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Writing Right: The Blog


Every now and again, I run into someone who asks for advice on writing when he really should be toughing it out himself. The other day, someone wanted to know how to write "a introductory fight between two mafias." Naturally, that was more than I could resist. This was my response.

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Here's an idea. You sit down, unplug the PlayStation, turn off the video games and the television sets, pull the plug on that stuff you believe is roughly approximate to music, sign out of Facebook, put your cell phone on "silence" mode, and think. Literally. Think!


I know I'm from a different generation, and I know we Baby Boomers didn't do everything right. But one thing we did do properly was learn how to think. To envision. To fantasize. To research, read, study, and learn. To ask ourselves questions and get answers we can use. Try starting out with What if? What if? What if?


Do you get my drift? No one can tell you how you should write "a introductory fight between two mafias," which I assume you mean "an" introductory fight between two mafia "gangs." Regardless, no one can tell you what to write and have it come out sounding like your own literary voice. (I know, I know—so, Google it!) Writing isn't a team sport, and it's not a collaborative effort, contrary to what all those money-hungry sites all over the Web keep telling you while they prey on writer wannabes. Read More 

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Someone the other day asked how to approach a second agent to represent his novel after his existing agent turned it down. It sounds pretty convoluted, but it's really not. My answer, though, may surprise you.

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The answer to that question is pretty simple, despite the convoluted, incomplete, and mostly erroneous response to your question you received from one other person. Begin by checking the "out clause" that your contract with your existing agent contains. It tells you how to sever your contractual obligations should things come to that. Your contract also has a clause allowing your agent to turn down representation of any client's work that he or she deems to be unmarketable. Keep your agent's letter to that effect in your files, and start looking for an agent who disagrees with your present agent and is willing to take your second novel on.


Be aware, though, that landing one agent in a lifetime is tough enough. Getting a second one is twice as difficult, particularly since your current agent has turned the book down. That looks suspicious at best and bad at worst. Read More 

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Unfortunately, no one can give the person who asked this question online the other day a specific, accurate answer without knowing more about what is required. Asking for a price to edit a 600-page manuscript is nowhere near enough information. With that said, here are a couple of points I suggested the author consider.

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First, I'm happy to see that you recognize your need for an editor for your work. No writer can know how to edit simply by having written a lot of words. Writing requires one skill-set (or, some would argue, no skill-set at all, but let's not get into that); editing requires another. Without learning what editing involves—and then learning what good editing entails—no one can sufficiently edit anything but the most rudimentary piece of writing with the hopes of improving its readability.


Second (and here's where things get dicey), few editors can do all types of editing. And editing does come in a plethora of flavors. Not butter brickle, unfortunately, but things that can be just as enticing, if less indulgent. Depending upon who's doing the defining, an editor can be a proofreader (checking for typographical errors and basic grammatical and punctuation mistakes). He can be a fact-checker, a copy editor (reviewing the author's copy for readability, proper syntax, and the like), a conceptual or substantive editor (also at times referred to as a content editor, checking a piece for various flaws in logic), or a developmental editor (reviewing how the story is put together and marking various recommendations from that point-of-view).


An editor can also be a structural editor (specializing in structural issues concerned with a story's readability and involving the use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, linear chronology, and even when and where to break a story into chapters and other divisions), a line editor (concentrating on the flow of the prose and pointing out any awkward phrasing, etc.), or any combination of the above. Read More 

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I see that cowgirl and ranch-hand Kristen gave you a pretty good answer when she said movie writers are called screenwriters and the materials they produce are called screenplays (and I have a background that includes ranching, as well, so I hate to contradict her), but the real answer to what movie writers are called should be moviests.


What? Huh? You don't buy that?


Okay, then go along with Kristen. But, remember I leveled with you!


Alright, you caught me. Actually, the truth is that the writer of a film script (no one actually writes a movie, which is a visual collaboration of the filmed version of a written story) is indeed called a screenwriter or, less frequently and less precisely, a scriptwriter. And what he or she writes is indeed called a screenplay (or script, for short). Read More 

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That's what someone asked me the other day. My response? Stay tuned.

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Well, it appears as if the other responses to the question you asked assume a lot. As in that you know how to express yourself. They seem to think they "get it." I don't. For example, what does this mean:

"How do I introduce ... their meanings?"


Huh? Okay, giving you the benefit of the doubt and imbuing myself with super-human perceptive abilities, "introduce their meanings" would probably imply what? That you want to know how to do what? Introduce these characters in your story? That's what the first part of your question asks?


Unfortunately, the second half implies that you want to know something else entirely. As in how to name your characters appropriately. But, appropriately for what or whom? Do you mean to the reader? Or to the story?


Regardless, these are two entirely different concepts, you understand. One pertains to when and how you bring a character to light for the first time (which, by the way, in not answerable by anyone but yourself). The other concerns what, if any, play on words you should use to describe a "good" character, a "bad" character, a "dumb" character, a "brilliant" character, etc. (We could go on with the descriptive adjectives forever, but I think Quora has a time limit here; at least, I know I do.) Read More 

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That's what someone asked on a forum the other day. Luckily for that person, I happened to read some of the answers others provided him. Here's what I wrote:

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First off, yes, it's okay from a copyright standpoint to write a scene from a movie using different characters and, of course, your own wording. That's called rewriting or paraphrasing, and it's perfectly legal. As for the other answers you've received to your question, I once gave a lecture at Dixie State University and knew several students and teachers there, and while I don't want to cast aspersions, I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in advice about copyright law that someone who "studied Psychology and Creative Writing" there just gave you. Ditto for anyone who says that the "scene, as well as the movie, is the intellectual property of the writers."




So, if I describe a scene of Tara from Gone with the Wind in my own words in my next book (that's the question here, remember?) and I rename it Terrance, I'm going to Copyright Hell? Is that the way things work in your world? Uh-uh.Not in mine. In my world, scenes can't be copyrighted. Only the exact phrasing one uses to describe it, assuming it's not a generic descriptrion already in wide use throughout the lexicon. I suggest you study the U.S. copyright laws before leading people down that "yellow brick road" (which, by the way, is not a copyrighted "scene" and can be used anywhere by anyone at anytime, although there may be other reasons than copyright infringement for not doing so—read on). The reason you can use it is that, if copyright extended to scenes, we'd no longer be able to describe a setting as an "idyllic wooded grove," "a babbling brook," or a "rusting old farmhouse with a dilapidated white picket fence." Get it? Yeah, I didn't think so. Read More 

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Of course, we are. Fitzgerald once said something along the lines of, Writers write for fame, fortune, and the love of beautiful women. Even excepting the fact that he may not have been talking about female writers (or perhaps he was), if he was anywhere near the truth, isn't that the very definition of arrogance? Self-absorption? Self-aggrandizement? How can a writer be a writer and not be at least somewhat vainglorious, i.e., arrogant? Does anyone in the world actually know what we writers go through to become and remain writers other than other writers? I wonder.


And not only writers, lest we forget. It's as true with artists in every artistic field of endeavor. All committed artists (as opposed to hobbyists or "dabblers") seek to make a name for themselves by revealing their souls and their innate talents to the world. Do plumbers? Electricians? Doctors? Lawyers? Okay, so maybe scratch lawyers here. But non-artists, as a rule, work to provide a living for themselves and their families. And perhaps they derive some internal satisfaction for a job well done. Artists would like to do that, as well. Particularly the providing a living thing. But they seek far more from their talents than most "non-artistic" people. They seek to change the world. But, didn't we learn in Sister Margaret's fourth-grade Catechism class that only God can do that? Or didn't she stop to consider what we super-mortals can do?


Call me jaded. Call me Bohemian. Call me anything you want, but don't call me late for …


Oh, never mind.


I think you get my point. Read More 

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A writer asked this question in a forum the other day, and the only respondent besides myself brave enough to tackle it was someone with little or no experience writing headlines!


"Brave" enough, but not smart enough. His answer was anything but helpful, and I felt sorry for the person who asked. So, of course, I had to throw my hat into the ring. Here's what I wrote:

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Contrary to what one "content writer/copywriter/marketer" wrote in response to your question, a solid newspaper headline doesn't hinge upon who cares about what the article says or why you should care. That's simply absurd. Writing a newspaper headline, which is what you asked about, requires seven steps. (Well, it does in my experience, at least, although others may have a different take on the subject.) The same holds for article headline writing in any medium, by the way. Read More 

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If you've ever wondered about that yourself--losing sleep over the answer, wishing you had a Magic Genie to call upon--you're in luck. The answer is simple. A screenplay is easier to write than a novel by far. If you want proof, check out a novel written by a successful screenwriter. It will suck. Then check out a screenplay written by a successful novelist. It will soar.


Those are generalizations to which there are always exceptions, of course. But, being generalizations means they're generally true. While good screenwriters rarely make good novelists, good novelists often make good screenwriters.


The reason is that novels are among the most complex things on earth to write well. No contest. A novel has a million moving parts for which an author must be accountable. He has to keep track of a myriad of elements while sustaining the storyline for hundreds of pages and a hundred thousand words or more and wrapping everything up at the end.


A screenplay, on the other hand, is a plot being advanced by characters driven by dialogue. Sure, motivation, conflict, and settings all come into play, but the main driver of a script (either screen or stage) is dialogue. Read More 

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Someone asked this online the other day. I had a thought or two to contribute to several other responses she received. Here they are.

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I think I'm in love.


Seriously, I'm so glad you asked this question. And, I'm just a little disappointed in some of the other responses you've received, even the ones from people who mean well but aren't, umm, right on top of things. For example, outlines are not like a "safety net." They are the scaffolding and the foundation of your novel. They help you build it firm and strong from the ground to the roof ridge.


And to chastise people who use an outline as not recognizing writing as a "creative endeavor"? Well, that same guy is right. IF you don't give a damn about selling, working as a professional novelist and author, or making writing your future. That's when writing is a walk in the park, a kiss in the dark, and a creative endeavor.


Of course, all writing is a creative endeavor. At all times. But, if that's all you want, keep a diary. If you have hopes and dreams and aspirations of making it as a full-time freelance writer and author, you'd better look for more than a "creative endeavor" to sustain you. You'd better look for quality writing that's more than an expression of your creativity. You'd better look for sustainability. Read More 

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