How To Dialogue

Dialogue punctuation is something I really harp on about to my students, because there are a lot of rules in fiction, and you can break every single one of them if you have a good reason – except dialogue. Yeah, okay, I know there are some big-name authors out there who DO break the rules of dialogue punctuation and paragraphing, but essentially, I tell my students, the rules of dialogue punctation and paragraphing are unbreakable, because they exist to make things clear to the reader. You want your ideas to be clear, right? Yes, yes you do. *ahem*.

So anyway, in conversation with the Twinny One, I realised I’d never shared my dialogue videos with you before. So I’ve set up a special new page: you can click here to go to Dialogue 101, where there are three videos that step you through all the finicky ins and outs of how to punctuate and paragraph dialogue correctly, as well as the difference between beats and tags, and how to use them 🙂

Wish You Could Take Your Novel From Drab To Fab In ONE Editing Pass?

Hi again! Sorry, I’m late posting this because I had the worst trilogy of days EVER at the end of last week and couldn’t get to the computer to let you know, but Holly’s How To Revise Your Novel course is OPEN!! It’s closing on December 15 at 11:59pm US EST, so you have a couple of days to think about it still 🙂 Remember though, if you miss out this time, it won’t be open again until about this time next year (unless there’s enough interest, in which case there /might/ be another intake in about 6 months :)), and if you sign up in this round, you get the spiffy bonuses listed in bold below as a thank you from me 🙂

You guys, the size of this course is EPIC. I was in the very first intake, back in 2009, and I have not regretted it for a moment. I loved How To Think Sideways, but How To Revise Your Novel more than anything else I’ve read on writing before or since changed the way I work for the better. The course is huge and it takes a long time – it’s a 5 or 6 month course, one module a week (I say 5 or 6 because it was supposed originally to be 4, became 5 when I took it with that first intake, and I’m pretty sure Holly has added enough bonuses over the years to make it a 6 month course now) and it is a LOT of work – but it’s the ONLY course I’ve EVER seen that take the whole editing and revision process and breaks it down into small, manageable chunks.

No theory: it’s completely practical and hands-on experience, designed to capture as many problems with your novel as humanly possible in ONE SINGLE EDIT. I know authors that have slaved away writing 7, 12, 22 drafts of their novel; How To Revise Your Novel is specifically designed to help you cut down on the number of drafts you need to take your story from rough draft to finished product. (This is, of course, dependant on you having a clear idea of what you want your finished product to look like – but the course teaches you how to develop that, too ;)).

Look, I love this course. It’s hands-down the best writing resource I’ve ever read/used/taken, and I could rave about it for hours. If you have questions about the content, shoot me an email through the contact form (link in the menu above) or on twitter (@inkylaurens) and I’ll happily rabbit away to you about it 🙂 And even better: Holly offers a no-questions-asked cancellation. When you sign up, you pay each month upfront, but if you cancel at any point during the month, she’ll refund you pro-rata for the lessons you haven’t received yet, and you keep access to the lessons you have received – as well as membership in the forums so you can still hang out with your classmates and build your writerly connections 🙂

Holly’s copy is included below so you can see what she has to say about the course, but before I go I wanted to let you know about some special bonuses you’ll receive from me if you decide to join up through my link. As a thank you, you’ll receive:

  • A free ebook copy of my forthcoming book on worldbuilding, From The Ground Up (Oct 2016);
  • A free ebook copy of Krista Ball’s What Kings Ate And Wizards Drank; 
  • A free critique of your FIRST 20 PAGES once you’ve completed the HTRYN course;
  • A free ebook copy of Holly’s Strange Arrivals, the textbook for the free How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck course (also an excellent course – and free!!); 
  • A free ebook copy of Holly’s How To Write Page-Turning Scenes; and
  • One free book, e or print, of your choice, from Inkprint Press (worldwide postage included). 🙂 🙂 🙂 

So: are you ready to sign up? I really think you’ll love it 🙂 (Also, if you happen to be currently taking, or have graduated from, Holly’s How To Think Sideways, you get a discount on the course – your link is this one, and it will ask you to sign in with your current log-in details.)

Finally, because I believe so strongly in this course, I want you to have the opportunity to buy it even WITHOUT using my links. So, this link here is a non-affiliate link; if you sign up by clicking anywhere on this sentence, I won’t receive a thing (but you also won’t get my bonuses ;)).

 

That’s it from me. Holly’s copy for the course is below. I hope to see you in the classroom!! 🙂

 

 

It’s been a bumpy road getting here, but How To Revise Your Novel has just gone live.

For the next seven days, UNTIL 11:59 PM on TUESDAY, Dec. 15, you can register for the class that has been teaching writers how turn rough, lumpy, awkward, and sometimes just outright BROKEN first drafts into professional-quality fiction since Nov. 23, 2009.

The class started out back in 2009 having two registrations a year. I changed that at some point, but when I did, the vibrancy of the community of writers that developed in the classroom (a sort of war-buddies-who’d-shared-hardships-and-SEEN-things camaraderie) disappeared.

Limited-time registration is back.

Once again, How To Revise Your Novel is only going to be available either one or two times a year.

I promise the course will be available to a new class once a year.

I’ll only make How To Revise Your Novel available a second time in any given year if I have enough students waiting to register to fill a second class.
However…

Once you own How To Revise Your Novel, you can use the classroom and (soon to be added) forum year-round, retake any lessons, go through the initial process and then the streamlined process with every book (or story, screenplay, biography or any other fiction or personal nonfiction you write).

I’ve even had students tell me it helped them with their nonfiction. The class is NOT focused on that, though.

If you do a NaNoWriMo novel a year, then next year you’ll already have the class. And the year after that. And the year after that.

If you write a book every two months, you’ll have everything in the classroom waiting to help you make every one of those books better.

If you write a story a day, what you’ll learn in this class will show you how to make those short stories better, too.

And if you just want to write one or two novels, but you want to make them great?

How To Revise Your Novel will be there for you for them, too.
Being a working writer who creates great stories that readers love isn’t some magical gift of the gods. It is a learned skill. It takes a lot of words, and a lot of work.

But YOU CAN DO IT.

Any writer willing to put in the work can learn the necessary skills, and if you’re willing to apply those skills to every word you write, YOU CAN get good.

Ready to join? 

 

WARNING!

How To Revise Your Novel is not an easy class.

You cannot learn how to revise your work by READING lessons.

THERE IS NO THEORY in How To Revise Your Novel.

Every bit of it is practical, step-by-step instructions.

You have to actually print out your manuscript, print out the worksheets, and DO the work.

And with your first professional-process revision, there is a LOT of work.

Here’s the good news.

The first REAL revision you do will be the MOST PAINFUL, MOST DIFFICULT, MOST AGONIZING and occasionally, the MOST HORRIFYING revision you will ever do.

How is that GOOD news, you’re asking?

Laughing (If somebody told me I was walking into pain, you better believe I’D ask.)

So here’s why it’s good news.

Discovering during your first revision everything you do wrong over and over in your writing teaches you not to make those mistakes anymore. Your writing becomes better when you revise, and your NEXT first-draft manuscript will be better from the beginning.

So your next novel’s revision will be EASIER to do. Usually, it will be a LOT easier.
Trust me, with each new manuscript, you’ll invent brand-new mistakes that you’ll only discover in your next revision.

Ask me how I know… Undecided

But learning to do a real, solid, step-by-step one-time-through revision will make you a better writer, and every book you revise from then on…

…will also make you a better writer.

So, if this sounds like what you’re looking for, go now, and join me and the next class of writers getting ready to get GOOD.

I’m ready to join How To Revise Your Novel now!

FREE Revision Workshop Available NOW!

So, I mentioned the other day that Holly Lisle, who is acclaimed around the nets and amongst authors for her high-quality learn-to-write classes, is opening her How To Revise Your Novel course for the ONLY time in the next 6 months, and possibly the only time until this time next year.

What I didn’t mention, because I forgot, is that for this week only, Holly has a FREE revision workshop that takes you through the basic steps of revising your story. It’s like a taster for HTRYN, and it’s freeeeeeee!!! 🙂 The only catch is that you have to join by Monday if you want to get the whole course. Not sure what happens after that – you only get the remaining lessons? That seems weird, so maybe it just closes on Monday. I don’t know. But you have like four whole days remaining, and it’s free with no strings attached, so you should totally head over and sign up 🙂 🙂

I’m going to sign up because I’m about to dive into revisions on two novels and a novella, and I want to see what her free workshop has compared to HTRYN; Holly’s pretty well known for including tasty bonuses with pretty much all her courses, and I’m keen to see what she has in store this time 🙂

Anyway, link again: free plot workshop.

And because I want you to know that I really do believe in Holly’s courses, THIS LINK is a non-affiliate link. Click through there and no one except Holly will ever know 🙂 (But of course, if you do use my affiliate links, I’ll have some shiny bonuses for you which I’ll tell you about on my Monday when prepping for two market stalls and a major birthday party is over >.< 🙂 )

Ever Feel Like Your First Draft Is An Ugly Baby?

I mean, you’ve written this story, completed it even, and you’re on a high. You did it! You finished your story! Possibly even won NaNoWriMo at this time of year, too! Well done! You bask in the glory of the moment – as well you should.

But then the inevitable happens: you go back and read your draft.

Splat.

That was your heart landing on the floor. Because this book you completed, the ‘baby’ you’ve grown? It’s ugly.

Oh, sure, there are pretty bits here and there: maybe a character you love or some dialogue that just zinged in all the right places. But it’s a first draft, and first drafts suck.

Look. No matter how bad your first draft is, I promise you it isn’t as bad as some of mine. I’ve twice written the first 20k and had to toss it all and start again. I’ve written two complete novel drafts that were entirely tossed out the window – both those stories started again from a blank slate. And man, it’s depressing. All that work! All that effort! Blood! Sweat! Tears! And all you have to show for it is this broken piece of garbage. Totally. Unfair.

But there’s good news: all stories are fixable. Sure, you might decide at some point that they’re not WORTH fixing (a few of my short stories that I wrote for classes in uni are like that), but the fact remains that every story is, in theory, fixable.*

*It’s a bad habit of mine to continually tinker with old stories, trying to find ways to fix them. This tinkering would be ad nauseous forever and ever until I died if I hadn’t met HTRYN.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a LOT of articles on editing. There’s a lot of good information out there, and a lot of bad information too. As a new writer particularly it can be hard to tell the difference, and for years I floundered with editing, knowing that there were things wrong with my stories but not knowing how to go about fixing them – or sometimes, not even knowing how to identify the problems in the first place.

In 2010, Holly Lisle released her second ‘big’ course: How To Revise Your Novel (HTRYN). I’d already taken her other big course, How To Think Sideways: Career Survival For Novelists (HTTS), which covered how to write a half decent draft in the first place, and I loved it. Holly’s style of teaching really resonates with me, and the techniques I’d learned in HTTS revolutionised not only my own writing, but that of others in my crit group too. (You can read about some of my thoughts while taking the course the first time here on my old blog.)

How To Think Sideways was good. It taught me how to create a draft that had some sense of cogency to it from the get go, and how to deal with problems as they arose. But there are a lot of different ways to write a novel, and not only is each writer different, each book is too.

Editing, on the other hand? Editing is pretty standard. Although different writers (and books) have different strengths and weaknesses, all stories need to be checked for the same things at the edits stage. How To Revise Your Novel was brilliant. Exactly as it says on the box: a step by step guide to editing your novel. Even if you’ve got a couple of novels under your belt, I still recommend this course: I go back to it every time I edit things, and I even do a light version of it for short stories. This course taught me not only what to look for, but a streamlined process of HOW to look for it.

I’ll talk about this in more detail over the next couple of days, because this is way long enough, but I just wanted to give you a heads up: Holly is opening the doors for class registration NEXT WEEK, and this will be the ONLY intake until about this time next year at this point. Trust me: if there’s a way for you to make this happen, you want this course.

And of course, I’ll have a few nifty bonuses for you on offer too if you decide to sign up through my links 😉

Until then, go write more ugly babies. You remember the adage. You can’t edit a blank page. 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

**contains affiliate linkage**

#WritingWorkshop Beat Sheets: A Map Through The Doldrums

One of the most commonly asked questions I get in my creative writing classes at school is how to get through middles. People get beginnings and endings intuitively, but the Middle Doldrums is where a lot of new (and not-so-new) writers have trouble. I struggled with middles for years and years, though many novels and short stories; I knew where I wanted to get, but not how to get there. How did authors come up with all the ‘stuff’ to happen in the middle? Where did they get these ideas from?

The cycle of creating a problem, complicating it, and resolving it so as to create a new problem helped somewhat when I learned about that. But it could only take me so far, and often still left me with drafts that had drifted off into tangents in the middle, that lost their way, that wandered and looped and circled but never seemed to progress. I longed for structure, for clarity, but didn’t know where to find it, and good old three-act structure didn’t provide enough support. Sure, there was the hero’s journey, but even that provided only limited assistance.

Enter beat sheets. If you’ve never heard of beat sheets and are someone who struggles to get through the middle of a story, prepare to rejoice. These beat sheets in particular, crafted by Jami Gold, are the becalmed writer’s salvation: enter your intended project word count at the top, and the spreadsheet will calculate for you the word count at which each of the major ‘beats’, or structural points, should occur. I use a combination of plot-oriented and character-oriented beats, pilfered mostly from the romance sheet and the master beat sheet, and this means I have a specific goal that I have to hit almost every other scene. It’s a life-saver, and I’m loving it.

I know that not everyone is into outlining. Some writers prefer to write exploratively, figuring out who their characters are and what their story is as they go. I used to write like this, especially for short stories, but to be honest, I’ve found that I have to revise a WHOLE lot less when I use a beat-style outline, and my short stories are punchier and pithier because they built cogently to a point from the outset. If I wander around trying to figure out what my point is as I go, I end up with a story with multiple ‘points’, and that’s just confusing to try to edit because you have to pick one and try to erase all hints of the others and it’s just a tracking nightmare. So yeah. Beat sheets. I’m a fan, so I thought I’d share in case you found them useful too 🙂

What To Do When You Accidentally Wrote An MG Book

1) Panic, because the book was supposed to be YA.

2) Research the heck out of the difference between MG and YA. Some good starting points are here, here, here and here (this one may contain ‘language’).

3) Ask for a bunch of volunteers to read the book for you. Look for volunteers who read MG and YA regularly, who can spot the difference between the two.

4) Convince yourself in the meantime that everyone’s feedback will come back agreeing with your original intentions and all will be well.

5) Receive feedback that unanimously agrees you’ve written an MG a book, not a YA one.

6) Cry.

7) Realise that editing the book to fit MG conventions will take a LOT less work than editing it to fit YA conventions, and stop crying.

8) Plan your attack on the manuscript.

9) Edit.

 

…But in all seriousness, it’s really important to listen to your readers in matters of genre. As the writer, you always see what you meant to write, and that can really cloud your perception of genre. “I set out to write an urban fantasy that defies conventions and does X, Y and Z instead of A, B and C.” Well, cool, but the result probably won’t be urban fantasy, because the entire point of genre conventions is that the stories in that genre conform to them for the most part. So listen to your readers. (I’ve actually seen several cases of authors who didn’t, and it never works out well sales-wise.) Even if you thought you were conforming entirely to a genre’s conventions, if readers tell you you haven’t, it doesn’t matter what you intended.

Listen to your beta readers, take a deep breath, and dive back into those edits.

 

Ye Olde Drawer Novels (Repost)

I read this fantastic article the other day about drawer novels. If you have a minute to spare, definitely go read it – and make sure you check out the comments, where people have to give a 25 word (or less) description of a novel they’ve drawered. There are some hilarious ones there – it’ll make you feel better about your own, I promise 😉

I have two questions today: Firstly, what are drawer novels? And secondly, how do you know you have one?

In other words, when and how can you tell that it’s time to give up on a story, shelve it, and move on?

The term ‘drawer novel’ comes from the idea that we all have novels that are (or should be) shoved in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. They’re often our first attempts at writing, although not always, and they’re often tragically melodramatic, full of plots holes and clichés and Bad Ideas that lulled us into a false sense of security.

That’s what a drawer novel is; but how do you know you have one?

This is a tricky question for me, because I love editing. I can tinker pretty endlessly with a story, which has two implications here: 1) I run the risk of never actually ceasing the editing, and so I never end up getting the necessary time away from the story to develop distance, which is requisite to being able to judge the story’s merit; and 2) I find it hard to write off any idea, because I know that with sufficient tweaking (read: editing ;)), anything can work. 

That said, there are a handful of stories that I have that have ended up in the folder on my computer I’ve affectionately called “The Dumping Ground”. Interestingly enough, this includes practically everything I ever wrote for the creative writing classes I took at university o.O

Mostly, they’re short stories. Stories that are melodramatic, stories that too clearly were addressing the assessment criteria, stories with no point or that are contrived; a novel that was a teenage-angst attempt at recording all the unfair things that happened in my last few years of high school (shudder); a novel where the MC turned into someone I hated. Although that one I’m tempted to pull out and tweak. Anything with editing, right? O:) hehe.

But how did I know these stories were dumpers, not keepers? One word: time. Only time will give you the distance you need in order to be able to judge your stories objectively. But then again, time will only work with another word: practice. If you don’t practice, if you aren’t getting out there and learning what makes a good story, you can leave a dud as long as you like and you still won’t know it’s a dud when you come back to it. You have to have progressed, you see.

Which is where the final word(s) comes in: a second opinion. You can practice, you can improve, and you can return to your work after time – but a second opinion never hurts, especially from someone you trust to be objective but constructive.

So, tell me. How many drawer stories do you have? Is anyone brave enough to share what one of their drawer stories is about?

Caught Up: Following The Rules (Repost)

Today I wanted to have a look at the things we get caught up with.

Glam recently – or not so, perhaps; been away for so long I’ve no idea – posted an article about being caught up in following the rules. And I realised, once again, that sometimes the things I find self-evident really aren’t so at all.

I’m a rule follower, usually. Always have been. I was a straight-A student all throughout highschool; I won all sorts of awards right throughout, and graduated second in my year, in the 99th percentile for the state.

Rule follower. Through and through.

And yet.

It always seems strange to me when people allow Rules to take over their lives. Rules are made by humans; human are fallible, ergo rules are too. I studied law for two years at university, and for me it was always, always the spirit of the law that was more important than the letter. Sometimes, it’s just plain not logical to follow the rules.

In writing, there are a lot of ‘rules’. Show, don’t tell. Full stops at ends of sentences. No fragments. (:P) And so on. It’s always seemed pretty self-evident to me, both by applying logic and by paying attention to what I read that is actually published that following these kinds of rules is pretty optional, if you know what you’re doing. It’s like English lit as a whole, really: You can hold any opinion that you like, so long as you can substantiate why 😀 (Yes, there are no right or wrong answers in English; that terrifies some people, but that’s why I love it 😉 Especially because if you really want to, you can prove almost anything from almost any text O:))

So, rules are, to a large extent, optional in writing. There’s really no sense getting caught up with them, and stressing yourself out over it. After all, if we all wrote precisely according to the rules, we’d no doubt all end up sounding exactly the same.

Like anything, however, there’s a ‘but’. And I think it’s a pretty big one. 

Being able to substantiate what you’ve done and why is an often-overlooked but essential part of any writer’s toolkit. Sure, you can claim that you’re doing it just because ‘it works’; and often, that can be true. No problemo.

But what happens when it’s time to edit, and you know that something’s wrong, but you can’t figure out what? It’s then that knowing the rules really helps. Being able to sit down and go methodically through the ‘rules’ to see which ones you’ve broken, and to think about what effect that might be having on the story, can be tedious – but it’s a heck of a lot LESS tedious and frustrating than staring at the eightieth broken draft of your story. 

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing; it’ll save you a lot of heartache when it comes to knowing what’s working in your story, and what’s not.

So tell me – are you a rule follower in writing? How about life? And how are you placed when someone challenges what you’re doing – can you give a reason?

Captain Obvious (Repost)

So you’re reading along in your story, and you think things are going great. You even make it all the way to the end, and there was just that one typo that needed fixing. The plot makes sense, it’s kind of funny, and now, it’s cleanly written. No flab, no superfluous anything. It’s great.

So off to the beta readers it goes.

Their feedback returns, and you sit there having an hour-long *facepalm* moment. Why is it that all these things they point out to you suddenly seem SO OBVIOUS, and yet before you couldn’t have seen them if someone had been waving a million dollars at you?

Possibly because someone waving a million dollars at you is, you know, kind of distracting.

But there are other more relevant reasons. I tried to search for some journal articles to back this up, and failed kind of epically. But it’s common sense, anyway, so we’ll just plow ahead!

The biggest, and most annoying, factor is that familiarity interferes with our ability to perceive correctly. We’ve probably all experienced this, in writing as well as life. The sentence you read five times over only to realise on the sixth time that it says something different to what you thought, the keys you spent ten minutes searching for only to find right in front of you, and so on and so forth. Situational blindness, I think it’s called. *wishes she had found the articles she was looking for*

The way we interpret things also messes up how we perceive things. Two classic examples:

Count the number of ‘f’s in this sentence:

Finished files are the resultof years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.


Hopefully, you counted six f’s. If not, go back and try again. If you’re anything near normal, you didn’t count any of the f’s in the word ‘of’, because we pronounce it ov, not off, so our brain just skims right over it.

Finally, where things are influences how we notice them. Now read this:




Did you notice the repetition of the word ‘the’? Just goes to show, positioning matters.

So what can you do about all these perception problems when you’re trying to edit something? Number three is probably the easiest to combat – just change the font, the size, the layout, or the medium (ie print it out if you’ve been working on-screen). Number two is a little harder to fix, but if you’re careful and thorough, you can usually catch all the mistaken-perception errors.

Number one is the really troublesome one. What can you do when you’re too familiar? When you know what you mean, so you can’t tell if the sentence means what you want it to? Or the scene? Or the entire story?

First up, get some distance. As much as it takes, and this will be different not only for every person, but for every project. Put it down, put it away, and take some time to forget the specifics of what you’ve written.

A kind of cheaty way to do this is what I do with novel drafts (doesn’t work with shorts; they’re too short): I write as though it’s NaNoWriMo, and I never go back to check things. What this means is that by the time I’ve finished the draft, I have a pretty solid idea of what I want the story to be, and what I think it is. But because I wrote the first words months ago, I have no idea if they actually match up or not. So when I reread them for the first time, with the novel completed, it’s like I’m reading them for the first time and am just trying to match them up to the picture in my head.

But like I said, that doesn’t work with shorts, because they’re, well, short. So what else can you do? Two things. One, get yourself some really good beta readers. Published authors have their agents and editors for this, but even pubbed authors sometimes use beta reader friends. Beta rule the earth. Find good ones.

Two, checklists. If you’ve sent multiple things to beta readers and are getting the same kind of feedback, chances are you’ve got a weak spot. WRITE IT DOWN. Somewhere OBVIOUS, so that next time, when you edit, you can look at it and go – hey yeah! I need to check for that! Your checklist can also include common things that you knowyou need to do, but might forget. For example, I had one short story come back from my betas recently and the major concern is that there is no character development – the MC doesn’t grow, change, or have a journey of any kind. And how basic is that? Talk about a *facepalm* moment.

Betas and checklists, different fonts and thoroughness. What else do you use to try to help you catch the Captain Obvious stuff that you might otherwise miss when you’re writing?