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December 14, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 10)

Character Sketches Build Character

cartoon-worker-flexing-his-muscles-isolated-37246000

Several blogs ago, I discussed creating characters and plots outside the box. In other words, you should create unique characters and plots that are different from the norm; yet, your reader would be able to identify with or feel sympathy toward at least one of the characters and would want to jump right into your book and be a part of the “scenery.”

Today, let’s discuss the importance of keeping good notes such as character sketches. Whether you’re writing juvenile fiction with a handful of characters or you’re tackling adult fiction that might have a dozen or so characters, you need to “know your people.” This is so vitally important if you’re going to write adult fiction with different points of view. (POV) You must know the character like a brother or consider him your best friend so you can get inside his head.

While writing ten tween books and just recently an Amish romance for adults, I found the biggest difference in how I handled writing the manuscripts has been character development. With tween books, character development can be shallow. Basically, all you need are five or six poignant details about the main characters, and you can fill in the blanks as you go. However, with an adult fiction manuscript that could be 50,000 to over 100,000 words long with multiple scenes in each chapter and numerous POVs, I discovered I had to have more detailed descriptions of all the characters, which included not only how they looked (appearance) but also how they felt about certain issues (philosophy or religious beliefs), why they thought or acted certain ways (background), and their circle of influence. (In Amish fiction, each family member is vitally important so I had to almost make a family tree for each main character.)

I’ve heard of authors who write such details about their characters that they give them a birth date, birthplace, and an actual family tree. They list their characters’ likes and dislikes; they name their characters’ best friends and enemies; they list the places the characters have visited, the education they’ve received, and the foods they like and dislike. Yadah, yadah, yadah.

“Whoa!” you might say. “Enough is enough. I’m not going to all that work before I even start.”

Well, those authors who do that are some of the best-selling ones. They know their “Bill” and “Susie” inside and out and no trouble writing what “Bill” would do if he saw a baby sparrow fall out of its nest or what “Susie” would do if her husband came home without the milk she reminded him to pick up at the store.

So how far you want to delve into character development is your choice. I have found that the more prep time I take to get to know Bill or Susie, the less time I waste with hashing out all those details when I get to crossroads that require the characters to act a certain way. In the long run, I think detailed character sketches make a writer a better craftsman all around, no matter how much time it takes.

So, weigh the work involved, and, maybe, just for practice, try writing a detailed character sketch. You might just enjoy yourself and find a brand new best friend!

Next time we’ll discuss the difference between “theme” and “plot.”

Happy writing! Marsha

(Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

 

SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS

 SNOW

Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang,

who most folks believe doesn’t even exist.

Then she actually touches the horse, and her life is changed forever.

http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Phantom-Stallion-Marsha-Hubler-ebook/dp/B013GUF078/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449523382&sr=1-1&keywords=Snow%2C+Phantom+Stallion+of+the+Poconos

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November 30, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 8)

Stiff Unnatural Dialogue or Natural Dialogue?

Whether you’re working on fiction or nonfiction, one of the techniques you need to master is how to write dialogue that flows and sounds “natural.” In other words, do your characters’ words read as if your reader is eavesdropping on a conversation that he’d hear anyplace in his own world or is the dialogue so stilted, it sounds like two robots reading from a high school English text?

It’s very important for a writer to get to know his/her characters for this exact reason. People talk differently!

WOW! What a revelation! If you’re a smart writer, by now, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve (hopefully) studied language patterns and colloquialisms and you’ve analyzed the difference in children’s, teens’, and adults’ speech.

Let’s look at a few samples to show some stiff and and then some natural dialogue. Because I have been published mostly in the juvenile fiction genre, my examples will be from that genre. But the “talking points” are basically the same for all dialogue, whether for kids or for grown-ups.

First, I’ll give you a sample of “stiff” dialogue, followed by that which flows and sounds just like “real” folks speaking. Watch for the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome to rear its ugly head in the first samples, as well:

EXAMPLE 1:

 Stiff: (Two young boys discussing buying eagle feathers)

 

  “Titus, you cannot buy an eagle feather,” Tim said.

   “Tim, why can’t I?” asked Titus. “Are they too expensive?”

   “No, Titus,” Tim answered. “Buying an eagle feather is against the law.”

   “Tim, is it because eagles are almost extinct?” Titus asked.

    “Titus, that is correct,” Tim answered. “The only people who can own an eagle feathers are Indians.”

(Brother! What kid says, “That is correct”? And why not use contractions? We use them all the time in our speech. And why the use of so many tags? There are only two characters in the scene. Let’s get rid of some of those ___ said tags.)

Natural:

        “Sorry, old pal,” said Timothy, patting (Titus) on the shoulder. “There’s no way you can buy an eagle feather.”

        “Why?” asked Titus. “Too expensive?”

        “No. It’s against the law.”

        “What? You mean because eagles are an endangered species?”

        “Bingo,” Timothy replied. “The only people who can own eagle feathers are Indians.”

(from THE MYSTERY OF THE EAGLE FEATHER

By Elspeth Campbell Murphy, Bethany House, 1995, pp.16-17)

************************************************************************

EXAMPLE 2: 

 Stiff: (Conversation between two teenage junior counselors at a camp)

       “Timothy!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How is the water out there?”

       “It is just so wonderful,” Tim yelled back. “I would like to be swimming today. Who is standing next to you there on shore?”

       “It is a friend of yours and mine,” Skye yelled to Tim. “I will have him wait for you here until you come ashore.”

       “That is fine with me. I will see you in a few minutes,” Tim yelled to Skye as he turned the paddleboat around and headed in another direction.

(Sheesh! They sound like a couple of robots, don’t they?)

Natural:

     “Hey, Tim!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How’s the water?”

     “Cool! Real cool!” Tim yelled back. “I’d rather be in it than on it! Who’ve ya got there with you?”

    “Your friend and mine! He’ll be waitin’ when you come ashore!”

    “Okay, Skye, see you in a few minutes!” Tim turned the paddleboat in another direction.

 

(from SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE

By Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz, 2009, p. 38)

**********************************************************************

 So, there you have two simple examples of how to write lousy dialogue and how to make it flow naturally. Get rid of some of those tags and use some beats instead. Now, if you’re writing about robots conversing, then the first samples are the way to go. If not, then work on making your dialogue flow, and your reader will love being right in the middle of the exciting action.

* NOTE: If you’re a published author and would like to be featured on my blog, please contact me. I’d love to post your picture, a short bio, and your credentials along with contact information.

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

 

ON THE VICTORY TRAIL

Skye and Sooze get ready for the Christmas season

with some neat “horsie” gifts for their foster parents,

but Sooze’s sudden illness changes everything.

Book2.On.Victory.Trail.Cover

http://www.amazon.com/Victory-Trail-Keystone-Stables-Book-ebook/dp/B002U8KW7G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448748348&sr=1-1&keywords=on+the+victory+trail

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November 23, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 7)

Wow! Beginnings

Smiley.Face.Smiling

Last time we discussed the effective use of tags and beats to make your dialogue flow well and your characters come alive in any fiction, or nonfiction, you are writing.

This time we’re going to look at how to “hook” your reader with your openings sentences or paragraphs in your stories, articles, or book manuscripts. First, I’ll give you some Ho-Hum examples of boring beginnings that will either put your reader into a deep sleep or will inspire him to toss your book in the trash. Then I’ll give you some WOW beginnings, a technique which can be used in nonfiction as well as fiction.

What makes a wow beginning compared to flat, uninteresting words that bore your reader to death? Compare the samples of some of my lousiest writing with some of my published works and then you make the call:

  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

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.

Wow Beginning:

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)

************************************************************************

  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

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.

Wow Beginning:

“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; fiction contest winner)

************************************************************************

  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

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.

Wow Beginning:

“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, Best-selling book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)

***********************************************************************

So there you have three examples of how to fix your ho-hum beginnings and make them “WOW.”  You’ll hook that reader, who won’t be able to put your piece down. Then he/she will be back for more!

Next time, we’ll go back to dialogue once again, discussing “natural” dialogue compared to “stiff, unnatural,” better known as “stupid” dialogue. :)

 

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

 

SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS

SNOW

Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang, who most folks believe doesn’t even exist. In a strange encounter at snow camp with a youth group, Dallis actually touches Snow, and her life is changed.

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November 16, 2015

Fiction That Wows! (Part 6)

Tags and Beats

In part 2 of Fiction That Wows, we started to address the problem that all writers and even experienced authors face: the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome. Putting it simply, it’s what to do with all those “Mary said,” “John replied,” “Susie screamed,” tags or the author’s identification of who said what. Let’s look a little more carefully at dialogue and how to make it more realistic and more interesting.

When only two characters, sometimes three, are in a scene, it’s relatively easy to delete almost all of the “who said it?” tags. Having a page of dialogue without tags helps your manuscript flow smoothly and helps the reader to really get into the story.

But when it’s necessary to identify the speaker, what can you add that will make the story much more interesting and add useful information that is interwoven right with the dialogue? You can add “beats.”

What are beats? Beats are phrases that don’t use the speech-acknowledged favorites such as “said,” “asked,” “replied,” etc. Beats add action and description to your discourse without your having to write a lengthy narration “telling” details. Beats allow you to “show” the action.

Let’s look at some examples of how you can change boring lines of dialogue with tags into lines with beats that add some pizzazz to your script. First I’ll have a dialogue example with tag; then I’ll have it rewritten with a beat. You decide which is more exciting for the reader:

******************************************

Example One:

TAGS:

“When did Josh get married?” Heather asked.

“Last Saturday,” Bruce said.

BEATS:

“When did Josh get married?” Heather’s eyes flooded with tears and she grabbed a tissue.

Bruce’s face also melded into a mask of dismay. “Last Saturday.”

*******************************************************

Example Two:

TAGS:

Jordan asked her father, “Could I please go with Barry to the hockey game?”

Her father answered, “Are you kidding?”

BEATS:

Jordan’s father’s attitude made her face flush red hot. “Could I please go with Barry to the hockey game?”

From what he had heard, Father had no intention of allowing his daughter to go anywhere with that guy. “Are you kidding?”

******************************************************

 These two simple examples clearly show how you can put some spark into flat writing. In the tag examples, all the reader knows is that two characters are discussing something.  You have no idea how the characters are feeling about their situation. In the beat examples, we’ve brought the characters alive with emotion and action. The reader can actually get a sense of how the characters feel without the author saying, “Heather was heartbroken” or “Jordan’s father never liked Barry.”

So there you have today’s writers’ tip. Work on your manuscript’s dialogue. Throw out the tags when they’re not needed and write interesting and informative beats that will help you write fiction that wows!

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS

SNOW

 

Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang, who most folks believe doesn’t even exist. Then in a strange encounter at snow camp in the Poconos, she actually gets to touch the horse, and her life is changed forever.

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Nov. 2, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 4)

Don’t Preach!

If you’ve gone to your share of writers’ conferences, you’ve heard that little ditty a zillion times. Don’t preach!

Okay, don’t preach. Butwhat does that mean? Don’t preach!

As writers with opinions, and I’ve never met a writer who didn’t have one (or “agendas,”) we all have “messages” we’d like to share with our readers. But how does a skillful writer share his message, his beliefs, his ideals, with the reader without offending him or turning him off on page one? How do you impart your underlying theme in the story without coming right out and saying something like, “God is love”?

Is it wrong to try to win your reader over to your side by sharing your beliefs? Absolutely not. That very goal is the reason most people write. They want to share something they feel is vitally important to the survival of the human race. Wars have been won, and lost, by the printed page.

So how does a writer share his beliefs without preaching? A skillful writer weaves the message into the story so that the characters portray the ideals, or lack of them. The reader, watching the action of the main character, then observes the author’s beliefs in action as the character either exemplifies or struggles with the underlying theme.

Let’s look at some examples of “preaching” versus clever weaving of the message into the context of the story. The first examples of preaching are lousy writing on my part. The second examples are taken from some of my published work:

Preaching:

“Children need to work around the house, not only because their parents need the help, but also because when the children are older, they’ll know how to take care of their own homes,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.

Weaving the Message into the Story:

“Chores, including the house and the barn – washing clothes … mucking stalls are important. But you’re not a lonely island out there by yourself,” Mr. Chambers reminded Skye. “It takes all of us to run this place. It’s just part of maintaining a home. You’ll be glad when you’re older that you learned how to do these things.”

Yeah. I’m the luckiest girl in the world! Skye stewed inside.

 

(from A HORSE TO LOVE, KEYSTONE STABLES BOOK ONE)

************************************************************

Preaching:

“God is love, and He is ready to forgive anyone who will believe in Him, no matter how bad they’ve been,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.

Weaving the Message into the Story:

Skye turned back to the altar, and her eyes focused on the cross, the symbol of God’s love that meant absolutely nothing to her. This God, whom she didn’t even know existed, loved her? As rotten as she was?

She stumbled to the altar and knelt at the cross, sobbing out her pain and despair.

(from A HORSE TO LOVE)

*************************************************************

So there you have two simple examples of how to rid your writing style of that pesky preaching.

Take a good look at the book you are reading at the moment and see how the author has handled his theme or underlying message. It might become clearer to you now than ever before.

Remember, weave the message into your story; have your characters experience the thrill, or the pain, of living with your ideals or beliefs. The reader will observe the action and reaction of your characters, and from your book, he just might decide to embrace the ideals you hold so dear.  You don’t need to preach to get your message into your reader’s heart and mind. Just write from your heart in a clever way, and your message will come through loud and clear.

Next time, we’ll discuss writing plots that are “outside the box.”

 

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

 

A HORSE TO LOVE

Keystone Stables Book 1

 (Book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series)

Nasty foster kid Skye Nicholson meets her match when she goes to live at Keystone Stables. There she meets Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, her new foster parents, and a gorgeous show horse, Champ, all who help Skye face her greatest fears.

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October 26, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 3)

Write Narration That Shows and Doesn’t Tell

If you’ve attended writers’ conferences for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this statement from fiction authors so many times you’ve felt like letting out a good scream or two: “Show, don’t tell.”

What in the world does that mean anyway? Show, Don’t Tell. In a fiction work, usually in narration, a writer must “tell” details of characters or scenes to add depth and mood to the story. But how is that done without boring your reader to the point of his tossing your book in file 13?

I’ve found the best way to learn this technique is to read best-selling published authors. I’ve written pages and pages of excerpts of good writing, NOT TO COPY, but to study the authors’ use of words, clever descriptions, and the mood. I then attempted to apply their techniques to my own writing, and after working at it for years, I began to see a vast improvement in my own style.  Now after 20 years, I think I finally have a handle on learning to show and not tell.

Let’s look at a few examples of “telling” vs. “showing” and determine which samples would hold the reader’s interest by drawing him into the description or action and which samples should find their way into the DELETE file:

Sample One

 Sample of Telling – this is a scene description from one of my Keystone Stables books, SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE that I rewrote in a lousy “telling” mode. The main character, Skye Nicholson, is on a trail ride with some campers:

The riders lined up their horses and looked at the waterfalls about 50 yards away. Above their heads was water over some rocks. It tumbled on more rocks that were even with the riders. The water made big white splashes and then was smooth. The waterfall droplets and sunlight made a rainbow, and off to one side a little stream flowed away from the waterfall and down the mountain. A breeze made the waterfall mist fly everywhere in the air, hitting the riders in the face. Skye was amazed.

Sample of Showing – the actual scene description in SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE:

Lining up their horses, the riders sat gawking at nature’s water show half a football field away. Far above their heads, the falls flooded over a table of rocks arrayed on both sides by the greenest trees Skye had ever seen.

The water thundered as it crashed down over more layers of rocks, tumbling, tumbling, until it splashed onto large boulders level with the riders. There, billows of white foam faded into ripples that quickly smoothed into a serene pool as clear as glass.

A rainbow arched in a stream of sunlight. Off to one side the pool overflowed, forming the gushing stream that had found its way down the mountain to form Lackawanna Lake. Fed by the falls, a steady breeze and fine mist saturated the cool air around the riders, welcoming them to the secret and special place.

From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE

(Keystone Stables Series Book 4)

 Sample Two

 Sample of Telling – another scene below from one of my books. I’ve rewritten the published paragraph here poorly in the “telling” mode. From THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, the paragraph describes the scene from Woody’s, the main character’s, viewpoint when she arrives at the summer sleuth camp, pulls into the mock “canteen” in the western town in a van with five other kids, and meets some of the other campers unexpectedly:

Woody looked at the canteen when the door flew open. It hit the building hard. A small group of boys came running out who were very excited. They ran across the porch and down the steps. Mixed in with the boys were three men who were yelling for the boys to stop. The tallest man held on to his hat because he was afraid it was going to topple off his head.

 Sample of Showing -this same scene written in its published form:

The canteen door flew open with hurricane force and smacked against the building. Out barreled a small group of boys bubbling with unbridled excitement. With no immediate plan to stop, they rushed across the porch and stampeded down the steps. Caught in the whirlwind were three helpless men spinning like tops and yelling for the boys to stop. The tallest man was trying desperately to keep his bobbling black Stetson in place.

From THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, Sonfire Media, 2010

 * Did you notice how I included descriptive words and phrases that set the tone or mood of a “western” scene?

So, there we have two samples of “telling” versus “showing.”

Take a good look at your narration when you use no dialogue. What can you do to draw your reader right into the scene? Details, details, details. Clever wording of the action. And how about a little humor once in a while? See the scene through your main character’s eyes, and the scene will practically jump off the page.

Next time, we’ll discuss another phrase you’ve probably heard so many times you just tune it out whenever it comes across your path anymore: “Don’t preach!”

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE

Keystone Stables Book 4

 (Book 4 in the Keystone Stables Series)

Skye has a test of her love and patience when a deaf boy, Jonathan,

defies her every attempt to teach him how to ride a horse properly. Then one day

he takes a horse and sneaks off into the hills and is lost.

http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Camp-Adventure-Keystone-Stables-ebook/dp/B003TFE5VI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444161591&sr=1-1&keywords=sUMMER+Camp+Adventure+by+Marsha+Hubler

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