Follow the Pattern of a Skirt

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I remember writing assignments in our ninth grade English class. One of the inevitable questions that would be asked was, “How long should it be?”

Mr. Dee would always answer: “Like a skirt: Long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.”

That’s still good advice.

Our books, articles, stories—whatever we are writing—shouldn’t feel “padded” with information or scenes that don’t contribute to the overall project.

If characters are introduced by name and are given space in our writing (in other words, if they are elaborated upon by giving them a name and background and some sort of importance in the story) then they should lend to the total story. Otherwise, just say that the waiter brought the food. Period. Don’t give him more than a brief one or two word description.

Granted, there should be a certain amount of description of our characters. They should also share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And, of course, they need to interact and DO SOMETHING. Hence, the plot unfolds with ACTION.

But, if a character doesn’t move the plot forward–doesn’t have a purpose in the overall story–they shouldn’t be given much, if any, line space.

However, it is not just superfluous characters that unnecessarily pad a story. One thing that is often overused is description (think weather, appearance, terrain, nature, and so on). As a matter of preference, some readers enjoy books with long, flowing descriptions that can take up pages, while others prefer more dialog, or action.

I recently read a book that had four consecutive pages devoted to description of the clouds–and this was NOT a book about clouds, the weather, or anything close to it. But, some people enjoy knowing every minute detail and others are content with reading “a dark storm cloud” and letting it go at that.

So, the point is, give us examples, take us on a journey, fill our hearts with joy–or suspense– but keep the story moving.

Don’t pad it with things we will want to skip over. Don’t give us hundreds of pages of nothingness in order to make the spine thick enough to showcase our names or a certain number of pages so the reader will think they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

Remember Mr. Dee’s advice and make your story long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.

 

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Would You Like to See Your Name in Lights?

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Perusing through a quaint bookstore in Bellingham, Washington last week, several book titles caught my eye. (I tend to pay attention to ones that are unusual in some way, either by font, color, or wording.)

However, this time what caught my eye was the size of the authors’ names. Some were downright HUGE—much larger than the titles.

Hmmmm. Authors like JAMES PATTERSON, MARY HIGGINS CLARK, AND TOM CLANCY have enormous audiences who are lined up to buy each new book as it comes out. Their readers follow their NAMES.

I asked myself this question: Is it the quality of the writing that makes certain authors “worthy” of elevating their name to a print size larger than the title?

After all, it seems that the author’s name in large print is akin to having one’s name in lights on the Las Vegas strip or a theatre marquee or a highway billboard. So, wouldn’t it make sense that the writer has achieved some sort of writing status?

Are the days gone by in which clever titles and unique covers draw the reader in?

If the author’s name is LARGER than the title, should that be a clue to the reader that the story is just incidental?

Are big name authors counting on FAME, rather than quality of writing, to sell their books?

Is the size of the author’s name a fair judge of how well their career is going? Or have they simply found a clever way to make readers THINK they are better writers than the actually are…

I wondered if there could be some “rule” about font size.

Researching the subject, I have found no evidence of any such rule. Size seems to be totally unregulated and, thus, completely arbitrary.

One thing I do know is this: if you want to promote your writing, make the TITLE the largest print on the cover. 

If you want to promote your name—or have a recognizable name, already—perhaps you’ll want to use a larger font for it.

Understand that you are in the business of selling books.

Turn the consumers’ attention to that aspect of your book cover that will boost your sales, whether it be your name or the title of your book.

 

What’s Your Story’s Purpose?

 

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I watched a television talk show this week, featuring a man who was exonerated of three murders for which he had been convicted nearly thirty years ago. Having been on death row for over 27 of those years, he has now written a book about his ordeal.

Hopefully, you and I will never experience an injustice like that, but we still have stories to tell—ours, or someone else’s.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, we can still make sure our books send a message to our readers. Messages of hope, love, forgiveness…

The written word is a vital force. It has power to move readers in a new direction, to change their viewpoints, to solidify their beliefs.

Before we begin to write—before we even put that first word on paper—we must decide what our book’s purpose will be and let that purpose guide us each day as we put pen to paper.

I find it helpful to print out my book’s purpose and post it near my computer. I read those few sentences each day before I begin to work, letting it guide my writing so that when I finally type, THE END, I can rest assured that it will be THE BEGINNING for someone else…

What Motivates You?

 

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There has to be some reason to write…to sit in front of the computer for hours at a time…usually by yourself…writing a book or article which you cannot be totally sure  anyone will ever buy or read…

Maybe it’s because you have an image in your head that you are trying to recreate in the real world…or a childhood dream that you simply must bring to life…

For all of us there is a reason.

For many of us there are multiple reasons.

Which of these motivate you to write?

Praise/accolades?

Money?

Seeing a product complete? (The feeling of being “done”?)

Sales?

Fear of failure?

Checking it off of your “to do” list?

Helping others?

Entertaining your reading audience?

Being called an “author”?

Winning writing contests?

An innate love for the craft/process?

I’m not judging.

But, something has to motivate you. And, it has the power to keep you motivated day after day, year after year.

I think of it as that dangling carrot…crisp…juicy…sweet…

That hunger that is never quite satisfied

Isn’t that write?

What’s the Point?

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Out for a hike on a mid-summer’s day, you fall into an old abandoned mine shaft. A deadly viper rattles a warning only a few inches from your feet. Which of us would not yell for help?

Not “help.” But, instead, a top-of-your-lungs-blood-curdling-cry-so-that-someone-will-rescue-you kind of “HELP!”

On occasion, I want to use an exclamation point in my writing. But, I hesitate to do so because of current advice I hear in the writing community.

As my finger is poised over the ! key, the little writing dictator on my shoulder reminds me that using that particular character is a big “no-no.”

Now, I agree that the overuse of an exclamation point can be a crutch. (“Oh, how pretty! He’s so nice! I love your dress!) If one relies on it too heavily, excellent descriptive writing can go by the wayside and our writing can become one meaningless ! after another.

But, using it once in awhile—in special circumstances—seems right. In fact, not using it, would be downright “wrong.”

So, my suggestion is that we consider each circumstance on its own merits. If we can do a great job of writing by using other descriptive words in order to paint a vivid/emotional picture for our readers, then that is what we should do. Leave the exclamation point for more dramatic occasions.

But, if there are instances in which our character would most assuredly be screaming or very emotional, then we should use our best discretion, and use the exclamation point in certain—and very limited—instances.

And, that’s my point!

Follow That Turtle!

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When I was in college, there was much talk about multi-tasking. I started small. I did my homework while the washer and dryer took care of the laundry.

Throughout the years, the tasks got more complicated, but I prided myself in being able to do quite a few at one time.

Success depended on three elements: planning, timing, and execution.

I became proficient at all three–until many years later, when I began writing. And, even then, I could accomplish quite a lot this way.

However, this past month, years of hard work in the area of multitasking were put to the test.

I have spent the last thirty days working on the editing and revising two books, as well as working with a producer on an audio version of another one.

I have been burning the proverbial candle at both ends—a situation that does not make for a happy camper.

I’ve found that multi-tasking, while it often saves time, is best done when the tasks are completely unrelated (such as homework and laundry). By using different parts of our brain, the emotional drainage—as I refer to it—is easier to handle.

When tasks are related—such as completing one’s Income Taxes, writing a novel, and preparing for a large group presentation—things become overwhelming. It’s best to space projects out, so one can complete them with some degree of competency, rather than trying to muddle through the frustration.

The fast-approaching deadline of April 15 dictated that I complete that task, first. I have now prioritized the other writing tasks so that I am addressing them consecutively.

Things are improving for me, emotionally. I even have time for a little blogging left over at the end of the day.

Even though my books will be published roughly a month later than my marketing plan had predicted, I will be able to do a better job by focusing on one task at a time. 

So, my advice?

Take it easy. Take your time. Follow the turtle who said, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

How Much Do Dreams Cost?

 

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I spent almost every day last week gathering information for my accountant. I needed receipts and various other kinds of documentation for both our personal tax returns and those for my business.

I DO keep receipts in separate folders. However, according to my accountant, those of us in the business of writing, need to keep a monthly ledger of expenses (publishing costs, marketing, office supplies, and so on) and deposits (sales would make up the bulk of this income).

This habit makes tax time so much easier than tackling it all at once—as I did.

It’s also much easier if you have a credit and/or debit card for personal  AND a completely different one for your business (which, thankfully, I did). We also need separate checking accounts.

Not only are these habits essential for taxes, they also are eye-opening when it comes to seeing in black and white—and maybe red—just how well our businesses performed over the past year.

Just as I claimed when I was a classroom teacher that  “no one goes into the educational profession to make money,” I have realized the same holds true for writing.

Teachers teach largely because of their love for children and writers write out of a passion for communicating the written word.

I have learned to embrace this truth so that I am not so discouraged when I look at the bottom line, realizing the hourly rate for which I have been willing to work in order to achieve my dream.

After all, one cannot put a price on dreams…