Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Rules Apply to Westerns, too. #writingtips

Whether or not we write western novels or any other genre, there are certain rules to follow that make us better writers/authors.  I've done a lot of reading lately, and also re-edited a couple of my previously published booked in order to add in the things I've learned since they were published the first time.  How many times have you read something you've written and said, "oh, I wish I had known that then?"

I decided to share a few common "unnecessary" faux pas I see, AND WRITE out of habit.

If you read a sentence containing "that" without the word and the meaning is still perfectly clear, take out the word.  I was a big offender when I first started writing but now I catch myself, and also do a search before I submit a manuscript for publication..

Example:  His declaration that he was innocent fell on deaf ears.
Better:  His declaration of innocence fell on deaf ears.

Note:  did you know "was" is passive? (I normally would have said 'did you know that "was"....I'm trying hard to minimize how many times I use the word.  Be sure to watch your tenses and stay in the present.  I'm not a big fan of "to" phrases, except in the case above because trying is something I intend...  in my mind using 'to see' and similar combinations shows intent rather than action.  It's important to have the story unfold as if the events are taking place in the moment.

How tired do you get of reading "he watched, she heard, she knew, or similar sentence lead-ins?"  We generally write from one person's point-of-view, and if we are doing a good job and not hopping from one head to another, then the reader will know who is watching, hearing, knowing or seeing. Of course there are time you will use a pronoun, but here's an example of how much more smoothly your novel will read if you adhere to this rule of thumb:

Bad:  She heard the doorbell and knew it was probably Michael.  She heard a muted whistling sound outside, opened the door, and found she was right.  
Better:  The doorbell sliced the silence and Greta placed her eye against the peephole.  Michael stood on the porch.. His puckered lips sent the muted melody he whistled  beneath the door. His handsome profile made her heart flutter. She opened the door and invited him inside.

Okay...maybe a little much, but I think you get the idea.

How about tags.  They can get very tiresome, and we forget how smart our readers are. If only two people are in the room. If you feel the need to identify the person speaking, have them do something...that's called an action tag.

Example:  "Nice day, isn't it? John said
Better:  "Nice day, isn't it?"  John stood at the window overlooking the garden.

Okay, so I used an "ing" word, and we've been beaten into submission about why to avoid them.  I think rules are made to be broken sometimes, especially ones that don't make sense.  I could have said  "that overlooked," but why?  I try to use them sparingly, but there are just times when nothing works as well as an "ing or an ly."  If there is a stronger verb to be used, I use those to SHOW more than tell, which brings me to another rule.

Show rather than tell!  I learned with my debut novel that there is a real difference between telling a story and showing a novel.  Strong verbs that SHOW the emotions, emphasize aromas, and put the reader in the character's shoes are signs you've done a good job.

"I'm so angry I could spit."  Jane left the room.  (Tells the reader Jane's angry.)
"I'm so angry I could spit."  Jane spun around and stomped out. (Shows the anger)

Oh...I should also mention that dialogue is really important, especially if you want to describe the person whose POV you're in. Normally a person would not describe themselves, such as long, brown hair, or eye color.  When you think or talk do you refer to your characteristics?  Probably not.  I'm sure not going to mention the size of my butt, and I hope no one else does, but you never know.

"I love the sparkle in your green eyes and the way the sunlight deepens the red in your long curls."  John brushed her lips with a kiss.

Last but not least...cause before affect.  In other words...something has to happen before someone can react.

Bad:  Susie started at the slamming door.
Better: The door slammed and Susie jumped.

Okay, I could go on and on, but I won't.  If you think of something to add, please feel free to use comments.  What bothers you most when you read?  Inquiring minds NEED to know.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Good advice, Ginger. Dialogue tags are my pet peeve. I prefer body action or internal thoughts to "said" anytime.

Unknown said...

I just love posts like this. I'm writing but I still have a lot to learn, particularly since English isn't my mother tongue. Gives me an additional challenge. Thanks for the tips.