For Purveyors of the Soup Sandwich

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I started to call this “Dueling Respondents” but that wouldn’t have been quite accurate. After all, as far as I know, the two writers who served as the catalyst for this post don’t even know each other.

One of those writers, upon reading my “Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make” argued, albeit lightly, that he had used many of the “mistakes” I argued against and that none of his readers seemed to care.

Point taken. Far be it from me to attempt to teach an old dog (I can talk because I’m an old dog too) new tricks, even if those tricks will help him retain readers.

The actual truth of the matter is that none of his readers seemed to care As Far As He Knows. That’s very different and more realistic than just assuming they didn’t care.

Most readers won’t bother to contact a writer to say “Hey, your book stinks.” Generally, I’ve found that most lay readers (those who are not also writers) have a dog’s outlook on life: if they can’t eat it or read it, they’ll tinkle on it and get on with their life.

Okay, to be absolutely fair, I should also mention that this particular author is a very strong writer and well-enough established that he probably can get away with some things that most of us wouldn’t be able to get away with. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was, having more readers is better than having fewer. Successful writers with bad habits also have a bad effect on writers who are younger in the craft.

Novices, while citing the success of other writers, often say silly things like “Well, Famous Author doesn’t use quotation marks around dialogue, so why should I?” or “Famous Writer’s work is replete with misplaced modifiers, so what’s wrong with them?” or “Famous Writer says adverbs are bad so I will never use an adverb.”

Or my personal-favorite avoidance clause: “The reader will know what I mean.” That, frankly, is a p-poor excuse for not learning and applying the craft. And no, when I wrote p-poor I wasn’t st-stammering. The reader will know what I mean.

The fact, plainly stated, is precisely this: Every single solitary time you write something that interrupts the reader, you’re running the risk of the reader having reached the point where he’s had enough. At that point, he’ll close your book and find something more enjoyable and less maddening to do.

I preach this constantly, even working it into seminars and classes and conversations and email exchanges that have nothing to do, directly, with the writer-reader interaction that occurs through your work. Yet some folks believe they’re immune, that “the reader will know what I meant.”

Of course, I’m a bit conflicted. As a writing instructor, I want what’s best for other writers. But I’m also a writer, and as more and more writers bow to mediocrity, the fewer I will have to compete against.

Okay, so if you honestly believe letting your narrator say the character “sat looking out the window” when she was already sitting or “gave his hand a shake” instead of saying “shook his hand” is a good idea, hey go for it.

If you believe it’s all right to let the narrator say in a tag line that your character “snickered” (or “laughed” or “cut in” or “gave back” or “returned” or “sentenced” or “tumbled out”) a line of dialogue instead of “said” a line of dialogue, that’s fine.

As an instructor, I have to shake my head in disbelief. But as a writer? Hey, I’m with you all the way!

If you believe the narrator saying the character “moved to the couch’s edge and pushed her glasses up her nose’s bridge” is as effective and clean as saying she “moved to the edge of the couch and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose,” that’s okay too.

If you believe it’s fine to let the narrator say “Bob’s nose pressed against the window” instead of “Bob pressed his nose against the window” or “Sharon’s legs raced wildly down the street” instead of “Sharon raced wildly down the street” or (Heaven forbid) “John’s eyes shot across the room” instead of “John quickly looked across the room,” PLEASE go ahead and write it that way.

If you think you should write “When he walked into the room several men sat at tables and others walked up or down the stairs” instead of saving reader confusion by writing “When he walked into the room several men were sitting at tables and others were walking up or down the stairs,” have at it.

And by all means, please, if you believe it doesn’t sound at all redundant and ludicrous to write “he thought to himself,” go right ahead.

At this point, I’m actually grinning, greedily and anxiously, and cheering for all those writers who know “the reader will know what I mean.” You betcha.

Oh, and the other respondent I mentioned at the beginning of this? She sent me an email recently. Here’s an excerpt:

I read only one chapter of a book I downloaded. That was as far as I could go.

“They both laughed. She nodded her head yes and they went in two opposite directions.”

And then there were words used incorrectly. For example, one guy was “nauseous” instead of “nauseated.” Then again, maybe he was. I never saw him. That was all I could take.

Do you suppose this reader (who also happens to be a very good writer) will contact the author of that book and tell him about these problems? Of course not. That isn’t her job.

The reader’s job is to suspend her sense of disbelief.

The writer’s job is to not buy it back.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Deep POV?

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 7/30/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

There’s been a great deal of talk in the past few months (when I wrote this) about a “new” technique called “deep point of view.” The truth is, deep POV is nothing new.

Most sources define it as a way to enable the reader to experience the scene as the character experiences it. In other words, don’t allow your narrator to keep the reader at arm’s distance by telling the reader what the character experienced. Instead, the narrator should simply describe the scene (that’s the narrator’s only job anyway) and then step out of the way so the reader can see, hear, taste, smell and feel the scene for himself.

In still other words, Show, Don’t Tell.

Yep, that’s right. Deep POV is precisely the same thing as Show, Don’t Tell.

Both of them mean “don’t tell the reader what’s going on; describe the scene and then get out of the way; let the reader experience it right along with the character.”

I hear your next question: Well, Mr. Man, how might one accomplish such a thing?

As you well know, I’m up to here with writing instructors who, when asked to explain “Show, don’t tell,” say something like “Well, I can’t really explain it, but I know it when I see it.” If you ever hear that from any writing instructor in response to a question about something he’s trying to teach you, run. And for goodness’ sake, stop giving him your money!

Okay, if you really want your stories to be more interesting and more engaging for the reader (for you practical types, this translates directly to more sales), use deep point of view or show, don’t tell or whatever other label you want to slap on it.

To accomplish that, first

Don’t allow your narrator to use the sense verbs: saw, could see; smelled, could smell; tasted, could taste; heard, could hear; and felt, could feel.

Are there exceptions? Times when it would be better to allow your narrator to use a sense verb?

Probably, but most of the time, no. You should be able to recast a sentence so you get rid of the sense verb. (Again, this is only for the narrator. Characters can say and do pretty much whatever they want.)

Again, just describe the scene. Here are some examples:

  • She felt the ground tremble. (The ground trembled.)
  • She heard an explosion rock the city. (An explosion rocked the city.)
  • Second, don’t allow the narrator to tell the reader how a character feels about something or what the character “knew.” Instead, trust your reader. Let him infer from the character’s own dialogue or unspoken thought how the reader feels and what he knows:
  • John felt an uneasiness growing inside him. (An uneasy feeling grew inside John or An uneasiness grew inside John.)
  • John knew the sense of unease should be setting off alarms in his brain. (Just delete this pig of a sentence. Or get on with it: A sense of unease set off alarms in John’s brain.)

Third, when the characters are talking, don’t allow your narrator to step in and tell the reader what they’re saying:

Red walked into the room. “Hey, John. You wanna go to the movies later?”

John looked up. “Sure! What’s playing?”

Red told John Gone with the Wind was playing on the first screen and that Barbarosa was playing on the second screen. At that point, John reconsidered his options and told Red he’d rather not go because he had a lot of work to do.

Okay, this wasn’t a truly engaging conversation in the first place, but do you see how the narrator just stepped in between you and the characters and took over? That will tick off even the most loyal reader.

Using deep POV (or Show, Don’t Tell or whatever) really is just good manners. Just remember that every time your narrator speaks, he’s stepping between the reader and your story, the reader and your characters, the reader and whatever tension is going on. Therefore, when the narrator speaks it should be absolutely necessary.

For much more on this and other narrative tips, consider picking up my ebook, Narrative in Fiction: Whispers from the Background. I even more strongly recommend Notes from Writing the World. It contains the full text of the narrative book and five more writing how-tos from my writing seminars.

By the way, I’ve decided to revive my copyediting service. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Daily Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Five Reasons to Hire a Ghostwriter

Hi Folks,

More and more often recently, I’m being asked about ghostwriters. Why to hire one, and why not to hire one. So I put together this handy list for you.

When folks ask me why I recommend hiring a ghostwriter, my first answer is always this:

First and foremost, a professional ghostwriter is a professional writer.

When we want something done right, we employ someone who’s already mastered the learning curve.

Hiring a professional always gets better results. Always.

The professional writer, like the professional carpenter, plumber, lawyer, mechanic or farmer, has studied his craft. He can readily apply skills, knowledge and even “tricks” to your project that would take you years to learn.

The professional writer also has a proven track record of his own work, often under his own name as well as several pen names.

In short, the professional writer loves to to write. It’s his day job. It’s all he does.

But why should you hire a professional ghostwriter?

Well, if any of the specific reasons below ring true for you, it’s something you should consider.

One: You have a great novel idea rattling around in your head.

You aren’t alone. Many, many really good novels are written in the mind but never committed to the page.

A professional ghostwriter will run with your idea. Your book, with your byline, will be written and ready for publication before you know it.

Two: You lack the time to write your novel.

This is a common problem most would-be authors face. In most cases, it’s the main reason the novel never makes it to the page.

Maybe you have a full-time job, family commitments and other interests. Nothing wrong with that. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

A professional ghostwriter gives the same passion and time to writing that you give—and rightly so—to the activities and interests and people you love.

Three: You lack the skills and knowledge to write your novel.

Most would-be writers don’t even realize all the things they don’t know.

Most genres (including literary) have certain ingredients and certain touchstones that occur at certain places. If you don’t include those ingredients or if you don’t hit those touchstones, readers in your target genre won’t buy your book.

Note that these ingredients and touchstones do not comprise some sort of cookie-cutter “formula.” They are merely what readers expect to see in a given genre.

A professional ghostwriter knows these conventions and many, many more. And because they are his stock in trade, he knows how to apply them.

Four: Even if you wrote your book, you lack the skills and knowledge to publish it.

The whole process seems overwhelmingly complex.

How do you avoid the scams and pitfalls that seem to litter the literary landscape? Do you even know what to watch for? Where and how do you even submit your work?

A professional ghostwriter knows because he’s been there.

Resumé

I have a long history of helping other writers. Hundreds of writers have learned from me in workshops, conference presentations, and even questions posed via email.

And now I’ve decided to offer my services as a ghostwriter.

• I’ve had years of success as a professional writer.

• My work has been widely published through traditional, subsidy and independent publishers. I can guide you, as I have guided dozens of others, in finding the right publishing route for you.

• To date, I’ve published 18 novels and a novella under four names. A few years ago, I also co-wrote a psychological suspense/horror novel with a nationally known writer.

• I’ve also written 15 non-fiction books, and well over 140 short stories in almost all genres and sub-genres.

Email me at HarveyStanbrough@gmail.com and see what I can do for you.

A few other points —

If you believe you lack the funds to hire a professional

it’s in both our interests to develop a workable solution. I will work with you in this regard, and everything will be spelled out up front in a clear and easily understood agreement.

If you’re afraid of being scammed or ripped off

it’s in both our interests that you aren’t. I make a living on my reputation as a writer. I’ll help you protect your intellectual property and your copyright. As my friend, ghostwriter Dan Baldwin, put it, professional ghostwriters are “fiercely protective of our name and […] of our clients and their works.”

If you want your book to be your book

No worries. I will write your book, not my version of your book. My fingers are on the keyboard, but you’re writing through them. For over two decades as a professional copyeditor, maintaining the author’s voice was always my number one concern.

If you’re ready to get that novel or novella out of your head and into print, contact me at HarveyStanbrough@gmail.com and let’s get started. If you’d rather talk by telephone, we can do that too, but please email me first.

Thanks!

Until next time, happy writing!

Harvey