Monday, December 23, 2013

REMOVE THESE COMMON
LANGUAGE PROBLEMS


Do not let your language flow become stilted, awkward or too formal :
Read your work aloud—mark changes as you go and revise where necessary--then read it aloud again. Be certain your sentences and dialogue sound real—not exactly as we speak—our real conversation is full of oddities—stops and starts—and boring. Write your dialogue as you would like speech to sound. Your reader will decide to like or dislike your characters through reading their words and thoughts. Your character’s words will evoke emotion in your reader and through emotion, hold his/her attention.
Dialogue is the only tool you have to create emotional pull on the reader so he or she will “feel with” your characters and want to keep reading. Dialogue establishes your story’s mood. Properly selected, the words you put in a character’s mouth will intensify the story’s conflict, explain action and create tension and suspense.
Dialogue speeds up your scenes. When carefully constructed and effective, a character’s words move the story forward rapidly. Your main characters’ words to other characters can and will add bits of setting and background—create foreshadowing. They will communicate the theme of your work.


Avoid passive constructions:
Constantly ask yourself if your subject is acted upon rather than acting. Use of the passive tense is a form of telling rather than showing. The hard part is—we often speak in the passive—its use is ingrained in our thoughts—but it is a habit a writer must break. Telling rather than showing your reader what happens deadens your story. Set your word processing program to warn you of passive sentences during spell and grammar check. Note that the use of the passive is often revealed when a writer uses the word “by” in the sentence.


Your words must create a series of pictures for your reader: 

The magic lies in using concrete nouns and action verbs—then presenting them in simple sentences. It’s as straightforward as this—if you refer to a tree always make it an oak tree, a willow tree or a sycamore tree. Your tree could be “the crooked old maple tree that leans out over the James River at Hutchinson’s Point.” 
Do not write “tree” alone without adding a descriptive name until you have rooted in your reader’s thoughts an image of YOUR tree. If you simply write tree or river or road and neglect to add a name or exact descriptor, your reader will see only his or her image of a similar object, not yours, and will be shut out of important parts of your story.


Search for and remove as many instances of the verb form “was going” or “were thinking” as possible:
These are verb forms we regularly use in conversation, but they will dull your writing. Set your word processing program to search and methodically check for them. Try your best to rewrite your sentence to replace each one with an action verb.

“He was seeing, he was doing, they were singing, I have been reading,” and the word “had,” will creep into your writing no matter how hard you try to avoid these words—and to many of these constructions are deadly. They take the punch out of your sentences and make them sound flat.
Search out these verb-forms and find a way to say such things as he spotted, he ran, they sang, I read, in their place. It probably is impossible to remove every instance of these forms, but remove as many as you can.
This change alone will make your words and sentences seem more immediate—more active. Your reader, without even knowing, will read the simple past as happening at that moment. It will “show” the action and make your story or paper come alive.


Replace the verb “to be” with active verbs as often as possible:
The verb “to be” is a workhorse in our speech, but becomes no more than filler in the written word. Its use weakens your sentences and dialogue--it saps meaning and takes color and texture from your sentences.
Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, had, have—these forms of the verb “to be” occur in every work and cannot be eliminated, but you must deliberately minimize them.
Read the work of one of your favorite modern authors. Take note of how the writer artfully finds ways to avoid using the verb “to be” as often as possible.
When revising, read your sentences carefully and when you find an instance where you used the verb to be, try to insert an active verb, a verb offering the reader a picture of your characters taking some action.


FOR EXAMPLE:
“I was singing alto when I should have been singing mezzo,” reads with more force and movement when written “I mistakenly sang alto rather than mezzo,” and it takes fewer words.


Watch for and change any SINGSONG sentences:
You may find whole paragraphs where your sentences use the same word order—the same subject and so forth. There may be times when you use nearly the same sentence length—over and over—enough of that will put your reader to sleep. Strive for variety in sentence form and length. Singsong constructions and consistently uniform sentence length will soon cause your reader doze—to lose the thread of your story or essay—and eventually stop reading.

Avoid extremes in sentence construction. 
Most modern writers do not use one-word sentences, no matter what form they are writing. Any sentence running over two or three complete lines across the page however is probably too long. Your work will read much more comfortably and your meanings will be clear if you break most extra long sentences into one long and one short.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Develop your characters personalities and values:
Use action and dialogue to help a reader get to know your characters. SHOW your characters taking appropriate action—reveal their thoughts.
If the character is evil, show him or her committing an evil act, do not simply tell your reader about it—make it happen in front of his or her eyes. If you want a character to be admired, let your reader see your character taking an admirable action.
Again, every reader comes to your story with an image or stereotype of the characters you write about. It is up to you to give enough description of each character’s uniqueness to modify your reader’s stereotype or image so your characters can seem new and real and their lives worth reading about.
Keep physical description of your characters sketchy, but make sure to give your reader enough to picture them clearly, even your minor characters.
It is not necessary to fully describe your characters physical attributes. Use oblique references to their height and hair color. Possibly offer a comment about the way the character’s clothing fits or how the color matches her eyes.
Notwithstanding a sketchy description, reviewers and other readers often describe my heroes as “handsome.” One can only assume they fill in my scanty written description with their own preferences.


Include everything you need to make the conclusion of your story work:
If your character is going to need a handgun, a knife, a computer or a newspaper to get out of a pivotal scene in your story—make certain he or she owns the object or acquires it early in your story.
Your reader will laugh at you, or perhaps throw your book away if, in the middle of a big scene, your heroine suddenly finds – leaning handily against a nearby fence post – the bicycle she desperately needs to escape the villain.


Do not make a big deal of an inanimate object or a character trait if that object or character trait is not going to be necessary to your story later: 
This rule is simple—deliver what you promise your reader. If you describe your character’s horse or dog as a killer—the animal must kill or try to kill someone before the end of the story.
If you describe one of your characters, perhaps your villain’s lawyer or girl friend, as having shifty eyes, you have planted the idea of that character’s shiftiness in your reader’s thoughts. You must have this character do something your reader understands as shifty before the end of the story or he or she will feel disappointed, or worse, cheated.


Never promise your reader something is going to happen in the story and then forget it. YOUR READER WILL NOT FORGET:
Whatever you foreshadow must eventually materialize in your story. Readers always notice and always remember. It is necessary to do one complete revision of your completed work to look for proper placement of foreshadowing and motivation for your character’s actions. I recommend you write any passage that contains foreshadowing in a special notebook to guide your last revisions. If you can wait until your second or third revision to add foreshadowing, it is easier to keep track.


Give your characters an obvious reason for everything they do:
Do not have your character’s take an action surprising your reader so much she or he will see that action as unreasonable or unbelievable. Build up to things gradually. Always include adequate motivation for each action. This motivation should almost always come before the action.
If your heroine is going to fight off a big, husky mugger or two in one of your scenes, give your reader some hint of what is in store early in your story. Find a way to show your reader this character is strong and athletic and possibly trained in martial arts long before she is called upon to demonstrate her ability.
Do not wait until the last convenient minute to explain things. Make certain your reader expects or at least suspects a character’s capability long before the scene that includes the incident.


Develop your story as a series of increasingly serious conflicts:
One way to emphasize conflict, the life-blood of any story, is to get your hero down and kick or stomp her or him increasingly harder. This conflict is not literal in every case, of course. If the central conflict of your story is psychological, the smaller conflicts, making up your scenes will be psychological, as will the resolution of the final conflict.
Make sure your hero/heroine and the villain appear at least equally strong to your reader. Notice that in many stories, the villain appears much stronger than the hero/heroine. This device works well as readers love to root for the underdog.
In order to make your reader care enough about what happens to keep reading—to keep turning pages—your hero or heroine must be required to employ extraordinary, almost super human effort to finally prevail.
Carefully craft each step in your story’s conflict so that each small and large scene carries the story forward to its final resolution. Remember—big, critical scenes that push your story forward as if on wings – must always include your important characters.


Always give your hero/heroine the opportunity to confront the villain:
This confrontation is the reader’s “payoff” for staying with you through sixty to one hundred thousand or more words. Do not cheat her out of the true ending of the basic conflict of your story.


Let nothing in your story happen at random:
Carefully think through a conscious reason for everything you include in your story. Think more than once about everything you write—from naming your characters to the way they treat their horses, dogs, house, cars or clothes. Each of these things reveal character.
Consider carefully what sort of law your character might practice—the specific kind exactly fitting your story and your character. Be deliberate about choosing the color of a character’s dresses, suits or shirts. Remember that your characters’ choice of friends and enemies can make or break your story.
Take care that the details you employ fit your characters’ personas. Cars, clothes, and pets chosen—the way a house is decorated—cleaned or not cleaned is important. Consider if your character’s home should be cluttered with family pictures and interesting books or austere and cold with no revealing personal items in view. Every detail of your character’s life reveals something about his or her personality and motivation.


Craft a climax:
Present a carefully crafted final conflict for your story. Always let your hero or heroine and the villain come face to face in the final conflict. Your reader will feel cheated if critical action happens “off-stage.”
Be certain your reader fully understands what is at stake in your story from the beginning scene to the end. Keep reminding the reader through the thoughts of one of the characters if necessary. The reader must understand that if your final conflict is lost, everything gained throughout your story will also be lost.
Whatever resolution you craft for the final conflict in your story, be careful to plan it to use only the abilities of the characters your reader has come to know. A mild-mannered, cooperative gentleman might lose control and beat someone to death or steal the crown jewels in the end, but your story must offer your reader some warning, however subtle, that this about-face could happen. Such an ending cannot be a complete surprise.
Yes, a somewhat surprising ending can be satisfying for the reader—it often is. However, changing your characters’ personalities or endowing them with new abilities to contrive the ending is not the way to make it happen. Your reader will feel cheated and probably not read your next book.


Do not introduce something new just to help with the resolution of the final conflict:
Romance novels published early in the twentieth century often included a surprise climactic event acting to solve all the main characters’ problems. This event usually made it possible for the hero and heroine to “live happily ever after.” Writers and readers now refer to such endings as a “freight train coming through the story” to contrive the wanted ending. Solve your final conflict with the character’s abilities and personalities your reader has come to know and accept.


Friday, November 15, 2013


Foreshadow your ending throughout your story:
Be careful not to completely surprise your reader with drastic, unheralded, unexplained twists and turns in your story. Most readers expect and enjoy plot twists but they must not be overly drastic.

Few serious readers want to know the end of your story too soon, but most like to be able to guess at a possible ending. Readers enjoy trying to figure out your plot as they read. It gives most of them great satisfaction when they can decide your ending is close to the one they expected.


Caution:
If your hero or heroine turns into the villain at the end of your story be sure to give the reader a few subtle hints in the beginning and scatter increasing obvious ones throughout your story. Make the change in the character’s role seem inevitable and therefore acceptable to your reader.


Telling your story in scenes:
Each scene you write must contain a clear PURPOSE, an episode of CONFLICT, and a final RESOLUTION. The resolution must offer a connection to the next scene.

Think of each scene as a step on a staircase—another step advancing your characters and your reader forward to the resolution of the central conflict of your story.

It might also help you to think of each scene as a short play—making certain each play has a beginning, middle and an ending. Take care to construct an ending that includes a clear connection to the next scene.

Re-read your work carefully; assuring yourself as you read that every scene you create is critical to your story in some way. A scene may do no more than move your characters from place to place, but make certain the movement is necessary to the story. If a scene is unnecessary—if your reader ever decides your words are only filler—you may lose your reader.


Develop your characters personalities and values:
Use action and dialogue to help a reader get to know your characters. SHOW your characters taking appropriate action—reveal their thoughts.

If the character is evil, show him or her committing an evil act, do not simply tell your reader about it—make it happen in front of his or her eyes. If you want a character to be admired, let your reader see your character taking an admirable action.

Again, every reader comes to your story with an image or stereotype of the characters you write about. It is up to you to give enough description of each character’s uniqueness to modify your reader’s stereotype or image so your characters can seem new and real and their lives worth reading about.

Keep physical description of your characters sketchy, but make sure to give your reader enough to picture them clearly, even your minor characters.

It is not necessary to fully describe your characters physical attributes. Use oblique references to their height and hair color. Possibly offer a comment about the way the character’s clothing fits or how the color matches her eyes.

Notwithstanding a sketchy description, reviewers and other readers often describe my heroes as “handsome.” One can only assume they fill in my scanty written description with their own preferences.


Include everything you need to make the conclusion of your story work:
If your character is going to need a handgun, a knife, a computer or a newspaper to get out of a pivotal scene in your story—make certain he or she owns the object or acquires it early in your story.

Your reader will laugh at you, or perhaps throw your book away if, in the middle of a big scene, your heroine suddenly finds – leaning handily against a nearby fence post – the bicycle she desperately needs to escape the villain.


Do not make a big deal of an inanimate object or a character trait if that object or character trait is not going to be necessary to your story later: 

This rule is simple—deliver what you promise your reader. If you describe your character’s horse or dog as a killer—the animal must kill or try to kill someone before the end of the story.

If you describe one of your characters, perhaps your villain’s lawyer or girl friend, as having shifty eyes, you have planted the idea of that character’s shiftiness in your reader’s thoughts. You must have this character do something your reader understands as shifty before the end of the story or he or she will feel disappointed, or worse, cheated.

Never promise your reader something is going to happen in the story and then forget it. 
YOUR READER WILL NOT FORGET:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Time Place and protecting the truth in your story


Establish place and time:

Always remember your partnership with your reader—he or she will bring a personal image of people, places and things to your story. It is your job as writer to offer enough specific information about your characters, your houses, rooms, cities or places to make them individual.
You must include enough detail to change or modify your reader’s images to suit the “place and people” you see in your story. Specific details will make it possible for your reader to visualize your images as you do—and give him or her the information necessary to understand and enjoy your story.


Research:
Discover the mundane objects and duties of life as they pertain to your story. Use precise details to reveal your physical setting.

Ranchers live out on the prairie or in a valley near water. Your characters might live in a log cabin, a soddy or a big ranch house. They could raise Texas cattle and Spanish horses, but keep a pack of Irish Wolfhounds where your reader might expect them to keep Beagles.
In a modern story place your characters in a high rise apartment or a suburban ranch house with patio, pool and a large dog.

Keep in mind that certain natural markers clearly reveal a setting. For instance, if you mention an alligator, your reader will immediately see the American south, probably Florida or the bayous of Louisiana.
If you mention a Joshua tree or a sere and forbidding plain or trackless dunes, you will transport your reader to the American southwest, the Gobi or the Saharan desert as needed without writing a lot of detailed description.

Modern lawyers often live in big cities; drive expensive Mercedes and visit upscale bars--some of them fly airplanes. Some are women. These characters are all individuals and small physical details set each of them apart and give them the illusion of reality.

If your story is set in a modern or historical time, do the necessary research to make your setting become real to your reader. A good way to accomplish this is to find out and show your reader through action, what sort of food your characters ate and what sort of clothes they wore. It also helps if you can find and use some of their more interesting turns of speech.

If yours is a historical or modern story, use a detailed map of the locale. You will find it necessary to use a good map of your own hometown, no matter how well you think you know it.
Think hard—you may know the names of all the streets in your downtown, but do you know the order in which they appear on the map going from east to west or north to south? Exactly how many blocks is the park from Main Street?

Your research will tell you if cedars, magnolias, sugar maples or cottonwood trees should surround your characters’ houses. Do the necessary research to find the name and description of the sort of grass that grew there in the years of your story.

Remember that alien trees, grass and flowers thrive all over the world today, particularly in North America. Most of them would not fit in a story set in the nineteenth or early twentieth century when one found mostly native species.

Be careful with the weather in your story as well. Check carefully, you could easily make a mistake. Seasons change differently as you move north and south. It can snow as late as May in the high mountains of the American Northwest. It is often hot in southern Georgia in December.

In a modern story, your characters may live in a high-rise apartment or a sprawling three-story brick house with white columns. In other years they might live in a log cabin or even a teepee. Specific and well-researched details of everyday life make it possible for your reader to accept your story as real.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Basic building blocks of a successful story:




Open your story by making something happen fast, and then keep something happening throughout. 
Action—the guiding force of any story—is not only physical movement of some kind, it is often change and development in your character’s thoughts or emotions.
Give your reader something interesting and difficult to think about immediately—on the first page if possible. Introduce him or her to a character involved in sustained action and you will pique and keep his or her interest as your story unfolds.


You must quickly introduce and develop characters your readers can care about:
Your reader seeks sympathetic and or interesting characters—characters that will serve as a doorway to your story. These characters will become your reader’s guide and serve as his or her window into your story as events develop.


Keep your main character or characters in some sort of peril throughout your story:
Your job, whether a writer of fiction or non-fiction, is to bring your characters and your readers from a state of complete ignorance to a state of full understanding of all aspects of your story.
A writer makes a contract with a reader to guide his or her characters to a resolution of the conflicts put in their way. This must be done in a manner your reader will accept as reasonable.
Imagine as you write that your reader is looking over your shoulder. Imagine that you, the writer, and your reader are active partners in creating your story.

Show your characters in action:
Introduce your characters by showing them under appropriate stress. For example, through action or dialogue, reveal the good guy and the bad guy (or girl). Your reader wants to know whose side to be on, and wants to know it right away.

Show your reader what is at stake in your story:
All readers, and especially your editor or agent, want to understand the central conflict of your story even before they start reading. Place this one or two sentence summation of what is at stake in your story as early as possible.
Study the blurbs on the back and inside flaps of book jackets. They are carefully constructed to assure an interested reader understands what the hero or heroine may gain or lose at the end of the story.

FOR EXAMPLE:
“A grand tale of intrigue, deception, true love and exile.” This is the Denver Post blurb on Wilbur Smith’s novel Monsoon.

Every scene—everything in your story must reinforce the reader’s understanding of your story’s central conflict. Every scene—every small conflict and its resolution, must be a step in resolving the central conflict.
Not only must every scene you write move your story toward resolution of the central conflict, every big important scene must include your main characters.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Your editor or agent probably has a list of problems to watch for as they read your work----

One, two or even five of the listed problems or errors may not make him or her reject your manuscript if it is otherwise readable because each professional reader, editor or agent is seeking an interesting, well-written, salable manuscript. Each professional reader has in his or her head a certain number of errors and omissions considered a personal limit. The number varies, but if this personal “stop” is reached, it will cause rejection of your manuscript.

As you work through your fourth, fifth or sixth revision—imagine your agent or editor sitting at a desk with this checklist and a pencil, reading your pages. You can stay under that reader’s particular error limit, whatever it may be, by eliminating as many of the problems addressed in this book as possible during the writing process. When you finish writing you can double-check to eliminate more during each revision.

Most writers find that when they revise their work the third or fourth time, they are so sick of looking at it they begin to skip—to hurry through. When that happens, put your work away for a week if possible before attempting to work on it again. It also helps to edit by reading each paragraph starting at the end of the work.

Another way to revise is to change the form of your work—make the words look different on the page. If you are revising on screen, single-space or print each chapter out. If you are working with a printed version, triple-space or single-space for the next print for revision.

Keep Writing
Anne

From Writer to Author
www.amazon.com/author/ahholt

Friday, March 8, 2013

From Writer to Author by Anne Haw Holt

I published From Writer to Author on Kindle the last week of February. This is my first try with an e-book and I was astonished at how easy it is. I plan to publish this book in paper through Amazon in June. My fiction was published by Avalon in hardcover. Amazon purchased all five of my books in 2012 and is gradually publishing them in paper and on Kindle. 

From Writer to Author is an expanded version of the handout titled "Clean Up Your Writing" I give people who attend classes I call "Prepare Your book for Publication."  I do these classes in libraries and for small writing groups where I can give writers some individual attention. From Writer to Author is a handbook--something  to refer to regularly as a writer trains to prepare a clean manuscript. 

I don't know everything about writing or editing. I learn something new constantly, but my work gets better. Sometimes I think it could improve a little faster, but it does improve. Writers have to work at polishing their work until it becomes automatic to produce a clean manuscript.

Editing is the worst thing about the new "publishing revolution" not only do individuals publish books without  editing but even mainline publishers have cut their editing staff to the bone. We used to get some real support from our publisher, but that seems to be gone. 

Getting every error out of sixty thousand to more than one hundred thousand words is not easy, but we writers are going to have to learn to do it ourselves unless we have money to hire a professional editor. Most of us do not have $2.00 or more per page to hire someone to polish our work. It falls to us to learn how to do it. 

Anne Haw Holt
From Writer To Author
http://www.ahholt.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ahholt