Monday, October 30, 2017

Talking to Myselves

QUESTION: I am trying to write a dialogue scene in which a character is arguing with himself yet it seems that there are two distinct persons talking, almost as if the good side of him is arguing with the bad side. What is a good way to show this?

You could do it like regular dialogue between two people.  The "real" character could give his better self some kind of snarky nickname which you could use as a dialogue tag.

Jon sneered as his other self.  "Why don't you shut up, Angel Fart. I stopped believing in virtue and nobility years ago."

"If you stopped believing, why am I here?"

Or you could do it like normal internal monologue but with the good Jon’s comments underlined/italics.

Jon fought to ignore his inner voice.  He knew what he had to do, and he'd do it.  He'd stopped believing in doing the right thing years ago.

If you stopped believing, why can you hear me?

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.