Monday, November 27, 2017

The Drama Queen Opening

Here’s how not to start your novel.  

One or more of the characters is acting like a lunatic because she’s so frantic about something she doesn’t mention.

Dire language about a vague disaster is used.

The other characters and the pace are as frantic.

Then all this drama proves to be about a minor problem, or one that is such a problem that the overkill of the scene would be best replaced with one that is considerably more informative and lets the gravity of the situation speak for itself.

Drama queen opening scenes simply don’t work because the reader realizes she’s been fooled which may make her put down the book, or she won’t trust you when genuine disasters happen.  

Often, too, the drama queen scene proves to be unintentionally funny which can set the wrong tone for the novel.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Flashbacks, Yes or No

QUESTION: Writers are often told that editors and readers hate flashbacks, but I see them, some of them full scenes, used all the time. What gives?

The first thing you must consider is the kind of book you're talking about. Flashbacks are quite common in literary fiction, not that common in genre (popular fiction).

Literary fiction and some mainstream fiction aren't concerned with plot and linear time (one event followed by another event). In fact, plot suspense is often tossed away by having the end of the book revealed at the beginning of the book.

Popular fiction, however, depends on plot and linear time, and the reader wants to see what happens next.

Flashbacks are a major speed bump which slows or stops the reader's forward movement through the story. The reader must pause and readjust at the beginning of the flashback and then again at the resumption of the regular plot. That pause can be fatal to the reader's immersion into the story.

Most flashbacks are poorly done, even in published writing, and the inexperienced writer would be wise to avoid them entirely because they give too much information which can be deleted without a loss to the story. Instead, the important bits can be sprinkled judiciously through the story with dialogue and interiors.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Too Stupid To Live

Readers of romance use the term "too stupid to live" (TSTL) to describe a character, usually the heroine, who does incredibly dumb things to further the plot.  

These characters are equivalent to the scantily clad bimbo in a horror movie who leaves a locked house to wander around outside bellowing, "Is anyone there?"

Of course, the really stupid or lazy person is the author who didn't bother to create a logical plot.

You're not sure if the heroine is too stupid to live?  Here are some examples.

A heroine may be too-stupid-to-live if she

Doesn't change her lock or improve security after a serial killer breaks in her home and leaves a threatening note.  Nor does she consider staying elsewhere.

Sends her guards home after the so-far-inept police decide they have captured the serial killer.

The heroine gets hot for the hero and does something about it when the bad guys are near.

The trained assassin is sneaking up on her professional bodyguard so the heroine, with no fighting training, attacks him herself rather than yelling a warning.

The "Full Moon Killer" is savaging locals.  The creepy guy next door reeks of Nair, wears flea colors, and buys large boxes of Milk Bones although he doesn't own a dog, but the heroine isn't suspicious because "werewolves don't exist."

The heroine has an entire troop of bad guys after her, but she doesn't call in reinforcements, seek help from the police, or tell the hero she's in trouble.  

She has the only copy of some incriminating documents, and she doesn't make copies, or put them in a safety deposit box in her bank.  Instead, she leaves them in her apartment.

The heroine's blind date drinks really red Bloody Marys, has a bad overbite, and stares at her jugular vein instead of her large boobs, but she isn't suspicious because "vampires don't exist."

The bad guy asks her to meet him to exchange the documents for the hero, and she goes without back up or a weapon.

Bad guys are after the heroine so she picks high heels instead of running shoes because she'd rather die than be unfashionable.

The heroine starts a verbal battle with the hero while they are trying to sneak up on the bad guys.

Someone is trying to kill her so she wanders around outside and in the cavernous mansion she’s staying at.  

What can you do to avoid a TSTL character?  If you need your stalker-chased heroine to appear on national TV, don’t have her on the kiss cam at a nationally televised football game.  Instead, have her save a child from a burning car, and the rescue is caught by someone with a cellphone.  If she must do something stupid, have her know that it is stupid or dangerous yet make all other options worse or impossible.  As Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  This applies more to the writer than the character.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

Bad Blurbs in the Real World, Part 5

A book description or back cover blurb is the third-best promotion you have.  (The first is name recognition, the second the cover.)  The first two may get a reader to glance at your offering, but a good or bad blurb can make or break the sale.  

I receive a number of ebook promotion emails like BookBuzz and Fussy Librarian, and some of the book blurbs have been so bad that I’ve started collecting them.  
Here are a few with the author and book title removed to protect the incompetent.  My comments in italics are beneath each one.

NOTE:  To see how to write a good blurb, please read my article on the subject or do a search of my blog with the term “blurb” for links in my “Links of Interest” articles.  To learn how to figure out your genre, clink on this.  


In 2013, a gate to another world opened, and Elves used their magic to conquer Earth, crushing all resistance before them.

Three hundred years after the Conquest, the exiled Elven High Queen rules an orderly but stagnant Earth, with humanity forced to fight in the High Queen’s war against the traitors on the Elven homeworld.

This is worldbuilding information, not a blurb.  Worldbuilding is static, a blurb should be about action.  It should tell the reader the goal of the book and whose goal it is.


It was supposed to be a vacation, but instead reporter Rebekka Franck confronts her most baffling case yet. When a priest’s exorcism goes awry, Rebekka must pick up the pieces and discover the mystery behind an evil force. Rebekka and Sune are on a vacation in Northern Zeeland when they suddenly find themselves involved in what turns out to be their most horrifying case to this date…

A blurb should be lean.  This one is full of redundancy.  Plus, big hint: ellipsis periods don’t heighten the tension.  


An antique dealer is killed for an artifact which has the potential to rewrite human history. With Griffin and Erik, Cassie is sent to hunt for clues. 

This blurb lacks dynamic action with its bland verbs and passive verb structure for the main characters.


The well-meaning and meddlesome Mr. and Mrs. Aden want nothing more than to protect their only daughter, Hannah. After her childhood kidnapping in Somalia and a final showdown in Italy against the monster responsible, nineteen-year-old Hannah just wants back the life stolen from her. She isn’t na├»ve like her mother believes. Frequent flashes of past terrors assure her that the healing process is far from over. At the same time, she’d hardly use her dad’s words and call herself ''strong'' or ''brave.'' That description belongs to Melissa Bennett, the woman who almost died saving her.

Back story.  Nothing but back story which doesn’t sell the book.  It’s impossible to tell who the main character is in the book, either.   


A massive solar storm erases the world's technological infrastructure and kills billions. While the remaining humans are struggling to adapt and survive, they notice that some among them have...changed. 

This could describe dozens of standard dystopian novels.  Go for the particular about the book, not the generic. Ellipsis periods don’t add tension here, either.  


Years ago Seychelle Sullivan had the chance to save a person’s life. But on that summer night in Florida, lost in a world of teenage resentment and loneliness, Seychelle was not able to feel any pain but her own. Today Seychelle captains her father’s forty-six-foot salvage boat out of Fort Lauderdale’s New River. But she’s never escaped that one moment when she could have made a difference and didn’t.

And the suspense is?  This might as well be a mainstream novel, or any other type of novel.  No sense of conflict, plot, or danger.  It’s emotional backstory.


To secure her father's salvation, Gitta must travel to the depths of hell, accompanied only by a sexy, irritable vampire...named Scott.

The end of the blurb should be the most interesting part showing the big conflict.  Having a vampire named “Scott” isn’t even remotely a big conflict.


In a steampunk London that almost existed, where tinkerers and clockwork devices exist alongside handsome cabs and corsets, murder is still solved by traditional observation and intuition.

Historical fantasy is based on history, and a glaring error in your book blurb is a no-sale for many of us.  (It’s “Hansom cab,” not “handsome cab.”)


Final Fantasy meets Agatha Christie in this fresh steampunk fantasy.

These are two genres I never thought to see together, because, well, they don’t belong together.  It’s obvious this writer has never read any Agatha Christie which is a staid cozy or straight mystery that is the exact opposite of Final Fantasy, a roleplaying game that is mainly action/adventure.  Before you make comparisons, make sure you know the two things you are comparing.  


Little did businessman and entrepreneur Michael Rossi know that the telephone call he answered on that fateful Friday would be the catalyst for his death, and the subsequent recovery of his body from the waters of Sydney Harbour the following morning. Unaware of her nephew’s fate, Esme Timmons retires for the evening, unsuspecting of the events about to unfold; events that will, ultimately, expose a grim lie, buried deep in the past.

Two passive events where a character can do nothing do not make a book blurb.  The mystery solver, not the victims, should be the focus of a blurb. If Esme is the main character, she’s presented passively.