Friday, February 05, 2016

Writing: Rules? Why Do We Need Rules?

Last weekend I was privileged to talk with a group of writers who are at various stages on their writing journey. My topic at the Weekend With The Writers was taken from a scene from the movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre--the one where Humphrey Bogart asks the "Federales" for their badges, and is told "We ain't got no badges. I don't have to show you no stinkin' badges." Of course, we know differently.

And in the same way that police are marked by their badges, writers are ultimately marked by their knowledge of the "rules" of writing. Notice that I said knowledge, not observance. But if we're to ignore the rules, we should know what they are and why they're there. So let me list a few of the more common ones.

-Keep point of view constant; don't "head-hop."
-Use the active voice, not the passive one, wherever possible.
-Don't depend on Deus ex Machina ("God from the machine") to get your hero/heroine out of trouble.
-Make dialogue natural (for the character, the situation, and the story),

One of my favorites is avoidance of the misplaced modifier. Regular readers of this blog know I like the writing of the late Robert B. Parker. He had a PhD in English. He was published by a well-respected publisher. Yet every once in a while he wrote something like this:

"(They provided us with) a liaison executive, a slightly overweight currently blond woman in a dark blue suit named Edith." If you don't see the problem there, look again. Then consider how you'd fix it.

If you'd like me to discuss any of these rules, let me know in the comments. And tell me your most favorite or least favorite writing rule, and why you say that.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Rites Of Spring

As I've said not long ago on my Facebook page, since the Cowboys are out of the hunt for the Super Bowl, the Mavericks and Stars seem to be teetering on the cusp of making it to their respective playoffs, and I'm not a soccer fan (except when a granddaughter is playing), I'm anxiously awaiting those wonderful words, "Pitcher and catchers report."

Baseball will be starting up soon, and until they play the first few games that count (and pre-season games certainly don't--players running in the outfield after they've played a few innings, then heading for the golf course)--until the season actually starts, every team has a chance. It's a 162 game season, and the faithful can hang in there until it's obvious their team isn't in contention. I'm not sure how long that will be for this team, but in the meantime, go Rangers.

What are you looking forward to this spring? I'd like to know.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing: Errors In A Book

Manuscripts sent to an editor are supposed to be as ready for publication as a writer can make them. But after that, they go through several edits: macro edit, line edit, galleys. When I get a galley proof to work on, the letter generally says that a copy editor is also checking the material for misspellings and other errors. But, despite this, spelling errors can get through. And I've finally decided that, since humans are involved, that's always going to be the case.

When I first started writing, I figured that a published book was as perfect as it could be. And that's the standard I tried to achieve with my manuscripts. But lately I've noticed typos and other errors creeping into some of the books I read. Here's an example. The late Robert B. Parker had a PhD in English. He had more than fifty novels to his credit. His novels were published by a well-known international publishing house.  Surely these books would be free of errors. And yet, in the one I'm currently re-reading, I encountered the name of a character misspelled as "Brain," rather than "Brian." It happens.

Should a reader notify an author when they find a misspelled word or other error in a book? Yes and no. They can let the author know, and he or she will undoubtedly forward the email or letter on to the editor involved. But a large publisher isn't going to do another print run just because of one such error. True, they'll probably correct it if the book goes to another printing, but that may or may not happen.

The book reviews you see are based on ARCs--Advance Reading Copies. These are unedited versions, but reviewers and endorsers are used to that, and make allowances. The final published form you pay for should be as perfect as the publisher can get it...but errors happen. My advice? Enjoy the book, let a responsible party know if there's an egregious error, but realize that nobody's perfect. Or, as someone once said, "Misteaks hapen!"

Have you found any errors in your favorite books? I'd like to know. Leave a comment and tell us.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"For Free, Take..."

Most of you won't recognize the name Duke Kahanamoku, even by his full name of Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku. He won swimming medals in three Olympics and was a world class surfer. But what I remember most is a quotation attributed to him by Arthur Godfrey (another name from the past for most of you): "For free, take. For buy, waste time."

Why has this come up? Because yesterday I saw a tweet that a fellow author was doing a giveaway in conjunction with her latest book. I, like most other authors, engage in various giveaways when I'm trying to help promote my work, but this most recent instance made me wonder, "Why do authors have to give some of our books away?"

Another colleague, whose husband is an excellent commercial artist, says he was asked to provide artwork for an activity at no charge. Could this be considered promotion? No, he was asked not to sign his work. In other words, he was asked for his product free of charge.

We've all done a little of this. I ask my golf partner legal questions. He asks me medical ones. But I don't say to the dry cleaner, "I've been coming here for a couple of years. How about cleaning and pressing this suit free of charge?" And see how far you get when you ask the grocery check-out clerk when they're going to announce the winner of $25 worth of groceries.

It's sort of an idle question, I guess, and nothing is going to change it, but I'd like your opinion. Do authors--whether of Christian books or secular ones--need to engage in giveaways to promote their work? Does it really work? Why or why not? I'd really like to know.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Writing: Interview with author Christa Allan

Today at the Suspense Sisters blog, I'm interviewing friend and author Christa Allan. Here's her answer to the story behind one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've seen, the prologue to her first novel, Walking On Broken Glass:

The story behind the novel?  I’ve been a recovering alcoholic for almost thirty years now, and have stayed sober by the grace of God.  When I discovered Christian fiction, I couldn’t find stories I could relate to in terms of my life experiences. So many of them seemed sanitized. I wanted to write, not only about what happens when the road to sobriety is under construction, but challenges Christians face. My character, Leah, is confronted by her BFF Molly, who tells her she’s drinking too much. Molly’s willingness to risk their friendship to tell Leah what she needed to hear was also something I wanted readers to know. So many times, we see friends struggling, and we’re afraid to speak out and tell them the truth. If my friend had not summoned the courage to talk to me about my drinking, I’m not sure when or if I would have taken the steps to treatment. 

To read the full interview, click here. Christa is offering a copy of her most recent novella to one blog reader, so be sure to leave a comment. And come back next week.