Vol. 23 – Getting Your Manuscript Critiqued

If you want to become a better writer, if you’ve written something and want an opinion on it, or if you feel your piece is ready for publication, it’s a good idea to get some feedback before you submit to a publisher. And not just from your best friends and family, either. At some point, you need to find a serious critique group. How do you find a critique group? Libraries often know of local writer’s groups where you can meet people and form a critique group. Also, professional organizations like Romance Writers of America or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have local chapters that make it easier to find other writers. I prefer online critique groups because I can read and post from home at my convenience. You can easily find hundreds of critique groups by doing a Google search. Simply type in your genre and the words “critique group” and you’ll get lots of options. For example: science fiction critique group. Not every critique group is a good fit. You may join some only to quit shortly after. Don’t feel bad. It’s important that you find the right group for you. What to expect? Whether you are in a group or online, expect to share one chapter of your work at a time. An in-person group might pass the chapter from person to person so everyone gets a chance to read it. In an online group, you would post your chapter and people would download it and write their comments on your manuscript in a colored text or critique it using Track Changes. In a critique group, people tend to point out anything and everything that they feel is a mistake or could use improvement. It’s a good idea for you to decide what kind of help you want before you pass your manuscript around. If you want the works, say so. I always say, “Rip it to shreds.” Or “Tell me everything that’s wrong.” I don’t have to take every bit of advice I get, but I like to know what people are thinking. If you don’t want people to point out your spelling errors or punctuation, say so. Maybe you only want feedback on a character. Or maybe you only want to know if the piece holds the reader’s interest until the end. Whatever it is you want to know, tell your critique partners. This will solve a lot of problems before they start. Here are a few things you can do before submitting your work for critique. 1. Decide what you’d like your critique group to look for. Do you want the works? Or do you simply want to know if the story holds their interest? 2. Check for grammar and spelling errors. The spell check is great, but it doesn’t catch mistakes like: its/it’s or their/there/they’re. Train your eye to catch these things before you ask others to look it over. You always want to be as professional as possible. 3. Make sure that your manuscript is formatted correctly. One inch margins all around. Double spaced. Times New Roman 12 point font. 4. Prepare yourself for criticism. Your critique group doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. They are trying to help you improve what you’ve written. Be ready for that. When you’re waiting for your feedback, you might want to psych yourself up a bit because taking criticism can be hard. Try to keep in mind that all writers are criticized. Even bestselling authors get negative reviews. Negative feedback is part of being a writer, so a critique group is a great place to start getting used to it. Also remember, that a critique group should be a safe place to learn. Expect negative feedback, because that means you can figure out how to make the story better before you send it to a publisher. If your critique group is hurtful and disrespectful, you should probably look for a new one. Try not to be overly sensitive, though. By its very nature, a critique looks for the negatives in your writing. Weaknesses and mistakes that we all make. No author is perfect. So it is logical that a critique group spends most of their time talking about what’s wrong with your piece rather than what’s right. When you get your work back, read the comments over once rather quickly. If you are frustrated or angry, close the file or put the paper away and wait a day or two. Come back to them when you’ve had time to think and relax. Then, let it go. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree. But if you find that three or more people have given you the same advice, you’d be wise to listen. Stay tuned for the July e-zine: My Journey To Publication, Part II This e-zine is free and I would love for you to share it with anyone who loves to write provided they are a teenager and provided that you email the whole thing together. Or, you could just encourage them to sign up for their own free copy at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_purple_pen/ Visit http://www.teenageauthor.com for more information on writing for teens. Join the Teenage Author Critique Forum at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/teenageauthors/ This e-zine is copyright Jill Williamson, 2009.

Ezine: Vol. 22- March 2009: How to Critique a Manuscript

One of the best ways to become a better writer is to learn how to critique the work of others. It can feel strange at first, especially when you can’t seem to find anything negative to say.

 

Always start out by asking the author what kind of critique they are looking for. Sometimes the author wants all the help they can get. Sometimes they only want your overall impression. Try to give the author exactly what they are asking for. Don’t bother correcting commas if they’ve specifically said not to. You’ll just be working hard for nothing. The following steps are things you can look for depending on what the author needs help with.

 

1. Read the chapter through without marking anything. This way you get the heart of the story. As you read, ask yourself, are you confused? does the intro hook you? is it realistic? are you bored? do you like the characters? do you feel drawn into the story? Write down these overall thoughts at the end of the chapter. Try to keep your comments positive and encouraging. You can be honest without being cruel. Instead of saying, “This is so boring!” say, “The first few pages could use some more action. The pace seems slow.” It’s always best to avoid using “you” in your statements. Saying “you” always sounds like a personal attack.

 

2. Go back and read the chapter a second time, this time stopping to make notes when thoughts come to you. Always try to make both positive and negative comments. Even if the story is horrible, you can always find something positive to say. The purpose of a critique group is to build each other up. Writers have quit over harsh critique partners. Unless the writer asked you to rip it to shreds, don’t point out every little mistake. We all learn a little at a time, so overwhelming someone with nothing but red marks isn’t necessary.

 

3. Don’t use a red pen. Pick a friendlier color like blue or green.

 

4. Mark misspellings, grammar errors, and punctuation mistakes.

 

5. Word use. Does the writer use too many passive verbs (be, is, are, was, were). Advise them to use action verbs instead. Do they use vague or bland words (walked)? Suggest they use more specific words (inched, jogged, sprinted, loped, strode).  Note where the writer’s words stood out, good or bad. If a metaphor confused you, tell them. Point out when descriptions left you confused or when they really hooked you into the story.

 

6. Dialogue. Does it sound realistic? Do character conversations move the plot forward? Does the author use too many said tags? Is the punctuation correct?

 

7. Viewpoints. Can you understand the point of view? Are the transitions from one point of view to another smooth and clear?

 

8. Did the author use the proper manuscript format?

 

9. When you finish, edit and proofread your critique. Go over the comments you’ve made to make sure they are clear and don’t contain typos.

 

10. Remember whose story it is. They don’t have to accept your advice. I always end my critiques with a statement like this: “These are just my opinions. Take what you like and throw out the rest.” When you give your critique back to the author, let it go. And don’t be offended if the writer chooses to ignore some or all of your suggestions. The point of a critique is to give your honest opinions and advice. What the writer does with that information is up to them.

 

 

Stay tuned for the May e-zine: Getting a Manuscript Critiqued

 

This e-zine is free and I would love for you to share it with anyone who loves to write provided they are a teenager and provided that you email the whole thing together. Or, you could just encourage them to sign up for their own free copy at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_purple_pen/

    

Visit http://www.teenageauthor.com for more information on writing for teens.

  

Join the Teenage Author Critique Forum at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/teenageauthors/

  

This e-zine is copyright Jill Williamson, 2009.

 

Ezine: Vol. 21- December 2008: My Publication Journey…So Far

MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY…SO FAR

 

My first published novel releases April 1, 2009 from Marcher Lord Press. It’s a medieval fantasy called By Darkness Hid, the Blood of Kings, book one. I’m super excited about it. So far it’s been a really interesting journey.

 

Here’s the back of the book blurb: Given the chance to train as a squire, kitchen servant Achan Cham hopes to pull himself out of his pitiful life and become a Kingsguard Knight. When Achan’s owner learns of his training, he forces Achan to spar with the Crown Prince, more of a death sentence than an honor. As Achan struggles to serve the prince without being maimed, strange voices in his head cause him to fear he’s going mad. He travels with a procession escorting the prince to a council presentation. Along the way, their convoy is attacked. Achan is wounded, arrested, and escapes from prison only to be brought back before the rulers of the land. There he discovers a secret about himself he never believed possible.

 

 

Submission Story

 

I wasn’t trying to get this novel published when I submitted it to Jeff Gerke at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference. Marcher Lord Press’ submission guidelines were clear: no young adult novels. I’d met Jeff at the 2007 Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s conference and used his editorial services on a different novel. When I saw that he was on staff OCW, I submitted my manuscript to him hoping to glean his wisdom and advice on the project.

 

I was surprised when he wanted to meet with me.

 

“Why does it have to be YA?” he asked.

 

It didn’t. As an adult book, nothing would change. My main characters would still be fifteen and seventeen. Since it was a medieval world, they were technically adults anyway. Jeff wanted to see the full manuscript. I was pretty excited, but I’d had requests for full manuscripts before. I gave my agent, Terry Burns, an update. It turned out Terry and Jeff were roommates at the conference and had already talked about my story. That got me a bit more hopeful.

 

As soon as I got home, I applied the edits Jeff had made to the first chapter, looked over the rest of the book, and sent it off.

 

 

The Wait

 

Waiting to hear back from an editor or an agent is never fun. I tried to keep busy and not think about it, but it was hard not to. Little things reminded me about it, and I’ll pull out my submissions log, check the date I’d sent it, calculate how many days it had been out, and guess how much longer I might have to wait. In this case, I was working on a different novel, so I had that to keep me busy.

 

 

The Call

 

A few months later I got an email from Jeff that said: “Do you happen to be by a phone right now so that I can call you?”

 

Well, I knew one thing right off the bat. That wasn’t a rejection. I’d received my share of rejections and trust me. When someone is rejecting you, they don’t usually want to talk about it. Jeff called and said that he really liked my book. Coolness! We talked about some things and he asked me if I wanted to be a Marcher Lord Press author. I said, “Yes!” Then he and my agent emailed back and forth discussing the contract and things like “intellectual property” and other terms I don’t understand. They talked about it until they were both happy. My agent told me to print out the approved contract, sign it, and mail it away. I did. Then I told people, which was really fun.

 

After that I started to brainstorm. In my position as Senior Editor of the young adult line at an online publishing house, I’ve been learning a lot over the past few months about online marketing. I knew I wanted to send my book out to some review magazines. So for the next few weeks, Jeff, myself, and the other two authors whose books will release with mine have been brainstorming the best way to work out review copies.

 

For those of you who don’t know, a review copy is an early, non-edited copy of the book that is sent to publications like Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and many other places. Those periodicals get hundreds of books a week. They decide which ones to read and review, and bookstores and libraries decide what to buy based on the reviews they print. So I wanted my book to at least have the chance of being reviewed at those places. Since it would be a while before the final covers were designed, one of the new authors designed us temporary covers that our advanced reader copies (ARCs) would have. He did a fabulous job. Now, Jeff is formatting the books and we should have them ready in the next week or two to be mailed out to the reviewers.

 

Next on my list is to find other reviewers to be what are called “influencers.” It’s well-known that books succeed via word of mouth. So I need to start getting people to read, and hopefully, talk about my book. I’ve been compiling a list of people who’ve agreed to help me, and when the ARCs are ready, I’ll mail them a copy.

 

Another thing I’m working on is getting some endorsements. This is kind of hard when you’ve never been published. But I wrote a very nice letter, no strings attached, and mailed it to ten authors I respect who write speculative fiction. So far, one has read my novel and agreed to write an endorsement (yay!), another has said that they will try to find time to read it, and two have said that they can’t read it because they don’t have time. There are still six I haven’t heard from. The cool thing about an endorsement is I can put it on the back of my book, I can put it on my press releases, and I can use it in cover letters when I ask for reviews or interviews. Because the author who gave it to me is well-know and respected, her endorsement will help me, showing bookstore owners, magazine editors, or interviewers that I have a good product. Make sense?

 

 

What’s Next?

 

I’m waiting again. As soon as the ARCs are done, I’ll be mailing them out. As soon as the real cover is done, I’ll re-design my website, make postcards, bookmarks, and other marketing paperwork. As soon as the final edit is done, my husband and I are going to make a one-three chapter audio book that people can download to their iPods for free, to see if they like the book. I’ve got a lot of marketing ideas. So I’m just waiting for the right time to try some of them out. I’ll keep you all posted on what happens next.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for the March e-zine: How to Critique a Manuscript

 

This e-zine is free and I would love for you to share it with anyone who loves to write provided they are a teenager and provided that you email the whole thing together. Or, you could just encourage them to sign up for their own free copy at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_purple_pen/

    

Visit http://www.teenageauthor.com for more information on writing for teens.

  

Join the Teenage Author Critique Forum at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/teenageauthors/

  

This e-zine is copyright Jill Williamson, 2008.

 

 

E-zine: Vol. 20- November 2008: Write Specific

When you’re learning, it’s tough to write specific. Your goal at this point is to simply finish a chapter or a book. But once the book is complete, and you’re combing through it in rewrite mode, you want to seek out bland words, fluff words, needless words, and poor sentence structure. This will make your manuscript tight. It will make it sing.

 

Words on a page are what make a book. How you choose words and string them together will determine whether you’ll have a great book, a good book, or a book that no one will ever publish. The decision of what word to use where is so important. Sure, in the first draft, just get it written; throw in whatever you need to get the book done. But then go back and scrutinize every word.

 

I refer to my favorite quote from author, Michael Crichton. “Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own.  It’s one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

 

I love that quote. Because it’s truth. It’s the mindset an author needs to develop to create a manuscript that will get an agent or editor’s interest.

 

I. Bland/Vague Words

 

A. Choose concrete, specific words over vague ones.

 

As you go back through your manuscript, look for words that are vague, that don’t paint the best picture in the reader’s mind. Good writing is in the details.

 

Poor example: John climbed the tree and looked at the mountain.

Better example: John shimmied up the swaying willow and gazed at the monstrous peak of Mt. McKinley.

 

I replaced the boring, non specific words with concrete ones that help the reader see what I want them to see. Instead of “climbed,” John “shimmied.” Instead of “tree,” I used “swaying willow.” Instead of “looked,” I used “gazed.” Instead of “mountain,” I used “monstrous peak of Mt. McKinley.” So now, if they didn’t before, the reader knows the character is in Alaska. Good information. Specific enough. Let’s try another one.

 

Poor example: Michael Manis is pretty good looking.  His black hair is long on his neck, and his blue eyes can look sweet and sexy at the same time. (This is “telling” by the way.)

 

Better example: Michael Manis is Clark Kent without the geek. He’s got that Superman build, the dark hair with the curls, the piercing blue eyes, but no glasses, stuttering, or falling all over himself.

 

This gives us a much better picture of Michael Manis. I can see him standing there all confident and strong. It’s also a unique-sounding character voice.

 

Also watch out for vague words of measurement, like: every, often, sometimes, a little, a bit, kind of, sort of, about, nearly, etc. These words don’t tell us anything. It’s okay to use them in dialogue, but in narrative, be specific to help the reader see exactly what you mean.

 

B. Interpreting Minds

 

Be careful of using “seem.” This word often tells the emotion of other characters your POV character sees.

 

Poor example: John seemed to think Meg was lying.

 

We can’t know that. We can’t read John’s mind if he’s not our POV character. Although our POV character could take a guess, it’s stronger to do a little more work. Show what about John’s words or behavior gives our main character this impression. Did he huff and walk away? Fold his arms and scowl? Did he say, “Meg, you’re full of it”? Make sure your main character isn’t interpreting the mind of anyone.

 

C. The Senses

 

Great writing advice teaches us to use the five senses in our writing. This is true, but be careful not to “tell” the five senses. Some examples of this often come in some of these words: felt, saw, heard, smelled, tasted, sensed and other versions of these words like: noticed, found, spotted, experienced, looked, feeling, watched, wondered, listened, tried, thought, etc. These words are almost always telling.

 

Telling example: Bill felt tired.

Showing example: Bill yawned. OR Bill’s body ached. He hadn’t slept in three hours.

 

Telling example: Shannon spotted a bird.  

Showing example: A blue jay flew across the gray sky.

 

Telling example: Jessie heard the tinkling of a bell.

Showing example: The bells above the entrance to the store tinkled.

 

Telling example: Angie smelled fresh bread.

Showing Example: The scent of fresh bread wafted on the breeze.

 

Telling example: He tasted blood.  

Showing example: A metallic taste flooded his mouth.

 

Telling example: She sensed foreboding.  

Showing example: Her skin prickled as if someone was near.

 

You can’t avoid every word from my list above, nor should you. I’m not saying those words are bad to use. But use them carefully and show action rather than tell facts. Showing gives you better opportunity to describe setting, characters, and action. It helps you be specific.

 

D. Always try to use one word instead of two.

 

Poor example: He walked fast across the field.

Better example: He sprinted across the field.

 

Poor example: “Come here,” Chris said softly.

Better example: “Come here,” Chris whispered.

 

E. Generic action tags

 

Watch out for these. Some of my favorites are: He laughed. She shrugged. He sighed. She frowned. He smiled. Where it may be exactly what the scene and character needs every once in a while, most of the time you can do better with action tags. Try to create ones that show what a character is doing, characterize their behavior, or show the setting.

 

For example: Kim clicked her long, red fingernails on the steel countertop. “I don’t eat red meat.”

 

Here we learn Kim has long, red fingernails, that the countertop is steel, that she doesn’t eat red meat. Her actions and dialogue work together to show her character.

 

 

II. Fluff Words

 

Fluff words are also known as adjectives or modifiers, since they modify the meaning of the noun they refer to. When you’re writing, you may feel the urge to add lots of these descriptive words to make sure the readers gets it. Keep in mind: less is more. And often, 1 + 1 + ½. That means, if you over use descriptive words, you might be making the story worse, rather than better. Below are some examples of fluff and how it might be tamed a bit for tightness and clarity. 

 

A. Feelings.

 

Poor example: Luke was excited and thrilled.

Better example: Luke was thrilled.

 

One emotional word at a time packs a bigger punch. Plus, excited and thrilled are pretty close to the same thing. If you catch two similar words together in your story, pick your favorite and cut the other.

 

B. Description

 

Poor example: The card was made of pink construction paper covered in fuchsia tissue paper. Katie loved the color pink, so Mark had used the proper amount of red and white paint and finally gotten the mixture perfect. The palest, coolest shade of pink resulted from his efforts, and he knew Katie would love the resulting hue.

 

Better example: Since Katie loved pink, Mark spent half the morning mixing red and white paint until he found the perfect hue. He crumpled pink tissue paper and glued it on a pink card. Then he sprinkled the paint like rain. They met in the rain.

 

That one was hard. But there is no reason to go on and on about making the color. If it’s important that he did it, say it, but “palest, coolest” doesn’t help the scene. I can’t see the project at all from the first paragraph’s description. All I see is Pepto Bismal. I tried to give a bit more action in the second example in hopes the card would become more than just a lot of pink.

 

C. –ly Adverbs

 

Words that end in “ly” tend to be overused by newbie authors. These words are always telling. Every once in a while it’s okay to use one, but for the most part, cut them out! Look for strong descriptive verbs to convey emotion and action rather than relying on these lazy adverbs.

 

Poor example: “Come here,” Meg said loudly.

Better example: “Come here,” Meg yelled.

 

Besides descriptive adverbs, some other commonly overused ones are: only, really, actually, basically, truly, surely, suddenly, and very. These words can almost always be cut to create tighter sentences.

 

D. Similes and metaphors.

 

A great simile or metaphor can really help a reader connect. Sometimes, we get a little too creative. Too powerful a metaphor can jerk the reader out of the story. Make sure the ones you leave in really work. Often times, a simile or metaphor is better off deleted. Always delete, or rework, clichés. You can check your manuscript for similes by doing a “find” search in Microsoft Word for the word “like.” Only keep the ones that flow and don’t distract from the scene.

 

 

III. Needless Words

 

A. Trimming out useless words

 

In working on a rewrite, trim out words that do nothing for the sentence.

 

Poor example: Chocolate was simply too rich for him.

Better example: Chocolate was too rich for him.

 

There is no reason for “simply” in that first sentence. It’s there to be fancy, and instead, it makes things wordy. Cut it.

 

Poor example: Billy felt his insides freeze, and he just knew that at any moment, they would see him and beat him to a bloody pulp.

Better example: Billy froze. Any second they would see him and pound him into the ground.

 

“Knew” and “felt” are telling, so they can be cut. I also got rid of the cliché, “beat him into a bloody pulp.” Note: making it two sentences increased the tension. Short sentences like, “Billy froze,” almost make my spine shiver.

 

Poor example: She cared nothing of the rumbling noise in her stomach as she searched through the piles and piles of clothes.

Better example: Her stomach rumbled, but she continued to dig through the mountain of laundry.

 

“Cared nothing” is wordy and telling. I “showed” her ignoring it in the second example by stating the facts: Her stomach rumbled. And she continued digging. Also, “digging” creates a stronger word picture as to the size of the pile. “Mountain” is more specific than “piles and piles” and is two less words. The first sentence was twenty words long. My rewrite was thirteen. Always keep in mind that a rewrite should be 10 percent shorter than the first draft.

 

Here are some other words that can often be cut: that, actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, now, began, very, just, little, every, poor, much, some, so,  remember, perhaps, anyway, quite, soon, however, almost, entire, though, about, everyone, everything, even, thing, all, still, only, thought, felt, saw, seemed, next and finally.

 

B. Prepositional Phrases

 

Try not to end a sentence with prepositional phrases (to him, at her, for them, etc).  This leaves the sentence sounding weak and adds extra words.

 

Poor example: She stared in shock at him.

Better example: She stared in shock.

 

C. Had

 

If you are telling something past tense, a good rule of thumb is to use “had” once at the start of the paragraph or scene and delete most of the others. You don’t need to use “had” with every single sentence to show past tense.

 

D. Said Tags

 

You don’t always have to use a said tag on every bit of dialogue. Many of them can be deleted, especially if there are only two people in the scene. Consider action tags to add variety.

 

E. Dialogue

 

Keep in mind, dialogue doesn’t need to follow perfect grammar. Trim words at your own discretion to make sure dialogue sounds authentic.

 

F. Favorites

Every author tends to abuse certain words. This becomes redundant and hinders the freshness of your story. Keep an eye out for overused words or phrases that you tend to repeat.

 

 

IV. Sentence construction

 

A. Began and Started

 

Watch out for sentences using these words. They imply an interruption happened. The character began or started to do something, but something stopped him. Now if you are implying that something did interrupt the action, using these words is appropriate. Look at the second example to see why.

 

Poor example: Kaylee began to play the keyboard.

Better example: Kaylee pressed down on the keys and wonderful music filled the room.

 

Poor example: Mike started to clean his room.

Better example: Mike cleaned his room.

Implying interruption example: Mike started to clean his room, but his cell phone rang.

 

B. Continuous action words

 

Good fiction is told in order. Action, then reaction. Trying to write things that happen simultaneously doesn’t work. Words like: as, when, while, after, and continued to, create weak action sentences. Try not to overuse them. You do need them occasionally as transitions, but most of the time they can be omitted.

 

Poor example: Katie ran to the street as the car stopped out front.

Better example: The car stopped out front and Katie ran to the street.

 

Poor example: Maggie cried when she dropped her pacifier.

Better example: Maggie dropped her pacifier and cried.

 

Poor example: Ben wrote in his journal while eating a donut.

Better example: Ben wrote in his journal and munched on a donut.


C. Progressive Tense

 

Progressive tense uses an active verb with an -ing ending and a helping verb. Most of the time, it’s shorter and more accurate to use the simple past tense of the verb. If you want to convey something is in the process of happening, use progressive tense. Otherwise, edit it out.

 

Poor example: Jane was walking to practice.

Better example: Jane walked to practice.

 

D. Infinite Verb Phrases

 

Avoid starting a sentence with an -ing word because they imply everything in the sentence is happening all at once, creating physical impossibilities.

 

Poor example: Grabbing a notebook, he stuffed it in his backpack, slammed his locker, and ran to class.

Better example: He grabbed a notebook, stuffed it in his backpack, slammed the locker, and ran to class.

 

Since he can’t physically grab a notebook, stuff it into his backpack, slam the locker door, and run to class simultaneously, the poor example isn’t possible.

 

 

On a final note, my first book was contracted this month with Marcher Lord Press! Yay! I am thrilled, overwhelmed, and very excited. I am finding the experience interesting, though, and want to share it with you. So next month I’m going to detail the events that went on yesterday, are still going on today, and what else will happen as the month of November passes. My book is a medieval fantasy novel. The title is being changed as I type! I’ll talk about that next month, too. Until then, keep on writing!

 

 

Stay tuned for the December e-zine: My Publication Journey…So Far.

 

This e-zine is free and I would love for you to share it with anyone who loves to write provided they are a teenager and provided that you email the whole thing together. Or, you could just encourage them to sign up for their own free copy at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_purple_pen/

    

Visit http://www.teenageauthor.com for more information on writing for teens.

  

Join the Teenage Author Critique Forum at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/teenageauthors/

  

This e-zine is copyright Jill Williamson, 2008.

E-zine: Vol. 19 October 2008- How to Write a Book Review

I recently started Novel Teen Book Reviews, a Web site and blog dedicated to promoting inspirational young adult fiction of all genres. I did this because people ask me all the time to recommend books to them for their kids. Since I also write inspirational young adult fiction, and understand readers aren’t finding the books, my hope is to help get the word out about the great inspirational books available. There are so many, but bookstores don’t carry everything.

 

In my position as senior editor of a young adult fiction line, I’ve also been learning about online books reviews. They really help an author’s ranking at online bookstores. The higher the ranking, the better the sales. For each book review I write, I post the review on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, ChristianBook.com, Shelfari, and GoodReads. This, I hope, helps the author and gives readers some good feedback on the book.

 

Writing book reviews can also be a good way to break into publishing. Many magazines and newspapers have a book review section. In this e-zine, we’re going to learn how to write a book review.

 

1. Take Notes

As you read a book, take note of things that really pop out to you. Things like quotes, a town name or character name. You might want to use this information in your review. It can be frustrating to go back searching for one detail to include. If you take notes as you go, this won’t be a problem.

 

2. Study Other Reviews

Check online for book reviews that have already been written on the book you’re reviewing. This is a good way to spark you memory on subplots you may have forgotten.

 

3. Explain the Book to a Friend

When you’re ready to start writing, think about how you might explain the book to a friend. This might be exactly how you want to start writing.

 

4. Promote Early

I recommend putting the author’s name and book title in the first paragraph. I’ve seen reviews that don’t even list the author’s name! A good review is going to give the reader the information they need to find the book and purchase it. It’s important to give them that key information as soon as you can.

 

5. Give a Summary

Start your review by summarizing the book, but don’t give the ending. You don’t wan to spoil the story for a potential reader. This is really good practice for writing your own one-paragraph summary hook for your own book.

 

6. Give Your Opinion

Once you’ve introduced the book and told what it was about, now share your opinion. What did you like about the story? Did it make you think? Did it excite you? Scare you? Bore you? Always try to voice positive comments with any negative things you might have to say.

 

7. Finish with a Final Thought

Give a final comment whether or not you recommend the book. Your review should back this statement up. If you only say you didn’t like the book, but don’t give a real reason in your review, then it’s not a review. Think hard as to why you liked or disliked it and make sure your review explains that.

 

8. Edit Your Review

Edit your review to check for spelling, grammar problems, and redundancies.

 

9. Post Your Review

Now it’s time to post your review, or submit it to a magazine or newspaper. If you’re submitting it for publication, make sure you do your homework. Only submit to places that publish reviews of the type of book you’re reviewing.

 

You can also post your review online at most online bookstores and reading groups. My favorites are: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, ChristianBook.com, GoodReads.com, and Shelfari.com. The more places you post the review, the more you help the author promote their book.

 

 

Stay tuned for the November e-zine: Write Specific

 

E-zine: Vol. 18 September 2008- Writing a Novel Part Five: Dialogue

Dialogue is arguably the most important part of a novel. It’s always action, so it should move the story along, create tension, and give unique voices to the characters. Your goal in writing a novel is to give your readers a powerful emotional experience. Dialogue is a great way to show emotions. New writers often feel like they need to help their dialogue along. If you want your book to read like it was written by a professional, you’ll avoid these common mistakes.

 

I. Common Dialogue Mistakes

 

A.     Said Tags – This is the little part of the sentence outside the apostrophes. The said tag in the following example is underlined.

“Mama, can we go to the park,” Jack asked.

 

1.      Explaining (Telling) words – When you write dialogue, fight the urge to add words that tell the reader how to interpret the dialogue. Readers are smart. They don’t like being beat over the head with the obvious. Plus, when you add telling words into your said tags, you cheat your reader of a chance to get to know your characters.

 

a.       Speaker Attributions

“I am so happy!” Kate gushed.

“I repeat,” Mark repeated.

“Unbelievable!” Alex exclaimed.

“Because you’re a senior,” Melissa inferred.

 

Don’t do this. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but use them rarely. Whispered and yelled are exceptions because you can’t really show whispering or yelling with dialogue. When in doubt, use said. “Said” is almost always better.

 

b.      “Ly” adverbs

“I got the job!” Anna said happily.

“I’m so angry!” Micah said angrily.

“Please. Let me have just one,” Kendra said imploringly.

“You’re such a fat pig!” Sue said nastily.

 

Don’t do this ever. There are no exceptions. Yes, there are loads of published writers who get away with it, but you won’t. Famous authors can break rules. Editors and agents don’t want to see new writers breaking rules like this. It’s one of the first things many of them look for before tossing a manuscript in the rejection pile.

 

In the examples above, every one of the attribution words or “ly” adverbs could be cut. The dialogue is stronger without them. They simply add redundancies. “I got the job!” is good enough on its own. The reader will know whether or not the character is happy based on the story.

 

 

2.      “He said” vs “said he”

This is a tiny little thing. Look at this example: “I won!” he said.

You wouldn’t write: “I won!” said he.

Therefore, always try to do the same with names.

 

Correct: “I won!” Michael said.

 

Incorrect: “I won!” said Michael.

 

 

3.      Late Speaker Attribution

If you have a large section of dialogue, make sure you let the reader know who’s speaking. It might be obvious if there are only two people in the scene. But if there are a lot of people, and you have a big section of dialogue, make sure you put the speaker attribution in as soon as you can. Never start a paragraph with a “said tag,” but fit one in at the first logical place to pause.

 

Incorrect:

“Horrible. For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America. I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated. I’m so glad it’s over,” John said.

 

Incorrect:

John said, “Horrible. For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America. I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated. I’m so glad it’s over.”

 

Correct:

“Horrible,” John said. “For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America. I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated. I’m so glad it’s over.”

 

 

4.      Multiple said tags in one paragraph

You only need to identify the speaker once in each paragraph. Sometimes you don’t need to identify the speaker at all, when it’s obvious who is speaking. But when you do, once is enough. Whether you use an action tag or a said tag. Once is enough.

 

Incorrect:

“Horrible,” John said. “For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America,” John said. “I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated. I’m so glad it’s over.”

 

Incorrect:

“Horrible,” John said. “For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America. I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated.” John wiped his brow. “I’m so glad it’s over.”

 

Correct:

“Horrible.” John wiped his brow. “For a while I wondered if I was wrong and the test actually covered the whole world, and not just North America. But when none of the multiple choice had any international options, I knew the test was just on North America. I wish I’d studied more, though. That was the most stressful test I’ve ever taken. I actually sweated. I’m so glad it’s over.”

 

 

5.      Said tags everywhere

When you have a long section of dialogue, you don’t need to put a said tag on every speaker’s line. It’s annoying. For example:

 

“Did you get it?” Mark asked.

“Yes,” Alex said.

“No one saw you?” Mark asked.

“Nope. We were careful,” Ian said.

“Kendra Mordon saw us,” Alex said.

“What!” Mark said.

“No, she didn’t. She was talking to Megan,” Ian said.

“She winked at me,” Alex said.

“You’re dreaming,” Ian said.

“Am not,” Alex said.

“Are too,” Ian said.

“Shut up! Did she see you or not?” Mark asked.

“She didn’t,” Ian said.

“She did,” Alex said.

 

See how annoying and boring that is? The writer might feel like he needs to put a “said tag” on each speaker’s line, since there are three people in the scene. But it’s boring. I can’t see the scene. It doesn’t add character. It doesn’t add emotion. It doesn’t add any description. Adding a combination of said tags, action tags, and description can make a big difference.

 

“Did you get it?” Mark asked.

“Yes.” Alex handed the stuffed dog to Mark.

Boxer the Bulldog, Burbank High School’s mascot, was so old, his fake fur was shedding. Mark pulled his duffle bag out from behind the dumpster and stuffed the old toy inside. “No one saw you?”

“Nope,” Ian said. “We were careful.”

“Kendra Martin saw us,” Alex said.

Mark rounded on Ian. “What!”

Ian glared at Alex. “No, she didn’t. She was talking to Megan.”

A grin stretched across Alex’s freckled face. “She winked at me.”

Ian swatted Alex’s arm. “You’re dreaming.”

“Am not.”

Ian shoved Alex into the dumpster. “Are too.”

“Shut up!” Mark grabbed both freshmen by the shirts and tugged them close. “Did she see you or not?”

“She didn’t,” Ian whispered.

Alex nodded. “She did.”

 

It’s not the greatest, but it’s a vast improvement. We get some emotion here. Some hints as to character and location and plot. There is a dumpster, so they are either in an alley or behind a building. Mark is obviously in charge. Ian and Alex are freshmen who Mark sent to steal Boxer the Bulldog. But Kendra saw them, even if she was only flirting with Alex, now Mark has to wonder, are they caught?

 

B.     New paragraphs for new speakers and action

Each time you have a new speaker, you need to start a new paragraph. Also, it’s incorrect to include one speaker’s dialogue and another speaker’s reaction in the same paragraph. Start a new paragraph for a new character’s dialogue or reaction.

 

Incorrect:

Kate raced into the store, panting. “Mom needs you home right now.” Kate’s eyes sparkled. “A girl is looking for you.” Adam’s heart took off at a gallop. A girl? Coming to visit him? Who? “What’s her name?”

“She didn’t say.” “What’s she look like?”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Come home and see for yourself.” Dad’s chuckle rose over the swish of the broom against the concrete floor. “Better get going. A gentleman never keeps a lady waiting.” Adam’s cheeks burned, but he took of his apron, folded it, and set it on the counter. “You’ll be okay without me, Dad?”

Dad smirked. “I managed the store just fine for the past eleven years without your help. I think I’ll survive.”

 

The first paragraph belongs to Kate. It’s her action and dialogue. Adam’s reaction and dialogue need to be in a new paragraph. In the second paragraph, Kate and Alex’s dialogue are both in the same paragraph. That’s incorrect. Alex’s dialogue needs a new paragraph. In the third paragraph, we have Kate’s action and dialogue, Dad’s reaction and dialogue, and Adam’s reaction and dialogue all in the same paragraph. There needs to be a paragraph for each person. Here is the correct way.

 

Correct:

Kate raced into the store, panting. “Mom needs you home right now.” Her eyes sparkled. “A girl is looking for you.”

Adam’s heart took off at a gallop. A girl? Coming to visit him? Who? “What’s her name?”

“She didn’t say.”

“What’s she look like?”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Come home and see for yourself.”

Dad’s chuckle rose over the swish of the broom against the concrete floor. “Better get going. A gentleman never keeps a lady waiting.”

Adam’s cheeks burned, but he took of his apron, folded it, and set it on the counter. “You’ll be okay without me, Dad?”

Dad smirked. “I managed the store just fine for the past eleven years without your help. I think I’ll survive.”

 

 

C.     Telling in Dialogue

There is a fine line about what you can get away with in dialogue. Dialogue is a great place to bring out facts, but it must be done carefully. The following is an example of telling backstory in dialogue.

 

Incorrect:

Katie winced. “Like I did when we were in our first competition together? Remember? When I broke my ankle by hitting it on the platform?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Lizzie frowned. “You wanted to be Laura Wilkenson.”

“I just wanted to win. When those two Californians beat us in round one, when they did those handstands, I knew we had to try the harder dive. But I didn’t get far enough out and I hit my ankle on the platform.”

“When I came out of the water, I heard the audience gasping and I knew something happened to you. It was awful.”

“If I wouldn’t have pushed us, we might have won based on our regular dives.”

Lizzie sighed. “You always push the envelope, Katie.”

“I know. I really need to work on that.”

 

Don’t do this! If the goal is to show why Katie doesn’t dive anymore, it can be done much easier. If the goal is to characterize Katie as a risk-taker, the whole scene can be trimmed up to rid the telling from the scene.

 

Here is a tighter version with less telling:

Katie winced. “Like when I broke my ankle?”

“You wanted to be Laura Wilkenson,” Lizzie said.

“I just wanted to win. I always push things too far, don’t I?”

Lizzie sighed. “Yeah. You really need to work on that.”

 

This does the same job, without throwing in unnecessary details. It is 39 words instead of 133. That’s a big difference!

 

 

D.    Bland Dialogue

For dialogue to work, something must be happening. A lot of new authors think dialogue needs to sound just like how real people talk. But real people are often boring. What you need to do as an author, is create the illusion of realistic dialogue. The following are a few things not to do.

 

1. Manners and Echoes

For example:

            “How are you today?” Steve asked.

            “How am I? I’m all right, I guess,” Michael said.

“Just all right? Why not great?”

“You didn’t hear about what happened at the office?”

“No. What happened?”

“I was fired.”

“Fired! I’m so sorry to hear that. Why were you fired?”

 

See? It’s far too polite and realistic. First of all, cut out the echoes, or things that are repetitive. Then try not to let the characters answer every question directly. Let them up the conflict by the things they say.

 

            “How are you today?” Steve asked.

            “Have you seen Megan?” Michael asked.

“Doesn’t she take Fridays off?”

“Lester must have fired her too.”

“Why would he do that? Megan is his only bookkeeper.”

“I’d look bust today if I were you.”

 

There’s so much more information in this section of dialogue. There is tension. Our Michael character doesn’t come right out and say he’s fired, but he insinuates it. Readers don’t want to be told everything. They like hints. They like tension. They like figuring things out. Give them a chance to whenever possible.

 

            2. Using names in Dialogue

Here is an example of when to be realistic with your dialogue. People don’t say each other’s names over and over when they speak. Try not to do it in your dialogue. Once in a while is more than enough.

 

Incorrect:

            “I can’t believe this, Mike. Why did you do that?”

            “Because I wanted to. You’re not the boss of me, Kate. You think you’re so great because you’re the oldest. Well, I’ve got news for you, Kate. No one likes you. Everyone thinks you’re a bossy nag.”

            “And everyone is who, Mike? You and your computer nerd friends? The online gaming community?”

            “Shut up, Kate!”

           

            You get the picture…

 

 

II. Dialogue Tips

A.  Mix it up

Try to use a nice mix of said tags, no tags, and action tags (or beats) in your dialogue scenes. This creates a nice flow.

 

B.    Add characterization with your dialogue. Give one character a certain word that is unique to him. For example, on Scooby Doo, Shaggy always said, “Zoinks!” That was his special word. There are all kinds of neat things you can do with dialogue. You could give a character a stutter by using hyphens. You could create a rude character who always interrupts by using em dashes. You could make a character sarcastic, funny, or prissy by the way your write each sentences and the words you use. You could make a character a know-it-all by always spouting facts, or a person who prattles on by giving them really long paragraphs. Poor grammar is best written by omitting words, not by spelling things funny. The same goes with foreign accents. Try not to misspell words.

 

For example, a French accent: “Vat iz zees I see? You are not goeeng to ze game wiz zee rest of us?”

 

That gets old really fast. Plus it’s very hard to read. A better way to convey a French accent is something like this: “What is this I see? You are not going to the game with the rest of us?”

 

It’s subtle, but the difference between my version of a French accent and an American one is there. An American might have said: What? You aren’t going to the game with us?” The fact that the French is spoken so properly, so textbook, makes it stand out.

 

C.    Proper punctuation.

I went into how to punctuate dialogue in July 2007. Here is a link to that e-zine if you’d like to read more about quotes and commas in dialogue. http://www.teenageauthor.com/index_files/Page405.htm

 

1. Use an Em Dash for interruptions

When someone is interrupted in dialogue, it’s shown by an em dash. Do not use an ellipsis to show an interruption. Also, there is no need to add “he interrupted” when you use an em dash. It’s repetitive.

 

Incorrect:

            “I’m tired. Let’s go home so I can…”

            Sam interrupted. “Three more problems.” He grabbed Sharon’s wrist. “Please? If I fail this test, I’m off the team.”

 

Correct:

            “I’m tired. Let’s go home so I can—”

            “Three more problems.” Sam grabbed Sharon’s wrist. “Please? If I fail this test, I’m off the team.”

 

2. Ellipses in dialogue

Use an ellipsis for trailing off, losing consciousness, or gaps in the conversation.

 

A correct example of trailing off:

“It was my fault, Mom. I took them because I…”

 

A correct example of losing consciousness:

“Katie! Stay with me, girl.”

“I’m so sleepy. I… can’t…”

 

A correct example of gaps in the conversation when a person is on the phone:

“I just got here…Four…Me, Billy, Brogan, Alex, and Kyle…Yep…Okay. Pick me up then…bye.”

 

For more information on em dashes and ellipses, check out the August 2007 e-zine here: http://www.teenageauthor.com/index_files/Page1067.htm

 

 

Stay tuned for the October e-zine: How to Write a Book Review

 

E-zine: Vol. 17: August 2008- WRITING A NOVEL PART FOUR: VOICE

This past week I had the privilege of taking author Melody Carlson’s morning session at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference. It was amazing. Melody has written around 200 books in the last twenty years. An average of ten books a year is a lot of writing. Melody told us a story about a time when she wrote something anonymously. A friend of hers called her on it and said, “You wrote this.”

 

Melody’s response was, “How did you know?”

 

Her friend said, “I recognize your voice.”

 

An author’s voice is the way he or she puts words on a page. Each person is unique. William Faulkner and Stephen King both write long, wordy sentences, but their voice makes their writing sound completely different.

 

When asked what grabs his interest in a potential client, an agent at the OCW conference stood up and said, “Voice.”

 

Editors and agents are always looking for writers with a unique voice. Voice shows that you not only know how to write and tell a story, but that you do both so well, the reader gets so into the story that they forget they’re reading. It’s the difference between Dean Koontz and Michael Crichton, Meg Cabot and Lois Lowry, Louis Lamour and Stephen Bly.

 

How do you develop your voice?

 

Write, write, write!

 

Melody Carlson recommends writing fast. She suggests writers burn through that first draft of a book in a month or so. Learning to write fast will get the story out, then you can go back and edit. The more stories you write, the better your voice will develop. But if you can’t finish a story, forget about voice. A writer’s voice develops over time and many manuscripts.

 

What else can you do?

 

Read, read, read!

 

Everything! In genres you love and hate, in non fiction, newspapers, and magazines. Try to hear the unique voice of each author. There’s something to learn everywhere. You’ll see how different authors put stories together, get a feel for what’s good and what’s not, and you’ll start to develop a style that’s all you.

 

Here are four examples of action scenes from four different authors. Notice the sentence constructions, words per sentence, use of short and long sentences, word types, use of characters, or lack of characters. The difference is each author’s voice.

 

The light hadn’t even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets. Clutch, gas, shift (neutral to first? Or first to second?), release clutch, I repeated over and over in my head, the mantra offering little comfort and even less direction amid the screeching midday traffic. The little car bucked wildly twice before it lurched forward through the intersection. My heart flip-flopped in my chest. Without warning, the lurching evened out and I began to pick up speed. Lots of speed.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

 

 

Almost deliberately, the Chevrolet finished its 360-degree turn, hitting the island again, broadside this time. The rear end popped up on the island and knocked the regular gas pump asprawl. And there the Chevy came to rest, trailing its rusty exhaust pipe behind it. It had destroyed all three of the gas pumps on that island nearest the highway. The motor continued to run choppily for a few seconds and then quit. The silence was so loud it was alarming.

“Holy moly,” Tommy Wannamaker said breathlessly. “Will she blow, Hap?”

“If it was gonna, it already woulda,” Hap said, getting up.

The Stand by Stephen King

 

 

Alex left the road, crossed the sidewalk, and forced the bike up into the air. The first of the motorcycles reached the section of the road that was covered with the silver ooze. At once the driver lost control, skidding so violently that he almost seemed to be throwing himself off on purpose. His bike smashed into a second bike, bringing that one down too. At the same time, Alex came hurtling down onto the reinforced glass roof of the tourist boat and began to pedal its full length. He could see diners gazing up at him in astonishment. A waiter with a tray of glasses spun around, dropping everything. There was the flash of a camera. Then he had reached the other side. Carried by his own momentum, he soared off the roof, over a line of bollards, and came to a skidding halt on the opposite bank of the canal.

Eagle Strike by Anthony Horowitz

 

There was a tremendous BANG, and the next moment Harry found himself flat on his bed, thrown backward by the speed of the Knight Bus. Pulling himself up, Harry stared out of the dark window and saw that they were now bowling along a completely different street…

              …Harry was still looking out of the window, feeling increasingly nervous. Ernie didn’t seem to have mastered the use of a steering wheel. The Knight Bus kept mounting the pavement, but it didn’t hit anything; lines of lampposts, mailboxes, and trash cans jumped out of its way as it approached and back into position once it had passed.

 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

 

Weisberger has some very long sentences, but those few, short three-to-four-word sentences vary her style. You can hear her sarcasm with phrases like: “an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate” and “the mantra offering little comfort and even less direction amid the screeching midday traffic.”

 

Stephen King’s sentences in this passage are almost all the same length. He shows action with no character reaction here until the character’s dialogue.

 

Horowitz uses a lot of commas to show sequences of action.

 

Rowling’s shortest sentence was eleven words and her longest was thirty-five words. She likes to use the comma and conjunction (and, but, or etc) to combine two sentences into one. She used the word “bowling” which is a British word. The missing section was a bunch of dialogue between Harry and Ernie, which shows that Rowling likes to break up her action.

 

So, write and read, but what else can you do to develop your voice?

 

Nothing. Voice is something no one can teach you. It comes with practice and by putting in time at the keyboard. Write your million words. Focus on telling a good story. Create unique characters. Once you have, I bet your voice will shine through without you even trying.

 

 

Stay tuned for the September e-zine: Writing the Novel Part Five: Dialogue