Saturday, March 15, 2014

How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

Welcome one and all to yet another week spent in this circus we call life! I hope your weeks were all more like that of the ringmaster and less like that of the lion tamer!

Part of being an author is that I often have people send me their own books, manuscripts or ideas. I love it! I get to read a plethora works in so many different genres. However, there have been several that have been sent to me that I have had to send back and honestly say, "This could use a little more (or a dump truck load's worth) work."

I've now had a couple of different writers ask that I put together a list of overarching writing tips for those wanting to produce good material. So here you are, your very own list of how to be a better writer.

Excitement! Excitement! Excitement! Nothing.
1. The climax should not be the end of your book.

Yes, I realize that there is such a thing as a cliffhanger ending. However, if you read a book series that does cliffhanger endings you will notice that the end of the book has at least some sort of wind-down.

To have a book that is moving along and then suddenly jerks to a halt oftentimes leaves your readers feeling like a dog that decided to run off without realizing the length of its own leash.

2. Plese spell chalk,, and make sure your grammer is gooder! 

Was that sentence hard to read? You may laugh, but I cannot count the number of times I have received a "final manuscript," or even a book (oftentimes self-published), that I could barely make it through the first page due to all the errors.

I would also like to point out that just running the in-program spell-check is only good to a point. A fellow writer friend, Charissa Dufour, loves to talk about the danger of Commonly Confused Words (CCW's). Your spell-check program really cannot tell which witch is which, that's your responsibility.

You are not being sneaky stealing plot devices!
3. Do not steal major plot devices (or entire plots) from already published bestselling works.

Huh, you have an Australian wizard named "Barry Totter" who goes to a magical boarding school where he will inevitably face off against an evil, undead, wizard named "Voltebart."

No, I'm sure no one will ever try to compare your story to the most famous fictional wizard since Gandalf or Merlin. As long as your readers have literally been living in a shack in the middle of the woods somewhere for the last decade and a half, then I'm sure they will find your material new and exciting.

4. Dialogue should sound like actual people talking. 
It's the only explanation.

Have you ever watched one of those commercials where there are two women talking about dish-detergent like it is their life's greatest accomplishment that they found a brand that doesn't leave residue on their dishes? Do you wonder whether they had a frontal lobotomy or are just from a different planet as they gush about soap? I do.

Read your dialogue out loud to yourself. If it sounds like a scene from a 1980's action movie or a 1950's sitcom, rewrite it. If your characters sound stilted and stagey then no one will buy into your story, no matter how amazing your dish-detergent is.

5. Readers should be able to tell your characters apart.

No one was sad when they blew up.
In the same vein as making your dialogue sound like actual people, remember that no two people are exactly alike.  Readers need to believe that your characters could be real people with emotions, unique backgrounds and their own life experience.

If they all read like they could be part of the Borg, thinking alike, acting alike, all going for the same goal for the same reasons, then readers won't care when they die in a fiery explosion. Make your readers give a crap about your characters, don't make them all linguistic clones.

6. Do not marry yourself to your first draft.

Part of being a writer is having the humility to know that you're not going to get it right the first, second or maybe even the thirtieth time.  I do not care how brilliant you think a manuscript, chapter or line is at the time you write it. I have written tons of things that when I first penned them I thought, "I am going to be the next Tina Fey!" only to later read it and go, "Okay, so actually I'm more like Elmer Fudd."

Always be willing to edit, rewrite, get a second opinion or even scrap something.

7. Covers should not be designed using Clip-Art.

 I really have nothing against people who decide to self-publish books. However, if you are going to self-publish a book, remember that your cover should not look like a Powerpoint slide that I made when I was fourth grade.

I know I am not a talented designer or an artist, which is why I will never attempt to design a book cover for myself. I cannot count the number of covers that I have seen (that I will not post here because I'm not that mean) that look like a terrible Word-Art and Photoshop mash-up. If your cover is unprofessional and could be replicated by a four year old with access to Paint, no one is going to take your book seriously, so just stop.

I'm sure that there are tons of other things I could talk about, but that's all she wrote for now. There will probably be a part two at some juncture.

If you have any writing questions or your own writing tips, please feel free to post them in the comments below!
I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the Amazon reader of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" who posted this five-star review:

"Miss Hawn's book is one of the best works I've ever had the privilege of reading. It is truly a testament to one of the most interesting people I've met and what life looks like through her eyes. I've recommended this book to some English teachers I know as it is engaging and written in a way that makes it difficult to put down or to smother one's laughter."

As always, feel free to find me on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads

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