About Joe Moore

#1 Amazon and international bestselling co-author of THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, THE 731 LEGACY, THE BLADE, THE SHIELD, THE TOMB, and THOR BUNKER, A Short Story.

Give your manuscript a running start

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Whenever I disclose to someone that I’m an author, the response is pretty much the same: “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” Or “I’ve got a great idea for a novel.” Despite all the would-be authors out there, not every potential novelist actually gets to the writing stage. And even fewer produce a finished product. But for the ones who not only have an idea but are burning up with a desire to put pen to paper, I’ve put together a basic outlining technique that might help get things started—a simple list of questions to kick start a book. Answering them can give writers direction and focus, and help keep them going when the wheels sometimes come off the cart along the way. To continue my Writing 101 series, here goes:

  • What distinguishes your protagonist from everyone else?
  • Does she have an essential strength or ability?
  • How could her strength cause her to get into trouble?
  • Most stories start with the protagonist about to do something? What is that “something” in your story, and what does it mean to her?
  • Is that “something” interrupted? By what?
  • Is there an external event or force that she must deal with throughout the length of the story?
  • How is it different from the original event?
  • How will the two events contrast and create tension?
  • Does she have a goal that she is trying to achieve during the course of the story?
  • Is it tied into the external event?
  • Why does she want or need to obtain the goal?
  • What obstacle does the external event place in her path?
  • What must she do to overcome the obstacle?
  • Does she have external AND internal obstacles and conflicts to overcome?
  • How will she grow by overcoming the obstacles?
  • What do you want to happen at the end of your story?
  • How do you want the reader to feel at the end?
  • What actions or events must take place to make the ending occur the way you envision?

This outline technique has less to do with plot and more to do with character development. Building strong characters around a unique plot idea is the secret to a great book. Once you’ve answered the questions about your protagonist, use the same technique on your antagonist and other central characters. It works for everyone in the story.

These are general questions that could apply to any genre from an action-adventure thriller to a romance to a tale of horror. Answering them up front can help to get you started and keep you on track. Armed with just the basic knowledge supplied by the answers, you will never be at a loss for words because you will always know what your protagonist (and others) must do next.

Can you think of any other questions that should be asked before taking that great idea and turning it into a novel?

10+

Ending Up At The End

by Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

One of the most popular features of TKZ is our First Page Critiques. We invite you to submit the first page of your WIP and we will critique the good, bad and ugly elements of the work. We offer this feature because of the importance of grabbing the reader right off the get-go. A list of all the previous submissions can be found at First Page Critiques along with an invitation to submit your first page.

So we all know how important the first-page grab is, how a writer has to set the “hook” as soon as possible. But what about endings? Are they as important as beginnings? After all, they occur after the big finale, the gripping climax, the roaring finish. In a way, we can think of endings as anticlimactic. And yet, they have an important function to perform in any story. So today let’s take a Writing 101 Series look at endings.

First, the ending should resolve anything that was not addressed during the climax. Once the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is put to bed, what’s left must be brought together as a resolution in the ending. There must be closure to anything still hanging in the reader’s mind.

The ending also answers or clarifies the story question. Since the story question usually deals with character growth or change, the ending must make sure the story question is answered.

Let’s say that the main character had to stand by and watch his family perish in a terrible accident that he inadvertently caused. The story question might be: will he ever forgive himself and have the courage to find love again and perhaps start a new family? The actual plot might deal with something totally different, but along the way he finds a new love interest. Once the climax occurs and the plot is resolved, the reader must discover the answer to the story question. It has to be made clear in the ending. In most stories, the main character takes a journey, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. How he completes the journey is the answer to the story question and must be resolved in the ending.

Another function of the ending is to bring some sense of normalcy back to the characters’ lives. It can be the restoring of how things were before the journey began or it can be the establishment of a new normal. Either way, it must be resolved in the ending. Our hero has found a new love and plans to start a new family. It’s his new normal and the reader must understand the changes that he went through to establish that new normal.

If the story contains a theme, message or moral, the ending is where it should be reinforced. Not every story has an underlying theme, but if it does, it must be clarified in the ending. This way the reader can close the book with the feeling that the theme or message was accomplished or confirmed. The main character(s) got it, and so did the reader. Even if the reader doesn’t agree with the message, it has to be confirmed in his or her mind what it was, and if it was completed.

The end resolution of the theme or message must be in sync with the story. For instance, if the theme is to accept a spiritual belief in the existence of a greater power in the universe, the plot and characters must touch upon or address the idea somewhere along the way so the end resolution confirms that they have changed their beliefs to support or at least admit to the theme.

The ending should also cause readers to feel the way the writer intended them to feel. Whatever the emotional response the reader should experience, the ending is where it’s confirmed. After all, the writer is the captain of the ship. He steers the story in a specific direction—a direction he wants the reader to go. The reader is a passenger along for the journey. It’s important that in the end, the ship dock at the right port. Worse case is that it doesn’t dock at all. That’s the result of a weak ending.

The ending is how you leave your reader. It’s the last impression. And it just might be the reason the reader wants to buy your next book. Or not.

6+

Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

8+

Action vs. Suspense

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

BREAKING NEWS: On the 15th of March, 44 B.C., a group of Roman Senators approached Julius Caesar while he sat on his golden throne, produced daggers and assassinated the emperor by stabbing him 23 times. His death paved the way for the Roman Empire and made his name a household word. Even now, Beware the Ides of March still carries a dark warning. Hopefully, everyone made it through the Ides of March unscathed.

A similar event occurred on the Ides of March, 2016. Yesterday, Barnes & Noble put the final kibosh on the future of the NOOK by giving customers a week to salvage their purchase content. NOOK sales decreased 33% for the quarter. Digital content sales were down 23%. Device and accessory sales down 44%. Online sales declined 12.5%. Kindle is now and always was the undisputed Lord Of The E-readers. And one Amazon to rule them all.

And now this.

I’ve found that one of the mistakes beginning writers often make is confusing action with suspense; they assume a thriller must be filled with it to create suspense. They load up their stories with endless gun battles, car chases, and daredevil stunts as the heroes are being chased across continents with a relentless batch of baddies hot in pursuit. The result can begin to look like the Perils of Pauline; jumping from one fire to another. What many beginning thriller writers don’t realize is that heavy-handed action usually produces boredom, not thrills.

When there’s too much action, you can wind up with a story that lacks tension and suspense. The reader becomes bored and never really cares about who lives or who wins. If they actually finish the book, it’s probably because they’re trapped on a coast-to-coast flight or inside a vacation hotel room while it’s pouring down rain outside.

Too much action becomes even more apparent in the movies. The James Bond film “Quantum Of Solace” is an example. The story was so buried in action that by the end, I simply didn’t care. All I wanted to happen was for it to be over. Don’t get me wrong, the action sequences were visually amazing, but special effects and outlandish stunts can only thrill for a short time. They can’t take the place of strong character development, crisp dialogue and clever plotting.

As far as thrillers are concerned, I’ve found that most action scenes just get in the way of the story. What I enjoy is the anticipation of action and danger, and the threat of something that has not happened yet. When it does happen, the action scene becomes the release valve.

I believe that writing an action scene can be fairly easy. What’s difficult is writing a suspenseful story without having to rely on tons of action. Doing so takes skill. Anyone can write a chase sequence or describe a shoot-out. The trick is not to confuse action with suspense. Guns, fast cars and rollercoaster-like chase scenes are fun, but do they really get the reader’s heart pumping. Or is it the lead-up to the chase, the anticipation of the kill, the breathless suspense of knowing that danger is waiting just around the corner?

Do you like the anticipation of action more than the action itself?

8+

Plot Elements Matter

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

When you write a story, whether it’s short fiction or a novel-length manuscript, there are always two major components to deal with: characters and plot. Combined, they make up the “body” of the story. And of the two, the plot can be thought of as the skeleton, the structure on which the story is built. Plot can be defined as the series of events that move the story forward; the network of highways the characters follow to reach their goals.

When it comes to building your plot, nothing should be random or by accident. It may appear random to the reader but every turn of the plot should be significant and move the story to its final conclusion. Every plot element, whether it deals with a character’s inner or outer being should contribute to furthering the story.

In order to determine the significance of each plot element, always ask why. Why does he look or dress that way? Why did she say or react in that manner? Why does the action take place in this particular location as opposed to another? If you ask why, and don’t get a convincing answer, delete or change the plot element. Every word, every sentence, every detail must matter. If they don’t, and there’s a chance they could confuse the reader or get in the way of the story, change or delete.

Your plot should grow out of the obstructions placed in the character’s path. What is causing the protagonist to stand up for his beliefs? What is motivating her to fight for survival? That’s what makes up the critical points of the plot—those obstacles placed in the path of your characters.

Be careful of overreaction; a character acting or reacting beyond the belief model you’ve built in your reader’s mind. There’s nothing wrong with placing an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation—that’s what great stories are made from. But you must build your character in such a manner that his actions and reactions to each plot element are plausible. Push the character, but keep them in the realm of reality. A man who has never been in an airplane cannot be expected to fly a passenger plane. But a private pilot who has flown small planes could be able to fly a large passenger plane and possibly land it. The actions and the obstacles can be thrilling, but they must be believable.

Avoid melodrama in your plot—the actions of a character without believable motivation. Action for the sake of action is empty and two-dimensional. Each character should have a pressing agenda from which the plot unfolds. That agenda is what motivates their actions. The reader should care about the individual’s agenda, but what’s more important is that the reader believes the characters care about their own agendas. And as each character pursues his or her agenda, they should periodically face roadblocks and never quite get everything they want. The protagonist should always stand in the way of the antagonist, and vice versa.

Another plot tripwire to avoid is deus ex machina (god from the machine) whereby a previously unsolvable problem is suddenly overcome by a contrived element: the sudden introduction of a new character or device. Doing so is cheap writing and you run the risk of losing your reader. Instead, use foreshadowing to place elements into the plot that, if added up, will present a believable solution to the problem. The character may have to work hard at it, but in the end, the reader will accept it as plausible.

Always consider your plot as a series of opportunities for your character to reveal his or her true self. The plot should offer the character a chance to be better (or worse in the case of the antagonist) than they were in the beginning. The opportunities manifest themselves in the form of obstacles, roadblocks and detours. If the path were straight and level with smooth sailing, the plot would be dull and boring. Give your characters a chance to shine. Let them grow and develop by building a strong skeleton on which to flesh out their true selves.

When you begin working on a new story, do you develop your plot or characters first? Do you believe that a book can be primarily “plot driven” or “character driven”?

8+

It Was Just A Dream

I’d like to welcome back to TKZ my friend and fellow ITW member, Meg Gardiner. If you’ve ever considered using a dream or dream sequence in your manuscript, Meg points out the perils of doing so. Read on and take note. – Joe Moore

———————–

unnamedWhen I teach writing workshops, I always warn students about what not to do. In particular, I strongly urge them not to open their stories in these ways:

  • With the protagonist staring out the window, thinking about his past.
  • With the detective squinting into the sunrise, hung over.
  • With the protagonist waking up.
  • With a dream sequence.

Why? Because these are clichés — they’ve been done ten thousand times. They’re tired. And because, if your story opens in one of these ways, nothing is happening.

In the case of dream sequences, there’s an additional reason. When readers reach the end of the scene and read, “And then she woke up,” they feel cheated.

As readers, we immerse ourselves in a story by suspending disbelief. That is, while we read, we willingly suspend our knowledge that a story is fiction and accept it as true.  (Thank Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the concept.) But readers generally give an author only one shot at this. If a story opens with an amazingly dramatic, action-packed, emotionally resonant scene that turns out to be a dream, readers are likely to feel that the author has pulled a bait and switch.

Oh. The hero didn’t REALLY save his wife from a mob shootout. He just fell asleep on the sofa.

Huh. The heroine didn’t REALLY leap into the ocean from the deck of a burning ship. She just ate too much pizza and had a nightmare.

Readers invest themselves in the story. When it turns out that the drama is all in a character’s sleeping mind, they’re likely to bail.

Inevitably, when I urge students to avoid dream sequences, one or two will tell me that’s how their novel opens. When I ask why, they say they want the story to open with a punch — but that nothing dramatic happens until chapter five, so the dream is the only way to get some action on the page. Or they tell me they want to show the characters’ fears, longings, or memories, and “there’s no other way.”

There’s always another way. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it will be better than opening with a character’s unconscious fantasies. If you want readers to come along for the entire ride, you need your characters to be awake and in action in the physical world from the word go.

How do you deal with dreams in your manuscript? Or do you avoid them altogether?

Meg Gardiner is the bestselling author of twelve thrillers. Her novels include the Edgar Award-winning CHINA LAKE and PHANTOM INSTINCT, which was chosen one of O, the Oprah magazine’s “Best Books of Summer.” She lives in Austin, Texas.

4+

What’s your brand?

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Why is a reader motivated to purchase one book over another? Is it the author? How about the cover art? The cover blurbs from other writers? The title? The synopsis on the back or inside liner?

All of the above are important, no doubt. But I believe one of the biggest factors in motivating the purchase of a book is “brand”, or lack of it in the case of not making the purchase.

Why brand? Readers want consistency. Think of food. Everyone knows exactly what a Burger King Whopper tastes like. The Burger King brand is known worldwide because they produce something that people like and they keep making it. I can walk into a Burger King anywhere on the planet and I know what to expect. The same goes for McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, Taco Bell, and hundreds of other well-established brands. If I crave a Big Mac, there’s only one place to get it. If you’re looking to put your brand over some products and items to help market your company a little better, look into this company that design branded merchandise.

I think that the same holds true for books. I can pick up the latest James Paterson, Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler novel and I know what to expect. They have established a consistency in their product that has become their brand. As a matter of fact, their names ARE their brands. All you have to do is mention Patterson, Roberts or Cussler, and anyone who has experienced those brands knows what you’re talking about. Just like the Whopper. You don’t have to explain it to someone who’s already had one.

What is brand? For starters, I think of it as a consistent level of expectancy. By that I mean that the customer/reader expects something to happen each time they make a purchase based upon the brand, and it does—every time. If there ever comes a time when it doesn’t, the customer/reader will abandon the product for a replacement—maybe not the first time, but eventually they will move on.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What if I’m a debut author? I have no brand. Or I only have a couple of books out. Not enough time to establish a brand yet. Ask yourself this: how strong was James Patterson’s brand when he published Along Came A Spider in 1993? Probably not as strong as it is today. He started with a good story, quality writing and a compelling package, and built it into the James Patterson brand combining it with other vital branding items. Branding goes way beyond story content, style, voice, and other writing elements. It involves your book covers, your website, your blog, your marketing collateral, how you dress in public at signings and conferences, how your email signature is worded—in other words, your brand is your message working in tandem with your personal “packaging”. The good news is that today we have even more avenues for building our brand than Mr. Patterson did years ago.

So, how do you create a brand from your message and personal packaging?

Your message is primarily the words that are contained in your books and the words used to describe your books. The packaging is the “framing” of those words. If the message and the packaging are not synchronized, you will create confusion in the marketplace. You control your message by the content of your stories. And it’s important that you work closely with the publicist and marketing department at your publisher to make sure your message matches the message they produce for promoting your books. If it doesn’t, keep working with them until everyone feels that it does.

What about the packaging decisions you can do yourself?

Start with your website. It’s one of the most important parts of your personal packaging. You’re in control of all aspects of its content and construction. Make sure it looks like your books. I know that sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised that the only similarity between some author’s websites and their books is that they show a picture of the book cover. For best packaging results, the entire site should have the same visual feel as your cover(s). If you can’t create or capture that yourself, find a professional to do it. Remember, it’s the TOTAL packaging that helps establish your brand.

Now think about the rest of your collateral material such as business cards, post cards, posters, bookmarks, newsletters, e-mail blasts, bulletins, etc. Do they project your brand? Are they an extension of your book covers and website? Again, if you can’t achieve a totally consistent personal package, find a professional designer that understands branding and packaging. The investment of using a design agency will pay for itself in the long run.

Make sure you know and understand what you want your brand to be. Understand who you are in relation to your brand. What kind of image do you want to portray? I’m not suggesting you come up with some fake persona and act like someone you’re not. But guess what? Being an author is acting. It’s acting out your brand. It’s your personal packaging.

In building your brand, you must consider all of these items working together. The consumer will come to expect it and it’s to your advantage to deliver.

As a writer, do you feel like you have a brand? If you do, is it the one you want? Are you aware of it? Can you think of some other examples of writers who have a consistent, strong brand?

6+

Editing Tips for the Indie Author

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Back in the days of legacy publishers ruling the world, getting a contract meant that your book would be edited by staff editors. First by the acquisition editor, then the copy/line editors and maybe additional content editors. It was mostly out of your hands. A lot has changed with the wave of indie publishing. Writers that can afford it can hire a freelance editor—there are many available. A simple Google search will reveal numerous sources. Most indie writers with a limited budget take on the task themselves. The last thing you want is to self-publish your masterpiece if it’s filled with mistakes. To make it as good as it can be, I’ve listed a collection of DIY tips on editing your own manuscript.

There are a number of stages in the editing process. Starting with the completion of your final draft, they involve reading and re-reading the entire manuscript many times over and making numerous changes during the process. It’s in this phase that you need to make sure your plot is seamless, your story is on track, your character development is consistent, and you didn’t leave out some major point of importance that could confuse the reader. At this stage, you’re taking the job of the content editor, so you must pay close attention to content. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Does it make sense? Is the flow of the story smooth and liquid? Do your scene and chapter transitions work? Is everything resolved at the end?

Next, check for clarity. Legacy publishers employ professional proofreaders. In your case, this is where beta readers come in handy. If it’s not clear to them, it won’t be clear to others. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you know or understands what you understand. Make it clear what’s going on in your story. Suspense cannot be created by confusing the reader.

Once you’ve finished this first pass searching for global plotting problems, it’s time to move on to the nuts and bolts of editing. Here you must tighten up your work by deleting all the extra words that don’t add to the reading experience or contribute to the story. Remember that every word counts. If a word doesn’t move the plot forward or help develop the characters, it should be deleted.

Some of the words that can be edited out are superfluous qualifiers such as “very” and “really.” This is always an area where less is more. For instance, you might describe a woman as being beautiful or being very beautiful. But when you think about it, what’s the difference? If she’s already beautiful, a word that is considered a definitive description, how can she exceed beautiful to become very beautiful? She can’t. So I suggest you search for and delete instances of “very” or “really”. They add nothing to your writing.

Next, scrutinize any word that ends in “ly”. Chances are, most adverbs can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence or your thoughts. In most cases, cutting them clarifies and makes your writing crisper.

After that, go hunting for clichés and overused phrases. There’s an old saying that if it comes easy, it’s probably a cliché. Avoiding clichés makes for fresher writing. There’s another saying that the only person allowed to use a cliché is the first one to use it.

Overused phrases are often found at the beginning of a sentence with words like “suddenly,” “so” and “now”. I find myself guilty of doing this, but they don’t add anything of value to my writing or yours. Get rid of them.

The next type of editing is called line editing. Line editing covers grammar and punctuation. Watch for incorrect use of the apostrophe, hyphen, dash and semicolon. Did you end all your character’s dialogs with a closed quote? Did you forget to use a question mark at the end of a question?

This also covers making sure you used the right word. Relying on your word processor’s spell checker can be dangerous since it won’t alert you to wrong words when they are spelled correctly. It takes a sharp eye to catch these types of mistakes. Once you’ve gone through your manuscript and performed a line edit, have someone else check it behind you. A fresh set of eyes never hurts.

On-the-fly cut and paste editing while you were working on your first draft can get you into trouble if you weren’t paying attention. Leftover words and phrases from a previous edit or version can still be lurking around, and because all the words might be spelled correctly or the punctuation might be correct, you’ll only catch the mistake by paying close attention during the line edit phase.

The many stages of editing are a vital part of the writing process. Editing your manuscript should not be rushed or taken for granted. Familiarity breeds mistakes—you’ve read that page or chapter so many times that your eyes skim over it. And yet, there could be a mistake that you’ve missed every time because you’re bored with the old stuff and anxious to review the new.

Read your manuscript out loud, or better yet, have someone else read it to you. Mistakes and poor writing will become obvious.

Spend the time needed to tighten and clarify your writing until there is not one ounce of fat or bloat. And once you’ve finished the entire editing process, put the manuscript away for a period of time. Let it rest for a week or even a month if your schedule permits while you work on something else. Remember that indie publishing means that you set the deadline and pub date. Then bring it back out into the light of day and make one more pass. You’ll be surprised at what you missed.

One more piece of advice. Edit on hardcopy, not on your monitor. There’s something about dots of ink on the printed page that is much less forgiving than the glow of pixels. Remember, less is always more.

Any other editing tips?

8+

Every Professional Was First An Amateur

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Welcome back to TKZ after our winder break. I hope all of you had a wonderful time off with your families and friends. So, now it’s time to get back to work.

When I graduated from college, I was making a living doing two jobs: a night gig playing in a rock band (that’s me on the right), and a day job working in a music store. On the marquee in front of the store, was the message: Every Professional Was First An FatCatAmateur. Since I was making decent dollars rocking out eight days a week, I considered myself and my band mates professionals. But that statement out on the store marquee stuck with me. Many decades later, when I took to writing fiction, that saying haunted me. Especially as I piled up an impressive stack of rejection letters. I used to brag that I had been rejected by some of the biggest names in the business. When I finally got an agent and had a novel published, I looked back at the trail of dead manuscripts left in my wake and realizes how true it was.

I believed that my first manuscript was so great, it was supposed to make me into the next Clive Cussler. As you can guess, things didn’t turn out as planned. The closest I ever got to Cussler’s success was having dinner with him while I served as ITW co-president.

I’ve had the opportunity to mentor new writers through the MWA mentoring program and held countless writing workshops. What I’ve noticed is that all beginning writers commit the same sins. And what I wind up telling them is that there’s good news and bad. The good news is, they’ve accomplished something that only a small percentage of the population ever will. Most just dream about it. Few really sit down and write a book.

Now for the bad news: Their first book is not publishable. The response usually goes like this.

What? Joe, are you crazy? Everyone says my book is great. My mom loves it. My neighbors and the girl that cuts my hair said it was a potential bestseller—as good as King and Patterson. I’ve even been told by my uncle who watches lots of movies that it would make a blockbuster feature film. JJ Abrams would snap it up in a heartbeat. So how can you say that about a book when you’ve only read a few pages?

The reason I can say it with confidence is that I’ve found first novels to all be the same—not in subject matter of course, but in common, predictable flaws. And if by some miraculous stroke of luck the literary gods smiled down and their first book is publishable as written, then I would suggest they run to the nearest convenience store and buy a lottery ticket. There’s a good chance they’re on a roll.

I’ve made a list of the most common flaws of first novels. Keep in mind that having one or even a couple of these present in your book will not render the manuscript DOA. But I guarantee you’ll find just about all of them in the typical first attempt at writing a novel. Here they are in no particular order of importance.

You often use adverbs at the end of dialog tags to “tell” the reader what emotion the character feels. Example: “I’m mad as hell,” he said angrily. “I love you,” she said adoringly.

You rarely utilize any of the 5 senses to draw the reader into the scene.

You resolve conflict with coincidence or luck.

Your manuscript is filled with back-stories that don’t relate to the plot or develop the characters.

You head-hop within a scene between multiple POVs.

You tell the story rather than show it.

You have a “unique” approach to the use of the English language, and the mechanics and structure of writing in English. Note: I mean this in a bad way.

Each page is filled with an abundance of adjectives that if deleted would not change anything other than make the writing cleaner.

You recently discovered the exclamation point and want your readers to share in your excitement.

You love ellipsis . . .

You have a pet word or phrase that you feel compelled to repeat often in hopes that it will become a favorite of your reader.

You beat your readers over the head with repeated facts just in case they didn’t get it the first dozen times.

You often rely on the lazy technique of imparting information to the reader by having a character tell another something they already know.

Your text is riddled with more clichés than you could shake a stick at.

You use profanity for no other reason than shock.

Your dialog sounds as natural as a first grade primer.

Your characters continually use the name of the person to whom they’re speaking.

You overuse flashbacks and/or start the story with one.

Act II sags like a piece of pulled taffy.

Your story wanders.

Your story starts in the wrong place.

You’re not sure how to create suspense, so you commit “author intrusion” even though you have no idea what the term means.

You confuse the reader.

Your facts are incorrect. Example: The assassin attached the silencer to the revolver so no one would hear the shots.

You slip from past tense to present in narration.

You describe every movement, every second, every detail and every breath of your characters actions for no apparent reason.

You don’t know when to end a scene.

Your plot is a rehash of The Perils of Pauline—your protagonist jumps from one terrible situation to the next equally terrible situation with no dynamics or variation in terribleness.

You either have no subplots or enough for 10 books.

All your characters sound the same when they speak.

Your characters have no flaws.

You rely on stereotypes. The men are all handsome with chiseled faces and athletic bodies. The women are beautiful fashion models. And the bad guys are ugly, disgusting monsters. Note: This is OK if your antagonist is actually an ugly, disgusting monster.

Your story is melodramatic.

Your target audience doesn’t exist.

You manuscript is infested with misspellings, the wrong use of words, grammatical errors, and missing or incorrect punctuation.

You believe that placing the word “very” or “really” in front of an adjective increases the descriptive value of the adjective.

And the one that I see most often: You find it impossible to tell someone what your book is about without rambling on for 10 minutes.

Everyone’s first book contains just about all of the above. Mine did, and I’ll bet yours did, too. But that’s OK. That’s part of the learning process on the road to becoming a published novelist. Every professional was first an amateur. Every bestselling author wrote a first novel that should never see the light of day. Chances are it was just as full of these flaws as yours and mine.

The secret to this whole novel-writing thing is to keep writing. Few first novels are accepted by an agent much less bought by a publisher. Published first novels are the exception to the rule. For everyone else, you’ve got to write that second book. And the third. And the fourth. That’s how you refine the craft. And with each manuscript, you learn to use less clichés, eliminate “very” from your vocabulary, delete needless “ly” words, make your characters more human, find your writer’s voice, and all the other thousands of parts to crafting a well-written story.

So, Zoners, did I miss any beginner failings?

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Happy Holidays!

wreath_1It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2016. From Clare, LarryKathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 4. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.

Note from Kathryn: This year, I thought it would be fun to post holiday photos of the TKZ bloggers and readers over the break. I’ve already collected some wonderful photos of some of my co-bloggers celebrating the holidays. We’d love to include your holiday photo, as well. You can send your holiday photo (you can choose a photo of you celebrating any holiday, from any year) to our blog’s email address, killzoneblog at gmail dot com. Include in the body of the email any info or a greeting to go in the caption. I’ll add the photos as they come in, as “rolling updates.” It’ll be our way of throwing a “virtual office party” to ring in the New Year! To kick things off, check out our own Joe Moore and his gorgeous wife in a shot from Christmas Past!

Here's a photo of Carol and I celebrating our 3rd Christmas together (1973). This year will be our 45th. -- Joe Moore

Here’s a photo of Carol and I celebrating our 3rd Christmas together (1973). This year will be our 45th. — Joe Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare in front of Taj Mahal looking suitably festive!

Clare in front of Taj Mahal looking suitably festive!

Kris Montee and family!

Kris Montee and family!

Kris: “Obviously, this is photoshopped.” (We were wondering!) 😀

Mark Alpert pretends to be surprised to see my latest book THE SIX at our local Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 82nd Street.

Mark Alpert “pretends to be surprised to see my latest book THE SIX at our local Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 82nd Street.”

Kathryn and husband Gene took a cold (but fun) bus tour of NYC last Xmas

Kathryn and husband Gene took a cold (but fun!) bus tour of NYC last Xmas

White Elephant Christmas Exchange, with Jordan Dane

White Elephant Christmas Exchange, with Jordan Dane

Elaine Viets with her awesome sidekick, "Black Beauty".

Elaine Viets with her awesome sidekick, “Black Beauty”

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