Monday, October 23, 2017

The Selfish Goal

A powerful novel needs a main character with an important goal he must achieve by the end of the novel. At all costs, the main character must achieve that goal or fail utterly with devastating cost to him and those around him.

A recent novel I tried to read reminded me of when that goal won't work.

Here's the premise. The heroine is the standard urban fantasy woman-- incredible supernatural abilities, snappy leather outfit and dialogue, sharp weapons, and a supernatural boyfriend. So far, so good.

Even better, she is the prophesied warrior who can stop the supernatural baddies before they can start the Apocalypse by opening the gates to Hell.

The Big Bad holds her innocent kid sister hostage, and the ransom is the keys to open all of Hell's gates to Earth.

She must decide whether to save her kid sister by helping the demons of Hell wipe out human life or lose her sister and save everyone else.

A no-brainer, right? She'd choose to save humanity.

Instead, she chooses to help the demons end life on Earth with the very faint possibility she may be able to stop them.

At this point in the novel, I said some rude things about the stupidity and selfishness of the heroine and stopped reading because this wasn't a heroine I could root for.

When you are thinking about your main character's goal for the novel, remember that it must be a goal the reader can root for. Saving a sibling is a good thing but saving a sibling at the cost of everyone else's life is a bad thing.

A hero's goal is selfless, not selfish.

Monday, October 16, 2017

What We Leave Behind

The phone call woke me.

“You probably don’t remember me, but I’m (name removed).  I used to work for your parents.”

“Of course I remember you.”

“I dreamed about your parents’ store last night, and I wanted to tell you.”  She then proceeded to talk about the store, but she kept repeating the same sentence through the conversation.  “And your momma told me I could do anything well.”  

I’m sure over forty years has passed since my mother complimented her, but that one kind and generous comment had stuck with this woman through all those years.  

Our stories are like that.  Readers remember the emotional glow of a character who has achieved her positive goal, who chooses kindness over cruelty, who wins against darkness.  It’s what makes some stories memorable and others quickly forgotten.  

The light, not the darkness, is what many of us leave behind when our stories are finished.

When things are bad, remember that.  It is a wonderful legacy.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Making Info Tidbits Palatable

No matter what kind of novel you write, you’ll face the problem of how to share bits of information with your reader.

These bits are minor plot or character clues that the main character and the reader need to know to go forward to a logical conclusion.

Often, these small clues come from different sources, but writing a scene for each bit of information often slows the pace to a crawl.  What to do?

One method is delegation.  Have your character delegate the task of finding out this information to a secondary character who will do it off page.  The secondary character will report back and in one scene present all the necessary information.  This method is often used in mysteries, but it can be just as effective in any genre novel.

The second method is finding a gossip, expert, or reporter who already knows the information.  To make this scene work, make that gossip or expert a bit larger than life, funny, or someone who knows embarrassing things about the main character so the scene is interesting.  

The most important thing to remember when doing this is to make it integral to the novel and to make it a logical choice for the main character to make.

Monday, October 2, 2017


QUESTION:  What is plagiarism?  If I borrow an author’s style, is that plagiarism?  

Plagiarism is a very complex issue.  The most obvious example is a writer who has cobbled together many paragraphs of someone else's work with their own words as cement.  

A less obvious example is someone who uses someone else's work as a template to their own.  Each scene is a rewrite of a scene in someone else's novel.  

Another very common form of plagiarism is cutting and pasting text from a nonfiction source into a novel.

Famous writers certainly aren't exempt from being guilty of plagiarism.  Janet Dailey's flagrant plagiarism of Nora Roberts' novels is a perfect example.  (JD was proven guilty and had to pay restitution.)
Not so famous writers are also found guilty of the same thing.  Some years back, a teenaged novelist had her first novel pulled off shelves when readers found that she'd patched together several other books to create her own.

Copying someone’s style isn’t plagiarism as long as you aren’t copying content.  Many new writers try to emulate a favorite author’s style because they haven’t found their own yet.  After a few years, gained confidence, and the sheer difficulty of maintaining someone else’s voice, most develop their own style.  

As a reader, if you feel that the two books are so similar that it might be plagiarism, you should contact the publisher or the author, express your concerns, and let them decide whether this is plagiarism or not.  

Most authors have websites these day with contact information as do publisher websites.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Taxes and Writers

For American Writers Only

NOTE:  I found a new article on taxes and decided to update my old article to include it as well as checking for dead links.  I discovered that many of these articles have been updated to include information for those who are self published. So, here is the update.

Did you know that you don't have to make a profit to write off your writing expenses?  You don't even have to be published or contracted to publish.  

All you have to do is prove that you are a working writer.  This can be as simple as having copies of your rejection letters.  

I'm not an accountant or tax attorney so here are some experts to give you even more information on writers and taxes.

Writers and taxes, General Information:


Monday, September 18, 2017

Finding Your Voice

I've read somewhere that an author doesn't have a voice or true style until they have written over a million words. This is true to a certain extent. By that time, we've stopped trying to copy our favorite authors or second guess ourselves, etc., if for no other reason than we're tired of doing that.

Some writers don't read the kind of fiction they write while they are working on a book for fear that they will start copying a writer's voice instead of using their own.

Voice is more than just the use or misuse of metaphors, etc. I know I choose the language I use because of the character's viewpoint I'm in. (I write strict third-person viewpoint.)

One character might see a small plane wreck and describe it in my narrative as

The plane's pieces were scattered over the valley like clothes dropped by a drunk on the way to bed.

Another character who is more analytical would think

The gouge of earth left by the plane's moving fuselage led him to a boulder. The left wing tip lay against it. The furrow veered violently left there, and bits of wing then fuselage littered the area around it. When there was nothing left of the plane to break apart, the gouge ended.

The author must also choose voice by the genre expectations of the readers. Choosing the wrong voice can be quite jarring.

Can you imagine a romance novel written like a noir detective novel?

I can say this for Lord Garven, he was built, built like Cleopatra's Needle, but I walked away alone in the dark, dank London fog. I had my partner to avenge, and he had a date with Lord Southby.

One big mistake I've seen used by beginning writers is emulating the wrong writers, especially writers from the past.

A friend had a thing for Sinclair Lewis who wrote in the early 20th century.  I had to explain to him that Lewis' style was hopelessly outdated with its languid pace, florid style, and sentence structure, and with the current tastes of editors and readers, he would find no readers.

It's equally disastrous to emulate the current literary style of the moment like writing in first person immediate or second person immediate.

I look at Lord Garven. He is built. Like Cleopatra's Needle. But I shake my head no and walk through the door. I must find my partner's killer.


You look at Lord Garven. He is built. Like Cleopatra's Needle. But you shake your head no and walk through the door. You must find your partner's killer.

By the time you're publishable, the moment is long gone.

What I'm saying is find the right voice for each work, and your own voice will emerge.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Finishing a Novel

QUESTION:  I keep starting novels but can't seem to finish them because I can't figure out how.  Help!

Writing isn't just inspiration. A novel involves a great deal of planning, thought, and preparation. Those who just write instead of doing some form of plan or outline are more likely to be unable to finish a novel, or their novel falls apart. 

Learn how to make that plan, if not an outline. 

To do this, read books on writing. Most are one-size fits almost nobody, but you may eventually stumble on the one idea or method that gives you an "ah ha!" moment. 

Mine was Ben Bova's WRITING SCIENCE FICTION THAT SELLS which helped me understand the relationship between plot and character. It's a good book even if you don't write science fiction. (It's been republished under a number of names.) 

Find a good teacher. The Internet has some wonderful online teaching sites.

Ask questions at blogs like this one.

And when you find novels you really like, reread them and try to figure out what the writer did and how the novel was structured.  

Take the book apart by writing a short description of what happens in each chapter so you can better see the structure.  

Don't give up if  you really want to tell the story.  Eventually, you will figure out how to finish it if you work at it.