Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.

Interview with Author Silvana G. Sanchez

Dragon Soul Press had the opportunity to sit down and interview Author Silvana G. Sanchez who is launching the second edition of her series!


 

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success to me is the ability to reach out to the reader with my words, establishing the magical connection that allows readers to immerse themselves in the worlds of my creation. The complicity between authors and their readers is unique, without it you’ve got nothing. Success in all its forms stems from that first unique bond.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Perhaps more psychological than spiritual. There is only so much I can store in the archives of my brain. I’ve gone through several emotional hardships in the last couple of years. Losing my first-born son, Iker, and being myself so close to dying definitely reshaped all of my preconceptions and reaffirmed my belief in what’s truly important in life. To this day, I find myself still placing those thoughts and emotions in the right compartments of my heart; writing sometimes is a healthy way to cast them out of my mind and onto the page, where they serve a better purpose… I guess in the end, writing can be healing in a spiritual sense.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?

I try not to base characters solely on people I know, but there certainly have been major influences from friends and acquaintances in the building of my characters. If I told you how Ivan Lockhart came to life as the heart of The Unnatural Brethren series, you’d probably call me crazy…and you’d be right, lol. There’s a lot of crazy going on in my writerly mind.

But seriously, I am grateful to have such a rich assortment of personalities amongst my friends, and I owe to them portraying on the page those traits and quirks as honestly as I can.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

*Insert maddening laughter here* So many! I’m currently working on five projects, shuffling revisions, drafts, and editing between them. Hopefully, you’ll get to see the third installment of the Unnatural Brethren series by the end of this year!

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

The dragon is a symbol that has accompanied me for years. In my view, the dragon represents strength, wisdom, and resilience.

I have a dragon tattooed on my back, two dragons actually. Each dragon symbolizes my past and future. Both are entwined emulating the Caduceus symbol, alluding to the fact that I’m also a doctor.

This interview is for Dragon Soul Press, so there you go: Dragons are the best!

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I don’t know that I am too demanding on my readers, maybe my sole demand would be for them to keep track of the characters and their plotlines –since there are so many.

I take every comment seriously and I listen to my readers’ expectations. Oftentimes, their hopes will meet with the needs of the story, and when they do, it’s exciting to give them that special scene they’ve been waiting for, knowing they’ll be as thrilled as I was when I wrote it.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

It has to be Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The theme is brilliant, how Anne Elliot is persuaded to break off her engagement to Wentworth, only to realize later on she’d made a mistake. Of all of Austen’s works, Persuasion gets the least amount of love. But it’s truly a masterpiece, not only because of how Austen handles the plot but because her narrative style was more mature by then. She expanded the use of Free Indirect Discourse, blending the voice of the narrator and character seamlessly, which immerses the reader in the story. It’s simply wonderful.

How many hours a day do you write?

More than measuring time, I keep track of my daily word count. Lately, my minimum daily word count has been two-thousand words, sometimes I get to five or six-thousand. What’s most important to me is to write every single day, which is easy when you have so many ongoing works in progress like I do, lol.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

I certainly have. There have been works which have reached best-selling status very quickly, even made it to the television or the silver screen, and by the time I’ve gotten around to reading them, they’ve proven painfully disappointing. I don’t want to start a whole thing about it, so I’ll keep those titles to myself. (It’s not you, J.K. Rowling, just in case you were wondering. It’s not you either, G.R.R. Martin, your books are brilliant!).

Where can readers learn more about you?

You can visit me at my website, Facebook, and Twitter. Looking forward to connecting with you there!

Invisible Words: Dialogue Tags and Why You Don’t Need Them (Much)

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, “Don’t use descriptive dialogue tags. Use only said and ask.” And that’s good advice. It makes a lot of sense because it is really jarring to read something like this:

John quipped, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah gasped, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John grumbled.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” whispered Sarah.

John paused. He exclaimed, “Sure!”

Yeah, that’s terrible. So, how are we supposed to do it? Like this:

John said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah said, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John said.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” said Sarah.

John paused. He said, “Sure!”

The reason why the second sample was better than the first is that the words said (and ask if used) are invisible to the reader, and it shifted the emotion in the dialogue for the reader to figure. However, sometimes this can be jarring. Why? Because examine all those times I used the names John and Sarah. If I keep writing, John, John, John, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, guess what your brain is likely to tune out or keep stumbling over?

And that’s what this post is all about–provide you another tip on style by omitting said and ask as much as possible. Let’s redo the example.

John snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah lifted a hand to her mouth. “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun.”

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex.”

“Sure!”

In the last example, I’ve picked up the pacing on this and used a little body language to instead of a dialogue tag. Second, I eliminated the dialogue tags in the last three lines.

So how does this help you? Here’s how this stylistic approach can improve your writing.

It strengthens your showing, not telling. What did you think of when John snapped his fingers and then said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”? He hit upon an idea is what most of you will say, but some of you will have a different opinion, and that’s fine.

Since our brains are trained to ignore the words said and ask, just get rid of them anyways. Use them sparingly, but for the most part, you don’t need them. Warning: you don’t want to get yourself into “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”. You do need to show who is talking. Here is an example:

Samdel patted his rider’s coat, lifted out the lapel, retrieving a cigar. “What were you saying, girl?”

“I hate it when you smoke those thrice-damn things around me!”

“Huh. A demon said that to me once.”

You know right off that Samdel is the first person who started this part of the conversation with the narrator telling he’s fishing out a cigar. Then, we know whomever he’s talking to responds, and then he says something back.

Now, when does this not work really well? When you have three or more people involved in conversation. Still, you can eliminate a great deal of said and ask by utilizing your prose to indicate actions from all your characters, but if you need to move rather quickly, you’re better served by using said and ask to ensure your reader doesn’t get confused or lost in the conversation. Another problem some writers have created when using this method is “floating heads” or “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”, and I covered that topic in an earlier post.

In short, here’s a tip on honing in a stylistic choice to remove mundane words and help your prose with more showing than telling.

Happy writing!

Interview with Author Sofi Laporte

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Sofi Laporte for an interview.


What gives you inspiration for your books?

I write across genres, but mainly YA, paranormal and romance. My stories usually have “a sprinkle of magic”, a touch of magic realism. I basically collect story ideas from every day-life, from the mundane, and sprinkle some magic on top.

What inspired Loreley, my story in Sea of Secrets Anthology, was a childhood memory. Specifically: the German song Loreley that my grandmother used to sing to me on her mandoline. When I thought about what to write for this anthology, the melody suddenly came to me. I actually heard the music. I knew then that I had to write about the Loreley legend.

Chestnut Woman was inspired by a real person, a neighbor in Vienna. She had a gossipy nature, a strident voice and knew everything about everyone. It was unbelievable what she knew. What if, it occurred to me, underneath this garish façade she is someone entirely different? Maybe someone magical? This is how Mrs Schmidt was born.

To sum up, what inspires me: music, real people, places I’ve lived and visited, childhood memories. Somehow it all magically comes together to form a story. This is why I love writing!

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

Arthrapax. The precocious cat who is in reality a dragon. And not just any dragon: Morgana’s side-kick, her pet dragon! He’s modeled on my own cat, who has the same sassiness.  Arthrapax is a side character in Chestnut Woman in Sea of Secrets Anthology, but he really deserves his own book.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?

All this marketing! I never thought I’d have to take a crash course on marketing just because I wanted to write stories and share them with other people.

Any website or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?

So many! 10 minute novelist Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/10MinNovelists/, 365 writing challenge group which is a sub-group of 10 minute novelists and which taught me to put butt-in-chair and write every day: https://www.facebook.com/groups/365writingchallenge/; Helping writers become authors blog and books by K.M Weiland: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. Special shout-out to Inkslinger’s Den, a Facebook group by Brenda Littau with the best how-to videos on everything a writer needs to know:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/INKSLINGERSDEN/. My favorite books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I also read a ton in my genres; mainly YA, romance and paranormal.

Have you thought about joining with another author to write a book?

Yes, it sounds like fun! I might like to try that one day. Some of my favorite books were co-authored, like Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series; or the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

But first I would like to focus on my own books.

What do you think about the ebook revolution?

I’m pro-technology so I support that. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy this: click and voilà, there’s your book! Instant gratification! In my “other” life I work as a librarian and a teacher, so I speak from experience that e-readers help dyslexic children with their reading comprehension. Also reluctant readers can be enticed to reading via e-reading programs. There are some truly great reading programs and Apps out there. Additionally, ebooks are a blessing for elderly people, because they can enlarge the font with a click. I know some people prefer ebooks over paperbacks because the printed font is simply too small. Yet we need not fear that traditional books will become extinct because of ebooks. A few days ago there was an article in our local newspaper saying that the printed book has “outlived its own death” – referring to the ebook revolution and the fear that, as a consequence, paperbacks will become obsolete. They won’t. Independent bookshops are on the rise again. As for myself, when it comes down to choosing between reading an e-book or paperback: it really depends on how impatient I am to read the book. If I have to wait a long time for the book to arrive, I will just read the e-book. Otherwise I usually prefer the paperback over the ebook. I do love paper, the touch and smell of it. And I adore bookshops! I have wonderful memories of standing in line early in the morning at a bookshop in Västerlanggatan in Stockholm to get my hands on the newest Harry Potter book. You don’t get to have those wonderful memories with the instant gratification of e-books.

Have you written any other books that are not published?

Ahem. There might be a whole drawer full of manuscripts somewhere …

What tactics do you have when writing?

I do both, really, though I lean toward pantsing. I outline only to discover that my characters have totally different ideas, and suddenly I find myself happily pantsing away. When I start out pantsing a story, however, I inevitably get stuck sooner or later, and then I need to retrace my story and outline. Too detailed an outline doesn’t work for me, however. I find that restrictive.

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

“This is boring” – at school, response by a classmate. Ouch. The positive side of this experience is that it now motivates me to learn the craft of good writing: it made me aware that we tell stories to our readers, not only to ourselves. And readers want to be entertained, gripped and drawn into the story. Learning to write like this is what I am currently obsessing about.

Where can we find you online? 

Please visit me at my website www.sofilaporte.com where I blog about reading, writing and exploring castle ruins (my particular hobby) – with a sprinkle of magic! Also on Instagram and Twitter.

Demystifying Plotting Part 2 of 2

In the last post, I discuss how plotting is not as hard as it sounds so long as you don’t make it as hard. The whole point of it is to just jot down ideas and points of each part of the story. Don’t worry about cohesion, theme, or twists. Just write down each piece and then move on.

In this lengthy post, we’ll run through an example.

I write down my overall plot: A knight journeys across the lands to slay the dragon who has kidnapped the princess.

See? Already, you know how this story starts in the beginning and the end. At the beginning, the dragon comes, lays the smack down on the castle, snatches Princess Peach, and then absconds with her. The king sends the knight to go kill it and get his daughter back. At the ending, we know the knight is fighting the dragon, kills it, and takes Princess Peach back home to live happily ever after. But what’s in the middle? Umm … well, he journeys there, and that’s what we need to figure out. Second, let’s back up a little bit. Is there anything we can do to set the story up before the dragon attacks? For example, does the dragon have to be the be-all, end-all of villains?

Yes, we can!

Let’s have a dragon goddess unleash a terrible dragon upon the mortals. She does this because at one time, the lesser races worshipped her and the dragons. She desires those Ye Olde Tymes to return. Also, it comes at a moment when humanity, along with the other races are ready to war with one another.

Chapter 1. The Dragon Goddess summons the Black Dragon. Commands her most powerful minion to kidnap the princess.

Chapter 2. The King argues with the Elven and Dwarven delegates about a potential treaty. The delegates angrily deride the King. They leave. The reader knows war is coming as already skirmishes have been fought.

Chapter 3. The Outlying Fortress that is guarding the Wastelands is destroyed by a flock of dragons. The Black Dragon flies toward the kingdom.

Chapter 4. The dragon attacks the castle, captures Princess Peach, kills the Queen trying to save her daughter.

Chapter 5. The Aftermath. The king mourns his wife, and summons the most fabled knight of all the lands to kill the dragon.

Chapter 6, 7, 8, 9 …. uhh …. stuff …

Chapter 25. The knight fights the dragon before the Gate to the Dragon Goddess’ realm is opened.

Chapter 26. The mortal races are united, treaties are signed, and the knight and the princess get married.

Okay, now we have an epic fantasy on our hands. Already, we have five chapters at the beginning and he haven’t introduced our hero yet! Some blogs will say that’s not a good idea. Right now, we don’t care. What we care about is just getting all twenty-six chapter ideas out. The fine-tuning comes later. The plot twists come later.

What do we do next? Well, we need to introduce the knight in the next chapter.

Chapter 6. The knight is at a tavern, drunk, mourning his dead wife and youngest child of six years from an orc raid while he was off seeking treasure. He argues with his surviving son, who leaves him to join the war against the elves and dwarves.

Chapter 7. A servant summons the knight to the king’s castle. The knight tells him to eff off. Dragonkin, along with other monsters, attack the village and end up killing his son and most of the village before being driven back by the knight’s awesome fighting skills. The knight resolves to fight.

Now, the knight has entered the arena and our story is shaping up. We know he has to go to the castle, get his quest from the king, then journey to the Dragon’s land for the final battle. We think about it a little more and realize the knight needs resources in order to fight. Let’s pull out all the stops—magic, people, treasure, everything. The knight needs it all and he needs allies in order to do it! Let’s start with an expression, “Sometimes, politics makes strange bedfellows.” So, we’re focusing on the knight building an army to fight the dragon.

Chapter 8. The knight receives his commission at the castle. He travels north into monster-infested lands and meets with the cabal of wizards. They will aid the knight on condition on getting the dragon parts solely for their research. He agrees.

Chapter 9. The Dragon Goddess comes to the elves, promises them they will be favored servants. They agree, but some in the Council do not like the idea. The Goddess goes to the dwarves, they rebuff her.

Chapter 10. The dragons attack en masse on the dwarven holds. They are wiped out, but the dragons are spent.

Chapter 11. The knight travels to the barbarian lands of the Bear People. They love battle and one bear is worth ten human men. However, they live in squalor in lands fouled by magic. The knight negotiates a deal for the Bear People to migrate south to better arable land. They armor up and march.

Chapter 12. The Dragon Goddess delivers an ultimatum to the King and the rest of humanity. Bow on bended knee or be wiped out starting with the princess. The king refuses. It’s on.

Chapter 13. The knight, Bear People, and wizards encounter their first major battle against the elves. The elves are defeated, but the knight is severely wounded and may not live.

Chapter 14. Some of the elves throw in their lot with the knight in exchange for assistance to usurp the existing Council. The knight agrees.

Chapter 15. The knight and his army is repelled by the dragonkin and some guardian dragons.

Chapter 16. The knight quests to find an ancient sword and shield to bolster the power of his army.

Chapter 17. The knight slays the lich guarding the powerful artifacts, but is betrayed by the wizards. He is rescued some Bear People and elves.

Chapter 18. The Dragon Goddess appears before the knight and offers a deal with him. Serve her and she will make him a king. He refuses.

Chapter 19. Battle at the Dragon Border Part 2. The knight wins.

Chapter 20. The elves begin to fight among themselves. A civil war erupts. Despite this, they start overrunning the human kingdom.

Chapter 21. The remnants of the dwarves come to the humanity’s defense. The elves are finally defeated and driven back.

Chapter 22. The surviving members of the wizards come to the Dragon Goddess’ defense and begin preparations to open the Gate to allow the goddess to come to the realm. If she does, nothing can oppose her as she will be a living god.

Chapter 23. The knight is captured and tortured. His closest friends come and rescue him.

Chapter 24. The knight and his army meets the dragons and dragonkin at the Great Castle. The Great Castle falls, and the knight storms his way to the deep dungeons below to fight the Black Dragon.

Chapter 25. The knight fights the Black Dragon before the Gate to the Dragon Goddess’ realm is opened.

Chapter 26. The mortal races are united, treaties are signed, and the knight and the princess get married.

Epilogue: Several years later. The princess is in labor and gives birth to a dragon. The goddess’ plans are complete.

So, does any of this seem rushed? Of course. It’s a rough outline, but guess what? You now have the middle. Could any of this be more developed? Yes, definitely! Once you start getting into the chronology and pacing of the book, you’re going to find out that you’ll need to bring in more chapters, more subarcs, or maybe make cuts to the outline (like introducing the wizards is too much).

After that, you can think about twists and shoring up any story themes; however, you don’t have to do any of that, because with this outline now, you can actually start writing and let those components reveal themselves.

In conclusion, you now know how to plot without having to go crazy.

Happy writing!