5 Mistakes killing your book

Keyhole with hidden murdererI’ve been reading some Indie novels in a GoodReads review group and I’ve noticed several common writing mistakes. Some of them seem very remedial for published authors, and I wanted to call them out on it. Instead, I held back. So, I’m going to post them here.

  1. Writing too much description bogs down the narrative.

Don’t write long, descriptive details about the sky, the weather, the landscape, the contents of a room or what a character is wearing. To establish the time and setting, I limit myself to one or two descriptive sentences. Then it’s time to get into the story. Anything more and the reader will probably just skip over it anyway.

  1. Poor grammar and spelling errors take the reader out of the story.

I see them all the time in Indie books — peaking vs. peeking, set vs. sat, then vs. than, your vs. you’re; affect vs. effect… I could go on. Word misuse happens to all writers. I get it, but it still breaks the illusion of the story and makes the author look amateurish. Also, many writers don’t understand comma, apostrophe and semi-colon placement. Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases require commas. If, as an author, you’re not sure what that means, take a grammar class or hire a professional editor.

  1. Writing scenes that “tell, rather than show” won’t engage the reader

I think this is one of the toughest concepts for new authors to wrap their heads around. Basically though, telling is a boring lecture. It’s reporting information after the fact. Showing is describing the scene as it happens. It’s imaginative and the reader can “see” the story unfolding in his mind as he reads.

  1. Background that the author thinks is vital information is probably just an indulgence that’s interrupting the story.

Don’t drop in heavy, indigestible chunks of history into your story. Maybe some of the Protagonist’s background is vital to the plot (or just interesting) could be summarized in a few pages. However there’s no need to reach back to the immigrant great grandparents. Also, never, ever start your book with a data dump. If there’s critical information the reader must know to understand the plot, then drip it in pieces around the action, in the scenes and within the dialog – after the initial introduction of your characters and what’s immediately happening to them.

  1. Boring dialog creates boring characters.

Dialogue in fiction veers from real life in that the characters in your novel don’t engage in idle chit chat. Dialog provides essential information and reveals character. Yet, it must still sound real. Which can be tougher than it sounds.

A Conversation About ‘He Said, She Said’ (or Avoid Dialog Tags)

canstockphoto5739427“What are dialog tags?” he asked, inquisitively.

“Dialog tags are the little obvious fragments that writers add to the end of speech to identify who is speaking and what feeling the character is emoting,” she explained.

“So dialog tags are kind of like emoticons for writers,” he laughed.

“Exactly,” she agreed.

“Well, you didn’t have to tell me you agreed. I already knew that based on you saying ‘exactly,'” he snarled, offended.

“Why are you telling me you’re offended?” She put her hands on her hips and leaned toward him. She studied his expression a moment, then wagged a finger at him like an old schoolmarm.  “You should show your feelings, not tell them.”

“I don’t understand what you mean?” he queried, baffled.

“You’re a writer.” She straightened her back and folded her arms across her chest.  “You should show not tell. And of course this includes dialogue.”

He shrugged. “But I like to use ‘said’ after my dialog to identify who is speaking,” he said.

“That’s fine.” She put a hand on his shoulder. Her face softened. “Adding ‘said’ to dialog is okay when used in moderation. It generally doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. Just don’t break out the thesaurus to describe how they’re talking. Your reader should feel that through your character’s dialog and action.”

“You’re kidding?” he vociferously expostulated. “You mean readers aren’t impressed with all those verbs and adverbs?”

“Those verbs and adverbs are distracting. They pull the reader out of the story.” She stepped back and waved a hand, as if grasping an invisible object and flinging it across the room. After a moment, she looked him directly in the eyes. “Those words scream ‘Look at me! Look how clever this story is written!’

“Really?”

“Really. In fact, you sometimes don’t need dialog tags at all.”

“And the reader can still follow along?”

“Yes. Especially when there are only two characters having a conversation.”

She watched him a moment as they stood in silence. He lifted his hand to his face and scratched his chin. He looked deep in thought.

“I guess that makes sense.” He reached for her and grasped her hand. His face brightened. “The words that come out of my character’s mouth should be strong enough to convey the emotion. If I need an added oomph then I should describe what the characters are doing while they talk.”

She returned his smile and squeezed his hand. “Exactly.”

 

 

5 Dialog Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

canstockphoto6243281This may read like Grammar 101, but I see these mistakes in a lot of unpublished, new author’s works. Unfortunately, these mistakes scream “Amateur!” and hurt the author’s chances of getting published.

If these rules are elementary, skip them. For everyone else, print them out and nail them to your monitor.

Problem #1:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said. “You know I’m involved with someone.” Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic.”

Don’t put two character’s conversations into one paragraph. It makes it very difficult to figure out who is talking.
Start a new paragraph every time a new character speaks.

Problem #2:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone.” Said Kim.

“Stop being so melodramatic!” Said Mallory.

The character’s conversation and the tag should not be two separate sentences. This is a basic grammar rule. Use a comma instead of a period, and make the conversation flow into the tag.

Problem #3:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone“, Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic“!

Always put terminal punctuation (commas, periods) inside the quotation marks.

Problem #4:
“I can’t believe you, Mallory! You sandbagged me with another blind date when you know I’m involved with someone. Ross and I are madly, deeply in love. I just think you’re jealous of our love. You always have been, but this time you’ve gone too far. Too far, I tell you! And, I will never forgive you. Not today or tomorrow or in a million years from now. Our friendship is officially over!” Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic! Ross broke up with you. He cruelly, unceremoniously dumped you and he’s not coming back. No matter what you do or say, he will never come back. You need to make peace with that and learn to accept it. That’s why I set you up. Because I’m your friend, and always will be.”

The characters need a chance to breathe. Besides, no one really talks like this — and if they do, no one is really listening. Keep the dialog brief and to the point. The conversation above would be much easier to follow if it was broken-up into an exchange between the two women.

Problem #5:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said angrily. “You know I’m involved with someone.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Mallory said indignantly.

Repeat after me: Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. If you need to explain the emotion, then you’ve written flat dialog or a stale scene.

* Examples based on an excerpt from the mystery novel Prey of Desire.

Language of the Body: Add visual dialog to your conversations

canstockphoto13397004Do you feel like you’ve got too many “he said,” “she said” tags in your dialog? Are you leaning on adverbs to express your character’s feelings? Do some research on body language to add emotional and descriptive depth to your character’s dialog.

Body language can bring your conversations to life. It subtly strengthens the dialog, and plants mental images in your reader’s head. Consider the following:

Angrily = Shoulders retracted, head leans forward, fists closed, neck and forehead veins bulge,
Apologizing = Eyes lowered, hands clasped together
Defensively = Arms crossed, fists closed, brows furrowed,
Fearfully = Shoulders raised, eyes wide open, mouth scrunched.
Forced Politeness = Oblong smile, eyes pointed, stiff posture
Friendly = Broad smile, open palms, arms outstretched
Interested = Eyes raised, Body leans forward, Long gaze
Leave Me Alone = Shoulders hunched, Chin to chest, Eyes nearly closed
Lying or Withholding Information = Rapid blinking, Avoids eye contact, hands hidden, nods head frequently, places finger between lips, ankles locked
Nervously = Biting fingernails, Forehead sweating, Change of complexion, Dry mouth, Repeated fidgeting (with item, running hands through hair, changing positions, tapping fingers), clammy hands,
Pensively = Hands to cheek,
Responsibility = Shoulders square, chin raised, chest out
Sexual Interest = Lips parted, hands touching the other’s shoulder, feet pointed toward the other, fingers touching hair
Tensely = Swallowing, Gulping

Want to read more? Check out:
Knock ’em Dead with Verbs

 

Jargon: Classifications of Murder

canstockphoto15852829Murder isn’t just murder. There’s a lot of subcategories that tie strongly to the motive. Understanding the type of murder is understanding your murderer. So here’s a list of definitions to the types of murder.

Homicide is the act of taking the life of another.

Criminal Homicide is a homicide that is neither excusable or justifiable.There must be premeditation, intent to kill or to commit bodily harm; the perpetrator must be engaged in a dangerous act with wanton disregard for human life, such as robbery, rape, aggravated assault, etc.

Murder: Killing with malice aforethought or premeditation. The law presumes all homicides brought to trial to be murder unless the accused can prove there was an excuse or the act was justifiable.

Manslaughter: an unlawful and felonious killing without premeditation or malice aforethought

Voluntary Manslaughter: the unlawful killing of another committed in the heat of passion caused by adequate provocation. It is not murder even though there was intent to kill or commit great bodily harm.

Involuntary Manslaughter: an unlawful homicide without intent to kill, e.g. as in negligence or while perpetrating an offense other than burglary, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault.

Excusable Homicide: the outcome of an accident or misadventure while doing a lawful act in a lawful manner without negligence, such as a hunter shooting a concealed person.

Justifiable Homicide: “authorized” killing to prevent the commission of a felony such as rape, robbery, etc. or the escape of an armed perpetrator while performing a legal duty under the scope of authority and without negligence, such as a law officer having authorization to shoot to kill.

Want to read more? Check out:

Writing a Murder Mystery: Motives for Murder