HOW NOT TO WRITE

HOW NOT TO WRITE

Today’s blog delves into bad writing.

A few years ago I spoke at a meeting where we were discussing someone’s book (name intentionally withheld). The book was full of foul language and filthy sex. I had agreed to review the book not knowing the author’s tendencies. In fact, I started to back out because it offended me greatly, but I had agreed to read and so I read it, although it was a struggle. My conclusion, it was a terrible book. I would never recommend it to anyone.

But it was a best seller!

If it was a best seller then how can I say such hard things about it? And if my views are correct how come it was a best seller?

I’ll answer the second question first. Sex sells. So does filthy language.

I said bad things about the book because they were true.

Back to the meeting. In my review I condemned the book for the language and excessive graphics. One attendee, obviously a fan of the author, objected. She claimed to personally know the author who she claimed was a great person.

Now understand this, I never condemned the author as a person. I condemned the writing. There is a difference, but this attendee attacked me anyway. There were others in the room who agreed with my analysis, but this woman was obviously type A and wouldn’t back down.

Since that meeting I have talked about writers not using profane language or excessively graphic scenes. I mentioned it once in a blog and a reader commented that I was imposing my religion on the readers.

Not true. I believed that writing should not contain profane language or excessively graphic scenes long before I ever accepted Christ as my Savior. In fact, I wasn’t even attending church. I’m not talking religion I am talking about what makes a great writer.

Sales doesn’t make a great writer.

There is a constant flow of pornographic books that sell. Mankind is attracted to such books. But they are not good books.

Before I got saved I read well written books of all types. I even read books that had great plots, fantastic characters, while also leaving little to the imagination. And the interesting thing is that these books were great even if the bad stuff was left out. In fact, I would contend they would have been better.

You read any of my novels and I leave out the excessive graphics. That doesn’t mean there’s no sex, violence, or anything like that. When I write a scene I leave the excess up to the reader. Which brings up an important maxim.

A writer’s job is to stimulate the reader’s imagination not replace it!

So I always have a stopping point. This is true whether it is sex or violence.

But what about language? Well, let’s take a look at that. Those defending the practice contend it is more realistic, that everyone swears. But that is a false statement. There are a lot of people who don’t swear. Hollywood and TV has created an image that says swearing is normal, but we all know people, a great many people, who don’t swear.

So, first of all, swearing is not as prevalent as advertised.

Secondly, even if it was prevalent, we need to ask why most people read. It is to escape the reality of their lives, to imagine, to relax, and to be uplifted. Sure some are drawn to the dark side (a little Star Wars there), but I doubt that is the majority.

So, how do you the author show passionate characters and/or events without crossing the line? Believe it or not there was a time when authors actually solved this dilemma. In the case of language they simply used symbols, such as !@#$%^&. The reader automatically knew they represented a swear word. Some readers probably substituted their favorite swear word if they liked to swear. But the key here is that the reader didn’t feel deprived, but simply read on.

In the case of violence or sex the authors highlighted the activities leading up to the event. For example, in Perished I wrote of a battle where a sword fight took place. Read it for yourself:

Akkub turned and saw Meremoth rushing at him. He blocked the initial strike although staggered by it. Meremoth used a two-handed grip to force Akkub back. Suddenly Akkub lost his footing and Meremoth’s sword came slicing downward unblocked.

Everything seemed to stop as the general looked at his severed hand still gripping the sword.

Here we have a sword fight that results in one man losing his hand. The amount of detail provided is not too graphic, but it is enough to stimulate the reader’s imagination. And different readers have different levels of imagination, so each reader may picture the fight differently. In any case, the scene is full of action yet not too graphic.

In the case of sex, my usual approach is to focus on the events leading up to the act and to the events leading away from the event. Again, I let the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps.

In truth, the reader’s imagination is a valuable tool available to every writer willing to make use of it.

It is a tool that needs to be sharpened. You do that by using it. Moreover, you experiment and see what works. As deeply as I believe in what I am saying I have had people who reviewed my rough drafts tell me that I needed to back off in this or that scene. So you need people you trust to review your rough draft before you submit it for publishing.

My final thought on this is: what is your ultimate goal? We all want are books to sell. That is a given. But what is your ultimate goal?

Is it to simply get rich? Then you’ll probably reject everything I’ve said.

Is it to simply write? Then you may or may not care about this blog or about sales.

Is it to write your very best book? Then I contend you want your writing to be above reproach. Fame and sales would be nice, but you want to be able to say to yourself, I did my best. And that brings a deep sense of satisfaction!

 

– – – – – – –

R Frederick Riddle is the author of several books. For more information on him visit his Amazon Authors Page. He is also co-founder and Vice President of T&R Independent Books where his books are featured. To reply to any blog you have the option of commenting on a blog and/or sending an email to marketing@tr-indbkstore.com.

Advertisements

PC EDITING Part II

Last week I wrote about PC Editing, today is part II. First a quick review:

PC Editing (Proof Copy Editing) is a term I invented because an Indie author generally does the editing, copy editing, and proofreading themselves. PC Editing incorporates all of these responsibilities.

PCE is the practice of examining manuscripts from the earliest draft through the continuous copyediting until the final draft. Then proofing kicks in as the final draft is prepared for publication.

After posting the blog I received the following comment:

Instead of the things that you list, mine editing tips for indie authors would be stuff like:

As the author of the chapter, you’re already emotionally invested in the characters and events. Pretend that your only knowledge of these characters and events come from the words on the page. Do those words engage you? Or do they bore you to tears? Do they make you care about the characters? Or do they bore you to tears? Are you excited to know what happens next? Or are you bored to tears?

Okay, so not much of a list. Just don’t bore your readers, which is the main problem I find with writers new enough to find lists like yours useful.”

My response: Interesting comment. I don’t oppose what you say, but bringing your characters alive is more than editing. I teach this prior to editing. The process of creating great characters begins at the beginning and carries through the entire experience. My blog was dealing with the basics of editing which probably should have included your points. So thank you for pointing that out.

I thought the writer was going to write more on the subject that I could include. But I haven’t received anything.

But he is correct. The characters need to be believable. It doesn’t matter if they are historical or fictional. Thus it is important for you to create characters that draw the reader in.

It is well to consider that your characters are human and humans have desires and flaws. When creating a character make him/her as real as possible.

For example, mankind has a perpetual desire to return to the innocence of the Garden of Eden. Some people believe this and some don’t, but all have it. Some even envision an idyllic world where man is at peace with his surroundings, himself, and with God.

How does this impact a novel? The truth is that every novel ever written or to be written is impacted in some way. The degree of impact will depend on the author’s understanding of that desire and ability to put it to paper.

The exciting thing is that your fictional characters start out with nothing and you can build on that. Then again, your character may be a real person. In the book Perished: The World That Was many of the characters were real, lifted right off the pages of the Bible. Therefore some characteristics or traits were already known. Even so I was able to take those few facts and develop the characters further.

In the case of Adam there was a constant inner desire to return to the Garden where he walked with God. But that was impossible. So what did he do? He built a small garden within his home and called it Little Eden. It was a place for quiet meditation or important meetings. That yearning was never really addressed but it expressed itself several times within the story.

The Yearning Factor

Your character is going to have strong and weak desires. Those desires will shape his/her expectations, experiences, and decisions as the story moves forward. So your first duty is to identify the Yearning Factor.

Basically the Yearning Factor is the primary desire of your character. So ask yourself, What motivates my character? How deep does it go? What does the character believe about him/herself?

Since your character starts out with nothing, you can start molding it right away. You can either tell (narrate) certain facts that reveal the character to some extent or you can let the character demonstrate it. Often you can do this by exploring the character’s past. Have there been broken hearts? Perhaps your character has desired things in the past and failed to realized them. Or perhaps your character has flaws that has prevented those desires from being attained.

The key is to know your characters strengths, and weaknesses. A well-written character grows from the beginning of the book to the end with constant, if not obvious, progress toward that goal. The character’s reaction to events transpiring in the story will both reflect and develop the desire.

So during the editing process  take a closer look at your character(s). As the commentator said ask yourself some questions:

  1. Are you (as the reader) engaged?
  2. Do the characters bore you to tears?
  3. Do you care about the characters?
  4. Are you excited to know what happens next?

If you’re engaged, interested, caring, and excited then you probably have created characters that others will care about and get excited about.

Here’s a thought to consider: The end of the story represents the end of the quest. Your character never truly attains the goal or desire. In life we end up with a mixture of successes and failures. To be realistic let your character also experience success and a small degree of failure. Perhaps a victory doesn’t satisfy as much as the character anticipated.

If this character will be a part of another forthcoming novel let the character develop and expand in that future novel. You can even put little teasers in the first book that will be answered in the second.

Developing strong characters not only enhances your book but builds your voice.

What is voice? There are probably a dozen or more interpretations, but essentially your voice is:

An author’s unique style and way of saying things. You should be able to recognize an author’s written voice the way you recognize a person’s spoken voice. In creative writing, one goal is to develop your written voice.”

This covers more than characters, it covers your entire story. As people read your stories they will learn what makes you unique and interesting. So having strong, interesting characters builds your voice.

As stated in the first blog, PC Editing basically finds and removes the most objectionable errors. The more often your manuscript is reviewed, the more often you will streamline your book. So don’t fall in love with a character or a scene or anything. Be ready to edit it or even remove it!

PC Editing is a process that you want to master. Put your own spin on it. The primary goal is to make your manuscript as error proof as possible.

PC Editing is a needful practice for the Indie Author. It is your responsibility to create an entertaining, gripping novel. If you fail to do this you will likely fail as an author.

One final thought.

Don’t worry so much about what others think of your book. What do you think and feel? There are always critics. Some will delight in tearing down your book and you. But if you can honestly say you like your books plus the characters and events in the book, then it is likely others will agree.

At the same time, don’t be satisfied. As you begin a new novel determine to make improvements in your characters and story line. You should learn and grow as a writer after each book is published.

Feel free to comment on this blog. As you can see I read your comments and may include them in a future blog. But whether I do or don’t, you can be sure that I will read it!

– – – – – – –

R. Frederick Riddle is the author of several books. For more information on him visit his Amazon Authors Page. He is also co-founder and Vice President of T&R Independent Books where his books are featured.

PC Editing

PC Editing (Proof Copy Editing) is a term I invented because an Indie author generally does the editing, copy editing, and proofreading themselves. PC Editing incorporates all of these responsibilities.
 You can divide this into three areas:
Copy Editing – This concerns examining drafts for:

  1. Proper grammar
  2. Spelling
  3. Word use
  4. Consistency (spelling of names are consistent throughout, etc.)

 ProofreadingThis is typically done after all copy editing is done. It is making your final draft ready to submit for publishing.
So, PCE is: the practice of examining manuscripts from the earliest draft through the continuous copy editing until the final draft. Then proofing kicks in as the final draft is prepared for publication.
How do you copy edit?
Have you heard the term KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid? Not a nice way of saying something, but it does apply to editing. The simpler your story writing the better it flows and the more satisfied your reader. With that in mind I have provided below 13 editing rules.
 

  1. Avoid long sentences whenever possible. Short sentences tend to speed up the story flow while long sentences tend to bog the story down.
  2. Stay with one voice, either 1st person or 3rd person.
  3. Limit use of adverbs (i.e., words ending with “ly”).
  4. Watch your punctuation.
  5. Avoid overusing parentheses,  colons and the like.
  6. Avoid redundancies, such as ‘exact same thing.’
  7. Use common words rather than jargon or slang.
  8. Keep prepositions to a minimum. Sometimes you need to add ‘of,’ ‘to,’ ‘for,’ etc. but probably not as much as you are doing.
  9. Watch words like ‘that,’ ‘thing,’ ‘start to,’ ‘in order to,’ ‘very,’ and ‘really.’
  10. Avoid use of a passive voice.
  11. Always refer to people as ‘who.”Let your writing be personable.
  12. Use contractions (that’s instead of that is).
  13. Watch your spelling.

OK, we have a set of rules to follow. How do you edit? Different people have different ideas, but I prefer the following:
 
EIY (Edit it Yourself)

  • Many professionals will cry out not to do this, but it is an option that works if done properly.
  • Be the first to review your work and make corrections.
  • Have corrected copy reviewed by someone else, then edit.
  • Get a third person to review, then you edit.
  • Repeat these steps as often as you can.

 
PC Editing basically finds and removes the most objectionable errors. The more often your manuscript is reviewed, the more often you will streamline your book.
PC Editing is a process that you want to master. Put your own spin on it. The primary goal is to make your manuscript as error proof as possible. By the way, take with a grain of salt claims by some authors that they don’t make any errors. I have read great novels by celebrated authors and found errors. At the same time, don’t take a “whatever will be” attitude. Strive for perfection, but don’t get hung up on it.
Being an Indie Author puts a lot of responsibility and pressure on you, but you can do it. And the satisfaction that comes from a well-written novel is tremendous.
I might suggest that after you have completed the PC Editing process that you reward yourself. The old way of editing was to hire editors. So why not pay yourself for doing the work. Perhaps money in the bank, a nice dinner out, or buy something for yourself.

Do you have comments or questions? Leave a reply in the box below. And don’t forget to “follow” my blog.