Posts Tagged 'character development'

Five Things That Turn Readers Off

It’s no secret that successful writers enjoy a plethora of reading fans. Readers buy books. Readers tell others about their favorite authors. Readers are critical if your book is going to succeed in the marketplace.

So, what are some things that turn readers off? Here’s a quick list.

  • Cliches. Cliches are worn, tired out phrases that add nothing to the writing. Examples: Better safe than sorry. Dead as a doornail. Familiarity breeds contempt. Use it or lose it. Well, you get the idea.
  • Jargon. Everyone uses jargon (especially in the work or special interest areas of life) because it promotes special meaning to a select group and offers shortened definition. But jargon belongs more in the spoken than the written word, and you never know who in the masses will read what you write, so avoid jargon in writing.
  • Footnotes. I teach at a Twin Cities’ university and require footnotes¬† in research papers, but most writing that gets read isn’t academic. Use footnotes to acknowledge sources you haven’t acknowledged in the body of your work or to provide supplementary material that doesn’t fit in well with the text. Otherwise, avoid them when you can.
  • Intrusion. One of the biggest mistakes authors make is author intrusion. I’ve found this mostly in the fiction I’ve edited, but it occurs in nonfiction as well. The author creates all the characters and knows which one is thinking what and when, so intrudes by giving one character’s thoughts in one paragraph and another characther’s in the next. Since no one can know what another person is thinking (here’s where understanding point of view is critical), it becomes author intrusion when you get inside a character and you’re not writing from that character’s point of view.
  • Gimmicks. Gimmicks are things that take away from content and draw attention to themselves. Examples are ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, overuse of exclamation points !!!!, and uSING letters in an unUSual way to highlight a point such as singing or singing about us or singing about the United States (see how it doesn’t work?).

If you’re a writer, you’re probably a reader as well and may agree these five things are turn-offs. Use this list and your readers will thank you.

Happy writing!

Advice from a Literary Agent

I was cleaning out old files this week and came across a tip sheet from a literary agent. Some of the tips are so obvious (use quality paper, write a clear letter, enclose SASE–self addressed, stamped envelope), but others are a bit less elementary.

When approaching a literary agent, do:

  • Present one project at a time.
  • Submit in standard manuscript format (double-spaced, one-inch margins, Times New Roman font, your name and page number on each page).
  • Provide your project’s word count.
  • List your published works.
  • Provide pertinent information about yourself–experience, for example.
  • Expect to wait up to 120 days for a response.

When approaching a literary agent,¬†don’t:

  • Offer an unprofessional presentation (no typos, spelling or puncutation or grammatical errors please).
  • Send your only copy of your proposal.
  • Use cliche characters when writing fiction–instead make them memorable.
  • Use exclamation points or unusual fonts–let your writing create the excitement instead.
  • Claim to be better than best-selling authors.
  • Act paranoid that everyone’s out to steal your work.
  • Use the opinions of those who love you (family and friends) as confirmation of your work.

Here are some things I’ll add to help you increase your chances of success.

  • Follow the conventions of the kind of work you’re proposing (genre fiction is formulatic, so follow the formula).
  • Do your research (both fiction and nonfiction writing require research). You also want to research your marketplace and find a literary agent who represents what you write.
  • Read as much as you can in your field.
  • Realize that publishing is business and if anyone says it’s about fulfilling your dream, run as fast as you can. There’s something not quite right going on.
  • Join writers groups. Be mindful that any critiques you get aren’t very helpful unless the one giving them regularly reads the type of writing you do. For example, a critique on a romance isn’t worth much from someone who doesn’t read romances.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Publishing is business and rejection only means that what you’re offering isn’t a good match for what they’re needing.

You might want to print these tips off and keep them handy for future use.

Happy writing!

Writers are Observers of Life

“Writers are observers of life” is not original with me. In fact, I’ve heard it so often, I’m not sure who deserves credit for saying it. But I do know it’s true.

Writers observe the world around them, then use words to capture those observations.

Readers relate to those observations and, the more they relate, the more popular the writer becomes.

How does that apply to book writing? By opening yourself to seeing the world around you and by making notes, collecting stories, and being a literary packrat, you can add so much to your writing.

Maybe you base a character on someone memorable you saw. Maybe you include a joke you heard from a friend. Maybe there’s a story in the news that can illustrate a point (last post I used one about a woman stealing songs). You limit yourself, so break down the barriers and draw on life to improve your writing.

Of course, you’ll write in your own style, but when you have a world full of sources to draw upon, you’ll do a much better job of connecting with your reader. And that’s really what makes a book a success–connecting with readers so they tell other readers and the viral marketing creates a following for your book and for you, the author.

When I was heavily involved in my professional speaking career, the old joke in the industry was “Steal from one source and it’s plagiarism. Steal from many sources and it’s research.”

So, go ahead and take what you can use–just make sure you make it your own by using your own words, observations, and writing style.

Happy writing!

Conversation or Dialogue?

There’s a good chance you’ll incorporate dialogue into your writing at some point. Unfortunately, writing dialogue requires good writing skill, for it is one of the most difficult challenges any writer faces. Perhaps that’s because writers don’t distinquish between conversation and dialogue.

Conversation is the way people talk (not very dramatic). Here’s an example of conversation:

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“Not much.”

Here’s an example of dialogue:

“Any great plans for the weekend?”

“Not unless you call babysitting my neighbor’s dog great.”

What’s the difference between the two examples? Conversation is boring, exchanges information. Dialogue is dramatic, leaves an opening to further the story.

So, what does it take to write good dialogue? You need

  • the voice to be specific to the character (so the reader knows who’s speaking without a tagline),
  • the setting surrounding the dialogue,
  • some tension or conflict embedded in what’s said,
  • the dialogue should further the story, so may offer some foreshadowing,
  • another tool that works in furthering the story is explanation, so the dialogue could explain something that wouldn’t otherwise be known.

Practice writing dialogue to show character traits you can’t physically describe–maybe your character is cynical or maybe your character is gullible, for example.

Make sure you have a reason for every piece of dialogue you include in your writing. If there’s no reason for the exchange between two characters, don’t write it.

At the risk of too much repetition, I’ll finish with this. If the dialogue doesn’t move the story forward, don’t include it–period. Happy writing.