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About Writing Right: The Blog

DYNAMITE FIRST CHAPTERS

I was thinking the other day about how to write a dynamite first chapter, and I realized there are more ways to accomplish that task than there are oysters in the sea. But there's one sure-fire, can't-miss, absolutely foolproof way to pull it off. Interested? Okay, here it is.

 

Write it.

 

No kidding. Write your first chapter however you want, and then go back and cut it. Cut the chapter in half. And then cut it in half again. And keep cutting until it's one or two pages long. Or less. Far less.

 

I'm serious.

 

Nothing turns off a reader at the beginning of a book (short of horrendous writing, which is rampant among self-published authors and even some conventionally published ones) faster than a long, rambling first chapter. And, the antithesis (are you ready for this revelation?) is that nothing turns a reader on more than a short, punchy chapter that lays out the plot, introduces the main character, and sets the hook so the reader will need to continue reading.

 

Did you hear that?

 

He'll need to keep reading. Read More 

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BEST TYPEFACE FOR BOOKS

A writer recently asked what the best-looking typeface for books was. How would you have answered? Here's what I had to say.

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If what you mean by "for books" is to create a book for your personal use, use whatever font you like. The key in such a situation is to use something that's non-obtrusive so that the font doesn't slow down your writing by hampering your reading speed and, thus, your overall productivity.

 

If, on the other hand, what you mean by "for books" is actually to publish a book, numerous studies conducted over the eons have proven that serif fonts (such as Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond among others) are easier, faster, and more enjoyable to read than are sans-serif fonts (such as Arial and others in all their iteration). And, since your goal in publishing a book is to entice readers to buy, read, and enjoy what you've written, why buck the odds? I picked up five books at random off the corner of my desk, and all five were produced with a serif typeface, most in 11 or 12 point Times New Roman, which size makes for easier reading than smaller or larger sized fonts. Read More 

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AND THE WINNING TITLE IS ...

Someone asked online the other day for suggestions for a title for his new third-person book, which he then went on for a sentence or two to describe. My reaction? Not positive. Here's what I said.

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You know, I read your question with a great deal of interest. I re-read it, and I read it again a third time. Now, I have a response for you. But, it's not without consequences. By that I mean that every pile-on advocate of Group Think will be jumping down my throat, saying, "How could you be so cold and cruel to someone who merely reached out to you for advice?" My response is simple.

 

Horse hockey!

 

Now, I'm going to tell you why. Because it's the truth. And to those of your respondents who can't accept the truth, I say you have no business chiming in until you can.

 

And, for you, my dear confused author-in-the-making, I have a question. How can any author, writing in any POV, who knows what his story is about, how it plays out, and how it's been meticulously and painstakingly crafted, ask a group of absolute strangers to name his child for him? Are you kidding me? What am I missing here? Read More 

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WRITING A BOOK SCENE

Someone went online the other day to ask how to write a book scene. Not surprisingly, there weren't a ton of people jumping up to help him with an answer. For good reason, as you'll see from my response.

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How do you write a book scene? Simple. You sit down at your computer (make sure it's turned on first). You open up a blank page. And, you start writing at the beginning and continue until the end.

 

I told you it was simple.

 

What's not so simple is getting the responsive answer to your question you seek from someone else. That's because there is no responsive answer from someone else. You're the writer. You create the scene from the thoughts, visions, and images in your head. You do the heavy lifting. You take the reader wherever it is you want him to go. Read More 

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CAN YOU GET SUED?

Someone asked online the other day if he can be sued for novelizing a "secret" someone told him. As usual, Queenie was there to muddy the waters. I hope I helped to clear them. Here's what I said.

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Please forgive the Queen of Wrong for she knows not what she does. Or, apparently, says. Of course you can get sued for writing a novel based upon a secret someone told you. You can get sued for crossing the street in rush hour or drying your socks on a line in plain view of the public. In fact, you can get sued for damned near anything, including for telling someone you can't get sued!

 

That doesn't mean you should sit around stewing about every single thing you do. Being sued is common. Being sued successfully is another matter.

 

In the case that you mentioned, even if the person who told you a secret sues you, he or she won't prevail in court. That's because there is no legal precedent of which I am aware that makes spilling the beans an illegal act. Now, is it morally reprehensible? Sure. Does the person who shares the secret lack moral integrity? Probably, depending upon the secret. If the person told you in confidence that his brother is planning on blowing up a grade school next Tuesday, for instance, you would be morally obligated to notify the authorities. Whether or not you write about it afterward would be strictly a matter between you and your conscience. It's a case of protecting the greater good: In this case, that means saving lives above keeping secrets. Read More 

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IS THIS STORYLINE POPULAR?

A newbie author-to-be went online to ask his community a question: Will his specific Sci-Fi/Fantasy storyline be popular or not? Unfortunately, some ne'er-do-wells got to him before I could, but hopefully I straightened him--and them--out. Here's my response.

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Kudos to those respondents who answered your question positively—and accurately. It's true, the story you describe ain't new, and it's far from detailed enough for anyone of any intellect to give you a straight-up response. As those people have pointed out, the popularity of your story isn't in the storyline, which has been done to death, but rather in the telling. In other words, there are no new ideas under the sun. Do a good job, and you have a good chance of turning out a good book. Whether or not it will be "popular" (aka, financially successful) is anybody's guess.

 

Now, rat droppings to the initial respondent who greeted your question so negatively and imposed her own biases (which are obviously many) into her response. And the same to those who agreed with her, lavishing praise upon her lame and irresponsible answer. Here's where the Queen of Wrong missed the boat yet again.

First: The opening remark of Why are you even bothering to think about this? is ridiculous. Is she kidding? If a writer doesn't bother "to think about" the premise, storyline, and plot of his novel before setting out to write it, he's an idiot. Why would anyone with all his screws firmly attached and tightened say otherwise? Of course, you should think about it. Right now. Up front and ahead of any writing you may be pulling at the reigns to begin. Read More 

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TO PROOFREAD OR NOT

Someone asked me the other day if it's true that he should never proofread his own work. Of course, I had an apoplectic response for him. Here it is.

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Are you kidding? Where on earth did you get that notion? If you don't proofread your own work, who will? And how will anyone catch those errors in logic and even in syntax of which only you as the author are aware? If you don't proofread your own work, how will you ever know if it's ready for Prime Time … or the wastebasket? If you don't proofread your own work, how will you ever advance in skills as a writer? Or even know if you're making headway?

 

Now, if your question is simply a matter of being poorly crafted and what you really meant to ask was, "Why shouldn't you be the only one to proofread your own work?" my response is simple. I can't begin to tell you if you haven't already figured that out on your own. I return to my opening statement: Are you kidding? Read More 

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WRITING THAT ELUSIVE NOVEL

Someone asked in a forum the other day how he can write a novel. He has been unable to get a good story line or style and hopes to get some help. As usual, he received plenty of responses, not many of which applied to him. Here's what I wrote.

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Well, bad novel-writer, congratulations. You have accomplished two things with one question. First, you admitted your weakness, and that's a definite plus. Second, you elicited a number of ridiculous responses from people who should know better. Lynda was the only one who hit the nail on the head. I'll take her advice of, If you're bad at writing novels, why try? and go one step further.

 

Don't try.

 

Huh? I can hear the naysayers and wannabe writers (and shoot-from-the-lip responders) castigating me already. How dare you? What gives you the right? Why would you say such a harsh and cruel thing? Why put down someone for simply asking a question?

 

To them I say, "Grow up and get a life." Read More 

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REIMURSEMENT FOR UNSOLD BOOKS

The question came up recently as to whether or not authors must repay their book publishers for unsold books. As usual, there were plenty of answers to go around--and most of them were wrong. Here's how I corrected them.

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Yes! Unlike the response from the Queen of Wrong and so many other respondents who, if I'm reading your question correctly, missed the boat entirely.

 

If you were talking about paying the publisher back for any advance against royalties received by the author but not earned out through the book's sales, the answer would be "no." Publishers don't traditionally require authors to repay unearned balances from the advances they pay their authors. But, you don't mention advances, royalties, or unpaid balances in your question; so, that's not at all the question you asked. Read More 

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BOOK REVIEWERS' RESPONSIBILITIES

I was perusing some online writing forums the other day when I came across an interesting question. The writer wanted to know what responsibilities a book reviewer has while reviewing a particular work. Not many people had answered the question (in fact, only two), and one of them was way off base. So, of course, I had to chime in. Here's my take on the subject.

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Well, while one of your respondents may know Hindi (his self-description, not mine), he certainly doesn't understand English. You asked about the responsibilities a writer has while writing a book review; he responded by explaining how to critique another writer's work. Two different animals.

 

Fortunately, another respondent to your question, Rodney, hit the nail on the head. His response is on-point and accurate. To that I would add a few things.

 

First, a book reviewer must be inscrutably honest at all times and not let a book's subject matter influence or taint his or her review. That may sound simple, but it could be unnervingly difficult. I've reviewed some books in which I didn't care for the author's literary style, but the books themselves were quite good—informative and entertaining. So, I overlooked my personal biases in stylistic preference and gave those books positive reviews. Read More 

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