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About Writing Right: The Blog

SWITCHING POVS

When a newbie writer asked online the other day about changing points of view from third person omniscient, he received several reasonably accurate responses and one horrendous resply from our good friend, Queenie. Knowing that even a notoriously incorrect responder such as she can due severe damage to a writer's development, I set about correcting the misinformation.

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Wow. I know the Queen of Wrong mucks up nearly everything to which she responds, but this one is a Lulu. Instead of buying into the fallacy that third person omniscient is like a camera viewing a scene objectively without any possibility of understanding what your characters are thinking, realize that just the opposite is true. In third person omniscient, the narrator has access to every piece of information in the book, including what's going on in all of his or her characters' minds. This is what sets third person POV apart from first and second or limited POV. Not only that, but also, if you like multiple choices when you visit your favorite ice-cream shop, you'll love third person POV because it comes in two flavors. Voila:

 

In third person omniscient POV, the narrator knows all the thoughts and feelings of every character—the exact opposite of what Queenie advised. Knowing the narrator (that is, you) can reveal everything about the story and the characters at any given time he (again, you) chooses gives the narrator unlimited power. How you use it is up to you. This is where the flexibility of an author writing in omniscient POV comes into play. How much will you reveal, and when? How much will you hold back, and why? Read More 

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PROBLEMS WITH ENDINGS

Here's the scenario. You work your butt off, creating an outline for your novel. Then, as you sit down to begin writing, everything goes smoothly. Until you get to the ending. Then you freeze up. Nothing you write seems to work. You're at a standstill. Now, you want to know why. Here's the answer:

 

You're not trying hard enough. Seriously. Oh, I know you think you are, but you're leaving too many "holes" in your outline so that, once you get to writing that part of your story (the ending), you find yourself wallowing in doubt. And despair. And anger. Have you tried taking an Oreo-cookie break?

 

Better yet, if you want a drop-dead gorgeous ending that works, think it through. And I don't mean at the writing stage. By that time, you've missed the bus. I mean at the outlining stage. Keep going over the outline's beginning, middle, and end, and keep refining the ending. Dig deeper. Ask yourself questions such as, "If this, then what?" And if the answers you receive don't appeal to you, ask different questions such as, "What if this happens instead?" or "What happens if someone shows up and throws a monkey wrench into the works?" or "What's the least logical thing my main character can do that later turns out to make sense?" Read More 

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NOVEL, NOVELLA, OR WHAT THE HECK?

When someone recently asked what he should do with his 47,000-word "novel," first into the fray once again was a remarkably misinformed and misinforming would-be author with a ton of garbage novels in print. They, of course, make her the quintessential diseminator of authoritative information. Don't they? Here's what I told the writer-in-making.

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Well, the Queen of Wrong missed the mark yet again. Does anyone actually pay attention to her responses anymore? I hope not, because they can be damaging to a young writer's future. If not deadly. Here's how.

 

First, she says your novella (it's not long enough to be considered a novel) needs to go through "at least five edits." She can say this with all impunity because she's clairvoyant. No one else could know what skills you possess, the amount of determination you have, and the editing abilities you enjoy. Nor could anyone else understand just how much editing your opus will require—if any! Does it sing like a wren with every word that's read, or does it drop with a thud like a hollowed-out Wiffle Ball? Without her clairvoyant qualities, Queenie couldn't possibly know. Thank you, Uri Geller. Read More 

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WHEN TO HIRE A BOOK EDITOR

A self-confessed newbie author with his first book under his belt asked online the other day if he should spend hundreds of dollars hiring an editor or simply take his lumps when the book is published and chock it up to experience. I couldn't resist responding.

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There are two unknown factors here that no one else answering your question has picked up on. Which type of publishing venture are you pursuing—conventional or self? If you're talking about a conventional publisher, you need a perfectly crafted manuscript simply to get the book in the front door for a read. Or, more likely, you need a perfectly presented package to present to a literary agent who, if you're one of a very fortunate few, will sign you on as a new client and submit the book to conventional publishers for you.

 

If you're talking about publishing the book yourself, on the other hand, you can crank out any garbage you want, and Kindle, Ingram, or any other POD printer you choose to go with will publish it. However, don't expect to make any sales unless you're a fantastic marketer and self-promoter, and do expect to receive some harsh, negative reviews. Readers, like most other people in life, don't like wasting their time reviewing sub-standard material, including books. Read More 

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PUT THE BLAME ON WHOM?

I was thumbing through some beginning writers' questions about who is responsible for typos that appear in a published book. I was astonished at the ridiculous and outright incorrect responses some advisers gave. Here's what I had to say on the matter.

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On what planet do these respondents live, and how many of them have actually worked as full-time freelance authors and editors? It's disheartening, to say the least, to see a "V.P. of Programs" at some apparent writers' group put the blame on everyone but the person who deserves it. Wow. Not the first time this Oklahoma author has been grossly disappointed by this Oklahoma group that seems to fire from the hip far more often than from the brain. You know, just like the Queen of Wrong does? Maybe it's something in the water down here. Regardless, this is the unvarnished truth.

 

First, you're apparently living in a one-world universe while all experienced writers exist in a dual modality. What the freak am I talking about? I'm glad you asked. Read More 

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THE NEED FOR A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR

Someone asked on a forum the other day whether or not he needed to hire a developmental editor. To their shame, numerous responses popped up, most of which advised the author to hire an editor. My take on the subject?

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Absolute not! Not, at least, unless you know you need one. As usual, the Queen of Wrong and others have ill-advised you based upon their limited understanding of you and your skill set, history, and capabilities. Have you been working as a copy editor for Simon and Schuster for the past twenty years before setting out to write your own book? Have you published dozens or even hundreds of articles, features, and short stories in regional or national magazines and newspapers? Have you worked in a newsroom for the past ten years or been a closet writer for decades?

 

Are you a college writing or literature professor?

 

I'm sure you agree: It makes a difference. Read More 

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IS A GREAT EDITOR BEHIND EVERY GREAT WRITER?

I get asked this question periodically, and my answer is always the same.

 

No. Period. End of story.

 

In fact, no great editor has ever been behind a great writer (except, perhaps, by chance) because great writers don't' require them. Here's what I mean.

 

First, "great" editors don't grow on trees. After producing more than ninety conventionally published books, each one being assigned at least one editor and usually more, and after studying editing and working as a professional editor myself for decades, I can't count a single other editor I thought was great. Not those working for me, and not those working for the publishers who assigned their editors to check my work. Some editors I've known were far better than others, you understand. But not one contributed meaningfully, or transformationally, to my work or any great writer's work of which I familiar. Why would he have to? If a work is great, it's not going to need a "great editor" to make it even greater! And if it's not great, its author isn't great.

 

That's not to say no editors ever improve the work they tackle. Most do. By pointing out little things along the way, all of which (as all "great" writers know) add up to a better finished product. Read More 

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ENCOURAGING A YOUNG WRITER

A mother recently asked on line what to do to encourage her daughter, a fine writer, to get published and paid for her work. I had a few thoughts on the matter, considering that I was in her daughter's shoes half a century earlier. Here's my response:

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First, since getting my first book published in the mid-seventies, I went on to publish nearly a hundred books conventionally in nearly all genres. I also wrote the second most widely syndicated newspaper column in America for more than a decade (after "Dear Abby"—hey, she was tough!) and published tens of thousands of articles, short stories, and other works in magazines, newspapers, and on Websites. I learned enough along the way to develop Creative Writing Workshop, which I taught at several Chicago-area colleges for years.

 

And, of course, I worked as a magazine, newspaper, and book editor just to fill in the "down" time.

 

So, I feel qualified in saying that, in one respect, your daughter is far better off than I was when I started out. She's good; I sucked.

 

With that said, please ignore, disregard, and banish from your mind forever the "advice" given to you by the Grand Vizier of Wrong. It's worse than her normal fare. In fact, it's the polar opposite of the truth. Here's why: Read More 

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DO BOOK EDITORS OFFER COMMENTS?

I ran across this question on a forum the other day. Will a book editor comment on a good book when he sees one? I wasn't surprised at the large number of misleading and outright wrong responses the author received. Here's what I know about the subject.

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If, by the phrase "book editor," you mean a conventional book publisher's acquisitions editor to whom you submit your book for publication and not someone you hire to clean it up, the answer is far more simple than your other respondents indicate. Those respondents include the person with a self-published eBook on Amazon and another who, in forty years, has never heard of an editor saying a story is good. The truth to your question is obvious.

 

Of course he will! That's what a book editor's job is—to find and publish quality, marketable books. Remember?

 

Now, you didn't ask about a book editor providing a detailed criticism or offering an unpaid assessment or any of the other ridiculous things to which some respondents replied. The reality is that, if a book is any good and fits an editor's list, he or she will tell you so and offer a contract. Even if it's not something upon which he can make an offer (wrong genre, wrong subject, bad timing, not a large enough potential audience), if he's an intelligent and thoughtful editor, he'll let you know you're on the right track. Read More 

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CONJURING UP GOOD CHAPTER TITLES

I place little credence in someone who claims that chapter names aren't necessary anymore, as a few writers do. Quite the contrary: They can be of great importance both to the writer as he's working on developing a book and to the reader as he peruses the TOC page to decide whether or not to buy it on the spot or order it online.

 

Of my ninety published books, About Writing Right, a nonfiction how-to, features chapter names. So does my nonfiction bio, Wilma Mankiller. On the other hand, my novel, The Last Wild Orchid, has only title numbers and no names. But my short-story collection, Chi-Town Blues, does. For me, it all depends upon what feels "right" for that particular book. There is no universal preference.

 

As for your question, I have the consummate answer to how to come up with good chapter names. Brainstorm! Put something down, jot down a few alternatives that come to mind, and then decide which one works best for you. Rinse, dry, and repeat. It can take even the most creative writer nearly forever to come up with a single name that checks all the boxes. Read More 

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