Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Few Tips About Passive Voice

Hey, we all do it. All of us find ourselves typing away at the keyboard, totally on a roll, and using passive words big time. It's the norm. But what isn't - is not going back over your manuscript to try to change those words to strong verbs, or active words.

Why is this so important? Because by using active words you keep your readers turning the page. Active words are more dramatic, stronger. By changing from the usual passive, you will excite your readers and they will enjoy your book a lot more.

Now, there are times where certain passive words work, and, of course, you can't eliminate all of them, but to realize when it's appropriate is a bonus!

As I said, sometimes it is appropriate. There are times when passive voice is required and preferred. 

But what exactly is "Passive voice"?

Passive voice is produced by using an auxiliary verb (e.g. to be), which is used with a past participle. Example: to be, they are - is, are, am, was, were, have been, has been, had been, will be, will have been, and being.

A past participle is a form of the verb that usually, though not exclusively, ends in 'ed'. Verbs are usually active or passive.

An example would be: The heat was turned up by Luke.
                                 The job was what Terry needed to get ahead.

In other words, Luke and Terry are the recipients of the action rather than the subjects of the action. 

Example: Luke turned up the heat. Or: Terry needed the job to get ahead. These are active sentences.

Active: The subject preforms the action. 

What words made the sentences passive? Was. Avoid too much 'was' in your narrative. 

Of course, we don't always spot passive sentences, and there are times where they really do fit because we do use them in everyday life. 

Another example of passive voice are 'ing' words - verses 'ed'. There are times where the sentence flows better if you use 'ing'. Yes, you can reword your sentences to use more 'ed' words, but, as my editor has pointed out to me, sometimes the 'ing' is necessary and even reads better.

If you can avoid a lot of 'ing' that's a good thing, but allow them also at times. 

Now onto stronger verbs. 

We should all have a thesaurus at our disposal. Whether on our computer when we are writing or the actual book. Use it. When you are revising your manuscript, try to change your verbs to stronger ones as you go along.

Example: Tammy ran across the field.
               Tammy rushed across the wide open landscape.

Or: We are going to fight.
      We are marching to battle, or, We march to battle.

Just some examples off the top of my head, but I think you get the point. Make your sentences more exciting, more active, by using stronger verbs, verses boring, everyday ones.

Well, I hope these hints and tips help you along on your writing journey. I try to explain in easy terms so that you fully get the gist. If you get a moment leave me a comment and let me know if my tips and hints help you along with your writing. It means a lot to me to know if it helps you.

Love, Lisa

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tips On How Not To Start Your Manuscript And About Hooks

This was the first problem pointed out to me by my writing coach when I first began working with her. I did the cliche opener - a nightmare, or dream. Very typical of a new writer to do, but thank goodness Janet was there to prevent me from making this mistake.

There are other usual beginnings that I've seen in the last six years since I wrote my first book from new writers who have asked me to look at their first few chapters. I'm going to list some here and talk about why these aren't the best way to begin your novel, and how hooks are the way to go.

1. A dream - Like I said above, I did this also. But suffice it to say, never, ever start a book this way - especially if it's an action scene. You have just ruined the excitement for the reader and they might shut your book right there. Another thing, do not ever end a book with telling the reader that the entire book was a dream. The reader might hunt you down if they were really into your story. 

Your story needs to begin right at the beginning of the "story". What do I mean by that? Well, whoever is your main character suddenly finds themselves in a dilemma outside their ordinary life. Example: Your protagonist realizes someone is following them. Her house is broke in to, as if they're searching for something, and she has no idea what it could be. Another example: A stranger walks up and tells the main character their life is in danger and to follow them if they want to live.

See, the story begins right there, not a week before, or years before. If it is something like "years before" that's a good one for a prologue. A lot of publishers don't like prologues, but I do, so it's your decision. But even with that, no large amounts of back story or info dump. The prologue should be immediate. 

2. Not enough dialog - If you open your book with pages of narrative, you will bore your readers half to death. This is one of the reasons I never liked The Shack, written by, William P. Young. The beginning went on and on with info dump. I tried to stay with the book, but I think after all that, I couldn't get into it. I never finished it.

I have been told this is a "red flag" for editors and publishers because they are looking for white space. New authors tend to try to tell a lot of backstory in the beginning, which is not necessary. You need to weave in whatever backstory you feel is really important to the story, not write it all down in the first chapter.

Your reader will want to meet and get to know your characters so you need dialog early on, but not too early - the reader won't know what's going on and will get confused.

3. Starting with dialog - Not a good thing to do. The problem with this is the reader knows nothing about the character so introduce him/her by beginning their story through their experience at that moment. Then introduce another character through dialog. 

Remember a character's thoughts are a form or dialog - interior monologue. Most of the time, look for another way to begin your story.

4. Hooks - Hooks are intriguing or action sentences used to keep the reader wanting to turn the page. There are quite a few ways to hook your reader. Starting your book in the heart of the action is one. Example: A bullet whizzed past my head. It skimmed the tip of my ear and pierced the tree behind me. That's one way, another: "I almost died that day." 

There are many opening lines that have been used to grab a reader immediately. At a conference I had attended seven years ago I learned about hooks and inciting incident. Inciting incident is the event or decision that begins a story's problem. Hooks are a way to make the reader interested in the story and want to turn the page.

My understanding is to hook the reader from the very first sentence. To try to word it in a way that makes it intriguing right off the bat. Next, the sentence at the end of the first paragraph, then the end of the first page, and at the end of the first chapter. If you really want to hold on, make the first sentence in the second chapter just as intriguing. 

I also have always tried to make the endings of each scene a good hook too. 

I know it seems like a lot of creative writing skills that you have to remember, but it is worth it in the end. Take it one page at a time and learn from others as you go along. Revising your rough draft is highly recommended, and do it several times. I know there are those who disagree, but the fact is those who have argued this point with me aren't getting anywhere with sales - or writing for that matter. 

Writing a book is not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. But to take the time to learn and grow in your writing skills makes you that much better of a writer. If you want to publish and sell books, take the time to become the best writer you can be.

Have a great weekend all,

Love, Lisa

Friday, February 12, 2016

Four Tips For Understanding Point Of View And Head Hopping

This past weekend I was made aware that there are still younger writers, especially one's who probably don't have a degree in writing of any kind, that don't understand what point of view, or POV, and head hopping is. I thought I would touch on the subject again.

I know I've written about it a couple of times in this blog, but if I can reach a few more aspiring authors it's worth the effort. You can never be reminded too many times, in my opinion, what the creative writing skills are, and how to implement them in your writing.

POV is an important skill to understand, and one I stress more so than any of the others. Mainly because nothing drives me more crazy than to be reading a book and not know which character's head I'm in. The other issue I take away from this, is young readers are taught that this is okay reading - it isn't. Biggest reason why - when they decide to write later on, they won't implement the skill in their manuscripts.

I've noticed this more in middle grade, MG, and in young adult, YA, books. Not all writers in these genres do this, and I'm grateful to the author's that don't, but there are a lot that do. American authors tend to be a little more lax with the creative writing skills and need to realize the importance of educating our youth to the correct way to use creative writing skills. Not because other countries are better at this, but because it will bring us up a notch. I've heard, in the past, editors claim that there are no rules, but there are. And I would imagine that it makes it more difficult to edit a manuscript that is chocked full with creative writing mistakes. 

Now, onto what POV means and head hopping.

1. There is only one main character - First of all, even if you're writing a romance novel, there is only one main character, or protagonist. It's their story. I know you want to make it about both of the lovers in the tale, but it can only be one character's story. There are those who will argue this point, but when you're in the middle of a scene and you are jumping from one head to the other, it makes it hard to understand who is talking, or feeling. 

You can go into other character's heads, but should split it up with either a scene break or chapter break. This way the reader knows who is going through the act, and emotions at the time. There is one exception, but I will touch on that later on.

2. Point of View and what that means - The point of view, or POV, is who's head you are in. They are the only character, at the time, that you can touch on their feelings, senses, such as taste, hear, touch, that you can write about their experience in the scene. Or go "into their heads" such as internal thought.

Example : Kamm wished he could share the Mage’s conviction. “I pray your faith is not misplaced. Regardless, if necessary, I will fight. Age has not dulled my senses or skills. I remain a strong and capable Djen.” Before Esalon could reply, or disagree, Kamm laid a hand on his shoulder. “You should claim a seat before there are none.”
The Mage turned away and then back again. His brows wrinkled and the corners of his mouth twitched with words unspoken. A slight bow and he left to find a vacant space on one of the benches that filled the circular chamber.
Kamm watched his friend and confidant move through the throng. They parted as he passed, either in deference or from wariness of this master of herb lore and spells.

As you can see, this is in Kamm's head. I do not touch on what's in Esalon's head. I show the facial expressions to give you an idea of what the Mage is thinking, but I remain is Kamm's thoughts.

3. The different types of POV writing - There are, however, several types of POV choices a writer can decide to use as their premise.

  •      Omniscient
  •      First person
  •      Third person 

As I mentioned above, there is an exception to the rule of staying within one character's head per scene - Omniscient. Basically you, as the writer, play God. You are saying to the reader that you are the main character in a sense. You can control all the character's wants, needs and feelings. This, however, is not suggested writing. It takes a certain skill to be able to pull this off and not lose your readers in the process. I would not suggest you write this way. I, personally, do not like to read books like this. I want to know my main character, and that said character should not be the writer.

First person is much more intimate with your protagonist. This type of POV is seen through the eyes of the main character. It is truly "their" story. Pronouns, such as "I" or "me" are used, verses "he" or "she". The reader can only know what the main character knows. For me, I prefer third person because there is a lot more description with the story. This type of writing you only know what this protagonist sees, tastes, feels, ect...

Third person uses "he" or "she" verses "I" or "me". I choose to write in this POV because I have a lot more freedom to describe scenes, and details. I still have one main character, but I can go into the other character's heads as long as I split them up between a scene at least. But it is still my protagonist's story. This person has preference throughout the novel. If you decide to change to another character's head in the middle of a scene, this is what I call head hopping. 

4. Head hopping -  This is where you jumped from one character's thoughts to another in the middle of the scene. This is where confusion can set in for the reader. In my opinion, this is Omniscient and should not happen. You should only be able to be in the head of one character per scene. This is where the young writers of today get confused. When they read books that do this, they think this is the way to write - not so as far as I'm concerned.

I get the impression that the writer is lazy and doesn't want to write a new scene from the other character's head - example - a lover's scene. You should write the first scene from one of the character's thoughts and feelings. And then repeat the scene right after, as a new scene, in the second lover's head. 

When you do it this way, the reader will fully understand how each character feels and what they're experiencing. You do not have to completely copy the scene verbatim from the first character's POV, but enough so that the reader knows what is happening.

Just remember with each POV "shift" it can take the reader several pages to get into the head of the new POV character. This is why I do not recommend doing this. If you do this too often the reader can get weary and can't emotionally attach to any of the characters. Without that emotional attachment, there is no empathy, and a story that the reader will really care about. And what can happen? They set down your book. This is the last thing you want.

The writer controls the shape of the story she/he wants to tell. They lead the reader along with pacing, emotions, and perspective by their choices of POV. So try to stay within one character's head per scene. This will eliminate the head hopping and the loss of your reader.

I hope this helps those writers out there who really didn't understand what POV shifts and head hopping are. And I hope my tips and suggestions help you with your dream of writing a novel and your readers loving your story and characters.

I know when I first wrote Fable I did this. It was because I didn't know any better and with the help and instruction of my wonderful writing coach, Janet Roots, I learned the valuable lessons of creative writing. 

Did you, as a writer, go through this when you wrote your first rough draft, and did someone point this out to you? I hope someone did take the time to teach you the correct way to use POV. I'm sure your story was well worth the instruction to make it all the more better. 

Until next week, have a wonderful weekend! Happy Valentine's Day!!

Love, Lisa


Friday, February 5, 2016

Do You Brainstorm Your Manuscript Before Writing It

For all you pansters out there, I'm sure the answer is no to my title question. But whether you write by the seat of your pants, or outline your novel, there's nothing wrong with a little brainstorming. In fact, this is a great thing to do with your critique partner. 

I have brainstormed both Fable and Fated and it helped me move the story along. I've done it in the middle of the book as well as the beginning. When you find yourself stuck and aren't really sure what should happen next, brainstorming fits the bill. 

Now with Lore I have brainstormed continuously throughout. First with my sister since we wrote the first 17 chapters together before she decided not to write anymore, and then later with my critique partners. It's actually fun since it really is just using your imagination. 

I came up with some wonderful ideas by throwing them out there to my critique partners. Plus it's fun just talking about stories. I've used many different ways to pull ideas out of my critique partners minds, and my own. But you can simply bring a pad and pen and jot down the basic ideas. 

The key to using the ideas successfully is to refer to your list before you sit down to write. It helps to get those creative juices flowing. If you have writer's block, then brainstorming might bring you out of it. 

Lately I have brainstormed with the rewrite I'm doing with Lore. After discussing the ideas I'm really ready to start writing immediately. And that's what you want - encouragement. And as I begin the next book, Tale, I will sit down with Robin, my critique partner, and brainstorm ideas for the story before I begin.

It's just a suggestion for all of you that write. Try it. You might find that it really helps keep your imagination in tact. 

Have you brainstormed any of your manuscripts? If so let me know if it helped. I think the key is simply invoking the story to come to fruition. 

Have a great weekend all!

Love, Lisa