From the not so seasoned one…

Hard Lessons Learned

Just when I thought I was becoming a better writer, might even be at the point of finishing editing and sending off a manuscript to an agent, I was blown out of the water.  It’s not a bad thing.  It just brought home a very basic fact that I’ve made from time to time on this blog.  When it comes to writing, I still have a lot to learn.

I’ve been subscribing to the Romance University blog for about a year now.  There’s some great articles, some so-so articles and some downright, are you kidding me articles.  Last week, there was a great article from Rayne Hall about tightening up your writing style.

It was a shortened (more like a summary) version of her book, The Word-Loss Diet.  That article alone had me cringing as I thought back on my current work in progress.  So I bought the book and started reading.  Now, I’m still reading it, but by the time I got to chapter four, I was ready to cry.

The article has six major points, three of which show up in the first four chapters of the book.

  1. Cut the word, could.
  2. Cut the words, start/begins.
  3. Cut the word, look(s).
  4. Cut the word, turn(s).
  5. Cut most adverbs.
  6. Cut most dialog tags.

I won’t fully go into each one, you can read the article or buy the book.  Number five, cut most adverbs, I’ve heard time and again.  It wasn’t really that big of a shock.  The first four, hit home.

The book also brought up the overuse of the word sigh.  The author is quite funny about it, “He sighs, she sighs, everyone sighs.  Enough with the sighing!”

So going back to my work in progress, I did a search to see how many times I’ve used those words.  Thirty four pages of my current WIP showed the following:

  1. Could – 28
  2. Start/Begin – 12
  3. Look(s) – 104
  4. Turn(ing) – 66
  5. Adverbs – 100
  6. Sigh(s) – 15

Obviously, I have some work to do to clean up that mess.  The adverbs one was the most frustrating.  I’ve heard the advice for ages but one hundred of them still somehow crept into my writing.  What the hell?  Am I even thinking when I’m writing?  Well, I am.  But it’s the story, not necessarily the words that I’m paying attention to.

As disheartening as it was to see this, I remembered a quote from Ernest Hemmingway.  “The first draft of anything is shit.”

So I’m going to happily keep pecking away at the keys and then edit all that crap out later when I’ve finished the first draft.  I also need to go back to my finished manuscript that is nowhere near ready for an agent and re-edit it.  However, you can bet your sweet fanny I’ll be paying more attention to those words as I continue to write.

I also plan on buying a few more of Rayne Hall’s books.  They’re short, sweet and to the point.  Sometimes that’s what us aspiring writer’s need to know.  Just the facts.  We can go looking for the detail later.

Until next time…happy learning and happy writing!

Crazy Cat Lady Diaries

Oh the joys of having a free site.  Serious limits on pages versus blog posts.  Small things like adding categories and tags to draw attention.  Guess you get what you pay for!

I wrote a story based on stories a friend has told me about her life with her cats.  More times than I can count, I laughed until I had tears running down my cheeks.  This is the first of what I hope will be many entries.  Yes, I took notes!

I think anyone who has ever owned a cat can relate to these stories.  Hope you enjoy them.

Click the link below if you’re interested in reading.

Crazy Cat Lady Diaries – The Mouse

From the seasoned one…

Cyber bullies.

When you read that term, I’m almost certain your mind conjures up bratty teenagers that bully their peers online.  Am I correct?  Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you it can happen to adults as well.  I came against this just a short while ago.  I’m an adult who writes stories and posts them on  I’m not a child.  I don’t write childish things.  I’m currently posting a story.  Yes, you can occasionally get a bad review.  Who doesn’t?  This went beyond that.

In order not to name names and open myself up to even more problems, I’m going to call the bully John.  Yes, as in John Doe.

I met John via Twitter when he followed my account.  He’s a British self-published writer with his first book out on Amazon.  At first, it was fun talking to him.  Cultural differences aside, the conversations were more often debates about some topic and always ended on a good note.  Then I started posting my latest story.  I’d tweet chapter releases, letting my followers on Twitter know.

John started reading the story, unasked.  The first time he left one of his reviews, I figured he was just trying to be helpful.  He had a few good points, though the review itself was quite negative.  I thanked him for the review, but didn’t say much about the content.  Given it was a “guest” review, I deleted it out of my fanfiction account.

The next chapter, John left another “review.”  This one was worse than the first one.  I finally sent him a direct message, asking him to stop.  As I told him, the point of fanfiction is to have fun writing.  Yes, it’s also a great place to learn how to write and on occasion, a reviewer will leave constructive criticism that helps the writer learn.  That’s not what this review was.  It was a very rude and he once again didn’t make even one positive comment.  In fact, he point blank told me he didn’t intend to stop as he felt I needed to learn more about writing.  I deleted his review again and decided to try to ignore him.

By his third review, John was attacking my writing style.  Insisting that I needed to rewrite the entire story in past tense.  I don’t write in past tense, never have.  From the first story I wrote, I’ve always used third person present tense.  My only reply to him was I’d rewrite my entire story in past tense when he rewrote his entire book in present tense and republished it.  He made no further comments and I hoped he got the point.

Man, how wrong I was.

The next couple of reviews, I just deleted and didn’t comment.  I hoped the old adage was true.  Ignore a bully and they go away.  Paying attention to them feeds the beast.  I no longer talked to him Twitter.  Didn’t reply to any of his tweets, even when they were targeted at me.  Sadly, ignoring him didn’t work for me either.

His last review was the final straw.  I didn’t read it, but a friend of mine did.  To say she lost it is an understatement.  It kind of tells you how bad it was.  At that point, I blocked John from my Twitter account.  That did seem to get the point across.  He has since stopped reviewing my story, though I’d occasionally still see a hit from United Kingdom on my counters.

John was a cyber bully.  He was right, I was wrong, and he was damn sure going to make sure I knew it.  Most of my experiences with other writers online have been good.  I’d like to say I’ve learned as much from them as they have learned from  me.  But there is a subset of writers out there who think it is their duty to teach the rest of us ignorant start-ups.  To call these writers pretentious is giving them a compliment.

I’ve always been in the camp of write what works for you.  If you like past tense, write past tense.  If you like to write present tense, write it!  If you only want to write erotica with no real plot, go for it, just don’t ask me to read it.

Live and let live.

If you don’t like something, vote with your feet and go find something else to read. There are more books out there than me or anyone else will ever be able to read in their lifetime. There is no need to drag a writer through the mud just because you don’t like their story.

Now, I’m all for constructive criticism.   Sadly, people forget what that term means.  It doesn’t mean you get to trash someone’s hard work just because you don’t like it.  It means you point out what you don’t like or feel needs work while also saying what you like about a story.  Positive comments as well as negative comments.  However, the negative points should never be an attack on the writer.

So how do you deal with cyber bullies?  I don’t know that I can tell you that.  Everyone is different and so are their experiences.  Do what it takes to get them out of your life. Block their accounts, turn them in, ignore their comments and hope for the best.  Don’t feed the beast so they attack you more.  The most important thing is not to run.  Keep writing, keep posting and don’t let them get you down.

Bullies are everywhere, just don’t stoop to their level.

Happy writing!

From the seasoned one

What tools do you use when you write?

As I’ve learned to write, I’ve spent a lot of time, and a little bit of money, finding tools that help make the process easier.  Like everything else in life, which tools are best is a matter of opinion.  This post is about the tools that I’ve either used in the past, still use, or just found and love!

Let’s start with Scapple.  It’s a very cheap, but very powerful, product by a group called Literature and Latte.  One common bit of advice for new writers is to plot out your story with index cards and tape them on a wall, or use a corkboard, so you can see how your story will flow.  This helps to find plot holes and work out other issues.  You can use it while you write as a reference to keep yourself on track and not meander in the wrong direction.  Also, if you ever come down with the dreaded writer’s block, you can use the notes to figure out where you’re stuck and why.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a wall space large enough to use for this kind of endeavor.  If you’re like me and it takes you months or years to write a story, having a wall full of index cards isn’t really an option.

Scapple overcomes those problems.  It grows in size as you add new cards to it.  You’re only really limited by the size of your screen.  You can use different colors on the cards for main ideas, scene ideas or character information.  You use arrows and dotted lines to make connections between the cards.  I’ve been known to hook my laptop up to my television to get a large screen to work with and to be able to see the whole thing at once in a readable size.

Check out a sample screen:Scapple
This is probably my favorite writing tool.  I’ve used it for several stories now and while I’m not a full-on plotter, this helps me get the ideas for a story down quickly and shows me what holes I need to fill.

Available for both PC and Mac lovers alike, the price is unbeatable at $15 US for a household license.  Check it out if you want more information.

Just a couple of reference tools.  I’m not one to carry a dictionary or thesaurus everywhere I go, but usually end up needing one or the other when I’m nowhere near my reference books at home.  The ones built into Microsoft Word are practically worthless.  When I really need them, I love the sites and  They are free to use and work well.

Ok, now what program do you use to write?  There is a wide variety available out there at many different prices.  I started with Microsoft Word as that is what I had available to me at the time.  As I’ve spent time researching what other writers use, I’ve found Word to be a predominate choice.  It has great tools for tracking changes when working with other people on the same document.  As well as the reference tab for creating a table of contents or bibliographies.  However, while it works great for fanfiction and college papers, I found it rather lacking with novel writing.

With Word, I had to keep several files for each story.  One for the story itself, one for character descriptions, one for research notes, and another to keep track of timelines.  Each time I needed to reference a character, bit of information I needed, or the timeline, I had to stop and open the files.

The other problem with Microsoft Word is it is expensive to buy.  Sure, Microsoft sells various versions for businesses, student and home, and the new cloud version, Office 365.  But it has never been an easy purchase for people that have limited income.

Now I know people are going to start saying they use Google Docs and it’s free!  I only have one thing to say about that.  You get what you pay for it.  I tried using that once when working on a document in a group format.  To say it was a frustrating experience is an understatement.  If it works for you, great!  Keep using it!  But in my experience, it is not something I would want to use long term.

In my hunt for a better writing tool, I used a few trial versions of pricier software packages and can’t say I loved any of them.  It was only when I tried Literature and Latte’s Scrivener that I knew I found gold.Scrivener
This software allows you to build a better structure for your novel, so you can divide out chapters into folders and scenes within those folders.  It has places for quick notes, labels for chapter, scene, notes, character info, etc.  I love the ability to label which stage a scene or chapter is at, such as first draft, revised, final draft, etc.

For each chapter or scene, you can create index cards to summarize them and then view those on the digital corkboard.  Similar to Scapple, but lacking some of the freedom of movement.  Scapple is free flowing, the corkboard within Scrivener, structured.  I use this to keep track of chapter summaries and also, the summary of scenes within each chapter.  It makes it easier when I’m looking for a specific scene that I need to alter.  Example below from my unpublished novel, Seer:

Novel Summary:

Chapter Summary:
Corkboard Chapter

Scrivener CharacterScrivener also has areas for character information, location information, and research.

To the side is a menu to allow easy access of these areas.  I create a sheet for each character and divide them into groups for better organization.

Every author has a different way of keeping track of character information and how much information you need for each novel/character varies.  Another great capability in Scrivener is the ability to create a template and use that template from area to area.  I suggest creating a template for your characters and use that template to ensure you don’t forget to write down the information you need.

Scrivener Research

The research area is fabulous and easy to use.  You can store pdf documents, links, pictures and every bit of information you have ever found in one easy to reach spot.


Scrivener Save Type

Finally, you can compile your Scrivener document into many other forms to share with others, pdf, rich text, Word, electronic versions (.epub & .mobi).

If you have plans to self-publish, this software makes creating the needed file formats easy.

There are more features than I have time to describe.  In fact, there are many books available that have been written on the program to help with learning it.  I’ve only scratched the surface.  The best part is the price.  Available for both PC and Mac, for only $40 US, you can purchase a household license and it’s more powerful than Word or Google Docs.  Check out the website for more information or to purchase:

The final tool I want to discuss is one I found only the other day via a blog post from is an editing/grammar service.  At its simplest, you paste text into the editor and have it analyzed.  A summary returns showing issues and errors such as, overused words, sentence length, clichés, grammar problems, sticky sentences, repeated words or phrases, and dialog tags.  A couple of screen shots are shown below:

Anaylsis Summary

Grammar Report
This is an awesome service for finding issues with ones writing and making it cleaner and stronger.  Good beta readers can be hard to find.  If you’re not an English major, finding a beta reader or a service such as this is a must!  If you’re serious about writing and wish to query agents someday, you need your writing to be topnotch.

They offer a variety of services at different prices.  I’ve chosen the one year package for a trial, but from what I’ve seen so far, this is a service I’ll likely continue with.  Check it out for more information at:

Finally, the last tool every writer needs is a great backup plan.  Hard drives stop working all the time.  Houses burn down, a pipe bursts, lightning strikes.  You name the disaster, it has happened to someone and they’ve lost valuable work.  If you have ever suffered the pain of losing a document, you understand this.  It is impossible to recreate the work exactly as it was before.

Never trust your hard work to one place.  I use a variety of tools, external hard drives and Microsoft’s One Drive to back up my work.  While I’d never recommend putting financial information out in the cloud, my stories are backed up there daily.  Microsoft offers 15GB of space for free.  Check it out:

If you’re not a Microsoft fan, that’s all right.  There are many other services out there one can use to back up material.  Some are free, some not.  Find one and use it consistently and you won’t be one of those crying because you’ve lost years of work.

Until next time…

From the other seasoned one…Dr. Kath

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s me again, everybody’s favorite author/dentist/grammar nazi, Dr. Katharine Pope. Today’s post isn’t on grammar, though. It’s on a subject very near and dear to all of us: how to be a better writer.

Granted, I know I am not exactly the authority on this topic. I am not published traditionally or independently (yet). However, I am a voracious reader, which in turn helps me to push myself to be a better writer. That being said, let’s get started on my list. There’s bound to be something in here for all of us.

1) Read. Read, Read, READ. This is so important that it made the top of my list. Why, you might ask? Well, I have a few theories, but the most important one is this: As authors, we tend to read what we like to write (and vice versa). So how does one know what one wants to write? Or how? Only by reading, then writing, can an author really find his or her own voice.

This rule is so important to me. To share my story, I learned in 2004 that I adored the prose that belonged to Jacqueline Carey in her “Kushiel’s Legacy” series. Her writing in those six books is a combination of vivid imagery, fantasy, action, humor, and a little bit of smut. I was instantly hooked – not just on the story, but on her storytelling. I found that, once I’d read her books, I wanted to be an author of that caliber. I was inspired. And, as an author, you should find someone whose writing inspires you.

2) Expand your vocabulary. There are a million words that get far too much play. For example, “said.” (More on that in a moment.) A bunch of adverbs, like “slowly” or “softly.” Common nouns. Common names. Common locations. ENOUGH WITH THE COMMON ALREADY! There is so much out there, so many words that haven’t been tapped into yet. Use them.

I’m not saying that authors should use words or phrases that they don’t know the meaning of, or that they don’t feel comfortable using, or worse, to make themselves look smarter/more educated or to put other authors/readers down. That’s not the case at all. Let’s face it, authors and readers are already more intelligent and complex than the average person. So let’s not do them an injustice; let’s give them what they deserve.

3) STOP USING THE WORD “SAID”!!! Yet another one of my pet peeves (and if you’ve read my last blog post for Mertz, you know I have a few of them). There have to be a gazillion verbs to use in place of the word “said.” Like yelled. Screeched. Shouted. Spoke. Responded. Conferred. Agreed. Retorted. Rebutted. Teased. Scoffed. Seethed. Joked. Cried out. Hissed. Breathed. Laughed. Griped. Bemoaned. Wailed. Sputtered. Raged. Roared. Whispered. Snapped. Spat out. Drawled. Threatened. Replied. Confirmed. The list goes on and on and on, but you get the idea. Be creative. Be imaginative. Show your readers who you are as an author and how honed your skills are. Believe me, they’ll know, and will respect you more for it in the long run (the short run, too).

The verb “to say” is grossly, GROSSLY overused in literature. It’s bad enough on its own, but when it is suddenly coupled with an adverb (i.e., Said softly, said loudly, said angrily, said slowly), it becomes almost cliché. That point brings us to…

4) Use adverbs with care. Consult a dictionary, AND a thesaurus. I don’t care what you have to do, do NOT resort to something like said softly. I believe the word whispered works even better in its place.

Adverbs are not a problem in and of themselves. Sometimes they’re absolutely necessary, and that’s good. I feel as though anything to make the story more descriptive is usually (but not always) better. However, it’s when they’re used for the wrong reasons (i.e., lazy author; trying to fatten up a word count) that things turn awful. I cringe when I read adverbs used as a crutch, and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one.

5) Don’t repeat the same word more than once or twice in a paragraph or in a clip of short sentences. I read this piece of advice once in a (now-defunct) blog post, and it’s important enough to bear repeating. Paragraphs flow better when important words are spotlighted only one time. Take the following excerpt from my previous work, “The Maneater in the Suburbs.” (Yes, I am tough enough to take on the criticism.)

I notice his body first. He definitely has presence, that’s for sure. His chiseled, sculpted body puts Michael’s to shame a million times over. Everything on his body is in perfect proportion. Every muscle is carefully outlined in his blue jeans, white button-down shirt and white T-shirt. He’s toned, tanned, and has not one ounce of body fat on his frame. His body is spectacular, and he’s a sharp, classy dresser, too. I just need a paper bag to throw over his head.


See what I mean? Being a better writer now than I obviously was when I wrote this piece back in 2008(!), I can tell you that I CRINGE whenever I read this paragraph. What was I thinking, repeating the word “body” so many times in such a short span? Not only is it redundant, but it reads awkwardly, like I’m having a Rain Man moment. I should have deleted some “body”s and replaced others with words like “frame” or “form.” As a side note, I should have entirely gotten rid of the “shirt” after “button-down.” And I should have disposed of a “white.”

Here’s how the corrected paragraph should read:

I notice his body first. He definitely has presence, that’s for sure. His chiseled, sculpted form puts Michael’s to shame a million times over. Everything is in perfect proportion; every muscle is carefully outlined in his blue jeans, white button-down and matching T-shirt. He’s toned, tanned, and has not one ounce of excess fat on his frame. His body is spectacular, and he’s a sharp, classy dresser, too. I just need a paper bag to throw over his head.

YEAH. That makes me feel much better.

See the difference? Not only does the corrected paragraph read better and flow more smoothly, but it is devoid of the extraneous adornments and gets down to business. Its polish denotes the years of experience I’ve gained in fewer words. Now THAT’S exciting.

6) Learn how to properly proofread. Or, better, find someone else to do it for you. Yet another point that is SO important, because it saves us all a world of hurt in the aftermath.

Believe me, I know how hard it is to proofread. I myself have been responsible for a whole mess of blunders, each of which makes me want to stick my foot in my mouth. It’s so hard to proofread one’s own writing because it’s, well, one’s own baby – known so well and loved so much, it’s easy to miss what’s wrong.

If you’re not going to hire a professional editor (which, given the cost, time, and effort, is something which I’m sure many of us aspire to, but is simply out of our reach), then you need to follow Hemingway’s rule: You MUST edit sober. Seriously. You can be as inebriated as you want while you’re writing, but you cannot make any corrections until all of the alcohol is out of your system. At that point, you need to find what works for you. It might sound silly, but for me, the best way to proofread is to read everything I’ve written out loud. I’ve caught more typos, misspellings, and awkward sentence structures that way than any other.

Please, try your own ways for proofreading, too. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. But that’s not what’s important. What IS important is that you sit down and seriously proofread your works (more than once, by the way) before you hit SUMBIT.

7) Avoid the use of clichés as much as possible. An article for Glimmer Train Magazine’s online component ( delves a bit into the use of clichés. To sum it up: it’s bad, and not only does one need to avoid it in every case possible, but one only recognizes it if one reads regularly…which goes back to my first point!

Yes, I’ve used clichés in the past, and I still use them now. Seriously. Only now, when I know I’m using a cliché, I like to use the word proverbial with it. As in, “It was so quiet, one could hear the proverbial pin drop.” Or “He was so delicious but so bad for me, like the proverbial forbidden fruit I shouldn’t eat.” I own up to the fact that I’m using a cliché, which somehow makes it more acceptable. Don’t ask me why or how. It just does.

8) Take constructive criticism seriously. Having been on the receiving end of blatant criticism, which is much different, I know that constructive criticism is a true gift. In constructive criticism, the reader/reviewer believes in your writing, your story, and/or your characters, but perhaps is not quite satisfied. This type of person only wants you to polish your work so that it sparkles better than a diamond in a Tiffany & Co. display. (See? An uncommon cliché, thank you.) PAY ATTENTION. A reader/editor who cares enough to give you constructive criticism and possibly advice is someone who has spent a significant amount of time reading your work.

I recently received an early Christmas present: an anonymous feedbacker left me a long review for my short story “Baby Dance” ( She (I believe this reader was a female) made it a point to repeat that the story was well-written, but that she did not like the characters, finding them to be “unsympathetic” and in an “unhealthy relationship.” This was actually the theme of the story, one which I didn’t come right out and divulge. Show, rather than tell, I suppose is how the rule goes. But in any case, I was very pleased that this reader felt strongly enough to leave a comment. MY work left an impression on someone. There is no better gift or more glorious feeling than that.

9) Work out the basics: who vs. that, which vs. that, both…and, either…or, neither…nor, and all of their friends. Well, hard as I tried, I couldn’t stay away from minor grammar. (Grammar nazi. Sue me.)

Other than the repeat of key words multiple times in a paragraph (see #5), nothing jars me more than reading a sentence like this: “He’s the type of person that leaves the toilet seat up.” NO! No no NO!!! A person is a who, not a that. “He’s the type of person who leaves the toilet seat up.”

An animal is a that (but could also be a who, depending on who you talk to). An inanimate object is a that. A person is a who. Get it straight.

Rant over.

10) Surround yourself with the proper accoutrements. This is my favorite tip of all! Now, I’m not condoning alcoholism or drunk driving, but I have always found that a glass (or two) of red wine or a shot (or two) of Cîroc vodka helps the words flow.

Let’s face it, we all have a place (or several) where we get stuck. Perhaps it’s writers block. But more often than not, it’s boredom. It’s “I have to insert this paragraph/chapter to make the story flow better/give some background info/etc., but it’s not something I want to write.” This happens to me fairly often. I’ve found that this is where the alcohol comes in handy…and once it’s down my throat, words start pouring out!

Of course, one’s favorite alcoholic beverage is not the only accoutrement one needs for a successful writing session. Do you prefer to type on your computer/laptop/iPad/cell phone, or jot notes down onto paper with your favorite pen? Do you need complete and utter silence, or some music playing in the background? (Or are you like my mom, who prefers the subliminal messages from QVC to keep her company?) Can you take breaks, or do you need to be focused for hours at a time to get anything done? These are also points to consider.

Whatever it is one needs to get down to business is considered the proper accompaniment to writing. End of story.

Well, that’s it for my writing tips. I have more, to be sure, but these are the most important. Take whatever you have learned from them and RUN! Make 2015 your best writing year yet. Remember, I’m hoping for the best for all of us. And if you’re looking for more tips or a place to vent, please check out my all-new “Words and Teeth” website.


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. 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…