Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do you ever wonder...

Do you ever wonder what the reader thinks of your book? Do you ever worry they will catch every little thing that is wrong? Like a period out of place, a semicolon instead of a colon?

Before I get into the "business", I simply read a book. I never noticed whether it had the right grammar; I just wanted a story I could sink my teeth into, a story where I could get to know the characters and live their lives through their words and actions.

I can't tell you how many times I wanted a dragon, like the ones in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider series. Or even a firelizard after they were introduced into the stories. I didn't care if the sentences were off a little, or they were too long or too short, or even if an extra comma or two was thrown in. I just wanted to sink into the book and "feel" how it was to soar into the sky and flame thread. When Moreta died after going between (those who read the dragorider books know what I'm talking about), I cried. Not because I felt the grammar was awful, but because I felt the story was real, like I was living with the characters.

The same goes for a lot of the books I read. I love a good sci-fi book that takes me to other worlds, worlds where the imagination can run rampid. I don't know if anyone remembers the Fuzzies books. I have all three of them. I'll never part with them. The writer created a world so real I had a hard time not seeing a little fuzzie standing close by. Again, I cried when one of the little guys was killed by a cruel, nasty man.

I love a good mystery that makes my heart race, a good horror book that scares the snot out of me. Darkfall by Dean Koontz absolutely scared me when I first read it. I still have a hard time reading it unless I'm in broad daylight, in a crowded room. LOVE that book. Did I worry about it having all the grammar correct, or the story lines in alignment? Nope. Just worried about hearing scratching noises in the walls and loving the fact that my bed frame sits on the floor so nothing can hide under it (it's an old waterbed frame).

Yes, I do look at the grammar now a bit more than I used to. But I still strive to get into the story, to "live" with the characters, to yell at them to not go in that room, you idiot! If there are too many errors, it can make a book distracting. A little amount...not so.

So, if you are a writer, don't let comments from reviewers get you down. Listen to the readers. If you are a reader, let the author know what you think. Tell them if they achieved their goal: to write a believeable story. Tell them if they helped you to soar, to discover new worlds, to cringe when the victim walks into the wrong room. I know for a fact they will appreciate it. I do. If the author falls short, tell them. How can they grow and improve unless told. Make sure to be nice, though. The world is already full of inconsiderate dweebs. Let's not add another. Manners, people. They go a long way.

Through my own books, it was a thrill to create a new species: a humecat. Even though I know it's not real, I "feel" as though the creature is. (I have four examples of a humecat living with me. They are called "cats." lol) I hope I conveyed that to my readers. Even with the grammar errors.

Thanks for reading this posting. Feel free to comment. Oh, and by the way, pick up a book and enjoy it, regardless of whether the author is famous or not.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What it takes to write a good story.

Many an author has asked this very question. Many an author remains unsure as to how to do this question.

Submissions come in and I look at them to see if the manuscript will be a good fit with Whimsical Publications (WP). A few are, but many are not. Here are some of the reasons why the book fails to grab me:

1-too many grammatical errors.
2-too much narrative, not enough description.
3-telling the story rather than showing the story.
4-poor sentence structure.

There are others but these are the worst offenders.

Here are my replies to each of the above. Of course the answers are subjective, but that is the beauty of being human: we all have a choice.

1-too many grammarical errors.

When a writer is in the grove, the muse, whatever you want to call it, grammar is something not to be worried about until after the story is complete. You do not want to edit at the same time you write. Editing is for the second or even third go-round. Before you submit to a publisher or an agent, the manuscript should be "clean".

What I mean by "clean" is the has to be a period where one belongs and a comma where it belongs. The words need to be the correct version. An example: whose vs who's. Or write vs right vs wright. There vs their. Each is correct depending on its use. If the writer is using MS Word for their story, the spell checker may not catch the wrong word due to the fact the word is not misspelled. Having a dictionary close at hand helps.

Make sure to give the manuscript a good once-over to make sure everything is correct. Minor errors are nothing and can be fixed. Too many will drive an editor nuts and cause the publisher to turn your work away.

2-too much narrative, not enough description.
3-telling the story rather than showing the story.

These three can go hand in hand.

Picture yourself sitting in a lecture hall. Picture two people standing up on the stage, sitting on stools, reading to each other. After a while you, the audience, get rather bored and tune out. You start thinking of chores you have to do, errands needing to be done, meals to be cooked, and all kinds of others activities in your busy life.

Jane went to the curtain and looked out. She said, "A car is sitting near the end of the driveway. The man inside is watching the house."

"Why would someone do that?" Rick asked.

"I have no idea."

"Well, neither do I."

"Maybe we should go outside and ask."

"Whatever for. If the man wants something, he'll come to the door and knock."

You get the idea. This is telling and is rather dull. It involves a lot of narrative and not a lot of showing. A good way to understand how to show a scene is to close your eyes and "see" with your minds eye what is going on. If you can't actually see it, you have to describe it so another understands what you are seeing. Example:

With a huff of frustration, Jane walked over to the window and shifted the curtain. The view of the lilac bushes outside the window always calmed her after an argument. She watched as a small flame flashed to life in the car near the end of the driveway. Just as quickly, it was gone.

"Rick, there's a sedan with tinted windows sitting across the street from the driveway. I just saw a man with dark hair light a cigarette. I get the feeling he is watching the house."

Rick turned away from the source of the argument, the TV. "What? Why would someone be doing that?"

"I don't know, but it frightens me." Jane's voice crept up in tempo and she crossed her arms before her, rubbed her upper arms. (Notice I did not make a comment about her facial expression. She can't see her own face unless she is looking in a mirror.)

Rick crossed the room in a couple of strides and peered over her shoulder. "I don't know why someone is out there, but I'm going to go find out."

Jane saw the firm set of his jaw and knew nothing but trouble would come of Rick going outside to confront the observer. She spun around and grabbed his arms, halting his progress to what she knew was certain harm. "No! Wait! I don't want you to go out there!" Her heart raced and her breath picked up speed.
Okay, you get the idea. As you read, you wonder what is going on and why the person sitting in the car is there. It keeps you interested and wanting to read more to find out why Jane is so frightened. You "see" her fear and emotions rather than merely reading them. The description helps builds the story. If the story is boring, the reader goes away. If the story grabs the reader right away, he/she stays for more.

And finally, 4-poor sentence structure.

If the sentence structure is awkward when reading it, it tends to make the reader upset and they quit, likely to never read another of your works again. A way to prevent this is to read your story out loud. If you stumble on a particular section, so will the reader. Smooth that part out and reread it. Once it is fixed, move on to the next until the manuscript is finished. It will be well worth the time.

If the sentence goes on and on and on and on and...well, you get the picture, break it up into a couple of sentences, or more if warranted. I remember being taught that if you have to stop for a breath, toss in a comma. Or start a new sentence.

Okay. Now that I've typed your eyes off, I hope I've helped in some way. Remember, these are my opinions and are what I use when reading a submission. Others may have different ways of methodology.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. Happy writing!