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About Writing Right: The Blog

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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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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WHERE TO BREAK FOR CHAPTERS

Someone asked online the other day how to know when to break a fantasy novel into "parts" and how long those parts should be. As usual, the advice from other respondents was sketchy at best. One gal was really off base. Here's what I advised.

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Okay, listen up. Let's get one thing straight. As a teenage writer, you have my empathy. I was fifteen when I wrote my first "novel." Maybe fourteen. Who cares. What matters is that the Queen of Wrong misfired again. In her response to you, she assumed by "parts" you meant "chapters." That may be right, of course. But I doubt it, or you would have referred to them as "chapters." I'm assuming instead that by "parts" you mean "parts." As in "Part One, Part Two, Part Three" of a book, etc. And that your chapters will fall into those parts. (Forgive those who jump to conclusions and shoot from the lip, for they know not what they do.)

 

If this is true, your question can't be answered here. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

 

The number of "parts" you have in a fantasy novel is dependent upon one thing ONLY. How many do you want? How many do you need? How many do you end up with? You're the writer, after all. That means that you're the one who has the story rattling around in his head, waiting to be freed. And that means that you get to call the shots. No one else. Only you.

 

Now here comes the gut punch. The creator doesn't solicit advice; he creates. If you want to write a cookie-cutter junk fantasy novel filled with 5,000-word chapters (in general), go ahead. If you want to create your story in your words, go ahead. The difference? One will be the same old garbage that other writers always produce—formulaic, poorly crafted, unbelievably naive tales of fantastic proportion. The other will be yours. For good or bad, better or worse, it will be yours.

 

Now, you may be thinking, "Gee, that's really nifty. (Forgive me. My generation, you understand.) But he still hasn't answered my question as to whether or not I should divide my novel into parts. And if so, how many? Read More 

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IMPROVING "BAD" WRITING

I've written before about how to improve one's writing. I've written before, too, about how I hate to see totally unqualified advisers who are all too willing to offer their advice. Think about it. Everyone likes to help, and everyone likes to think he or she has the magic cure to all of mankind's dilemmas. Unfortunately, that's a recipe for a world filled with inadequate, incorrect, and outright potentially dangerous information.

 

That's what I ran into the other day when a fifteen-year-old writer admitted he thinks his writing is super boring, and he wanted to know how to improve it. Here's what I told him--along with the legion of ne'r-do-wellers who only helped lead him astray.

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Well, in many ways, I'm sorry to see you ask this question online because every answer you have received so far is absolutely wrong. Oh, I'm sure the respondents meant well with their limited and often irrelevant points-of-view. But they're still wrong. And by piping up to answer your question, they're running the risk of fueling your inadequacy as a writer.

 

Inadequacy? Is that what I said?

 

No, that's what you said with your phrases, "super boring" and "let down." And no one on earth is better suited to judge his own literary competency than the writer. I'd make one minor correction to your question, though. You don't "think" the way you write is super boring. You know the way you write is super boring. So, let's begin with that and ask ourselves why and how to improve it.

 

Practice, practice, practice? Is that the mantra people are giving you? Ignore it! If you don't know how to write, writing over and over again, utilizing the same skillset, will only reinforce your poor writing. You can't learn by practice alone. Read my lips, everyone. YOU CAN'T LEARN BY PRACTICE ALONE! Read More 

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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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HOW LONG TO WAIT

Newbie writers often ask me how long it takes to hear back once a book editor requests a complete manuscript for review. Someone online asked that very question the other day, wondering what he could expect after sending his baby off to do battle. Here's how I replied.

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I can tell you from experience in dealing with hundreds and even thousands of publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers over the years that the Queen of Wrong has missed the boat again. Sure, you can expect to wait "as much as a year," but you'd be an idiot to do so when no conventional publisher takes that long to reply to a requested manuscript. None. Nada. If it did, it wouldn't be a conventional publisher for long.

 

Here's the reality. A book editor with a conventional, legitimate publisher takes a few weeks to a couple months to review a query. If he or she finds the query interesting, he may ask to see sample chapters. Once he receives them, he may need another two-to-four weeks to read them. If he likes what he sees, he'll request a "full read," or the complete manuscript. At that point in the editorial process, most responsible, professional editors will prioritize the manuscript. After all, he asked to see it! Read More 

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HOW SHORT IS TOO SHORT?

That's what someone asked online the other day when inquiring about the viability of a four-page chapter. I gave him my most tempered response.

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You know, enough people have given you enough good responses so that I don't feel I can add much to their replies. But, with that said, I do feel I need to remind you of something you seem to have forgotten, and the best way I can do that is to ask you a question:

 

Whose book is it, anyway? Yours or someone else's? Seriously. It makes a difference.

 

You say your longest chapter is four pages, but is it really your chapter, or did your English Lit professor write it for you and ask you to find out if short chapters are acceptable in literature today. Perhaps your teacher isn't comfortable portraying such ignorance; so, he chose, instead, to make you the foil.

 

Or, perhaps your mother is really the author, and you're asking on her behalf. Or possibly J. K. Rowling. Or Clyde Crashcup. Or, who knows? Maybe even the ghost of Elvis! Anyone other than you! Would you still want to ask the question as if you were actually the author of the book you claim you are if you weren't? Well, would you? 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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