said, shouted, no tag, etc…).  Where there aren’t any tags, the author either used action to convey the emotion, or nothing at all.  So here we go…

Example #1:  Two books.  Nebula Award, Hugo Award, nominated for Locus Award

Said – Asked – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – Asked – No tag – Asked – No tag – No tag – Said – Said – No tag  – No tag   – No tag

Okay, that one looks like it’s solidly in School B.  Moving on…

Example #2:  Series has seven novels.  Hugo Award (this author is a giant in sci-fi)

Snapped – No tag – Said quietly – Squeaked – Raced on – Said doggedly – Said curtly – No tag – No tag – No tag – Said – No tag – No tag – Mumbled hopelessly – Said coldly – No tag – Said slowly and suspiciously – No tag – No tag

Okay, wait a second.  A few other tags slipping in here.  Squeaked?  Mumbled?  And adverbs?  The dreaded –ly modifiers?  (But that’s a topic for another day.).  Okay, okay, let’s try one more.

Example #3:  Well over a dozen novels and novellas in the series.  One Hugo Award, One Nebula Award, and four additional nominations for the Hugo Award. 

This should be a good example, right?  Let’s see…

Suggested – Rejoined – Countered – Said – No tag – Remarked casually – Replied dryly – Said – No tag – Said – No tag – No tag – Answered sharply – No tag – Demanded – No tag – No tag – Reminded – Assented – Said – Snorted derisively – No tag – No tag

Okay.  Wait.  What?  Where was I?  Oh yes, now I remember.  I’m sooo confu-u-sed!

So, not only does it look like we have divisions between successful authors, but even the people who hand out the awards go both ways.  What’s a writer to do?

Bottom line, you have to do whatever gets the emotion across the most effectively, yet maintains the flow of the story so that your reader doesn’t remember they’re actually reading a book.  Let’s try an example…

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” he said angrily. 
Okay, he’s angry.  We know that because of the clunky use of the word “angrily.”  But it doesn’t have a lot of impact, does it?  And that whole “he said angrily” part kind of interrupts the flow.

We could try a different tag.  Shorten it up a bit.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” he snarled.   
Better.  Dropping the adverb improves the flow,  but the reader has to hesitate for an instant to define the word “snarled” in his or her head. Using tags like this also indicates the emotion. For example, if I had said,
“That’s not what I mean and you know it,” he giggled.
It’s a completely different feel. But again, there is the minute instant in the reader’s mind where they have to make that connection.
A lot of readers won’t notice it. Some will, and if done too often, will get distracted and maybe even stop reading the story.

How about an exclamation mark instead?

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!”
Well, the emotion still comes through because of the exclamation mark, but we’re not quite sure what the emotion is unless we showed earlier that he’s angry.  One thing to point out here.  Be careful with exclamation marks.  Too many and you will “wear out” your reader.  On this point I agree with what others have said, less is more when using exclamation marks.  Using them only sparingly is much more effective than using them everywhere.

Another possibility is using action to get your point across.

He slammed his fist on the tabletop and glared at her.  “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” 
Here, even without the exclamation mark and dialogue tag, we get a clear sense that he is angry because we can “see” that he’s upset. You’ll sometimes hear people say “show, don’t tell.” That’s what we did here. The action we put into the scene shows the character’s emotion instead of using something like “angrily” to tell the reader how the character feels. 
Using action to get your emotion across also allows the reader to experience more.  In their mind, they hear the fist slamming down, they see the intense glare from the man.  Maybe they imagine the table jumping just a bit from the impact. But whichever action you use (slamming the fist, throwing something against the wall), it gives the story a little more depth.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. I’ll go through, trying to use tags as little as possible, using action or nothing at all when I can. I will not, however, restrict myself to the word “said.” If another tag seems to be to be the best way to get my point across, I’ll use it. Whatever is the least distracting, but still gets the emotion across.
(Of course, if I have someone ready to publish it if I make a few changes, I’ll certainly give it some serious thought.)

Update:
Well, I’m almost to 12,800 words now. I fell off the pace a little through the week. Fortunately, I was able to make up lost ground over the weekend.

I still need to do better. I could give all kinds of excuses as to why I didn’t hit my mark each day, but they would be just that…excuses. I’m learning that, while I enjoy writing, to actually be a writer is going to involve self discipline. Deadlines, quotas, and all that rot, don’t you know.  But then again, almost any job is going to involve deadlines and production quotas. Might as well try to make it in one that I would actually enjoy what I do. Right?

Have a good one,
Dave

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How do you do it?

Posted by Dave on February 28, 2010

What is fiction?  How do you write it?  I’ve had people ask me how I come up with ideas for stories.  They tell me they could never do it.  To which I politely reply, “Baloney.” 

Coming up with a story idea is the easiest thing in the world.  Fiction, at it’s most basic definition, is simply asking the question “What if…” and then answering it.  In fact, you probably do it all the time without even knowing it.  When we have indigestion and we wonder, what if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  When we see someone stopped on the side of the road.  What if that would have been me?  When we see something on the news that happened somewhere else.  What if that had happened here? 

When we go through the hypothetical scenarios in our heads answering that “what if,” that’s fiction.  It may not be the most gripping or epic tale (What if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  I wouldn’t have indigestion now.  The End.  You can add “And they all lived happily ever after” if you like.), but it’s a story nonetheless.  The author just puts it on paper instead of leaving it bouncing around in his or her head.

That’s all fiction is, the answer to a “what if.”  How many of these “what ifs” do you recognize? 

  • What if a hobbit found a magic ring? 
  • What if the only person who could help catch a serial killer was a cannibal?
  • What if an ordinary boy found out he was actually a wizard? 
  • What if a vampire fell in love with a human? 
  • What if aliens invaded earth? 
  • What if our entire existence was nothing more than a computer program?
  • What if a giant shark went on a rampage?
  • What if an ordinary man found out what the world would have been like if he’d never been born? 

These are all “what if” question and answers.  The fiction writer just takes them to extremes and fills in all of the details, and then asks “what if” again and again.

Even when you say “I wish,” that’s really just a “what if” with a ready made answer.  For example, “I wish I had someone to do this work for me,” is really “what if I had someone to do this work for me?  Then I could go to the beach (or gym, or on a bike ride, etc…).  I would get a raise.  I would get a promotion.  I wouldn’t be so stressed.”  All of the reasons for saying “I wish ‘X’ would happen” are really the answers to the question “What if ‘X’ happened?”  In other words, a story.  A fiction writer just adds more “what ifs”.

So, let’s run with it for a moment.  What if I had someone to do my work for me?  What if that someone happened to be a gnome?  What if I was the only one who could see him?  What if he had a tendency to pass gas at the worst possible moments?  What if one of his greatest joys in life was to play practical jokes on my co-workers?  What if he thought one particular co-worker was the perfect person for me even though I can’t stand them?  What if he really, really hated my boss?  See?

The trick to being successful at writing fiction is twofold.  First, you have to be able to tell the story in a way that makes people interested in reading it.  Creating characters, building plots, describing places and things, all in a way that brings the story to life for your reader and makes them want to read more.  Second, you have to be able to write it down according to the basic rules of grammar (most of the time).  Fortunately, both of these things can be learned.  There are scores of books about writing fiction.  There are workshops and online writing groups that can help you improve your story telling and writing skills.  (And really, you can hire someone to take care of the second one anyway if you really want to and you don’t mind paying them.)

Well, okay, there is one more ingredient to throw into the mix.  (Sorry.  My bad.)  The difference between the successful writer and the frustrated one is the drive, discipline, and passion to master the craft of writing and the art of storytelling, coupled with the refusal to accept defeat. 

Most fiction writers will run into a hundred walls before they find one with a door.  Some will give up.  Some will take criticism of their work personally and decide they can’t do it.  The ones that succeed are the ones that refuse to give up, no matter how many bricks from those walls fall on their heads.  They never stop trying to improve, and they never stop believing that somewhere, someday, they’ll find that door.

Here’s a little something I wrote a couple of years ago about the fiction writer.  I hope you like it.

Creator of worlds…

The fiction writer is a creator of worlds and a purveyor of dreams.
In his mind he sees things that no one has ever seen before, experiences events never before witnessed, for until he has dreamed them, they have not yet begun to exist.
With her words she brings her visions into our world, into the hearts and minds of those souls who pore over every sentence and every paragraph of her creation.  Each letter is an atom in that newly born world, each word a molecule, each sentence an object to be touched and examined and remembered.
With every person who reads, no–experiences–the creation of the writer, the vision expands.  Each reader sees this new world in a different way, no way in error, but each different, as if an alternate universe were being created for that world every time someone new reads the writer’s words for the first time.
And whether the reader approves or disapproves of what they have read, they too are changed forever by it. Perhaps a great deal, or perhaps minutely, but changed nonetheless, for the writer’s words have now become part of the reader’s being. They have been tucked away among the cells and neurons of the reader, giving birth to new thoughts and ideas that are sometimes discarded as meaningless daydreams…
…and yet sometimes change the world of the reader forever.

Become a fiction writer and change people’s worlds. 

Update: 
Well, the next book is now over 8,300 words, which means so far I’ve been able to maintain the pace I’ve set for myself.  Two more weeks and I’ll pull the first one back out of the virtual mothballs and start editing.

I’ve also added a couple of pages to the blog. 

“Ahead of the curve” will introduce new authors that you may not hear about for a while.  I’ll be adding them as I find them.

“For prospective authors (of any genre)” will discuss and review books on writing and creating fiction.

 Catch ya later.  Write on!

Dave

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