A Rewriting Metaphor

Hey Folks,

Today I feature a guest post from Dean Wesley Smith, republished here with permission. Enjoy.

Say your goal is to walk across the United States. About 2,800 miles.

So say your writing career (in a modern world) lasts over forty years like mine and gets you 280 books written. Got to make the numbers round for this metaphor. (grin)

So every 100 miles is a novel in your hike across the United States.

So you set off walking on your novel career and get to the end of your first hundred miles of walking. Nifty. You have completed a novel.

Along the way you have seen some beautiful country, met some people, had some adventures, got stressed some, and learned a lot. Ahead of you is more adventures, more characters, more beautiful country and fun in the next 100 miles (next book).

But you are a rewriter, a person who thinks going over something again will make it better for some reason or another. So you go back to your starting point and walk the same 100 miles again. Same track, same people, same scenery, thinking you are making the journey better.

But you (rewriter) still didn’t do that 100 miles perfectly because of some misplaced belief system taught to you by someone who has never left their own front yard, so you go back and walk the same hundred miles again.

And then a fourth time, same track, same everything. That walk of 100 miles is now dull and boring, with no adventures, nothing new, just dullness and sameness that you are adding in as you go.

You have actually walked 400 miles in distance and in time, but only covered 100 miles. You only have one thing done, and you have made that one thing dull and boring.

What is worse is that you have learned nothing more by the three extra times over the same track. But you have spent a lot of time at the effort because you believed you needed to do that before you could go to the next 100 miles.

Now, if you didn’t rewrite, just finished the first 100 miles and released the adventure of that trip, and kept walking FORWARD, you would learn new things in the second hundred miles, meet new people, have new adventures, and it would be fun.

Same for the next 100 miles after that going FORWARD, and the next. In the same amount of time a rewriter spent making an adventure dull and boring, the non-rewriter has covered four times the amount of distance, learned a lot more, and had more fun.

And who wins in the writing journey? The writer with four exciting released novels or the writer with one dull released novel? Hmmm?

Silly metaphor I must admit, but sometimes it takes something silly like this to show how really fruitless and silly rewriting is.

And how destructive.

You can stop rewriting. Honest, it doesn’t take any special medicine or lobotomy.

But it does take two things. You must first stop writing sloppy and instead care to do the best you can with what you are writing. And secondly, you must believe in yourself and your own storytelling ability. In other words, grow an artist backbone.

Just keep on walking.

The adventure really is ahead of you. Don’t waste a moment turning around and moving backward. Life is far, far too short.

And the walk ahead far too much fun to never reach.

(941) 727-3120

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

level curves

Hey Folks,

I have a real treat for you today, via my friend, writer Christopher Ridge. Chris brought to my attention a presentation by Ray Bradbury to participants in a university writing program.

You can find the link toward the end of this post. The video is almost an hour long, but it’s Ray Bradbury, for goodness’ sake. Who can’t listen to Ray Bradbury for an hour? On writing?

Of course, I was hooked at the name. Anyone who knows anything about me knows Ray Bradbury is one of my strongest and most favored influences. But even if I hadn’t been hooked at the name, I would’ve been hooked at these words from the guy who introduced him:

“[Ray Bradbury] embodies [the concept that] good writing is good writing across all types of genres.” Man, you can’t say it any better or with any more truth than that.

And in this case, by “types of genres” he means “forms”: short stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, etc. Although the same is true about the various commercial genres (romance, SF, western, mystery, suspense, thriller etc.).

I personally recommend you watch the video once for the sheer joy of it, and then listen again and take copious notes. That’s what I did. And yes, I still learned a few things and was reminded of a few others.

Watching the video also caused me to realize professionals (including Dean) seldom say “Don’t worry about the money. Write for joy.” Dean does say writing should be fun, but he also talks a lot about making money from it (probably because that’s what newer writers demand of him).

So I thought I’d tackle the topic today, perhaps expand a little on what Bradbury said in the video.

Topic: Writing for Money

Money’s nice to have. To paraphrase some comedian in years past, money won’t buy happiness, but it’s probably more fun being miserable in a yacht than a rowboat. Something like that.

I don’t know about any of that, but given the alternative, I’d rather make money from my writing.

Still — and frankly, I think this makes all the difference — making money is not the driving force behind my writing. Or behind my wanting to write.

For anyone who didn’t know, there’s a heirarchy among forms just as there is among genres:

● Novel series and novella series sell best.
● Then come novel and novella one-offs.
● Then short story collections.
● And finally individual short stories.

But as Bradbury says during his talk, a short story doesn’t take long to finish, and it’s all practice.

If you

1. have time to be prolific, and if you
2. know how to get out of your own way, and if you
3. spend the time in the chair,

ostensibly you could write one short story per week plus twelve novels in a year.

(But I don’t personally recommend holding yourself to one short story per week. I think you should write an opening for every idea as it occurs to you and see where it goes. Chance are, if it’s a short story, you’ll finish it that day or the next. If it keeps going and heads for novella or novel territory, follow it. And after you finish, write the opening for the next story. If you write an opening and it’s simply a non-starter, trash it and move on to the next idea.)

Obviously writing a novel every month would be easier if you didn’t feel you had to conform to Big Publishing’s page or word counts, but either way, you could do it.

I don’t conform to anyone’s preset prescribed notions on length. For a free copy of my own Fiction Lengths guide, email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com. Many, many excellent works are far under 100,000 words. Witness works by Hemingway, Steinbeck and Weisel to name only a few.

But it would also be a ton easier if you didn’t worry about how much money you’re going to make (or not).

In one way, I’m fortunate that I didn’t become a “serious” writer until a few years ago. Unless lightning strikes — and it strikes in this business even less often than it strikes in many others — most credible sources say it takes around five years for a fiction writer to even begin to see a good return on his or her investment of time, money in ongoing education, and so on.

Five years.

And that’s if you do everything right.

● That’s if you go in knowing you must have characters the readers care about. Characters who strike a strong emotional chord in the readers: a great protagonist the readers will pull for and a great antagonist the readers will root against. Feverishly, in both cases.

● That’s if you go in knowing you must have a great cliffhanger at the end of every major scene or chapter, and a great hook at the beginning of the next one.

● That’s if you go in knowing you must ground the reader not only at the beginning of the story, but at the beginning of every major scene or setting change, and you’ve learned how to do that without being boringly repetitive.

● That’s if you go in knowing you must let the character experience the scene not through you, but through all five physical senses of the POV character and the POV character’s opinions of the setting.

● That’s if you go in knowing how to write great sales copy for the cover blurb, how to come up with a great title, and how to create (or cause to be created) a great cover.

● And that’s if you go in knowing all of the above is required not only in mystery and thrillers and suspense, but in all genres across the board.

If you don’t go in knowing all of that stuff, you’ll still make a few sales, but whatever you don’t know will still be in your future in your learning curve. And it will effectively push back the beginning of your five-year practice period.

You will still have to learn all of the above, and the only way to do that is to read extensively in your chosen genre(s), take courses and read books on writing from credible instructors, and p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.

Oh, and you have to know that the only way to practice is

1. do your best at your current skill level on your WIP,
2. publish it (or submit it), and
3. move on to the next story.

There literally is no other way.

The thing is, to submit yourself to that kind of daily or weekly grind, you can’t see it as a “grind”.

It has to be fun. It has to be something you enjoy. As I like to say, it has to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. (grin)

But I’m fortunate I came in late. As a result, I decided awhile back I probably won’t make any real money from my writing. After all, five years from the time I became a proficient storyteller, I’ll be in my late 60s or early 70s.

Therefore I don’t worry about making money. (I figure my grandchildren will rake it in.) My payment in the here and now, seriously, is the writing itself. I get to hear the stories first. For me, it’s all fun. When I get money for my writing too, it’s a happy surprise.

I literally write to entertain myself. To let my characters entertain me, and to live lives, through them, that I otherwise never would have lived.

If you can do that too, in my opinion you will be among the most fortunate human beings on earth.

And if you can do that — if you can ignore the sales figures and the money and Just Have Fun — in the way of all great cosmic ironies, that is when you’ll start making money from your writing.

Here’s the video for “An Evening with Ray Bradbury” (7818503906). (This is also now permanently available on my website at the Writers Resources tab.)

‘Til next time, happy writing,

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click (336) 490-0516 and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

4057836412

Hey folks,

I interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to offer you, my readers, a special deal on some brand-new books. (grin)

Yesterday I got everything finalized for Blackwell Ops: Jack Tilden (action-adventure thriller novel) and got it up for pre-publication sale. I also sent it to my donors. You can see the cover and read the description here.

The regular price of Blackwell Ops: Jack Tilden is $5.99, but if you’d like a copy, you can order it directly from me for a limited time for only $2.99 via personal check or PayPal. Just email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com and let me know. Be sure to let me know whether you want it in Kindle, Nook/Apple or PDF. I’ll send it right out.

I’m also offering my previous novel, Situation Solved (police procedural, hard-boiled mystery) for only $2.99. You can 618-917-7118. It’s set to be released on February 15, but you can get it now. Same terms as above.

Finally, I’ll also offer the first four books of the Nick Spalding series (action-adventure romantic-suspense) as a bundle deal for $11.96 ($2.99 each) under the same terms. Or you can opt to purchase any of them for $2.99. All are currently priced at $5.99 and the last one, Consequences, is scheduled for release on January 15. But you can get all four novels now. You can see each cover and read the descriptions by starting here.

Happy reading! ‘Til next time,

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To become a patron and get free books and much more, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Have Fun With Your Writing (or Don’t Be An Intrusive God)

Hey Folks,

First, Happy New Year. I hope last night was fun and safe for everyone.

Second, you might have noticed I didn’t post last Tuesday, on Christmas Day. I’d like to say that was out of reverence or whatver, but it wasn’t. I wanted to leave up tule root for another week. After all, today’s a great day to begin a new challenge. (grin)

Let me be clear: if writing fiction wasn’t the most fun I could have with my clothes on, I probably wouldn’t do it at all.

Writing fiction is an escape for me. Like going to the beach or going camping or taking a cruise is for other people. It’s just fun, something I love to do.

I enjoy writing stories I haven’t read before. I enjoy practicing (subliminally) new techniques I’ve learned from a mentor or from my reading. Occasionally, I even enjoy re-reading a short story or novella or novel I’ve written. Because even if that story has been told before, it’s never been told the way I tell it.

And by “the way I tell it,” I don’t mean only my authorial voice. Let me explain that.

I see my role as a writer as twofold: god and reporter.

As the god of the story, I create characters with completely free will. Then I give them a problem and place them in a world. That’s it.

Then, as they are wont to do, Things Happen. Situations come up. And the characters, not I, deal with them. Hey, I have my own life to live, my own situations to deal with.

Sometimes the situations in which my characters find themselves are thrust upon them by external forces (or other characters). Sometimes they occur as a result of the characters’ own actions.

But in either case, I don’t “save” them. I let them work out their problems on their own. If you’re a religious or spiritual person — or even just a person who believes in personal responsibilty, an increasingly foreign concept — and if you believe you have free will, this should sound familiar.

I’m aware that many writers are unable to trust their own subconscious, their own storytelling ability. That causes them to take the “god” responsibility to extremes.

They write extensive outlines, create in-depth character sketches, develop rising and falling action in graphs, carefully add plot points etc. (Ahem. None of which is writing.)

They effectively create and control every situation and everything their characters say and do in response to a given situation. Thus their writing “process” becomes laborious, even tedious. Often the process itself takes precedence over the writing! Then the worst among them hang out at launch parties, sling one forearm across their forehead, and proclaim writing “drudgery.”

I don’t wonder.

Now I’m no less the god of my story than they are of theirs. But I’m a different kind of god. I don’t lounge on a pedestal among the clouds, micromanaging or directing the actions and voices of my characters from afar. Or at all.

I gave them free will, remember? And I meant it.

Once the story is peopled with one or two characters, I kick off my robes and become a mild-mannered recorder. An observer. I’m just another reader, waiting to be entertained. And that’s where the real fun of writing begins.

As the recorder of the story, I roll off the parapet into the trench of the story (or into the interconnected trenches of the novel) and run through it with them.

Sometimes, though very seldom, I can foresee what the characters will do or say next. But more often, just as in “real” life, I’m surprised by what they do or say.

Most of the time, I don’t have a clue what’s about to happen, and frankly, I don’t give it much thought. I’m too busy racing along with them, trying frantically to keep up, and writing down what they say and do.

That free will of the characters and letting situations unfold as they will is all-important. And not only to me.

In a recent interview, Lee Child said his New York editor mentioned that the book he’d submitted might have been better if a set of situations had occurred in a different order.

Child agreed with him at first. “Yes, it might.” Then he said, “But that isn’t the way it happened.”

And this isn’t anything I’ve learned recently.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was fairly well known for my poetry and was making the circuit, doing presentations at writers’ conferences and in private seminars all over the country, writers occasionally asked about my fiction “process.” (I’d written some even back then.)

I smiled and said the same thing I’ve said ever since: “I don’t really have a process. I just follow the characters around and write down what they say and do.”

Which brings us back to the notion of keeping writing fun.

What could be more fun than being a perpetual spy and evesdropper on a group of characters? And getting paid for it?

Still, even with all the military training I’ve undergone in my own life, I seriously doubt I’m clandestine enough to avoid detection if my characters really wanted to notice me. In fact, I suspect they know I’m there. But they never mention me.

They’re so busy living their own lives that my presence doesn’t bother them. After all, who, as they move along a busy city street all wrapped up in their own tense situation, notices a non-threatening stranger loitering on the corner?

In an alternative view, my characters pay about as much attention to me as most characters pay to their creator. They know I’m around, and that’s fine. But they’d prefer to work through their problems themselves. And who can blame them?

So once I put them there, my influence is finished. It’s up to them to lead their own lives in whatever manner they see fit.

My only job is to have fun and be joyously amazed at how they do that.

And I am.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

A Time for Challenges

Hey Folks,

Well, I’m leaving this post up for another week. Not because I don’t have plenty else to write about, but because…

It’s that time of year again.

The new year is rapidly approaching, and with it comes new opportunities and new resolutions. A time to reset writing goals and maybe jumpstart our writing.

What better way to start than with a personal challenge?

We use challenges to stretch ourselves just a bit beyond what we’ve accomplished before. We use them to increase our average daily output. We use them to increase the number of publications we have available to the public.

USA Today bestselling writer Dean Wesley Smith will begin a challenge on January 1.

His challenge—to write ten 50,000 word novels in 100 days—is intriguing to say the least. It will stretch him, will be a challenge, because it will test his ability to average 5,000 words per day for 100 days straight, something he’s never done.

The intrigue of that challenge drew me in.

How cool would it be if, 100 days into 2019, I had written 47 novels total?

So I’m considering joining him in that challenge, but with a twist. I also would write 10 novels in 100 days, but in a particular world, so a series.

By “world,” of course I mean “overall setting.”

I recently received some great kudos on my (313) 641-8726. The “world” surrounding that fiction is somewhat dark and seething with seedy characters and unseen danger. I love it.

Another world in which I enjoy writing is the military/paramilitary (mercenary) war environment. Nothing says love like a bombed-out building. (grin)

Yet another is the period western (or the period SF), in which the world is huge, new, and riddled with possibilies for conflict.

And there are other worlds on the edge of my mind, like the “future-Earth” world in which surmountal and The Claim are situated. Still a lot to write there, and some of the possibilities overlap with the war stuff above.

So my own challenge will be to write 10 novels, each of about 40,000 words, in that 100 days that ends on April 10.

Can I do that? Of course. There’s no question I can write 4,000 words per day.

But my average daily production for the past few years has hovered around 3,000 words per day. So for me, the stretch—the challenge—will be to write, on average, 4,000 words per day for 100 consecutive days.

I also fully expect to turn out one more novel BEFORE January 1. (grin) No reason to waste the 18 days left between now and the new year.

And really, it’s only 16 days. I’ll probably want to take Christmas and New Year’s Eve off. The former for obvious reasons, and the latter to give me a day of rest before I begin the challenge.

We’ll see how it goes. I’m very excited to realize I could have 37 novels by year-end (10 this calendar year) and 47 novels 100 days later, on April 10.

For those of you who are into numbers, if I can pull off my challenge, in the first 100 days of 2019, I will have written 400,000 words of fiction. And I write about 17 words per minute.

By comparison, from January 1 through December 13 in 2018, I wrote just over 480,000 words of fiction.

I encourage you to consider jumping into this (or a similar) challenge yourself. Especially if you need to jumpstart your writing or increase your production or just add to the titles you have out there.

More titles means more discoverability, an increased possibility of sales and greater success as a writer.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free. They are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

The Most Important Advice I Can Give You About Writing, Editing and Publishing (Seriously)

Hey Folks,

This post might have as easily been titled “What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing.”

Yesterday (as I write this) I published my 35th novel and the fourth in a series. I also have 2 books in another series (SF), 10 books in another (Wes Crowley Western), and 9 in another (Pulp). And then there are all the stand-alones and novellas.

I also am closing in on 200 short stories, many of which are included in 31 collections. So below is what I can share with you about writing.

First, a disclaimer: Many folks write only to cross an item off their bucket list or to leave a family record or simply as a hobby. All of that’s fine. But the advice that follows is not for you.

If you think of yourself as an aspiring professional writer (or as a professional writer), please read on. I’ll present my advice in a moment.

But first, one more disclaimer: Whether or not you call yourself a professional writer, if writing isn’t absolutely the most fun you can have with your clothes on, don’t do it. Seriously. Life is short. If writing is tedious for you, go find something fun to do. Again, what follows is not for you.

Okay, if you’re still reading, here’s the rest:

1. Follow Heinlein’s Rules 1 – 4 and then write the next story. (To see my personal experience with Heinlein’s Rules, download them here.)

2. Learn the basics of grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. The best and easiest way I know is my own Punctuation for Writers, 2nd Edition, available at Smashwords and (770) 301-2615. Heinlein’s Rules presume a basic knowledge of the language.

3. Don’t hover over one work (rewrite). If you do, at some point you will experience a sinking feeling in your gut. That’s because you’re stripping your original voice and anything else that’s good off of it.

4. Instead of hovering, practice. Practice will never make “perfect” (nor will rewriting) but it will make you a better storyteller. Rewriting won’t. Writers write.

5. Never stop learning from people who’ve been there. (Don’t listen to advice from people who aren’t farther along the road than you are.) What your conscious mind takes in will seep into your subconscious and come out through your fingers as you write.

6. Don’t be a control freak. You are not the General Manager of the Universe. Let the characters tell the story. They’re living it, after all. Instead of directing them from your Authorial Ivory Tower, roll off into the story and run through it with them. I promise, you’ll enjoy the trip.

7. Find a good READER to be your first reader, preferably one who is interested in your work. His/her only job will be to note (and report to you) typos, misspellings that your spell check misses, and inconsistencies. At no time should your first reader tell you how you “should” have written something.

8. If you don’t know punctuation and pacing (especially these two), get thee to a good, conscientious copyeditor. His/her job will be to extend the reach of (or replace) your first reader. If the copyeditor you find does not provide a free sample edit, or if s/he charges more than two cents per word, email me.

9. Create and maintain a professional website. Most often, the “free” ones look shabby, and they’ll nickel and dime you to death with “extras.” A professional website is an investment, and a good one.

10. Create (or commission) a good, attention-grabbing cover that’s appropriate for the genre. You CAN judge a book by its cover, and readers do so every minute of every day.

11. Force yourself to take the time to follow Heinlein’s Rule 4: Submit or publish your work. This is the one I most often fall off of, and I always regret it. Readers can’t buy it if it isn’t available.

12. When it’s time to publish, go traditional if you must (be wary of the contract), or go indie. But stay the hell away from subsidy publishers. Every one of them is a scam. They exist only to separate you from your money. (If your first thought begins with “But,” read this one again.)

13. Publish wide. Avoid exclusivity. Most of my sales come from Amazon. But I also receive a nice check every month from Biblioteca (libraries), Kobo and Barnes & Noble. The others will come, but they can’t if the books aren’t available to wide segments of readers.

Okay, that’s all I can think of for now. Enjoy!

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Let the Writer Beware

Hey folks,

Recently, a writing friend sent me a link to an article that seems to indicate Scribd, a major subsciption service, is not paying authors. To read the original article, see /writersweekly.com/this-weeks-article/scribd-com-is-copyright-infringement-their-business-model-and-are-you-a-victim-too-by-wilfried-f-voss.

It’s an interesting article. But we’re all in charge of our own career to one degree or the other.

In the end, my only advice would be to not distribute to Scribd (or do), and to do a search and remove any of your works that are already there (or don’t).

My friend wrote to Draft2Digital to ask them about Scribd. D2D wrote back, in part, that

“Scribd, like many eBook retailers, offers new subscribers a chance to read a book for free, as an enticement to subscribe to the service. The author does not receive a royalty for books read for free, unfortunately. But it may help to think of this as a bit of additional promotion, helping readers to discover your work, for the cost of one book.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Scribd is paying writers (or paying them appropriately) for books that are not given away free. And I suspect that’s the point of the original article.

I often find my own works on sites I’ve never heard of before. The most recent was only yesterday, when I found one of my most popular nonfiction titles at /www.handsandheart.info/telecharger/b004sbo8z0-punctuation-for-writers-english-edition. Complete with other-language translations, no less.

Today, I’m looking into that website.

UPDATE: I posted this awhile back. Today (12/4/2018) when I clicked the link for Hands and Heart, it wouldn’t come up. Apparently (I hope) they’re out of business.

But when I’ve found my works at other “small” sites I wasn’t aware of, in every case eventually I learned they were subsidiaries of Amazon or Apple or Kobo or Barnes & Noble and that my sales were counted and royalties paid through those parent organizations.

Then the problem becomes accountability. How do I know the subsidiaries are reporting to the parent companies? How do I know the parent companies are reporting correct figures to me? How do I know someone somewhere isn’t fudging numbers?

The fact is, I don’t. Nor can I.

So finally, for the most part, I simply stopped worrying about it. I like to write, so that’s my main focus. I entertain myself with my stories. That’s their main purpose, and the main purpose I write.

Then, since I’ve already written the thing, well, I suppose I might as well publish it so other people can read it if they want.

That’s how I actually look at it. And that’s why I teach writing, but not marketing or any of that. The most important thing I can tell you about “discoverability” is to write more works and get them out there. The more titles you have out, the easier it is for readers to find your work.

So back to the topic at hand.

I made the conscious decision to simply accept that some of my works would be sold or given away without my knowledge. You know, just like my (or your) paperbacks might be passed from one hand to another.

I’ve done the same thing myself. I recently bought a lot of 18 paperback Jack Reacher novels on ebay from the guy who’d bought them from the bookstore. Think Lee Child got a cut of the $35 I paid the guy on ebay? Of course not.

But none of that means I’ll continue to distribute to a major player (like Scribd) who is obviously not playing by the rules. I won’t. But I’m loath to advise anyone else as to what they specifically should or should not do.

As my Psychology teacher once said, “Don’t should on people.” I think that’s great advice.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Tag Line Verbs (and Mostly Those That Are Not)

Hey Folks,

Okay, first, to get us on the same page, what I call a “tag line” is what some call a “narrative beat.” I guess there are other names for it too, but here’s why I call it a tag line.

When characters are engaging in dialogue, there are two types of narrative that may accompany the dialogue. One is the tag line. The other, I call a brief descriptive narrative. They are distinctly different from each other.

Because this post is about tag lines, and because they require a more in-depth explanation, I’ll define and describe the brief descriptive narrative first.

A brief descriptive narrative BOTH identifies the character who’s about to speak AND enables the reader to see some sort of action. That action will indicate the character’s mood, position or attitude.

“Sheila smiled” is a brief descriptive narrative. “Harry nodded” is a brief descriptive narrative. So are “John gestured toward the door,” “Sue grinned and a mischevious twinkle crept into her eyes,” and “Jack flung open the door.”

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Notice that in every case, the brief descriptive narrative sentence makes perfect grammatical sense on its own.

In other words, it’s a complete thought. A complete sentence. It isn’t dependent on the dialogue to make sense.

Now for the tag line.

A tag line consists of a noun or pronoun plus a verb that indicates a form of utterance. Very few verbs indicate a form of utterance. The most common (and best to use to carry dialogue) is “said.”

Others that are commonly used are “whispered,” “mumbled” and “muttered.” Some writers like using “asked” too, but the question mark at the end of a question pretty much lets the reader know the speaker “asked,” yes?

Even though the tag line has both a subject and a verb, it doesn’t make sense by itself. Because the verb is transitive (meaning it requires a direct object), it is dependent on the dialogue to make sense.

For that reason, the tag line is always (yes, always) attached to a line of dialogue, most often with a comma. It isn’t separated with a period.

More to the point, note that the tag line exists only to let the reader know which character’s speaking, so the writer should use one only when the reader may be in doubt. (Of course, you can do the same thing with a brief descriptive narrative.)

Many writers believe, erroneously, that a tag line should be “interesting.” Most of them have learned that nonsense from alleged writing instructors who should be selling shoes instead of teaching writing.

Remember, the tag line exists only to let the reader know which character is speaking. For that reason alone, the tag line should be short and bland. It shouldn’t draw attention to itself.

The form of the tag line on the page is

John said, “Dialogue goes here.”

Ramona asked, “Does dialogue go there?”

But again, with reference to either of these, it’s better to use a brief descriptive narrative rather than a tag line whenever possible:

John pointed to a place on the page. “Dialogue goes here.”

Ramona frowned. “Does dialogue go there?”

As you can see, with the brief descriptive narrative, the reader BOTH learns which character is about to speak and sees a bit of the scene, determines the character’s mood, etc.

Also notice that the tag lines do not make sense by themselves and are attached to the dialogue with a comma. The brief descriptive narratives, however, are both followed by periods.

A long while back, I began keeping a list of words various writers use in tag lines to try to (again, erroneously) “liven them up.” Keeping the list livened ME up. (grin)

So here’s a list of verbs that should NOT be used in tag lines. Ever.

You cannot “smile” a line of dialogue. You can’t.

As you look over the list below, in every case, imagine “he” or “she” in front of the word, then a comma and a line of dialogue. I think then this will become clearer for you.

Note that none of these verbs indicates a form of utterance. Yet I’ve seen all of them used erroneously in tag lines:

abused, accused, acknowledged, admonished, affirmed, agreed, allowed, amended, amplified, answered, apologized, assured, attacked, attempted, beamed, berated, blurted, blustered, broke in, brooded, brought up, bubbled, burlesqued, burst out, cajoled, called, called out, came back, cautioned, challenged, chastized, cheered, chided, chirped, chirped in, choked, chorused, chuckled, clarified, coached, coaxed, commiserated, complimented, conceded, consoled, contributed, continued, conveyed, convoluted, corrected, correcting, countered, cracked, criticized, croaked, croaked out, cursed, cut in, dared, defended, delivered, delved, digressed, directed, denied, described, editorialized, ejaculated, encouraged, ended, enjoined, enlightened, enthused, evaded, exhaled, explained, expostulated, expounded, extemporized, finished, fished, fly casted, followed, framed, frowned, frowning, gave, gave back, gave him, gave him back, gave out, giggled, got out, greeted, grinned, griped, gripped, groused, gushed, hazarded, hedged, hinted, identified, improvised, informed, instructed, interrupted, intoned, inveigled, invited, justified, kicked out, lamented, laughed, lectured, lolled out, maintained, managed, mentioned, modified, mouthed, muffled, mused, nagged, nibbled, objected, offered, oozed, ordered, owned up, paddled back, persisted, pannicked, piped in, piped up, placated, played back, pleaded, pointed out, pontificated, pounced, pressed, probed, prodded, prompted, pronounced, proposed, protested, protracted, pushed, put in, put out, quavered, questioned, quipped, quizzed, reasoned, reassured, recommended, relayed, reminded, reposted, resumed, retorted, returned, revealed, sang, sang out, scolded, seconded, sentenced, shot, sighed, sleazed, smiled, snapped, snarled, sneered, snickered, sniffed, sobbed, spat, spewed, spoke up, spouted, stamped, started, stumbled, submitted, suggested, sulked, summarized, supplied, supported, syruped out, talked on, teased, telegraphed, temporized, threatened, tossed, touted, tried, trilled, trumped, trumpeted, tumbled out, urged, ventured, vocalized, voiced, volumed, volunteered, warned, waved, welcomed, went on, worried, zinged.

This is not an exhaustive list. This is only a list of the misuses I’ve encountered in manuscripts to date. And yes, I do add to the list as I encounter new misuses. 🙂

Example: “Some of the verbs on this list — like answered and acknowledged — are at least passable, but most are just ludicrous,” she sentenced. (grin)

“And with that, I’ll bid you adieu,” he French-languaged. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy (clean) writing,

Harvey

Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. If you’d like to become a patron, click (317) 819-9597 and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

The Unfortunate Case of His Mother’s Virginity

Hey Folks,

Enjoy a good noir pulp detective crime novel?

Okay, try this on for size.

You wake up after a long nap. You reach over to see whether your partner’s awake, and discover she’ll never wake up again.

She’s dead.

Of a cut throat.

In your bed.

You didn’t do it. But who did? How did they do it without waking you? And when? And why?

Stern Richards, PI, has to find out. Or go to prison.

Internet search tags: noir, mystery, private investigator, detective, pulp, novel

To get a FREE review copy of The Unfortunate Case of His Mother’s Virginity, go to /www.smashwords.com/books/view/828436. During checkout, enter coupon code WG46P (not case sensitive).

Next week, back to writing topics with “Tag Line Verbs (and Mostly Those That Are Not).”

‘Til then, happy writing!

Harvey

(667) 888-1988

Hi Folks,

A long while back, in two parts, I published a post titled Safeguard Your Credibility. Here’s the Original Post and 215-471-8680.

Both posts were all about not displaying ignorance. Yet the only way to avoid displaying ignorance is to eradicate it. And the only way to eradicate it is to learn and continue learning.

Of course, all of us are ignorant of some things. Nobody can be aware of everything.

But I suspect we can all agree that a professional should have an intimate knowledge of the tools of his/her trade.

Would you hire a carpenter who isn’t quite sure of the difference between a “nail” and a “screw”? Would you have confidence in a mechanic who thought maybe the engine on your fuel-injected car is running erratically because of a problem with the carburetor?

Okay, how about buying a book from a writer who believes that section at the beginning of some books is a “forward”? That’s tantamount to the aforementioned mechanic smiling smugly and saying your flat tire will be fine if you only jack up the car and roll the tire over so the air-filled part is on the bottom.

As professional writers (or professed writers or even aspiring writers) we cannot afford to be ignorant of our number one tool: the language.

And lest you think I’m being a bit snobbish about this, I do know whereof I speak.

A few years ago, (478) 298-2756, a very well known and accomplished professional writer, pointed out to me (while I was copyediting a novel for him!) that when a person is searching through a file folder full of papers he’s “riffling,” not “rifling.”

I’d been saying and writing it wrong for around 62 years.

Thank goodness it was at least a somewhat obscure word and one that isn’t a direct, intimate part of the writing profession itself. But the bottom line is, I Should Have Known. Barring that, I should have at least known enough to look it up.

Today, in preparation for this Journal entry, I read a post at Kill Zone blog. The post was written by a traditionally published professional writer.

It’s an interesting post, but about one-third of the way through, the author wrote this attribution: “he recalls in the booklet’s forward.”

Wait. FORWARD? Seriously? And my next immediate thought was Is that just a typo or does this PROFESSIONAL FICTION WRITER not understand the difference between “forward” and “foreword”?

It can’t really be a typo. The two words are too different. And it can’t really be a slip-of-the-thought, wrong-word usage because the two words SOUND too different. It isn’t like a to/too or waste/waist thing. It’s more like the if/whether thing.

As you can probably tell, the error jerked me directly out of the post.

I DID go back and finish reading it. The post was too important to just let it go. But I was still annoyed that as a reader I was picked up and thrown out of a potential learning experience.

Fortunately for the author, I’d already bought one of her fiction books to read. For various reasons, it wasn’t to my personal taste as a reader, so I’d already decided I won’t be buying anymore.

But this is a whole other level. Often you can still learn valuable lessons about writing even from a writer whose fiction doesn’t appeal to you personally.

That is not the case with a writer who professes to be a professional but doesn’t know the difference between two such basic words. Now, unfortunately, I guarantee I’ll take any writerly advice this author shares with a massive grain of salt.

And that’s too bad.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap some great extra rewards, click (346) 252-1600. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!