Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blog post titles that win readers

When devising a title for your blog post keep it short and descriptive. "Catchy" is always fun, but "short and descriptive" will win more readers. I f you can pull off all three, that's even better.

We live in an impatient world. It may not seem fair, but in most cases, your title is all you have to draw people's attention to your post. We make decisions instantly, so you need a title for your blog post that will grab the reader's attention instantly. Here are some traits of good titles:

1. Short: Keep the title as short as possible. A short title will be easier to tweet on Twitter or announce on Facebook. And, a short title is easier to read at a glance.

2. Specific: Don't generalize. If your blog post is about the Mississippi River, don't title it "Waterways of America." Be as specific as possible with the nouns you use.

3. Numbers: Using numbers in the title is often eye-catching. For example, a good title for this blog post might have been, "5 ways to improve the titles of your blog posts." The "5 Ways" tells the reader that the article is going to be short and specific. And, there's an added advantage of putting a number at the front of the title of your blog post. Numerals in titles are usually listed first in an alphabetical list of blog post titles.

4. Inviting: Don't go for shock value in your titles and don't use overstatements in your titles. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I don't like it when the title exaggerates the content of an article. In fact, I end up feeling cheated somehow and might avoid that author in the future.

5. Catchy. As I stated earlier, catchy is okay as long as the title clearly tells the reader the topic of the blog post.

That's it. Get going and write some good titles. And, of course, feel free to share tips of your own for writing good titles.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Writing at your peak

Runners eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and generally take care of themselves in order to run at their peak. What do you do to write at your peak?

Writers who are serious about their craft might find their performance much improved if they approached their craft with the dedication of a runner, or a musician who practices 8 or more hours a day, or a skater training for the Olympics.

We're approaching that time of year when many of us renew our dedication to ourselves and those things we love. For me, writing is one of those things. It is my profession, but it is also my avocation, my passion. When I am not writing, I am thinking about writing.

How about you? Are you devoted to your writing? Do you practice your writing? Sometimes we only think we are writing when we are being paid for it. That's not the case. Writers write.... some for practice, some for clients, and some for just the sheer joy of it.

If you're devoted to your writing, consider your writing routine and your life routine and alter your habits to ensure you are performing at your peak.
What do you do to make sure you write at your peak? Please comment...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Networking to help your blog

Regardless of why you blog (whether it's for business or just for fun), bloggers need readers. If you're writing just for yourself, keep it in your computer or notebook. No need to take the extra step and post it to a blog.

I assume most of you are writing for others to read. There are many opportunities to find readers by networking on the Internet. Get started with these:

1. Just posting to your blog is not enough. It's important to get involved and invite the involvement of others. When you write your blog post, be sure to invite others to comment and to spread the word about it.

2. Reciprocate. It's not all about you. Although you might be thrilled to finally have a spot to say what you want when you want, blogging is about communicating with others. Approach your blog in a friendly and inviting way. This will encourage followers.

3. When starting out, send an email to your list. Tell them a little something about your blog. After introducing your blog to them, be sure to send them a short notice each time you put up a new post.

4. Put a Followers gadget on your blog. This will give people the opportunity to sign on. They will be notified when you post a new entry to your blog.

5. Visit other blogs, follow them, and comment on their blog posts. This will encourage others to visit yours.

6. List your blog on blog directories. Find directories by searching for them in your favorite search engine.

7. Join social media sites pertaining to your topic. You can find many of these at On your page on each social media site list the URL of your blog. Participate in discussions on these sites and people will become curious about you and begin to network with you. Facebook and Linkedin are good social media sites to join, also.

8. Twitter is another good spot where you will find it easy to network with possible followers. Set up a Twitter site to tell others about your blog. Each time you post to your blog, tweet about it on Twitter to let people know that it's there.

The best way to network with and about your blog is to remember that you are communicating with others not lecturing them. Approach each blog post and each communication about your posts as a conversation and people will find it much easier to respond to you.

How do you network about your blog? Leave a comment.
By the way.... to follow my own advice, I just added the Followers section to the right. Please join me in my blogging about blogs and about writing topics in general. Thanks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twitter and Your Blog: an Overview

Many times people put up blogs but never catch on to how to attract people to it to read their wonderful posts. One way to attract people to your blog is to write interesting and entertaining posts that people will want to read. Even at that, you may not attract a crowd if you don't first attract a few followers to spread the word.

Twitter will help you spread the word. So, go to and set up an account. The sign-in process is easy. Once you're there, set up your Profile page. If your Twitter site is mainly to announce what's going on at your blog, you may want to name your Twitter site the same as your blog.

Be sure to fill in the URL from your blog on the Settings page, so it will show up on your Profile page and people will be able to click to it. An additional option is to name the Twitter page after yourself, so you can use it for more than one topic.

Once you have your Twitter page set up, spend a couple hours searching for and finding people to follow who are interested in your topic and who might be interested in following you. Follow them. Devise four or five tweets and tweet to your new followers.

Here's a brief skinny on tweeting. The biggest mistake people make when they start on Twitter is they tweet only about themselves. Be generous with your tweets. Treat it as a communication system where you respond to other tweets as well as send out tweets about your topic.

Watch for more posts about Twitter in the future...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why is he smiling?

I call him Smiley... I took this picture yesterday. So, what I want to know is... why is he smiling?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing without a muse.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure what a muse is and what it actually could do for me – or is supposed to do for me. As far as I know, a muse has never landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear.

I do know, however, that when I just daydream, I come up with some of my best writing. I’ll be sitting at a red light and my mind will hit on a great idea.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have a pen and pad or a computer or a tape recorder with me. Therefore, by the time I get home, the thought is most often gone and if it isn’t gone, the clever wording that went with the idea has certainly fled. Consequently, the world misses most of my best stuff.

What is the lesson here? Well, it’s to carry a pen and pad or a computer (perfect justification to get one of those netbooks) or a tape recorder with me at all times, so I can capture brilliance when it hits. The alternative to that is to try to simulate the relaxed state of my daydreams while I’m writing.

Now, I think there is something to that relaxation solution. I think the advice here is to stop straining to create. I think the advice is to sit back and write what comes to mind. Be a reporter of the story that is going through your brain instead of the creator of the story. Just let it flow and don’t worry about the outcome. Leave the straining for when you start revising and playing with your creation.

By relaxing and letting the story flow without censor, you just might have something worth re-writing when you’re done.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Using Twitter to guide readers to your blog

Twitter is just about the most efficient way to get the word out about your blog. Of course, to keep readers coming back, you must write an interesting blog.

Let's assume you do write interesting, dynamic blog posts. Here are some quick tips on how to use Twitter to guide more readers to your blog:

1. On Twitter, follow people who are naturally interested in your topic and they will follow you back.

2. Every time you post a new article on your blog, go to your Twitter account and tweet about it. Be sure to include the link to the post. For example, as soon as I post this article on The Helpful Blogger, I'll go to my Twitter account and tweet, "Helpful Blogger tips on Using Twitter to Guide Readers to Your Blog. Details at" Or I could tweet a little less formally, such as "Just posted to my blog about using Twitter. Check it out at

3. Frequency. Twitter runs 24 hours. Some of your followers are from different time zones, such as Hawaii, Japan, Australia, England, etc. Don't forget about them . If you always tweet at 10:00 am, you'll only hit a fraction of your possible followers. Therefore, Tweet about your blog posting several times a day. If you can't sit around waiting to tweet at 2:00 in the afternoon, sign onto one of the applications that allow you to schedule tweets for the time you want them to go out. (I use for this. I type in tweets I want sent out throughout the day and let Hootsuite send them out at the times I have specified.)

4.# Hashtags. One way to increase the number of people who will see your tweets is to mark them with (#) hashtag categories. For example. I'll write my tweet as follows: "Using Twitter to guide readers to your blog. Details #blogging, #blogger." By using #blogging and #blogger in the tweet, the tweet will show on a page of other tweets that have been marked #blogging or #blogger. Readers who go to #blogging or #blogger will see my tweet in the chronological stream of tweets that have these same hashtag markings . Some of these readers may already follow me, many probably don't. But they will learn about me there, and may start following.

5. Invite comments. Instead of just informing folks that your tweet is posted, invite comments. Another way to encourage people to click on the link is to ask a question and invite them to answer it in the comments section of your blog. For example, for this blog post, I could tweet. "Using Twitter to guide readers to your blog. Add your tips!," or "Do you have tips on how to use Twitter to help your blog? Post comments at"

6. Another good way to draw attention to your blog post is to make your tweets generally enjoyable to read. Don't always tweet about your blog. Tweet about your topic in general, throw a picture onto occasionally with a great caption. Or send out a quote occasionally, and then when you post your blog, tweet about it. Your followers will be used to looking for your tweets and will click on the link to see what you have to offer.

Most of all, you will attract followers to follow you on Twitter and to your blog by enjoying it all. Your enjoyment and enthusiasm will show through and others will naturally want to read what you have to say.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why blog about your business

What did we ever do before blogging? Blogs open valuable lines of communication with customers/clients, associates and potential customers/clients, and a good blog allows you to reach these people faster and easier than past communication systems. Here are some of the reasons you should blog about your business

1. Announce the launch of your business or of new products and services much quicker and more economically that use a paper launch.
2. If you post interesting and valuable articles to your blog a couple of times per week, you'll keep your customers/clients interested in your business and what you are doing.

3. Use your blog to ensure you customers are well informed. By being the business in your category that provides customers and clients the information they need and when they need it, you just may get that next order rather than it going to a competitor.
4. Customer service is hard to come by lately. Through your blog you can increase your customer service in many ways. One way is to ask for their input on how you can serve them better. You can also conduct polls to keep up to date on the needs of your customers. Many times you can head off complaints in this manner.

5.Blog about your businesses to let your customers know about specials and discounts. If you post early information that will save them time and money, you'll find that you have made some loyal followers.

6. Finally, one of the most important reasons to blog about your business is increase your communication and connection with your clients/customers.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Be Creative and Have a Happy Economical Holiday

It might just be me, but who wouldn't appreciate a short story or a painting for Christmas. This year, with the economy challenging us at every turn, perhaps instead of spending a bundle on Christmas, it would be good to put your creativity to work to create a meaningful Christmas gesture as good or better than any store-bought present. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Write a personalized poem for a friend or family member. You'll be surprised how much the recipient will cherish it. It's the gesture that will touch them.
2. Another great present for writers is a homemade journal where the recipient can post special writing creations.
3. Make a list of famous quotes that will be meaningful to the recipient. Put them in a jar on small pieces of paper or list them decoratively on a piece of paper. As a writer I'm always looking for quotes to inspire me. Great gift.
4. Artists, photographers and potters can make just about anything and the recipient will treasure their creations.
5. Many artists are equally talented at producing functional art as they are decorative art. Yarns for scarves and afghans are lovely gifts for northern friends. Quilts and wall hangings, pottery or greeting cards depicting your art are great for everyone.

The economy is not making it easy on anyone. Why make it tougher on yourself by running up a huge bill this Christmas? After all, in any economy the presents that are the most memorable are small, significant creations.

from Writer's Creative Studio

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leaving out the details -- NaNoWriMo Style

I have gone to several write-ins for NaNoWriMo over the last three weeks. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The short version of it is that there are about 120,000 of us who have challenged ourselves to writing a 50,000 word novel in the 30-short days of November.

To write a 50,000 word novel in a month is a daunting task. I may be crazy, but this is the third year I've done it and I love the process.

In order to make it successfully over the finish line, I've found that you must move forward in your writing at all times. There's absolutely no time for revision--no time for even correcting spelling errors -- as you go along. As they say at NaNoWriMo headquarters, November is for writing. December and beyond are for editing.

So, I follow their advice and put one word after another after another, and I don't look back. In December, when the clock stops ticking, hopefully, I'll have 50,000 or more words. Then I can take all the time I want to go back and do the research to back up what I've written and to edit in an attempt to straighten out the mess my 50,000 words have become by the end of the month.

Anyway, I chose this as a topic for today's blog because I want to share with you how freeing this process is. It's just a joy to not worry about spelling, structure, or any of those maddening details that I agonize over on a daily basis. No, to make it to 50,000 words, I just slap those words down as fast as I can and I enjoy every minute of it.

I'm not sure of the tangible rewards of this process to my writing, but I do know that it usually gives me a new zest for writing -- it recharges my batteries. If you promise to not look back at what you've written and only move forward, you have a month free from slapping yourself for using the wrong verb tense, for telling instead of showing, or for not giving each character an individual voice, etc. What a great experience it is to "let it all hang out."

It's too late to join the NaNoWriMo group for this year (I mean you could, but 50,000 words in a week is a stretch), but I'll remind you next year to give it a try. Or, try it as a regular exercise throughout the year. You might get hooked on this free-form writing. I am.

And, don't think for a minute that nothing ever comes of all this writing. The Zen of Max will be out in January or February 2010. It's a revision of my 50,000 words from NaNoWriMo in 2008.

To visit the site where all of this originates, go to

Friday, November 20, 2009

Choose the right name for you blog before you sign up.

Once you have determined why you want to blog and what you want to blog about, it's time to choose a name for your blog. Not just any name will do. With the name you choose for your blog, you are branding your blog.

So, take all the time you need to choose a good name, one that describes your blog, and one that is unique. When naming The Helpful Blogger, the name came to me quickly once I decided what I wanted to do with the blog -- I wanted to help others learn the ins and outs of blogging. I wanted to go about it in a helpful manner, so the name just rang in my ears. But, I didn't sign up on using that name immediately. Here are the steps I went through to test out my name.

1. I went to and determined if domain name was available. It was. If it hadn't been, I would have returned to the naming process. I think it's important to own the name of your blog. You may not ever use the domain name. I haven't hooked it up to this blog, but I do want to maintain control of that domain name so I don't see it on some other website or blog someday. That would be too confusing.

2. Next, I went to and determined if the name was available. It was. If it hadn't been, I would have gone back to the drawing board on the name thing.

3. Before you go back to godaddy. com and to sign up for those names, test your name out on a couple of people who tell you the truth no matter what. Tell them the name without any explanation and see if they can tell you back what your blog is about. If there explanation is close, you've got yourself a name.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing for Fun

I spend so much time writing for assignments or writing to communicate my thoughts on works I am editing that I forget to write for the fun of it. It's so good for the health of your writing to abandon convention and write something on the other side of usual.

Now, morning pages are wonderful, but I'm not talking about those. Those are more free writing to empty the mind and make room for creativity.

No, I'm talking about deciding to write something totally out of character for you, just for the fun and challenge of it. How do you know you can't write fiction if you never try? Or how do you know you can't write a poem if you don't put your pen to it? Have you ever put a limerick together just for fun? Or have you ever tried to write Haiku for the precision of the 17 syllables?

If you're a fiction writer, choose another genre.... you get the drift here. When you find your writing getting a bit stale, try writing something totally unexpected just to see if you can do it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a comedian. That went by the wayside in deference to more serious pursuits. So, my assignment is to write something funny.

What's your assignment?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why do you want a blog?

When you are first setting up a blog, it's important to ask yourself why you want to blog. Your answer to that question will help you define the name and the goals and objectives of your blog.

The history behind adding the topic of blogging and changing the name of my blog to The Helpful Blogger is that for a while I've been helping people find their way around Twitter. I've done everything from helping people set up their accounts to learning how to find followers and people to follow. From that, I guess my brother decided to regard me as knowing a bit more about blogging than he does. Anyway, long story short, he sent one of his students to me when she was looking for help on how to set up a blog.

In order to help her, I decided I should test myself out and set up a blog from scratch. (I have four blogs, but I've always had someone set them up for me).

So I found myself in need of a topic for a blog. I do write lots of articles on blogging, tweeting, marketing on the Internet, etc., and do share tips with others regarding how to get going online. So it just naturally came to me that I should make this experiment useful and become The Helpful Blogger.

That says it all. I know enough to help others. I have strengths in writing, editing, blogging, tweeting, and photography. I can share information on all those. So, I have my topic for this part of my blog. The Writer's Creative Studio part of this blog will continue with the goals of helping others with writing the best fiction and non-fiction they can. The two fit nicely together.

And, I've just given you an example of what you must do first in establishing a blog. You have to determine why you want a blog and choose a burning topic you want to blog about.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Helpful Blogger

Welcome to The Helpful Blogger. I have combined my blog Writer's Creative Studio with another of my blogs The Helpful Blogger. Both have been combined under the URL

Some of the posts will be about blogging and promoting your blog and others will continue with emphasis on writing fiction and non-fiction. I hope you will enjoy the variety.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Trouble with Writing...

The trouble with writing is that we think it should be easier than it is. How many of you have read a good book and thought, I could have written that, or even, I cold have written that better?

When you do finally sit down to write the great American novel, you find it's not quite so easy. Here's my theory on why. Writing a novel is much more complex than just enumerating a series of events that happen to a group of people. The writing of the events is only one small part. As a writer, you are also in charge of:

1. Scenery. Your words have to not only set the mood, but create the whole scene design, backdrop, ambiance, etc., for each scene. And, you have to make the reader think it's not a set, but that they are really there. To top it off, you must do this seamlessly in order to not break the mood.

2. Characterization. You must not only convey the inner workings of your characters, you must include hair, makeup and costumes as well. Unfortunately, you don't have the luxury of showing the reader pictures of your characters; however, your readers will insist on vivid characters. They must have makeup and costumes appropriate for every scene without the benefit of a makeup artist or costume designer. It's up to you to describe what is important without it being obvious. Not an easy task.

3. Sound. Without making a peep and without the help of a sound technician, you must convince your reader that he hears the KABOOM of the mailbox that has exploded while your main character reaches toward it or the creak of a back door as it opens in the middle of the night. And without the help of a full orchestra, you must build the tension in your scenes so the reader is gripping the book tighter and tighter with each word you write.

4. Dialogue. Another component of your novel is what your characters say and how they say it. You not only have to put the words down, but you need to give each character an individual voice. This voice, which your readers will only hear through your written words, gives your characters their personalities. That's a tall order.

These are a few of the tasks of a writer. I don't make this list to discourage writers. No, I present this to encourage writers. Always remember your task is much more complex than listing a series of events. When writing, take the time to ensure you address these components (scenery, characterization, sound and dialogue) and you will make strides in blending these complexities into rich, effective text.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Developing Characters of Interest

I know I've written about character development before. It's no accident that I'm showing you another way to look at it. The creation of rich, multi-dimensional characters is key to developing a mature novel.

To give your readers believable, full-bodied characters, it's good to look at them and develop them from different angles. So, here are two more factors to consider during characterization:

1. Develop individual actions and reactions for your characters. We all have mannerisms that are ours alone. They make us unique. Your characters need them too. Don't overload your characters with unusual actions; however, or they may become caricatures. Give them just enough unique mannerisms to set them apart from the other characters.

Through the development of unique actions and reactions for your characters, your readers will learn what to expect from them. After you have established a pattern of behavior and reaction for our characters, you can use this knowledge to increase the tension within your story. Lead a character toward an event where their predictable reaction would end in disaster. The readers will have the delight of biting their nails to see if your character reacts predictably and what happens as a consequence.

2. Another way to develop multi-layered characters is to pair the actions of your characters with their physical attributes. For example, perhaps your main character is very precise in his actions and quite methodical and deliberate. His clothes reinforce this perception by being fresh and his grooming is impeccable.

If you build a character such as this, your readers would naturally expect the character's apartment to be tidy and organized. What does it do to the picture if the person lives in a mess with dirty dishes in every room, newspapers and piles of books strewn about, etc.?

Knowing this adds another layer to that character and gives the readers a bit of information that lets them believe that this person is not quite as predictable as they appear. Without specifically telling them, your readers have been alerted that this character might indeed delight them with some aberrant behavior later in the book.

Look at your characters from many angles and you'll develop much more interesting characters.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ways to find an audience for your blog

If you put up a blog and let it sit, you'll be lucky if people just happen by to see it. It's important to be proactive and implement measures to drive traffic to your blog. Here are some ways:

1. Frequently update your blog. By posting to your blog often, you offer readers variety. They are more apt to visit often if they know they'll see something new each time.

2. Keep your blog posts short so they are easy to read. Usually, posts consisting of 200 to 400 words seem to be about right.

3. Write your blog posts with search engine optimization in mind and be sure to include key words in your title. You'll want to be sure search engines pick up the key words and phrases from your post and send people to it. It's worth the while to learn about this area.

4. Be sure your blog is interesting and diverse. Humor, questions, polls, suggestions are ways to elicit the involvement of your readers.

5. Use social media sites to help increase readership of your blog. When you post a new entry, tell your Facebook followers or those on Twitter that you have new content up. Encourage them to visit your blog to see it.

6. The best way to increase readership of your blog is to write well and to check for errors before you post. Show that you care and others may return the sentiment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Your business benefits from your blogging

We're always looking for ways to gain attention for our businesses. A blog has many benefits. Some of them are:

1. Informing your customers/clients about you and your business. Today, people look on the Internet first when trying to find a product or service. Be there and let people know about you. If you don't have a presence on the Internet, they will probably choose a competitor.

2. Offer information about new products or services the day you think of them. You don't have to wait to develop paper ads to mail out. Include as much detail as you want.

3. Notify customers when you have special deals going on or when you have discounted items. Keep your customers/clients informed instantly.

4. Reach more people for fewer advertising dollars.

5. Increase communication with your customers and increase customer service. Insert polls into your blog to determine what your customers want and encourage comments to open channels of communication.

6. Provide help to a customer instantly. If you receive a comment with a question in it, you can meet that customer's needs instantly by making the answer to that question the topic of your next blog.

Let's hear from you. What benefits have you found in blogging for your business?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Setting up a new blog

Developing a good idea is the first step in setting up a new blog. Here are some of the steps in developing your blog:

1. What's the point? Do you want to share pictures with your family of the new baby? Do you want to push sales over the top for your company by offering valuable information to customers? Do you just want a spot to put all that knowledge rattling around in your head? The first step is to define what you will cover in your blog.

2. Next, set up the blog. You can do this yourself by using Blogger or Wordpress or one of the blogger sites. Or, if you want something a bit more individual, contact a web designer to put up the blog of your dreams.

3. Once the shell of your blog is up, start adding the permanent content. This includes your profile paragraph and any gadgets, such as followers, ads, pictures, etc., you may want to occur on each page.

4. In your Profile, be sure to include a clear and concise description of the purpose of your blog. Readers often look at the profile statements first to see if they want to take time to look through the blog.

5. Make a list of topics you want to write about. Put the list into a logical order and start your post with a welcoming statement. Then, follow it with a blog each day or every couple days from your list. Keep adding to the list as ideas come to you and you have yourself a blog. Enjoy

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Make your blogs entertaining

Make your blog pop... photo by Lou Belcher

Your mother might find every word you say fascinating, but the rest of us may not want to read everything you write if you don't mix it up a bit to make it interesting.

Rather than writing your post as if giving a lecture, talk to the reader. And mix it up by: asking a question or two to give your readers something to comment on; or, spice up your topic by telling a related story or including an interesting example; and, occasionally send your reader to a related website for additional information.

Try mixing it up and you'll gain the interest of your readers. Write as if you are talking to them and get the conversation going.

Feel free to leave a comment about other ways to make blog posts entertaining.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writing the Winning Blog Post

When you write your blog posts, pay attention to your style as well as to the information you are conveying. You, of course, want your blog to be interesting, informative and entertaining to gain and keep the interest of your readers. In addition, it needs to be easy to read. Here are some of the parts and qualities of winning posts.

1. Keep it short. Magazine articles and newspaper articles are much shorter than they used to be. This generation of readers are into quick consumption of information. Therefore, keep the length of your blog post to approximately 400 words.

2. Be sure there is enough white space on the page to make your post look inviting to the reader. When writers are confronted with a solid page of words, they are apt to move on to a more inviting blog. Be sure to format your post in a number of paragraphs as well as including lists or bullets to make it easier to read.

3. Check for errors and then check again. It's important to make sure your post is free of errors, so your readers can move through it without having their attention sidetracked by a spelling or grammatical error.

4. Write in a friendly voice. You may have a wonderful vocabulary, but if you are trying to attract the masses, use the vocabulary of the masses.

5. Close with a summary of the intent of your post and invite your readers to comment.

Apply these methods and you'll be writing winning blog posts in no time. If you have suggestions to add, feel free to include them in the comments section.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bringing characters to life

There are some characters who are particularly appealing from the first page or the first scene.

When the TV show The Mentalist started, I was immediately drawn to Jane, the protagonist. I didn't think much about it in terms of character development until last Friday night when White Collar premiered. It struck me as I watched the character Nick Caffrey that he appealed to me immediately also.

What was it about them? Both are con men of sorts with a serious side disguised by an overtly mischievous side. Those characteristics made them entertaining to watch.

As a writer, I naturally thought about the fact that the writers of those shows were largely responsible for those wonderful characters. After all, they wrote the snappy dialogue.

The progression of my thinking about all this led me to wonder how, if I wanted to write a scene of either of these shows, would I describe the twinkle in the eye or the slight nod of the head that made those snappy lines snap? How could I adequately translate to paper the wonders of their acting?

After wondering about that made my head hurt, I realized that solving this dilemma would make a good writing exercise.

So.... here you have it. Your assignment is to study one character on a favorite show. Take down a few minutes of dialogue. Then, write the same scene as if writing it for a novel. Your assignment is to meld into the dialogue the movements and mannerisms of each character to bring the dialogue to life.

Don't do this just once. Repeat until you get a feel for your character inside and out.

Variety: that's one key to an interesting blog

There are as many types of blog posts as there are bloggers. Every blog expresses a different slant on your topic. Your readers will lose interest pretty quick if you offer the same type of blog day after day. Diversify to keep their interest.

In addition to the usual straight forward blog post, here are some of the popular formats for blog posts:

book review
product review
poll or survey
guest authors
how-to post
demo piece
mixed media (photos/videos, etc.)
Q and A

Add a variety of formats to your blog posts to keep your readers coming back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Promote your writing through a website or blog or both

Writers need to put their writing before potential readers. Life for a writer is as simple as that. There are a variety of ways to do it. Today, we are going to talk about websites and blogs.

First of all, all writers should have a blog, and most writers need a blog and a website. The difference between a blog and a website is, for the most part, that a blog is dynamic and a website is static. A blog shows the reader what the writer has to offer in his/her own words. The website tells the rest: schedules, books, how to contact; where to purchase books; etc. The website takes care of business and the blog interacts with the reader and keeps the reader interested.

Make your blog interactive. Welcome comments and interaction with the readers. Write (talk) to the reader as if he/she were sitting in your office drinking coffee. As you chat with the reader, you give out bits of your life that they wouldn’t find in an announcement about your book. In other words, engage the reader. Readers may pick up your book for the first time due to the title, the topic, the genre, etc. The reader will pick up a second book due to your voice and what he/she has learned about you.

In many cases, the title of a first book is printed in a big font and the name of the author is printed in a small font. As the author grows in popularity, so does the font that is used for the author’s name. Why? Because readers are becoming fans of you as well as your writing. A blog moves this process forward. So, use the blog to engage with the reader by letting him/her get to know you. And, use your website to tell the reader about the business of your writing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting started with your blog

Those of you who already have blogs won't need this one. For those who are thinking of setting up a blog but are afraid of it, take heart. A little bit of computer knowledge will take you a long way. If you are really a novice on the computer, grab a friend with a little bit of computer knowledge and together you'll manage just fine.

Now that you've chosen a name for your blog, it's time to get it up and going. I use I followed the directions to set it up and had no trouble at all. Use the name you chose for your blog when the sign-in process asks for your URL.

It would take me too long to explain each step of setting up a blog if I wrote it out here, and there's no need for me to do so. There are complete directions online. Merely put in a search for "how to put up a blog with blogger" or "how to put up a blog with wordpress" or whatever blog service you decide to use. The directions will guide you through the process. If they don't, open another browser and ask for more specific directions.

Once you have chosen a template for your blog, put up an introductory blog. It needn't be more than a couple of paragraphs about the main topic of your blog and why you chose it. Post it to your blog and you're off and running.

Give your blog topic some thought and make a list of subtopics you want to write about. Write a couple more short blog posts and put them up and we'll be ready for the next step.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Go overboard then bring your story to life with authentic emotion

Having trouble instilling emotion into your writing? Sometimes it's not enough to have a great idea for a story. Despite a well-organized outline and interesting plot and subplots, your story might not work if you don't bring it to life with authentic emotion.

If you tell your story from start to finish, you can expect that your reader will get the story. But will the reader feel the story, experience the story, love/hate the characters according to the story line... and live the story?

To instill life and authentic emotion into your story write a larger-than-life version of it. Show the action in exaggeration through the vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste of your characters. Put the reader in the middle of the action so they feel each punch as your hero is jumped from behind, so they smell the gagging scent of the rotting food in the filthy kitchen of your villain, so they hear the blood-curdling screams in the middle of the night.

Once you've written your "over-the-top" version, read it aloud several times--each time with a pen in hand. During each reading, use the pen like fine sand paper to slowly smooth the rough edges and to tone down the emotions of your story. Digest each sentence thoroughly, tweaking the images you are drawing with your words until emotions flow between well-balanced highs and lows in the vivid story that remains.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Overview of developing writing into a business.

Freelance writing is one of those great professions that can be developed slowly into a business while you earn money at a day job. That might not be your first choice, but it is the best choice until you determine whether you can earn enough to cover your expenses and those of your family.

One way to develop your freelance writing into a business is to diversify. Maybe you want to write the next best selling novel, but while you are doing so, you can earn money in a variety of ways. And, an added advantage is that the more you write, the better you’ll write.

Here are some writing avenues to explore:

1. Fiction writing. It’s probably not a good idea to quit your day job while you write your first novel. It will take some time to find an agent, find a publisher, receive that acceptance letter, and to go through the editing and publishing process before you see your first paycheck. Therefore, continue to earn money from your day job and from other forms of writing while you go through the steps listed above.

2. Writing magazine or ezine articles. There are many types of articles that sell pretty well. You can write how-to articles, self help articles and fillers. Many magazines are looking for short items to fill out their content. You can also develop a particular specialty, such as writing a local arts column or restaurant reviews, which will give you steady work. In many cases, you can minimize the writing time for articles. Many magazine editors will buy articles on spec if you send them a query letter; therefore, you'll only have to write the article if it sells.
3. Journalism. If you provide good content and develop areas of expertise, you, most likely, can find writing work on a part-time basis with on-line news agencies and blogs. These used to be more open to freelance writers, but it’s still worth a try.

4. Blog writing. Many people have blogs to promote their businesses or their websites, but they aren’t writers. Consequently, there is a need for people who can quickly and efficiently put out blog posts that are interesting, informative, and entertaining.

5. Textbooks. If you have knowledge on a specific topic, you could send in a book outline within a proposal to write a textbook on that topic. It’s important to have the credentials to back up your interest in writing the textbook. Most publishers are very particular about this.

6. Non-fiction (book-length). Writing book-length non-fiction lends itself to self-publishing. If you can identify a market for the topic of your book, you may be able to make a go of selling it yourself. Just be careful to have a good plan. When wanting to find a publisher for a non-fiction book, you can often sell it without writing the whole book. Many publishers will consider your idea if you send in a good book proposal and sample chapters.

7. Editing and ghostwriting. Many writers develop editing skills and do freelance editing for others to make ends meet while developing a writing business. Be cautious with this as it takes time to develop good editing skills and the time for this takes time away from writing. Ghostwriting parallels editing, but is more involved in that you will write a book to the specifications of the person who hires you.

While developing your business, write as much as you can in any area that comes along. With each piece you write, you will improve your skills. That will help your writing and your business.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rejection -- Use it to improve your writing

No writer -- no matter how seasoned -- likes rejection. You do get used to it, however, and you can learn to use it to improve your writing. How do you get to the point where you can learn from rejection? Practice....

Rejection at any stage in your writing career is tantamount to a swift whack in the knees with a sledge hammer. Recovery time decreases with repetition until it becomes routine for you to feel the sting then get back to work. Here are a few suggestions on how to use rejection to improve your writing:

1. Consider the rejection for what it is. The first time you receive a rejection letter, you feel as if the wind has been knocked out of you. You may consider quitting. You may become depressed. These are logical reactions. After all, you've sweated over your manuscript for months or years and are rewarded with a postcard saying..."Sorry, pal." Although it may seem as if the world has declared that you should find a new career, it ain't so. That rejection letter you just received came from one person at one publishing house. Don't let the opinion of one person -- someone you don't know -- change your career course. Although it hurts, put it in perspective and move on.

2. Consider the competition. With the advent of the computer, more and more people are writing books and submitting them in much less time than when writers used to write their books on legal pads and type them after they perfected them. Today, so many people have computers, the competition is greater. Have you done everything you can to ensure you're better than they are? Have you studied writing? Do you know point of view, voice, character development, back story, etc? If these terms don't mean anything to you, maybe you need to do a little more studying while you're writing. It's rare that someone can sit down and pump out a flawless book. Writing, like any profession, takes study and practice. So, be sure you have the skills of your competitors. Many writers submit two or three books before they write one that is good enough to elicit an acceptance letter from a publisher instead of a rejection letter. Don't take rejection personally. Instead, keep perfecting your craft.

3. Consider the economy. I'm not saying that you should not pursue a writing career because the economy is working against you. I'm just saying that there are fewer slots for the publication of your novel, so expect to work for your place in the sun.

4. Consider the type of rejection you've received. There are many types of rejections. Here are three:

There are form rejection letters that reaches you before you thought it physically possible for your manuscript to reach the publisher. If you receive one of these, you may want to make sure you followed the publisher's procedure in submitting your manuscript. It may have been sent back because they don't accept manuscripts from unagented writers or they want to receive a book proposal in a certain format rather than a full manuscript. Many times publishing houses send back manuscripts without even looking at them if the writer hasn't followed their guidelines. So be sure to do your homework. If you did follow the guidelines, send your book out again. The form rejection really doesn't give you any ideas of ways to revise your book.

Another type of rejection is the form letter with a handwritten note on it. Unless the note says, "Don't ever darken our door again," this is a good rejection. Someone took the time to actually write you a note. If the note says, "Good luck placing this elsewhere," move on. Send it to someone else. However, if the note says to re-submit after you revise, don't waste this invitation. Revise and resubmit.

A third type of rejection (the best rejection of them all) is a letter to you personally that tells you in detail what you should change. If the changes are in keeping with what you want for your book, make them and return the manuscript, being sure to send it to the editor who wrote the rejection letter to you. Editors don 't usually take the time to point out what should be changed in a book unless they are interested in your work. So, dry those tears...this one might lead to an acceptance.

When considering a rejection letter, learn from it. As quickly as you can, put your ego aside. Nurse your hurt feelings for a minute and a half and get busy on your writing. The more you write, the better your writing will become. So get out of your way and consider the possibility of receiving acceptance letters instead of dreaded rejection letters.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Marketing your book with an on-line newsletter (part 2)

An on-line newsletter is an effective marketing tool for many products, but it’s especially effective for marketing your book. Here is how to go about designing, developing, and distributing your newsletter:

1. Determine the topic of your newsletter and a good name for it. Just because you are a writer, your newsletter doesn’t need to be about writing. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. There are only a limited number of writers who will buy your book. Instead, make your newsletter about a broad topic related to the book. That way, you will attract potential customers. As writers, it is only natural to want to attract our writer friends to our book, but your real market is with those who are a fan of the topic. So if your book is about turtles, find people passionate about turtles.

2. Once you have determined the topic of your newsletter, begin developing a list of subjects that will become the different sections of your newsletter. For example, since you are writing a book about turtles, you could have your newsletter about turtles as well. Or, you could make the topic of your newsletter larger (conservation, for instance) than the topic of your book in order to make room for future books on similar topics. Anyway, for within the newsletter, you might have a general conservation section (where you put in short pieces about what is currently happening in the world of turtle conservation), you might have an events section (where you list local and national events, TV shows, movies, etc., about turtles), and you could have a section about your current activities (where you would list your activities in turtle conservation as well as how you are doing on the book).

3. Email or blog. You can distribute your newsletter by email or make it into a blog and distribute an email when you have posted a new newsletter. The choice is yours. The important part is to provide information that is entertaining and useful to your readers. Pack it with information that will convince them that you are a good writer and will make them want to hang around for the publication of your book.

4. Don’t make the newsletter about selling your book. Instead, make it about providing your readers with information. The sales will take care of themselves. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore promoting your book when it’s about ready for publication and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put promotions in your newsletter for pre-publication sales or special sales after the book has been out a while. You should do all of those things but do them tastefully. Your readers will look forward to your newsletters if they know that it is truly a newsletter and not just another hard sell.

5. Be sure to list in the newsletter the launch of your book and book signing events. Your readers will want to keep up with you.

6. Give your readers a means to sign up for notification that the latest newsletter is out. You’ll want to build a distribution list. In the newsletter, ask your readers to send it on to others who might be interested and have new readers email you to be added to the distribution list. Through this, the list will grow and you will have a natural audience for marketing your book.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Marketing your book while you write it (part 1)

It's never too early to start gathering fans for your writing and your upcoming book. Your friends and family, of course, will be instant fans. I'm not talking about them. I am talking about creating a buzz for your topic with the people who have a natural interest in it.

Here are some ways to get started:

1. Identify your topic and related subjects. For example, if you're a non-fiction writer and writing a book about sea turtles, then that's your topic. Related subjects might be: marine life, oceans, sailing, cruising, beaches, dolphins, whale watching, etc. Make a list of every subject you can think of related to your topic.

If you are writing a novel, do the same. Identify the main topic of your book. It might be as broad as the name of the genre or the theme of the book. Then make a list of subjects related to your book. For example, if you are writing a murder mystery where the murder occurs in a hospital, some of your subjects might be: nurses, emergency room, medical mysteries, etc. Save your list.

2. Create a blog centered on your topic. Tell those who follow your blog about the book you are writing in an occasional post. Don’t use the majority of your posts to push your book however. Instead, use most of your posts to just talk about interesting facets of your topic and its subjects. Your point here is to encourage a conversation about a like-interest and to foster a connection with folks who share your interest. When you're ready to publish your book, they may turn into customers, but for now, you're just creating a connection.

3. Writing and posting your blog entry is not enough. It's important to touch base with people who are interested in your topic. Do this by establishing a Twitter site about your topic and start following people who are interested in your topic and related subjects. If you make your tweets interesting, valuable and entertaining, those people will follow you back. When you post a blog entry, tweet the URL to your followers and tell them what you’ve posted. For example, for this blog entry, I tweeted: Just posted "Marketing your book while you write it" to

4. In addition, join social media groups, such as Facebook, My Space, or ones related to your topic at to find people who are interested in your topic and subjects.

Watch for part 2: Marketing through on-line newsletters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Writing for your website or blog.

Writing for a blog or content for a website is not the same as writing for print. In print, we have much more flexibility and we usually expect readers to take a bit more time.

When you’re writing for the Internet, however, you need to deliver a quick, powerful message that will catch the eye of the reader. Web copy is very different than copy for print. Here are some points to keep in mind when you write for your website or blog:

1. White space. We’ve been trained to receive information in as quick a manner as possible. Be brief. Studies have shown that a visitor to your website will usually allow you four seconds to catch their attention.

That's all. If they are faced with a huge block of print in the first paragraph, they’ll move on to another site without giving you even those measly four seconds.

Get to the point and make it easy to read by creating lots of white space around your short paragraphs. Be brief, interesting and informative.

2. Choose and use powerful words when you write.

  • Use action verbs rather than bland wishy-washy verbs.
  • Pick descriptive and specific nouns for your sentences.
  • Avoid using adjectives and adverbs as much as possible.

3. Use lists and bullets instead of solid paragraphs in writing your web content to make it easier to read.

4. Also, start out a section with a question or just the name of a topic. This will catch the eye of the reader.

5. Be sure when you write that you connect the dots. You must give the reader a complete thought. Give each blog entry a beginning, a middle, and an end, so your reader will go away satisfied and come back another day for more of your clear writing.

Effective web copy is clear and concise for readers who are most often in fast forward. Edit your copy before you post it and make sure it looks inviting and you’ll be sure to have return visitors.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Don't forget to edit.

If you are writing a story, a book, a letter, memo, an email, a press release or report, editing is a crucial step. Don’t skip it. Here are some reasons to remember to take a minute or two to edit your writing or to hire someone to edit it for you:

1. Good writing shows that you take your business seriously and that you are a professional. It shows that you intend to communicate clearly with others. Your writing is a direct reflection on you and your business. Don’t let errors reflect poorly on you.

2. At times, it will be important for you to write with flourish and to have your readers savor every word. In these cases, it is particularly important to ensure that there are no errors to interrupt the rhythm and flow of the writing.

3. At other times, our writing is more utilitarian. We use it to gain the reader’s attention and to convey a succinct message. In these cases, it’s better to keep it simple so the reader will pay attention to what you are saying rather than how you are saying it. Therefore, editing to weed out the frills is an important part of conveying your message in the most effective way. Eliminate errors and readers won't miss the message due to poor writing.

4. In addition to obscuring the message, errors in your writing may reduce your credibility. We all want to be taken seriously in our business dealings. Your client/audience will take you seriously if you show your expertise through your writing. If your writing is filled with errors, it may not matter what you are trying to say, your readers may conclude that you will make errors in other areas as well.

5. In addition to reducing credibility, errors can change the meaning of your writing. If you rush through the editing process, you might find that your writing is misunderstood. If you get into the habit of editing, you will also notice that you begin to write more carefully.

Most writers have difficulty catching their own errors. Because writers are so close to their writing, they think the words rather than read the words. Consequently, it’s easy to miss errors. It’s always a good idea to hire an editor or to at least have someone you trust read your writing before you present it to the world.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Promoting Your Blog

by Lou Belcher

If you write for your eyes only, you don’t need to worry about promotion. But if you write for a living, the promotion or marketing part of it can make or break you.

Before the marketing, your first order of business is to make sure your blog entry is worth reading. Do everything you can to ensure that it is interesting and valuable to your readers. Beyond that, you might shoot for it to be entertaining as well. That can’t hurt.

When preparing your work, pushing the snooze button on your ego will help immensely. Too many times we get in our own way. We think that what we have written is so wonderful that we can’t hear constructive criticism. Take the risk. Have others look at your work and give you ideas for improvement.

That doesn’t mean that you need to implement everything that your readers say. Instead, it means that you would be wise to give some honest thought to how your writing is perceived by others.

Once you post an entry to your blog, no one will read it if you don’t do some promotion. Develop a routine system of promoting each entry that you post. For example, you can establish a Twitter account, a page on Facebook, or join a social media network, or all three. When you post an entry, put a notice on each of your announcement sites that new work is posted.

Another way to promote your blog is to establish an email distribution list of those interested in your writing. Every time you post a blog entry, put out an email to your list (even if it only consists of one or two people at first). Be sure to add the addresses of those who express interest in your blog with care. Don’t try to remember later who they are and where you put their email address.

In your email to your distribution list, invite them to comment and get a discussion going about the topic. Also, invite them to forward the notice to someone they think will enjoy your column. And, don’t leave everything to chance. Give your readers some added reasons to visit your blog. For example, hold surveys of interest, run contests, and hold giveaway opportunities occasionally so they will want to check back from time to time to see what’s going on.

Please leave a comment and tell us ways you promote your blog...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cross the Atlantic for Wounded Warriors

No, Cross the Atlantic for Wounded Warriors is not a book title... It's real life. Fellow author Bob Brown and his brother, Ralph Brown, are embarking on another daring adventure. They are launching their flat boat for another big voyage.

Last time, 2007, they made it into the Guinness Book of World Records with their trip from the coast of North Carolina to Bermuda and back. This time they are crossing the Atlantic. Bob wrote about their first adventure in his book pictured here. (The photo on the cover will give you an idea of the size of the boat they use for these challenges.)

Go to to see for yourself.

Usually we think as writers that the written world is pretty special, but this time pictures really bring home what they will be doing. Watch the videos on the site and see what they have challenged themselves to do. In addition to their sailing goal, they they have set another monumental goal: to raise $3,000,000 for scholarships for the children of fallen soldiers and for their families.

There is information on the site for potential sponsors, too. Most writers and artists can't help that way, but you can buy a t-shirt and do a little bit. I bought one, but I'm not here to push that. I'm just so interested in their project that I assume that other local artists and writers will be, too. So please indulge me while I keep you up to date on their progress from time to time.

Go look at the short video... at and I'm sure you'll be coming back to see how they are doing. Thanks.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to create a successful home business

With so many writers and artists going into business for themselves, I thought this article on how to create a successful home business might be helpful. Enjoy -- Lou

How to Create a Successful Home Business
copyright 2009 Lou Belcher

Success of a home business does not come over night. It takes careful planning, a good product or service, and lots of marketing. Here is a logical way to go about creating a successful home business... read more

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 11 - Point of View

Before you write, it's important to choose the right point of view for your story. Point of view (POV) makes a huge difference in how you will tell your story and how your audience receives it.

Who is telling your story? Once you figure that out, that's your point of view. For example, the story of a murder would be very different through the eyes of a witness than it would be through the eyes of the murderer, and very different through the eyes of the detective.

In point of view, you not only have to decide who will tell the story, but how they will tell the story. For example, there are first, second and third person orientations. There are as many different variations of point of view as your imagination can conjure up. Here are some of the most common:

1. First Person - Singular. In first person point of view, the writer has one of the characters narrate the story and tell it in terms of "I did" or "I saw" orientation. The trick of first person is that the narrator must see or at least know what has happened in order to tell it to you. Therefore, the writer must leave out the parts of the story the narrator would not logically know. The writer (narrator) only can convey what he thinks and feels about the events. A fun part of writing in the first person is that the writer writes in the voice of the character. The writer can make this humorous, sarcastic, or whatever tone he feels works best for that narrator.

2. Multiple First Persons. In some novels, the writer will write different chapters with a different character as the narrator for each. In multiple first persons points of view the readers get a broader version of what's going on beyond the scenes. In many cases, it makes a more interesting read as the reader must decide which of the narrators to believe if there is a conflict in the telling of the story.

3. Third Person - Singular. When telling your story through a third person singular point of view, the narrator is not a character. He tells the story s as what "he did" or "she did" when talking of the characters. If using the third person with singular vision, the narrator has access to one mind. As the writer you need to decide which character to show the story through.

4. Third Person - Multiple. The narrator continues to write in the third person in the third person multiple, but can switch among numerous characters with telling the story from different angles. Make sure your story requires all this insight as it is difficult to execute this method without causing confusion.

5. Omniscient - Third Person. This point of view is often called "god's eye" point of view. The narrator in this case knows everything. The good side of this is that you can provide the reader with inside information that the characters don't know. However, the trouble with it is that the writer almost becomes a part of the story and it's harder for the readers to fully immerse themselves in the story. Suspension of disbelief is important when reading fiction. It's difficult for the reader to do this with the narrator telling them the inside scoop.

The important thing to remember about point of view is that you must always keep faithful to the point of view you choose to use. You will confuse the readers and your writing will be considered immature if you pop in and out of your point of view during your story. Once you commit to a point of view, stay consistent with it and the story will come to life.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 10 - Using Tags

Many fiction writers have difficulty using tags when they first start writing fiction. So before your write, it's a good idea to learn the ins an outs of tags.

First of all, what is a tag? It's the "he said" or "she said" that follows dialogue to tell the reader who is speaking.

Second, what is the misuse of a tag? Everything that is not "he said" or "she said."

Many beginning and some experienced writers use tags to do everything from describe eye color to moving the character across the room. Examples:

"I'm cute," she said, winking at him and obscuring one perfectly periwinkle blue eye.

Or how about...

"See you later," Sam threw over his shoulder as he sped to the door.

Current terminology is too much information. That certainly applies here. Don't take short cuts and use tags for anything but what they were intended. Here are some things to keep in mind when using tags.

1. Always state the person's name or the pronoun first and then the "said." It's just awkward to use "said" first. You would never say "ran she" or even "sang she," so why would we say "said she." Instead, it is "she ran" or "she sang." Basically, your rule of communication applies here. Tags are merely utilitarian. They tell you who is speaking. Don't try to make more of them.

2. Stick to "said" or other forms of it, such as "whispered," but don't use words that aren't even a form of speech, such as "giggled" and "guffawed." I'm not even sure what a guffaw is. I suppose it's some sort of snort, but I know for sure that it's almost impossible to speak while giggling, guffawing, or snorting, so don't use them as tags.

3. Stick to "said" and other forms of it even when the tag you are choosing is a form of speech. For example, it is reasonable to argue that "responded" could be a tag. Theoretically, it could be speech. It's just better to stick with "said" as it will keep the reader on track and won't take away from the real meat of your story.

4. Don't use tags to do the work that you, as a good writer, should do. You should always show the reader what is happening not tell them. Therefore, don't use your tags to tell the reader what is happening in your story. For example, don't write:

"John I hate you," she said while throwing the chair at him and hitting the mirror on the wall.

Instead write:

Sarah picked up the chair and threw it at John. It struck the mirror and both crashed to the floor. "I hate you," she said.

Get the point? You, as the writer, need to do the work of making the action come alive. Don't use tags to do that work for you.

5. Use tags only when needed. If there are only two characters in your scene, and they are going back and forth at a pretty good clip, there's no reason to use tags after each statement. If the reader can keep them straight, use tags only every once in a while to keep things moving easily.

Remember, tags are for the convenience of the reader. Make them as unobtrusive as possible and you will serve your readers a much livelier read.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 9 - The Mechanics of Dialogue

The Mechanics of Dialogue

Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people. There is a definite format to writing dialogue and if you, as the writer, adhere to this format, you’ll impress editors and agents everywhere. I don’t know how many times I’ve edited first novels and found that the person has no idea of how to write dialogue. We’ll address voice later, because that has a lot to do with dialogue, but today we’ll just talk about the mechanics of formatting dialogue.

Rule #1: Paragraphs

First of all, to make it easy on your reader, please adhere to the rule of one speaker per paragraph. This means that every time someone speaks, you give that person a new paragraph. You start that paragraph with their dialogue or with any statements that change the attention to him/her. For example:

Don’t write:

“Hi Mary,” Sarah said. Mary turned at the sound of her name. “Hi Sarah. Good to see you,” Mary responded.

Instead, it would be written:

“Hi Mary,” Sarah said.

Mary turned at the sound of her name. “Hi Sarah. Good to see you,” Mary responded.

Easy enough, right? So are you gritting your teeth because you have lots of dialogue to re-format? I know it’s a lot of work, but once you grasp these few formatting rules you’ll make your life in writing dialogue much easier.

Rule #2: Quotation Marks

Spoken dialogue is put within quotation marks. The rule for quotation marks is that dialogue and punctuation of the dialogue go within quotation marks. Easy enough, eh? Then why do I find so many commas outside the quotation marks? Okay… here’s an example.

“I like the color of your car,” Sam said.

Notice the quotation mark begins the dialogue, then we have what Sam said followed by a comma and the quotation mark to end what Sam said. Notice that what Sam said does not end in a period because the tag line follows it (a tag line tells the reader who is talking).

However, if you turn it around, it would end with a period and then the quotation mark. For example,

Sam said, “I like the color of your car.”

Instead of a comma, it ends with a period before the final quotation mark because that is the last word of the only sentence that Sam said.

If Sam says more than one thing in that paragraph, you don’t put quotation marks around each sentence. Rather you put the quotation marks around all the continuous words coming out of Sam’s mouth within that paragraph. For example:

“I like the color of your car, Jim. You seem to always pick the right color for the part of the country. I mean, in Florida, who wants a black car. Too hot,” Sam said.

So what happens if Sam switches topics? In normal writing without conversation, you would just start a new paragraph when you switch to a new topic. If Sam is talking on and on and switches topics before someone else speaks, you would have to handle your quotation marks accordingly. If you have used a tag to indicate that Sam is talking as a way to end the first paragraph, it would be like this:

“I like the color of your car, Jim. You seem to always pick the right color for the part of the country. I mean, in Florida who wants a black car? Too hot,” Sam said.

“You must try the new cookies my wife made,” Sam continued. “You’ll love them.”

If however, you don’t put a tag at the end of the paragraph because it’s obvious who is talking, you omit the quotation mark at the end of the first paragraph but put one at the beginning of the second paragraph. This signifies to your reader that Sam is still talking. For example:

“I like the color of your car, Jim,” Sam said. “You seem to always pick the right color for the part of the country. I mean, in Florida who wants a black car? Too hot.

“You must try the new cookies my wife made. You’ll love them.”

Got it? Good. Practice that with some of your dialogue and we’ll go on with the use of tags next time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 8 - Plot

Plot : Asking The Question

Without a plot, you won’t have a book. With a bad plot or a boring plot you’ll have a book that no one will finish but your mother. And, she might lie to you about finishing it. So let’s talk about the essentials of a good plot. What are they?

Every plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That sounds like the easy part, but it’s not. Many writers begin writing about their character’s life, thinking that they have a plot and that they are telling a story. Unless there is a compelling underlying question to weave the events in a person’s life into a story (with a beginning, a middle, and an end), you are merely making episodic entries into your character’s diary. Some of those episodes might be interesting, but they won’t necessarily make a story.

Essentially a good plot will lead your character from the event that creates some sort of conflict or question in his/her life to the resolution of that conflict or question. That’s the key to it. Everything in between is the plot.

Think about the best novels you’ve read. You don’t want to put them down. Why? Because the writer has asked a question or some questions that haven’t been answered. The questions are compelling and the reader feels a need to find out if they'll be answered. Throughout the book the writer answers just enough of the quetions to satisfy the reader, and then, WHAM, the writer throws more and more roadblocks and questions in the way of the resolution. As a result, the characters have more trouble solving the problem(s) rather than less. The tension builds and continues to build until the reader concludes there’s no way out of the snarl of it all. Finally, the writer resolves the issues (the climax) and the reader sighs and says, “What a great book!”

We all want the reader to say that about the books we write. So, how do we get to that point? In developing a plot, you must find a question you want to ask or a conflict that the character will face at the beginning of the story. Bring that question to the attention of your readers early and hook them to want to answer that question by finding out what happens. For example, in murder mysteries, there’s usually a dead body in the first few pages. That’s it. Put a body on one of the first few pages and immediately that body creates questions in your readers’ minds. How did that body get there? Did someone murder that person? If so, who did it and why should I care? And why should the main character care? Does the main character have to solve the mystery? If so, how important is it for the main character to solve the mystery?

You see where I’m going with this. Your plot whether it’s a mystery, an adventure story, a love story, or a saga, must ask a question or questions in the beginning. That gets the ball rolling – or the pages turning in this case.

The middle still must compel the reader to turn pages, also. So, while giving the clues, the writer creates more questions.

The important thing is to make sure you don’t answer your big question too soon. Your plot is over once you do. For example, if Sally discovers a body and John Doe walks into the room and says, “I killed Sam,” your question is answered and your story is over.

Your question needs to be big enough to support the full plot. Let's say there’s a body draped over the piano. It’s Sam, John Doe’s partner. John Doe isn’t there but his car keys are on the floor beside the body. When asked, John Doe tells the police that he was home alone. He has no alibi. Instead of just answering the questions of the police, he begins twisting and turning and answering with increasingly vague answers. So, now you have the question: Can John Doe prove he didn’t kill Sam or find who did before the police arrest him? There you go… that question is probably big enough to support your plot.