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An Excerpt... from Sea Cliff,
a San Francisco Romance
is my first attempt at writing romance. It was categorized as Contemporary Romance. The story became a FINALIST in the 2019 National Indie Excellence Awards (NIEA). The setting is San Francisco and Tina's Deli in the story is an actual deli and restaurant on the same corner, 22nd Avenue & California Streets, and owned by long-time friends. Below is an excerpt from deep in the story. You can also click on Mary Deal Books in the bar at the top to read more about the book.
Chapter 26 Excerpt...
Tina’s deli was always decorated and festive around the year-end holidays. This Sunday, the deli was closed to the public with a party for employees and their significant others. Rachael decided to pay Tina a visit and present her the gift of 14K ruby earrings she knew Tina would love. The small corner deli was packed with happy people and well-wishers that spilled out onto the sidewalk. The crowd was boisterous. When Tina caught a break, she presented Rachael with her gift. They stepped into the kitchen in the back and opened their gifts. Tina immediately replaced the earrings she wore with the new ones and happily threw her head side-to-side, making the earrings dance and sparkle.
Tina’s gift to Rachael was a gift card to Paulette’s, a new designer boutique on Powell Street near Market. “No, no, no,” Rachael said. She once mentioned admiring the clothes at Paulette’s and knew the prices were out in the ozone. “Tina, why? You can’t buy so much as a half-slip in there for under a hundred dollars. That store is too expensive.”
“And dazzling 14K ruby earrings aren’t?”
They hugged and returned to the storefront. Tina gasped when she saw two girls working the crowd out on the sidewalk.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” Rachael asked.
“Uh... nothing.” Tina kept staring at the girls.
Rachael tried to figure out who they were that would take Tina’s attention. Then suddenly, the dark haired girl looked straight through the glass window at Rachael, and for a moment, froze. The next moment her expression was one of triumph.
“It’s me,” Rachael said to Tina. “That girl’s looking straight at me. Am I supposed to know her?”
“It’s nothing,” Tina said. “They’re not supposed to be here, but let’s just enjoy ourselves.”
That was hard to do with the dark-haired girl sneaking glances at her. She came into the deli to ogle. Finally, Rachael had enough. She found Tina again. “I have to know who that girl is. She’s hanging on me and listening to my conversations. C’mon Tina, what aren’t you telling me?”
Tina sighed and nodded again toward the back room. Once away from the prying eyes of the black-haired girl, and her blond friend as well, Tina sighed heavily. “You’re not going to like this.”
“I’m a big girl.”
“Okay, that girl, the one with the dyed black hair, she claims she’s been going out with Matthew.”
Rachael couldn’t stifle a gasp. Her heart sank in her chest. She couldn’t speak right away. Once gathering her composure, she said, “I haven’t seen him since October. I thought he went back to Linda, his previous girlfriend. She’s a tall blond model. Did he ever bring her here?”
“Well, this isn’t Linda, whoever she is. Her name is Britt.”
Then Rachael remembered the day she and Matthew walked from the park to the Deli. The black-haired girl and her blonde friend moved close to Matthew’s chair and tried to get his attention.
Rachael was choked up, felt anger rising. “How did they meet? Matthew and her?”
“Matthew’s been here a couple of times. He sat outside. I thought he might be waiting for you. He kept looking in the direction you might appear from Lake Street. One of those times, Britt showed up with a guy. After he and Matthew shook hands, Britt glommed Matthew’s arm and clung to his side.”
“Clung to Matthew? Even though she came with someone else?”
“Maybe it’s me, Rach. It looked like Britt wanted the guy she came with to know she and Matthew were tight. She really rubbed up against Matthew.”
“Maybe the other guy was only a friend.”
“Maybe. Britt’s been in a couple times without a guy. The other time Matthew came, she grabbed onto him again. I guess Britt made moves on him.”
“And he fell for it.”
“You’re not seeing him anymore, are you?”
“How long...?” Rachael couldn’t finish the question.
“You don’t want to know.” She dropped her gaze to the floor.
“Tina, you are and I friends.”
“Better friends than most.”
“That’s right. So tell me what this girl’s been saying and how long it’s been going on. I feel like I’m being played.”
Voice In Writing
Voice in writing should be distinguishable from all other voices on the market today. It may be a great compliment to hear people say, “Oh, you write just like Steinbeck.” While comments like that may make your heart momentarily flutter with delight, what do those nice words really mean?
Steinbeck wrote for another generation. While his ability to tell a story probably served him well, in these modern times it is you, here and now, learning to find your voice in a different reading climate just as he did then.
If writing well enough to emulate a great writer of a past generation, for that you should be commended. For not developing your own voice in the writing and reading circuit of today, well….
The tips below will help you identify how and what you write and the way you wish to say it. Beginning with writing short stories or articles may feel less daunting than a whole novel.
#1 -- Know what you like and what you wish to tell the world about that subject. Be honest with yourself when discerning something different or special about your topic than is already known. That’s what you will pass on to others. If that story or article is truly worth imparting to others, then write your opinion and knowledge. Put your feelings into the writing.
Stories deliver moral values just as well as any article can, though I don’t advise trying to impose your values on the world at large, at least not until your writing and self-expression are polished and you’ve found markets for such prose. Stories almost accidentally mete out the good, bad and indifference of life’s lessons according to what each character deserves. Stories are simply another way that we interpret life.
#2 -- Have a good idea who your readers may be. Whether writing stories or articles, specific audiences exist for every genre.
Imagine who would be interested in your topic. Choose a group or choose one person. Then write as if you’ve known these people all your life. You know a story about something unique you wish them to know. Write freely with emotion, simply and clearly. In short stories or articles, don’t expect to deliver a long dissertation with minute detail. It would be boring. Get right to the point. How you do that is your voice.
#3 -- Read every author you admire, not to truly emulate them so you may be compared to them, but to allow their experience to trigger the writer in you.
We’ve all read something and ended up saying “I could write a story like that.” The voice of the writer of that piece triggered your own inner voice. At that moment, you should write what it was you thought about. No matter what you write, it’s your opinion. Share it. It’s what makes your written voice unique. Validate your writing with accurate details and proof of the truth of what you say.
Another way to help identify your unique voice is to read something you normally might pass over. Reading different voices can help point you toward saying or writing things in a way that is uniquely yours.
#4 -- Do some writing exercises. As you read and come across sentences that you stumble over, rewrite them. Say it your way.
Try writing articles. Pick an easy topic, something you know. Keep your audience in mind and write the article.
Perhaps you’ve never written a short story. Pick an occurrence, keep it simple, and write about it. Whether you make it fiction or nonfiction is not important for practice but decide which way to attempt it and proceed.
Another great exercise is to write from different emotions. Think of your topic and try writing it with humor instead of a serious slant. Maybe your story could be written as a mystery. Throw a little sarcasm into the mix. Any emotion can apply to any situation or topic.
These are some exercises to help you find your voice in writing. Once a writer understands more about his or her abilities, is when they begin to submit their pieces out for publication. You won’t know what type of writer you may be until you try.
I use the word magnetic because your story beginning should pull a reader in much like metal to a magnet. Readers look at the start of the first chapter as more than just a glimmer of what’s to come. Your first words, first sentence and first paragraph should give your prospective buyer an immediate feeling of sinking deep into the story and being a part of the plot.
You cannot create this reaction with dead words, lackluster writing and non-descriptive verbiage that says little about the promise of the story.
You can avoid the above pitfalls by jumping smack into the middle of your plot right there at the beginning. Don’t tell how the weather was warm and breezy and no rain was expected. Open your story at a crime scene. Have the characters talk right away. Have the main characters present and taking part of the dialogue.
In my thriller, Down to the Needle, the story starts with the reader plunged into the middle a raging arson scene. The main characters show up after a few brief bits of desperate dialogue by firemen and police that hint of things to come. You know who are the main characters—and they’re not the firemen and police who speak first—because when the main characters show up later on the first page, I go on to describe their actions and insert bits of back-story about their experiences with fires, and also describe what they look like.
When your main characters first appear, include some detail to show these people are more important than others in the scene.
You can also hide your villain or the antagonist (if not a character) in plain sight by bringing them into the story and keeping their actions benign for as long as possible before your readers begin to suspect something afoul.
For your story beginning, make the opening scenes as exciting as possible. Also, make them apropos to the plot. In Down to the Needle, several more unexpected fires happen throughout the story. A fire scene is a great beginning. A person’s senses go on high alert. Adrenaline rushes as if the reader is present at the scene. You want your reader to sense those emotions, and feel the fright and also to share in what all of the characters experience.
In a romance, perhaps, you want your readers to feel the loneliness and longing of your character for the person they love. Or the reader might be made to feel the rejection of someone experiencing a broken relationship. Whatever the relationship has to offer, the opening scene must get into the readers’ hearts.
In all genres, not only must your written word be magnetic, beyond being simply appealing, the setting in which the action takes place must grab immediate interest. Write the setting well. Write it to suit the action as well as the dialogue of the characters in the scene.
Beginnings must offer what the potential reader of that genre searches for. Understanding the genre in which you choose to write is the only way to make your openings work.
As an example of the points discussed above, here is the complete Chapter One of—
Down to the Needle
“The perp torched himself,” a fireman said, shouting to be heard over the clamor.
Angry red and orange flames from the still burning back half of the warehouse licked at the night sky. Glowing yellow embers, blown by April’s night breezes off the nearby ocean, took flight. Fire trucks encircled the building. Firefighters scrambled over strewn equipment. Men wearing army fatigues darted about. Two ambulances waited for the injured.
An officer cupped a hand around the side of his mouth and also yelled. “The perp’s inside?”
Abigail Fisher and Joe Arno nudged in closer to hear the conversation between firefighters and the police.
A fireman pointed to the front section of the building where the flames had been doused. “Burned himself into a corner.” He shook his head. “Still got the gas can in his hand.”
“How soon can we get in there?” the officer asked.
“You aren’t going to ID this one right away,” the fireman said. “He melted like wax.”
Abi carried some of Joe’s peripheral filming equipment though only to make her look acceptable so she could tag along. He was a part-time stringer for Seaport’s major TV station. Abi stayed on his heels. She would indeed help now that they were there. The work they did when called out to cover a story was meaningful, though it paled in comparison to what Abi envisioned would happen when the greatest predicament in her life would be solved. While anticipating a happy and momentous culmination to a personal tragedy, she always helped others when called upon. The hope she held inside never dimmed but seemed detached from her everyday life. Presently, she worried about the reason for the numerous fires. Seaport and neighboring Creighton had an average number of fires greater than most same-sized cities.
Spectators had gathered, held back by police. From where had they all emerged, considering this was a building at the edge of the industrial section of Seaport? The crackling of the fire and rumbling of the building collapsing drowned out most other sounds.
“Look out!” Abi said, screaming to be heard over the chaos. She gestured frantically in the direction where a portion of a front wall began to shift.
“Coming down!” the Fire Captain yelled into a loud speaker as everyone fled.
Two firefighters dashed out of the building just as the outer wall and roof beams collapsed, propelling a gust of air that sent sparks flying.
Caught off-guard, Abi and Joe wore dinner clothing when unexpectedly called out from the restaurant to film yet another burning. Abi frantically dusted hot embers off Joe’s jacket and then noticed a couple holes had burned through. “Say so long to this Ralph Lauren,” she said, almost smiling. She dusted ash from her silk slacks and knew she would soon be shopping to replace them as well. This wasn’t the first time their clothes had been ruined at a crime scene. But it was just clothing, replaceable and not forever lost, like a human life snatched away.
Tin sheets began sliding off the collapsing roof. Firefighters jumped out of range of the razor edges.
Joe kept the lens directed toward each new event and moved about quickly. He whirled around suddenly, “Abi?” he asked, looking for her.
“Over here,” she said over the noise, having paused to snuff a hot ash that had settled on her sleeve.
Joe pulled her aside. “I ought to hire you,” he said. “Where’s the rest of my crew?”
“You give new meaning to the term dinner and a movie,” she said, shaking her head.
“Glad you could help again.” He flashed a ridiculous grin.
This was not the first time Abi and Joe raced to a news event. Actually a photojournalist, Joe picked up jobs whenever he could get them. Crews covering breaking stories in the fast-growing towns of Seaport and Creighton were often unavailable. Way too many fires had happened over recent years, way too many. Though Abi found it stimulating, even rewarding trailing along at Joe’s side, only one occurrence yet to happen could provide the fervent excitement for which she hungered. It would be the highlight of her existence and would heal a heartbreaking tragedy and set her life back on course. Excitement filled her days, but hope was what kept her alive.
“Look at us,” she said, laughing. “Our clothes are ruined again.” She swatted at ashes in both his and her hair.
“Wouldn’t want life to be too dull, would you?” His humor helped keep her emotions on track, always buoyed her when her own problems seemed overwhelming.
They picked their way through the area and got a few shots of the gutted ruins. From a distance, Joe zoomed in on the charred body.
“All these fires, Joe,” Abi said. “I’ve even thought about moving back to Lawton again. She looked around at the all too familiar scene and shook her head in dismay. “The gang violence here, it’s gotten way out—“
“Ha!” he said. “You haven’t lived in Lawton in five years. “The gangs there are worse than here.”
Finally, they were on their way to the TV station. Seaport had not enough news to employ full-time stringers like the hotshots down in Lawton who used satellite power to relay their video clips.
Inside Joe’s Range Rover, Abi said, “Strange how the army guys cleared out so quickly.”
“Why stay?” he asked.
“A lot of people wear camouflage these days,” she said, pausing. “Does the Army really send people to help?”
Plot elements are always the same when writing any story through the stages of writing development. This includes when writing creative nonfiction.
If adept at summarizing stories, I doubt you will find prose where any of the points listed below are missing.
Analyze some of your own stories. Have each of these elements included in your writing.
If any of these elements are missing from your pieces, chances are, it will be a story you felt you weren’t ready to sell or publish because something wasn’t quite right. Check the stages of writing development of your story for plot elements.
The list below shows the major construction blocks and the order in which they will happen as a story progresses.
Set Up (Want): The protagonist’s or characters’ needs
Rising Action: What the character begins to do to reach his or her desired goal
Reversals (Plots Points): Something happens to the character to thwart him or her achieving their heart’s desire. Either right choices or mistakes are made by the character.
This is one of the areas that allow you to take your story in a new direction from what the character had intended. This is a major portion of the story because your character should be headed toward his or her goal when one or more occurrences stop them cold.
This will be the lengthiest of the stages of writing development. This section is considered the middle of the story. You’ve heard people refer to sagging middles? A sagging middle means the writer did not keep up the action going through the middle of the book. An attention grabbing beginning falls flat when the excitement fades in a dull sagging middle. Then while slogging through a questionable middle, the reader may not care to make it to the climactic ending.
Recognition: The character realizes what he or she must do, how they must change, in order to overcome their mistakes and achieve their goal(s).
This is one of the plot elements that brings about an Aha! experience for the reader. However, the character may not always make the right decision for change.
The Recognition portion of plot elements is not the climax. Do not confuse recognition of a problem with the climax of a story
This is another of the major story building points. Perhaps the character still insists on pursuing what they set out to achieve, in spite of receiving great setbacks. Then finally, once they acknowledge that they need to make changes, those elements and change need to be developed.
This is the second lengthiest of the stages of writing development. Now the character must not only right the wrongs, but also forge ahead to heal the situation.
Climax: The climactic, or at least surprising result of the action, or where the character ends up, what situation they find themselves in, embroiled or accomplished.
This is also the lesson of the story, the message or metaphor that you, the writer, hope to accomplish by writing the piece. You need not incorporate a moral or ethical message in your stories. However, as you move your characters through their story lives, you inadvertently give the reader a lesson in right and wrong.
Plot elements say this portion of the story should be quick, for added impetus of the realization. It brings the action to a close.
Denouement (Sometimes optional): Of the plot points, this is the lesson learned by the character(s), the after-thoughts, from the character’s choices made in seeking their desire.
If the character happens not to realize his or her mistake, then this is the place where the reader will understand the result of the character’s actions, no matter how naïve or in denial the character remains.
Plot elements are easiest to build in longer stories such as novellas or novels, and creative nonfiction. The length of the story dictates how much time and verbiage can be allotted to developing the steps of the story.
In short stories, the writing is controlled, dependent upon the length of the story. Short stories need to be, at times, punchy, quick. It’s a nice test of making use of fewer words while utilizing all of the plot elements.
In building a story through the limitations of Flash Fiction, you will see just how adept you’ve become at writing when you can incorporate all of the above plot elements in very few choice words, perhaps under one thousand, or under five hundred. When you become proficient, try it in under two hundred, even one hundred words.
However, do not be mistaken by thinking that in a full length novel you can use more words, or take all the time and use all the verbiage you need to make your story work. Novels and long works need just as much attention, if not more, to writing lean as any shorter stories.
What Motivates Your Characters?
Your characters’ attitudes come from back-story.
Building good character sketches allows you to know what motivates your character to be the person or to have the personality they end up with in the present action of the story.
Also refer to my lengthy but thorough article Characters Sketches in the section The Parts in Write It Right - Tips for Authors - The Big Book.
A character sketch is not a part of the story. It is also known as back-story.
Do not inject bits of character histories, or back story, into the plot until you need it to support the present action. When you introduce back-story to solve or justify the present, the specific details need to be the kind of event or occurrence that would lead to the present decision or action. Disclose only relevant information or what motivates your character.
It takes a bit of skill to do this. Many new writers include a Prologue to their book, trying to explain what led up to the present action. Prologues are almost a no-no among experienced writers. Some writers use Prologues and get away with it, but experience tells us:
If you cannot incorporate specific back-story details (character motivations) in the present moments of your plot, you need more experience in writing technique.
For more on how to handle back story, and how to include it in the present, read the article Starting Your Story in my Write It Right reference volume.
The writer must know the history or background of a character they build. This is developed in the character sketch or notes about each character. Past history will provide all the motivation and reason for being that any character needs.
People’s actions lead them into situations and into having to make certain decisions, and motivation exists for each.
I wrote a lengthy character sketch for my character Abigail (Abi) Fisher from Down to the Needle. Yet, only scant details of her history are included in the story. Then another award-winning author, Stacy Juba, wrote a book titled 25 Years Ago Today. Following that, she developed a fantastic platform to publicize her book by putting together a promotional collection that she titled 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror.
She asked certain writers to write an essay about what they were doing twenty-five years ago. Or, we could write what our characters were doing twenty-five years earlier than the time frame of our stories.
I accepted her invitation to submit and polished a brief portion of my character sketch for Abi as her life had been before her daughter was abducted nearly twenty-five years before the beginning of Down to the Needle. This was from Abi’s character sketch that I wrote before ever beginning to write Down to the Needle. Stacy Juba accepted it! I did not—would not—publish a prologue in my book but now it is published in a most unique way and serves as a great bit of promotion for my novel as well as Stacy’s book.
You never know when you can use your notes or where. Opportunities abound. In this case, people who read about Abi’s misfortune may go further and read Down to the Needle. They will know her motivations. But again, those who don’t read this character sketch will easily see her motivations because of the way they are woven in as the plot develops in the story.
Basic Reference Library
Since starting to post articleshere, several people have asked question that can be answered from various reference books. I have made my suggestions here. However, if you, the reader, do not find answers in these texts - which can be downloaded - then i welcome questions through the secure email block t the botom of any page on this site.
Basic Reference Library
Serious writers have books and publications to which they refer. In my own reference library, I have had nearly 200 books but whittled it down to about thirty. Some books I purchased new; others I unashamedly scoured amazon.com, garage sales, flea markets, CraigsList, eBay and other sources to find what I wanted at a reasonable price.
Many reference books are now in eBook format. You can also find printed volumes on the Net and simply bookmark them for later reference.
The following is a brief list of only a few of my books and ones I would recommend every write have in addition to their personal favorites:
Dictionary – an updated, thick, thorough one
Thesaurus – the biggest and best you can find
Chicago Manual of Style – University of Chicago Press – These are the rules that govern not only the writing industry but all of grammar usage, and some rules change from time to time.
Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary – These are updated periodically and regularly. When writing about medicine or health, you’ll need to keep your medical and anatomical facts correct.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers-How to Edit Yourself into Print – by Dave King and Renni Browne, Harper-Collins
Elements of Style – by William Strunk, Macmillian
Elements of Grammar – by Margaret Shertzer, Macmillian
Also handy to have are character naming sourcebooks. You can find names by searching on the Net by country, nationality, or culture. In my thriller, The Howling Cliffs, it was imperative that I had the names of the Vietnamese Hmong characters spelled correctly and named for the parts they played in the story.
Character Naming Sourcebook – Sherrilyn Kenyon; purchase through writersdigestshop.com. This thick volume separates names by nationality and culture and also gives their meanings.
Multicultural Baby Names – MJ Abadie, Longmeadow. Although I have this book, you can also do a Net search for new baby and children’s names to keep up with what’s popular as trends change and depending on the time period of your story.
50001 Best Baby Names – by Diane Stafford, Sourcebooks, Inc.
Mystery and crime writers should have some police procedural books handy, or pay attention to the jargon and colloquialisms you hear officers using on TV shows. Here are two good ones that are updated periodically.
Police Procedural – Russell Bintliff, Writer’s Digest Books
Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime – Tom Philbin, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
When you include foreign characters, their language, accents and brogue should also be accurate. Books are available quoting language nuances from different countries. Two such:
NTC’s Dictionary of British Slang and Colloquialisms – Ewart James, NTC Publishing Group
SLANG: The Authoritative Topic-by-Topic Dictionary of American Lingoes from All Walks of Life – Paul Dickson, Pocket Books
When you’re ready to publish, you should have some reference books that can both help you publish your work and manage publicity.
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing – Tom and Marilyn Ross, Writer’s Digest Books
1001 Ways to Market Your Books – John Kremer, Open Horizons – Meet this helpful expert on TheBookMarketingNetwork.com.
This list is meant to help you build a usable library. I highly recommend the first five no matter what else you add to your collection or decide to pass over. Remember, too, to keep your information updated, no matter the source.
Nonfiction writers have certain books and instructions they follow. Too, screenplays, have a whole list of aids for that genre, but we’ll limit this article as written, for now.
LASTLY: I would also suggest my own writing reference: Write It Right- Tips for Authors. So far, all of the articles posted on this Articles page of this website are from that very book. Write It Right - Tips for Authors is loaded with help at any stage of your writing, publishing, or promotion.
Most writers do not know when to capitalize titles of relatives - and when not to. Recently, several people asked me about kinship names. Of course, I would turn that into an article.
Kinship names are possessive determiners that show to whom the subject person is related. When no kinship names are used, the subject's name is capitalized. For example:
My mother came over.
Where are you, Mother?
In the first sentence above, My is the kinship name and identifies whose mother she is, so mother is not capitalized. In the second sentence, even though we seem to be asking a question of our own mother, we do not identify her as our mother. The subject person stands alone and is capitalized.
Here’s one exception. Some people would ask, “Where are you, my mother?” Again, since the question uses the pronoun my to identify the relationship, mother is not capitalized.
A capital letter is not used on a pronoun whenever you qualify a person’s relationship by using kinship names like my, our, his, her, aunt, uncle, and so forth. The capital letter is always used on a person’s proper name, however. No exceptions. Here are correct examples:
My aunt Marie came over.
When will Aunt Marie come over?
In the first sentence above, My identifies her as being my aunt, so only her name is capitalized. The second sentence doesn’t state whose aunt she is, so Aunt becomes part of her name and both are capitalized.
Here are some examples with the correct version being the second usage:
Did mom and dad go home?
Did Mom and Dad go home?
Did your Mom and Dad go home?
Did your mom and dad go home?
Okay, dad, let’s get out of here.
Okay, Dad, let’s get out of here.
The simple solution to remember is that if no kinship is included to qualify a person’s relationship, then the title and name of the subject person in the sentence is capitalized.
You can find this information further clarified with their own examples in the manual I always turn to, The Chicago Manual of Style. In my 16th Edition, the section, Kinship Names starts at section 8.35 on Page 400. Some will think a reference book of this nature is too large to tackle. However, pin point your search for one topic at a time and leave the rest for another time.
The First Time Writer
Some people seem unable to get a first story started no matter how many exciting plots they have rattling around in the attic. The advice given in some articles is meant to motivate would-be authors to begin. That same advice is sought by those already established in their careers and wishing to improve their talents.
have a story when you begin and then finish writing it.
develop your voice after you begin to write.
thoroughly understand character development when you realize how much fun it is to create story people.
learn all aspects of building a story. It happens naturally as you recognize your need to know more about composition.
learn to edit your work to perfection and will realize that the editing process begins from the moment you start to formulate sentences, paragraphs and then chapters.
discover ways to polish your prose and make it uniquely yours.
learn how to promote yourself even if thinking yourself a wallflower.
However, none of this can happen unless you reach the point of starting that first story. I love to hear success stories from writers who were helped by the advice in Write It Right - Tips for Authors. I would wish everyone luck, but it’s not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of letting go of all the reasons for not writing, then getting started. It’s as simple as that.
Those S and ES Endings
These endings have always troubled me until I finally decided to get it right. Compare the versions and pick out the correct usages in this name ending with the letter s.
The Joneses came for dinner.
The Jones’s came for dinner.
The Jones came for dinner.
John Joneses car stalled.
John Jones car stalled.
John Jones’s car stalled.
That Jones’s girl.
That Joneses girl.
That Jones girl.
The correct sentences are:
The Joneses came for dinner.
John Jones’s car stalled.
That Jones girl.
When a name ends with an s, and when speaking of the family as a group, add es, as in Joneses.
When speaking about something John Jones owned, it is his property and, therefore, an apostrophe and s shows ownership, as in Jones’s.
When speaking about a person in the singular, use only the name Jones.
However, when speaking about a group of girls all named Jones, you would write that sentence: The Jones girls. Notice that the name stays the same but the s is added to the word girl, stating more than one exists with that name.
The Letter S
Drop the letter s. If you believe that one letter couldn’t possibly cause you to receive a rejection, I encourage you to think again, especially if the same mistake recurs throughout your manuscript.
Incorrect usage comes from the lax attitude about our English language. Most people speak in jargon or a brogue that comes from a certain locale. I call it family hand-me-down language. Truth is, no matter from where you hail, your written grammar must be correct for the broader reading audience.
I’m speaking of the letter s. Check out these sentences:
She ran towards the garage.
The ball rolled backwards.
These sentences are all incorrect. That is, the use of the letter s is incorrect.
The letter s denotes something plural. In the first sentence, moving toward something means you can only go in one direction. Toward.
If the ball rolled backward, it can only go in one direction. Backward.
To look upward, you can only look in one direction. Upward.
Not surprising, an example of an exception is:
She leaned sideways.
The rule here is that when leaning, you can lean sideways in more than one direction, therefore the use of the letter s.
You’ll find many other words that are incorrectly used with s endings. When you find these, make note of them, maybe a running list. You’ll have the list to refer back to when you question your own writing.
This is but one of the finite idiosyncrasies of producing better grammar when writing stories and books that you hope to sell. Study your own language and speech.
Watch how the s is used or omitted in books that you love to read.
Get into the habit of listening to the speech patterns of others. Think critically of what you hear, but never criticize of a person who speaks that way. Instead, mentally analyze what you have heard. Learn the right from the wrong of speech and your writing will reflect your knowledge.
An upcoming article will deal with the es endings. They can be a headache. You can find all these articles and so much more in my reference book, Write It Right - Tips for Authors - The Big Book.
Be compulsive is one tip that cannot be stressed enough and which has great value for writers; something that can make or break a story and an author’s credibility.
About questionable areas of your story:
If it doesn’t sound right
If it doesn’t roll of the tongue when you read out loud
If it doesn’t sound right when you speak the dialogue
If your facts and information are not quite accurate but you hope readers won’t notice
Be compulsive! Rout out those areas and make them right. Readers are educated and we all know how we feel when something strikes us as skimmed over.
In fiction, the more accurate your facts, the more true to life you make your story, the more your reader will suspend disbelieve and treat the action as if it were real; the more your reader will love your writing ability and look forward to your next stories.
Fiction was never written totally as fiction. If it was, it then became mythical or fantasy – though that is not the true meaning of the genre of myth or fantasy.
When facts are unclear in a fiction story, it causes the reader to have to remember that an untruth is part of that reality. It’ll be difficult to keep up with.
When the facts are correct, all the more it seems the fictional story could actually happen. That’s what makes great fiction.
Be compulsive. Get the details right.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”
The Character Arc
Writing a great character arc happens when using descriptive writing.
Your writing objectives should include interesting story people who are never stagnant but change as the story progresses. These changes are known as character arcs.
Knowing the story you wish to write, some pre-planning is advisable. You’ve written character sketches. You’ve plotted the story line. You should now be able to detect how your characters evolve as the plot proceeds. You will begin to understand the evolution that story people experience as you begin to flesh out the details.
A character arc is the overall view of how a character changed from the beginning of the tale till the ending. When you read other books, try to perceive, even pin point, the evolution the main character goes through and how they changed by the time the story ends. This applies to all characters, but at least your main character requires a character arc. Approach the overall view of the arc with the intention to put your story people through some experiences that will change them.
An example might be the cop who has tried for years to solve a cold case and whose efforts are pooh-poohed for trying to wring something more out of dead-end clues. The story begins with him worn out from years of stale clues and no new leads. About ready to give up like other investigators have done, still he persists and then discovers something overlooked by all others. He can’t reveal his clue for fear of exposing people who could thwart his efforts. He tries desperately to solve the crime on his own.
In this scenario, the character arc begins with the cop, worn down, and ready to face the fact the case may never be solved. He doubts he’s a good cop. The arc evolves when he finds an overlooked clue. This is where the writer should employ descriptive writing to enhance what happens to change this cop. He’s found new motivation. The next step in the character arc is the determination he shows to get the crime solved. He’s got a new reason to come to work every day.
After he solves the crime, he is vindicated. He’s definitely a new man. The writer can make this new man an egocentric braggart or can make him humble yet full of self-confidence with a new respect from his fellow officers. You can write a character arc that may have the character end poorly or magnanimously, but changed. It’s all in the descriptive writing and what the author wishes to accomplish with the story.
Another example is, perhaps, the main character is a stodgy matriarch whose control of her extended family never waivers. In the story, she believes something to be true. The story action then proceeds to show her changing her viewpoints. She becomes a better person for understanding despite her mistaken beliefs. Her status in the family doesn’t change. Her character arc is depicted when she changes her viewpoint and determines to be more open-minded and better informed. Her emotional or psychological growth arc becomes the character arc of the story; all the while her position in the family is maintained.
The character arc does not apply only to actions taken but to thoughts and beliefs as well, even if the character does nothing physically but stand her ground in the hierarchy.
Focusing on the character arc upholds the conflict or tension of the story overall. What the character experiences on an inner level affects them on the outer plane and is what contributes meaning to the story overall.
Know your writing objectives or story purpose and best define them with descriptive writing. Most character arcs are shown through emotional or psychological processes, but the character changes can come about through physical actions that further show the inner workings of the character’s mind set.
I add Legacy of the Tropics, my sea story adventure novel, here because of the character arcs included in the plot. Three conjoined novellas make up this plot. Three stand-alone stories. Each of the major characters have their own huge character arc. Even some of the minor characters change. These stories are great examples of character arcs.
Writing a Biography in Long Form
Writing a biography is similar to writing a personal character reference – about you! People who scrutinize biographies not only learn about your writing projects, but about your personality, capabilities, and flexibility.
Long biographies are written to sometimes attach to longer writings, or simply to post on websites. These Biography instructions are not necessarily the type you might include within the body of a query letter.
Some of the points that can be gleaned from your presentation are:
Is the writing in Third Person? When an agent, editor or publisher wants to discuss your Bio with others, they will usually use much of your own wording. With a Bio in 1st Person, the promoter telling about your qualities must first change the wording in their minds before telling about you. Like this:
1st Person: I have been a writer of suspense thrillers for the past 30 years and I have received several awards.
The promoter must mentally convert 1st Person to this version while talking to someone else:
3rd Person: John Jones has been a writer of suspense thrillers for the past 30 years and has received several awards.
At times, it grates on the nerves to hear someone talking about themselves and their accomplishments. In a biography, writing in 1st Person can’t help but come across with an essence of bragging. When written in 3rd Person, it comes across as another person validating you.
If the person reading your Bio to others reads exactly as it’s written in 1st Person, it would seem the Agent or Editor is talking about themselves.
Also, when writing a biography in 1st Person, the tendency is to use inappropriate wording. Especially when we wish our accomplishments recognized, a tendency to be too wordy exists to overstate the facts to get our point across.
Write in 3rd Person, as if another person speaks about you. They would only know the best facts. That’s what you want in your professional biography.
Another writer made a good point: When writing your Biography in 1st Person, it is actually an Autobiography, which should not be used. A Biography is always written by someone else extolling a person’s endeavors. So the required Biography needs be presented in 3rd Person without any fluff.
What exactly have you written? Did you include too much trivial information? Did you make statements that show low-self esteem, or too high? Did you wander off-topic? You never want to sound boastful. Know exactly what wording to put into your biography to make your accomplishments sparkle.
Where have you been published? Where you are published not only tells the quality of your writing, but the audience for whom you write.
It’s very difficult to have an article or story accepted by a national publication. Many local or area-related publications have great reputations too. Getting into some smaller, lesser-known publications can get you into the bigger ones. At least, having some credits to your name can be helpful.
Are you a prolific writer or a beginner? The more you are published, the more experience you should have. Are you willing to put forth great effort to succeed? List the top publications where your work has appeared.
What personality type projects from the overall composition? A person who writes murder mysteries has a different personality from one who writes spiritual poetry. Read your completed biography over a couple of times. Maybe even let it sit a day or so. Then re-read to learn what type personality you have given yourself. Change anything necessary.
Is the look of your Bio professional? The degree of professionalism represents the quality of the rest of your writing. A bio is a portrayal of you and should be as good as you can make it.
Some general requirements:
When writing a Bio, do not include dialogue. You will be writing in 3rd Person, relating a group of facts only. The telling needs to be explanatory writing, yet, not flowery or exaggerated.
A bio will usually begin simply with the word Biography set on the left margin. It can be set in bold print. You may choose to center it. Do not title it John John’s Biography. People will already know about whom they will read when they’ve clicked on your link or received your letterhead.
It is acceptable to place the first appearance of your full name in bold print. The full name should appear as close to the beginning of the first paragraph as possible. Recurrences of your name need not be in bold nor italicized.
Example: Mary Deal has eight novels published. Mary also has a collection of short stories published at....
Anything to which you wish to draw mild attention can be placed in italics, but not in bold.
Personal links can be included and set hot when writing a Bio to be sent electronically or posted on the Net. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to make a quick jump into a person’s site, only to have to copy and paste it into the browser instead. Most of the time, it won’t be done. The link and its intended purpose will be overlooked.
To think one dead link is not important is a critical error. Agents, editors and publishers need to know with whom they’re dealing when a biography has caught their interest. Make sure to check those links regularly. Many times things happen in cyberspace that turns them into dead ends.
NOTE: Some sites prevent back-links to specific information. Finding this to be true, list that link anyway, if it’s important to you. If a link won’t take you where you wish to go, the last alternative is to copy and paste it into the browser. Those who take this extra step are truly interested in learning more about you.
Many professionals will not immediately follow links. They want to see how you present yourself in the initial contact – your Biography. If that appeals to them, that link had better be set hot.
Book or story titles are allowed in bold print and italics the first time they appear. Subsequent appearances should be in italics only. Too much bold should be avoided. It distracts from a smooth read-thru.
Some general tips:
Always, when writing a Bio, give yourself some credibility. Write your Bio to impress – without exaggeration. People want to know of your involvement in the genre of your choice.
When mentioning that you have six books published, mention all the titles. Space permitting, include the log lines too.
It is not necessary to show involvement with other people. Writing a Bio is about one person – you.
You can mention seeking literary agency representation here because you never know who will read your Bio. A published author may pass your Bio to her agent or editor. Published authors sometimes love another writer's work and pass the information to their agents. They would definitely include your Bio.
You never know who might contact you. Whatever work you have ready to submit, make sure that both your Bio and that work is polished, and include the line that you seek agency representation: Mary seeks agency representation for her seventh thriller.
If space is available, a one-liner more about you will wrap things up; also to bring the reader’s attention back to whom all the illustrious credentials belong.
An example: California born and presently residing in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mary has also lived in Great Britain, the Caribbean, and the Hawaiian Islands.
Some final notes…
In re-evaluating what you’ve written, look for weak statements like, She is hoping to publish her first book. This says you have not accomplished or taken any major steps. You present yourself having hope that things will happen, instead of getting things done despite your lack of credentials. You would rather have people know you from the beginning as a doer, not simply hoping someone will come along and take you by the hand.
Simply say: She is preparing her first book for publication. Or, She now seeks agency representation.
It’s a lot of work to whittle away excess information. Think about not only what goes into writing a Bio but what to leave out. Writing a Bio can be fun and gives your muse a great workout.
As a reminder, this long form Biography format is meant for biographies posted on websites and blogs on the Net when histories are requested. To learn about short form biographies, those that might be included in a query letter, Writing a Biography in Shorter Formats follows.
How to bring your characters to life.
Assuming you’ve chosen your POV (point of view), you will already be thinking about your characters. True, too, you may have been thinking about your characters before choosing your POV. The two go hand in hand, or word-for-word.
In order to flesh out your characters and give them ample zing, it’s a good idea to make lists of attributes for each player in the plot. However thorough, you must then write your scenes to fit each character. That is, each scene that you write when a character appears in the story should reveal what you planned for him or her when you made your list, and how you planned for them to act.
Of course, as the story develops, any character may take on a different persona than you first imagined. That’s not a problem. Amending the original sketch will suffice, keeping in mind how the new character image affects all the other characters and the plot overall.
I've always been interested in how characters are set up in stories. It's no longer good enough to list features and attributes in paragraph or outline form as the story moves along, which seems like the author is looking at a person from head to toe and describing what we see. Description is vital, but characters do something while they act out who they are. Sometimes one single thing they do can set up the reader’s impression of them for the entire story.
Here’s my list of traits for the character Randy Osborne from The Ka:
Works with biochemistry and genetics
Short brown hair, greasy and matted
Kind of short
Embarrassing to be around
Obnoxious, to cover insecurities
Not very well liked
Dislikes Chione (the protagonist)
Thorn in everyone’s side
After you make your list, the next practice that will prove immensely productive would be to write a paragraph or two incorporating those characteristics. Then the first time each character shows up in the plot, you’ll be able to incorporate some of the qualities or lack thereof that you’ve assigned to them.
You do not need to use all the attributes in one paragraph when the character makes his or her entrance.
Simply use their habits and traits soon as possible to help round out that personality. If the story goes too far along without cluing your reader as to what they can expect from each character, those characters will seem flat or unimportant.
This is Randy’s character sketch from the completed novel:
"Everyone looked to Randy, who stood supported with a hand on the back of a chair, flagging a leg back and forth as if his underwear might be caught in the wrong place. Then he lifted the leg a couple of times in a last ditch effort to end his discomfort. His personal habits were reason for a good snicker among the tight knit team, who could politely ridicule one another, then laugh. At times, criticism from any of them seemed all in jest, a way this group of high-strung colleagues dealt with stress.
“At other times, Randy’s behavior was repulsive. He seemed to take great pleasure in eating all the time and, thanks to his mother packing his lunch, he always had an ample supply nearby to pick at. His continual weight gain and lack of personal hygiene turned people off. He always looked sweaty and wrinkled, with matted hair. No one relished the idea of sharing a tent with him in the heat of the desert. Finally, he reached behind himself and gave the seat of his pants a tug. Not the kind of professional posture one would expect from a Physical Anthropologist who worked with genetics and biochemistry."
This is similar to the paragraph I wrote soon after making the list of attributes for Randy. When I got to the first part in the story where I needed to show him in action and give the reader the full blast of what they could expect from him, I was shocked to find I had already written what I needed!
This paragraph appears as soon as Randy ridiculously makes a big issue of something early in the story. After that, we know full well what to expect from him as the story proceeds.
Readers know that all characters go through what is called a character arc which is more fully explained in the another article to be posted at another time. A character arc is when the character starts out as one persona and then changes to another by the end of the story. Sort of like the good-guy-gone-bad or vice-versa. Randy goes through a shocking metamorphosis but, well…. I’ll leave that for another article.
If you can't wait for articles as they are posted, my writing reference, Write It Right - Tips for Authors is available in eBook or paperback on Amazon. You can access my Author page right here through my Mary Deal Books page.
The following is a character description from Jay Cudney's novel, Father Figure. While we don't get the idea of her physical attributes, we clearly see the character's personality.
“All this indecision just makes me recognize how tired I am of being alone and confused.” Brianna opened her purse and checked her image in a compact mirror. Her reflection displayed an unknown figure with dysfunctional personalities haphazardly glued together in the most twisted ways. Every time she made progress in understanding something about herself, two more issues, concerns, or fears to address popped up. She eventually gave up and cast herself as merely just another lost member of society trying to conjure a hidden self-confidence without life’s necessary instruction booklet. “When will it be my turn to catch a break?”
Below is another set of character sketches included in my romance novel, Sea Cliff.
A brown-haired knight with penetrating eyes, and wearing gray designer sweat pants and red tank tee came to her rescue. A man and woman arguing near the pond caused her to have an abreaction to her own tragic memories. Rachael loved visiting the pond and sitting inside the tree circle to work on her laptop. Then that ugly fight began, that couple almost coming to blows as they verbally sparred while walking in fits and starts along the footpath. Belligerent, like her mom and dad. Panic welled up and glutted in a lump in her throat. Her senses tingled in a warning of fight or flight. Then Matthew appeared by her side as she crouched behind a tree trying to hide.
In a few moments, he had shown more interest than merely wishing to calm her. He helped her nerves to settle down, but stayed longer on the pretense of wanting to make sure she was okay. That she was sure of. She avoided looking at him but caught a glimpse of his sparkling eyes. Without hesitation, he reached over and picked fine pieces of tree bark out of her brassy red hair. Other guys were quick to comment on her hair and eyes. If he had mentioned it, and added that her eyes were green as emeralds, if she heard it one more time, she’d have walked away and left him with his mouth hanging agape. Red hair and green eyes were not that rare anymore since others dyed their hair and used non-prescription contacts. Her hair and eyes were natural. She wished people would stop calling attention them. She also wished the guy who knelt beside her would have left, but his coaxing and conversation seemed inviting, trying to show he really cared. Yet, she wanted to be left alone to work.
NOTE: I wrote this story in 1991 and only now re-wrote, polished, and brought it up to current standards. I had made a character sketch for both of these people, but in the re-write, they changed drastically. After having written many stories since this one, it was easy enough for me to make the changes and hold them in my mind while updating.