You CAN Learn From Others’ Mistakes

I’m an avid reader—and writer.

And I’ve come to this conclusion: we writers need to read examples of good writing. We can learn so much from reading the works of renowned authors.

Sentence structure, plotting, character development, just to name a few.

But we also need to read the works of beginning authors and perhaps those not so “accomplished” writers. We will see mistakes that weaken their stories, make plots confusing, make characters flat and unappealing, and so on.

By contrasting the two writing examples, we can identify strengths and weaknesses in our own writing. We can learn from writers at both extremes.

And strive for perfection!!

Passive Voice vs. Active Voice

I uploaded a page of my chapter into an editing program I had considered purchasing. In less than thirty seconds, the screen blinked and then displayed this message: Be careful not to rely on passive verbs in your writing.

Yikes!

Had I really written something so “non-exciting” that they actually called it passive?

Yes; I vaguely remembered that term. I decided to refresh my memory. Here’s what I found.

Let’s start with the basics: a verb is an action word.

Example: Run, cry, hit, sing.

Depending on how you word a sentence, a verb can be passive or active.

Example of active verb:  

Jon beat Peter in a game of chess.

Example of passive verb:

Jon was beaten by Peter.

In the first example, the subject of the sentence (Jon) is doing the action. In the second, something is done to the subject.

The term voice refers to these two different ways of using verbs.

Passive voice is used most often in formal documents, research papers, and so on.

Active voice is used most often in creative writing (fiction).

Passive verbs are broken down into: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, past simple, past continuous, past perfect, future, and future perfect. There are good examples of all of these on the internet, so I won’t go into each here. 

Especially since my purpose here is to remind those of us writing fiction, that we need to make our writing exciting by using action verbs (active voice).

No; I didn’t purchase the editing program. But its blinking screen and its warning in red CAPITAL LETTERS will be forever etched in this writer’s brain.

Ready to Make a Few Changes?

A few months ago, I told a new acquaintance about my struggles in marketing. (We had been talking about her daughter who is graduating from high school this year and her need for a part-time income. I told her mother that it was amazing to me that “young people” find technology so easy to use.)

So I saw this meeting as an opportunity to make some changes.

I’m hiring this eighteen-year-old to put a fresh face on my Facebook pages and my Amazon advertising—and earmark some of my marketing dollars toward a new “look” for my online presence.

Will my marketing dollars be well spent?

I hope so. 

Because the story about the guy who never saw any changes in outcome because he kept trying the same strategies time after time is really my story.

Is it yours, too?

Maybe it’s time for you to change where you write—or when. Perhaps you need to read a few books on the craft of writing or attend a conference.

Whatever you need to change, there’s no time like the present to make that commitment—to yourself and your readers!

Can You Say It In Three Minutes?

Are you able to pare your story down to three to five sentences?

Can you say it smoothly within three minutes?

The sole purpose of a pitch (the in-person conversation with an editor or publisher) is to convince them to give your story a look.

Be sure your pitch includes:

Hook: Why they should read your book. 

Synopsis: What the story is about. (Be sure to include the title, length, and genre of your novel). Your

target audience; and where it fits in the market (Titles of books similar to yours—and why yours will be different); and your bio.(including why you are qualified to write the story and what you are willing to do to promote your book after it is published.)

Remember to take your business card with you. You don’t want to be writing down your information on a gum wrapper while going out the door!

The Query Letter

As promised, I read about query letters in several sources this week. Here’s what I learned. All in one place.

Note: you can send a query letter in an email -OR- standard letter. Put QUERY in the subject line, if using an email.

Use a professional font. Nothing quirky. No color. No cartoons or pictures. Your writing—and only your writing—should be used to make your query stand out amongst others. 

Include your personal contact information in a header (if using a standard letter) or at the end (if submitting by email).

Create a strong hook and place it in the first sentence of the first paragraph. Its purpose is to get the reader’s attention and inspire them to keep reading. 

This should be followed by a synopsis, or overview of the storyline or main points and key elements of your book. This may include setting, characters, style, and genre.

The synopsis should be followed by the addition of your credentials: List your published works, including publications, websites, short stories, and so on. If you have educational achievements, add those, also—especially if your book and your achievements are related. 

Close your letter with a statement of gratitude for the person taking the time to read your letter. 

A physical letter should have a place for your signature.

Suggestions: Address to a specific agent and use the agent’s name throughout (not: Dear Agent). Use block formatting. Double-space between paragraphs; single space within. Left-justify. 12 point.

Use your real name, even if you publish under a pen name.

Hope this is enough to get you started, but not so much as to be overwhelming! 

Join Me

I know very little about writing query letters.

Mostly because my books have all been self-published.

However, now that these are “under my belt” as my father would say, I am considering traditional publishing. 

So, for the next few weeks, I will be doing a bit of research—and sharing what I discover about query letters on this blog.

Starting with the basic definition, a query letter is a written or printed communication addressed to a person or organization, asking a question about their potential interest in your book or book idea. 

A successful query letter should intrigue literary agents who will then want to see more: book synopsis, book proposal, sample chapters, and/or your complete manuscript.

A query letter must contain certain information, and of a specific length, and so on.

So, I invite you to learn about query letters along with me. I’ll do the research and present it as simply as possible.

Until next week.

A Mistake I Almost Made

I had a problem. I needed to wrap up the Novella I was writing this week—and I had only five hundred more words at my disposal.

I knew I couldn’t include much dialog or description. I had to keep to the basics and weave everything into a satisfying ending for my readers. 

An hour later, I felt pretty smug at having pulled it off with a four hundred ninety-nine word count.

Until I read it back to myself.

And there it was. I noticed it right away.

The big “T.”

Telling.

Even though everything I wanted to say was included, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been. I felt like a newscaster, not an author.

Show—Don’t Tell is a beautiful thing. The reader can see, touch, hear, and see a story. 

As good as a movie. Often better.

A rewrite was in order and I found a creative way to use my five hundred words and “show” readers a great ending.

My “almost mistake” taught me a valuable lesson, so I’m simply passing it on to you.

Guiltless Writing

I remember when I started writing, I was surprised to learn there were so many rules I needed to learn—and follow. 

Show, don’t tell.

Do not use adverbs in your writing.

Don’t use cliches. 

Write a certain number of words per day to be successful.

And on and on.

But, I was also told something else: After you learn to follow the rules effectively and become successful, you may pretty much throw the rules away and write however you please. 

The truth is, I think when we find ourselves “eligible” to abandon the rules, we will want to keep them because they make our writing better.

But like I told my critique group yesterday, I will rejoice when the rule about using minimal adverbs in writing is no longer required. 

I can’t help it. I love those -ly words…

Lovely, slowly, carefully, brilliantly, passionately, and so on.

Oh, how I long to use them in my writing without feeling guilty!

Check These Out

The idea behind a writing community is writers writing together, helping each other, whether through courses, retreats, podcasts, social media, and so on.

Have you considered joining a writing community?

There are quite a few and I’d recommend you join one or two. They furnish lots of good information authors need to know, keep you up to date on new trends and “helps”, and get you in touch with others who write in your same genre.

Here are some to check out:

  1. A Writer’s Path
  2. Chronicles
  3. NaNoWriMo
  4. Alessandra Torre Ink
  5. Fiction Writing
  6. YeahWrite
  7. WritersCafe.org
  8. She Writes
  9. Insecure Writer’s Support Group
  10. Writing.com
  11. Association of Ghostwriters
  12. Faith Writers
  13. The Masters Review
  14. Storywrite

When A Book is Made Into A Movie

Have grand hopes that your book may someday be made into a movie? That millions of viewers will see your words come to life on the big screen?

It could happen, you know.

And it might be an exciting experience—or it may not.

I watched a movie a few weeks ago that held such promise. However, the author sold his/her rights to the motion picture studio and was not involved in the making of the movie.

I was shocked to see that—although the basic plot was intact—the details of the movie were very different than the book. So much so that it changed a rating from PG-13 to something I was embarrassed to watch.

My heart still aches for the author. So, beware and learn from his/her “mistake.” Get legal representation and have your attorney insert a clause or two delineating that you want to see the script and even be present at the shooting. 

After all, it is your copyrighted work. Refuse to let it be changed into something other than you intended.

Don’t sell out for fame. You just might end up embarrassed to see your name in lights.