Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Published Means Perfect, Right?: Dialogue Failure

Recently while reading one of Lillian Jackson Braun's great books, The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, I stumbled upon an error that I believe can be a very instructive example. Read this short piece of dialogue between the two characters and see if you recognize the the odd error.

"Jody thinks it would help if I grew a beard." [Junior]
"Not a bad idea! Your girl comes up with some good ones." [Qwilleran]
"My grandmother says I'd look like one of the Seven Dwarfs."
"Your grandmother sounds like a sweet person, Junior."
"Grandma Gage is a character! My mother's mother, you know. You must have seen her around town. She drives a Mercedes and honks the horn at every intersection."

I am not talking about the the use of two exclamation points, though that is somewhat of a problem.

I am talking about the line where Qwilleran says, "Your grandmother sounds like a sweet person, Junior." That makes no sense in the context of what Junior said. It also does not logically lead to the next line where Junior says his grandmother is a character.
Qwilleran should've said that the grandmother sounds like an interesting, funny or astute person, but sweet does not fit here.

I know the error is small, but it distracts. It distracted me enough that I stopped reading and re-parsed the sentence.

Authors who've published 20 novels can afford errors like these, but those of us who are looking to get published cannot. Yes, that's how closely we have to edit our stuff.
It's crazy, but it's the writer's life.
What do you think about it?

~Newton Saber

Sunday, May 1, 2011

10 Steps To Becoming a Published Author - Pt. 2 (last 5 steps)

6. Submit to editors and agents. Feel the rejection. Own it. Seth Godin, author of my favorite book of the year, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, was rejected over 800 times in one year for a number of books. Can you imagine that level of rejection? He knew the truth; eventually someone is bound to like it and publish it. In the mean time he learned a ton.
Are you willing to be rejected in order to learn?

7. Read 3 Pages of 20 Books
Now that you've felt the rejection and you believe all agents and editors are idiots, go to the library and pick up 20 random books -- yes, even best-sellers -- and read the first 3 pages of those books. Sound boring. Sound time consuming? Well, just wait til you start reading. It'll be even worse. Now, multiply that horror by 1,000 and you'll see why editors and agents are so jaded. How does this help? Go back and examine your writing. Imagine truly reading the first page for the first time. Is it brilliant? Why not? And, if it isn't, why would any jaded editor or agent want to read your book?

7. Self Publish Your Book
Now that you understand that it is going to be more than difficult to get any editor's or agent's attention, you need to self publish your book. Why? So you can put it in the hands of every person you meet. If you think your book is so great, you are surely willing to expend the cost (time and money) to do this, right?
If you don't believe it is worth the time and money, why would you think anyone else would be convinced of that truth? Are excuses already beginning to form in your mind?
How do I get it printed? How much will that cost? How do I create a cover?
Come on. This is your baby and you're not even committed? Seriously. Why would any agent or editor be interested?
I am writing a book for you right now, called Publish Your Book, The Lightning Guide.
Why would you self publish? To get your book into the readers' hands who _can_ become raving fans.
You do believe that once they read your book, they'll become raving fans, don't you?

8. Create Review Sheet / Distribute Book- Ask For Brutal Honesty
Create a review sheet for the people who will read your book. Give them your book and a copy of the review sheet.
Get your book into every person's hands. Beg them to read your book and fill out the sheet. Two days later, they have forgotten about your book. Beg them again. Bribe them. Threaten them. Whatever it takes. Get them to read and review your book. I've created a generic review sheet that you can use if you like. (review sheet will be forthcoming).

9. Rewrite Your Book
Now you can be brutally honest with yourself. It really isn't that good. Look at the review sheets. You do have more than two of them, right? Everyone has two (one from mother, and one from spouse) so if you don't have more than two you need to question everything. Your book. Your committment. Your desire. Everything.

Review Sheets
Let's imagine you have 10 review sheets, which is weak but realistic.
What is repeated on the sheets? Focus on that. Question everything in your book. Why didn't they like your main character? What didn't they like about your plot? Did they finish the book? Why not? Did they stop caring about your character? Did your pacing slow?
Consider everything and do a line by line edit to make the changes.

How Long: Are You Crazy?
How long did all of this take? Did it take you 3 years? Well, that is still less time than it takes to get a Bachelor of Arts degree at a state school. If you want to, you could make this happen in a year, even if you had a full-time job. You just need to focus on the plan.

There are three steps to doing anything:
1. Decide what you want.
2. Make a plan
3. Follow the plan (no matter what)

With this plan you have the first two steps.
Will you now take the 3rd and most crucial step? I hope so. I'm going to.

Keep on learning, keep on writing.
~Newton Saber

10 Steps To Becoming a Published Author - Pt. 1 ( first 5 steps)

Notes About This Article and Love
This article is definitely 100% for amateurs. The word amateur comes from the the Latin amare, to love. An amateur writer is one who writes, because she loves it, not because she is being paid. (Thank you Bobby Jones.) These readers will enjoy this article. Even if they are professionals.
The weak of heart or mind, however, who are looking for quick success will not find what they are looking for in this article.

Publish Guarantee?
What if there were exact steps that guaranteed you would become a published author? Would you take them?

What If It Was Difficult?
What if it meant you had to write a 100,000 words or that the process would take 3 years? Your answer to that question may indicate your level of seriousness about your writing.

I cannot guarantee these steps will make you a published author, but if you truly follow all of them, it is very likely you'll be published by the time you complete them all.

Sharpen The Saw
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen Covey) says that you must prepare yourself for success.

Abraham Lincoln said,
"If I had 5 hours to cut down a tree I'd take 2 hours to sharpen the ax."
With that in mind, consider these first two steps:

1. Read Make Your Words Work: Proven Techniques for Effective Writing-For Fiction and Nonfiction, by Gary Provost. This is my number-one all-time favorite writing book. If I know how to write at all, it is because of this book. It touches on everything and explains writing as a whole in such a way that you'll understand what you're really trying to do.

2. Read Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure, by Jack Bickham. This book explains the basics of story-telling so you will understand what a story really is and what a reader wants. This book explains stimulus/response writing. If you understand s/r writing it will dramatically change your fiction writing. You will move from novice to advanced writer. You will finally understand _what_ to show in your story and _how_ to show those story elements and _why_ you would or would not show them.

3. Write your book or story. With all of that in mind, sit down and write your story. Don't look back or even up from the desk before you complete. Don't let anyone read it. It's rough and they don't understand yet. Write. Love the words. Write. Love your story. You do love the story you're writing, don't you?

4. Read The First Five Pages: A Writer'S Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman. This book will help you _honestly_ evaluate your finished work to prepare it for the editor's or agent's eyes. If you can honestly answer all of Lukeman's questions about your story/book, then you are ready for publication.

5. Do a complete edit, with the things you learned from The First Five Pages in mind.

Are you still with me? There is a lot of tough work here, but that's what it takes to be a great writer. Just wait until you see the last five steps. :-)

Keep on learning, keep on writing.
~Newton Saber

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Writing Tools and Processes: Jumpstart Your Writing

In the next few blog entries I will provide an overview of numerous tools and processes you can immediately employ to make your writing better and/or more voluminous.

My Challenge
My challenge is to introduce them to you and spark your interest, without overwhelming you and creating extremely long entries.

More Details
If you find you want more detail, subsequent entries along with my other blogs will describe these processes further and provide concrete examples.

Encouraging Dialogue
I'm hoping that while reading about one or more of the processes you'll become stimulated to respond (either positively or negatively). Please take advantage of my blog to post intelligent responses which detail why you agree or disagree.

Here's the entire list of tools to give you a quick idea of what upcoming entries will cover.
This time I'll cover the first one (in bold red text).

Tool / Process List
movie-screen of the mind
2. stimulus / response writing (action / reaction)
3. what do I show?
4. shadow-copy
5. lose the journal - no more practice writing / warm ups
6. describe to the Nth. It'll draw you in -- specificity practice
7. character studies
8. topic saturation
9. Learn from bits
10. LBD
11. MAR

Step 1 of the Writing Process: Imagine
Do not write anything until you see it happening.
Become a journalist who witnesses the events as they occur. Yes, I'm talking about fiction.

I'm talking about seeing the scene play out upon the movie-screen of your mind. Once you see it, you write down what you see.

How To See
Try this exercise: Take a moment to imagine a fight between two men.

Do you see it? Wait until you do.

At First, It's Just a Phrase
At first, a fight between two men, is just a phrase, just an abstract concept. Readers do not like to read about abstract concepts. Readers want to follow characters. They want to see those characters take action and see what happens.

The Writer Must See More, So the Reader Can See More
However, if the writer doesn't see more, the words will not transform into images for the reader. Allow the words to transform into images in your mind. To do that you'll need to think in detail.

To Think In Detail, Ask Questions
To think in detail, you must ask yourself questions.
Ask and answer every question possible.

Some Possible Questions For Our Scene
What is the one man saying to the other? What do they look like? Is one overcoming the other. Is it a fair match?

Allow the scene to play out before you.

Start Here
Start with seeing the tall man punch the shorter man in the jaw. The tall man says, "I hope you liked that, Keith. Because there's more where that came from."

Beginning to See?
Can you see that? Now, what is the next logical thing to happen?

Decide, imagine, then, and only then, write it.

Stimulus / Response Coming
I hoped to also cover Stimulus / Response during this entry, since it is closely related and the next logical step when writing. However, since this entry is getting so long I'll go over that tomorrow.
See you then.

Keep on learning, keep on writing.
~Newton Saber

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mentoring Yourself : Is It Possible?

But, how does the Writer's Invisible Mentor (WIM) teach you to mentor yourself? Is it possible? Is it possible for this blog to guide you so you can learn not only to write well, but know that you are writing well and recognize when you're writing is not great? Can the WIM then guide you through fixing your writing? Is it possible?
Can you really learn to write from books / blogs?
The answer to all these questions is, yes.

Not only can you learn to write from books, but you must learn to write from books. You must learn to evaluate your own writing as if it is someone else's and then implement the changes that make your writing better. For only you really know what form your writing should take. You cannot depend upon others and you should not. Your writing is your voice, your expression, your art. If it is not that, then you may as well chuck it all now.

How Will This Blog Fulfill the Goal?

WIM Foundations
The Writer's Invisible Mentor is entirely founded upon two main principles:
1. Learn By Doing (LBD)
2. Mind At Rest (MAR)

Let's talk for a moment about Learn By Doing, because that will lead us into an understanding of how important mentorship is to writers.

Learn By Doing (LBD)
To learn to write, you must write.
There are two reasons that statement has become a cliché within writing circles:
1. It's true
2. It's important

However, no matter how true and important the statement may be, if you cannot judge between great writing and terrible writing, then filling the world with your journals will not necessarily make you a great writer.

Balanced Evaluation of Your Work
There has to be a balanced evaluation of your work. Without a balanced evaluation, your writing will not change. If your writing never changes, then you will not grow as a writer. If you do not grow as a writer you'll be relegated to scribbling in notebooks and writing blog entries that are never read. [Maybe I am a blog entry that is never read by anyone. ;-) ]

Must Understand Great Writing
To obtain a balanced evaluation of your writing, you must have two things:
1. healthy self esteem
2. writing tools, which allow you to recognize Great Writing

WIM Axioms
These two axioms come from another WIM belief that we'll touch upon much more in later blog entries. It states:
There are only two writing problems:
1. Emotional problems
2. Technical problems

Viewing Your(self) Work From a Distance
The kind of healthy self esteem I'm talking about here is the ability to view yourself and your work from a distance. You must be able to view it as if someone else wrote it. You must be able to separate the work from who you are. If you are unable to do that, unless you are a literary genius -- and maybe even if you are -- two things are going to happen:
1. You are going to become very bitter.
2. You're writing is going to stagnate

If you fight for every word you write, you are going to turn inward and become bitter. If you become bitter, you are not going to allow your work to change and if you do not change you will not grow and you'll never become a great writer.

Invested Time Often Equals Love
When you spend 15 or 20 hours writing a chapter of your novel or a scene from your short story, you are going to become attached to your work.
I know, because I've done it too.

Determine right now that just because you've spent a lot of time writing the chapter or story you will not allow yourself to become so attached to it that you will not change it, unless... Unless you truly determine that it is Great Writing.

But, what is Great Writing? Is it even possible to define great writing?

WIM Defines Great Writing
The WIM defines Great Writing with two simple statements:
1. Clear writing
2. Writing that works for the situation -- Please see Gary Provost's book, Make Your Words Work.

Clear Writing
Clear writing is easy to define. Clear writing is writing that your readers understand. They get your point. The words transform from words on the page, into images in their minds.

Writing That Works
How do we define writing that works? How can you tell if the writing works for the situation? Don't you need a Great Writing Master to tell you what works?

No...and yes. You do not need someone else to tell you when or if your writing is great.

Instead, you need to learn to use some common tools that will allow you to evaulate your own writing, so that you become the Great Writing Master of your own kingdom. You will know when your writing is great and when it is falling short. That's the power of the guidance that the Writer's Invisible Mentor provides. It's empowerment to each writer.

But, since this entry is far too long already, you'll have to join me next time when we'll explore in more detail what those tools are and how you'll learn to use them.

Yes, I know we have only touched upon LBD (Learn By Doing) and we still need to discuss MAR (Mind At Rest). Next time we should finish up with LBD and explain MAR.
See you then.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Reality of a Mentor

The Reality of a Mentor
Let's talk about mentoring for a moment. Take a look at the word, mentor. Such a simple little word. Just six letters long and two syllables. It's like a three-pound bag stuffed with six pounds of gold. The word carries more meaning than its strict definition can hold.

For us dreamers who have always watched the horizon hoping our mentor would appear, the word is more than just letters on paper. It's a visceral reaction. It's the lump in the throat, ready to scream. It's the heart banging on the walls of the chest. You think I'm good enough? You want to be my mentor?

Or, it's a punch in the stomach. Oh, you don't want to be my mentor?
The sad truth; most of us will never obtain a real mentor. Even though the concept is a great one, it can be difficult to pull off. Consider all of the requirements.

Finding a Mentor
First of all, simply finding a mentor isn't going to be easy. How many people do you know who are published authors of novels? Most people probably can't name one published author among their acquaintances.

Time Problem
But, let's just suppose you do know three people who have published novels.
Would any of them have the time to mentor someone? It's very possible that since they are writing their own books, they do not have any extra time to mentor.

Prove Your Talent
However, let us also assume that one of them is very generous and decides she would like to mentor you, if you prove to have some literary talent. How would you go about proving that you have the literary talent she is expecting?

Summary, Chapter, Outline
You could show her your novel summary, chapter outline and one sample chapter.
You do have a novel summary, chapter outline and a sample chapter don't you?
Well, again, let's suppose you do. You have to provide her with some kind of sample so she can get an idea where you are with your writing ability.

Does Genre Matter
However, what if she is a mystery writer and you are a mainstream writer? Could her advice even be worthwhile?

You decide to take a chance and submit your work to her. With all of her other responsibilities, it takes her two weeks to read your sample and analyze it.

She comes back to you with a copy that has so many red marks and notes on it that the original text is barely visible.

She sits down and drinks a cup of coffee as you read her comments.

Your Mentor's Comments
You read comments like:
Slow Beginning, cut shorter. Switched POV. Write scene with one viewpoint character. Poor characterization. Show, don't tell. Too much narrative. Dialogue doesn't move story forward. Secondary characters take up too much space. Description slows pace too much. Scene ends abruptly and distorts pace. No conflict at the end of the scene. Why should readers continue reading?

Your grip tightens on the manuscript and you can feel your pulse in your fingers. Your face is hot and your jaw is clenched.

You turn toward your mentor, she smiles and says, “You are not an entirely ignorant writer, but you've got a lot to work on.”

It takes all of your will power not to jump across the room and throw her coffee into her face.

Instead you smile politely and say, “Uh, well, I'll consider your remarks and all. I've actually got a bunch of laundry to catch up on and I've got to get supper started. We'll try to get together real soon.”

“Oh,” she says and stands and then stares at you.

“Here's your coat,” you say. “See you again, some time.”

As you slam the door behind her, your mind fills. “What kind of idiot mystery writer is she anyway? She knows nothing of the pacing and the proper writing that a mainstream writer has to do. Obviously she is published by some hack company. Who needs her. Good riddance.” You turn to your paper shredder and force the all of the pages in at once.

Is Finding a Mentor Just a Dream?
These are the many reasons why you may romanticize about having a mentor, but making it a reality may be near impossible.

This is why you must learn to mentor yourself. But, how do you do that? Is it possible to mentor yourself?

That's where The WIM comes in.
See you next time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writing Books and Dieting Books, Similar

Writing Books and Dieting Books, Similar
Have you ever noticed the similarities between dieting books and books that teach writing? Every diet book declares it contains the ultimate solution. Same thing with writing books.

Dieting books ride a wave of fad that ends up crashing on the beach of reality. The authors of many dieting books have successfully lost hundreds of pounds and for a time the media pushes the person and their method to the forefront. Buzz fills the air. Then, the person and their magic diet plan fall off the radar, only to be replaced by someone else. Books that teach you how to write fiction are often similar.

Do some people actually succeed by following the advice contained in diet books? Sure they do. But does everyone succeed with the same plan? Of course not. Same thing with writing books. Why is that?

It's because both dieting and writing are very personal and each person has to find what works for his individual needs.

Does this mean the perennial list of diet books and writing books contain nothing of value? Certainly not. Most of these books do contain the seeds of important solutions.

However, the problem is that most authors of these books attempt to convince you that they are the final word on the subject.

Learning to Write Is Much Bigger Than One Book
That's how I, along with the Writer's Invisible Mentor (WIM), set myself apart from other authors. Instead of convincing you that I am the final authority on writing fiction, I show you how to become the final authority of your own writing. That's the only thing that will bring you true success.

Lifestyle Trumps Magic Solutions
It is only when a person finally learns to create his or her own lifestyle (whether it be dieting or writing) that he or she becomes totally successful. It's freedom. Freedom to live her own life, eating the foods that form a healthy lifestyle, creating the works of literature that details her unique point of view.
That's transformation. An internal change occurs and the person is no longer following a diet or writing the way some book tells her. Instead she attains a completeness that changes her into what she has always been.

It is the same thing with writing. When a writer finally learns the techniques that work for her, then the author is free to create works that become successful. The person finally becomes a writer. The transfomration occurs. After all, do you believe that John Grisham, James Patterson or Sue Grafton have to ask others for advice on how well they were writing? Do you believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway or Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote what they thought others wanted them to write?
Of course not.

What It's All About
That's what the Writer's Invisible Mentor does for you. It teaches you to mentor yourself. But, why would it even be necessary to mentor yourself? Why not find a real mentor?

That's a great question, which we'll take up in my next blog entry.
See you next time.