Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!

Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling

As a writer, we have many expressions and mantras that both writer and reader alike have heard. Here’s another one you’ve probably heard ad nauseam: 

Show, do not tell.

However, a lot of amateur writers get this concept frequently wrong and why is telling so bad anyway?

Let’s start with an example of telling:

Grim unholstered his six-shot, pointing it at Sylvia. He felt angry and growled his fury.

Sylvia was unperturbed by his weapon, laughing defiantly. “If you plan on intimidating me, you’re sorely mistaken.”

He smiled cruelly, “The bullets in the gun are made from cold iron, demon. You’re finished!”

He opened fire, Slyvia screaming in anguish as each bullet tore through her violet flesh.

Is this bad? Isolated, no, not really, but it’s clearly amateurish and if the entire story is peppered with this style of writing, then it’s bad. The reason why is I’m telling the reader Grim is angry. I am telling the reader Sylvia was unperturbed. I am telling the reader Sylvia not only laughs, but how she laughs. I told the reader how Grim smiled and I told the reader how Sylvia screamed (okay that last part was really bad, but you get the point).

Understand that “show vs. tell” is a reader’s trend. At one point, it was perfectly acceptable for writers to tell the reader of the emotions and actions of the characters instead of showing. Read any 19th Century or early 20th Century literature. And if attention spans continue to get shorter and shorter, this trend may reverse itself and I may be writing a post about “tell, do not show.” I’ve been reading negative reviews of readers wanting just this thing (I’ll get into why in a moment)

So, how to avoid telling? Here are three rules to help you:

  1. Don’t use emotive words in the narrative at all. An easy test on yourself is if you have any emotive words. Angry, happy, sad, etc. Get rid of them.
  2. Use body language to describe the emotion. Instead of writing, He was angry, write, He grimaced, baring his teeth, nearly snarling. But you want the reader to feel a particular kind of rage, you say? Let the readers decide that for themselves. Don’t try to control that part of the process of writing for your reader.
  3. Mitigate or avoid adverbs. Adverbs are like salt. It’s okay to use one sparingly here and there, but overuse ruins the whole meal. A lot of adverbs is lazy writing. She laughed defiantly tells me how she laughed, and on top of it, how do I picture defiance? Instead, let’s go with, She folded her arms and proceeded to laugh, a raucous bellow that shook the room.

So, here’s the caveat of showing vs. telling and this is how I’ve seen this in the form of negative reviews. Showing increases your word count–considerably. It forces you to be more descriptive. Even if you chose a minimalist approach to describe an emotion, you’re still going to have more words than a simple, He was angry. In the example above, that was three words vs. seven. In the other example, that was three words vs. a whopping fifteen. Some readers hate this because you have writers who can literally spend a page and a half describing a gate-opening scene (George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you). It’s beautiful, it’s immersive, but it’s long. So be aware when you’re being descriptive or you’re laying it thick on the purple prose.

Happy writing!

Tips and Tricks: Making Self-edits Fun and Constructive

Yes, I wrote it. Editing. That dreaded e-word that can be ranked up there with the same level of reaction as if you shouted the f-bomb at a birthday party for 90-something-year-old nuns, all because you walked in with the hired stripper. Oopss…wrong party.

However, you don’t have to dread the editing process. You can make it fun and entertaining almost as crafting the story itself. The key is to focus on various parts of it and tackle those parts as if individual projects. So, here are two tricks on making the self-edit fun.

Note: The two tips below are guidelines. They are not hard and fast rules that will turn your story into a bestseller, but it will allow you to practice your prose and engage the senses with your reader. Call it a stylistic guide. I personally love the editing process at all stages of it, and I hope that with these tips, you’ll end up liking it too.

The Dreaded Passive Word “Was”

Was is an important verb, but the problem with it is that it leads to a lot of passive language which in turn opens your story up to more telling than showing. This is fine when it’s in the dialogue between characters, but it gets a bit more problematic when it’s in the narrative.

Some examples:

Wyntiir was angry.

Carla, my girlfriend, was a tall woman.

There will be times where it’s fine to actually write these, but if you literally dump the whole bottle of pepper on your meal, you will not stomach the taste. Your reader will grow bored with your story. In your narrative, go through your story and find every instance of the verb was. You must not only rewrite the sentence using only action verbs, but add to the sentence with stronger descriptions to appeal to the senses of the reader.

Let’s rewrite our two examples.

Wyntiir stewed in her fury, her hands balling into fists with a trickle of blood winding its way down her wrist from her nails digging too deep in the soft flesh of her palms.

Holy cow, she’s really pissed.

Carla, my boisterous girlfriend, loved to describe herself as an Amazonian maiden as she stood taller and wider than me, and her girth betraying her love of exercise and pure physical strength.

Dang, you go girl. You’re big and buffed.

You can do this with other passive verbs too, but you have to use discretion. If you literally managed to expunge all passive verbs and write elongated descriptions, you’re going to run the risk of killing tension, bringing your pacing to a snail’s pace, and having your reader grow bored because they just read three pages of your characters going back and forth with each other and still nothing has been accomplished. This is why I recommend you only do this exercise on the verb was. It’s the most common verb, but not enough to hamstring your pacing and tension. As for your other passive verbs, just rewrite sentences using action verbs and move on.

Let’s get to the second tip.

Targeting Boring Verbs

Amateur writers typically use “boring” verbs because they are like said and ask. They just come out and you don’t pay attention to them. However, when your reader is not paying attention to them, they are not paying attention to any action or drama you wish to convey. The boring verb list is ran, covered, broke, found, gave, held, pulled, and threw. You can Google more, but these are typically it. You especially do not want to be using these words in action scenes or sex scenes. However, you can liven up your editing by not only replacing the boring verb with a stronger action-oriented verb, but also use a single adjective or adjective phrase for emphasis. Only one (think of the pepper metaphor above). Let’s deal with an example.

Wyntiir threw her knife.

Now we can use an adjective on Wyntiir or her knife, but we’re only going to choose one.

Wyntiir hurled her blood-stained knife.

See? Self-editing can be a fun game if you take the time to break it down into manageable components. And you’re still creating! Now, go forth and get rid of all those verbs was.