From the seasoned one…

How do you politely tell someone their story sucks?

The wonderful world of constructive criticism or concrit, some writers’ worst nightmare!  Writers, especially beginning writers, are notoriously thin skinned when it comes to someone criticizing their work.  The sad truth is, they probably need the help the most but want it the least.  So, how do you tell someone their writing sucks?

The answer is, very damn carefully!  Here’s the trick.  You want to get your point across without making the writer feel like they’re so horrible they should just stop writing.  It’s a known fact, the longer you work at something, the better you get at it.  Even Mozart had to learn how to play the piano before he could write beautiful music for it!  So on top of the list of things NOT TO SAY:

  1. Good concept, execution not so much. You should have stopped at “Once upon a time…”
  2. Our public school system at work. Your writing shows that you never managed to learn the difference between a comma, a semi-colon, an ellipse, and a period and when the hell to use them.
  3. Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Don’t quit your day job.
  4. I couldn’t decide which I hated more, your villain or your hero.
  5. So, after reading ten chapters of meandering blathering, I still don’t know what the hell your story is about.

This is why the term constructive criticism was created.  You want to help the writer, not make them feel like they should just give up and quit!  As fair warning, some peopsucksle will never take criticism of any kind well, no matter how tactful you are.  If you know they are that type, perhaps you’d be best leaving them alone.  They won’t listen to your advice anyway, so save your breath and don’t waste your time or theirs.

And if you are one of these people, at least for fanfiction writers, perhaps put a line at the top of your stories stating you prefer not to receive concrit.  It’ll save you the trouble of responding to people later or getting angry when they do leave you a review with advice you don’t want.

However, a vast majority of people will welcome the advice if given correctly.  Who doesn’t want to improve as a writer?  Well, beyond the ones I mentioned who don’t take criticism well.

For starters, be polite when you write your criticism.  No one has the right to treat someone else poorly just because you don’t like something they wrote.  It is their idea, philosophy or story, whether real or imaginary, good or bad, respect that and you should expect that respect in return.

Next, let’s start with a definition of constructive criticism as stated via Wikipedia (which I know isn’t to be taken as gospel, but it’s a start):

Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.

The main part of that definition I want to point out is “both positive and negative comments.”  Think about the last time someone said something negative to you.  Did you react well to that?  Most people don’t.  At least in my situation, if someone is spouting a list of things they don’t like about me or something I’ve done, I stop listening after the third one and walk away.  No one likes to be put down, no one!

At the same time, you don’t just want to say all nice things when you feel there are problems.  That defeats the purpose of constructive criticism and doesn’t help the writer to improve.  The point is to be constructive.  My advice here would be to mix the positive and the negative.  Tell the writer what you don’t like, but also what you did like.

A short example:

I liked the concept of your story, but you need to work on the pacing.  It was off in many places and I felt you rushed the ending.  Expand on how they got out of the cave.  You could easily make the story so much better by leaving the reader hanging a bit longer before they escape.  Readers love angst and wondering what’s going to happen next.  However, I definitely loved your protagonist, Lee Roy, he made me laugh on multiple occasions.

Can you see how a writer might be more willing to listen to the advice in the situation above?  Yes, I expressed my displeasure with the story, but I also gave them a compliment.  The sweet and the sour, the good and the bad.  Saying nothing but bad things is simply complaining, which leads to my next point.

Dictionary.com also has a definition that I feel bears repeating:

Constructive criticism – noun – criticism or advice that is useful and intended to help or improve something, often with an offer of possible solutions.

The part that I want to point out in this definition is the end, “with an offer of possible solutions.”  One of my biggest pet peeves, and this is with anything, not just writing, is when someone complains loudly about something, but offers no way to fix it.

Going back to my example above.  Did you notice how I gave an idea of something to help fix the pacing of the story?  I didn’t just complain, I offered at least a partial solution.  Will you always know how to fix something?  Probably not.  Sometimes something feels off, but you’re not sure what the fix is.  However, if you critique someone’s story and do nothing but complain about it, what have you accomplished?  Not much beyond making the author angry.  At some point, the author will stop listening entirely, even if you have good points.  After all, you’re nothing but a complainer, right?

To reiterate, here is my two cents on constructive criticism:

  1. Be sure to point out things you like just as much as you point out things you don’t like.
  2. Don’t just be a Negative Nelly. If you’re going to complain, offer a solution at least some of the time.
  3. I’m going to put this in upper case and bold it just to make my point. Yes, you could say I’m yelling this point a little, but it needs to be done.  BE POLITE!  I don’t care who you are or how good your ideas are.  If you are a jerk and use abusive terms in your critique, I’m not going to listen to a word you say.

Finally, I know what you’re thinking.  What about those stories that are so bad that you wouldn’t even use the paper they’re written on for toilet paper?  This goes back to number three, be polite.  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that.  If you seriously don’t like it and can’t find one disgustedredeemable quality, walk away.  Hopefully, given time and experience, that writer will learn more about the craft and get better.  If you blast them for what you think is a literary insult, they may give up and never write again.  Just imagine if someone had done that to Jane Austin, Hemingway or Mark Twain?  Imagine all the great novels that could have been lost.  Help your fellow writers, don’t put them down.

Until next time…

 

 

From the seasoned one…

 Sins of the writer:

As I’ve learned to write and began my life long foray into learning how to write properly, I’ve seen similar advice again and again.  There is a reason for this though, because all new writers seem to make many of the same mistakes.  Some of these I’ve probably covered in other blog entries, but here are some of top sins all new writers make and some tips to correct them.

#5 – Impatience.  This probably isn’t as big of a problem with published writers as it is with fan fiction writers, bloggers and writers wanting to get published.  We are our own worst enemies.  We get a tiny thrill.  We’ve finished writing our masterpiece!  We can’t wait to share it with the world!

Instead of letting the work rest a bit so you can properly edit it and find your Impatience-bmistakes, we send it out.  We post it or send it to agents, expecting everyone to see our brilliance.  Instead, all they see is our mistakes.  Misspelled words, poor punctuation, too much or not enough descriptions, or underdeveloped characters/plot.

Here’s the trick to anything you write.  For the first few days, you are almost blind to the mistakes.  It’s your baby and to you, it is perfect.  Give it a few days, sometimes even weeks or months, read or do something else, and look at it again with fresh eyes.  You’ll be amazed what you find.  Rein in that impatience and wait until you know you can edit with an objective eye.  What you send out is bound to be better.

#4 – Using the wrong words.  There are many words that people commonly mix up.  Spell check won’t pick it up because, guess what, it’s spelled right!  This is sometimes a hard one to get around.  Having someone else read your work before you post might help to find most of them.  Here’s a short list of commonly mixed up words.  There are many more to be sure.

  • Affect vs. Effect
    • Affect means to influence something. E.g. – “The medication Alex is on is affecting her judgment.”
    • Effect means the result of. E.g. – “My teacher knows how to use tone of voice to great effect.  We all know when she is disappointed with us.”
  • Further vs. Farther
    • Further means to a greater degree or to advance a point. E.g. – Miss Peach went back to college to further her learning.
    • Farther is used to define distance. E.g. – “I ran farther than the rest of the team!”
  • Lose vs. Loose
    • To lose is to have misplaced an item or to have failed an objective or game. E.g. – “With a final score of 10 to 3, the Merlins lose the game and the state championship.”
    • Loose is something that moves when it shouldn’t or to be careless or sloppy. E.g. – Pulling her jeans up by the belt loops, Marilyn complains, “These things are so loose, I’m going to have to buy a belt.”
  • Moot vs. Mute
    • Moot points to something subject to debate or uncertainty. E.g. – “What does it matter if the Minnesota Vikings’ running back finally returns?  The point is moot; they’ve lost too many games to make the playoffs.”
    • Mute means to silence or muffle. E.g. – “Can you mute that thing?  I’m sick of listening to commercials.”
  • Than vs. Then
    • Than is not related to time, it is used in comparative statements. E.g. – “I like pink more so than red.”
    • Then is used as a time marker or in a sequence of events. E.g. – “I went to the store then the bank before I finally got to go home.”

#3 – Information dumps.  Writers love to explain themselves, their characters and what motivates them.  As an example, look at the series, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson.  Now, I’ve read all three books and absolutely love the story of Lisbeth Salander.  What I didn’t love is when the author would go into sidelines mid-story, explaining Sweden’s political history (some made up) so that things occurring in the present would make sense to the reader.  I usually found myself skimming and skipping entire pages, these sections bored me to tears.  The funny thing is, skipping those sections took nothing away from the rest of the story for me.  It was way too much information and it took me away from the thrill of the story.  In the first book, I came close to not finishing a couple of times because of these info dumps.

So when you find yourself explaining something to the reader, ask yourself the following questions: Does it matter?  Does the reader absolutely need to know this information for the story to make sense?  Is there another way you could pepper the information throughout the story instead of just dumping it on the reader?

When considering giving a lot of information all at once to the reader, remember the following anagram, RUEResist the Urge to Explain.

#2 – Jumping points of view (POV).  Do you start out with a scene from Sally’s POV only to switch to David’s POV next paragraph?  Point of view is probably one of the harder things to master when writing.  It is so tempting to head hop and change from view to view.

Pushing open the gate, David hopes he isn’t too late as he nears the pool.  Throwing his towel onto the nearest empty chair, he places a smile on his face to greet his friends when the vision in front of him stops him cold.  Fury unlike anything he has ever known fills him at the sight of his wife.

Smiling brightly as her husband’s best friend comments on how great she looks, Sally glances down at her bikini.  Bright red in color, the skimpy material barely covers her nipples or lower regions.  However, it shows off her fabulous midriff and all the hard work she has put into getting back into shape.  Something her neglectful husband has failed to notice.  Happily, all of his friends have.

She hears greetings being called out and turns to find her husband walking toward her, his gaze stormy.  He doesn’t even say a word as he approaches her, grabs her arm and drags her away from the pool.

David ignores the tone of his wife’s voice as she demands he release her.  Tightening his grip, he drags her into the house and only releases her to turn back and slam the sliding door shut.  Turning to face her, he yells, “What the hell were you thinking wearing that thing?”

Ok, I’m stopping at this point.  Sally and David are about to argue about how she appeared in front of their friends. Did you have any issues following the lines above?  Did you get confused when I went from David’s POV to Sally’s then back to David’s?

It’s beyond tempting to “hear” what Sally thinks about David’s comment about her new bikini.  It’s equally tempting to “hear” what David thinks of Sally’s new bikini or his thoughts about how his friends were gawking at his wife as they argue.  However, you don’t want to do that as you can confuse the reader as the argument continues.  Here’s the trick to keeping a scene running smooth, you need to pick one POV and stick with it.

If you start a scene from David’s POV as he enters the pool area and finds Sally wearing only two scrapes of fabric that barely cover her, his friends are gawking at her, and he becomes furious, you need to stick with David as he confronts her.  Going from his view to her view and back again can be very confusing for the reader to follow.

Obviously, there will come a time when you need to switch POV mid-scene because the story calls for it, but limit these jumps and place spaces or marks between the sections so the switch doesn’t confuse the readers.

#1 – The biggest sin, and number one on this list, is Show, Don’t Tell!  Everyone hears this advice, and it seems obvious, but I’m not sure everyone knows exactly what it means.  There are a couple of parts to this, split into sections below.

A – Keep in mind, writing is like painting a picture with words instead of paint.  You have to create the images for the reader, so they see it in their mind.  So for example:

Pushing aside the curtain, Johnny looks out while saying, “The weather sucks today!”

Does that paint any kind of picture for you?  The writer simply told us it sucks without any kind of explanation.  Weather can suck in many ways, it can rain, it can snow, or it can be too hot, too humid, too cloudy.  Sometimes it’s all about a person’s prshow dont tell-beference.  Some people love the sound of the rain.  The question that needs answering is, why does it suck?  You need to show it to the reader.

How about this instead?

Pushing aside the curtain, Johnny looks out to see the dark gray clouds threatening rain.  Lightning flashes and the lights behind him flicker.  A reverberating clap of thunder follows and shakes the house.  So much for playing baseball today.  Dropping the curtain, he turns back to say, “The weather sucks today!”

Does that help to paint a better picture?  Now you know why Johnny thinks the weather sucks.  He wanted to play baseball, but can’t in the storm.  Yes, it definitely sucks.

B – Another problem in the category of Show, Don’t Tell, is when an author throws out a bit of information in passing.  Kind of like he or she is saying, “Oh, by the way…” before carrying on with the story.

For example:

Circling a word in the last paragraph, Frank rises from his chair and goes in search of his daughter.  He was the spelling bee champion back in his youth and always helps her with her homework.  Finding her in the kitchen with her mother, he holds up the paper for her to see and announces, “Very good, outside of ten misspelled words.”

Rolling her eyes, she approaches and takes the paper from his hand, “Thanks Dad.”

Looking up, Frank finds his wife shaking her head at him before turning back to the stove.

Do you notice the “oh, by the way” line above?  When you’re told that he was the spelling bee champion?  There’s a couple of ways to look at this.  As above with the info dump, ask yourself, does it matter?  Does the reader really need to know this for the story to work?  If the answer is no, just cut it out of the story entirely.  If the answer is yes, is there a better way you can get that information across without doing it in an “oh, by the way” fashion?

How about this?

Circling a word in the last paragraph, Frank rises from his chair and goes in search of his daughter.  Finding her in the kitchen with her mother, he holds up the paper for her to see and announces, “Very good, outside of ten misspelled words.”

Rolling her eyes, she approaches and takes the paper from his hand, “Thanks Dad, not all of us can be ex-spelling bee champions.”

Looking up, Frank finds his wife shaking her head at him before turning back to the stove, but her words carry back to him, “It’s good that you help her with her homework, Frank.  But do you have to be so gleeful when you point out the errors?”

Handing out information as parts of conversation is a great way to get it across to the reader.  However, you need to be careful that it sounds like a natural conversation that people would have and not contrived in such a fashion that it doesn’t and quickly becomes obvious that it’s just an information dumping tool.

C – Narrative summary.  Another information-dumping tool that fits in the show vs. tell world is where the author summarizes a bunch of information in a paragraph before carrying on with the story.

For example:

Approaching the car, Simon places the paper bag and coffee cup on the roof, straightens his belt, and then picks them up before opening the door and sliding in.  Setting the cup in the holder, he opens the bag and removes his sandwich.  The coffee shop was a good place to check out the suspect without appearing to be interested in him.  What a cool customer he is too.  The man didn’t even break a sweat when Simon yanked back his coat and flashed his badge and gun while getting his wallet out.  He simply poured out the coffee, accepted the sandwich from his co-worker and handed them over the counter as if he didn’t have a worry in the world.

Ok, so as you can see, I summarized the trip into the coffee shop.  The question to ask yourself is, would that summary have been better as a scene of its own?  Show the reader the entry into the coffee shop, show Simon flashing his badge and gun while getting out his wallet, and finally, show the suspect not even breaking a sweat.  Would that have done more for you, as the reader, than the summary above?

While you don’t want to remove all summaries, there are bits of information that really don’t need their own scenes, you want to be careful not to do them when showing the information to the reader is a better choice.

Until next time…

 

From the seasoned one…

Alpha Male vs. Caveman

A topic requested by @drowningblonde.  In every romance novel known to man, well women, and many dramatic novels, the alpha male is the one who arrives in time to save the day and wins the love of the beautiful damsel.  However, in many stories, the proclaimed alpha male is the excuse-me-while-i-laughegotistical jerk that reminds one of a caveman, at least until the lead female character shows him the error of his ways through the miracle of love.

So what is an alpha male?  To answer that question, you have to understand what an alpha male is and what he isn’t.  Beyond the man’s man, the type of man every man wants to be, and women want to marry, how is he defined?  There are a lot of definitions out there, textbook and general thought.

To get our comparison going, maybe we should start with the theory of what caveman is:

  • Musccavemanular
  • Fearless
  • Brave
  • Tough
  • Survivor

Not a pretty picture, is it?  Actually, many drawn pictures, and even some commercials, show these men as gruff looking, with long, uneven hair hanging down their shoulders and their faces hidden by thick, bushy beards.  His idea of romance is giving his woman the carcass of a dead animal to dress and make for dinner.

If you ask the everyday person what an alpha male is, they would likely define the following:

  • Succeeds at everything he does
  • Fearless
  • Confident
  • Brave
  • Tough
  • A natural leader

Sounds a lot like a caveman doesn’t he?  Did you notice they share many of the same traits?  No, the alpha male doesn’t go around dressed in an animal fur, grunts at tcave-man-dragging-womanhe other men he meets, or hits a woman he desires over the head with a club and drags her back to his cave by her hair.

There are many other common attributes of an alpha male:

  • Handsome
  • Courageous
  • Athletically fit
  • Intelligent
  • Persistent

These are some attributes that help define the alpha male, which may come as a surprise:

  • Humble
  • Kind
  • Works hard
  • Generous
  • Respectful

While every man wants to be the alpha male, it is surprising how many don’t understand the total definition and instead, they come across as a caveman.  So what has this to do with your writing?  It’s about going back to the definition and the fact that most people don’t real1-mr-alpha-malely know it.  While writing, remember all of the attributes of an alpha male, and that he shouldn’t behave like a caveman.  He may be handsome, strong and every woman wants to marry him, but he doesn’t need to constantly belittle everyone around him or lead the way by running people over.  While the alpha male is a very strong character, that doesn’t make him a jerk either.  Which is really the definition of an anti-hero, an entirely different topic.

The same can be said of female characters.  All too often, they tend to go one of two directions, alpha or waiting for the alpha to rescue them.  You need to find balance in your characters, both male and female.

Maybe do something different next time.  Instead of always making your lead character an alpha male, try for an ordinary man who happens to find himself in an extraordinary situation.  Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you.  Nice guys don’t always finish last.

Great stories are sometimes about ordinary people too.

Until next time…

From the seasoned one

Love thy Editor!

This article speaks more to fanfiction writers than to professional writers.  As I’ve learned to write, I’ve spent a lot of time editing not only my own work, but that of friends.  There have been a lot of debates, laughter shared over hilarious mistakes, and the occasional argument.  Through all of it, I’ve found that the hardest thing to learn as a writer is this: you’re not perfect and neither is your writing!  Writers have a tendency to cling to what they have written and have a hard time letting go of it.

Sadly, I’ve had some friends that took advantage of me and my time.  I would clean up the same mistakes over and over again.  Over time, I’ve gotten to the point that I royally dread editing, mwoman_pulling_hair_outy own work as well as others.  I still have a few close friends that I edit for, but it takes some great bribery to get me to edit for new writers.  It isn’t that I don’t want to help them, it’s just that I really, really dread editing and it almost feels like having my fingernails ripped out when I sit down to do it.

To that effect, and to hopefully keep others from reaching my level of editorial dread, I’ve come up with a few rules that every writer should follow when asking someone to edit their work for them.

Love thy Editor: Seven Rules Every Writer Should Follow:

  1. Love thy Editor.  Be very appreciative of the time your editor is willing to spend looking at your work.  Your editor is taking time out of their lives, their own writing, family time, etc. to go over your material.  Never take that time for granted.  Example: Don’t send your editor thirty pages and expect them to return the edit within a day or two.
  2. Be objective and don’t take it personally when your editor points out mistakes, plot holes or weak characters.  The purpose of asking someone to edit is to make your writing stronger.
  3. Don’t waste your editor’s time.  Do your very best to clean up your own mistakes before asking someone else to look at your work.  They shouldn’t have to clean up obvious mistakes that any spell/grammar checker would catch.
  4. This goes back to number 1 & 3, but if your editor consistently points out the same error, next time they edit for you, make sure you fix these first.  Don’t make them waste time repeating themselves.
  5. Especially if you’re new to writing, spend a little time re-learning basic grammar.  It’s amazing what we forget from school and the mistakes we make without realizing it.  Your editor shouldn’t have to spend time pointing out run-on sentences, lack of commas and punctuation.
  6. Pay special attention to notes in the margins.  Sometimes there are things so drastically wrong that an editor may make a note in the margin, but doesn’t fix it for you because the problem calls for a major re-write.  Don’t ignore these comments.
  7. When asking someone to edit, be clear what you’re asking for.  If you just want a quick read through or a thorough edit and when you would like the edit complete versus the editor’s available time.  Helps to keep misunderstandings to a minimum.

Remember, editors are only there to help you find errors/problems with your story and to improve as a writer, not to re-write your entire story for you.  I’m sure more experienced writers and editors have more to add to this list.  Just remember, at the end of the day, it is your story.  It is a reflection of you.  If you don’t agree with an editor’s suggested changes, that’s fine, but do so with grace and appreciation for the time they have given your work.

*Thanks to my friend @drowningblonde for a quick read through and additional entry.  Otherwise it would have been six rules instead of seven!

From the seasoned one…

My new horror film, The Plot:

I love horror movies.  I have ever since I was a teenager, when my cousin and I watched every single horror movie we could get our hands on the summer I stayed with my aunt
and uncle.  It occurHalloweenred to me the other day that coming up with a plot to a story is a bit like watching one of those horror films, when the first victim dies.  Given it has always driven me crazy that mostly stupid teenage girls die in horror flicks (70s & 80s horror films people, yes I know, I’m dating myself), I’m going to make a guy the victim.

First, you have exposition.  This is where you introduce the story and the characters.  In particular, you get to know the main character, or in this case, our victim, Johnny.  You also get a little of their motivations and perhaps an idea of what’s at stake if they fail to attain their goal.

In The Plot, Johnny is on the phone with his friends.  He’s telling them how his parents are gone for the weekend, so he’s planning a party for that night.  You know this spells trouble, right?  He’s feeling a little cocky when his best friend, Paul, asks about getting caught and answers by laughing, “What could possibly happen?”

Sometimes this is the hardest portion of a story to create.  If you don’t start a story right, the reader might become bored and not stick around to reach “the good part.”

Next is rising action.  This is the action scenes, and sometimes the suspense, that slowly drives us to the climax of the story.  So back to The Plot, Johnny is getting ready for the party.  He’s moving through the house, making sure his stuff isn’t laying around for his drunken friends to make off with later.  After putting his things in his room and closing the door, suddenly, he feels a presence.  He stops in the hallway and listens, turning his head from side to side to look in the open doorways of his sister and parents’ rooms.  Deciding he’s being foolish, Johnny moves down the hall and heads for the staScreamirs.  As he gets to the bottom of the steps, he feels it again.  Freezing in place, he listens closely.  Suddenly, he hears a tapping noise in the next room.  Fear fills him.  Picking up a baseball bat he left by the door when he got home from school, Johnny slowly walks into the living room.  Relief fills him when he finds a window partially open, the wind blowing the curtains lightly against the standing lamp next to it, causing the noise.  Shaking his head at his idiocy, he sets the bat down, walks over to close the window, and locks it.  Going over to the stereo, Johnny turns it on, head bobs to the beat of the tune playing, performs his classic air guitar move and then heads for the kitchen to find snacks for the party.

See how this works?  You’re sitting at the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens next, aren’t you?  You need to keep the reader’s attention by giving them just enough action to keep them from wanting to stop reading.  The best compliment a writer can ever receive is to be told that someone couldn’t put their book down.

The third part is the climax to the story.  This should make people stand up and demand to know how’s it going to end?  In a great story, people almost feel like they’ve been on a rollercoaster ride by the end of it, there have been so many ups and downs.

Carrying two bowls of chips back into the living room, Johnny sets one down on the side table next to the recliner and the other across the room on the coffee table.  He glances at his watch; everyone should be showing up soon.  About to return to the kitchen for more food, he hears a loud creaking noise coming from the entryway.  Confused, Johnny walks into the hallway to find the coat closet door open.  Slowly approaching it, he glances around to confirm he is alone.  Pulling the door back, he looks inside the closet to find the usual assortment of coats hanging and his father’s bag of golf clubs in the back corner.

About to close the door, he stops when hears a door shutting upstairs.  Reaching inside the closet, Johnny grabs one of the golf clubs and heads for the stairs.  He inches up them, one at a time, looking over his shoulder into the upstairs hallway as he turns the corner.  Pausing on the landing, he debates going the rest of the way.  Pulling out his cell phone, he contemplates calling one of his friends but just as quickly, puts the phone back in his pocket.  Last thing he needs is for Paul to call him a pussy. 

Placing his foot on the next step, Johnny continues his journey upstairs.  Reaching the top, he finds his parent’s bedroom door shut and his own wide open.  He moves past his parent’s room and slowly approaches his own.  Standing beside it, he glances inside, afraid to enter.  So intent on the appearance of his room, Johnny fails to hear the door to his parent’s roKnifeom opening or the light steps on the carpeted floor behind him.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

Jumping, Johnny wheels around with the golf club, ready to bring it down on the head of his assailant.  Finding his friend, Paul, behind him with a huge smile on his face, Johnny drops the club while exclaiming, “You asshole!”

You’re heart has finally stopped racing, hasn’t it?  You’ve reached the climax of the story and Johnny lives.  Relief fills the reader and you’ve overcome the biggest hump of the story.  All that’s left is the bit at the end to clean up the loose ends, right?  This portion of the story is the falling action.

As Paul continues to laugh, Johnny shoves him against the wall in irritation and heads for the stairs.  Still laughing, Paul follows him and says, “Man, you’ve watched too many horror films.”

“Whatever,” Johnny replies, not willing to admit that his friend managed to scare him.  “Let’s get downstairs, everyone will be here soon.”

The last bit of the story is the resolution.  Everything within the story is resolved (unless the author is setting up a series), and you reach that happily ever after just before typing, The End.

Starting down the steps, Johnny pauses when he hears the front door open.  Paul almost plows into him, too busy laughing to notice his friend has stopped.  Paul starts to complain, “Hey man…” when suddenly both freeze, fear filling their veins when they hear Johnny’s mother call out, “Johnny!  We’re home early!”

The End?

From the other seasoned one…

Hello, as anyone who keeps up a blog knows, coming up with new entries is rough after a while.  My good friend, Kath, agreed to help me out with a guest blog or two.

Enjoy!

From the other seasoned one, Dr. Katherine Pope:

Gospel TruthBecause I more or less grew up in the Catholic school system, I am a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and proper spelling.  This has nothing to do with my DMD degree.  Dentists don’t really care if you can construct a proper sentence, let alone spell correctly (or write legibly, but that’s a different story entirely).  No, this has everything to do with the fact that there is some honest-to-goodness dog poo that constitutes the works on FFN, AO3, FictionPress, and printed or e-published manuscripts in general.  

Now, this may be a refresher course, but it might help.  At least, I hope it does.  So, off we go on some of the finer points, in no particular order:

The there/their/they’re conundrum.  This one really frosts me.  “There” is a location (i.e., She put the object there).  “Their” is a plural possessive (i.e., The children put their toys away) – more on this in a moment.  “They’re” is the contraction of they are (i.e., They’re all going to the store).  Please, do us all a favor and get them straight.

But what about whose versus who’s?  Yet another one that frosts me, though not as badly as the above example.  The word “whose” is a neutral possessive, usually singular (i.e., The person whose dog is running around the neighborhood needs to buy a better leash), whereas “who’s” is the contraction of who is (i.e., Who’s going to wash the dishes?) or who has (i.e., Who’s been snooping through my closet?).

On that note, let’s talk about your versus you’re.  The word “your” is a second-person possessive (i.e., I spoke with your mother).  On the other hand, “you’re” is a contraction of you are (i.e., You’re invited to the party).

And one more(!) – its versus it’s.  This one is very similar to the above issues.  “Its” is a neutral singular possessive (i.e., The car had its brake lights on), while “it’s” is the contraction of it is (i.e., It’s going to be a great vacation) or it has (i.e., It’s been a freaking LONG winter!).

And since we’re on the “singular versus plural” subject, I’m going to rant about the word their.  I hate this word when used as the lazy (wo)man’s way out.  Everybody does it: Facebook, educated people, posters on Twitter.  As we discussed earlier, the word “their” is a plural possessive.  NOTE: EMPHASIS IS ON THE WORD PLURAL!!!  The sentence should NOT say (as Facebook is so fond of doing), “It’s Katharine Pope’s birthday!  Write something on their wall.”  It should read, “Write something on her wall.”  Similarly, the statement should not be, “Everyone likes their new work proposal” – it should be, “Everyone likes his (or her) new work proposal.”  (And if anyone out there really likes his or her new work proposal, please let me know immediately so I can inquire within.)  This is a personal pet peeve of mine.  My middle-school English teacher, Mrs. Bosco, would be so proud.

Switching gears.  Does anybody remember the old rhyme, “I before E, except after C?” This is a classic that most of us probably learned very early on.  It’s a classic for a reason: it helps.  Receive, deceive, conceive, and the like.  Niece, friend, etc.  Okay, there are always some exceptions (such as neighbor), but for the most part, this one’s a safe bet.

It’s (note the proper use of it’s) easy to look up the spelling of a word.  Let’s face it, if you have a computer, or at least access to one, it’s pretty easy to look up the spelling of a word. Find a search engine, type in a word you’re not quite sure how to spell, and like magic, the correct spelling will somehow pop up (God bless the internet). While I am good at spelling, I’ve never been sure how to properly spell hors d’oeuvres, recommendation, chauffeur, and the like. Search engines make it possible – and fast. Don’t be lazy on this one!  It’s too easy.  No excuses.

There’s always a dictionary.  Okay, so this one’s not as easy or quick as checking the proper spelling of a word on the internet.  Boo hoo.  If it’s available, it’ll help.  I promise. (Hey, what do you think we did before there was the internet???)

DON’T rely solely on SpellCheck!!!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spelled or when I meant our.  Or is when I meant his.  Or my personal favorite, so when I meant some.  (Don’t ask me how that one happened.  I blame my keyboard.)  Point is, you can be the best speller in the world, but one slip of the fingers can lead to a misspelled word, and often one that’s actually spelled correctly.  Don’t rely on the computer.  Double-check yourself.

Punctuation – as in, what the heck to do with colons, semi-colons, and the rest of the pack.  Consider this a remedial tutorial.  A period is used most of the time after a statement (i.e., “I bought groceries today.”).  An exclamation point is used after a statement that contains excitement (i.e., “I just won the lottery!”).  A question mark is, duh, used after a question (i.e., “Do you know what time it is?”).  But those are the easy items.  What to do about the rest of them?  Well, a colon is used when there is a list which follows a statement (i.e., “I’m shopping for three things today: a sweater, an umbrella, and a new phone.”).  A semi-colon is a little trickier, since it combines two related sentences without actually breaking them up into two sentences (i.e., “I have to show up on time for my hair appointment; the hairdresser won’t do a blowout at the end if I’m late.”).

Commas and dashes and parentheses, oh my!  Commas, dashes, and parentheses can be used similarly; God knows I use them almost interchangeably.  For example, this sentence can be written three ways with the same meaning no matter which punctuation is used:

Commas: The dog, owned by Kim, is going to the vet.

Dashes: The dog – owned by Kim – is going to the vet.

Parentheses: The dog (owned by Kim) is going to the vet.


The point of using any of these forms of punctuation in this example is for further clarification. Of course, one could make the argument that
no punctuation is required here (as in, The dog owned by Kim is going to the vet).  But then, why write the sentence in this manner? Wouldn’t it just be easier to say “Kim’s dog is going to the vet”?  Why, yes.  Yes it would. NOTE: This is obviously not the only way to use these three types of punctuation, but I won’t get into those now.  This is a remedial tutorial, not a lesson, after all.

New topic: adjective versus adverb, and when to use them.  While both are descriptive words, an adjective describes a noun (i.e., That is a gorgeous purse), whereas an adverb describes a verb (i.e., The train is moving quickly).  More often than not, an adverb ends with -ly.  Plan accordingly.  (Heh heh, I did that on purpose.)

Random: how about the a versus an thingie?  The letter a is used before a word beginning with a consonant (i.e.: a bed, a house, a bottle of Cîroc vodka).  The word an is used before a word beginning with a vowel (i.e.: an orange, an aardvark, an extremely fragile ego).  In the past, this concept got messed up with words that began with the letter H. Oftentimes, the word an preceded a word that began with the letter H (i.e., This is an historic election). Fortunately, modern-day rules and, frankly – in my humble opinion – common sense dictate the dropping of an for a.  It just sounds better.  Don’t you agree?

And finally, when in doubt, ask for help.  Yes, I know this sounds obvious.  But if you’re anything like me, you pride yourself on your writing and are loathe to ask for help or advice. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing things yourself.  That’s why I wrote this post: unsolicited advice that you can use if you want or need it, and ignore if you don’t.  But gauging from what I’ve been reading lately, we ALL could stand to use a little bit of help.  So please, if you’re confused, ASK.  Find a friend, an editor, a beta-reader, a writer whose works you admire, whoever.  Write your best, and make it your best.  That way, when you look back and reread what you’ve published, you won’t internally cringe and mentally flog yourself a thousand times over.  Trust me, those are not good feelings to have, and ones I want to help you avoid.

Well, that’s it for now!  Until you hear from me again, I can be reached at my website (drkatharinepope.snappages.com) or my Twitter account (handle: @DrKatharinePope).

Cheers!
Kath

 

 

 

From the seasoned one…

What makes a good hero in fiction?

This is a hard question to answer actually.  If you ask someone what is a hero, most will answer, someone who puts the good of others before himself/herself and is willing to risk himself/herself to help others.  However, when you’re reading a novel, what do you want to see in your heroes?

Everyone has their “white list” of attributes:

  • Brave
  • Good fighter
  • Strong
  • Smart
  • Handsome/beautiful

However, these attributes alone makes a “perfect” person in essence, someone who is utterly boring when it comes to good fiction.  Most people would agree, when reading fiction, an interesting hero is someone who has faults and rises above them to accomplish what is needed to save the day.

Heroes rarely wear white hats and flaunt their accomplishments for the world to see as the Lone Ranger did.  Today’s heroes are usually the everyday kind of person that you could pass in the street and not even recognize as a hero, and no, I’m not talking about super hero secret identities.

There are also many types of heroes.  Sometimes the best heroes are the accidental heroes that just happen to be in the right place at the right time and step up to the plate.  When you’re talking about fiction though, is this the kind of hero that inspires you?

What about the bad guy (or anti-hero) who switches positions at the last minute and saves the day?  Is this the kind of hero that creates a good story?  It’s possible, if the bad guy shows enough good attributes to make his about face realistic.  You need serious reader buy-in for this kind of turnabout to work well.

Some heroes are children such as Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking.  These characters usually grow into their hero roles as they learn who they are and how the world around them affects their decisions.  With child heroes, you usually have someone with more knowledge who guides them along the way.

Then there is the sci-fi heroes, who have super powers of some sort and decide to use them for the better of the human race, Superman or Spiderman, anyone?

The type of hero you use also depends on the time period and geographic location you’re writing in.  If you’re writing about 18th century England, the type of hero you depict will be very different from an 18th century American Western hero.  As another example, a ninja warrior wouldn’t fit into 18th century English nobility, but a rascally second son of a lord who acts the rake but spies for his country does.

So going back to the original question, what makes a good hero in fiction?  Beyond the original short list, I’ve come up with a few more attributes:

  • An interesting personality that makes the reader want to learn more about them.  Personally, I like smart-ass heroes, but that’s just my preference.
  • Everybody wants a handsome/beautiful hero, but I would argue that everyday looking or even disfigured heroes can make great story characters.
  • Courageous.  I actually like heroes that show their fear, but still move forward to save the day.
  • Perseverance.  As a writer, I tend to put my heroes through hell.  An average person would probably walk away from all the walls I put up in their way.  A hero perseveres to reach the end of their journey.
  • Has common sense.  I actually put this above intelligence and bravery.  The smartest person in the world can have absolutely no common sense and the bravest person always faces his fear, but the one with common sense gets the hell out of the way when a racing car is heading right for them.
  • Has faults.  I like heroes that make mistakes along the way.  Nothing is more satisfying than a reader who calls my hero an idiot for some of their actions, but can’t stop reading the story to see if they succeed in the end.
  • Is redeemable.  This plays into the last one.  Yes, every hero needs to have faults.  However, they must also be redeemable for the users to buy into their heroic actions later.
  • Sacrificial.  This one doesn’t always mean giving up their life to save the day.  Sometimes, the hero gives up something that means a lot to him or her.  As a more humorous example, the confirmed bachelor lord in 18th century England who gives up his “freedom” and marries a lady in trouble.  Some men may see this as giving up their life to save the day.

While this is my list of attributes, I’m sure there are many others that fit the bill and that there are others with opinions on what those most important attributes should be.  Above all, have fun creating your hero, make him or her a character that the readers will identify with and you’ve won half the battle.

Until next time…

From the seasoned one…

Creating new and original characters in an established fandom:

What do people want when they’re reading fanfiction?  To answer that, you have to understand what fanfiction is.  Fanfiction is a story based on the characters of a book, movie, or television show, not written by the original authors.  Fanfiction is written by fans of the original material.  The stories are the fans’ way of showing appreciation for the material they fell in love with or to make something occur in the story that didn’t happen in the original material.  For example, romantic pairings of characters.

Therefore, when a fan is reading fanfiction, they are looking for the things that drew them to the original material to begin with.  A writer needs to keep these things in mind as they’re writing fanfiction and adding new, original characters.

New, original characters are great in fanfiction.  They change things up, expand plots, and allow the writer to explore aspects of the story’s universe they might not be able to explore if they just stick to using the established characters.  However, one must be careful when adding original characters.  If they don’t fit properly in that story’s universe, the writer risks turning off the readers, causing them to abandon the rest of the story.  Can you imagine a nun showing up in Star Wars?

Creating characters for an established fandom is a lot like creating characters for original works of fiction in that:

  • You don’t want to write Mary Sue’s or Marty Stu’s.  Characters that are so utterly perfect that a reader can’t relate to them.
  • In the reverse, don’t make the character so stupid or unappealing that a reader wonders how they managed to make it out of diapers.
  • If the character is a villain, don’t make them a total idiot that wouldn’t be able to find their way onto a bus.  Challenge the readers with a dubious, intelligent villain.

However, when it comes to adding new, original characters within an established fandom, keep in mind:

  • There needs to be a reason for them to be there.  Do they appear just in time to save the day?  Does the character create a love triangle between an established pairing to add drama?  What’s their purpose?  An added character without a purpose is just a waste of ink and time.
  • Don’t add so many original characters that you completely push out the established characters and the story is no longer about the established characters or their world.  This goes back to the original question of what do fanfiction readers expect when they read fanfiction?  Do you think you can hold their attention if 90% of the story is about characters who never crossed the street in the original material?

Just a couple of other random tips.  We don’t know these new characters and you have to treat them that way.  Most of the time in fanfiction, you’re dropping in established characters from a series or book.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing their character or describing them since the reader knows them from the original material.  However, with new, original characters, the writer needs to remember we don’t know anything about them.

  • Build a history for them and introduce it a little at a time in such a way that it works with the story, but don’t do an info dump to catch us up.  When giving people details, they will only remember a small portion of them or will get bored and skip ahead to get to the story once more if there is too much.  Don’t give the readers information overload.
  • Like any other new character, we need to picture them.  Give us enough details of what they look like to build a picture, but let our own imaginations work as well.

Adding characters is a great way to explore a fandom’s universe.  Have a great time creating them and happy writing!