Process

Hi Folks,

This is kind of like schedule or routine, but more focused. When I say process here, I’m talking about the process of writing a particular work.

Before I get into that, I just want to mention that I now have books available in nine different bundles, ranging from SF to action-adventure to romance to westerns. To check out these incredible values (newest at the top) see http://harveystanbrough.com/bundles. Thanks for looking!

This topic of Process came up because (as I write this) I’m in or nearing the end game of my current novel. Now, I’m just writing off into the dark so I don’t know yet what the end will be. It might occur in the next few thousand words or it might take another ten or even fifteen thousand, but I know it’s not far off.

And near the end, I’ll run a little low on petrol. And patience. If you lived here and were within hearing, during the last few days of me writing a novel you’d hear me turn into a three year old. “Aaauuuggghhh! I don’t WANNA finish this stupid book! This is so HARD! I gotta take a day off!”

In the alternative, it will be something like, “No possible WAY am I gonna make my goal today.” (That was yesterday. I was saying that all day at about half-hour intervals, and when I finally stopped, I had made my goal plus some.)

Or it will be something like, “Well, I only was able to dribble out a thousand words today, but I’ll take it. I guess.”

I swear, it’s just like listening to a grouchy three year old. And it’s worse in my head, because I’m the one who could turn it off.

But I can’t. I can only let it work through itself.

What keeps me sane, relatively speaking of course, is that I recognize all the whining as part of the process I’ll go through in finishing this novel. It’s the same process I went through in finishing the first twenty-six novels and four novellas. And I know, right now, it’s the same process I’ll go through in writing and finishing the next novel.

But knowing it isn’t the same as experiencing it. Like physical pain, it isn’t something we can recall into existence. If I could, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Because I can’t stand it. Seriously. It’s the sort of nasal, wimpy, whiny stuff that makes me wanna slap both hands over my ears and run in a circle yelling “Lalalalalalala!” so I can’t hear it.

It’s the shrill sort of thing that makes me wanna grab a rifle and hit a tower and shoot the unruly hell out of anyone who wrinkles up their nose and says, “Who thinks like that?”

Seriously. ‘Cause I do, okay? I think like that.

And I whine when I’m nearing the end-game of writing a novel. And I hate it. Ugh.

So one day if this blog just stops coming, you should feel relatively confident that I’ve finally snapped.

In that event, you may be sure I am sitting naked on a beach in Ecuador counting grains of sand. I’ll probably be angry because I lost count at nine hundred and sixty-eight trillion, seven hundred and fifty-three billion, four hundred and twelve million, seven thousand twenty-six because THAT ONE grain of sand just couldn’t keep its stupid hands to itself. No. It just HAD to jump in line ahead of the next grain of sand, which caused me to count it twice. I think. Maybe.

Which of course means I have to start all over again.

Okay, so what’s your process?

Happy writing,

Harvey

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

The Power of Schedule

Hi Folks,

I’ve been at this almost-daily writing since mid-October of 2014. Or another way to look at it, I’ve ONLY been at this since mid-October of 2014. Either way, I’ve only recently realized the importance of Schedule.

I’ve read other blogs on this topic and they made perfect sense. Like The Importance of Routines by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I didn’t skip over them. I read them, absorbed what was useful to me, and moved on.

But again, only recently has it all come together for me. I’m gonna tell you how.

Now first, let me disarm the detractors.

The first thing most younger (meaning less-experienced) writers toss out at me is my own odd schedule. When I mention practically anything about writing to them, they say some version of “Oh, but you start at 3 in the morning. I could never do that.”

My first response is a shrug and “Okay.” And the second is “So?”

The point is, we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s up to each of us to determine how we use that 24 hours. I use about 6 hours of it sleeping. Whether that 6 hours comes out of the middle of the night or the middle of the day, it’s still only 6 hours and it still leaves 18 hours during which I can do all the other things I want to do.

Awhile back I realized when I was a child there were only three channels on TV, yet there was ALWAYS something good on to watch. Pretty much every day in every time slot we had to decide which show to watch and which to pass up, and it was seldom an easy decision.

Today we have hundreds of channels, yet there are only a smattering of programs that are well-written or well-acted enough to even attract my attention. Only one show keeps me riveted day after day, and it’s a re-run of the old NYPD Blue series. Excellent acting, excellent writing, great camera work. It’s a free course on writing in the crime or detective or police procedural genre for the short story, novel and screen.

The beginning of my schedule is about an hour after I wake up and climb outta the rack. The first hour is coffee, emails, other people’s blog posts and so on.

So in my schedule, I have roughly 12 to 14 hours available to me to write, from 3 or 4 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Now, my “job” is to carve three to four hours out of that time to actually commit words to the page. That’s 3,000 to 4,000 words or thereabouts.

And I find (here’s the power part) if I can get the first 2,000 words or so committed to the page before I go walking (so that’s two to three normal to short writing sessions), I’ll make my daily goal of 3,000 words for that day. If I don’t, there’s almost no chance.

I’m not sure why. I still have plenty of time. There’s just something about coming back from my walk and knowing I have only another 500 to 1000 words to go that invigorates me. And then, as often as not, I shoot right past the goal.

But again, it has nothing to do with the “odd” hours I keep. I still sleep only 6 hours per day and have available the other 18 hours. I just adjusted my sleep/wake time to suit what I consider to be important for me.

I go to bed a little earlier so I miss a lot of stuff on TV that, if I were awake, I’d stare at like a zombie. And then I wake earlier when the world is quieter and more conducive (for me) to writing.

I don’t recommend it for anyone else. We have different lives, you and I, and we prioritize differently. That’s all right.

But what I DO recommend is that—if you want to write (or write more)—you set a goal and then adjust your schedule around that goal to better enhance the chance that you will attain it.

Happy writing,

Harvey

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

Streams of Income

Hey Folks,

If you’re a writer, and if you’re intelligent enough to have embraced indie publishing, you want as many streams of income as possible off everything you write.

If you aren’t a writer, you can stop reading now.

If you are a writer, but you’re still pursuing an agent and/or a traditional publisher so THEY can make all the money off various streams of income, please stop reading now.

Anyone else, keep reading. For the rest of you, for at least a limited time, I’m offering to answer any questions any of you have regarding getting revenue from your stories, short or long.

The only prerequisites are that you’ve read this topic in its entirety, and that you have downloaded and read the free resources I offer over at http://HarveyStanbrough.com/downloads/.

Those include

The Essentials of Digital Publishing

Quick Guide to Self-Publishing & FAQs

Heinlein’s Business Habits For Writers (Heinlein’s Rules), Annotated

I also recommend you read and study my posts on MS Word for Writers. You can find those at http://harveystanbrough.com/microsoft-word-for-writers/ and they’re all free. Read them especiallly if you’re still using the Tab bar or the spacebar to indent paragraphs.

Basically, getting multiple streams of income first relies on making your work available in as many different venues as possible.

If you “publish” exclusively with Amazon or anyone else, you can’t do that. In fact, if you publish exclusively with Amazon, you aren’t even allowed, legally, to post your short story or novel on your own website.

So that’s the first lesson. Go wide.

I recommend distributing everything you write to Amazon and to Draft2Digital.

Smashwords also is a good distributor that will get you into a lot more minor venues, but I’ve never made a sale (since 2011) in any of those venues. So personally I don’t allot any of my time to uploading my work to Smashwords.

Once you’ve settled on distributors, you can shift into the second level of building multiple streams of income.

Collect your short stories. Collect your novels. Period.

When I have written ten short stories, I automatically have 10 new streams of income.

If I make those stories available (through D2D and Amazon) in nine venues, that means I’ve just created 90 individual new streams of income.

If I also collect those stories in two 5-story collections and one 10-story collection, I’ve just created three more streams of income. Times the same nine venues.

So now, having written 10 short stories, I can received income from 117 different streams of revenue.

Later, there’s no law that says you can’t combine two, three or four 10-story collections into one omnibus collection either. More streams of income.

Of course, you can also group your novels. You can sell the first five books in a series in one book. You can sell the last five books in a series in another book. And you can sell all ten books in a single book.

Again, from having written 10 novels, you’re now bringing in revenue from 117 different streams.

Every time you find a new way to present your work, you create a new stream of income that is multiplied by the number of venues in which you offer that work for sale.

That’s also why I use and recommend BundleRabbit. When your work catches the attention of a curator there and he or she bundles it, you’ve just created yet one more stream of income.

Try it. The math isn’t as difficult as it seems.

And those trickling little streams of income all flow into the same river that feeds your bank account. It really is that easy.

Any questions or comments, please add them below or email me directly at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

Setting Writing Goals for 2018

Hey Folks,

This is a special bonus post to all my Pro Writer subscribers out there. Enjoy!

First, let me recommend you read the comments on Dean Wesley Smith’s post from a few days ago. There are some ideas for goal-setting and challenges there that might resonate with you. For your convenience, here’s the link: https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/getting-ready-for-2018.

What follows is the thought process and rationale that helped me set my own goals and challenges for the upcoming year. I’m including it here in case it might help some of you.

I’ve been wrestling with my commitment to writing new fiction.

My word choice here is intentional. A “commitment” is different, to me, than a “resolution.”
Resolutions generally rattle around in my head for awhile, drop an ulcer into my gut, and then flail off into the eternal past like yesterday’s good news.

I’d rather make a commitment, something that isn’t just a fashion-of-the-day fad. Something that requires (from me) a stubborn determination.

Okay, so as I wrestled with this over the past few months and more intensely over the past few days, Critical Mind said, “Hey, go slow, dude. You’ve been off for awhile.” So I thought about setting a goal to write one new short story per week, nothing more.

Seriously? That would probably be wonderful for some folks. After all, that’s 3 – 6 dedicated hours per week of putting new words on the page. As such, it’s certainly nothing to snort at.

But I don’t have children to raise or a day job that consumes my existence. So what in the world would I do with the rest of my time?

I know me. I’d waste it.

Besides, I’m one of those guys who understands if I’ve done something once I can do it again, barring physical limitations. For example, I’ll never run 3 miles in under 18 minutes again, but I did 46 years ago. (grin)

Okay, so it’s time to get real, and nothing is more real than math.

  • Back in 2015, I wrote 686,146 words of fiction, an average of 1880 words per day. (I wrote 719,084 words overall).
  • In 2016, I wrote 702,838 words of fiction, an average of 1926 words per day. (I wrote 976,298 words overall).
  • But this year I wrote only 453,762 words of new fiction. That’s an average of only 1243 words per day. Overall this year I will have written around 640,000 words, less than my fiction-only output in either of the preceding years.

So how can I use this information? Well, I’m setting new writing goals for 2018. Duh. And I like (very much) to better my personal best.

So my subconscious said, “Y’know, we’ve easily hit 3000 and even 4000 words on most days when you let us play.” (We hit more than that on other days, but not so easily.) “So we think our new DAILY goal should be 2500 words.”

“Okay,” said I.

Sensing a trick, my subconscious said, “To be clear, we are not allowed to stop until we’ve written at least 2500 new words of fiction.”

Well, that’s only two to three hours per day. Every day.

Okay, that still sounded reasonable, but with one modification.

I said, “Deal, but I’ll take a day off without guilt when life intervenes or when I just want to.”

My subconscious grumbled a bit, then backed off, its little arms crossed over its chest. “Whatever,” it said.

But that’s all right. My modification was necessary, so that’s that. For example, I have some camping to do (my funny friend says “cramping”) and some family visits coming up. Things like that.

Plus (as I told my subconscious), what matters with this kind of goal is the average. After all, the target word count is a minimum. Any words over 2500 go into the bank and count toward the average.

Folks, I’m establishing goals to drive me to the computer, not to drive me to drink. It’s all about production, not pressure.

If I can manage a little more on average (2740 words per day), I will have hit that elusive goal of 1,000,000 words of fiction in 2018. Wouldn’t that be nice?

And Dean, my unintentional mentor, recommends what he calls a “fall-back goal.” I get that.

So even if I fall short, if I write at least 2055 words per day on average, I will have written 750,000 words of fiction. And that’s not too shabby.

At that point, my subconscious was convinced and fully on board. And my conscious mind shut up and went to sit in her assigned corner. (Yes, she’s female. Do I need to explain?)

Okay, so for calendar year 2018

  • my daily goal is 2500 words of new fiction per day;
  • my stretch goal is 1,000,000 words of new fiction; and
  • my fall-back goal is 750,000 words of new fiction.

And regarding my conscious mind’s nagging admonition to go slow?

Well, note that these are all strictly word-production goals.

Some of those words will go into short stories, some into novelettes and novellas, and some into novels.

But I’m not setting specific goals in that regard. I don’t need them.

I already know I can write a short story in a day or two, a novelette or novella in a few to several days, and a novel in two to four weeks. And that feels plenty fast enough to me.

The challenge will be to write at least 2500 words of new fiction per day, period, and to take a day off without fretting over it when I need to.

This is incredibly freeing. What comes will come. The eventual form the story takes doesn’t matter. All that matters is putting new words on the page.

And, you know, the average. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you want some great long or short fiction, poetry, or nonfiction books on writing, everything I own is still half-price over at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, but only through tomorrow.

Patience Is a Virtue

Hey Folks,

Note: I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas and will have a great New Year. One of my distributors, Smashwords, is offering a year-end sale in which I’m participating.

For only 8 days, December 25 through January 1, all of my books at Smashwords are on sale for 50% off. To take advantage of this year-end sale, visit https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, make your selections, and enter promotion code SEY50. Thanks, and enjoy!

Awhile back I mentioned it’s good to practice something new, some new technique you’ve learned, in each new story you write.

Over the past several novels, I’ve become very good at grounding the reader. I accomplish that primarily by providing intimate details regarding the setting and the people in it.

But as you already know if you follow my Daily Journal, I do a lot of cycling.

Sometimes I cycle back to insert something the characters spring on me later in the story.

For example, say in Chapter 26 Aunt Marge suddenly pulls a .32 caliber revolver out of her house dress and shoots an intruder.

If that happens, I cycle back to when she first put on the house dress, say back in Chapter 18, and allow her to take the revolver from her night stand and slip it into the pocket of her house dress.

This accomplishes two things:

One, it negates the “miracle” of the revolver suddenly appearing just when it’s needed.

Two, it makes the reader feel the writer is a genius. After all, how did the writer know, way back in Chapter 18, that our dear Aunt Marge would need that revolver in Chapter 26?

Cycling will remain an invaluable aid for precisely those two reasons.

However, most of the time when I cycled back in my last several novels, I did so because I got in too big a hurry. I rushed the characters through the scenes, especially action scenes, and thereby missed much that they were trying to add.

Like how the setting looked, smelled, tasted, felt and sounded. And the POV character’s opinion of all that.

So most of the time, I was cycling back to slow myself down and let the characters add what was necessary to both ground the reader in the scene and to give the story depth.

So in this novel, the “new” technique I’m practicing is adding that depth and grounding the reader as I go.

I’ll still cycle back at the beginning of every session. But I expect I’ll be adding fewer words to older scenes and writing a lot more words in new scenes.

In other words, I’m taking my time. I’m still hitting around a thousand words an hour, but they’re more substantive words. Words that aren’t rushed and don’t skimp on necessary details.

In still other words, I’m practicing patience as I write. I understand it’s a virtue. I just wish it would hurry up and get here. (grin)

‘Til next time,

Harvey

PS: Cycling also helps me avoid rewriting and enables me to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules. If you haven’t seen them, you can get a free copy here.

Scene and Chapter Breaks and Hooks

Hey Folks,

I love this topic, and it’s timely because it’s what I’ve been practicing in my last few WsIP. (grin)

As I write this, I have a copyediting job that I put on the back burner because I was so close to finishing the novel. I’ll begin that copyedit today.

To see what I mean by “copyedit,” please visit http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

The writer also requested I check to see whether the scene and chapter breaks “make sense.” I’ll check, but I have no doubt they will. Then again, that led me to this topic for the day.

First, let me define “break” so we’re all on the same page.

In my books, chapter breaks consist either of white space followed by a new chapter head, or a series of five spaced asterisks (in anything I send to Smashwords) followed by white space.

As for scene breaks, in my books, those consist of a series of three spaced asterisks followed by white space. Just my way of doing it.

Some writers use only white space, and that’s fine. But all writers that I’ve encountered thus far use something to clearly mark breaks.

Because the writer asked, I’ll check to be sure those breaks make sense. But I’ll go a step further and check to see whether they hook together from scene to scene and chapter to chapter.

That’s actually a three-step process.

1. I’ll check to see whether there’s a tension-building cliffhanger (physical or emotional) in the few paragraphs before the break.

Yes? Check.

No? I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

2. I’ll check to see whether there’s a good hook immediately after the break. A good opening sentence or paragraph.

For examples of great opening hooks, see my free book (a $6 value) Writing Great Beginnings on the Free Stuff page of my website at http://harveystanbrough.com/downloads/.

3. As long as I’m looking for a hook, I’ll also check to see whether the writer grounds (or re-grounds) the reader in the opening of the new scene or chapter.

For that, I’ll check the first few paragraphs of the new scene or chapter. That’s where you ground the reader, even amidst ongoing action.

So grounding. Yes? Check.

No? Again, I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

Okay, so while I’m on the topic, how do you ground or re-ground the reader in a new scene or chapter?

The only way is to allow the reader to sense (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) the setting through the POV character’s senses.

And remember to include the character’s opinions of the setting when appropriate. (When the opinion matters to the scene or illustrates the character of the character.)

One good example that I often use is a room in which the aroma of pipe tobacco lingers. Pretty much any character will notice it (smell).

But for one character it’s an aroma, and for another it’s a stench. For another the air is stuffy. For another it’s wonderful.

For another (or any of the above) perhaps it invokes a memory of the character’s father’s study.

For another (or any of the above) maybe it invokes the taste of cinnamon on toast because the scent of pipe tobacco is tied to that flavor for the character.

You get the idea. A good rule of thumb is to write NOTHING that doesn’t come through the POV character’s senses and opinion. And yes, that will flavor the character’s dialogue as well.

Most importantly, it will pull the reader into the setting and into the POV character’s head.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Just Tell A Story

Hey Folks,

So many of us have forgotten that our primary purpose is to entertain, first ourselves and then other readers. Entertainent really is the sole purpose of writing fiction.

We get wrapped around words. Yet in and of themselves, they just don’t matter. Words really are only tools, like nails to a carpenter. (If the carpenter drops a nail, does he stop the project? Uh, no.)

We get wrapped around sentence structure, or about whether a group of words constitutes a complete sentence. (Never mind that most of the world, in either narration or dialogue, doesn’t speak in complete sentences.)

We get wrapped around characterization and scene and setting. We get wrapped around “plot” and “theme” and all manner of other things.

Those things DO matter, but the story will provide all of them if we just trust it.

Should we learn those things? Absolutely.

But once we learn about words, sentence structure, characterization, plot and all the rest, it becomes part of our subconscious.

Learning is conscious-mind stuff. It’s what we do in classrooms, physical or virtual. Learning is why I visit Dean Wesley Smith’s site every day. Learning is why I read fiction by other writers, and if it blows me away, I read it again and study it.

And learning is why I practice, practice, practice. And by practice, I mean I write.

Writing is an endeavor of the subconscious. It isn’t learning. It’s practicing what we’ve learned. It’s playtime. Fun time.

And as we write (as we practice), what we’ve learned about words, sentences, plot etc. dribbles forth without effort or thought through our fingers onto the page or screen.

Consider, do you stop and think about whether to put a period at the end of a sentence? No. If you’re writing by hand, do you stop and think about whether to dot an i or cross a t? Of course not.

Because you learned all of that long ago. It’s natural to you, and you trust it.

At your current level of skill, the words, plot, characterization etc. are natural to you as well. You just have to learn to trust it.

I don’t hover over one story in an attempt to make it “perfect.” Like artists in all other art forms, I practice. I write a story, publish it, and move on to the next one.

Some will say when I cycle back over the last 500 to 1000 words and allow myself to touch it, that’s hovering. It isn’t. Cycling is all done with the subconscious mind. The conscious, “thinking” mind has no place in the practice of writing.

When we sit down to write, maybe we decide we’ll practice a particular technique in the current story. Maybe we’ll decide to practice setting.

But once we start writing, we should no longer be thinking (conscious mind stuff) about any of that.

When we sit down to write, we should Just Tell A Story.

If we trust ourselves to just tell a story, everything else comes along of its own accord.

Now, twenty-seven novels and over 180 short stories later, I’m finally fully understanding the purpose: Entertainment. I’m writing solely to entertain, first myself and then others. In other words, my only task is to Just Tell a Story.

And that understanding is incredibly freeing. That’s what it’s all about.

Back in the day, writers “had no training that stories had to be perfect. [The stories] had to be nothing more than good stories readers would enjoy.” (from DWS’ post)

There you go.

Just. Tell. A. Story.

Tell it as if you’re chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee. Or as if you’re leaning to one side on a bar stool, an old-fashioned glass of Who Hit John in your grasp. Just tell a story.

If you don’t already fully realize this, when you do “get” it you’ll be amazed at how much fun writing will be.

‘Til next time, keep writing!

Harvey

Write. What. You. Mean.

Hey Folks,

For many years I’ve kept a running list of awkward expressions, misplaced modifiers, and other syntactical anomalies that run the risk of distracting a reader. And by “distracting the reader” I mean jerking the reader out of the story.

Most often, this is a result of inserting unintentional humor into a serious scene. If the scene is also meant to invoke feelings of sadness or despair or tension, the inadvertent insertion has an even stronger effect.

One of my favorite authors once wrote that a character “kicked her horse up a hill.”

Of course, she meant to write that the character “spurred” her horse up the hill. But she caught that before it was published.

That instance was truly unique, too. Aside from the occasional “her legs raced down the road” or “his nose pressed itself against the window” or “her hip leaned casually against the railing,” these anomalies more often have to do with eyes than with any other human attribute.

Writers routinely have eyes performing all sorts of stupid eye tricks.

I’ve seen eyes popping out of heads, eyes flying around the room, eyes lighting on lapels, and eyes wandering dreamily along a garden path, among many other actions that eyes generally won’t take on their own.

Now just for the record, I don’t go looking for these things unless I’m being paid to copyedit a work. Otherwise I’m just another reader, reading (or trying to) for pleasure.

But when I’m jerked out of the story by some inane word or phrase, that’s strictly the responsibility of the writer.

I made the latest addition to my list this morning. And I took it from a passage an author used in a pull-quote on a website to advertise the book. Seriously.

II won’t mention the author’s name or website or gender or the name of the book. Here’s the sentence:

The baron shifted in his seat and raked his eyes across everyone at the table.

My first reaction was a grin. He did what now?

The second was a snarky, “Wow, dude, that must’a hurt.”

Of course, any tension the writer hoped to create with the excerpt was gone.

Seriously, can you imagine what pain the poor baron must have gone through in “raking his eyes” across those folks?

And they must have been thoroughly grossed out, as evidenced by the very next sentence in the pull quote:

Several members began to protest….

I actually laughed out loud. And for me, just like that, the passage the author used to entice me to buy the book had the opposite effect. The book was a definite no-buy.

Now understand, this occurred in a serious, tension-filled passage in a serious, tension-filled book.

Of course, I know the author meant the baron raked his “gaze” across those at the table. Or that he “glared” at them. Or something. Something that didn’t involve trying to make me (the reader) grin or laugh.

When I mentioned this sort of thing during a presentation at a writers’ conference, a writer in the audience said, “But the reader will know what I mean.”

Yes. The reader will know what you mean. The reader will figure it out. And it takes only a second or two for the reader to go through that process. That’s much less time than it would take you to actually learn the craft, eh?

But figuring out what you meant is not the reader’s job. The reader’s job is to relax and be entertained.

And that second or two might well be all it takes for the reader to put down your book and find something enjoyable to read.

Reader annoyance is cumulative, and chances are if you distract the reader with some inane phrase or formatting once, you’ll repeat it through the book.

Still, as a reader I’ll used to give a story a chance. I would “figure out” what the writer meant and fight to stay down in the story a few times. But the fifth or sixth or tenth time I was pulled out of the story, I stayed out.

These days? Not so much. I have a Kindle and I love finding new (to me) authors. Almost every night I lie back and start a book. I don’t “look for” anything. I just read the story, or try to.

But I no longer force it, because I don’t owe the writer anything. I spent the money on the book; the  writer owes ME something. So the first time the writer puts his or her ignorance of the language on display, I get the same feeling I’d get if a mechanic held up a fan belt and said, “What’s this thingy?”

Then I delete the book from my Kindle and open another one.

Will “most” readers go to that extreme? Probably not. But if they have to fight to get through your book as they “figure out” what you mean, how soon do you suppose they’ll buy another of your books?

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Note: I despise those annoying pop-up ads that populate so many websites, don’t you? This blog is supported only by donations from readers like you. If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out or click paypal.me/harveystanbrough.

Using Italic Attribute in Fiction

Hi Folks,

This is a bit of an embarrassment for me.

I used to actively teach that the writer should use italics to indicate the characters’ unspoken thoughts.

When I was actively editing for other writers, I applied that erroneous rule. One time, I even passed up doing an edit for one writer because she adamantly refused to allow me to change characters’ unspoken thoughts from normal typeface to italics. I felt like she was paying me to not do my job, and I’ve never been bent that direction.

At any rate, I was wrong.

I sent a short story to Dean Wesley Smith one time as an assignment for one of the online workshops I took.

He wrote back that he very much enjoyed the story, but had two complaints.

“Why the italics?” he wrote. “And what’s with the ‘he thought’ tags?”

I explained to him that I use italics to indicate unspoken thought. Sentences contained within quotation marks were spoken thought (dialogue or monologue) and any text that was not either contained within quotation marks or set in italics was narrative.

His only response was, “Well, do what you want, but the italics jerk me right out of the story.”

Wow. The one big overall major concept I’ve always talked about — the one concept that underlies all other writing concepts — is that the writer must never do ANYthing to interrupt the reading of his or her own work.

And here was a writer I highly respect telling me that my use of italics pulled him out of the story.

Now Dean has well over 200 traditionally published novels and around a hundred independently published NEW novels (in other words, not including older novels on which rights have reverted and he’s now republishing as an indie publisher). Oh, and several hundred short stories.

I mean WOW.

And an epiphany hit:

Whether or not you use italics attribute (other than for emphasis) has absolutely no effect on the story itself. So it can’t help, but by disrupting the READING of the story, it can do great harm.

Now I had already decided to trust DWS. He wasn’t trying to convince me of anything. He just wrote, “[T]he italics jerk me right out of the story.” The day after he wrote that, I stopped overusing italics.

But I started rummaging through the works of other writers I respect, both older and more recent.

In every book, I found italics used only sparingly, to indicate emphasis. Never—not one time—did I find a successful long-term writer using italics to indicate unspoken thought.

Then it happened.

In Under the Dome, a novel by arguably my favorite novelist, Stephen King, he uses italics not only to indicate unspoken thought, but also over-uses it to emphasize entire sentences of dialogue when the character is speaking in an excited tone.

For example, one of his characters might put his hands around his mouth and yell, “No! Get back! Don’t go over there! It’s electrified!”

The sentence would be italics AND he would use the exclamation points (arguably correctly to indicate, you know, exclamations).

And every time I encountered the overuse of italics, it pulled me out of the story.

Readers are intelligent enough to know, almost immediately, whether a sentence that is not contained within quotation marks is narrative or the characters’ unspoken thought. You don’t have to tell them with the use of italics. And you might run them off by using it.

While I’m on the topic of things that pull readers out of a story, S. King, at least in Under the Dome, also uses bold font attribute when he writes a single letter or when the narrator or character reads a sign.

For example, “The car approached the place where the road T‘ed” or “The sign read Dairyman’s Dry Cleaners.”

Not kidding. And that use of bold attribute also pulls me out of the story. It’s just distracting and annoying.

Does it make me stop reading? Well, yes, but only momentarily. The story is good enough that I doubt anything could cause me to stop reading completely. But it does make reading the story a lot more difficult. (UPDATE: I was wrong. After encountering several more examples of bold attribute and unnecessary italics, it was distracting enough that I finally gave up on trying to read the story.)

My point here, aside from explaining why I converted from Saul to Paul regarding the use of italics, is that some otherwise excellent writers will occasionally make a booboo.

So don’t take everything you see for gospel just because a famous (to you) writer does it.

I seriously hope this helps.

‘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 Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

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A New Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Traits of a Wannabe Writer (No, this is humor… really.)

Hi Folks,

Well, a little fun this time, at least for me. 🙂

A long while back, I listed The Thirteen Traits of a Professional Writer. I am constantly amazed at all the flak I attract for offering people something that might help them if they’ll only try it.

But really, seriously, I promise, whether or not you choose to try Heinlein’s Rules or anything else I put out there is strictly up to you. I will continue happily unabated on my own journey. So buy-in or don’t buy-in. I wish for you only Good Things, but either way is fine with me.

Here, tongue planted firmly in cheek, are the thirteen traits of a wannabe writer. The first five are a play on Heinlein’s Rules. By the way, the comments in italics are from a couple of my wannabe writer friends. T. Clem Justus hails from a holler a two-ridge jump from Hog Teat, Kentucky, and Jessybob Crapster lives in Lone Skunk, Arkansas where (she says) she was “corralled and stump-broke” by then-Governor Clinton. I appreciate them letting me use their comments:

  1. You Write. Wull, umm, maybe, after all the other thangs in my life are completed, if I’m not too tired… and if the wind ain’t a’blowin’ too hard and the sun ain’t in my eyes and if’n I got time. I have a LIFE you know. Hey, what’re you tryin’a pull here?
  2. You Finish What You Write. Wull, YEAH, of course, duh! Wull, I mean, you know, someday, maybe, or not. But at least I have a big ol’ file of possibles, so there’s that. You ain’t tryin’ t’swipe some’a my idears, are you? ‘Cause you cain’t have ’em, ’cause thur gold, y’hear? Gold!
  3. You Do Not Rewrite. Wull, now just hold on a second there. My English teachers in high school and college and ever’body in my critique group says I’m S’POST to rewrite. And despite the fact that none’a them people are making no kind’a livin’ as a writer, I figger they gotta know what they’re talking about, don’t’cha think? ‘Sides, as long as I’m rewritin’, I don’t gotta publish it and let some stupid editor or reader not like it. ‘Cause if somebody reads it and don’t like it, wull, somethin’ll happen. I ain’t sure what, but it’ll be somethin’ really, really bad.
  4. You Submit Your Work So Publishers Can Buy It. Wull, shur… a’course… you know, after I got it rewrote some times an’ revised some an’ polished some until my own borin’ old original voice is gone and my manuscript looks and sounds exactly like everything else in the slushpile. I mean, I’ve made it absolutely perfect! An’ I just cain’t figger out why the editors keep on rejectin’ it.
  5. You Keep Your Work In The Mail Until A Publisher Buys It (you don’t rewrite, you just send it back out). Whut? Umm, no! That’s just nutso! When I get that rejection slip and my manuscript back, I go through it with a fine-tooth comb, revisin’ an’ polishin’ again. THEN I put it in another envelope and send it out… maybe. You can’t fool ME into believin’ I’m ackshully good enough on my own to get published without rewriting. Just give it up already!

Now, if you agree with the italicized comments, you will remain closely, warmly, comfortably snuggled in with all the others in the Unpublished But Safe Wannabe Writers Club (UBSWWC).

However, if you follow the above religiously WITHOUT the italicized extended remarks, you will check out of that dreary place and begin a career as an actual writer. Good luck.

As before, these other Traits of a Wannabe Writer are in no particular order:

  • You don’t have time to read in the genre for which you want to write. Wull, no… umm besides, like, readin’ other people’s work will, like, totally dilute my “style” anyway, duh.
  • Writing is very low on your list of priorities if it’s a priority at all. Umm wull, YEAH, mostly because it’s SOOO HAAARD. Ugh! It’s pure-dee-ol’ D-R-U-D-G-E-R-Y. Ohmygod I HATE writing!
  • You eschew instruction from successful long-term professional writers. Wait. You mean them guys an’ gals who write really fast and sell lots’a books? C’mon, they MUST be hacks. Good writing is SLOW writing, duh!
  • Instead, you seek the counsel and advice of your peers, who have published no more successfully than you have. Wull, YEAH. They’re my friends. They’re, like, totally supportive.
  • You are a purveyor of the soup sandwich. If by that you mean that I’m, like, absolutely SURE the reader will know what I mean if I write that “the character’s eyes shot across the room,” then yeah. But is that a bad thing?
  • You tell anyone who will listen that you write for yourself, not for money. Yup, I’m totally above writing for publication and money.
  • You live on style manuals, make sure your grammar and syntax are as perfect as possible, and are very careful to be politically correct. Wull yeah, duh! Avoiding offending anyone is absolutely SO much more important than just tellin’ some stupid story.
  • You’d really rather be doing anything other than writing, wouldn’t you? Wull yeah! Duh! Writing is such a drag!

Ahh, what the hey. Here are a few more. With a respectful nod to Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a wannabe writer if…

  • even if you DON’T actually write you DO think a lot about writing and talk a lot about writing… so that’s a writer, right?
  • if you do write, it’s because you are “compelled” (or “driven” or my personal favorite, “called”) to write.
  • often, you begin writing but don’t finish and you’re off on the next shiny new idea
  • you rewrite at least [insert arbitrary number here] times because that’s what it takes to get a “polished” manuscript.
  • a “polished” manuscript is one that looks just like one written by [fill in a famous author’s name here].
  • you don’t realize you enjoyed [famous author]’s work because it was in that author’s ORIGINAL voice.
  • you don’t realize if your work sounds exactly like [famous author]’s work it is NOT in your original voice.
  • you believe your original voice is boring (duh! you’re with your original voice 24/7/365).
  • you offer your work only to nonpaying markets and markets that pay in copies as a way of “paying your dues” as a writer.
  • you believe yourself qualified to pre-judge what a professional editor will buy. (“No possible way is my story good enough so why send it?”)
  • you believe writing is a lofty endeavor.
  • you write less than an hour a day and have no idea how many publishable words per hour you generate.
  • you don’t devote time or money to learn writing from proven professional writers, but you clamber for writing advice from editors, agents, publishers and other non-writing professionals.
  • you believe you are the own worst judge of your work if you think your work is GOOD, but
  • you believe you are RIGHT about your work if you think it sucks canal water from all 50 states.
  • you invest a year or two or three in writing and rewriting and polishing a novel, then
    • refuse to invest in a professional proofreader or copyeditor and/or
    • refuse to invest in a professional cover design, and/or
    • refuse to learn how to write active sales copy, and
    • then you spend hours wondering why in the world the thing isn’t selling and why readers are so picky anyway about stuff like writing “waste” when you meant “waist.” Seriously. What’s so bad about “He slipped his right arm around her waste” or “Even from the stage the feces in the crowd appeared pinched and awestruck”?
  • you believe writing a novel in a year or less is “fast”.
  • you believe any individual who offers to do the eformatting and print layout and cover design of your book for a fee (like $200) is trying to scam you, even though
    • YOU RETAIN OWNERSHIP of all your files, including the files the person created for you and
    • YOU RETAIN ALL RIGHTS to all of your materials and
    • YOU RECEIVE 100% OF NET ROYALTIES. (Seriously, wow.)
  • you believe a subsidy publisher is NOT scamming you when they offer to do the eformatting and print layout and cover design of your book for a fee (like several THOUSAND dollars) even though
    • THEY OWN the cover and all files they create with your manuscript and
    • THEY RECEIVE a cut (like 65%) of the royalties from sales of your book and
    • YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM a hefty fee if you decide you no longer want to be scammed. (Seeing a pattern here?)
  • you ignore everything in The Thirteen Traits of a Professional Writer post and this one because you know you’re right. 🙂

‘Til next time, happy writing. Please?

Harvey

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