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About Writing Right: The Blog

THE WARREN REPORT

While this question is a little off the beaten path, when someone wrote online asking if anyone disagreed with the findings of the Warren Report following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963, I couldn't help but respond. You'll find out why in a couple of minutes. Here's what I said.

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Let me ask you an even more pertinent question: Who didn't?

 

When I was sixteen and the Warren Committee Report was published, I was a conspiracy theorist right along with some of the others who took great pains to respond to your question, fueling the conspiracy controversy that has survived now for decades. And why wouldn't it survive? It's glamorous; it's mysterious, it's titillating, and it's exciting. Unfortunately, it's also untrue.

 

Yes, I was bitterly disappointed with the report and immediately suspected Earl Warren, President Lyndon B. Johnson's personal choice to head the committee into the investigation of JFK, of political chicanery. He was slick, and he was evil. He had a hidden agenda and, like Johnson, didn't want the truth known about who really planned for, ordered, and executed the assassination. And like all those other theorists espousing online here, I was calling for blood. And truth. And justice. Read More 

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YOUR BOOK RIGHTS

Someone asked a question online recently that stumped even me ... for a while at least. He wanted to know what happens to an author's book rights if the book isn't selling. Here's how I finally decided to respond.

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This is an easy one. If your book is not selling, the Copyright Cops show up at your front door, usually around 3 a.m. although sometimes right in the middle of your favorite television show, and serve you a court order and an injunction forbidding you to receive any future royalties from book sales and ordering you to sign over all rights to your book to the federal government.

 

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Uncle Sam is trying to grab everything else you own, why not your creative endeavors, too? Read More 

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BUILDING A FANTASY SETTING

A novice writer asked me the other day what makes a fantasy novel setting bad. My response? I said it's simple. The same thing that makes any setting bad: unbelievability. If the reader can't envision a setting clearly in his mind, he's not going to buy into the the overall concept—and might even be turned off the book altogether. Everything boils down to using creative imagery effectively. And, doing that can be reduced to two elements:

  1. Visualization. Can you, as the writer, see the image clearly in your mind? Can you envision the setting, hear the sounds of everyday life, smell the scent on the breeze, taste the dew in the air, feel the emotions of the people around you, sense the magic of it all?

  2. Description. Can you describe all those things in such a way that the reader can also get a clear sensory image in his mind?

If you answered "no" to either of those questions, your setting is in trouble.

 

You see, readers don't experience writing by reading words. They experience writing by reading rich, indelible, memorable imagery, words that paint a picture of what the author intends to convey. If the writer can't see that imagery in his mind, he can't possibly convey it to others. Until the writer sees a clear mental picture of a setting, it doesn't exist. And, if it doesn't exist, his readers can't see it. Read More 

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ROMAN NUMERAL CHAPTER HEADINGS

People have asked me this question a few times now in the last few months, and it deserves an answer. Namely, can you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? My answer: Yes!

 

Next question: Should you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? Next answer: No! For reasons that may not be obvious. So, let me add a little something more from an "insider's" point-of-view to clarify.


As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I soon learned that nothing set my ears upright and the hairs on the back of my neck skyrocketing for the stars faster than some quirky, unconventionally formatted manuscript submission. It told me about the writer, "I'm a weirdo trying to stand out visually because my material isn't strong enough to stand out on its own contextually." And, do you want to know something else? That was (and is) exactly right. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. And, for that one time that it didn't hold true, well, let me just say that, as an editor swamped with manuscripts, running the risk of wading through all the hog slop in search of the pork chop just wasn't worth it. Read More 

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PLOTTING PROBLEMS

When someone posed the question on line as to why he is able to create good characters but can't create a decent story to save his soul, the Internet lit up with do-gooders, not the least of whom was one of my favorite spreaders of online misinformation. Here's what I told him.

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First, assuming the Queen of Wrong can read (which may be a stretch), I'm not sure why she feels you are only interested in the characters "as they are, not how they got to where they are now." You stated in your question that you're good at characterization, so what's Queenie's beef?

 

And, as for her implication that you need a course on "plotting," let me say that plotting isn't the be-all and end-all she apparently thinks it is. Plotting is storytelling, plain and simple. If you can tell a good story from beginning to end without losing your listener's interest, a plotting course will only slow you down in your development. Ask Herman Melville or Uncle Remus or even Beatrix Potter if they'd taken many courses on "plotting" throughout their lives. Uh-uh? That's what I thought.

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FINDING THE RIGHT WRITER

An inexperienced writer asked online the other day how he can find a writer to hire to write a book he'd enjoy reading. It sounded like an interesting question, so I thought I'd give answering him a shot.

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The first thing you need to do is find a writer with lots of book-writing experience, as well as one with both ghostwriting (ghosting) and editing savvy. Stay clear of beginning, wanna-be authors and people who can't string a sentence together without leaving a few typos behind to save their souls. Also, a writer experienced in all genres of books will be more flexible in approaching your project without messing it up. Teaching and reporting experience come in handy here, as well.

 

In short, if you want to hire someone to write a book even you would enjoy reading, hire the best. You'll pay for that privilege, but the experience and results will be worth it in the long run. Believe me!

 

Where can you find qualified candidates to consider for the job? You can look no further than right here on this Website. Find authors with all the qualifications you need, and contact them about what you're looking for them to do. You should have at least a rough storyline in mind (and on paper!) so you can share that right up front.  Read More 

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SENDING SAMPLE BOOK PAGES

A beginning writer who had received a request from a publisher to send from 50 - 100 pages of his book for review wanted to know which was preferable--sending more or sending less. Here's how I responded.

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Congratulations on an interesting question. It's so interesting, in fact, that it's nearly unique. Perhaps that's why every other respondent who sent you an answer is wrong—either in content or by omission.

 

The truth is that any publisher asking for 50 - 100 pages of a manuscript isn't looking for 10 pages pulled from here and 15 pages culled from there, as several respondents suggested you do. He wants the first 50 - 100 consecutive pages. That's because cherry-picking your "best" pages from the manuscript doesn't tell the editor how the book begins, how successful you are at grabbing the reader's interest and attention in a short period of time, and how logically and cohesively you string together your thoughts. I'm amazed that no other respondent took the time to research his or her answer before spitting it out into cyberspace—which is exactly where such nonsensical gibberish belongs. Read More 

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HOW BOOK AUTHORS GET PAID

Here's an unusual one, obviously asked online by someone with zero knowledge of the publishing industry. He wanted to know how publishers pay an author once he writes a book himself and takes it to them. Okay, kiddies and kiddiettes, here's the lowdown. My response:

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First of all, you don't "write a book yourself"; you write a book. See the difference? Now, are you sure you want me to continue here? Okay, you asked for it.

 

Second, you don't show your book to a publisher. You query a publisher with a pitch letter, detailing your book's merits. Then, you wait to see what kind of response you receive.

 

Third, if your query fell on receptive ears, you'll be told that the publisher is interested and would like to see the complete book (or, perhaps, the first few chapters). But, you don't "take it to them." You submit to them a digital copy (or a printed copy, in the rare event that the publisher requests it), unless you happen to be right down the street from Random House or Simon and Schuster and know one of the editors personally, in which case I stand corrected. Got that? Kool. Read More 

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GETTING IDEAS OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Someone wrote in the other day to say that, while he sees what he wants to write clearly in his mind, he doesn't know how to convey that image to readers. That's not at all an unusual experience. Here's what I advised him to do.

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Do you really want the answer? The only, one, true response? I wonder. But, what the hell, you asked for it, so here goes.

 

You learn how to write. Period.

 

It's as simple (and, of course, as complicated) as that. If you think anyone can actually give you a few "tips" so you can convey what's in your head to your readers so that they can understand and appreciate it, too, you're mistaken. It's your idea; it's your head; you have to be the one to do the heavy lifting. And, that's the only "tip" you need.

 

Okay, you ask, but how do I learn to write? Admittedly, if you're starting from a blank slate (or an empty knowledge bank), that won't be easy. If everyone could be a successful writer, everyone would be a successful writer. Very few of us have worked at this art for nearly half a century and learned how to do virtually everything there is to do to crank out good—no, make that great--stories, at least according to the reviewers. So, how do you take that giant leap? Read More 

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STARTING A NEW NOVEL

A newbie author interested in knowing how to begin his new book made the mistake of asking for advice online. As usual, some of the answers were anything but inspiring. Here's how I replied.

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You should start your book with a BANG! That doesn't necessarily mean you must start with your main character at the peak of his crisis, as some genius has suggested. In fact, that may turn into one of the weakest, most predictable formulaic openings you could craft. In fact, some of the most successful novels ever written don't introduce the main character or the primary action at all until later in the book. Want a few examples? I'm happy to oblige.


In the book The Mynah's Call, author Paula Favage begins the story with someone who kills herself before the real action begins. That, in turn, acts as a catalyst for what becomes the book's devastatingly delicious plot in a story that spans the globe from the United States to Afghanistan and back.

 

It's an unusual treatment, producing an introductory chapter of a scant five pages in length. But, Favage's opening gambit pays off. The reader is hooked from page one. By the time the real story begins, he or she can't wait to find out how the author is going to top that opening. Surprise! She really does. Her opening is a genius ploy because it works. It does exactly what the author wanted it to do. Read More 

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