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What’s Up With Me

I’m sorry I haven’t had a blog up the last couple weeks. This kind of year is rough for me physically. The weather kicks me while I’m down and causes my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to flare up. I have also had some things happening in my personal life that needed attention. I am all right; it’s not COVID or anything like that. But I had something come up in the last week that required my complete attention, so I missed Monday’s blog, and this week I don’t have much for you.

What I can tell you is that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is know when you need to take a break. And it is okay to have a time where you aren’t as productive as other.

Thank you for sticking with me, friends. I appreciate your readership, and I hope to be back up to speed next week.

Common Mistakes: Combat

This may turn into a series about common errors in literature, but we’ll see where it goes. For now, while it’s fresh in my mind, I wanted to address an area of writing that has problems a great deal of the time. It’s a loose relation to my last post where I talked about the need to research aspects of your book.

So let’s talk combat scenes in books. You don’t need to be a martial artist or expert gunslinger to write a good conflict, but luckily for me, I am experienced with a variety of weapons and martial arts styles. So I can give you both the perspective of a martial artist as well as the perspective of a writer–and I can explain better why you don’t need to be both.

The first problem we’ll go into is the issue of people who don’t understand how fights work in the real world. Before we get started, I recognize and bow to the “Rule of Cool” (which states that coolness is more important than reality), but there are limitations to it.

One of the first things many people don’t realize is how disabling some injuries can be. Even relatively minor ones. Coming from the annals of experience, I can tell you that being punched in the nose (even if you don’t even get a nosebleed from it) is enough to seriously distract if not stop someone. Punching someone in the face puts you at great risk for injuring your hand on the person’s teeth (which is why we don’t suggest people do it in real life) and leaves you open to all sorts of nasty diseases and infections. However, it will stop many people rather suddenly. Having your ears boxed is also rather awful, and I don’t suggest anyone do it. My favorite resource for understanding what certain injuries would do to a person in the real world is the book Body Trauma. I use it regularly. However, outside of purchasing a book, you can study what the injuries your characters are inflicting (and having inflicted on them) would result in using WebMD or other, similar, resources.

The reason I mention this is I recently was working on a manuscript where a character had fractured ribs, a severe ankle sprain, and an injury requiring stitches and the next day was going galavanting about the countryside as if nothing was wrong. The author and I had a discussion about the viability of the injuries and ultimately decided to scale down the hurt because the character needed to be well enough to take part in very physical activity. While, yes, you can justify adrenaline for certain amounts of activity after severe injury, make sure you think about what the ramifications are for the character and their ability to do things afterward.

Next, I want to address the idea of realistic combat. Rule of Cool here, but real fights don’t last long. As an SCA rapier fencer, I can tell you most bouts last less than a minute. If you are doing a sword and sorcery setting, you might find watching videos of ACL fighters in action. If you’re in a setting where firearms are more a focus, you will want to watch people doing shooting courses. For martial arts, you can watch videos of the style you’re interested in. If you’re less interested in people who are trained, you can look up videos of street fights of various kinds. I explicitly did not link videos of street fights because it could upset folks, and that’s not my goal.

Granted, watching that kind of might not appeal to you, but if you’re going to include fights in your books, you should know what they look like. I can tell you from experience, they don’t look like an anime. Even if you elect to have your story take a more cinematic view of fighting, you should understand that a fight is a fight, so don’t drag them on for three chapters like Dragon Ball Z.

Finally, you don’t need to over-describe every action. While you can choose to describe some parts more than other, you don’t need to detail out every piece of every motion a character makes. It can be simple enough to say, “he dodged left” rather than giving over-information about the character’s movements. Over-describing a conflict is a good way to take all the excitement out of it because it drags the pacing and will result in readers feeling frustrated and wanting to just know who wins. That isn’t to say you should omit all flavor text and dryly announce who is doing the punching, but don’t drown your readers in detailed descriptions of how the character moves either. It’s a balance, but with some time, study, and effort, you can make it work.

I hope you found this helpful, and I think next week I might write a blog about common errors I see in medieval settings.

Update and Change of Scenery

Hey there, everyone! I’m sorry I haven’t been in here recently. To be honest, blogging has sort of fallen by the wayside. I may pick this up again at some point, but with how hectic life has become, I don’t know that I have the mental space for it right now.

The good news, however, is that I do a weekly live stream over on Insomnia Publishing’s Facebook page. I cover a lot of the things I’d cover in blogs here, and I answer questions live. The streams take place Sundays at 9pm. The streams are saved, too, so you can binge watch my insanity. I am also interviewing authors and other folk in the industry, so you don’t just hear my voice. Stay tuned for more of that in the future!

Tenents of Storytelling

Tenents of Storytelling

My dear friend Helen keyed on a phrase I used in my last entry: tenants of storytelling. She asked me to enumerate them, and since then I’ve been trying to come up with a list of commandments for writers. Now, keep in mind that there is almost always a time to break the rules, but you need to understand them before you do that. These are also not rules for just the craft of writing, but for plot and story, so I’m going to leave my crunchy nitpickiness regarding the Oxford comma at home. You can thank me for that later. Winking smile Let’s get to it!

Don’t write yourself into corners through poor planning.

Many authors end up using poor storytelling because they didn’t make a plan for their plot before they wrote it and then didn’t know how to get out of the corner they’d written themselves into. They then rely on deus ex or other means to squirm out of it. The way you avoid this is by having a plan for your story before you execute it. That isn’t to say you need to plan every tiny aspect of your plot, but if you don’t have a clear goal to write toward (your ending), you’ll probably end up with problems.

Over-complicating doesn’t make your story “complex” in a good way.

Some writers end up coming up with too many ideas and trying to stuff them all into a single book. This leads to a book turning into a catastrophe with so many threads the reader (and even author) end up lost and confused about just what is happening in the world of the characters. That isn’t to say complicated plots with multiple threads all happening at once are bad, but take care that you aren’t being complicated just because you have story ADD and aren’t focused on readability.

Some writers also develop the mistaken impression that this kind of thing makes your story “complex” in a positive way (like Game of Thrones). While complexity is good in the right circumstances, it needs to be woven well. Complexity doesn’t happen just because you have a high quantity of things happening all at once.

Not keeping your pacing moving.

Some authors run into issues where the plot either goes rushing by so quickly the readers don’t quite follow it or they drag things on so long the reader develops cobwebs. Now, pacing issues can be a function of poor writing rather than just storytelling, but sometimes it can be due to storytelling. A writer might not quite know how to get from Point A to Point C, so they meander around in the swamp trying to find their way out. That’s fine to do when you’re writing a first draft, but too often writers leave that kind of thing in the final draft and try to drag readers with them while they try to figure things out.

Confusing transitional scenes or lack of transitional scenes.

I’ve encountered manuscripts where the writer gives the reader no transition whatsoever between one scene and another. One moment the character is on the subway, the next they are in a hotel. No scene break, no mention of the character getting off the subway and into the hotel, nothing. Again, recognizing that this is fine in the first draft (you should see how many things I leave out when I write a first draft!), folks often overlook them in subsequent drafts and never go back to repair that lack of transition. It’s confusing as heck because it’s like a camera cutting from one scene to another without warning or indication they’re entering a new place.

Inconsistency within the manuscript.

A character whose height, weight, name and personality change through the manuscript is going to raise red flags. That isn’t to say a character can’t develop (they should), but if it’s just because the writer forgot something, it proves an issue. However, if characters are acting inconsistent with how you have created them just because you have plot needs and didn’t put together how to make it work… Well, you can see the issue.

Relying on clichés is a problem.

Most writing will employ some measure of cliché. They aren’t, innately, a bad thing, but many writers rely on these tropes too hard and pidgeonhole their characters, which makes their work predictable. Now, anyone familiar with stories can often see the direction of a plot—that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean clichés like “the butler did it”.

Even the best plots won’t go anywhere with poor pacing.

Pacing is a difficult thing to get on point. You don’t want to crawl through a scene, but you also don’t want to sprint, either. Pacing is also not just the speed of the scene, but it’s also in the technical aspects of the writing (passive voice or passive construction, for example!), so it’s a many-faceted issue. I’m not going to dig too hard into pacing in this post, since I could write a whole blog entry just on pacing. Suffice to say, pacing is somewhat of a nuanced subject, but the thing that’ll trip up an author most is not being aware of it.

Now, ultimately, most rules of writing are loose in some ways. These, however, are pretty strict so far as I am concerned. They’re loose in the sense that you can avoid them in a myriad of ways, but these aren’t rules to be broken. The only one that gives you much wiggle room is the clichés one because you can use cliché in satire and some other genres if you’re doing it almost as a parody of the fact that it’s a cliché.

If you would like me to elaborate on any of these points, please just ask in the comments section, and I’ll talk your ear off for you!

Happy Endings

Happy Endings

I recently encountered someone asking why so many literary writers poo-poo happy endings. After some evaluating I realized that many literary writers’ books do have rather miserable endings. However, I don’t think it’s a categorical denial of happy endings so much as it is a reflection of the person, and many famous writers weren’t all that happy.

Some people seem to think that being miserable is a requirement for being a writer, and one of my previous posts discussing depression is definitely indicative of that. But not every writer wants to write about their unhappiness. Quite the contrary, honestly. I prefer to write about fantasy worlds because it takes me out of where I live. Some people prefer to write about their sorrow and pain because they find it cathartic. Others want to wallow in it and exorcise their pain through sharing it with others.

The ending of your book doesn’t need to be categorically happy or sorrowful. In fact, the ending of any work shouldn’t be categorically anything. When writing a story its conclusion should be a fulfillment of the promises the story itself has made. It should be satisfying. But you don’t need to think that you need to fill some sort of literary rules about your ending because there aren’t any other than that it work with the book.

This, of course, likely comes as no surprise to any of you who follow me because I believe in telling your story and following where the story takes you. While there are certain tenants to storytelling, there is no requirement for any specific kind of ending for your book. You need to write where your heart goes. Stories end where they are meant to end, and you shouldn’t eschew any particular type of ending just because someone else finds it trite. If your story ends with “happily ever after,” then it ends with “happily ever after.”

Some of the reason folks these days lean toward darker endings is because they believe it makes their work edgy. It’s similar to the trend of killing off main characters a la Game of Thrones. While I do not prefer or employ this technique, I wouldn’t tell someone not to employ it if it works for them. However, I do recommend not giving into the pressure of feeling as though you are obligated to do any particular thing in that regard. Just because something is popular at the moment doesn’t mean you need to leap onto that bandwagon. At that point, you lose some of your artistic integrity because you’re attempting to fit a formula or mold rather than digging deep into your own creativity and allowing that to dictate what your writing will entail.

Ultimately, you need to write the story and book you want to write. This may mean that not everyone likes it. It may mean that not everyone will want to publish it. However, if you water something down far enough to please everyone, it will please no one. Listen to your gut and let the story whisper in your ears. Write what the muse tells you, and the heck with anything different.

Why Readers Stop Reading a Book.

Why Readers Stop Reading a Book.

This is a fantastic breakdown–I recommend everyone take a look at this. If people aren’t reading your book, you might be making one of these mistakes!

Lit World Interviews

Recently, we here at LitWorldInterviews.com conducted a survey, “Why do you put a book down?” and through the assistance of the writing community we had a very nice response. Now it’s time to share what we found.

First, I want to say why the survey was conducted. We wanted to help writers by giving them the information they most need. If a reader takes the time to check out your book and don’t like it, they are unlikely to give you a second chance with your next work. First impressions mean a lot.

86.30% of those responding were Female, thus leaving the remaining 13.70% Male. Considering the majority of those reading novels are Female, although not quite this extreme, I’m comfortable with sharing what we found.

There were 34 sub-categories as a result of the survey. Those results were then placed into 5 main categories: Writing, Editing, Proofreading, Taste, and…

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Identifying and Fixing Passive Voice

Identifying and Fixing Passive Voice

I have seen a lot of Facebook questions and posts about passive voice that don’t quite explain it. Almost everyone who knows what passive voice is (or thinks they know what passive voice is) knows it’s bad, but they often have trouble identifying it. Given how prevalent the problem is, I thought I should address it.

A novel is, in some ways, like a movie. How you construct your sentences will determine where the camera is focused, who is on screen, and where the spotlight is shining. This is one of the reasons sentence structure is so vital to writing because if you don’t understand it or use it well you’re like a director whose camera crew is off the rails.

The easiest way I have to explain passive voice is it’s pointing the camera lens in the wrong direction. Now, I know there are times in artsy-fartsy movies where the kind of thing I’m going to describe happens. There are times in regular movies when it’s desirable. That also means passive voice isn’t always wrong. That said, it’s wrong more than it’s right, so don’t take that and run with it too far. Just because, “E said it’s okay sometimes” doesn’t mean to charge into the sunset with it.

Let’s start with an example of passive voice:

The door was closed by the man as he ran through it.

In this circumstance “the man” is supposed to be the primary sentence subject since he’s the one we are following, right? Your MC (Main Character) is running through a doorway and slamming it behind them as they try and escape the bad guys. Simple enough.

Unfortunately, with that sentence, that’s not the way it reads. It reads that the primary subject of the sentence is the door because it is written into the place of power. The camera lens is focusing on the door and watching it while the man (an afterthought) rushes past and closes it.

The reason this is called “passive voice” is because the thing being acted upon is the subject and isn’t doing anything. It’s not even reacting (which is a key part of why this is passive voice).

So how do we fix it? The fix is simple. Have the camera follow the action like any good director:

The man closed the door as he ran through it.

See the difference? The camera is moving, following the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is acting, and we aren’t stuck in limbo staring at the door while action goes on around us. It would be like watching Avengers from the POV of one of the buildings in New York. Occasionally neat things would happen around you, but you’re stuck facing one direction with limited view and no action.

So how do we identify passive voice?

  • One thing you will also notice in the second sentence is I have removed the “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). While “to be” verbs aren’t always passive, it’s a good idea to eliminate as many of them as possible in your writing. However, if you see a lot of “to be” verbs in your writing you might discover you have a fair amount of passive construction in there, too.
  • Next, check your subjects. Passive voice is almost always going to  have two or more subjects, so if your sentence has only one subject (e.g. The door was closed.) you are probably not in passive territory. That doesn’t make all single-subject sentences perfect, but they probably aren’t going to be “passive voice” in the technical definition.
  • If your sentence has two or more subjects, is the “camera” focused on the one doing the acting? If they are both acting then the sentence can’t be passive because passive voice requires at least one of the subjects to be doing nothing. If I were to write: “The door swung closed after him,” that is not passive. The door is swinging. It is active.

If those three checks do not hit paydirt on your sentence, it is not passive, no matter what the grammar check on your word processor or editing software says. That’s actually one of the major problems with editing software: it doesn’t realize all “to be” verbs aren’t passive. While I can (and will) do a post later about why “to be” verbs aren’t your friends, they aren’t passive by definition.

Book Review: They Call Me Murdered

I had the pleasure of reading “They Call Me Murdered” by author Cyndi Lord as my first review. While some parts of the book challenged me, it was worth it, and the book was a roller coaster of emotion and human experience. Without spoilers, let’s dive into the world of Sandra Derringer.

Unable to ignore the gift of channeling the dead, Sandy, a thirty-two year old private investigator, disregards most other-world intrusions. When a murdered University Professor contacts her through extraordinary means, she agrees to help. Hectic and dangerous cases take her to the brink of death when she begins working with the entity propelled into her life. Trapped in the chasm of lies, deceit and murder, the twists launch her onto a roller coaster ride from hell. Certain no escape exists, she finds comfort with her dog, Drew, and his comical, unearthly abilities. Will it all rob her of the happiness she’s found after being afraid of love? Or, will it cost her life as the spirit hints?

The book starts out with a bang, and the tension builds from there. The story incorporates raw human elements that, while difficult to experience sometimes, provide a picture of reality. It addresses difficult and painful decisions and lets us ride shotgun with Sandy as she faces these experiences head on.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the way the main character develops and grows through her experiences. In a surprisingly large portion of modern fiction, characters do not grow or develop. They start perfect. Sandra is flawed and very real; she could be anyone making those choices.

The author’s personal experience as a PI provides a strong backbone of authenticity to the process and trappings of the story. The investigation, the experiences, the fear, the mistakes, they feel grounded and honest because they stem from a real person. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Sandra doesn’t get it right all the time or even make the best decision at every stage of the book.

I also really enjoyed the way the author developed several distinct threads and plots within the book and tied them together in the climax. Each portion of the story fell like a domino into the next, creating a chain reaction that raced toward the finish line.

I give “They Call Me Murdered” a huge thumbs up and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good supernatural thriller.

 

Pick up your copy of “They Call Me Murdered” at Amazon.com!

A Decision

So, after much consideration, I have decided I am going to start providing book reviews. My hope is to both build traffic on my blog as well as provide a leg-up to indie authors. Obviously, I’m not going to charge for these since that’s immoral. But it’ll give me some fun, new reading material and hopefully help others!

I did book reviews once before when I worked for a website, but I didn’t have as much control over the content or what I reviewed as I would like at times. Doing it for myself I can be a lot more discerning and focus on the genres I like so I can provide fair reviews that will actually benefit authors.

I will, of course, continue to write my blogs about writing and publishing. That won’t change any, but I hope to add this to what I am providing for folks who come a-visiting.

Sorry for the short post, but I hope you all are having a fantastic new year, and I look forward to continuing to write to, and with, all of you.

Spinning Wheels

As you all know, whoever reads this, there was a large chunk of time when I didn’t post here at all. All my posts went to another website because I had devoted time to that project. When that project went downhill, and I left that group, I now had the unenviable chore of building this blog back up again.

Many writers have times in their lives when their blog, their social media, or their writing escape them. Getting back into it feels like an exercise in futility. Where I used to have many likes and shares and retweets and comments, I now have the occasional “like” from friends who read my stuff anyway. It’s frustrating. I’m sure many of you have fallen into the same trap before when life handed you an entire bucket of lemons. We all do.

So how do you fix it?

Well, the answer is not going to be easy, and it’s one I’m still struggling with. It is, however, very true: you just keep at it. Keep writing those blog posts like you did in the beginning when your entire audience was your cat. Keep tweeting and following and retweeting like you did when you knew only your aunt, your cousin, and that weird friend on Twitter. Keep putting pen to paper and putting out books even if it feels like nobody’s listening.

The real problem here isn’t the lack of people listening, it’s the change. It’s like climbing up the stairs and then falling back down them. When you look at the stairs again they appear so much longer because you’re now on your butt at the bottom step. Again.

You climbed this mountain once, and you can do it a second time. Don’t lament what you’ve lost in terms of activity – that won’t help you regain it. Instead, focus on creating quality content, tweets, or whatever it is you’re doing. That will pull people back to you, and soon you’ll be on top of those stairs again. You can then continue upward through employing the same methods.

Ultimately, what has taken a hit is my self-esteem. How did I end up being so dumb that I set aside all my personal development for another project? Well… there are a lot of answers to that, but what matters moving forward. I learned my lessons, and I’m continuing onward. I now know not to let myself become bogged down the way I have been.

You can do this, too. Everyone can. Just decide you’re going to start over. In some ways, it’s better because it gives you a clean slate to work from. You can do this. I can do this. We can do this.

Happy holidays, everyone.