Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

Last week, I celebrated my fifth year as a blogger. Since I began, I have written 271 posts on writing or publishing. Whew! Yes, sometimes it feels like I have covered every topic out there.

I tend to write about whatever I am working on in my current work in progress.  If I am just starting out, I write about world or character building. If I am on my second draft, that becomes the topic of a blog, and if I am trying Kindle Select, I write about that and how successful or unsuccessful it was.

This means often times the topics might jump around so I thought I would write a “How to Write a Novel” series in order to help novice writers. (Last year, I did write an outline of writing a novel with links to appropriate posts. You can find it here.)

Now my new project won’t just be a re-posting of old posts. And even though I was thinking of it for the beginner, I think seasoned writers may still be able to find some tricks and tips, or they can feel free to share their own methods and ideas in the comment section.

In fact, if anyone has suggestions of topics regarding writing or publishing, please leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

So, now on to the first topic….

You have always dreamed of writing a novel. Maybe you want that instant fame or perhaps people have been telling you for years that you would be a good author. For whatever reason, you have decided to finally write that novel rolling around in your brain. But before you do, let’s clear up a few common myths or misconceptions about writing a novel.

Myth #1 – Writing is Easy

Some people (who obviously haven’t written a novel) consider it to be something easy. However, you need dedication and determination to write a novel. It is not easy to write and publish a novel. In fact, many people start a novel but never complete it. It isn’t just having a good story idea. You have to write it, then re-write sections or perhaps all of it, edit it, then edit it some more and finally proof it for grammar and spelling. All of this takes a lot of time. You have to be determined to see it to the end and not be discouraged as you work through the process. You are NOT going to pen a full-length novel in a few weeks. (Key word is full-length novel as in 80,000 to 100,000 words. To find out the average lengths of different literary works, click here.)

Myth #2 – Writers Make Big Money

People hear about the superstars. They hear about the J.K. Rowlings, James Patersons and Steven Kings who make bundles of money and expect that most writers make a good living writing. No. In fact, many writers do not write full-time. They need a day job (or a spouse) to help pay the bills. Even if you do make money selling your first novel, it will take a few more books before you probably will see consistent money coming in.

Myth #3 – Writers Write to be Famous

If you are writing to be famous, you probably should pick a different career. Actors and singers have people mauling them on the streets but not many people would recognize Nora Roberts or J.K. Rowling if they ran into them. Some writers may write with the hopes of becoming a household name, but many of us do it because we love it. (Though emails from fans is always a great perk.)

Myth #4 – It is Easy to Publish a Book

Just as with the myth about writing, many assume it is easy to get published. But that is far from the truth. If you publish traditionally, competition is fierce for agents who can get your books in the hands of the right people and even then book publishers are often hesitant on betting on a novice writer. Now self-publishing has made it easier to PUBLISH a book (in electronic or paper form) but just because you publish a book, doesn’t mean you will be successful. There are so many books out there it is tough to reach an audience. You will spend more time promoting your work than writing. (Of course in the best course is often to keep writing more books until you have several published works. To read more about this concept, click here.) But publishing a novel is a whole different area that you don’t even have to worry about until you have actually written your novel.

So if it isn’t easy, we don’t become famous or make a lot of money, why do authors write? I can’t speak for everyone, but I do it because I love to write. I love the creative process and bringing characters to life. There is no wrong way to do this. Some people need to plod along making and learning from their mistakes while others want to plan everything out.  But nothing begins until you make that commitment to actually sitting down and writing your novel.

Tune in next week when I address how you get started on that novel.

Dragons as characters in your novel

Dragons have been a storytelling staple for ages. They have appeared in folklore tales where heroes slayed the dragons to save the damsel.

And in more recent literature, TV shows and movies, dragons have appeared as wild beasts to be ridden or even turn out to be allies. Adding a dragon to your story can create instant conflict as these mythical creatures breathe fire and hoard their treasure or they can be a loyal friend and protector.

Anyway you look at it, adding dragons to your novel can be a way to interject some engaging characters.

The thing with dragons is that there are so many variations in looks and behavior that they really can’t be lumped together. Whether they are villains or protectors, friends or foes, here are the two main categories of dragons.

Types of Dragons

Western or European dragon – These dragons come from European folk traditions. These four-legged, reptilian creatures with wings often have some level of intelligence and may be able to speak either through speech or telepathy.

They dragons live in caves or near rivers. Some breathe fire or poison. Some may hoard treasure. Sometimes these dragons can shape shift into other creatures including humans. Their appearance is varied. They can have horns, multiple heads or tails and come in variety of colors and sizes.

Eastern or Chinese dragon – This also encompasses all Japanese and Asian dragons. These dragons are often serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence. They too have four legs but are wingless.

They creatures represent primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom, power and luck. Many are said to possess some form of magic. Temples and shrines are often built to honor them. Unlike the Western dragons, these Eastern dragons are portrayed as benevolent and kind.

Wyvern This smaller cousin of the dragon is a winged, two-legged creature with a barbed tail. It has the head and wings of a dragon but typically lacks the grace and intelligence of a dragon. They do not breathe fire or speak.

Dragons as characters

Since we are dealing with an imaginary creature, what you do with your dragon – whether you make him a ferocious beast protecting his lair or a full-fledge character adding conflict to your story – is totally up to you. You have complete control over whether your dragon is large or small, has one head or a dozen, and whether it has magical powers or any signs of intelligence. The possibilities are endless.

But if you are going to make your dragon more than a wild beast to be slain and going to make it an important character, you need to develop them as you would any other character. You need to know their desires, their back story and build their behaviors and characteristics around these traits.

My books

I love dragons, so they have shown up in all of my books. In my The Elemental trilogy, dragons are large enough for 5-6 people to ride. But they are far from beasts of burden. They are distinct, well-developed characters who speak telepathically but cannot breathe fire. My favorite is Zoot, a gruff, sarcastic black dragon that befriends Lina, the protagonist of the series.

In my stand-alone adventure, The Heir to Alexandria, the white dragon, Enchanta, plays less of a role in the novel. She too is telepathic, but her main role is to guard a hidden fortress, revealing it only to the rightful heir.

My current work-in-progress, tentatively called Blood Bond, goes back to making dragons main characters within the story. The tale is all about Soren and his dragon Dex. Here again, the dragons communicate telepathically and are key players in the plot.

So if you choose to add a dragon to your novel, feel free to go against the norm and create a unique creature that enhances your story. And remember, you are really only limited by your own imagination.

He said, she said: 4 Tips on Using Dialogue Tags

Recently, my husband commented there was a section of dialogue in my current work in progress (WIP) that was hard to follow. I don’t know if this is because he tends to listen to my WIP verses reading it or not. But either way, it is an area I need to go back and consider revising.

For readers to know who is speaking, you need dialogue tags such as he said and she replied. And while they are necessary, you don’t need them every time someone speaks.

Image result for dialogue tagsI am sure we all have encountered books full of too many or too few dialogue tags. (Check my post on that topic.) Even from professionally published authors I have had to stop and count lines backwards to figure out who is saying what.

Dialogue tags should be like punctuation marks – they should be invisible, guiding the reader, but not getting in the way of the story.

Here are four tips to help you use dialogue tags like a pro.

1.)  While your high school English teacher may have encouraged you to stray from the boring “said” or “asked,” there is nothing wrong with sticking with these words. But many new authors don’t want to stick with “said” and “asked.” They search out posts like this one that show you 100 different ways to say “said.” And while there is nothing wrong with interjecting a few of these into your text, you should do so sparingly. The concern with these more frivolous choices is that the words draw the reader’s attention away from the dialogue.

Bad Example: “You can’t go out into the dark,” Mary cried.

“What now?” Edward groaned.

“No, no, no,” she muttered. “Too dangerous.”

“What is your problem?” Edward wondered.

Here is a writer trying to use too many fancy tags. It should be rewritten to something more like this.

“You can’t go out into the dark,” Mary said, blocking the door.

Edward groaned. “What?”

“No, no, no.” Mary shook her head with each word. “Too dangerous.”

“What is your problem, Mary?”

The second scenario allows you to focus more on the dialogue.

Now there may be times when your dialogue may not communicate the tone or emotion clearly. And there is nothing wrong with using a descriptive tag such as whispered, shrieked, muttered, grunted or boasted to help your reader understand the scene.

Example: “Leave me alone,” he muttered.

But don’t worry about using other words than “said” or “asked.” If you only use them when necessary, and the dialogue is interesting, no one will even notice them. And that is what you want.

2.)  The placement of dialogue tags and how often you use them are important – even more so if you have a lot of characters in a scene. Well-positioned tags insure your scene make sense and eliminate any reader confusion. If a reader has to backtrack a few paragraphs or pages to get the conversation straight, a writer risks the book being abandoned.

Example:  “You always do this to me, Mary,” Edward said. “You get all worked up, forbid me to do something and it turns out to be nothing.”

Bob held up his hand. “Stop it right there, Ed. You don’t need to pick on poor Mary.”

“Thanks, Bob,” Mary said flashing him a smile. “I knew I could count on you.”

“Anything for you.”

Edward rolled his eyes. “If you two are done…”

3.)  You don’t have to always use said or any other dialogue tag to indicate who is speaking. You can use action to indicate this as well as to provide information essential to understanding the character and/or some element of the scene. In the above example, Bob holding up his hand and Edward rolling his eyes are examples of this way to identify the speaker without a dialogue tag.

Or you can have the characters use each other’s names as they speak – but again, this is done sparingly.

Bad Example: “What are you doing, Bob?” Mary asked.

“I am helping you out, Mary.”

“You know she doesn’t need your help, Bob,” Edward said.

So in the above example, characters are calling each other by name but a little too often. In real life people use other people’s names sparingly (typically at the beginning or end of a conversation) and so should your characters. Here is the above example revised.

Mary glared at Bob. “What are you doing?”

“I am helping you out, Mary.”

Edward stepped in front of Mary, shielding her. “She doesn’t need your help, Bob.”

4.)  Use adverbs (such as loudly, softly and angrily) with your dialogue tags sparingly – as in almost never. Nothing points out a novice quicker than a writer who uses adverbs to tell your reader how someone spoke or even worse uses an adverb with one of the fancy alternatives to said.

Examples: she said excitedly

He exclaimed loudly (redundant)

Using an adverb is telling your reader how the dialogue was spoken instead of showing them.

Example: “I never want to see you again,” she said angrily.

But instead of telling us she is angry, show us.

“I never want to see you again,” she said, storming out the door and slamming it behind her.

Of course, as with any “rule” there are exceptions. Sometimes adding an adverb can be a quick way to indicate a mannerism or emotion (she said quickly; he said coldly) without writing longer, descriptive sentences. But keep this to a minimum.

Wrapping it Up

To summarize….

  • Unless you have a good reason, stick to the standard “he said, she said.”
  • Other simple verbs – she asked, she whispered, – are fine.
  • Fancy verbs – he bellowed, she interjected – should be avoided.
  • Use only as many dialogue tags as needed for clarity. If two people are speaking, one every three or four lines is about right. You will need more dialogue tags if you have more characters speaking in the same scene.
  • You can also use character action or calling a character by name to indicate who is speaking.
  • Never use adverbs (or at least very rarely). Instead of telling, show the reader the action.

Even though “said” is the preferred verb, if you use it every time, your dialogue will become tedious. So aim for variety. With some practice, you will learn when a dialogue tag sounds correct and appropriate. In fact, if you don’t even think about or notice the dialogue tag…you got it right!

Q is for Questions #AtoZChallenge

For the A to Z Challenge, I have chosen the theme of antagonists.

On my normal blogging days, Monday – parenting and Thursday – writing/publishing, I will tie that day’s topic to antagonists but on the other days (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday), I will write about antagonists from movies, TVs or books. On Wednesdays, my Quote of the Week will be from an antagonist that matches the letter of the day. Enjoy.

Today is the letter Q, which is for Questions. A good way to get to know your antagonist is to conduct a character interview. This fun exercise can give you a lot of insight into your antagonist, and the better you know him/her, the easier it will be to bring them to life.

You can either get someone to ask you a list of questions or play both the interviewer and interviewee. But all responses should be done as if you are the antagonist. This means that their word choice, manner and attitude should be reflected in their answers.

The key is to ask open-ended questions so your character has to elaborate beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”  So instead of asking, “Were you scared when you were kidnapped?” ask “What was going through your head at the moment you were grabbed?”

Try to stick with questions that will benefit your story. You want to uncover the goals and motivation of your antagonist. And you might just uncover some of their soft spots too.

Need help coming up with questions? Here is a website that lists 50 Questions you can ask your antagonist.

And in case you want to check out my other antagonists from the challenge…

A is for Apocalypse

B is for Bad Boys (parenting)

C is for Cruella de Vil

D is for Darth Vader (Quote)

D is for To Die for Cake (Recipe)

E is for Evil (Writing)

F is for Freddy Kruger

G is for Gollum

H is for High School (parenting)

I is for Iron Monger

J is for Jafar (Quote)

K is for Killers (Writing)

L is for Loki

M is for Maleficent

N is for No (parenting)

O is for Oggie Boogie

P is for Professor Moriarty (Quote)

9 Questions to Consider When Choosing your Novel’s Setting

Last week, I gave a recap of some of my posts about writing various scenes in your novel. But before you can write a scene, you need to know where your story is set.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be Las Angeles, a farm in Iowa, the White House, on a space ship, on another world or any of a thousand different places.

Selecting the right setting can have a significant impact on your story. Choosing where a story or even a scene takes place can add suspense or excitement to a theme. Changing the location of a scene can have it going from flat to intense.

Here are some questions you might want to consider as you determine the setting of your story.

Do you want a real or fictional setting?

eiffel_tower_postcard-01verChoosing a real setting can be easier because if it is a place others already know, they will bring their own knowledge and visuals of that place with them. You mention Las Vegas or Paris and even those who have not been there can imagine the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas strip or picture the Eiffel Tower.

But a fictional setting can give you the freedom to do whatever you want. You are not restricted to established governments, customs or landmarks. You don’t have to worry about accuracy as you are the one designing your city, country, or world.

Where are your favorite places?

If you love a certain place, you probably know it well. Your passion for it will certainly spill over into your writing and help create a feeling of familiarity and realism.

What mood do you want (or need) the story to have?

If you are writing a romance novel, you might pick a bright sunny beach but that same location won’t work for your vampire novel. The setting can enhance the mood or it can give all the wrong signals.

What location would enhance your story’s theme or conflict?

If you are writing a romance, picking one of the most romantic cities in the world may work well. And if you are writing about a war, your setting most likely will be in a war zone. But if you find our love story lacking conflict, try setting it somewhere else – like in the middle of a war.

Will your story span over more than one location?

If you are writing about life in a small town, your story likely will take place just there. But other works take place in multiple locations, which means more research (or more time creating those places).

What elements must your setting have?

Certain genres might require certain things. If you are writing about a war-torn country, then your novel most likely will be set in that country. If you are writing about vampires and werewolves, you will need dark alleys and possibly a forest.

What settings are common in your genre?

If most novels in your genre are set in a common place, it is a pretty good indication that readers will expect and look forward to this setting. This doesn’t mean you can’t go against the norm and try something new but doing so may alienate some readers.

How will your setting influence the story or your characters?

Knowing your location, being on familiar ground can be good for your character, but it can also be interesting to throw them into the unknown. Also, a hostile environment can add more conflict and tension to your novel. Where things happen changes everything. Don’t always go for the usual. Consider changing up where events occur. It might make all the difference in your story.

Recap: Tips for Writing Different Scenes in your Novel

Recently, I spent a few hours making a spreadsheet of all the writing/publishing topics I have written about on my blog. Well, I have a long running list since I started in 2012 but this time I grouped each by category in an attempt to see what areas are in need of some additional advice. But while I analyze my list, I thought I would fall back on doing a recap of some of my other blog posts.

So here are some of the posts discussing various scenes in your novel…

Deciding how to begin a scene in your novel 

The goal of the beginning of a scene is to draw the reader in. It must make the reader want to read more. A few months ago, I wrote about writing the opening scene of your novel. That crucial scene is often where readers decide if they like your book or not. (Read more here)

Writing the opening scene of your novel

(Excerpt from my short story The Search) And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading. (Read more here)

Finding the perfect ending to your scene 

cliff hangerEvery scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene. (Read more here)

Romance and sex in your non-romance novel

As a writer of fantasy novels, romance is not in the forefront of my plots. So when it comes to writing a bit of romance into the story, I begin to wonder how much to include and what exactly to do with the sex scenes if any come about. (Read more here)

Creating Fight Scenes

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or other battle taking place. With each additional book in my trilogy, there seem to be more battles.  One of my reviews for Summoned said that I wrote, “awesome fight scenes.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do have a few tricks that I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists. (Read more here)

Writing a night or low lighting scene

So I was recently writing a scene that took place in a darkened street. A battle ensues and a chase. There is a lot of hiding out and sneaking down alleys. The fact that this takes place in a world without street lamps only makes the writing more difficult as I focus on what my characters would be able to see. (Read more here)

The importance of tension in your novel

Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.

One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events. (Read more here)

Not too fast…not too slow – it is all about the pace

Pace is the speed in which events happen in your novel. You need to balance the pace of your writing. If your scenes drag on and on (slow pace) then you lose or bore readers. If it is too fast, you will leave your readers unsettled and it won’t be a comfortable read.

The trick is to get the balance just right. And there is no one out there that can tell you what that balance should be. (Read more here)

Using internal dialogue

One of the biggest advantages of writing a novel versus writing a movie or TV show script is that authors can use internal dialogue as a tool to tell the story.

Internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It is not the same thing as narration, which is when the person telling the story (the narrator) talks directly to the reader.

Now there are a few rules about using internal dialogue.

  • Only use internal dialogue for the point-of-view (POV) character.

If you show the thoughts of non-POV characters, it is called head-hopping, and it is a big no-no in writing (though I do see many romance authors committing this writing sin.)

  • Only share thoughts that advance the story.

We don’t need to hear every thought in your character’s head. We just need to hear the important ones that are relevant to the plot.

Including internal dialogue is a good way to replicate real life. In our own lives, we are always thinking to ourselves – noticing things, trying to solve problems, giving ourselves pep talks or berating ourselves.

There are two ways you can include internal dialogue – indirectly or directly.

Indirect Internal Dialogue gives the reader an idea of the character’s thoughts without the exact words they are thinking. You do not need to include the tags “wondered” or “thought.”

Here is an example taken from Internal Dialogue by Marcy Kennedy:

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. She knew that smell. Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smelled like death, like a corpse smothered in flower arrangements at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled it was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Direct Internal Dialogue gives the reader the exact words the character is thinking. It is written in first person and present tense, regardless of the person and tense of the rest of the story.

Here is above example written as direct internal dialogue (also from Marcy Kennedy’s book):

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes and hair. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. I know that smell. I should know that smell.

Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smells like death, like a corpse smothered in flowers at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled that scent was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Formatting your internal dialogue

There are many ways to include internal dialogue in your novel. There are two rules you need to follow.

1.) Never use quotation marks for internal dialogue.

2.) Be consistent with whatever format you choose.

For indirect internal dialogue, you are not using speech tags (he thought) or setting off the words in italics since you are not giving the exact words.

For direct internal dialogue, you can use both a speech tag or put the information in italics. (Liar, she thought.) Or you could just decide to use italics. (Where’s the money you owe me?)

Now if you write fantasy, paranormal or have people who can talk telepathically, then formatting your internal dialogue can be even trickier. Now you have people who externally speak dialogue, internal character speaking to themselves as well as two characters speaking privately in their minds.

Here is what I have done in my novels: I use quotation marks around spoken dialogue. I use italics for dialogue spoken telepathically. And I typically don’t use the direct internal dialogue and just stick with indirect.

Again, if you are consistent, your readers will easily understand what is happening.

Once you have mastered using internal dialogue, you can use it to help your readers connect with your characters. It will help the characters feel more real and most importantly the internal dialogue can advance your story.