Monday, November 23, 2020

Semicolons in Fiction

QUESTION: Someone told me I shouldn't use semicolons in my stories. Why?

First, a grammar reminder about semicolons (;). The three most common uses of a semicolon are

*Compound sentences when a conjunction (and, or, but) isn't used.

The wind blew through the trees; the chimes sang like angels.

*Compound sentences when a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, nevertheless) is used.

The wind blew through the trees; however, the chimes remained silent.

*Sentences with long, joined clauses which may have commas.

The wind blew through the trees, I was told; but because the chimes had become tangled, their sounds did not echo through the forest.

As you can see from the examples, most semicolon sentence structures have a formal quality to them that is uncommon in fiction but is often found in nonfiction. In other words, it belongs in nonfiction, not fiction, particularly genre fiction with its more vernacular style.

Use the semicolon as rarely as you would an exclamation point in narrative, and only when nothing else will do for clarity.

If you find yourself using semicolons quite often, your narrative voice is probably too heavy or didactic for popular fiction.


SYFA has just put up a “legal kit” for wills and estate planning for writers.

And in other breaking news, many author organizations and writers are very unhappy with Amazon’s Audible who is screwing over authors.  (This is exactly why I tell authors not to trust Amazon.)

Monday, November 16, 2020

Ways to Find and Promote Free eBooks

 NOTE: This is an updated list from an earlier post. Feel free to pass it along to friends and family who are having trouble getting enough to read digitally right now.   

These days, with so many books available as ebooks, it’s hard to get your books to readers and hard for readers to find the kind of books they like to read.

One answer for both is services which offer free or cheap/on-sale ebooks via their site, newsletters, or emails.  These services give an author a chance to showcase a series or a group of similar novels by offering a book on sale or giving away the first book or a short story/novella in the series, and for readers to find series they like.    

I’ve compiled a list of these services as well as an article for authors on the subject.  The first link after each services is for readers, the second for authors who are interested in using these services.  

















Monday, November 9, 2020

The Great Book Cull

 If you’re a writer, you are surrounded by books.  It’s part of what we do as readers and writers.  Then, one day, for some reason like moving to a smaller space or a change in circumstances, some or all of those books must go.  For me, it was discovering that I was allergic to old books and book dust, and most of those book had to go.  This is how I did it.  

I was an English major through three degrees so I had easily a hundred hard cover and trade paperback novels from that part of my life. If these books were in public domain or I didn't care for them emotionally in the first place, into the library book sale pile they went.  As a specialist in the 19th Century, I pretty well cleared out my hard cover and trade paperback shelves.  

The more current fiction that could be bought as ebooks if I ever wanted to see it again went into the library book sale piles.

All those nonfiction research books I collected for a book I would write eventually about the States during WWII, the novel in Victorian England, etc., etc.  I knew deep in my heart that eventually would never come so those were given to the nonfiction librarian to keep or give to the library sale.  The book on the tunnels underneath London was the hardest because TUNNELS UNDER LONDON!  WITH MAPS! All the first editions of North Carolina writers and books on NC suffered the same fate, but the North Carolina Room librarian got those.  

The paperbacks were both harder and easier.  They were also the most toxic to my nose so I had to be brutal.  The books that remained went into plastic, air-tight bins.  After a hurricane destroyed the library in one of the state’s coastal towns and my library asked for popular books to stock the shelves of a large mobile home, I sighed as I realized that all but a few of those books would make others far happier during miserable times than they made me in plastic bins.  Off they went. 

What remained.  A really good, huge dictionary suitable for research and flattening things, books I refer to often in my writing blog, a few research resources I still look at, books of extreme sentimential value like the novel dedicated to me and signed by the author who died several years later, and the cookbooks my mom and I used for many family meals.  The cookbooks are coming apart so I'm slowly making copies of the favorite recipes to share with the siblings and their kids.  

Now, I’m down to one small bookshelf in a room I never use, a plastic bin for the paperbacks, and another small shelf of cookbooks and other resources.  

So, moral of the story.  If I can do this, you can, too.  

Monday, November 2, 2020

Faraway Places

QUESTION: I want to set my novel in India, but I've never been there. My main character comes into India from America. Can I pull this off?

I'm a born and bred Southerner, and I can almost always tell when a non-Southerner is writing about the South. Words and expressions are used wrong, facts are wrong, the texture of the landscape and weather is wrong, etc., etc. That's one reason I rarely stray from the South as a location for my books since I'm probably as culturally clueless about other parts of the US as these people are about the South.  

I would be beyond clueless about another country, and I’d think long and hard about spending a whole novel there.  There's also the issue of not understanding certain cultural norms which can land me in a culturally insensitive pile of crap of my own making which would not just hurt the book but my reputation.  Considering all that, my answer would be nope, not a smart idea. 

If you choose to write that novel, you will have the advantage, though, of having a stranger come into India so some mistakes made in her viewpoint will be hers, not yours, in the reader's eyes.

The culture and landscape will be so vastly different that anyone from outside would be overwhelmed by its alien quality and miss much of the nuances. Essentially, that means that she will view India as an impressionistic painting, not as a photographic image, so that certain things will connect with her senses and others will be missed.

My major suggestions are to read recent travelogues about that area as well as watch TV show travelogues. It would not surprise me if YouTube isn’t full of American adventures in India.  Memoirs from Americans or Europeans living in India should also prove to be a valuable resource about the clash of cultures.

The Internet is a wondrous resource, and it's very easy to connect with people from all over the world. When you have your work in a readable form, try to find people who know that area to read those parts of the books. That should help, too. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

When a Simple Story Stops Being Simple

 A few times a year, I receive an email from someone who has read one or more of my writing articles.  This person is just getting started with her writing, and she suddenly realizes that writing that story isn’t quite as easy as she thought.

All those professional writers she loves have created stories that seem so simple on the surface but are not so simple when the new writer starts to see all the elements of craft involved and how each must do certain things perfectly so that the story can be told correctly.  

Writing dialogue, creating plot, constructing sentences and paragraphs that pull the reader in and doesn’t confuse him, breathing life into characters, and all the other elements of telling a good story become so overwhelming a task that the new writer panics and sends me a call for help asking how she can become a stronger writer.

Here’s what I always tell this person.

I can't wave the magic wand of a few words of advice over you and make you a stronger writer, but here are a few things I can suggest to help you begin to make yourself a stronger writer.  

Read what you want to write.  Study your favorite writers to see how they do what they do.

Find good writing teachers to help you with the basics of writing.  Read books on writing.  Find other writers and critique each other.

Sit down at the computer and write and write.  If you want to be a professional writer in a traditional market, be prepared to be sitting there for years before you can start selling your work.

And, most importantly, enjoy the writing.  If there is no joy in the journey, the destination isn't worth it.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Paragraph and Sentence Lengths

 QUESTION:  What is the correct length of a paragraph and a sentence when you are writing fiction?

There is no average length for paragraphs, but a really long paragraph is off-putting to the eye on paper and even more off-putting when you are scrolling on a small screen so shorter paragraphs have become the norm for current narrative.

When the average person looks at a page, they want to see some space, not a massive block of text.

The best way to do paragraphs, as a writer, is to vary the paragraph lengths on the page.

The same is true of sentence length.

Both sentence and paragraph length are also influenced by what is being written. A narrative description can have a longer length for both, but an action scene would have a shorter length for both.  

Some writing teachers suggest varying between long sentences and short sentences in the same paragraph.  

If you are unsure about how your sentences work with your content, read the sentences aloud.  Sentence problems usually show up while doing this.  

A good critique partner helps, too.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Writing the Same When You Are Different

 QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.

There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.

* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. An example is historical romances.  Its established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing. 

* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache. 

* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old, particularly when some kid in their first editorial job decides she knows better than an established writer.

* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.

* Innovations. Genre, as a whole, doesn't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it. 

* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend. 

* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God. 

As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing.