That’s What it Sounds Like

**This is a requested reprint from 4-14-19.


I’m in editing mode this week. Specifically, I am unsure about the use of italics.

Yes, I understand that they are used to denote titles, and foreign words. They are also used for book titles, poems, plays, television shows, musical compositions, newspapers, radio podcasts, names of ships, and airplanes.

The list goes on and on (See the 7th edition of the MLA handbook for more of the above.)

However, here, I want to share about the three most common uses of italics by authors.

The first is to show emphasis for readers. For example, “She dated five men at the same time.” If you italicize the word “five,” it helps to emphasize the fact that you feel this is extraordinary and you don’t want your reader to miss it. Thus, the sentence would read, “She dated five men at the same time.”

The second is to set apart a character’s inner thoughts and/or  dreams. This avoids confusion for readers by signaling that those words were not spoken out loud. Longer italicized portions of text show the reader that the character is dreaming. This is important because otherwise they may think that those actions are taking place in the here and now.

Finally, I come to the rule that has been confusing me as I give my own manuscript a final pass. That is, should sounds be italicized?

I did some research and I found the answer to be very simple:

The name of a sound does not get italicized, but the sound itself does.

Here is an example:  The dog growled. (I named the sound, so no italics.) vs. “Grrr” (this is the actual sound, so it should be italicized).


That’s what it sounds like to me.




Even though my posts for the last five years are archived on my website,, I know that it isn’t convenient for many readers to search around for information. So, for the next few weeks, I am going to be re-posting some of those which generated the most questions/comments from readers.

I hope they are useful and encouraging!

Here is the first:




I love to get freebies, don’t you?

Over the past few weeks, I have downloaded several free fiction books.

Some were absolute jewels. Others … well …

That’s the way it goes in the world of “free.”

One of the books contained a LOT of head-hopping. Although the story and characters were enjoyable (that’s why I kept reading) the intermingled flow of dialogue, description, and emotion from various characters within the same paragraph made the story difficult to follow.

A reader shouldn’t have to constantly wonder who is speaking and whose thoughts are being revealed. Avoiding head-hopping is essential for writers—and it is so easy to do:

  1. In each scene, establish your point-of-view character. Although other characters can be in the scene, can show action, and speak dialogue, only the POV character can share their thoughts and perspective.
  1. Each paragraph should have only one character. When you want to change characters, simply start a new paragraph.
  1. When you want to change POV characters, begin a new scene.

Within the same paragraph (even within the same scene) don’t allow yourself to hop back and forth from one character’s thoughts and perspective to another’s.

If you confuse your reading audience in this way, even the most interesting characters and enjoyable dialogue may not be enough to keep them reading to THE END.

Haircuts and the Writing Cycle



I hate my hair the first week after getting a haircut. It is shorter than I like and it doesn’t style easily. Each hair wants to do its own thing. 

The next two weeks, my hair seems to go into place without a problem. I love my hair during this period.

Weeks four and five are a gradual downhill decline. My hair grows longer and is “top-heavy.” I have to put more and more effort into styling to get it to look halfway decent.

Then, there’s the day of my next haircut appointment. All of a sudden my hair does me proud and I question whether I should keep the date with my stylist.

This morning as I glared at my recently-cut locks in the mirror, I thought about the writing cycle and its similarities to hair growth/cuts.

Even though I am excited when I begin a new book, the process isn’t without its problems. The first chapter is the hardest because it sets the story up and builds the momentum. Characters need to be developed and “gel” with each other. I inevitably spend time taming them all down and helping them find their “place” and “purpose.”

The following chapters are pure fun. As one officer on the television show SVU says, “I love it when a plan comes together.” It is so rewarding when those puzzle pieces fit together and become a beautiful picture of life as I imagine it.

Nearing the end of the book, I get a bit testy. Writing the conclusion, weaving in the lesson learned by the characters and preparing to write a satisfying epilogue are more difficult—and although I enjoy editing someone else’s work—the editing process is slow and laborious when it comes to my own. 

As I wait for comments to come back from my Beta Readers, I reflect on the multiple edits and rewrites I have done myself. I think about how much time and money I could save if I would skip the formal edit and go directly to PUBLISH.

But, just like the times I’m facing the haircut/no-haircut dilemma, I know I will contact my editor and set the appointment. 

After all, I want to like what I see in the mirror.



Don’t Always Listen to Your Mother


I am one of the contest coordinators for the upcoming Rattler Writing Contest, sponsored by Christian Writers of the West. 

I have been encouraging beginning writers to enter when the contest opens on August 1.

They are often hesitant because they don’t feel they have a chance to win, when put up against more experienced authors.

However, winning shouldn’t be the primary reason to enter a contest. (Remember, there will be only one grand-prize and perhaps lesser “category prizes.”)

In my opinion, the major reason for entering a contest is the feedback from the judges.

Those few paragraphs are golden nuggets—suggestions to make your writing more exciting, your characters more interesting, your plot stronger.

Once you receive your feedback, reflect on what the judges have written. It is so easy to become angry and just throw their words in the trash, but remember why you entered—and their status in their field—and give careful consideration to what they have said. Writers must develop a thick skin, bearing in mind that the goal of critiques is to HELP you. 

You can always find a friend or relative to validate your writing and tell you how wonderful you are. 

But, if you want useful suggestions, then choose your contest wisely, SUBMIT your best work, and seriously consider the judges’ comments.

Try Writing Backwards



You are beginning to write Chapter Six.

Before you start to type, you ask yourself how the chapter fits into your overall plot. What do you want to include? How should the chapter begin?

You’re stuck.

But, if you do know how you want the chapter to end, try this:

Start at the end (the part you do know) and write backwards until you get to the beginning scene of the chapter.

Even if you’re not stuck, you may find this to be a great exercise. You will be forced to focus on exactly where you want to take the reader—from point A (beginning scene) to point B (the cliffhanger that makes them want to read more).

Sometimes simply getting a visual of where you want to end will inspire you to write a stellar beginning.


Murder She Wrote


For all of the plusses of a computer over the outdated typewriters—and we all know there are many—some of the drawbacks can be annoying. Writers, especially, must be vigilant in monitoring all of these “helps.”

For instance, don’t depend on the auto-correct function.

I entered the word yarn incorrectly, spelling it as yard. It was the wrong word, but since it was spelled correctly, the computer left it as I had typed it in. I found it later as I was rereading, but still…

Not long after that, I entered the word heart several times. Each time, I noticed the “t” disappear right before my eyes, leaving the word hear. I am not sure why this happened, but again, the word was spelled correctly, but definitely not the word I intended to use.

One last example: I wrote the name Jaxon. I am sure you’re not surprised to hear that it was auto-corrected to Jackson. No matter what I did, I could not get my computer to accept the altered spelling. 

I am sure there are ways around these difficulties—and many others—it just takes persistence in searching out the culprit and overriding the function. 

If you have run into other problems, or have the answer to the few I have described, please share your information.

Until then, type carefully. Reread often. Or, you want to get that old Remington out of the closet and create your manuscript the old-fashioned way!


Grab a Bucket of Balls



Should writers strive to be prolific or perseverant?

Hmmm. Prolific, meaning to produce a high volume of work, would definitely make an author feel successful.

But, perseverant? Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. That would be a necessity, wouldn’t it?

Seems to me, it isn’t a matter of prolific vs. perseverant. 

Both are necessary.

If writers persevere, then being prolific must surely follow.

A daily regimen and good old-fashioned dedication will go a long way in helping authors to keep at it. Success doesn’t happen all of a sudden. 

A foundation based on a solid work ethic and perseverance toward a goal is the key.

As I sit at the computer, I look out my window at the 14th hole of a beautiful golf course. A few minutes ago, I saw a guy make a hole-in-one. WOW!!! 

He would probably say that it was a shot that was a long time in the making… that he didn’t just walk out today and start playing for the first time in his life. It probably began years ago with hitting bucket after bucket of balls on the golf range, taking lessons, watching pros play, and days spent out in the heat perfecting his game.

His perseverance should pay off in his shooting hole-in-ones more frequently. Just like writers or those who become excellent at any other profession, it takes commitment and practice.

The only difference? 

Our bucket of balls looks more like a keyboard and a monitor.