Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Six Obvious Signs of an Amateur Writer (and Four Novice Mistakes)

Meet Karin Beery! Karin and I met at the Breathe Conference for Writers in Michigan last fall. She is a bright, high energy editor and writer. If you have a manuscript in the works and need another set of eyes on it...she's your girl! I asked Karin to offer some of her best advice for new writers. This is one post you will want to bookmark. Be sure to add Karin to your list of professionals.

Owner of Write Now Editing and Copywriting Services, Karin Beery specializes in fiction and professional business copy. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the American Christian Writers Association. A Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network member, she is the Substantive Editing for Fiction instructor for the PEN Institute. Karin is represented by literary agent Steve Hutson at Word Wise Media. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website,

Six Obvious Signs of an Amateur Writer (and Four Novice Mistakes) 
by Karin Beery

I’ve read many levels of manuscripts, and, regardless of genre, there are several signs that scream “Amateur!” When I say “amateur,” I’m not talking about unpublished authors – there are many great authors out there who have yet to publish a book. The amateur writers are those who still need to learn the most fundamental rules of writing fiction.

Here are six of the most obvious signs of an amateur writer (and tips for correcting them):

1.    Formatting. Times New Roman, 12-point font, double-spaced, no extra spaces between paragraphs, auto-indent on the first line of a paragraph, 1-inch margins. That’s the industry standard. Anything else turns on that big ol’ amateur sign.
2.    Bold. ALL CAPS. Underlining. There’s no reason for bold, ALL CAPS, or underlined words in a novel. There are a few instances when italics are acceptable, but sparingly (a few times per novel, not per page). Stop trying to give your words emphasis; let your story do it.
3.    Exclamation points!!!!! In a novel, use an exclamation point in dialogue to show when a character is yelling. That’s it. If you want to show excitement, use actions. Leave the exclamation points on the keyboard.
4.    Bellowing, cackling, etc. There are only three dialogue tags you should ever use: said, whispered, and questioned (and some will argue that the only acceptable tag is “said”). Any other tags are telling. Let your characters’ actions show what else is happening.
5.    Starting with back story. Every character has a past, but that’s exactly what it is – the past. You’re starting in the middle of that character’s story, so start there. Reveal past details as (if) needed throughout the book.
6.    Large info dumps. The dialogue starts, then runs into a paragraph (or more) of information. That’s an info dump, and it stalls the action. Stay in the scene and reveal that information when (and if) necessary.
Most of these amateur mistakes can be spotted without having to pay close attention to the manuscript. These are what every writer should know and include in his/her manuscript, yet more often than not I see new writers committing these easy-to-fix mistakes. Take some time to clean these things up and you can shake that amateur label.

If you’ve already started to recognize and correct these mistakes, you could probably consider yourself a novice. The novice writer is a little more advanced, but there are still some signs that the writer is new.

·      Telling words. She thought; she heard; she observed. Any word that tells us what your character is doing is a telling word. Instead of, “She heard the door close,” just show it: “The door slammed shut.”
·      Head hopping. Each scene includes only one point-of-view. There may be more than one character in the scene, but the reader can only see/hear/know what one character sees/hears/knows. You can change points-of-view between scenes, but stick with one per scene.
·      To-be verbs. Another form of telling, was and were tell the reader what’s going on instead of showing it: She was happy. Instead, show me: She bounced up and down, unable to control her giggling.
·      Transitions. A character walks into a room, then she’s sitting at the table eating, but nothing ever showed her going to the refrigerator to get some food or sit down at the table. Often novice writers will skip these because they think it’s telling, but it’s necessary to see how characters get from place to place, scene to scene.

These ten items are the most obvious signs of amateur and novice writers. Once you have a good understanding of how to avoid and eliminate these things, you’ll start seeing different responses to your manuscripts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Most Important Sentence You May Write

If you have a dream to write, this is the year. Why? Well, to quote my mother, “There’s no time like the present.” I have a couple of other reasons as well. First, I’m here to help you. And second, I’ve dedicated this blog to help you create the novel you always wanted to write. Remember, I have a schedule for A Novel Creation:

·      The first Wednesday is dedicated to the business side of writing. To that end, I developed three handbooks to help writers become authors. The series is called Writing to Publish. Last week I wrote about the first book in that series, Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing. If you missed that post, I’ve linked it HERE.
·      The second Wednesday of each month is dedicated to the craft of drafting a novel. More about that later.
·      The third Wednesday I try to feature a guest author with either a post or an interview. These prove to be insightful and allow readers to see a bit behind the scenes of a variety of writers. Next week Karin Beery, a professional editor offers great suggestions for all of us before as we write and before we present to an agent or publisher.
·      The fourth Wednesday I usually reserve for whatever is on my mind. And on my mind right now is YOU. I want this to be the year you succeed.

A Novel Creation is a roadmap for you to follow as you write that book that keeps rolling around in your head. Will it sell? Maybe. Maybe it will be a gift for your children or grandchildren. Maybe that first book will be a way for you to launch another idea, to get your creative juices flowing, or to develop your writing ability. Whatever you do with the book, finishing it will be your first measure of success. 

Today I'm going to talk about where to start that novel: The Most Important Sentence You May Write.

There is homework. This week I want you to draft your premise statement. What is your book about? The premise statement will include a hint of the trouble a hint of the characters and may offer a suggestion of how the characters will overcome the problem. Let's take a couple of examples you may be familiar with. We’ll start with a simple version.

Forced to live under evil oppression a small band of rebels rally to overcome an evil being whose new weapon threatens their very existence.

You can see from this premise there is not a ton of information. This story could go anywhere. Small band of rebels? That could be the French resistance or the Star Wars rebellion. A new weapon? Could it be a new rocket or the Death Star? Let's try to flesh it out a little bit.

A small band of rebels led by a feisty Princess rally to overcome an evil oppressor empowered with a force beyond understanding who has captured the princess and has control of a new weapon that threatens all that is good.

Now we have at least two characters. We have a feisty Princess who we know is good because she is leading people to overcome an evil oppressor. We also have the evil oppressor who has a force (we could even say a mystical force) and a new weapon. Let's refine a little more.

A small band of unlikely rebels set out to rescue a feisty Princess from an evil oppressor who not only is empowered with a mystical force but who also has control over a new weapon that threatens all that is good in the universe.

It helps to pack as much into your premise statement as possible. However, here are a few more examples I took from movie descriptors. I randomly selected these from movie stations on cable. You’ll see the premise here is simple. I tried to find a few from differing genres.

“Colorado teens fight back after Soviet troops drop into town for WWIII.”

Note that although this descriptor is short it is full of tension. Who are the teens? How do they fight back? How did the Soviet troops “drop into town” and why? WWIII? What does that look like?

Here is another one. And hey, it was old movie day. What can I say?

“A boy and a girl from different backgrounds fall in love regardless of their upbringing - and then tragedy strikes.”

Who is the boy? What is his background? Who is the girl? What tragedy strikes? If you guessed Romeo and Juliet, you would be wrong. Try a movie from the 70’s. However, some themes play out over and over with great success.

Take a look at this one. It is a fairly recent comedy.

“Four friends conspire to turn the tables on their women when they discover the ladies have been using Steve Harvey's relationship advice against them.”

This one begs us to wonder what relationship advice Steve Harvey has dished out and how? And we know we have at least eight characters in this movie: Four men and four women.

I think you get the idea. You are ready to write the one sentence that captures the essence of your story. It should hint at the characters and the trouble brewing.

And just for kicks, here is the official Star Wars premise.

Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.”

Book 1 in the Writing to Publish Series, Designing a Business Plan for Your writing is now available for $2.99 on Amazon.

Click HERE to view the book or order your copy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing

I considered titling this post “The Writer You’ve Always Wanted To Be- Is This The Year?” It’s a new year. A year filled with the promise of fulfilling your dreams.

$2.99 on Amazon CLICK HERE
If you read last week’s post, you know this is the week I released Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing. This is the first book in a three part series aimed at helping people become published authors. I’m giving away a few free ebook copies for those of you leaving a comment today.

Until then, here is a sneak peek of the book:

Chapter One offers an introduction and answers the question why every writer needs a business plan. I also share my story and how the plan continues to help me in my writing endeavors.

Chapter Two helps you get started through a little self-examination. What do you want from your writing?

Chapter Three guides you in thinking through your strengths and weaknesses in writing and publishing.

Chapter Four takes you through the process of establishing your goals and objectives as a writer.

Chapter Five gives you tools to identify your mission and vision  for writing.

Chapter Six gives you strategies for budgeting your time and money for this endeavor.

Chapter Seven leads you to developing a professional development component for your business plan.

Chapter Eight offers strategies for engaging with others in the writing community.

Chapter Nine is where you put it all together in a way that is meaningful to you.

I’ve also included a list of resources for you to access.

Is offering you this outline sexy or meaty? Maybe not. But what sets this handbook apart from other texts on business plans for writers is the set of exercises accompanying each chapter to help you understand the elements of each section. With this handbook, you will walk through each element to make this plan unique to your needs. It is not formulaic, telling you to “write your mission statement” without explanation of where that comes from or how to get there. I also give examples of components from my own experiences. And…for me this is a big one…I don’t use unfamiliar business jargon.

This handbook is written for writers. Writers who want to become published authors. Writers who want to see their publishing dreams fulfilled. This handbook is for you.

So you want to be a published author? You want a free copy of the book? Answer this question: What would you love to publish this year? Try to be specific. Do you want to write a cookbook for college kids? A romance novel? Flash fiction? Maybe you want to capture a few freelance gigs in your industry. Answer the question in the comments.