Mistakes of a New Writer

As some of you may know, I offer manuscript critique services to people who may not have found their writing circles and don’t have someone(s) to beta read their projects. Having written my fair share of books, been through the editing wringer  process many, many times, beta read for some amazing writers, I feel like I’m in a place where I can give good, objective advice on fiction projects.

Now, it doesn’t matter what genre, or what age a writer is, it seems like most new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Yes, I know, in fiction there are no mistakes! But, really, there are still grammar rules and there are things you can do to break the magic a story can weave and take your reader out of the moment.

1- It’s okay for characters to just say things. I know repetition feels terrible, and it often is, if you have a tick (a word or phrase) you just love and you keep using it over and over, it stands out and bugs the hell out of readers. So, new writers will often think the same of dialogue tags. They’ll see the words says or said all over the book and panic. Suddenly the characters are “exclaiming” “declaring” or “crying/cried” rather than just “Jane said” or “John says.” Everything just becomes so melodramatic but not compelling.

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Writers, yes, you can vary your tags, if someone really is screaming and it’s appropriate for them to scream, or if there’s another good reason to switch it up, then by all means do. But don’t do it all the damn time. And if you end a sentence with a question mark, the correct tag is “asks/asked.”

2- Telling instead of showing. I know this one can be hard. You need to move things along, sometimes things aren’t important enough for details, you’ve already gone over this in detail but Character A  needs to tell Character B so, yeah, hurry up. So it’s hard to know when it’s okay to tell versus show.

The three things I just said are good examples of when to go ahead and tell, for example, “John wanted to know what happened yesterday, so I told him about the fight I had with Tom.” We’ve seen the fight with Tom, we don’t need a replay. When should you show? When the fight happened. If it’s important enough to bring up, let’s see it.

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Another bad tell versus show? “Jake was a scary man.” Now, okay, you can write that line, but then back it up. I’m not going to be scared of Jake just because the narrator says so. “Jake was a scary man. He was a man you didn’t cross. His heart was a black as the boots he wore when he crushed Mike’s head.” I mean, something. Build it, give it backstory, draw us into the fear of the other characters.

3- All your characters are the same person. If all your characters think the same, react in the same way, have the same motivations and backstories, that will be one boring book. Yes, we keep circles of friends who have things in common with us, maybe there are things that we would say/react in the same exact way, but not everything.

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Supporting characters need to be their own people. They need their own personalities, their own motivations. They can’t always agree with the other characters. If they’re in your book, they need to be interesting enough not to all be killed off in the first act.

4- Writing what you don’t know. So, the old adage is, “write what you know.” Now, obviously that could lead to some really boring books too and we’d probably miss out on some awesome Fantasy Fiction if everyone stuck to this rule. But for me, this rule means, if there’s something you want to write or add into your books, you need to know it inside and out and if you don’t, fix it. I know I have researched for hours for one line in a 300+ page book. I know every Scribe on here has done the exact same thing.

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It feels insane when you’re doing it, but if you want that line, if you want that character to sound like they know what they’re talking about, you need that research. What I live by: If I want readers to believe my fiction, then my non-fiction has to be correct. And if you’re not willing to become as close to an expert as possible on something, then why is it in your book?

5- Older writers want their stories to be set in the days of their youth, and yet it’s current day. Honestly, I get it, okay? When I watch Stranger Things my nostalgia is strong! I lived outside when I was that age, my bike was my world. I had to be in by dark. If my mom wanted me home earlier, she had a whistle she blew, if I was too far to hear it, I got in trouble. No, she wasn’t panicked, calling the cops, she was waiting at the door, foot tapping because her first thought was that I went too far of my own accord. And she was totally right.

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But kids these days don’t do any of this. If I set a book in 2017 with 10-13 year old kids, it would look nothing like my childhood. Kids have smart phones and their parents take them everywhere. If you want a book to be like it was in the good old days, then set the book in the good old days. Do not have anachronisms sprinkled throughout. So many things in books can be solved with cellphones these days, you want to fix that but keep it current? Smash the phone. Lose the signal. Or, even more realistic? Have the battery ticking down from 5%–oof, that’s some real tension there!

There are more things, but these are the most common that I see. Try to be aware of these things. Best thing to do is write your first draft, just get it on paper, don’t stress about any of these things or anything else. But! On your second pass, on the third? Look for this stuff. Correct it. Make it stronger. Then read it again, look for bigger things, like plot holes or dropped plot threads. But that’s for another post.

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Ten Years to Refill My Well

I got married in 2007 and, with a determination I wasn’t sure I had, in the year leading up to our wedding, I saved enough money to get us a two week honeymoon in Paris.

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It was magical and fun and beautiful and funny and exhausting, like most long trips tend to be. But any frustrating or disappointing moments in the trip have, over time, turned into the funny stories we tell at parties.

I promised myself that we would do something just as awesome and fun every five years for our anniversary because we both love to travel and see new places so much. And five years is a long enough time to save up for trips by doing it slowly.

Unfortunately in 2011 we both were laid off from our jobs within a week of each other. Any fun, overseas trip in the following year immediately vanished. Fortunately I had an idea the lay offs were coming and that’s why I started self-publishing in 2011–hoping to create a passive income that would help us. It took a long time for that plan to come to fruition, but eventually it did. But not in time for our five year anniversary, only in time to help carry us as my husband also built his business, which helps me run this one during the lean times.

So, you know, giving up a trip on our five-year-anniversary was worth it since we got to become our own bosses and work from home. But one does miss Paid Time Off and a boss telling you, “take your vacation days or we’re going to cancel them.”

But last year, just after our nine-year-anniversary we started talking about how long it had been since we’d taken more than a long weekend for ourselves. The more we talked about it the more desperate we were to make it happen. Our ten-year was one year away. I’d done it once before (of course then we both had corporate jobs with steady, reliable incomes and PTO), maybe I could do it again and get us somewhere for that big 1-0.

It took saving every dollar we got from Christmas gifts and birthdays (specifically telling family not to buy us “things” unless they were from our travel wish-list) and scraping every penny we could spare from income, giving up going out, shopping, and often saying “no, not this time/year” to friends many, many times. But as we saved up enough for plane tickets and accommodations and the lost income from taking time off, we knew it was worth the cabin fever.

And last month, we went to Ireland for two weeks.

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Now, this wasn’t just a vacation. I’ve been struggling for a while to think of a new story, to find new characters and new settings for a long while. I have my open series that I work on, but I want something new. Something witchy. Something darker. Something magical.

I know, Celtic influence and Ireland especially isn’t breaking any molds, but I wanted to go to the land of (some) of my ancestors and touch the ground they walked on, touch the stones they prayed on, breathe the air they once breathed. I wanted it to inspire me. To fill my well.

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We kept a travel journal along the way, taking time every evening to detail everything that happened each day. When I had access to WiFi, I posted updates with photos so I could recall everything that I loved so the exhaustion and jet lag (and sinus infection whomp-whomp) we would undoubtedly suffer wouldn’t muddle our memories or make me forget anything important.

I got to touch those magic stones and walk through the portals. I got to pick acorns from Druid trees and eat wild blackberries growing around stone circles. I got to climb hills to stand at the seat of kings. I withstood gale force winds to walk the ancient Celtic settlements. I braved the edge of the world as my fear of falling knotted the muscles in my back. I dipped my hands in holy wells, letting the water cling to my fingers.

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I won’t lie, some things did break my heart. Seeing the misappropriation of Celtic goddesses, them turned into Catholic nuns, hurt. Seeing their holy places over-run, twisted and diminished hurt. But who knows, maybe that will help me in my story.

I’m still not sure what the story is going to be. I am torn by the idea of creating a new world or sending a character into a strange world or what. But my mind is starting to race with possibilities and possibilities are exciting. I’m actually looking forward to brainstorming as I go back over the travel log and photos and see what speaks to me.

And I really hope it won’t be another ten years before we get to do something like this again.

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Help for the Fizzy Family

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(This out of rotation post is brought to you by the letter F)

A lot of people think once an author gets a book published then everything has worked out for them. Yes, it’s a dream come true, no doubt, but it doesn’t always fix everything. Not every debut novel is going to catapult someone into millionaire status, washing away every money issue they’ve ever had. Life can still be rough.

Life is still rough for a friend of the Scribes, fellow author, Summer Heacock. Summer has had a rough year of medical issues that have financially crippled her family — something many American families can relate to. But maybe even worse, is the torment she and her family are going through in their home, in their neighborhood. They don’t even feel safe to leave their house to get to their car.

So the writing community and others are rallying around Summer to try to help them afford to move. Get them to a safer state where her husband Drew can really put his degree to use and start their lives over. Moving within a city is expensive enough, but moving states with children and furbabies? Even worse so. Their ideal destination is Seattle, but there are some hoops they have to clear to make that happen and the only thing that can clear those hoops is money.

So, if you can, even just $5, please check out the fundraiser and donate, or if you can’t, please share it. Sharing helps.

The Fizzy Family Urgent Relocation Fund

You can also check out Summer’s debut book, we all know every book sale helps authors.

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Follow Summer on Twitter or on her website!

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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The Young Podawans Ep. 49 – Doctor Who S10

Check out Scribes Kristin and Brian’s podcast for your very geeky needs! This week, they’re talking Doctor Who!

The Young Podawans

With the announcement of the New Doctor, we decided to step back into the TARDIS and catch up on the Doctor’s most recent adventures. In short – we liked Bill a lot, but it was still a very Moffaty season for the most part. Still – we have MANY THOUGHTS. Aside from the Who-Talk, we have also an update on our reading challenge and on our watermelon beer preferences.

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Cover and Title Reveal!

So, I am very nearly done with the eighth installment of my Urban Fantasy series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels.

One of my most hated favorite things about books is figuring out the titles. Seriously though, they’re hard, but once you figure out the title, it’s awesome. Seven titles in, all being one word and a magical reference, I was stumped on this one. Until, suddenly, it hit me. I wasn’t sure until I did a mock up of the cover, and then seeing it? Yeah, I knew that was the title.

I’ve kept things pretty uniform with this series, creating a brand for it if you will, so once you get this far into a series you start to worry you’ve push it too far. Over done it and now it’s all starting to blur together like the same cover again and again. Some people may see it that way, but I think I’ve managed to keep them individual enough and I still dig em.

Anyway. I hope you guys like it, and if you’re a Matilda Kavanagh reader, the release date will be 9/5/17–just two months away! If you’re looking for a new series to binge, might I suggest this one? *end shameless plug*

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Pre-order links:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

The Young Podawans Ep. 46 – 2017 Reading Challenge Update

If you’re looking for a fun and informative geeky podcast, head on over to the Young Podawans and check out fellow Spellbound Scribes, Kristin and Brian’s, podcast.

The Young Podawans

Luke vs Vader

Harry vs Voldemort

Batman vs Joker

The Young Podawans vs Their “To Be Read” Piles.

All legendary challenges, but we’re only talking about one of them this week. It’s an update on the unending battle against our teetering book towers and the challenge Kristin laid down at the beginning of the year!  It’s all books all the time in this brand new episode!

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