writing tips

Another Writing Tip

Where possible, write in the active voice. The active voice occurs when the subject PERFORMS an action; for instance, “A tornado toppled Uncle Frank’s barn.” In contrast to the active voice, the passive voice occurs when the subject RECEIVES an action; for instance, “Uncle Frank’s barn was toppled by a tornado.”

The example written in the active voice is shorter (by two words), simpler, and more on point. It reads better, and it moves the scene at a faster pace.

Is it “wrong” to write in the passive voice? Not always. While it doesn’t read as well as the active voice, and it often necessitates more words to convey a thought, the passive voice still isn’t literary taboo–you just need to watch it carefully. Is the passive voice ever the “correct” approach to a piece? Yes. It’s good for achieving effect and emphasis; for example, to make sure that a particular word receives the greatest emphasis (by forcing it to the end of the sentence).

When it doubt, go with the active voice. It tightens your prose, gives it more punch, and moves your story along.

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#AmWriting #IndieAuthors How to Destroy Your Credibility as an Author – Part One: Handling Reviews

This is Part One of my pseudo-sarcastic series about destroying one’s credibility as an author. I’m not being mean, and I’m definitely not pointing my finger at anyone; I’m just tired of seeing the same old unsavory practices all day, every day. Writing a book is hard, I know. But who said writing is an author’s only job? Granted, writing is the most important part of an author’s job, but non-writing responsibilities, such as promotion, time management, financial management, and public relations, also play a role in achieving success as an author, especially if you’re an independent, or “indie” author.

The manner in which independent authors perform the non-writing aspects of their jobs speaks not only for the individual authors, but for all independent authors. When many authors make the same mistakes again and again, the book-buying public lumps all independent authors together. And that’s when you read such comments as, “Oh yeah, invincible self-published authors and their massive, vapor-filled ego bubbles,” or, “Our publication no longer reviews self-published books because the authors lash out at us if we give their books less-than-stellar reviews.” Sound familiar? And speaking of reviews… Part One of my series deals with handling bad reviews.

~ How to Mishandle Bad Reviews and Destroy Your Credibility and Reputation ~

1) When you receive a bad review, immediately “lash out” at the reviewer. Call them a jerk, and insist that they don’t understand the book or, alternatively, that they had read the book through their eyes instead of your eyes. If the review noted spelling or gramattical errors, simply tell the reviewer, “Nobody’s perfect! A few errors aren’t a big deal.”

The reality: Reviews are for readers, not authors. The author’s job is to create a reading experience for the reader, and then back away. Commenting back on reviews is authorial intrusion at its worst, and in addition to eroding your credibility and reputation as an author, it will likely earn you more bad reviews and/or a spot on one of the many “misbehaving authors to avoid” lists. To put it bluntly, when you receive a bad review, suck it up and move on. Unless the review contains profanity, racism, or a very explicit personal attack, nobody is going to remove it for you.

But, what if a competing author, their publisher, or someone who hates you submits a trash review? Sadly, it happens all the time. It has happened to me twice, plus a third review came from someone who exploded when I didn’t support their relative a local election. There’s nothing you can do about it, although karma usually wins out over the long run. I’ll tell you that story some other time. Now for the good news… Readers are smart! Most readers can spot a “rigged” review faster than you can spot one, and they often vote down bogus reviews as being “not helpful.”

Now, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s suppose a valid customer submits a bad review and goes into detail. Send them a check! Really. They’ve done what most people won’t do without a fee. They’ve pointed out things you need to work on. Such bad reviews are invaluable in developing and furthering your writing career.

2) When you receive a bad review, vote it down and ask your friends, relatives, and forum buddies to vote it down or leave nasty comments. You can easily bury the bad review, and potential customers will see only good reviews unless they spend oodles of time digging–and most won’t.

The reality: Again, reviews are for readers, not authors. Also, a review’s helpfulness rating influences book-buying decisions. Voting down (or up) a review is manipulating, or “gaming” the system to make one’s book appear better or more popular than it really is. It is a deliberate and willful misrepresentation of a material fact, for the purpose of achieving financial gain. And yes, the F-word applies here: Fraud. Gaming the system not only damages your credibility and reputation as an author, it also calls into question your integrity as a human being–by making you appear as someone who will “do anything for a dollar, even if you have to mislead people.”

3) If a competing book is more successful than your book, or if you’re afraid it will become more successful, visit every review site on the internet and give it trash reviews.

The reality: Much has been said about this practice, but nothing good. I can’t think of anything more unprofessional or unethical than an author’s trashing of a competing author’s book. Sure, authors have the right to an opinion, but sometimes opinions are best left unsaid, especially when an obvious conflict of interest exists. As I said earlier, readers are smart. If you trash the work of your competitors, readers will catch on and your plan will backfire.

Now, a few parting words. You shouldn’t over-analyze reviews; weigh them and move on. If a reviewer gives useful tips, take them to heart. If you receive tons of great reviews, pat yourself on the back, but don’t think you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. If you get lots of bad reviews, take a close look at your writing; you might need to develop and hone your skills. And remember that reviews aren’t about you; reviews are about your books, by readers and for readers. Step back. Don’t intrude. Allow readers to give their opinions and to judge for themselves the merits of other reviews.

The bottom line: If you get a bad review, don’t make an ass of yourself.

Up Next Week:  Part Two – Getting Sucked Into the Virtual Whirlwind of the Internet, aka, the ClickFest

#Ghosts #Paranormal #AmWriting How to Write a Ghost Story (My Way)

But first…. Ready for fright season? Get your copy of “Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” TODAY! Kindle and paperback editions available. Click here! Pleasant dreams.

Checking my stats this evening, I noticed someone had found my site by using the search term, “how to write a ghost story.” How to write a ghost story? I’m flattered, indeed, but I’ve yet to offer any insight into writing about things that go bump in the night. Until now.

What is a ghost story? A story involving a character(s) of a ghostly, paranormal nature? A story about a ghost that swipes cookies from the kitchen, wakes you up, and sucks all the energy from your body while regurgitating said cookies? Could a ghost story be a journalistic approach to solving, or trying to explain, a haunting? I suppose it could be any of the above, but I deal only with the latter, the journalistic approach. Neither a believer nor a skeptic, my unbiased approach to a haunting entails digging up lots of information (records), analyzing the information to separate fact from hocus-pocus, and presenting my findings–anything factual or noteworthy–to my readers.

Assuming I’ve completed a five-day trip to a haunted location 1000 miles away, and analyzed my findings, the example below is how I write the story. The example is NOT a perfect (edited) story. It flowed from the top of my head to my fingers, and then to my keyboard, as I thought it up. The example is based on a historic hurricane, but I know neither the date nor the particulars–I only know it happened at one of my favorite places. I borrowed the example’s main character from my book, Ghostly Cries From Dixie, changing her name from Marie LaVeau to Madame Treme’. Without further ado, here’s how I write a ghost story.

The Intro
The Intro sometimes includes a ghostly hint before transitioning into the main story. By “story,” I mean the story of a real-life tragedy that caused the haunting. Here is an intro with a hint:

For years, people have heard the thunder of Voodoo drums and seen scantily-dressed characters dancing along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The eerie thumps and fervent apparitions fade into the early morning fog when approached, leaving witnesses terrified and searching for answers.

The Story
Other times, the intro goes straight into the story (no intro):

For over fifty years, Madame Treme’ led exotic Voodoo rituals involving animal sacrifices, drunken orgies, live boas along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. These rituals would begin around 10 o’clock at night and last until daybreak.

 

The Tragedy (the reason for a haunting)
Ok, let’s assume we’ve done the intro and a three-page story, thus far. Now it’s time to seal the story with a tragedy:

Just before daybreak on a sweltry October morning, Madame Treme’ and her followers experienced what they thought were the gods. Thunder boomed and roared, the howling wind picked up, and lightning crackled in the usually dark sky. Weather warning systems didn’t exist in 1835; people were left to fend for themselves when they saw bad weather approaching. At night, there was no way to tell how bad an approaching front would be, until it was too late. The Voodoo ritual grew more intense as sheets of rain swept the now whitecapping lake and trees buckled. Within five minutes, a powerful hurricane changed the face of Lake Pontchartrain forever and buried Madame Treme’ and her followers in the lake’s murky depths.

The Transition (get your spook on)
Tragedy accomplished. Boo hoo. Now, let’s transition to the paranormal and create a ghost story:

Long lost, but not forgotten, Madame Treme’ was the most notorious Voodoo queen in Louisiana history. Men loved her, women coveted her, and the organized clergy cursed her. She weilded sceptre over those who followed her, sacrificing to the Loa, manipulating the human psyche, and destroying those who dared to cross her. And now, almost 180 years later, Madame Treme’ still wields her sceptre, more forcefully than ever, from her watery grave!

The Evidence (why we think there’s a ghost)
Paranormal transition accomplished. Now that we’ve got our spook on, we need to provide evidence to back our claim.

Anglers frequently report seeing an older Creole woman wandering the shores of Lake Pontchartrain at daybreak. When spoken to, she smiles and quickly turns in the opposite direction, then disappears. In 1998, two college students who had camped in the woods near the lake reported hearing Voodoo drums and seeing people dressed in Voodoo attire late one night. The figures danced near the shore and wailed repeatedly. The drum’s beat grew softer over the course of five minutes, and the mysterious revelers faded into the fog.

That’s not much evidence. For a real story in a book, you will need to interview more people. Make sure to get their names and make them sign releases, too. Now we need to present possible theories:

The Theories

Some say the anglers and campers were smoking crack, and they hallucinated. A local scientist says the mysterous dancing figures, which are hard to discern at night, represent concentrations of methane gas, and that the drumbeats are the rumbling of nearby towboat engines. However, most people in the hamlet of Port Manchac feel the eerie sounds and apparitions are none other than Madame Treme’ and her followers, trapped in the worst hurricane on record, and trying to complete their rituals.

The Close

Despite many oft-conflicting theories and generalizations, one thing is certain. Something is wrong, very wrong, on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Is it evil? Is it religious? Will it hurt you? Your children? Should you dare to find out for yourself, make sure to carry a cross and watch our back.

And finally, if you’d like to see detailed examples–REAL ghost stories–you can snag a copy of Ghostly Cries From Dixie at Amazon for only $2.99 (Winter Special).

Pleasant dreams.

#amwriting Three Simple Writing Tips

Writing tip #1:  Avoid verb forms of “to be,” if possible.  Am, is, are, was, and were –the most useless words in a writer’s toolbox. Why? Because 1) they usually aren’t necessary for conveying your message, and 2) removing them usually renders their accompanying qualifiers and modifiers unnecessary.  When you find these potential problem-words, try removing them and rewording the sentence.  You’ll often end up with a shorter, punchier sentence.  Say twice as much, but with fewer words.

Writing Tip #2:  To emphasize a word, place it at the beginning or end of a sentence.  That’s where words stand out the most. Words or phrases of little importance should be placed mid-sentence, if possible.  Also, place a paragraph’s most important sentence at the beginning or the end of the paragraph.  When writing, don’t forget about emphasis.

Writing Tip #3:  Go on a “which hunt.”  Read this sentence: “The car, which had big wheels and a loud, roaring  muffler, rolled past me.”  Horrible.  Now, let’s try this:  “The big-wheeled car roared past me.”  See there?  By removing that nasty “which,” and thinking creatively, I cut more than half the sentence–eight words–without distorting its meaning.  If you can remove “which” without distorting a sentence’s meaning, then remove it!  If outright removal won’t work, consider using “that” instead of “which.”  That uses fewer letters, and it rarely requires a preceding comma, unlike that nasty old which.