Category Archives: Guest Posts

Being a Word Smith by Robin Moyer

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Language — the words we use to express ourselves can be concise or overly confusing. Everyone is basically familiar with the idea of marriage vows. We all know they are interpreted to mean that we will stick with that other person come hell or high water, through good times and bad, and be faithful to them. At one ceremony I had, I always think I might have been jinxing myself from the get-go. Turned out he didn’t honor any of them. In this ceremony, though, the words used, in part, were, “Cleave ye only to each other as long as you both shall live.”

Language. Cleave not only means to cling to one another but also to cut apart. Funny how they don’t use that phrase anymore

But it goes a long way to exemplify the importance of using the right words when attempting to communicate.

According to Robin Marantz Henig, “The English language has 112 words for deception, according to one count, each with a different shade of meaning: collusion, fakery, malingering, self-deception, confabulation, prevarication, exaggeration, denial. Some languages have innumerable The Inuit have 47 words for snow. Tamil is an official language of the sovereign nations of Sri Lanka and Singapore. They have fifty-plus words for love. English has love, like, adore, infatuated all more or less defined by words like ‘a lot’ or ‘unconditionally.’

Language is full of descriptive words. Beyond the ‘making story,’ we have a wealth of ways to bring actions and locale alive — it is one of the best parts about being a writer. We get to play with words. Best sandbox ever! Above, I asked about your least favorite words. My least favorite word is VERY. Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Why say ‘very bad’ when you can say atrocious? Don’t say ‘very poor’ — say destitute. Very is a very, very, very poor word to use!

As writers, our job is to communicate. Regardless of the type of writing, if we fail to impart the concept we are trying to describe or explain, then we fail. Given the vast number of cultures, religions, and lifestyles that may or may not perceive any scenario as you or I might, language becomes even more important.

So what got me on this latest ‘wordy’ kick? I’m two-thirds of the way through a book named The Dictionary of Lost Words: A Novel
by Pip Williams. This is following mid-step my reading History in English Words by Owen Barfield. I’ve always had a love of words: where they came from, how we use them, why use one and not another. My grandmother once said I’d grow up to be a lexicologist or an etymologist. I told her I wanted to be a writer. (and I thought bugs were creepy.) Not an entomologist, she had explained before saying that good writers were both. Two days later, she handed me a notebook and a dictionary.

Over the years she’d ask me what my latest favorite words were. She’d also ask me about words I thought were ‘important’ words or boring words or over-used words. She taught me how words spelled the same and pronounced the same but had different meanings were called homonyms. Book (to read) or book (a reservation) for example. Then she threw heteronyms my way. Just because (at the time) I was invalid, my excuse not to learn was invalid. She didn’t believe for one minute that such a minute issue should ever stop me from learning. She wasn’t finished. Then there were homophones.

These, it turned out were the tricky ones. These are the words people often mix up and use the wrong version. Your, you’re, and yore. Their, they’re and there. Rein, reign and rain. Two, to, and too.

I was hooked. My grandmother bought me many notebooks over the next few months. Then she said I needed to buy them. I was crestfallen. I had no money. “You’ll buy them with words,” she’d told me. “Lists of words. When you need a notebook, I’ll give you a list I want for the last page of the old notebook.” Colors beyond red, green, blue, etc.. Synonyms for hot or set or school. Later on, she’d have me write a description of something without saying what it was. Or having to describe a color/place/activity to someone who was blind. (As I spent almost a year unable to see, I always enjoyed those.)

She’d have me describe something. Once I spent over six months describing a simple wooden rocking chair. Then she’d tell me to write it again, but differently. Next, I’d have to write it from the perspective of a cat or a mouse or a mother holding a baby. Once, I had to write it from the perspective of that area on the crossbar I always seemed to miss when I dusted. Then from the chair itself. Over the months, that blasted chair grew a history. It developed a personality, had dreams, temper tantrums, and felt loss, grief. hunger and joy. [side note: I still have that rocking chair!]

Some of my favorite words? Myriad for sure – so many – like a meadow full of butterflies dancing to the song of the breeze. (That, and I love how it sounds!) Another is the word and because it links and keeps things/people/places and words together. And, due to my grandmother, in part, the word grand. So many meanings on multiple levels. That, and the fact that my children’s children call me simply, Grand. No Grandma or Nana for me. How do I love being a grandmother, indeed, a great grandmother? It’s grand, simply grand!

My grandmother seeded my mind with a love of words. It’s still blooming.


I’m Fyndorian and Robin Moyer. I’m also Great-grams, Grand, Mom, and Hubby’s other half. Beyond these, there is a space, a fathomless well of unsprung thoughts that exists inside me. I write to pull forth the words; grasp and yank them screaming or dancing, from deep within, and set them free upon the page. Cut me: I bleed ink. This, this is why I write, for if I didn’t, then I shouldn’t be alive at all. Writer, poet, author of seven books with four more in progress. My company, Wynwidyn Press, hits the ten-year mark later this spring.

My award-winning series, The Journey Collection – (Journey to Jukai, A Gathering of Glass, and A Masquerade of Mirrors) is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

Three Tips For Writing Compelling Dialogue by Rita M. Reali

Photo by Julia Kicova on Unsplash

When folks in the writers group I belong to comment on the work I submit each month, the most frequent comments I hear are how spot-on my dialogue is, how I seem to have captured the essence of each character through his or her words, and how the dialogue really rings true.

I’m often asked how I manage to write such realistic and compelling dialogue. It boils down to a few key elements, which I’ll share with you here.

First, it’s important to realize how real people speak. You probably wouldn’t ever hear anyone have this conversation:

“Where are you going this weekend?”
“I am not sure where I am going this weekend. I think I might go up to the mountains. They are really pretty at this time of year.”
“Yes. I understand the mountains are pretty this time of year.”
“I would also like to stop in to see my cousin. She is going to be having surgery next week and she is pretty nervous. So I thought I would pay her a visit.”
“That is nice of you. You are always so considerate.”

This exchange is stilted and awkward. Folks just don’t talk that way. If you listen to conversations around you, you’ll realize people tend to use contractions – and speak in sentence fragments. A lot. Here’s how this bit of conversation would sound if two real people were having it:

“Where you going this weekend?”
“Dunno. Maybe the mountains – they’re really pretty this time of year.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”
“I’ll probably stop in to visit my cousin, too. She’s pretty nervous about her surgery next week.”
“That’s nice of you. You’re always so considerate.”

It’s 50 percent shorter, it’s more direct and it sounds more natural. People rarely reply to questions with full sentences – or by including the wording of the original question; they respond in fragments. I also used contractions. Not including contractions in speech sounds wooden and unnatural.

Second, be aware of what your characters are doing while they’re speaking. Include beats that give readers a visual on what’s happening. Here’s part of an exchange between two characters in my work in progress, Brothers by Betrayal. Gary is talking with Erin, his teenage daughter, who’s been grounded for two weeks (but who wants to go out with her friends for her birthday tomorrow):

Gary leaned against the doorjamb, his arms folded. “Look, Erin, you keep saying you want me to treat you like an adult. Then act like one. Children whine. Grownups accept the consequences of their actions without complaining.”
“But it’s not fair.”
He shook his head. “I’m done discussing this, Erin. I told you no and that’s final.”
“But Daddy…” she whined.
“Punkin, I gotta be up early in the morning. I’m going to bed. Talk to me again on Monday.”
“But the party’s tomorrow night.”
“I’m aware of that. And we’ve already established you’re not going.”
Erin thrust her lower lip out in a pout. She kicked at the leg of her desk. “Then what’s the point of talking on Monday?”
Gary gave a weary sigh and shoved away from the doorjamb. “I’m not having this discussion with you now, Erin. Goodnight.”

Note the absence of “he said” and “she said.” The only attribution is “she whined,” which tells the reader how the line gets delivered. The rest of the excerpt uses beats – snippets of narrative that precede, follow or are interwoven amid dialogue – to clue readers in to action taking place with the dialogue. Sometimes, when action is concurrent with dialogue, the author will interrupt the dialogue with a beat. Like this:

Inside, Gary approached Paula G., the woman who was serving as leader for the meeting. “Hi Paula, I’m Gary” – he laid his hands on the teen’s shoulders – “and this is my daughter Erin. This is her first meeting.”

I tend to get pushback from the writers group denizens about my use of en dashes with spaces to offset beats within dialogue. As it turns out, it’s a U.K. style. U.S. style favors em dashes (—) with no spaces. For a fine discourse on use of the various dashes (en, em and 2em) in your writing, read this blog post.

Third, run your dialogue aloud to hear the cadence of the words instead of simply seeing them in print. Often, we write what we think we want our characters to say, only to find, when reading it aloud, it’s clunky or awkward. And if it sounds off to you, think how it’ll sound in your readers’ heads. And no matter how fond you may be of a bit of dialogue, sometimes it has to go. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is often the willingness to excise those bits of dialogue that don’t sound right or advance the story.

For more tips on ways to improve your dialogue, check out this helpful article from the folks at Writer’s Digest.

When you’re tackling a tough bit of dialogue, what advice do you find works best for you?


Author and Editor Rita M Reali

Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of EmeraldDiagnosis: LoveThe Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out this June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.

Rita Reali Books

Creating Credible Characters by Valerie Holmes

Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

No matter what genre of novel a writer creates, a protagonist lies at its heart. Whether an alien, a mythical beast, or a human the reader will want to connect with them. Why else would they continue to read on to discover what path and challenges are ahead? In a romance it is the two main characters that take centre stage as their relationship forms, is thwarted but ultimately endures. In other genres the reader may follow a single protagonist to a satisfactory, if not, a happy ending.

The writer’s aim is to convince the reader to believe in these characters. The protagonist is at the centre of everything; they need to be credible and believable, even if they are not plausible in the realm of our own world.

Every action and decision they make must be convincing. As author’s we want the readers to experience events through this main character(s) eyes: joy, fear, exhilaration, disappointment and hopefully success. They have faced challenges and overcome the barriers that were placed in their way by well thought out plots.

Empathy for them, once developed, should lead to pages turned and future books read – especially, in the case of a series.

To achieve this, a writer must know their characters intimately so that everything they do, think, and say will support the developed plot, enhanced by the skilfully written detail of setting – the world that the protagonist and the cast of characters inhabit.

If you think of these characters as real people and develop profiles for each, the protagonist’s profile will be more detailed than minor characters, although they still need to respond and react true to type, therefore, the author must be well versed in the ‘type’ of character they are.

Your profile should cover the basics: physical aspects, appearance, age, height etc.

But then dig deeper: –

What is their emotional state?

What is their unique back-story that led to them being the person (or alien) they are now?

What family/friends/ associates/colleagues do they interact with?
Are any of these toxic?

What goals do they have and what stands in their way?

Nobody is perfect so what flaws do they have?

Are they haunted by the past or motivated by their potential future?

Do they crave love, are they driven by a quest, or seek to save the world?

What are they uniquely good at?

What would make them act out of character?

What are their loves/hates?

Do they have vulnerabilities or insecurities?

Do they have secrets and, if so, what would happen if they were discovered?

How do they change and grow as a result of the events they face throughout the plot?


All these questions will help define the characters so that their reactions, actions, and interactions will flow smoothly and make them live on the page.

Whether they are asked of the protagonist or antagonist, or supporting characters, this is valuable background information that will add depth to your writing when the knowledge is applied to their interactions.
At all costs avoid stereotypes, they will not work and may offend the reader.

When the protagonist first appears make their entrance count. They must appeal, interest, or intrigue your reader so that they continue to follow the story.

What is it about them that captures attention? Is it their appearance, attitude, intelligence, or a unique feature that makes them stand out?
Once the characters have been created then they can be let loose on the pages of your manuscript as the novel takes shape. Structure, plot, and pace are essential, but without believable characters that convince, hook, and delight the reader there will be no life and depth to the story.
Everything they say and do should show the kind of character they are. Props can be used to embellish this process, if they add something to their development and the use of which aids the core plot move forward.
Whatever details the author knows about a character, it will be more than need ever be shared on the page. Exposition – description and ‘info-dumps’ – should be avoided as they slow down the pace of the plot, so only feed information to the reader on a need-to-know basis; instead, use this valuable background knowledge to breathe life into your characters’ thoughts, words, and deeds.

If the characters created feel real to the author, then they will to the readers of the novel, which is the essence of successful and memorable fiction.


Author Valerie Holmes

Valerie’s love of writing and creating stories began in her childhood. Now, as an established author she loves sharing that love by tutoring students in the art of creative writing. Her career to date spans 5 novels, 46 novellas and working as a tutor for the London School of Journalism, Writing Magazine and independently via:

www.ValerieHolmesAuthor.com

Her romantic adventures are mainly set in her beloved home county of North Yorkshire in northeast England. It is an area of majestic moors, rugged coastline, and beautiful market towns of Whitby, Northallerton and Harrogate and historic York. The early nineteenth century (Regency) was a period of huge social inequality and change, smuggling, espionage, and industrial innovations that all served to add drama to many of her romantic adventures.

Valerie’s work has been compared to romantic classics: ‘Wuthering Heights meets Poldark.’ Romance with a darker touch of mystery added.

Recent publications: Betrayal and The Baronet’s Prize now available on Amazon and KindleUnlimited.

When not working Valerie loves to walk in the countryside with her two loyal spaniels, bake, research historic locations, and travel broadly with family and friends.

www.ValerieHolmesAuthor.com (10% discount off fees if you quote this article)

INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK


Revise! Revise! Revise! by Vivan Zabel

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

For the past ten years I’ve read and heard, “Don’t do any revising or editing until you have finished writing the whole story or book.”

What! That goes against common sense and everything I’ve learned in all the years I’ve studied, have written, have taught, and have read. The reasons I disagree are several, but a main one (and I’ve seen examples of this too many times) is if an author waits until after he finishes and then changes something toward the start, he often forgets a later part of the story affected by the change but not adjusted. A story develops from the beginning to end, and once written, any change at the beginning makes differences later in the piece, changes that are easy to miss. Thus cohesion and coherence become weak and faulty.

I know some “writers” who think any major editing should be done by an editor. Let me share something I found in the August issue of The Writer. According to Sam McCarver, the author of six John Darnell mystery novels,    

In the time-intensive world of publishing, you may have only one opportunity to intrigue an editor with your writing, your main character and your story. And you must often do than within pages – or the first few sentences – of your manuscript.

 Editors are pressed for time and very perceptive in identifying good writing, interesting characters and gripping stories, so they move fast through  your pages.

McCarver goes on to say that an author must write the best story or novel possible: edit it, polish it, enhance it. Then he should read and make final changes – all before ever allowing anyone else to read it. Yes, before allowing anyone else to read an manuscript, the author should have spent hours improving a rough draft.

Writing a story or novel is only half the job: Revising is the other half, a most important half, of writing. Ernest Hemingway, E.B. White, F. Scott Fitzgerald all admitted the need to revise and rewrite. Hemingway admitted he cut as he wrote, yet, he would take weeks to revise a book.

McCarver’s article “How to revise your FICTION” gives eight steps for editing a person’s work. I happen to agree with his points, especially the one which states that delaying all editing until the manuscript is finished is a mistake.

However, let’s examine this author’s ideas, as well as those expounded in many composition text books and believed by me:

1. Accept revising as the other half of writing. E.B. White stated that the best writing is rewriting.

2. Adopt good editing procedures. To produce a better first draft, one should begin revising with the first word written, making improvements as he goes. As a writer completes a day’s production, he should study what’s on the screen, if using a computer. If he sees a need for any changes, he should make them while they are fresh in his mind.. Then he should print what is finished.

 According to Chang-rae Lee, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, he tries to polish as he goes because what leads him to the next sentence is the sentence before. “I find that it’s hard to move on unless I’ve really understood what’s happening, what comes before and where it’s heading.”

3. Review printed pages. Writers should print out the pages finished and set them aside to “cool.” Then they should read the printout with a pen in hand, noting corrections or revisions that will improve the writing. After making changes on the computer, writers should reprint the pages, adding to the pile of finished pages. Each day’s, or period’s, work should be the same: writing, rereading, editing, and making changes as one goes.

4. Identify errors and correct them. According to McCarver, three procedures are critical in the revision process: correcting mistakes, improving content, and enhancing the story.

The first attention needs to go to spelling and punctuation errors, typos, grammatical mistakes, and inconsistencies in tense or point of view. Although such mistakes may seem minor to the author, editors expect manuscripts to be virtually free of any errors.

5. Improve content. “What you say and how you say it also must be polished to the best of your ability,” states McCarver. “Improving content also includes considering the structure and sharpening your word choice,” as well as re-examining characters for consistency, making sure the plot hangs together, that scenes are compelling and dialogue natural, and that all loose ends are tied up.

 Word choice is a topic for another editorial, but it is a vital part of good writing.

6. Concentrate on enhancement. Enhancement goes beyond making corrections and improving content and style: It means increasing the quality and impact of the writing. A techniques given by McCarver are as follows:

 * Inserting foreshadowing for greater event impact later.       
* Increasing the emotion in dialogue and thoughts in scenes.       
* Adding or strengthening subplots.       
* Intensifying the consequences of actions and events.       
* Adding twists to the plot.       
* Shortening flashbacks, if used, and including action in them.       
* Making characters seem more real, depicting their actions, dialogue and thoughts more naturally and powerfully.


7. Do that final revision. After finishing the whole manuscript, revise again.

8. Take one last look. After revising the complete manuscript again, the author should reread the printed pages before mailing them or sending a query letter. All errors and last minute changes should be made.

All authors want to impress editors by providing a story that the editors cannot put down. Each author, through a manuscript, has only one chance to make a great first impression.

Note: “How to revise your FICTION” by Sam McCarver in The Writer, August, 2005, provided research material for this editorial as did several composition text books and notes from my files.


Vivian Zabel, former English and writing teacher, heads 4RV Publishing. She studied the art of writing for years and is now a professional editor and award-winning author of children’s, young adult, and fiction books.
Vivian often presents workshops and sessions at conferences around the nation, including the Alaska Writers Conference and the OWFI conference. She has been a member of OWFI since 2002 and the OWFI Grant Director since 2012. She was honored as the Lifetime Member in 2013.

At present, 4RV Publishing needs submissions in fantasy, science fiction, women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, and other genres for the following imprints: tweens and teens, young adult, and fiction, as well as for other well-written books for all ages, fiction and nonfiction. Details concerning genre and details of standards and guidelines can be found at the following website: http://4rvpublishing.com/manuscript-submissions.php .

Three Steps to NaNoWriMo Success by Jennifer Allis Provost

Nanowrimo Awaits!
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Hello, readers and writers! November is just around the corner, which means you only have a few days left to finalize your NaNoWriMo plan of attack. You can do so by using three easy but helpful methods: researching, outlining, and creating a few character profiles.

Plan NaNo, you say? But I never plan Nano! I just open up a Word document and pound the keyboard until I’m done! Or pass out, whichever comes first.

Well, that’s certainly a method, but remember that the goal of NaNo isn’t just to write 50k words, but words that create some sort of cohesive story. While you can write anything and win, why not put those 50k words toward advancing your writing career? A complete first draft (remember: a first draft does not equal a submission-quality or publishable draft) within 30 days is absolutely achievable. All you need is a bit of planning.

I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo, and have been participating for years. Two of my NaNo projects went on to become published novels, and I’ve used other years to make significant headway on sequels. However, last year’s NaNo was an epic fail on my part, and it was because I didn’t follow the three steps.

My main story idea was set and I’d done a bit of outlining and research, but not nearly enough. I also hadn’t completed a single character profile. (Character profiles don’t have to be long. Start with name, objective, and obstacles to achieving the objective.) It wasn’t long before the story had gone so far off the rails there was no way I could fix it in 30 days. In fact, I haven’t fixed it to date, and I have no idea if I ever will. That’s a shame, because it was a project I’d wanted to work on for a few years, and I had high hopes for it.

But this year will be different! This year’s project will be set in Scotland, and has a smattering of Picts and a Roman legion thrown in for good measure, and I’ve done my homework. I stocked up on travel guides of Glasgow, a few books on the ancient Roman military, and watched an interesting if maybe not completely factual documentary on the Picts. (What can I say, it was free on Amazon Prime.) I sketched out a rough outline so I know where my characters are going, how they get there, and what the ultimate goal is for each one of them. This time around I’m confident that even if I don’t have a finished story by November 30, I will at least have my fifty thousand words in.

Fifty thousand good words, that is.

But it’s almost November! How could anyone still have time to research? Fear not, because one of the great secrets of writing is that you don’t have to do all your research beforehand. What you need is enough to get your story going, put your foot in the door so to speak, and let the story unroll from there. I fully intend to consult my Scottish travel guides and books on Roman legions several times over the next few weeks, and who knows how many times I’ll hit up the internet for answers. I probably won’t re-watch the documentary on the Picts.

To sum up, the three basic steps to NaNoWriMo success are:

Research – Then do some more research, ask a librarian for help, and maybe book a trip to visit any real-life locations. Really, you’re not going to get too much information so go all in.

Outline – A nice detailed outline is key. One incorporating the classic three act structure would be ideal, but all you really need is a strong map to follow along. Think of it like you’re downloading the newest map software onto your Garmin, as opposed to using a paper map printed in 1952.

Character Profiles – Who’s the protagonist? Antagonist? What do they want? What are the stakes? What will happen if they don’t get what they want? Again, you cannot have too much information.

Will these steps work for you? That I can’t answer, but they have worked for me in the past. Hopefully they’ll work their magic again this year. I bet they’ll work for you, too. Have fun, and happy writing!

Author Jennifer Allis ProvostJennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library.) An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Visit her at www.authorjenniferallisprovost.com