Friday, August 22, 2014

Writing: Is My Project Done? (guest post by DiAnn Mills)

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by my friend and fellow author, DiAnn Mills. DiAnn currently has more than sixty books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers Choice, and Carol award contests. In addition to her other activities, DiAnn is also a craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Today, she presents a great checklist authors should review before submitting their manuscript.

        Gasp! Today I must send my manuscript to the editor. It’s ready . . . I think. Doubts drive us crazy
Oh, for a few more days to go over the rough spots. But I’ve edited until my changes are simply changes and not adding to the story.
Another reader’s opinion would ease my ragged nerves. 
Maybe I should have paid for a professional edit.
I need to reach deep for courage and hit “send,” but I’m not sure if it’s polished.
How can a writer be assured a project is really, really done?
From my nonfiction book, The Dance of Character and Plot, I’d like to give you a few tips on how to be confident in your submitted manuscript. 

Document facts.

Active Voice
Strive to make sentences active.
Remember “as” and “ing” words tend to make a sentence passive.
Often the word “as” indicates a sentence is not in chronological order.

Avoid Clich├ęs
A successful writer creates his/her own metaphors and similes.

Does the writing project begin with a strong hook that raises a question or 
a curiosity?

Chapter Hooks
End passages/scenes with a strong hook.

Hero, heroine or protagonist
What is it about the hero or heroine that you like?2
What is it about the hero or heroine that you dislike?
Is there a positive and negative trait that is not yours?
If you chose to spend a vacation with the hero or heroine, what would appeal to you?
Villain or antagonist
Is the character truly evil or badly behaved?
What is the one trait that gives the character redeeming quality?
                Sol Stein states that no villain can attract victims unless he has charm, charisma, position,   or wealth.

Use a calendar to keep track of story chapters. 

Conflict and Tension
Keep conflict and tension foremost in your mind.
Numbers - written or spelled.

Cut Extra Words
Be clear and concise.
Never use two words when one will do.

Clear and tight.
Punctuated correctly.
Is a tag needed?
Is a beat needed?

Emotional Conflict
Is there emotional conflict in every paragraph? Every line?

Is the project written with a clear genre in mind?
Invest in a grammar guide or English book.

Do you have passion for the writing project?
Have you grown and changed into a better person during the writing process?

Are the four crucial plot questions answered in every scene?
1. What is the POV character’s goal?
2. What does the POV character learn that he/she didn’t know before?
3. What backstory is revealed?
       4. How are the stakes raised
         Is the plot tight?

Is the writing project true to its premise? 

Pronoun Preference
Make sure the reader knows which noun the pronoun stands for.

Avoid repeated phrases.

Keep an works cited list.
Always research more than is needed.

Rate every scene. 
Each scene should propel the story or subject matter forward, constantly building conflict and tension.
Make sure the first and last lines in each scene are strong.
Smooth transitions.

Sensory Perception
Does each scene use all the senses?
In a nonfiction book, sensory perception helps communicate the subject matter.

Sentence Order
Count the symbols with single syllable words first: beans, cabbage, and tomatoes instead of huckleberries, pear, and a banana.
Count the number of words. He enjoyed green beans, deep fried onion rings, and buttered corn-on-the cob.
If all the items have the same number of syllables, then consider their position in the alphabet.
Exception to this is chronological order, obvious sequence, familiar sequence, and unintended modifiers.

Sometimes the way we are accustomed to hearing items in a list contradicts the above guidelines. If the items in your list do not sound appropriate, change the order so the list is acceptable.
Tea with lunch, dinner, and breakfast is written as tea with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 
Cream and peaches become peaches and cream. 
The bees and the birds (alphabetical sequence) become the birds and the bees. 
Gold, myrrh, and frankincense are written as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
For fiction: view the setting as antagonistic to add conflict and tension.

Does the nonfiction topic have different aspects or features?

Does each chapter or scene flow into the next?

Vary Sentence Length
Do the sentences have rhythm?

Word Choice
William Shakespeare said: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” 

Unintended Modifiers
Make sure all modifiers modify the appropriate word.

Writer Termites:
Beginning sentences with “There” or “It.”
Conduct a global search of the manuscript for:
… ly with a space after it
…ly with a period after it

When we develop our fiction writing skills, we have a manuscript we’re proud to submit! How about you? Leave a comment below to be entered into a random drawing for a personalized copy of Firewall.

Thanks, DiAnn. I hope all my blog readers will enter a comment along with their email address (like this: Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com) for a chance to win that signed copy of your latest book. I'll announce the winners in a week.

You can follow DiAnn on Facebook and Twitter, as well as learning more on her website.

Writers, is your manuscript ready to submit? Helpful tips from @DiAnnMills. (Click here to tweet).

Authors, an invaluable check-list to tell if your manuscript is ready, from @DiAnnMills. (Click here to tweet).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If A Tree Falls In The Forest...

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one present to hear it, does it really make a sound? I'll leave you to wrestle with that problem in metaphysics. I have a different question for you. If a person reads scenes from a book, does it conjure up images in his/her mind?

When I was growing up, books were fantastic portals to take us places we could only imagine. I think Treasure Island was one of the first to act as a magic carpet for me, transporting me to a land populated by pirates and plunder.

We had no television until I was in my early teens. (Yes, you read it correctly. I'm older than dirt, and my childhood took place when the earth's crust was still cooling). I remember our radio bringing me programs like Let's Pretend and Captain Midnight. I listened, along with my parents (when they weren't busy) to shows like I Love A Mystery and Grand Central Station.

The point I'm making is that I supplied my own images, either when reading or listening to radio. Now TV, movies, and even video games supply the visuals for us. So, what do you think? Is that good or bad? Is the current generation bereft of imagination because it's all done for them? I'd love for you to chime in with comments.

(picture via

Tweet about this post: Have TV and video games robbed us of our ability to visualize images from books and radio? (click this link to tweet).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Writing: Three Magic Phrases

I'm posting my thoughts today on the blog of the American Christian Fiction Writers, talking about "Three Magic Phrases For Writers."

Early in my road to writing, author and teacher Alton Gansky taught me to ask a magic question: “What if?” One of his books began when he noted the presence of a military installation in a deserted location and asked himself, “What if that base suddenly disappeared?” The result was an excellent book. And it began with one question: What if?

To see the rest of this post, click this link. And hurry back next week. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Falling Short

The route of my daily walk takes me by the green of a nearby golf course. When I see golfers about to hit their second shot, one where they usually aim for the green, I stop to watch. In a purely unscientific survey, I've discovered that the majority of these golfers leave the ball short. They overestimated their capability.

Maybe they should have taken one club more. Perhaps they should have chosen a safe route and aimed short of the green, trusting that their next shot would be close to the pin. I don't know why it happened. But it did.

This isn't the lead-in for a sermon. It's not a parable, nor even a metaphor. It's just an observation. I'll leave it to you to take it further. Why do you think this happens? Does the story prove a point? Or is it just a random observation? What do you say?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Writing: The More Things Change...

Anyone familiar with the publishing industry knows that there is an increasing tendency for writers, even those who have been published previously by traditional publishers, to self-publish via the e-book route. Some have even added print-on-demand as additional arrows to their quivers. And a new class of writer, the "hybrid," has sprung up. Unfortunately, with all this, there has been continuing acrimony between those with both feet firmly in either camp, and even the hybrids are often urged to take sides.

Two confessions here, in the interest of full disclosure: First, I'm working under a contract from a traditional publisher. When it has run its course, I will have had ten novels of medical suspense plus a non-fiction book on the loss of a spouse published. Second, I have no objection in principle to self-publication, although frankly it isn't my choice, given my current circumstances.

Having said that, let me share with you some words from the extremely talented writer, the late John D. MacDonald. This is from a re-publication of his novel, Slam The Big Door, and  the copyright of the introduction from which this is taken is 1960. "There is a general feeling that publication in hardcover is necessary if a book is to have any cachet of importance. It is the class act, mollifying the snob in every writer. I do not really know why this should be so." Change "hardcover" to "published by a traditional publishing house," and this is as fresh as tomorrow's newspaper.

I'll let you make your own decision about this difference of opinion that exists. Instead, I'll leave you with another quotation from MacDonald: "I have always believed that the package does not make that much difference. The idea should be to get the work out to where people can buy it. If it is published on Kleenex or forty pound rag bond is not as important as its accessibility."

Now, I'm anxious to hear your comments.