Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Prose Pet Peeves

January 23, 2012

Over the past two years I’ve tried to be a good little author and read things I “should” not just the things that I’d have picked as no more than a for-pleasure reader. I’m glad I’ve done this. I’ve run across some gems I would otherwise have missed, and I’ve learned things from some absolute stinkers I really wish I had missed.

One thing I’ve learned, is that some things that I simply hate in a book aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re just not my style. (Some of them I think SHOULD be wrong, but they don’t let me make the rules.) Does this happen to you? Well reviewed books that just leave you flat for a reason you can actually pin down and say ‘this is what ruined the book for me’?

Here’s one I’ve encountered in several books lately:

Internal monologue. (Just for clarification, we’re talking about third person POV here, not the internal narration of first person POV.)

Not that I think it’s always a bad thing. Clever and very, very sparing use (as in once or twice in the entire book) works really well for me. That one, brief contradictory or sardonic thought in the middle of a scene where it’s important or enlightening to know that the POV character is thinking something you can’t get from body language or that just works so much better in a quick snippet can make a whole scene.

Ex: He said what?


John couldn’t believe Jim had said such a thing.

Depending on the mood, voice, character, the internal monologue there can be exactly what you need rather than the longer explanation that carries much less of an impact.

That said:

I genuinely hate, no, despise regular internal monologue, especially when it’s used for exposition. To me, it’s the worst kind of telling. For starters, it’s unrealistic. Think about it. You’re seventeen and the love of your life, who you were convinced didn’t care about you at all, just declared his love.

Is this your internal reaction:

He loves me? OMG, he loves me! How long have I been in love with him? I’ve waited so long. But I never thought he’d ever love me back. Am I dreaming? I can’t believe this!

Or is this more like it:

Speechless, random waves of shock, elation, giddiness, disbelief. Get choked up, tear up a bit. Want to say something to him but can’t seem to form a coherent thought, much less articulate it. Then:

“You do? But I thought– Really? I’m– OMG, I can’t believe– Really?”

We don’t usually think in full sentences. Of course, now that I’ve said that, you’re thinking in complete sentences. But really, day to day, just daydreaming or musing or even in conversation, you might come out with a complete sentence in replying to someone, but you didn’t craft it in its entirety before it came out of your mouth. We think a lot faster than we talk or write. In part because we’re thinking in ideas, images, feelings. NOT completely articulated thoughts.

So reading it that way in prose just drives me up the wall. It distances me from the character because I’m not experiencing this with them, I’m being told about it in dry facts and thought-out responses.

Is this a universal truth? Heck no. In fact, one of the books I read lately that prompted this post was the latest by one of THE name writers in that genre. Clearly there are talented authors and editors who think I’m totally wrong about this. But reader-Leah is convinced that she does NOT like internal monologue.

How about you?

Karma, Solidarity, and the Bad Part of the Review I Wrote for You

October 21, 2011

This topic has been brewing in my brain for a while now. A while back Roni Loren wrote a blog post called Book Review Debate in which she explained why she didn’t write bad reviews for books and why maybe other authors should consider not doing so either. There was a great debate that followed in the comments (which unfortunately seem to have been lost in a blog conversion.)

I agreed with her points, namely:

1. The writing world is SMALL. 
The writer you one-star today may be the writer…sitting next to you at your next writers’ meeting, may one day share an agent/editor/publisher with you, may be someone you have to do a workshop with, may be someone who’s asked to blurb your book, etc.

A lot of the commenters disagreed with the stance as a whole, saying it lacked integrity not to give a negative review if you thought a book was bad. But it occurred to me that, in light of the above, posting a bad review as an author, is a bit like posting job reviews of your co-workers on the announcement board and signing your name to it. Sure, you’re owning your opinion, but you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot too. And for what? If they’re a bad employee, your one personal opinion isn’t the only thing that will clue others in to this. Let their boss, their clients, etc., be the ones to point this out, not you as a person who may have to work with them on an important project.

And yet, as my blog has evolved, I find myself writing more and more reviews. Why? Quite simply because having guest judges for 5MinuteFiction ties in so well with promoting a fellow author. But I’m not going to promote someone unless I know what I’m promoting. Which means I read their book. And we all know that reviews on the major sites where readers make their purchasing decisions (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc.) is the lifeblood of new-author promotion. So if I’ve read the book, and can give it a good review, then it’d just be selfish and shortsighted of me not to do so, right?

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s the not-so-good things about the book.

See, I review self-published books more than anything else. And I don’t care who you are, unless you were insanely lucky and snagged a great editor and the perfect crit-partners for yourself the first time around, your book will have problems. In my experience, the right editor and crit-partners are generally things you find after you’ve run through a few of the wrong ones. And that means putting yourself out there.

I found mine through the process of querying agents and small publishers. I had to expose my work to enough people over a long enough period of time, that I finally made those connections. That’s not the only path, but most people aren’t going to find the right team until they’ve survived the wrong one, which for self-published authors, often means after their first book is already out.

So I have your book and I really enjoyed it. I want to write you a good review because that’s what I’d want you to do for me and because you deserve it.


Do I ignore the weaknesses, pretend I didn’t see them, and write only about the good stuff?

I don’t think I can. For a lot of reasons.

  • I usually don’t trust reviews like that anyway, especially if they’re an unknown author self-publishing and all they have are glowing reviews. I’m pretty much going to assume that all the reviews are written by friends and family and I can’t trust them to give the whole truth.
  • Is anybody else going to tell you? If not, how will you know in order to improve the next time? Granted, this one can be handled by offering private comments, which I almost always do.


  • I’m also putting my own professional name and reputation behind your book if I give it a good review.

And, here’s where it may get selfish, but I don’t want other authors and readers thinking I can’t tell good writing from bad. I may have enjoyed your book in spite of the cringe-worthy flood of adverbs and telling, because the plot, or character development, or whatever was just that good. Another person may not have the tolerance to handle that and may throw the book away in disgust and then resent me for leading them to believe that it had no major faults.

Neal Hock wrote a great guest post on The Writing Bomb that talked about the author risking their reputation by self-publishing a book with glaring errors or weaknesses. I 100% agree with this. But I think it goes farther than this. I think it risks my reputation too if I don’t at least acknowledge that, while I recommend the read, it does have drawbacks that one reader might consider a deal-breaker even if another doesn’t care that much about them. At least I’m giving them the information, as I see it, to make an honest assessment and informed decision.

To a lesser extent, a post by Chuck Wendig, Putting the Publishing Cart Before The Storytelling Horse, made me think of this topic. In a large part because the authors who are loudly denouncing the publishing industry from experience, and claiming that anyone not self-publishing is making a terrible error, are ones who have already gotten to the point at which they have a quality editor and the industry know-how and writing chops that their self-published works won’t have this kind of problem.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about typos and poor grammar. Quite frankly, I won’t finish a book that’s an egregious offender in those areas to have a review to write of it.

But if on the balance sheet I think your book was a good read, and you’re a good writer who will quit making those mistakes eventually, I want to help you promote it! I want to review it and tell others to read it.

But I have a career to think about too.

Thus my conundrum. Is it important as authors to maintain your professional integrity and list the bad with the good? Is it not important enough to readers or worth it for you and you should pretend the bad isn’t there? Should you just not write reviews at all? What do you think?

Oh the Things You’ll Learn

October 3, 2011

We write. We’re good. We know it. We FEEL it in our work, the emotion, the beauty. Others feel it too. Mom, cousin Amy, that-guy-you-met-on-the-internet-Mike, Colleen at work. They say it made them laugh out loud, cry, want to tell all their friends about our books.

We’re on our way, right?

My book was good when I “finished” it. Really. It moved people. They laughed and cried and I knew it had “it.”

And it did. I took advantage of an open submission period at an established small publisher that exactly aligned with my genre and intended audience. The editor emailed the next day and asked for the full. She emailed back the day after that to say she’d finished the whole thing and she loved it, wanted more. Let me send you a contract.

So it WAS good, right? It was effing perfect!

Ummm, no.

I did get a contract, and I signed it, and the editor acquired my work of genius. And then she sent back the file with her changes and remarks.

With all the red pen marks (so to speak) it looked like something had died a bloody death all over my manuscript. This thing she had LOVED was… well, it was flawed. Here, and there, and everywhere! It wasn’t just commas or a typos, it was big, meta issues. It goes on too long after the climax. What was the point of this scene, exactly, because it sorta sucks? I don’t believe this at all; why would he get mad at this point? Maybe down there, but not up here, no way.

Insert a lot of wine and a few tears.

But, the moral of this story is, we’ve got a “final” now and I can’t believe what it’s become. My “work of genius” is good. It’s beautiful. It needed help, life support at times, but what had the potential to be good became good, maybe great, because of my editor.

How are you going to do this great thing we call publishing? There are so many options now. Big publishers, small publishers, indie publishing. If you want it, it’s there for you in some form. Our books WILL be out there.

But what does that mean for us? Is it about personal glory? Money? Something else? Can we remove our egos from the process in the name of publishing the book we mean to and not just the one we think we have?

Who do you rely on in this crazy-insane-depressing-exciting-life changing thing most people call writing a book?

Rule of Three Blog Fest!

September 26, 2011

Have you heard of The Rule of Three and their blogfest coming in October?

From their site:

The Rule of Three Fiction Writing Blog Challenge

Once upon a time, four  Writers Who Blog (WWB) got together to create a shared world, the Town of Renaissance, where they invite writers to come and take up residence and explore it’s environ and citizens. During the month of October 2011, one a week, a story will emerge, linking three characters into one final cumulative story.  It’s up to you, the writer, to choose the way they interact, or not, and how the final story in the fourth week ends is the journey’s end.  Damyanti Biswas, Lisa Vooght, and JC Martin and I are the WWB, and we welcome you to Renaissance. Enjoy your stay. Oh…one last thing…

Now I’ve been remiss in posting this because I thought it started in October, but now I see the first prompt is already up, so if you’re going to get in on this, GET OVER THERE!

For Strong Convincing Fiction, Control Your Narrative Voice – Guest Post

July 14, 2011

Today I’m on a plane flying to Readercon! So the lovely Terri Guiliano Long offered me a guest post. Ain’t she great?. Check out her very informative blog and her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake. (Good name.) 😉

When discussing stories or novels, we often talk about voice. The voice carried the story, we say. Or I loved the writer’s voice. But what exactly is the writer’s voice?

Often, by “voice” we actually mean style – the distinctive way the writer uses language. This makes sense, considering that style is the most overt, so noticeable, aspect of voice. Voice also incorporates tone, diction and narrative structure, as well as the author’s authority – or her control over the subject and writing – and values.

Like speakers, writers have multiple voices. Say, you’re discussing your new job. Conversing with your boss would be worlds away from talking to your best friend. With the boss, you might adopt a slightly deferential tone, perhaps peppering the conversation with industry lingo; you’d discuss rules, expectations, technical issues. The boss’s halitosis – the first thing you’d blurt to a friend – wouldn’t likely come up.

The same goes for writing. An effective voice is attuned to the writer’s message, purpose, story and readers. Here, because I hope to get my points across without sounding stuffy, I’m using a chatty instructional voice. If I wrote this same piece for a technical journal, I’d use formal diction and a more distant, authoritative tone.

With fiction, each genre tends to have its own conventions. For literary fiction, readers expect authors to use figurative language and organic structures. Thriller readers, on the other hand, don’t usually care about flowery prose. They expect vivid writing, of course, but it’s the taut, suspenseful plotting that draws them in.

It’s not that we can’t break rules. We can – and the best writers often do. Remember, though: rule breaking, disregard for expectations, turns certain readers off. That’s OK. To tell your story maybe you need to break rules. Or maybe yours is a hybrid – a literary thriller, for example, that by its very nature ignores convention. Go ahead, break the rules; but to avoid alienating readers, do so only if you have a good reason.

So – we should alter voice to suit our genre, story and readers. But how do we do it?

Let’s begin with style. To alter your writing style, simply change your language and the way you structure your sentences. As already mentioned, lyrical prose, which works beautifully for literary fiction, would feel out of place in a police procedural, where the language is usually simpler and the sentences tighter and more direct.

To change your tone, try pacing the story differently. To speed the pace, use simpler sentences and cut the inessential detail; do the opposite if you want to slow down. Changing diction also changes tone. Chatty language feels conversational – this style works particularly well for chick-lit – while hard or incendiary language can make the writing sound angry or edgy. Watch:

Mary wandered merrily down the street, absently dragging her jacket.

Mary drifted down the street like a bumbling idiot, dragging her jacket.

These sentences say essentially the same thing, but the tone and diction paint very different pictures. Compare the generosity of the first narrator with the critical tone of the second. Depending upon the narrative distance – how closely the writer aligns with the narrator – tone may reflect on the character-narrator or the author herself.

Structure refers to a story’s internal logic, or the relationship among the various parts. Complexly plotted stories are often linear – they progress in an easy-to-follow pattern from A to B to C. Altering structure – progressing from end to beginning, moving in circles, writing organically – can give a story a very different look and feel.

Authority refers to the writer’s confidence or control, and comes across in what he knows – or doesn’t know – about his story. Authority establishes trust in the reader. If a story’s time or locale is unfamiliar, for example, it’s important to provide enough detail to plunge readers into the time or place. Having authority means doing our homework. Yes, it’s fun to write, to be immersed in the story. To write a compelling, authoritative story, we must know what we’re talking about. Spending ample time developing our characters, location and plot gives us control over our material.

Who would you rather listen to? A wishy-washy speaker who isn’t quite sure what she’s talking about? Or a credible speaker, who lulls and takes you out of yourself?

Unlike other elements of voice, values – religious, political, philosophical beliefs – because they’re part of us – our core values make us the person we are – are much harder to change. It’s important to remember that close readers read between lines. Careful readers watch for patterns and in the search for meaning, within a story’s language and patterns, discover hidden values.

Consider the example above. Depending upon context, the sentence, “Mary drifted down the street like a bumbling idiot” may show the personality or mood of a narrative character. If the authorial and narrative voices are the same – there is no distance between author and character – it may say more about the writer. Best to be aware of this – and take pains to write clearly and say precisely what you mean.

Be aware of and get comfortable with your narrative voice. Have fun, experiment. Try changing various elements and notice what an enormous difference it makes.


Terri has taught writing at Boston College since 1996. Her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, was released in 2010. On Tuesday, 7/17, she joins the Indie Book Collective in “Menage A Blog,” a flirt-to-the-finish blog tour. Which character from In Leah’s Wake do you most resemble? Will, the strong-willed family protector? Or Zoe, the mom who’d do anything for her kids? Or maybe you’re more like Leah, the rebellious, fiercely independent teen. Or her handsome, rule-defying boyfriend, Todd. Or are you like twelve-year-old Justine, sweet, smart, struggling to hold her family together. Or Jerry Johnson, the town cop who, above all, wants to save everyone? Visit Terri’s blog ( on 7/17 and find out!