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Writing Right: The Blog

"Strong Talk - Writing Effective Dialogue

Anyone can put a few words between two quotations marks; but not everyone knows how to make those words sing. If that's your problem, here's a tip you can take to the bank. Describing your character's dialogue to your reader means you're writing ineffective dialogue.

Sad but true, and it's all too common a shortcoming in writers of all calibers.

Now, admittedly, different writers handle dialogue differently. That's one of the things that helps to establish a writer's literary voice. It's one of the things that defines his style. But there are effective ways of handling dialogue, and there are ineffective ways. Take a look at this example:

"I hate you," she screamed shrilly.

What's wrong with that, you ask? The writer tells us that she screamed and that her voice was shrill. Isn't that merely an example of good descriptive dialogue, of being specific?  Read More 
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Building Dialogue Right

Reports of dialogue’s death, to misquote Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated. We’ve seen a swing away from effective dialogue and toward more ineffective narrative recently. Why? Because narrative is easier to write, even good narrative, than dialogue. So why dwell on the spoken word?

Because it's desirable and even necessary to most stories. Yet, setting dialogue up in the wrong way can take a devastating toll on the reader. Take this example:

"I wanted to tell him that I needed him," Mary told John's mother. "I wanted him to know that I still cared.” She had to break the news to her. “He's the father of my child." She stifled the urge to cry. "And even if I can't be with him for the rest of my life, I wanted to tell him that, for my sake and for the sake of little Max, he would always be welcomed in our home.” She paused before continuing. “But when he began running around with that other woman, when he began using drugs and staying away for days and sometimes weeks on end ..." Mary felt the anger welling within her. "I felt I had to draw the line. So I did." Read More 
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From Mid-List to Best-Seller

We’ve all heard the stories: first-time author inks multi-million-dollar contract with major publisher. Well, it does happen...except that it happens so rarely, it actually is news. Even when that does occur, the multi-million-dollar contract is usually for a multi-book deal (one advance for several books yet to be written). Of course, most news stories miss that tiny detail.

The sad reality of it is that, while better known and proven authors often pull in enough money from which to make a comfortable living, first-time authors more often than not are relegated to what publishers call Midlist, which is the rough equivalent of taking a vacation in hell in the middle of August.

Here’s the breakdown of various publisher’s categories and how newly acquired books are prioritized, from lowest to highest.  Read More 
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Deadline ... or Dead End?

When I was a kid going to college to learn to become a rich and famous novelist, I was stunned to learn that one of the pre-enrollment requirements for "Novel Writing 101" was "Journalism 101, 102, and 103." Not just one semester of learning to write what I had no intentions of using ever, but three!

I tried everything I could to bypass that requirement, including begging the head of the fiction department to give me a pass. Thank God he turned me down. Learning to write like a journalist (and think and talk and interview like one) was exactly the kind of iron-fisted self-discipline I needed to learn to apply to my fiction writing. And the single most essential thing I learned from those courses was how to write under deadline. Read More 
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Writer, Edit Thyself!

I was reading an article the other day about the importance of authors self-editing their work before sending it out for publication, and I ran into this gem: “An author [singular noun] should always aim to make their [plural pronoun] book the best it can be. Unless we [third person] are literary geniuses, you [second person] can’t get away from some element of human feedback.”

Is he kidding? Fortunately, he got one thing right. He nailed the importance of self-editing on the head! Unfortunately, he failed to heed his own advice.

This is a good example of how easy it is to miss little things in our work. Sometimes, authors believe that a publisher’s editors will clean up the book, so why spend any more time than necessary on that boring, unglamorous chore?

The answer: Because you’re a professional who wants a professional-looking product before it ever leaves your desk. Professional-looking products take time and energy to produce. Here are a few tips to help you self-edit your book. Read More 
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Unilever Threatens Google, Facebook Over Fake News

Unilever has threatened to pull its advertising from digital platforms that have become a "swamp" of fake news, racism, sexism and extremism. The terse warning to digital platforms such as Google and Facebook was issued at an advertising conference in California Monday, Feb. 2, 2018.

"We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain ... which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency," Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed said. Read More 
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Creating "Memorable" Characters

If you think back to all the stories you've read over the years, you'd be hard pressed to come up with more than a handful of memorable characters. That's because most writers don't take the time or the energy to create living, breathing, multi-dimensional people to populate their books--not even the most successful of writers. And that's a bad thing.

But if you think back to all the real-life people you've met in your lifetime, you'd remember a few doozies! The reason is simple: memorable people are memorable because they are real characters. They stand out in a crowd. They break from the mold. They literally knock your socks off. And that's a good thing. Read More 
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Liability Insurance for Journalists

Been sued lately for $50 million for libel? One writer was, pointing out the obvious: without insurance, today's journalist is putting himself in jeopardy. Here's the full story from CJR.

[Columbia Journalism Review] - REPORTER YASHAR ALI in August found himself in a difficult situation for any journalist, let alone a freelancer. He was hit by a lawsuit from Fox News host Eric Bolling seeking a whopping $50 million in damages. The suit followed a story by Ali in the HuffPost that alleged the television personality had texted unsolicited photos of male genitalia to at least three colleagues.

Ali stood by his story, and so did HuffPost. Shortly after it ran, Fox suspended Bolling, and in September, the network announced he would be leaving the network “amicably.”
(more...) Read More 
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Creating "Flat" Characters

E. M. Forster introduced the concept of the "flat" character.
Characterization. The word, itself, strikes fear into the hearts of trembling young novelists. What I'd like to know is ... why?

The characters in your fiction make the whole thing work. It doesn't matter how brilliant a plot you construct or how lively the action. It doesn't mean a thing if you paint the most glowing descriptive passages ever. The whole book isn't worth a tinker's damn if your characterization is flawed. Here's why.

People care about people. Or, at least, they want to. They may love them, they may hate them. But the bottom line is they're empathetic toward them. Even books that have non-people as their characters (remember Christine?) embed those non-humans with human-like characteristics, making them, in effect, peopleRead More 
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Creating "Round" Characters

Think about one of your favorite classic stories in fiction. Something you enjoyed reading more than anything else as a child, over and over again. Was it Alice in Wonderland? Treasure Island? Black Beauty?

Now, ask yourself why you enjoyed reading that story so much. The answer is nearly always the same. The main characters.

Characters are what the reader identifies and empathizes with; they are what the reader loves to love ... or hate. Many great stories with weak plots, shoddy descriptive passages, and marginal dialogue have relied for their greatness solely on characterization. If you don't believe me, go back and read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises or The Old Man and the Sea. Papa's works are notoriously weak on story line and only marginal on description and dialogue. Where Hemingway works his magic is through his characters. When he writes about Ezra Pound or Gertrude Stein, about F. Scott Fitzgerald, we develop a love/hate relationship with those characters that is strong enough to keep us coming back, looking for more pages to turn. Read More 
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