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Posts Tagged ‘common mistakes in fiction’

April 20, 2015

Get That Novel Written!

Patti.Enjoys.Jeanette's.MM.Class.7.20.14

 One of the workshops at MCWC (2014)

Of course, it’s the dream of every writer to have a best-selling novel on the shelves of every book store in the country sometime in their writing career. And most writers have great ideas that would make super novels. But the reality is that most of us don’t have three to six months to lock ourselves up in a bedroom with our computer or get that brilliant idea down on paper in a form of the English language that can be read without an interpreter.

Here are a few suggestions for you would-be novelists to help get motivated to start and finish a manuscript that just might land you a contract with a leading publishing company. These simple steps worked for me not once, but 10 times, enabling me to publish that many juvenile fiction novels at an average of three-months writing time a piece:

  1. Analyze your time and budget it. Prioritize so that you have time to write “regularly.” Yes, I know it’s impossible to write every day, but if you have this at the top of your priority list, you’ll get it done more often than if you just haphazardly decide, “Oh, it’s Monday. I have two extra hours today. I think I’ll write.” Your novel will never happen this way.
  2. Write a short outline or synopsis of where you’re going with your story and characters. I know of authors who have written their same novel over and over, sometimes hundreds and hundreds of pages in length, and to this day they still haven’t finished it because they’ve never resolved the ending. Their characters seem to be lost forever in some kind of word time warp, never to “live happily ever after.”
  3. Don’t worry about perfect English the first time you write. Just get your brilliant idea down on paper. Worry about the PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, spelling) later.
  4. Let your finished manuscript sit a few weeks then get back to it. You’ll read parts of it and wonder who in the world wrote that junk? This is a great time to start revising. Go through each scene with a fine-toothed comb, making sure your characters move the plot and/or subplot forward.
  5. When you finish revising your manuscript, print the entire thing on paper, read it aloud, and get it into the hands of a critique group or other writers who will tell you the truth. Aunt Susie or Brother Bill will only tell you how wonderful you are, but that won’t get your manuscript ready for a trip to the editor’s desk at the publishing house.
  6. While you’re revising again and perfecting your work, send out your queries, at least five at a time. It might take up to three or four months for you to get a response from the editors (if at all). In that framework of time, you can hone your manuscript and shape it into something that any editor would want.

So there you have it. Get the computer turned on, get your brain tuned in, and get going. You just might be the next great American novelist!

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Want a professional opinion of your work-in-progress (WIP)?

Come to the Montrose Christian Writers Conference and meet editors and an agent

who just might want your manuscript!

July 19th-24th

Beth, Tim, and Ed (Regulars at MCWC) with faculty member, Cindy Sproles (2013)

Beth, Tim, and Ed (Regulars at MCWC) with faculty member, Cindy Sproles (2013)

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November 10, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions between Paragraphs

 

This is the seventh blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Weak Transitions between Paragraphs.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

If you’ve attended any writers’ conferences for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard this statement more than you care to recall: “Your manuscript must FLOW.” Okay, your manuscript must “flow.” Does that mean you have sad scenes that make your readers cry? Or happy scenes that make your readers laugh hysterically until the tears stream down their faces?

Really, making a manuscript “flow” has nothing to do with the actual storyline. Rather, it has to do with the author’s clever use of words and sentences, resulting in strong transitions between paragraphs and moving the scene forward. So what happens when a smooth transition is not feasible?  Then it’s time for a scene break or a new chapter.

As is my method to discuss fiction weaknesses, let’s look at some examples. We’ll analyze a few weak transitions and see how they can become strong transitions. (In case you haven’t noticed, I like to “show” not “tell.”)

Example One

Weak Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

Well, his intentions had been good. Every year, like clockwork, he’d typed reminders into his daily planner: “Call Jake” on a January page. “Drop note to Jake” in June. “Jake’s b-day” every August, and “Send Jake’s Christmas card” in December.

Strong Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

When he opened his eyes, Homer saw a golden wing tip, partially hidden beneath a layer of wrinkled white tissue. Hands trembling and heart knocking, Homer admitted what it meant:

Jake was dead. He never would have parted with the angel for any other reason.

(From “A Promise to Jake,” a short story by Loree Lough in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 19)

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Have you spotted what makes the first part of this sample a weak transition? The problem is between paragraph two and three.  Homer closes his eyes and prays. In the next paragraph , Homer’s intentions are discussed without addressing Homer’s closed eyes! Did he finish the scene with his eyes closed? Review again how Loree Lough handled the transition from the second to third paragraph. She opened Homer’s eyes and then continued with the scene.

Example Two

Weak Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

“Did I hear my name?” a man’s voice called from inside the barn. A large door slid open, and a giant of a man walked out with a belly that looked like he had swallowed a watermelon—whole.

Strong Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

Neigh-h-h! At the mention of his name, the sorrel Quarter Horse whinnied and pawed the trailer floor. Blaze nickered.

(From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE by Marsha Hubler, © 2009 Zondervan, p. 10)

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What’s the obvious weak transition here between the paragraphs? When you read that first paragraph, it leads you to expect something to be said about the horses in the next paragraph. But in this weak transition, a man speaks, which at first, might make the reader think one of the horses is talking! In the actual strong transition example, the expected result of the good lead in the first paragraph is another paragraph about the horses in the trailer.

Example Three

Weak Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

Strong Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

After supper, Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

 

(From “Hobby Horse Faith,” a short story by Patricia Souder in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 121)

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The difference between the weak and strong transitions in these two samples is as obvious as the nose on your face. In the first example, the very important transitional words “After supper” are not included. Thus, as you read that passage, it appears to the reader that Nellie gave everyone a candle, they turned out the lights, and they sang “Silent Night” at the supper table.

In the strong transition example, you can easily see how important those two little words “After supper” are to the flow of the story and the overall flow and tone of a good short story.

So, there you have three examples of weak and strong transitions. Take a look at your manuscript, especially the transitions between paragraphs. If your writing leaves the reader wondering what in the world is going on, then it’s time to rethink your “flow” and do some revising. The dots have to connect, even in a good piece of fiction.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions.

Happy writing!

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October 27, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Six: No Significant Conflict

 

This is the sixth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “No Significant Conflict.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

There’s nothing more boring than a “slow” book. What do I mean by that? A slow book is one in which the plot never quite develops with significant conflict either within the primary character’s inner being or between the major characters. So, when should conflict arise?

If possible, on the first page or, at least, in the first chapter, preferably somewhere on the first few pages.

As an editor for a small press the last year or so, I’ve read quite a few manuscripts that have been submitted for consideration. I need to read only one to two pages to decide if I want to keep on. Why? There has to be a significant “hook” right up front to draw the reader into the character’s life and “issues.”

Today’s readers in our fast-paced society want a quick read. Oh, the book might be three hundred or more pages long, but the action starts on the first part and is non-stop until the very end. Gone are the days that an author needs to take five chapters to “explain” what’s going on. Have you ever heard this statement from a speaker at a writers’ conference, “Show, don’t tell”?

Fifty or a hundred years ago, much of our classic literature was written this way. Life moved at a slower pace, there were no computers, and going back farther there were no radios or TVs. What did folks do? They played table games or they read. So picking up a book that took the first sixty pages to describe the characters, their attitudes, and the world around them was really a ticket to an exciting adventure. But today, many classics from yesteryear are a difficult read because of the lack of continual dialogue and action.

So, how can we develop a story with significant conflict in the plot? Believe it or not, a skilled writer can take ANY idea and develop a page-turner.

Instead of my attempting to “tell” you how to do this, I’ll “show” you by comparing a few examples. We’ll look at boring ho-hum beginnings and then their significant conflict hooks to start the manuscript on the path to success:

Example One (Article):

Ho-hum : A while ago, I interviewed Clyde Peeling, the owner and curator of Reptiland in Allenwood, PA, on route 15 near Williamsport. Reptiland is loaded with all kinds of wild animals, including alligators, snakes, and other ugly creatures.

Significant conflict immediately:   How would you like a frozen mouse for lunch?  If you would, then join dozens of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles at Reptiland, a zoological park at Allenwood in central Pennsylvania.

(From “Lizard Man”- Boys’ Quest; Aug/Sept.02)

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Example Two (Short Story):

Ho-hum: My eight-year-old son had been sick for some time. We finally found out he had cancer and wouldn’t live much longer.   One thing he wanted to do was see snow, but we were having a warm autumn in central PA.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Dad, I-I want to see the first snow,” he said, forcing the words out with jagged, tired breath. “D-do you think I’ll see it, the way I am and all?”

“Colton, son, you’ll see it. I promise. We’ll see it together,” I assured him.

(From “First Snow” – Inside PA Mag. Dec. 08)

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Example Three: (Juvenile Fiction):

Ho-hum: Skye Nicholson found herself in juvenile court for the umpteenth time in her thirteen short years.  She sat in the chair and just stared at the judge. She was as mad as a hornet and in no mood to appease anybody.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Young lady—and I use that term loosely—I’m tired of your despicable behavior. I’m sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!”

Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no “ordinary” thirteen-year-old.”

(From A HORSE TO LOVE, Book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)

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Example Four (Romance Fiction):

Ho-hum: As Louellen Friesen dusted the chandelier in the dining room, she lost her footing and slipped off the chair she was standing on and went sailing toward the table where Dr. McAndrew sat drinking his coffee.

Significant conflict immediately:  “Watch out!” Dr. McAndrew yelled, and in an instant, Louellen Friesen found her slender frame in the man’s embrace, his strong arms breaking the fall that would have landed her face first in his afternoon coffee.

(From Love Song for Louellen, vol. 3 in THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY AMISH/MENNONITE FICTION ROMANCE SERIES, Helping Hands Press; 2012)

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So, there you have four examples of developing conflict right on the first page, in fact, in the first few sentences. If you start your action immediately like these samples and keep it going by slowly building to your climax and ending with a dashing resolution at the end of your story, you’ll have yourself a page-turning manuscript and possibly a best seller. It’s important to remember that your use of exciting dialogue and excellent descriptive words in narration can make or break your story.

And above all, remember to show not tell!

Next time, we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions Between Paragraphs.

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Sept. 22, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Three: Writing a Negative Tone throughout the Story

This is the third blog discussing these common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres:

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Of the twelve common mistakes we are reviewing on this list, the negative tone or mood is probably the one that needs the least explanation. It’s quite the simple matter.

Developing your own tone or mood in your manuscript really involves your careful choice of words, mostly adjectives. If your goal is to create an antagonist as a main character, then you’ll have to take care to use numerous negative adjectives in your description of that character. You will also have to develop some positive quality in that main character that will make your reader like or, at least, tolerate him/her, or your reader won’t finish your book.

Think of some excellent books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen where the main character is hateful, murderous, or just downright nasty. How about Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND? KING KONG? GODZILLA? THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME? As much as we disliked these main characters when we met them, there was something, if only one quality, that made them endearing so that deep down in the recesses of our hearts, we were hoping they’d win in the end. Now, analyze why we as readers or movie viewers felt like that.

The reason we had not written these characters off in the first scene and either threw the book away or walked out on the movie is because of the clever writing by the authors or playwrights. We don’t have the time or the space to take excerpts from these writings and study them. But if you do your own research in any books you read, you’ll soon find either clever writing that wins you over or flat writing that fails to develop a character’s full “character.” If you fail to insert, even in the least bit, something positive about your main protagonist or antagonist, you’re also going to fail to arouse the desired emotion you are seeking, possibly compassion for the Scarlet O’Hara in your book. If you want your reader to hate your main character, then trash your main character, but be careful. Many fans of fiction are not fond of hateful characters with no redeeming qualities.

Now, if your hero is fighting against a hateful, murderous antagonist, and your hero must win, then you need not present any positive qualities for that antagonist. In plots like this, make your antagonist as hateful as you can. That only adds to the positive qualities your hero will portray in his quest to defeat his hated foe.

Concerning plots and story endings, again, choosing the proper words will set the tone or mood for your world.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in “dark” characters and plots in both books and movies. I don’t care for that genre, so I can’t comment on any such as THE HUNGER GAMES or all the vampire books and movies like TWILIGHT. But, if you’re a fan of such, again, analyze how the main characters are portrayed. Do you develop a fondness for them even though they are evil or do you hate them to the death and cheer when they meet their end?

It all depends on the choice of words the authors have used to describe them.

So, do some analyzing of best sellers then spend some time on your own works. Decide what kind of mood or tone you want and dig out your thesaurus.

P.S. For a list of positive and negative mood and tone words, check out this website. It might just give you some fuel for the fire you’re setting under your next hateful antagonist.

http://ourenglishclass.net/class-notes/writing/the-writing-process/craft/tone-and-mood/

pen and quill

 

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