Monday, June 27, 2011

The Long And Short of It - Part Two

Last time we covered, how to shorten your novel if it is too long. This time we’ll go through the opposite. What to do if your novel needs to be lengthened.

This past week, I finished the first draft of my WIP and was shocked to discover the final word count was a scanty 65’000 words! My goal was 85’000. All I could think was, “Well it’s only a first draft and there’s about a zillion more drafts to go before I can call it done.” But I was still left with what author Jody Hedlund calls, “hard core writer fear” that I would never get to my desired word count. Or worse yet, what I added would be irrelevant to the plot, and that necessary additions would forgotten. However, if I utilize the tips I am going to share with you, I may, after hours and days of work, end up with a finished product that meets my original goal.

Ideas To Lengthen Your Novel

1) Add More Description:
The first rule of writing description; don’t add it just for description’s sake. No reader wants to read page after page of irrelevant details. But there might be areas where your novel could use more description of scenery and character depth. Both of these can be used to compel the reader deeper into the story.

2) Give A Minor Character More Action:
Right now in my novel there are two secondary characters who’s roles I want to deepen and to put it simply, “give them more screen time.” Both of these characters have more that they’re begging to say. Giving them each a few more well written scenes will add depth to both them, and my main characters. This may be true of your novel as well.

3) Add More Depth To A Subplot:
Again, something for me to work on. A subplot is of course an extension of the main plot. Adding to subplots might add a whole new layer to your story, and better tie in to your main plot. These subplots might also be able to add more depth to minor character’s, thus to use a cliché; kill two birds with one stone.

 4) Further Explore Your Main Character’s Thought Life:
I admire authors who’s characters can think deeply for several pages and at the end the reader better understands the soul of the character. My character’s typically have difficulty doing this. They think for a few sentences, than get back to the action. However, they’re defiantly not shallow people and deserve more time to voice their thoughts. Maybe your characters do too.

5) Make Sure To Show - Not Tell:
We’ve all made this mistake and rewriting these scenes can change that. Also, there are places where we switch from scene to scene leaving gaps in time. Filling in those gaps, as long as they pull the story forward, can be useful.

For unpublished novelists, word count can be a problem. Sometimes it just can’t be fixed. Maybe no matter how hard you’ve tried, your story still doesn’t meet publishing standards. This doesn’t mean your novel will never get published, but it does mean that for your novel to sell it must be extremely well written. Agents and editors value a well written and compelling story, more than word count.

Usually, word counts are too lengthy and need to be shortened. Most writers have a tendency to write to much because, after all, we’re writers and we enjoy writing! But in today’s market, plus the fast paced world we live in, readers and publishers want a novel this is “tight” - where every word counts. However, you may be a fast paced writer like myself and have the opposite problem. In that case you may need to slow down with your work and expand it to give your reader a more engaging read.

A fully developed plot, engaging characters and well written descriptions lead to a work that is a publishers dream and a readers delight. “The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing” by the Editors of Writers Digest is a book I purchased recently at a writing conference. I have turned to it for help many times in the writing process. This resource may also be of help to you in your writing journey.

Happy Writing…….

Your turn. What tips do you have to share regarding length in novels? Have you ever struggled with this dilemma?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Long And Short Of It

Most writers know that a typical novel is around 95’000 words. We also know that most publishers will not accept novels longer than 100’000 words. These guidelines are helpful. They give us a goal to work toward and help us avoid going over the usual word count. If you’re an author that has no difficulty with this, and your work general falls neatly into this range, it works out great. But how do authors stick to word counts if they have a tendency to be longwinded? Or how does an author expand their work when their finished product is not much longer than a novella? What if you’re the short and sweet kind of writer who cuts right to the chase and now you need some extra material to fill in the gaps and expand your finished product?

Don’t despair. It’s possible to fix this dilemma. All writers have struggled with this problem to some degree. In this post we will look a few simple tips that will help to cut down the word count to fit requirements of the publishing industry. Then, in the next post we will look at adding to the requirement in a variety of ways.

So for all you writers that produce work that editors can barely lift, and if knocked from a bookshelf could render someone unconscious, let me give you what I call the four unnecessaries.

Four Unnecessaries in Writing

1) Unnecessary Characters:
We all know them. They often are there for humor, or sometimes as foils or friends. But when we’re trying to cut word count sometimes our darlings have to go. If they don’t push the plot forward and are only in a few scenes, they can be cut. But take heart, they can always be put into later novels, maybe even as the main character, and if not that, their good lines of dialogue can be given to your current main character.

2) Unnecessary Scenes:
So you’ve deleted some non-essential character’s role in the story, now what? The next thing to go on the cutting room floor is scenes. Here’s an example. Say your lead couple decide to go on a trip to Europe and you have several scenes which involve their packing for the trip, getting plane tickets, etc. Now these scenes may be some of the most well written in the story, and they might have some of the greatest one liners. But they don’t pull the story forward one bit. What I suggest doing for these scenes is copying and pasting them on another document to save the writing and one liners. You might be able to be add them in later. Once your MS is clear of those scenes, check your word count.

3) Unnecessary Subplots:
These may or may not involve those secondary characters you‘ve already cut. If they do, then perhaps this step has already been covered. If not, then there may be more trimming to do. If one sub plot can be deleted to add emphasis to another, then cut it. I’m not saying to write a bare bones story without any subplots. But if you have a plethora, and are struggling with word count, cutting one or two may be better for your story.

4) Unnecessary Words:
At a writer’s conference I attended last year, I was privileged to listen to Jerry Jenkins speak on what he calls, “Thick Skinned Critiquing.” In this workshop he covered this topic in depth. Although I won’t be able to go into detail on everything he said here are a few tips I have found helpful.
1) Delete the words “up” and “down.” For example “Mary sat down on the couch.” If she sat we assume she sat down so we don’t need to say it.
2) Don’t tell what’s not happening. For example. “the crowd never got quiet,” or “she said nothing.” If we don’t see her saying anything then we can assume she didn’t.
3) Only use single adjectives. For instance, its not necessary to say “the blue aquamarine water.” Single descriptive words are actually more powerful.
4) Avoid “on the nose writing.” This is writing that mirrors real life. It can apply to both words and scenes. For example, since we’ve all driven in a car, we don’t need to go overboard on describing it. This sort of writing can very easily bore the reader.

These four unnecessaries might be just what it takes to shorten your novel. Go through your work and look for the above items. Some things may need to be added back in and then some may be better left out. Sharpening your pencil will make your novel into a crisper piece of fiction. It will also help you come closer to your dream of being published.

What ways do you use to shorten your work if it needs it? Pass on your tips so we can all benefit.

Happy writing--

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Interview with award winning author Gail Gaymer Martin!

Gail Gaymer Martin is a Christian speaker and novelist who writes for Steeple Hill and Barbour with 44 published novels and over 3 million books in print with books translated into many foreign languages. 

She is also the author of "Writing the Christian Romance", released by Writers Digest Books. She lives in a Detroit suburb with her husband.  Her mission is to write stories that entertain and touch hearts with God's love. 

Thank you Gail for sharing your time with us in this interview!

1) What made you want to become a writer? Was there a particular event, person, book that inspired you especially?

My teacher wrote on my third grade report card, “Gail is a good writer.” I had no idea what that would end up meaning. Writing was a natural talent and the love of books was influenced by my parents who were avid fiction readers. In elementary school, I continued to write poetry and stories—even my own Nancy Drew-type series—when I was about eleven years old.  In high school, I wrote for two local newspapers, one was a weekly column for which I received payment. Being a novelist was actually a childhood dream that came true nearly 50 years later. Today I have over 3 million books in print with 48 contracted fiction books, 26 skits, plays and programs for church and Sunday school, and the Writers Digest book, Writing the Christian Romance.

2) What do you like most about being a writer?

I love writing and creating, and I enjoy meeting readers and receiving their letters. Sharing my faith in stories that entertain is a blessing for me, and touching people’s lives with the message in the story is an honor. I am awed that the Lord has blessed me in this way.

3) What do you like least about being a writer?

What I don’t like are the pressures of deadlines especially when they overlap. I write for more than one publisher.  Sometimes I find myself working on two or three books at one time. Then it’s not fun. I also never realized that being a writer would take over my life, not just my time but my mind. Everything I read, hear or experience sweeps through my mind and often settles in the nooks and crannies of my brain to become part of a future novel.

4) What would you say is the biggest mistake beginning writers make?  Did you find yourself making this mistake when starting out?

Some new writers are not patient. Writing is a craft and, like any craft, it must be honed. Learning the techniques, practicing and honing the craft is all part of the process. A first novel is rarely published, but many authors continue to work on the same book over and over while they are limiting themselves to a set of ideas embedded in their heads. Creativity can be gone so learning is difficult. Wanting to be published, they fall into the trap of self-publishing without having the skills of good writing and without having an established audience who will rush out to purchase the books. Self-publishing – even POD publishing – often means marketing and distributing the books since they are rarely in bookstores nationally. Authors can learn best by letting go of the first novel and moving on—stretching their creativity and using the new skills they have been learning. I was determined to be published in book format and by a traditional publisher so I didn’t fall into this trap, except I did submit my novels when they were not ready to be contracted. Many rejections reached my mailbox, but with each new novel I submitted, the rejections become more positive and I took the editors suggestions to heart and worked on the skills they said I needed.

5) Do you have particular place you write best? Do you listen to music while you write?

I have an office in my home, a large room packed with equipment and research materials that work best for me. I write the bulk of my work there. I do not like to write on a laptop so I use a PC.  I often play music that has the mood of my novel or scene – but it must be instrumental only.  Anything with words, I tend to sing along. Have you ever tried writing a novel while singing? : ) It doesn’t work, but I am a singer so I can’t stop myself.

6) Has there been a particular book on writing you return to again and again?

My library is filled with books on writing, and I use them now mainly to investigate techniques I want to hone to improve my craft and also to share with writers on my Writing Fiction Right blog at  I began this blog following the publication of my Writers Digest book, Writing the Christian Romance. I wanted to share techniques I couldn’t include in this craft book, and I also wanted to provide writing techniques for any genre not just romance and for both Christian and secular novels. Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel is excellent and I learned a great deal from Browne and King’s Self-Editing For Fiction Writers.  Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press offers an excellent download book, The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.  I love his take on many techniques and his unique way of explaining them.

7) Is there comfort food that keeps you going when deadlines are tight?

No comfort food.  I’m always monitoring my weight so drinking lots of water is what I do. I do enjoy cutting an apple into very thin slices while I take a break from my novels and play solitaire. I can play with one hand and nibble on the apple with another. When I get back to my writing, I’m ready to go. : )

8) Is there a scripture verse that has inspired you in your writing?

My favorite verse regarding writing is: 2 Corinthians 3:  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. This verse reminds me that what I write in Christian fiction is not only on paper printed with ink but written on the hearts of readers. Therefore I want the book to give God the glory by reminding readers of the Lord’s mercy, grace, love, forgiveness and Salvation in Jesus. I don’t preach, but I weave my faith and the faith of my characters through the story like a fine thread forming a design in a lovely tapestry.

9) What three tips do you have for beginning writers?

First, know  your life will no longer be your own. Writing takes devotion and patience. You can’t rush the process.

Next, you’re never done learning.  Writing improves with experience when you find your writer’s voice and your gifts in writing. If you stop learning, your writing will fall flat so count on reading books and magazines on writing, attending workshops and conferences, and joining groups that will continue to help you grow as a writer.

Last, don’t compare yourself to other writers. That only leads to disappointment and depression. Envy is a killer. Remember that each writer has unique talents different from others.  Work to enhance your special talent and don’t worry that someone else’s career is moving faster than yours. Persevere and be patient. Write from your passion and your heart.

Gails first novel in the Dreams Come True series is called:  "A Dad Of His Own" this was released in March 2011 and can be found in book stores and on-line.

Gail's next novel called "A Family of Their Own"  will hit stores on August 23. This is the second novel in the Dreams Come True series. It will be in stores where ever books are sold for a month and then available at all bookstores on the Internet.  So please look for this new title coming soon!

You can find Gail at:

Thank you so much to Gail for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this interview for all of us. As part of the fun for getting to know Gail we are offering one of Gail's books, "Writing The Christian Romance" to one of you blessed readers. Please just leave a comment and we will do a drawing from all comments received to win this book. We will do the drawing on Friday, June 17th.  Leave your email address so we can contact you on where to mail the book.

Also, join the blog to keep up on exciting new information and ideas about the world of writing and for more interviews from published authors. Check older posts for several interviews I have already done and once again...................

Happy Writing

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Five Ingredients To A Good Story: Part Five -Plot

Out of all the ingredients we’ve looked at so far, it is my opinion that the one that makes or breaks a novel, is plot. Sure, characters, dialogue, and setting are important, but if an author does well in these areas, but the story is not held together with a good plot, they will lose readers.

So, what is plot? And more importantly, how do we write a good one? Lets start by defining what “plot” actually is.

What Is Plot?

The dictionary defines plot as “The story or sequence of events in something such as a novel, play, or movie.” But plot is really more than a sequence of events strung together. Each event must be a catalyst to spur on the following event and this must continue until the climax is reached. For example, say you’re writing a romance about a woman who wants to save her failing coffee shop which is going bankrupt. That’s a basic plot, but each event in the story must show the woman moving toward this goal. You can’t have a scene where the woman saves her dog. This would not be progressing with the main plot. Instead, we might find the woman being handed a notice of foreclosure, and in the next scene she might meet a very rich man who will invest in the coffee shop, and all the rest of the scenes keep moving forwards towards the final goal. So how do we as writers create a good plot? I’ve come up with few tips that might help.

Four tips for crafting a plot.

1) Start With A General Idea:
Every plot must have a central problem or idea, something the story revolves around. For example in the above example the problem was that the woman is going bankrupt. Every event following must pull that idea forward.

2) Complicate Things:
A plot must be complex. The woman in my example must not be immediately successful. We might see the woman meet the hero (after all this is a romance) he helps her out so she can keep the shop, and they begin to fall in love. But then, suddenly the stock market plummets and now the hero is poor. Continue to pile problem after problem on your characters and make the road to their goals a hard one. This will entice the reader to find out how it will turn out in the end.

3) Subplots:
Subplots are smaller events that occur within a novel, they are separate but yet somehow tied into the main story. For example, say one of the reasons the woman is trying to save the coffee shop is so she can raise money for her sister who is dying of cancer. Another possible subplot would be the estranged relationship between the hero and his mother. But remember, too many subplots can clutter the story and complicate it. So use them sparingly.

4) A Firm Foundation:
Basically, if you have too much or too little plot your story will flounder and eventually sink. You need a good foundation - a plot that is worth investing in and spending time on. I recommend showing your plot to your critique partners or a friend who reads fiction. They may be able to give you feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your plot.

In the past, I have given excerpts from classic literature, to illustrate each point. For plot, excerpts are not possible. Instead, I will give you details from a well known and well thought out plot. The one I have chosen is from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The novel opens with the Bennet family in Longbourn and their five unmarried daughters. Mrs. Bennet’s main goal is seeing her daughters married off to wealthy men. She attempts to accomplish this in a variety of ways. She tries Charles Bingley who moves in nearby, Mr. Collins who might inherit the house, and even Mr. Wickham who does end up marrying one of them. A variety of twists and turns occur in an attempt to procure the husbands, many of them comical. As the book progresses we learn many things about all the eccentric characters and about Regency life in England and the nearby city of London. Eventually, through many subplots and humorous chain of events, our hero and heroine do unite in holy matrimony.

Austen’s plot was complex, and took her characters to many places and through many stages of character development. It takes a good writer to accomplish that feat throughout a novel. This is what I want to be true of my own plots, as I’m sure you do also. Exciting events and difficult situations are the foundation for a good plot. Reading modern and classic literature can lend itself to knowledge about how to accomplish this.

I’ve enjoyed learning and writing about the aspects of a good story along with you. It has been an adventure, and I hope you have learned something. I hope and pray God continues to strengthen your writing journey.

And now, I’ve got to go write down the idea about the woman and her coffee shop. Who knows……..might become a future plot.
Look next week for an interview with published author Gayle Gaymer Martin!!!

Happy writing!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Description: Part Four of Five Ingredients to a Good Story

Can you “see” the beauty, “hear” the softness of the words, and “feel” the warmth? If so, you have probably just read something described by a seasoned author. Someone who wrote, using a variety of words, and they came to life on the page capturing the scene and transporting the reader.

So far, of all the ingredients that we have studied, description is what “sets the stage.” Where dialogue may be the icing on the cake, description is the cake itself. One of a writers most important tasks will be to describe well, often and thoroughly. While we have covered some aspects of this important concept in both characterization and setting, in this post lets see if we can discover new ways to sharpen our description and better infuse our story with the spark it needs.

In the course of reading both recent and classic literature, I’ve noticed that when it comes to writing description there are two types of writers. Those who’s descriptions glitter and then some that are merely mediocre. This does not mean that those who write mediocre descriptions do not dazzle with plot, or with three dimensional characters. Describing scenes in novels is an art. With all art, it can be improved with time and effort. So while a writer may excel in one area, they may need improvement in another. I myself, consider description one of my many weaknesses in writing. Yet, with time and careful study I’ve made slow improvement, and hopefully will continue to do so. You can too. Lets find out how!

4 Tips To Create Dazzling Description

1) Read, read, and read some more. Like I said earlier, some authors just dazzle with description. One of my favorites which I read recently was MaryLou Tyndall’s “The Falcon and The Sparrow.” “The Preacher’s Bride” by Jody Helund, was another. Both these authors, with very little words, managed to add vivid sensory details to their already compelling stories. So read, and soak this up. Make notes of favorite phrases, and lines, and use these as examples for your own writing.

2) Describe Random Objects, Places, and People
Don’t just limit your descriptions to your novels. If you have a few minutes in your day, pick up a pad of paper and describe the things around you. As in anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll become.

3) Avoid clichés.
One of the worst killers in description is phrases that have been overused. We find this to be especially true when describing a character. Clichés are what usually comes to our mind first, so we should pause and realize this. Try using fresh phrases. They are a surefire way to keep your reader’s attention through a block of description.

4) Don’t ramble. The era in which we live is fast paced. Our jobs as writers is to keep our readers glued to our story. So, don’t go on about the weather, for pages on end. In one series I read, the author interspersed historical details into the story. The problem came when these details went on and on and eventually lost me. You want your readers to be hungry for the next sentence and plot twist, so narrow the description down so it fit’s the scene and gives the reader enough information without going overboard.

Classics with Amazing Description

As I was looking for excerpts for my last post on dialogue, I noticed something. A great many writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were poor writers of dialogue but wrote breathtaking description. So for me, one of the many reasons I read so much classic literature is to immerse myself in the description. I hope to share some of that with you in the following two excerpts. The first is from Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge Of Courage.”    
      A moment later the regiment went swinging off into the darkness. It was now like one of those moving monsters wending with many feet. The air was heavy, and cold with dew. A mass of wet grass, marched upon, rustled like silk.
     There was an occasional flash and glimmer of steel from the backs of all these huge crawling reptiles. From the road came creakings and grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away.
     The men stumbled along still muttering speculations. There was a subdued debate. Once a man fell down, and as he reached for his rifle a comrade, unseeing, trod upon his hand. He of the injured fingers swore bitterly, and aloud. A low, tittering laugh went among his fellows.
     Presently they passed into a roadway and marched forward with easy strides. A dark regiment moved before them, and from behind also came the tinkle of equipments on the bodies of marching men.
     The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs. When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth, the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin, black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and rearward vanished in a wood. They were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night.

Isn't this depiction amazing? While he is just describing a troop of soldiers, he uses excellent analogies and word pictures so you can feel the scene with all your senses.

When I first began to write this series, I promised myself I would quote from novels only once, thus giving a more broad view. But this description from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is too good to miss.


     There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.
     Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb.
     At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvres, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.
     By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names.

The above descriptions are, I must admit, a bit too wordy for today’s readers. Yet, they still capture the scenes using several of the five senses, adding texture to the plot. Its good to read scenes like these to see how authors utilize words to describe. Some of the classic authors are amazing in their brilliant descriptions.

Reading one classic work a year can help us to be well rounded as writers. As I read my own descriptions, I use scenes like those above as a yardstick. Do I have too little sensory detail, or too much? Do I sound too much like the writer of an inventory (which I oftentimes do) than the author of a novel?

In all of our writing there is room for improvement. Reading technique books is also a good idea. “The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing” covers all the ingredients we have been discussing in this series.
You can refer to this to aid in the enhancement of your own work.

By the way......the above picture is the end of a dock where The Great Gatsby was filmed. A new version of this film is being released in 2012 starring Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Happy writing!!
-- Amanda 

Do you have any tips for good description? Any novel suggestions where it is used especially well? As always, I look forward to your comments.