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Tips and Tricks > Writing style - tips to share

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message 1: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Hi all:

I was discussing writing style the other day and was saying that before I ventured upon e-publishing I simply didn't have the contacts with other authors that I do now, and that this had been really helpful to me as other authors have given me some of the most useful tips on writing style. Knowledge sharing is SO valuable!

That being the case, it occurred to me that this might be a good thing to pass on. I have assorted learning-points that I use, but I bet other writers and reviewers do too.

So as there is already a tips folder for the reviewers out there I figured that it might be worth setting up a folder for the writers as well, as it's a slightly different style of writing (Amy, if you'd prefer this elsewhere please do move it!)

SO; Do you write? What genre? And what are the most useful tips and hints that you can pass on to the rest of us? I'll add my own but it will be something of a list so will post it separately...

Hope this proves useful to all of us, published or still working on it!

message 2: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments I write everything down - backstory, details, where they are what they're doing, how they know people, the lot - and it took a while for me to figure out that though I need to know this as an author, for the reader it's superfluous and just slows the pace. So as a writer I put everything in, and then go through and think "well this bit's not right but I like it and it's not wrong enough to need to come out".

Then I put my editor's head on and go through it with a scalpel saying "this bit's not right and I like it but it's not right enough to stay in". Backstory in particular gets cut out - if it's essential I might recount the potted version in a parag or so of dialogue but both the bits of text on my Goodreads page are backstory that got cut. There's a huge chunk that needs to come out from the beginning of Book 2 (which I suspect is a large part of the reason I'm putting that bit off! Dithering over whether to release that as a short story, which is useful for marketing and visibility (and also I really like that bit!) but need to get book 2 out first methinks.

So after cutting out any chunks of backstory or bits that aren't entirely right (which is more than a bit ouchy) I go through and take out the superfluous detail so that "He pulled the chair out and sat down on it" turns to "he pulled the chair out and sat down" as we kind of assume it's the chair he's sitting on - and also I try to take out any details that are there for the reader but which the character alreadt knows, and try to get them in some other way, ie. "She put on her favourite shawl, a warm woollen one with red flowers on" becomes "The evening was getting colder. She put on her favourite shawl and fiddled with a stray bit of wool where one of the red flowers was unravelling."

Then I look at the dialogue and take out every attribution that I can.Instead of ' "Hello" Peter said' I'll either cut it if it's clear it's him talking, or put an action instead, so if there are three people there I might put ' "Hello." Peter smiled at Elizabeth and her friend.

Lastly I go through and look at the verbs; I use the passive far too much and it slows the pace so I look at every time I say "HAD said" to see if "said" will do and every instance of "was walking" to see if "walked" can go there. Sometimes it screws up the time-sense of it a bit from what I'd intended but unless it does it badly I change it anyway as it makes it much more immediate. If everything "had been done" rather than "did" it can't grab you so much - it's telling rather than showing and there's a kind of linguistic barrier being put in between the action and the reader - a tip from Terri Reid, that, and a good one. It goes against the grain to sacrifice sense for style but in that case I think she's right, and you never make it incoherent, just a bit less chronologically accurate than you might like it to be.

Having got that that stage....I send it off to my mate Julia who has a fine handle on narrative arc and storyline and she points outsuperfluous bits and gaps in logic. So I fill those in again and give it back until she's happy. Then I send it off to my mate Mike who is an extremely good copy-editor and proofreader, and he sends it back with all the awkward phrasings and repeated words and unclear bits highlighted and I sort them out. After a bit of MS tennis between us, we finally reach the finished version.........and then I start with the formatting.

The problem with ebooks is that you can put in a pristine MS at the beginning of the process and by the time it's formatted correctly, sometimes the software has put in all sorts of random glitches, so every conversion you do, you need to read it through word by word and sense-check it as well as checking that the font hasn't suddenly changed halfway through or you haven't put in a return too many and left a blank page in the middle of a chapter, and all the margins are aligned, etc. Problem is that by that time you've been looking at it solidly for some months so you read it through several times yourself and then (if you're sensible) get someone else to have a look because you can guarantee they'll find what you've missed! So you redo that till it's right (and there are a couple of formatting bits that will make you want to bang your head on the desk, which is where a padded wrist-rest comes in useful!) and then you upload.

After that you can start with the marketing, so no rest for the wicked!

And as a hint with the marketing, what I'm finding at the moment is that readers of different genres have different expectations in a lot of ways - how many "main" characters there will be, for example.

Do correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect some genres (ie romance and paranormal romance maybe?) concentrate on 2 or 3 characters almost to the exclusion of others, which means that if you've read predominantly those and you find yourself in the middle of epic fantasy where there are loads of characters and plot-strands, all equally weighted, it's going to be a bit of a shock to the system. On the other hand, readers of historical fiction and sci-fi seem much more used to an array of characters and plot-threads. Is anyone else finding the same here?

Anyhow, the answer seems to be to make sure there are clues in the blurb to set the readers' expectations correctly so that when they go into the story they know it's going to be small-scale, few characters or large-scale, multi-storied or whatever. I'm still working on that but that's been a really useful learning point for me.

What about the rest of you - do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have a good hint to give us? All suggestions will be much appreciated....

message 3: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments For what you wrote so far, I don't disagree at all.

Some of it is style, but I go lite on descriptions. I actually do the exact opposite of you in that I go back to add in descriptions after the first draft. I "see the scenes"'as I write them so, even after outlining, I have to write them quickly or I lose cohesion. At some point after I write a scene, I have to go back and figure out what color something might have been or other details that are needed for the story telling but not the plot.

As I have said elsewhere, I want to be an "architect" and so I outline heavily. I end up being a "gardener"'because once I start writing I go where the story takes me.

Backstory in my writing process is critical. All of my characters have a bio that only I know. I reveal bits and pieces here and there but some things stay hidden for a long time (maybe forever). I might hint at why "she hates men", but I might not tell...for now.

I'm discovering stuff as I go. I want each book in the series to add to an over all story arc for the series, but I want the book to also read as a stand alone story. Easy to do in book one, hard to do in sequels because you have to figure out how to tell the important parts of what happened in earlier books without boring the reader who read the first book.

Tone: I find it a challenge to keep the tone consistent. If the main character is a wise cracking rogue, he needs to stay that way. But some days, as a writer, the wise cracks just don't come; you're not in the mood. Other days you have to reel yourself in or the character becomes frivolous.

Great thread, btw.


message 4: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Wotcha, Splitter!

Architect / gardener - like it! In Wrimo-speak they also refer to plotters and pantsers (ie seat-of-the-pantsers). I know beginnings and ends and then the characters find a way from one to the other (or occasionally, somewhere else entirely!

Agree re backstory - I think you need to know why your people are as they are, and what it is that makes them react a certain way. YOU need to know but usually the reader doesn't apart from, as you say, the occasional dribs and drabs where necessary.

Interesting re sequels - how do you do that? It's something I'll have to address at some point but I personally am not fond of the two-pager in a "Previously on Lost" manner. I was thinking maybe just a list of links to the first books with maybe a couple of parags summarising only the last book...dunno though. Anyone got thoughts on that?

LOVE the discovery though. Must admit I write to find out what happens next and when reading other people's books I think that comes through in the writing. The tone I don't worry about too much in the writing as that's part of the editing for me - but actually in book 2 there are a couple of bits that went in because they amused me and I suspect they might have to come out again just for that reason.

Can you have a small comedy character in a dark book to lighten an otherwise unexciting bit, or does that spoil it?

Actually, I've just found a bit in Book 2 that I'd forgotten about which is splendidly creepy and a great set-up for a character but may be too graphically horrible...Might put that one to the editors though.

I don't think that all the books in a series CAN be at exactly the same level of "darkness" so to speak, and a bit of lighter stuff should theoretically throw the darker bits into relief. Or does that just distract the reader?


message 5: by Bethany (new)

Bethany (lemonadeblues) I'm taking notes, definitely have more to learn than add at this point! :)

message 6: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments I hope others get involved in this, JAC!

Sequels: I've seen how other authors handle "Previously, on a very special Blossom" type fill ins for what occurred in previous books. Some I like, some I don't, but that's just opinion.

Some authors don't give any clue about what happened previously. Their message, I guess, is; read the first book, idiot. Or, as we say in other venues, RTFM.

Some authors use a prologue. I guess that only works for some genres, like fantasy.

Some authors just dedicate a few pages (or several) to covering what happened previously in the series. If you have already read the first book, this is skimming material at best.

I like a combination of a few paragraphs of exposition and a sentence or paragraph here and there to explain characters as they "walk on stage" for the first time in the new book.

Done properly, I think that can make a reader want to go back and buy the first book. That has happened to me as a reader because I inadvertently bought a "book two"....I hate it when authors/publishers don't clearly explain WHICH book you are getting on the cover!

I set a goal for myself on book two of the "Crayder Chronicles" to cover 80% of the first book story summary in the first 10K words. My thought was to allow myself "room" to cover that summary without page upon page of exposition. But, I thought the first 10K words was "soon enough" in the story to not lose the reader in "who is this 'new' character he just introduced?"

As other characters come "on screen", I can give a paragraph or two about their role in the first book. Hopefully, that keeps the reader who read the first book from having to skim.

Hey, I'm no expert. Learning as I go and these are just my thoughts.


message 7: by Cassie (new)

Cassie McCown (cassie629) | 713 comments This is a GREAT topic! Thanks for starting it, JA!!!

message 8: by Dale (new)

Dale Ibitz (goodreadscomdale_ibitz) | 298 comments I very much agree that in a sequel you need to light on what happened previously, especially if it's integral to the characters or plot. I just recently read a sequal, when I didn't read the 1st book, and I could easily pick up the story as the author had given me enough information to get a clue of where the characters were at in their relationships, etc. I am definitely going back to read the first book as well!

I write the story, then go back and add details and chop stuff that's not needed...essentially tightening. Because I write down the story as it comes to me, I may take shortcuts, like telling instead of showing. I have index cards handy describing emotions (anger, fear, flirting, etc). I rely on those index cards to add an emotional level to my writing. If I see a place where my character is feeling something that I haven't described well, the index cards help me come up with ways to show that emotion.

message 9: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments Dale: What is on the index cards exactly?


message 10: by Dale (new)

Dale Ibitz (goodreadscomdale_ibitz) | 298 comments For example:
Anxiety: touch, trace, brush or pinch lips.

Boredom: study ends of hair; tap foot; drum fingers; pull ears; shift in seat; cross legs and kick one foot; stare into space; look around; yawn

Disapproval: cheeks sucked in; pursed lips; flat lips

This was a tip I had received in a writing class.

message 11: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments Ok, Dale, gotcha. Good idea.


message 12: by Cassie (new)

Cassie McCown (cassie629) | 713 comments I also like to write everything out and then go back and fill in/clean up. I'm not much of a planner/outliner either (which is ironic b/c IRL, I like to believe I am a planner). If it comes to me, it comes to me...and I try to get it all out as quickly as possible... At some point I will run out of words. Then I can pick it back up later - maybe in an hour, maybe in a week...

Dale, I love the idea of index cards!

Keep going guys! I'm taking lots of notes! ;-)

message 13: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Dale, good plan, like it! Time to go check out Desmond Morris, pehaps!

Anyone else got tips for us?

message 14: by Lena (new)

Lena | 191 comments I've also had trouble keeping a character's tone throughout a series. Then I decided I didn't want to change it--the character changed, so the tone needed to change as well. Maybe it will bother some readers, IDK. I guess I'll find out!

message 15: by Cambria (new)

Cambria (cambria409) | 3305 comments This is an interesting thread and I am learning a lot!
As far as backstory...I have found that sometimes I write a scene and then I realize that only I would understand why a character did a certain thing because only I know my character like that. I think backstory is tricky because I agree you shouldn't bore your reader with a bunch of stuff but the reader has to get to know the character. They have to get invested, they have to know them. I found that with the last book I wrote I hadn't put in enough detail becuase I was trying to keep it moving. I think sometimes a writer should slow down because sometimes it is in those moments that the relationship between the reader and the character is born.

i think in a sequel that imparting the info from the last book is necessary but not to be overdone. I like to just throw in bits as the story moves along.

message 16: by Bethany (new)

Bethany (lemonadeblues) Great ideas! I've tried pre-plotting and I've tried writing on the inspiration of the moment, and haven't been especially pleased with the results of either. So I've found a compromise that works for me; thought I'd share...

It's simply to take time to write a sentence for each scene - at the time I'm writing, not in advance - my writing software gives me virtual index cards, but I suppose real ones would work too. I try to summarize all the elements of what's going to happen in that scene:
- Who the protagonist and antagonist are
- Where the scene is taking place (and why...would a new location give the scene more tension/impact?)
- What's going to change (within the scene, within the character)
- How I can work in a twist of some sort

Since I've started doing this, there have been far less going-for-coffee scenes sneaking into my story, if you know what I mean. :)

message 17: by Amy Eye (last edited Jul 17, 2011 09:24AM) (new)

Amy Eye | 1841 comments Mod
Knowing who your characters are is very important when writing any story, you have to know all of them. Sometimes their behaviors may shock you, just as real friends can, but they always have to pretty much act consistent.

I think character profiles, outlines, timelines, and maps can be very helpful. You never know what readers are going to remember and call you out on when you have a discrepancy.

This is just my two cents, but I don't think making things up as you go with no knowledge of who you are working with is a good idea, this creates plot holes and unbelievability in the story.

Knowing your characters will help add depth because you can add in small details about the characters that you may not be inclined to include before you knew who they really are. Mannerisms, facial expressions, nervous habits, special sayings, etc make the reader feel they get to know your characters more.

message 18: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments That's true. I sometimes play about in free time, thinking about how one character or another would act in whatever is the most likely variant of the situation I'm in at that time; always an interesting way of productive time-wasting and sometimes brings up a few surprises!

And I think I have the world's most complex timeline as it encompasses about a million backstories as well as the plot!


message 19: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments Hi everyone! JAC just told me about this group and this thread and with options of do housework, go out in the rain, colour my hair, or post here, it wasn't a difficult choice.

Reading back through the posts, I see words like 'backstory' that are often held in contempt in writer critique circles :).

I do think it's a shame to consign anything that doesn't happen consecutively as backstory or flashback, with the implication it's information to be dealt with as briefly and painlessly as possible. I can see that in something like crime genre it could get in the way of what's happening in the here and now. But I learned to write from reading Iain Banks. And often the plot is formed by the order in which the author reveals info from different points in time.

So if you're writing that sort of book (which I often seem to do) I think it's helpful to dispense with the jargon and write time lines for different threads - in Cave, I had 3: present, past year and distant past.

Now, suddenly, I find myself writing a YA series and the 'rules' are all different :).

message 20: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments As a general tip, I have one word
Whether it's a day by day break down, or week by week, I find slotting events into a calendar really helpful - starting with things which have to happen on certain days of the week/phases of the moon etc and fitting other things round them. And you can see at a glance whether you have realistic pacing and spread of events.

message 21: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Hey Ali!

Actually that's a good point; that there are books where what happened in the past is part of the plot - Ali's excellent "Cave" ( Cave by Ali Cooper being an example of how it CAN be done! (Still owe you a review on that, Ali, sorry for tardiness there)

And in your case, the past throws a whole new light on the events happening in the present - which, now I come to think of it, is a theme that also works to dramatic effect in The Girl on the Swing.

In mine, I had to cut it because it was good that I knew all the info but apart from anything else I was info-dumping in a highly unsubtle way and basically giving away too much too soon as well as slowing the story - whereas in yours it's much more of a slow reveal...

Good point though: we're making some sweeping generalisations here which can (and quite possibly should) be ignored where necessary!


message 22: by Dale (new)

Dale Ibitz (goodreadscomdale_ibitz) | 298 comments Yes, timelines are important, and sometimes plotting is and sometimes writing by the seat of your pants can work too! In my fantasy series, plotting is ESSENTIAL. If I want something to happen in book 4, I may have to plant the seed in book 1. I did one of those write 50K words in a month (called nanowrimo or something like that), and the book I'm now completing is moon and stars different than what I wrote in that one month.

message 23: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments The comments coming up about series are interesting. As a reader I hate it when you're told snippets about things that happened in previous books. I can see how they're often relevant to introducing a character or referring to a past event if the reader hasn't read the previous books but still I feel kind of patronised as the ignorant reader. Plus they seem to step out of the voice to 'tell' you this information. I would point out, I've only jumped into series in mainstream books and maybe this is how the editor/publisher insists the author does it. Having said that, I find it more obvious and irritating in short genre books. The more literary and longer books seem to handle it more successfully.

I'm taking note of it because I'm now on my second attempt at writing a series. The first attempt, starring archaeologist, Jazz King, fell by the wayside after a failed attempt to rewrite the first book last summer. Now on YA paranormal, I'm trying to write the first book with continuing storylines planned for books 2 and 3 but not yet considering the implications of having to refer back through the books.

JUST a thought. Might it be an alternative to include an optional summary of people and places mentioned in previous books rather than force references to them into the story?

message 24: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Jazz King - great name!

Some series do have a "Previously" section, esp complicated ones; I'm not fond of that but it may be a necessary evil. Others have glossaries of names and places that get more all-encompassing with each book; might do that but not sure...

It may be a case of lesser of all evils though. Does anyone read series and have an opinion on this?

message 25: by Cambria (new)

Cambria (cambria409) | 3305 comments Hey guys great discussion here!! Ali- WELCOME! And you are so right about a Timeline. I also write down "rules" for certain characters that i know i must not veer from it helps keep things clear in my crowded mind!

message 26: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments JAC,

I read a lot of fantasy and they often have glossaries. Non-Fiction history books do too. Then again, some don't.

I think the "acceptability" of a glossary is dependent on the genre OR...Say you are writing historical fiction on an epic scale, in that case a glossary might be needed to make it look like a non-fiction history.

If that makes sense.

Glossaries can also be good or bad. It's awful to turn to a glossary of a fiction book and see, "...and died at the battle of Black Thorn Tributary." Doh! No I know what happens to the plot line I am reading.


message 27: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments Sorry to mention this again - it isn't meant to be a plug! - I have a compromise of a 'within book' glossary in Cave by putting a definition of a caving term at the heading of each chapter. I can't take the credit for this idea, I stole it off Jonathan Gash (famous for Lovejoy) as he does it in his fiction series about prostitutes :).

message 28: by Cambria (new)

Cambria (cambria409) | 3305 comments JA- i thought the glossary in your book was awesome and it eas really helpful.

message 29: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Oooh, i liked those, Ali - a good way of drip-feeding the info. Oh no....That's not a good name for writing about prostitutes!!

Cambria, that glossary took some work as it had to be Book-1 relevant but without spoilers! Each subsequent glossary will have more info though.

message 30: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments Lovejoy is the antiques series, not the prostitute series - just thought I'd better clarify that!

I love the way glossary-type descriptions are worked into Hitchhiker's Guide.

message 31: by C.D. (new)

C.D. Hussey (cdhussey) | 23 comments I do a basic synopsis, barf out the story, and then go back and add, add, chop, add. If I try to add too much detail in the beginning, I'll sit at my computer and twirl my hair instead of actually writing.

I've found I actually get more writing done on my Blackberry of all things. The writing needs lots and lots of editing, but at least I get the words out instead of languishing over making them sound pretty.

message 32: by Cassie (new)

Cassie McCown (cassie629) | 713 comments C.D. wrote: "I do a basic synopsis, barf out the story, and then go back and add, add, chop, add. If I try to add too much detail in the beginning, I'll sit at my computer and twirl my hair instead of actually..."

Barf out the story... I like that!

I can't imagine typing everything on my Blackberry. Sore fingers!

message 33: by C.D. (new)

C.D. Hussey (cdhussey) | 23 comments Cassie wrote: I can't imagine typing everything on my Blackberry. Sore fingers!"

What's super nice about it is I can be anywhere - watching TV, the pool, dinner, the bar(my personal fav) - and boom! out comes a paragraph. My BB's actually a couple years old, so it has the older style keyboard, which I think is probably easier to type with.

message 34: by Cassie (new)

Cassie McCown (cassie629) | 713 comments I guess if I was I have a Torch, which has the slide out keyboard, but it is still awfully small ;-).

I don't go very many places, either. But I can see how it might be a good thing to get whatever is in your head recorded! ;-)

message 35: by Ali (new)

Ali Cooper (AliCooper) | 6 comments A friend who is attempting to write his first novel made an interesting point the other day. He was commenting on recent scenes he'd written and said he suddenly realised that what he was writing was extended synopsis rather than the scene as he wanted it to be. I guess that's another way of describing the show/tell distinction.

On a different tangent, I'd be interested to hear how others write in terms of consecutive/order. I generally start at the beginning but quite early on I'll write one of the crucial scenes near the end. And sometimes I'll dip in and write whatever scene appeals to me that day. I do like to have at least one scene near the beginning quite perfected early on so I can read it to get into the voice. And I'm usually good at the opening but often not very good at chapters 2 and 3 so often I'll write something just to maintain the flow of the story but not worry too much because I know I'll likely rework them completely later.

At some point - but not usually at the beginning - I'll plot the whole book more carefully, often dividing it first into quarters, then into chapters.

message 36: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments I have no idea how people write "out of sequence". I've heard how authors jump around in their writing do a chapter here and one there. My mind just doesn't work that way!

I tried it and it didn't work. I have to write the story as it happens, as I see it. Part of that is because I might decide to change something from the outline and then, poof, nothing after that works anymore.

I WISH I could write out of sequence but I think that would keep me on the outline...and what I come up with as I write is sometimes better than what is in that outline.


message 37: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments I sometimes jump, but usually it's when I've got caught up in the backstory, realised that it's an unnecessary bit that's not going to go in but am writing it anyway for my own gratification.

Actually, come to think of it, sometimes if it's a complex bit where lots is going on at the same time with different sets of characters and I need to keep it consistent, I do occasionally write the action from that chunk in plot strands - did that with everything that happens with Blakey, for instance, from the time he wakes up to the time he & Copeland stop on the way to their next call. Then I went back and wrote everything with Nereia and Mary trying to make their escape from the town.

I worked out what were the nexus-points, when they all had to be in specific places, and cut the text into those big chunks; after which I cut into smaller ones and alternated according to the pace and the natural stopping places in the text.

Otherwise I'm entirely chronological, but that's mostly because I'm much less organised, I think, on the first draft at least.


message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

I tend to jump around a fair bit because sometimes parts of the story are more vivid to me and I want to capture them whilst I'm in the right mood.

Eventually I get to a tipping point where I need to work on it chronologically and I work in a more disciplined way. As I reach the parts I originally drafted out of sequence they get re-edited to ensure that they make sense to the plot as a whole and that the tone and character development isn't out of sync. Sometimes they get left out altogether.

Thinking about it objectively, it's probably a bit of an inefficient way to write, but I find the process more enjoyable that way.

message 39: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Clement (jaclement) | 1328 comments Hi Emma!

No, I think you're right. Enjoying the writing makes it so much better, and efficiency is not a priority with something like writing where mood and inclination makes such a difference to the vitality of the writing.

message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

I write in my spare time so I don't think I would progress very far if I made it too much like a chore.

I remember seeing an Ian Rankin interview where he said he writes strictly chronologically.

message 41: by Dale (new)

Dale Ibitz (goodreadscomdale_ibitz) | 298 comments I am so not a jumper! I have to write in order. It's the way my brain is wired. I also live for making lists. I love lists. I make them all the time and take great joy in crossing things off lists!

message 42: by Cambria (new)

Cambria (cambria409) | 3305 comments I tend to jump around a lot. My first book (not the one being published at the moment) I wrote the ending first and then started at the beginning.
The book that is getting published now I jumped all over. I wrote the scenes that I was 'seeing' in my head first, because they scream at me to get them out. then I go backward or forward depending upon my mood. It does get scattered after a while and I usually try to close the 'gaps' in the story until it is on track.

The last book i wrote (book 3 in the Masquerade series) I forced myself to go in order and also to break it into chapters as I went along (i usually break it down into chapters after its written) and I wrote the book in 30 days. But it needs a good bit of editing. its the first book i wrote strictly in order.

My other series (Glacier) I wrote a scene in the first book that didn't fit in and I finally was able to put it book 4. LOL. Sometimes I just write what the characters tell me and then piece it together. Its messy and makes me crazy sometimes but that's my process. :)

message 43: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Yoffa (webbiegrrlwriter) | 501 comments Dale wrote: "For example:
Anxiety: touch, trace, brush or pinch lips.

Boredom: study ends of hair; tap foot; drum fingers; pull ears; shift in seat; cross legs and kick one foot; stare into space; look arou..."

That's an interesting approach and what I find funny is that I do just the OPPOSITE. That is, I come up with (envision) the character's behavior and then have to figure out from the image in my mind's eye, what exactly are they feeling when they do that? I could use your cards in reverse!

message 44: by Sarah (last edited Aug 05, 2011 04:50PM) (new)

Sarah Yoffa (webbiegrrlwriter) | 501 comments One of the "style" tips or comments I've seen a lot relates to something I've always done, pretty much most of my life. I've been writing since I was 9. I'm now 50, almost 51. I probably started doing this around age 12 or 13. What is it?

Dialog tagging with choreography.

That is, Instead of using "saidisms" (he said, she said, John asked, Gloria answered), I tend to just tag my dialog with an action. (John dropped into the chair, making it clear he wasn't leaving until he got an answer. Gloria shrugged and picked up the phone, making it clear John was dismissed anyway.) I don't acutally use quite so many adverbs *grin* but I started chuckling at John and Gloria here so I had to play a bit, sorry. But notice that in just 2 lines of dialog tagging here I've gotten a conflict going.

The point is, for thriller, suspense, mystery, tension-building plots or action pieces--any book where conflict is the king so many romance novels, too!--dialog tagging tends to be of this style rather than being replete with saidisms.

I happen to be of the camp that it's best to use "said" instead of a myriad of other tags which really just MEAN "said" but I definitely use "asked," "answered" "snapped" "whispered" and other terms that communicate more than the fact the character has verbalized something. I like including mood. It deepens my characters' texture and enriches the scene's emotional content. That is, it ENGAGES THE READER because readers, all readers, engage with (sympathize with) mood and feelings.

A lot of people over the years have negatively criticized me for tagging my dialog this way. I find it interesting that they tend to write either fantasy genre, historical (fiction or romance) or other period-type pieces -- all of which make my skin crawl. It's obviously a taste issue. Obvious to me. I don't think they're right or wrong. I think they're not me. Or writing stuff I like.

Case in point that it's not just me or my stuff but a stylistic / genre type of choice. I recently saw a friend who's published a thriller on the Amazon UK Kindle Store put his chapters onto Authonomy. He just wanted some feedback, some reviews. Now understand first that his book has risen on the Amazon UK ranks as one of the most successful commercial thrillers in the indie market. He's actually in the top 10 I think and he got featured by a major indie bookstore in downtown London as a result. He's selling huge numbers of this commercial thriller.

So the majority of the negative comments I saw on Authonomy related to what? You guessed it. The fact he choreographs his dialog tags instead of saying "he said."

*head desk*

On that note, before my head hurts too much, I'm off to bed. Good topic, JAC - what *is* your name because I'm starting to associate you with "Jack" instead :) that's fine if you want me to call you JAC (or Jack) but I figured I should ask since I don't know.

message 45: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 979 comments Hey Sarah,

I do the same thing. I mix it up though. He said, she said....I could use a snapped here and there, thanks for reminding me...but also he smiled, she sat, etc..

Hemingway said "said" a lot. A whole lot. I sort of disappeared because he said it so much. I'm no Hemingway so I mix things up.

If someone HATES choreographed dialogue, my writing might put them off. However, "he said" and "she said" over and over is a big turn off to me and other readers.

It really is just a matter of taste. Interesting take on genres. I pretty much only read fantasy even though I don't write it so maybe I am a bit mixed up in how I do things.

MY take is that the choice in style has EVERYTHING to do with how we imagine scenes. I "see" the scenes as I write them. I want the reader to do the same. Like a movie or TV show on paper. I don't want statues talking to one another, I want movement and idiosyncrasies.

Like you, I think it brings a character to life.

Latest thing I have to "fix" when I edit book two: eyes. LOTS of eye references.


message 46: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Klehr (goodreadscomkevink) | 13 comments This is a great topic. Learning a few good tips.

I write a chapter by chapter plot outline but that doesn't mean I stick to it. Sometimes a better plot twist comes to me while I write. I find that if I don't plot first then I'm not really writing a coherant story.

I always start my writing by reading what I wrote last, out loud. Automatically you rephrase for the better, find mistakes and discover if your story works.

Then when a draft is finished, it sits in the drawer for three months before I review it. That's the most important step.

message 47: by Cassie (last edited Aug 05, 2011 09:14PM) (new)

Cassie McCown (cassie629) | 713 comments I also read everything out loud!! And, it always helps for me to leave things for a while then come back to them with fresh eyes. Probably not three months, but long enough for me to separate myself from it...

Makes for a lot of "Wow, I wrote that" and "What the heck was I thinking?"... Haha

I think using only he/she said is boring as well...

message 48: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Yoffa (webbiegrrlwriter) | 501 comments C.S. Splitter wrote: "Hey Sarah,

I do the same thing. I mix it up though. [...]
Like you, I think it brings a character to life.

Latest thing I have to "fix" when I edit book two: eyes. LOTS of eye references. "

LOL!! I'm sorry but I always ALWAYS think of the marvelous Philip K. Dick story (*cough* "story" she says, but it's a "lesson" camouflaged as a story)
The Eyes Have It
free at the Gutenberg here:

I never give Dick enough credit for all of his great works. I recently watched "The Adjustment Bureau" and had to keep reminding myself that Dick WROTE that during the World War II era! He was a phenomenal storyteller who was overshadowed by the other great writers of his time (Asimov, Clarke & Heinlein to name 3 who collectively took every award and title for some 10-15 years)

message 49: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Yoffa (webbiegrrlwriter) | 501 comments Cassie wrote: "I also read everything out loud!!"

Cassie, that's a great trick for finding "bad" dialog. Here's another one for finding "bad" choreography. Actually stand up and try to act out the scene. It's sometimes hard to do with only one person--and it's not something most writers will ask someone to do with them, both because it's embarrassing AND because how's the other person supposed to know what you had in your mind's eye?--but if you cannot physically do it, you shouldn't try to explain it.

I find acting out the scene next to my desk/computer really helps me compose better, richer scenes sometimes, too. I wear headphones with music blaring while I write so I can never go far from my MP3 source (computer) though *grin*

message 50: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Yoffa (webbiegrrlwriter) | 501 comments Kevin wrote: "I write a chapter by chapter plot outline but that doesn't mean I stick to it. [...]

I always start my writing by reading what I wrote last, out loud. Automatically you rephrase for the better, find mistakes and discover if your story works.

Then when a draft is finished, it sits in the drawer for three months before I review it. That's the most important step. "

Kevin, I've never done plot outlines until recently. It sure would have helped me all of these years, more to "save" a good story for when I had time to really to devote to it than to "write in stone" any kind of plot points, but I never did one because it's so much like just writing the book, I just wrote the book! *haha*

My writing habits are similar to yours on step 2, I'll read/review what I wrote last as a means of getting my head back into the story right where I left off, but I try to refrain from tweaking the words, etc. That's what I call "wordsmithing" polishing words without actually changing the story or even the sentence! Not only does wordsmithing expend/waste a lot of time/energy, it can sometimes (often or even usually in my case) bloat a scene if I start wordsmithing it. Plus, it's not actually editing. That's something else entirely.

I wrote a good -- well, LONG anyway -- piece on the 3 different kinds of editing as a guest blog. It was actually the debut piece I did earlier this year that motivated me to reopen my Webbiegrrl blog and start publishing it on a schedule. The blog's completely taken off in a life of its own now so this editing piece did a really good thing for me (I still don't write short pieces though *haha*) Check it out here:

Subscribe to the blog to get regular features like that every week (the Monday Marketing + Tuesday Tips are definitely for fellow writers while Freebie Friday is more for readers and Saturday Surprise is...well, it's for me to have fun)

Note in my article how I differentiate between editing and copyediting (or proofreading) and, of course, both are differentiated from wordsmithing. I see tweaking words as not only wasting time, but giving a writer a false sense of productivity that does the writer a disservice. It "enables" a behavior that could be accomplished while proofreading (copyediting, line editing) and often times, justifies the rationalization that a manuscript "isn't ready to go out yet." That's the #1 problem I see stemming directly from wordsmithing. The interminable "not yet" -isms.

Okay, before I make up more words :) a reply on your last point, Kevin. You'll note in my article I "agree" it's necessary to give a manuscript "fresh eyes," in order to see all of its problems, in order to "forget" what you wrote and just read it. However, I think 3 months is indulging yourself a bit and part of that "not yet" -ism habit :) It would be for me. Maybe that's how long it takes for you. Sometimes I recall -- verbatim -- lines I've written for years. There's only so much "forgetting" an author can do. Letting something go for 3 months instead of a week or maybe 2 weeks is a very big difference in the sense of urgency, in the business sense of "time to market" and in the professionalism sense of "get it done, move on."

A writer writes. Hopefully a writer writes daily, every day for the rest of his life. Get the editing overwith so you can write again!

Sorry if sound like I'm lecturing. Everyone needs to find a system that works for them but every system needs to have one goal in mind: get it done, start the next one. That's how you get published, get selling, get to write for a living instead of having to do the whole rat race like the "paeons" *haha*

Sometimes I forget that writers are artistes...for about 2.5 seconds, then I remember!

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