Make Sure Your Characters Act in Character!

Captivate_full_w_decalby Jodie Renner, editor & author @JodieRennerEd

DO YOUR CHARACTERS’ DECISIONS AND ACTIONS SEEM REALISTIC AND AUTHENTIC?

Have you ever been reading a story when suddenly the protagonist does or says something that makes you think, “Oh come on! Why would he do that?” or “This is crazy. Why doesn’t she…?” or “But I thought he…!” or “I didn’t know he/she could [insert extraordinary ability].” The character seems to be acting illogically, to be making decisions with little motivation or contrary to his personality, abilities, or values

I see this problem a lot in fiction manuscripts I edit. The author needs something to happen for the sake of the plot they’ve planned out in advance, so they force a supposedly intelligent character to do something contrary to common sense and their best interests, like recklessly putting themselves in danger.

For example, I once edited a book where the highly educated, intelligent heroine rose from her bed in the middle of the night and, without telling her husband where she was going or even leaving a note, drove to a remote warehouse to find some incriminating evidence, knowing the killer was likely to return – which of course he did, and attempted to kill her. It made for an exciting scene, but unfortunately, the otherwise savvy character came off looking like a foolhardy, impulsive airhead. I couldn’t help wondering, why wouldn’t she tell her husband? Better yet, call the police and let them handle it.  Even police, who are trained for these situations, usually get backup.

Moving your characters around like pawns to suit the plot, if it doesn’t make sense for who they are, could have your readers scratching their heads in disbelief or, worse, throwing your book across the room, then writing a scathing one-star review of it.

Don’t force your characters, kicking and screaming, into actions they just wouldn’t do.

Readers won’t suspend their disbelief and bond with the character if they don’t “buy” what the character is doing and why. An engrossing story needs realistic characters dealing with adversity in bold but realistic and plausible ways.

To make a character’s decisions and actions convincing, take care when creating their background, character, abilities, and motivations.

Background, character, and personality

Of course, you don’t want to make your hero or heroine ordinary, timid, or passive, with few daring decisions, because that would make for a ho-hum book most readers wouldn’t bother finishing. But on the other hand, if you’re going to have them perform daredevil feats, be sure to build that into their makeup.

First, get to know your main characters well. Take some time to develop their background, character, and personality. Are they athletic or more cerebral? Risk-takers or cautious? Do they embrace change, enjoy challenge, love to learn new things? Or do they prefer to stay within their comfort zone? To plumb their depths, do some free-form journaling in which they express their strongest desires, fears, hopes, secrets, regrets, and gripes.

Are they physically capable of what you want them to do?

Abilities

If, for a riveting plot, you need your hero to do something heroic, almost superhuman, make sure he has the determination, strength, flexibility, and endurance to do that. Although it’s amazing what people are able to do under duress with the adrenaline flowing, it’s more credible if your character is already at least somewhat fit. Does he work out a lot to maintain muscle mass, agility, and endurance? How? Also, he’ll need to be intelligent, skilled, and resourceful.

If he needs special skills, show earlier on that he possesses them and how it all makes sense, given his overall makeup. In one novel I edited, the sedentary, slightly overweight, middle-aged protagonist fought off a strong attacker with quick, expert martial arts moves. This was an “Oh, come on!” moment, given his lifestyle, age, and paunch.

In The Hunger Games, we learn early on that Katniss is an expert at archery, which is a huge factor in her survival later. A nerdy banker probably doesn’t do kickboxing on the side, so you may need to make him less desk-bound and more athletic for it to work. Or give him another profession.

If you’re writing fantasy, of course you have more leeway with unusual characters and situations, but if you’re writing a realistic genre, with no supernatural or paranormal elements, make sure the character’s actions are realistic and make sense.

Motivations

Is your hero sufficiently motivated to put his life on the line? Do those motivations fit with his belief system, background, and immediate needs? If you want or need a character to do something dangerous, go back and give him some burning reasons for choosing that course of action.

Perhaps he finds himself in a life-and-death situation for himself or someone he loves, or innocent people are in grave danger. His love, concern, and determination will make him more selfless and daring, bringing out courage he never knew he had.

As Steven James advises in Story Trumps Structure, as you’re writing your story, ask yourself , “What would this character naturally do in this situation? Is he properly motivated to take this action?”

Causality

Be sure your narrative is also shaped by the logic of cause and effect. For your story to be believable, character decisions and reactions need to plausibly follow the original stimulus or actions. If your character overreacts or underreacts to what has just happened, they won’t seem “in character” or real.

Be sure every decision and action makes sense with what preceded it. As James suggests, as you go along, continually ask yourself, “What would naturally happen next?”

So don’t force your characters to act in uncharacteristic ways because your plot needs them to. Readers will pick up on that. Rather than insisting certain events or actions happen as you had planned, instead allow the natural sequence of events and logical reactions to shape your plotline.

Go through your story to make sure your characters are acting and reacting in ways that are authentic to who they are and where they’ve come from, and that they’re sufficiently motivated to take risks. Also, do their reactions fit with the stimulus? Is that a logical response to what happened?

Ask yourself, as you’re writing, “Is there a way to accomplish this that fits with the character’s values and personality?” If not, I suggest you either change the plot (have them make a different decision and rewrite where that leads them) or go back and change some of the character’s basic attributes, values, and skills. Or add in incidents in their past that have shaped them in ways that will justify their current actions.

That way your plot will flow seamlessly and your characters will seem real. There will be no bumps, no hiccups where readers will be suddenly jolted out of the story.

As William Faulkner advised one of his fiction-writing classes,

“…get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says.”

So don’t impose your preconceived ideas on the character – you risk making him do things he just wouldn’t do. Know your characters really well and the rest will naturally follow.

Fire up Your Fiction_ebook_2 silversJodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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INDIE BOOK CONTESTS 2015

by Jodie Renner, editor & author    @JodieRennerEd

Book Contests in 2015 for Independent Authors and Publishers

Readers_Favorite_Awards-300x117

Have you considered entering your book into a contest? You’re not alone. My list here on The Kill Zone last January of 2014 book contests for independent authors and small publishers has received about 4,500 page views since then, so I know there’s a lot of interest in this topic.

Here’s the list, updated for 2015. If you know of any more good book contests for self-published authors, please let me know in the comments below, with the website, so I can add them.

Also, here’s a great list of free writing contests, mainly for short stories and poetry:

27 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions with Cash Prizes

If you’re experienced at publishing your own books, skip the next six paragraphs and jump down to the contests. If you’ve just recently decided to go the indie route and publish your next book yourself, read the next few paragraphs to ensure your book is ready for entering in book contests.

As you know, the competition is tough for independently published books, and an amateurishly produced book can sink a new author’s reputation before they’ve gotten started, so be sure to put out a professional product (and it is a product). How do you make your book rise up the ranks, sell well, and garner great reviews?

First, be sure to search out professionals to edit and proofread the manuscript, design the cover design, and format it properly. For an excellent, extensive list of professional resources for book design, editing, formatting, and more, check out Elizabeth Craig’s EBook Services Professionals Directory. Also, peruse our list here at TKZ (in the sidebar).

Limited resources for all of those necessities? You can save a lot of money on editing costs by doing a thorough revision and edit yourself first. (If your manuscript is long and rambling, see my recent post on Janice Hardy’s blog, Fiction University: “How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% – and tighten your story without losing any of the good stuff!” .) For expert help with the revision process, I recommend James Scott Bell’s excellent guide, Revision & Self-Editing for Publication. Also, check out my award-winning editor’s guides, Fire up Your Fiction and Captivate Your Readers.

You can also cut costs for formatting by doing the basic formatting yourself, per these instructions for formatting your manuscript.

And you can get a high-quality cover design for as low as $99 on sites like this one audcasinos where my three covers were designed – or even lower if you choose a pre-made cover.

Then, once your story is revised, polished, and presented in an attractive, professional-looking package, and you’ve published it, think about entering it in a book contest. Winning an award for your self-published fiction or nonfiction book is a great way to gain recognition and respect, so it rises above the masses. If you win an award, the publicity will boost your book sales, and you can add the award decal to your cover and mention the achievement on your back cover, in the book description, on your website or blog, and in all your marketing and promoting, for that extra edge.

Here’s a list of book awards specifically for independently published books. It’s for your quick info only, and is in no way an endorsement of any of them. Click on the title of the award to go to their website for more details. And do let me know of any good ones I’ve missed. [And if you’re looking to hone your skills and network, you might also be interested in checking out this extensive list (over 120) of Writers’ Conferences & Book Festivals in North America in 2015.]

BOOK CONTESTS FOR INDIE AUTHORS (Click on the titles to go to their sites.)

~ WRITER’S DIGEST SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK AWARDS

Sponsored by: Writer’s Digest Magazine (F&W Media) and Book Marketing Works, LLC

Requirements: Open to all English-language self-published books. Entrants must send a printed and bound book. Evaluated on content, writing quality and overall quality of production and appearance. All books published or revised and reprinted between 2010 and 2015 are eligible.

Early-Bird Deadline: April 1, 2015

What’s in it for you?                 

  • A chance to win $8,000 in cash
  • National exposure for your work
  • The attention of prospective editors and publishers
  • A paid trip to the ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference!

Fees: Early-bird entry fees (by April 1): $99 for the first entry, and $75 for each additional entry.

Categories: 9, including 1 for poetry and 2 for nonfiction.

Winners notified: by Oct. 12, 2015

Notes: Very popular so very competitive. Your book needs to be professionally produced and sparkle in every way, including a stellar cover an enticing and error-free back cover, clean formatting, and a story that’s been professionally edited and proofread. I have served as judge on this contest three times, so can provide more general info if anyone is interested.

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? Yes – minimum 200 words, plus a 1-5 rating on 5 points.

~ WRITER’S DIGEST SELF-PUBLISHED E-BOOK AWARDS

Hasn’t opened yet for 2015. Info from 2014:

This competition spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors. Whether you’re a professional writer, a part-time freelancer or a self-starting student, here’s your chance to enter WD’s newest competition, exclusively for self-published e-books.

8 different categories

One Grand Prize Winner receives $3,000 cash and lots more.The First-Place Winner in each category receives: $1000 in prize money and more. Honorable Mention Winners will receive $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books and be promoted on www.writersdigest.com.

Entry fee: Early-bird – $99 for the first entry, $75 for each additional

Deadline: The 2014 deadline was Aug. 1, 2014, so look for this contest in the summer.

A definite plus is that, like the above WD contest, they do send you the judge’s rating and commentary, whether you win or not, which is very helpful.

~ FOREWORD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Sponsored by: Foreword Reviews

Open to: all books from independent publishers, including small presses, university presses, and self-published authors, published in 2013.

Deadline: January 15, 2015 (oops! This one has passed. Bookmark this contest for next year, and get your entry in by Dec. or early Jan.)

Winners announced: at American Library Assoc. conference 2015, San Francisco

Entry fee: $99. Send two books per category.

Categories: 62 categories

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? No.

Benefits/Prizes: Valuable publicity and $1500 cash prize for the Editor’s Choice in Fiction and Nonfiction.

Details/Advantages: Lots of categories, and “The judging is unique in that after the initial entries have been narrowed down to a group of finalists in each category by the magazine’s team of editors, the finalists are shipped to a hand-selected group of booksellers and librarians who determine the winners. This panel of industry experts use the same criteria for judging as they would use in their own acquisitions process.”

~ INDIEREADER DISCOVERY AWARDS

Sponsored by: Kirkus Indie

Requirements: Open to all self-published books with a valid ISBN. No restrictions on publication dates. Both eBooks and paper books can be submitted.

Deadline: March 2, 2015

Categories: Two main categories (fiction and non-fiction) and 49 sub-categories.

Entry fee: $150 per title, $50 fee for each additional category entered.  Submit two copies the first category entered and one each additional category.  One paper book and one ebook is preferred, if possible.

Winners announced: at the 2015 Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City.

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? No free review anymore. If you want a review, you have to pay for it.

Prizes: Award ceremony at Book Expo America, sticker, professional IndieReader review, exposure. First place gets a review from Kirkus Reviews.

*Note that compared to the others, the above contest has a high entry fee, no cash prizes and no feedback unless you pay for it.

~ NEXT GENERATION INDIE BOOK AWARDS     

Sponsored by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group

Requirements: Open to independent authors and publishers worldwide. Enter books released in 2013 or 2014 or with a 2013 or 2014 copyright date

Categories: 70+ categories to choose from

Deadline: February 13, 2015

Fees: $75 per title for the first category entered, $50 for each additional category. Submission Details: Two copies of the book must be sent for the first category entered plus one copy for each additional category.

Prizes, Benefits, awards: Cash prizes ($1,500 to $100), trophies, awards, listing in catalogue, exposure of top 70 books to NYC literary agent, awards reception, NYC

Details: The largest not-for-profit awards program for independent publishers

Winners notified by: May 15

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? No.

~ NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCE BOOK AWARDS

Requirements/Eligibility: Open to books with an ISBN, published 2012-2015. Send one copy of the book per category entered.

Deadline: March 31, 2015

Fees: $69 per category

Categories: Lots of Categories!

Winners & Finalists: Will be publicized during Book Expo America; be listed on the official website of the IndieExcellence.com site; etc.

Winners announced: May 15, 2015

~ IPPY AWARDS – INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER BOOK AWARDS  

Sponsored by: Jenkins Group Publishing Services, affiliated with Publisher’s Weekly.

Eligibility: independently published titles released between July 1, 2012 and March 15, 2014. Open to authors and publishers worldwide who produce books written in English and intended for the North American market.

Deadline: March 10, 2015

Fees: $85-$95 per category; $55 to also enter the E-Book Awards or Regional Book Awards

Categories: 76 subject categories in National awards; Regional awards for the United States, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand; E-Book Awards with fiction, non-fiction, children’s and regional categories.

Benefits: Winners receive celebration party in NY City, medals, stickers, certificates, national publicity in major trade publications including Publisher’s Weekly and Shelf Awareness. Learn more

~ THE BEN FRANKLIN AWARDS

Sponsored by: IBPA – Independent Book Publishers Association

Info: The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for excellence in book publishing is regarded as one of the highest national honors for small and independent publishers.

Deadlines: First Call – Sept. 30, 2015; Second call – Dec. 15, 2015

Categories: 41 book categories + design = 55 categories

Entry fees: IBPA member – $95 per title, per category; Non-IBPA member – $225 for first title, which includes one year’s membership in IBPA; $95 for subsequent entries.

Benefits: Winners recognized at a gala event. Gold winners receive an engraved crystal trophy. Gold and Silver winners receive award certificates along with gold or silver stickers. All winners announced to the major trade journals and media.

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? Yes. The Benjamin Franklin Awards are unique in that the entrants receive direct feedback on their titles. The actual judging forms are returned to all participating publishers.

~ READERS’ FAVORITE BOOK AWARDS

Requirements: Accept manuscripts, published and unpublished books, ebooks, audio books, comic books, poetry books and short stories in 100+ genres. No publication date requirement or word count restriction. Entries are accepted worldwide as long as the work is in English.

Fee: $89 per book

Deadline: April1, 2015

Awards: Four award levels plus a finalist level in each of our 100+ categories. Special Illustration Award competition for illustrated books. Roll of high quality, embossed award stickers ($50 value). Digital award seal for your book cover and print/web marketing. Personalized award certificate. Olympics-style physical award medal with ribbon. Awards ceremony with guest speakers and media coverage. Book displayed in our booth at the largest book fair in America. Book review posted on 7 popular book and social networking sites.

Feedback? Mini-critique of 5 key areas of your book.

FAPA PRESIDENT’S BOOK AWARDS

Sponsored by: Florida Authors and Publishers Association

Requirements: English language titles published in 2014 or 2015. Any author or publisher who resides in North America may enter. Bound books only, except for one category: e-books. Send four copies of your book for each category entered (e.g. one book entered in three categories = 12 copies of the book).

Fee: Until March 1: $75 (non-members), $65 (members); $50 for each additional category;  After March 1: $85 (non-members), $75 (members); $50 each additional category

Deadline: May 1, 2015

Categories: 30

Awards: FAPA will award one Gold Medal and up to two Silver Medals in each category. Winners receive: a gold or silver medal, a certificate, decals for book covers, and publicity.

Written review by judges: No

~ 2015 KINDLE BOOK AWARDS

Deadline: May 1, 2015

Details: Open to all independent and small press authors. For eBooks published on Amazon between May 1, 2013 – May 1, 2015 (Must have Amazon Link).

Fee: $29 (Use Code  SJC85  before April 1st for 10% Early Bird Discount)

Categories: Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Y/A, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Horror/Suspense, Non-Fiction

Awards: 7 category winners will receive $350 cash, and $900+ in promotion & tools

~ THE ERIC HOFFER AWARD

Deadlines: Books: January 21, 2015. Short prose: March 31, 2015.

Fees: Books: $55

Categories: 18 categories

Prizes: Two grand prizes, one for short prose (i.e. fiction and creative nonfiction) and one for independent books. Prizes include a $250 award for short prose and a $2,000 award for best independent book. In addition, various other honors and distinctions are given for both prose and books.

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? No.Our judging process is a three tier system. Two successive category judges score the book on a seven point criteria system and provide feedback before it is passed to the higher level judges, but we do not provide feedback to the authors / publishers / nominators. We did in the early years, but it resulted in too many authors feeling the need to defend their books.”

~ SHELF UNBOUND WRITING COMPETITION FOR BEST SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK

Sponsored by: Shelf Media Group, Half Price Books

Eligibility: Any independently published book in any genre is eligible for entry.

Deadline: Oct. 1, 2015.

Entry fee: $40 per book.

Submission: Email a PDF or Word Doc of the book or mail in a physical copy.

Details and benefits: Top five books receive editorial coverage in the December/January 2016 issue of Shelf Unbound. The author of the book named as the Best Independently Published book will receive editorial coverage as well as a year’s worth of full-page ads in Shelf Unbound (rate card value $6,000). More than 100 books deemed by the editors as “notable” entries in the competition will also be featured in the December/January 2016 issue of Shelf Unbound.

Judges provide feedback/commentary on all books submitted? No.

OTHER BOOK AWARDS: (Click on the names.) Beverly Hills Book Awards, Bookworks Awards,  eLit Book Awards,  EPIC eBook Competition,  Global eBook AwardsGreen Book Festival,  Nautilus Book Awards,  Publishing Innovation AwardsReader Views Literary Awards

BOOK FESTIVAL CONTESTS:  New England Book Festival,  New York Book Festival,  San Francisco Book Festival,  The Beach Book Festival,  The Hollywood Book Festival,  London Book Festival,  Paris Book Festival,  The Living Now Book Awards

INTERNATIONAL:  International Book Awards,  The International Rubery Book Award,  The WISHING SHELF Independent Book Awards [UK]

CHILDREN’S BOOKS:  The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards     

Can you think of any more to add? Have you had any experiences with any of these book contests that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

IMG_5765_trimmedJodie Renner is a freelance editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Fire up Your Fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller, and Captivate Your ReadersFire up Your Fiction was awarded a silver medal from FAPA President’s Book Awards, a silver medal from Readers’ Favorite Awards, and an Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest awards. Find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor & author of writing guides

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a magazine article, a short story, an assignment, or a book, it’s important to go over your work several times to make sure it’s polished and flows well. No matter what your you’re writing, you’re your credibility will be eroded if readers find mispelled misspelled words, misused words, missing or extra words, or other typos. And  a recent study published in Huffington Post points to a close correlation between accuracy of writing and income from writing — a no-brainer.

I’ve presented workshops and written several articles (here’s a good one) on tips for approaching the whole editing and revising process, starting with macro issues like logistics, characterisation, plot, and pacing, and working your way through awkward phrasing and wordiness down to micro errors like spelling and punctuation. In fact, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Revise for Success,” a step-by-step approach to revising your novel, at Steven James’ writers conference, Troubleshooting Your Novel, in Nashville on January 17.

For a whole book on how to nail this critical process to create a novel that shines, check out James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-Editing for Publication. Writers also find my Fire up Your Fiction very helpful.

For today, my topic is on that final step, after you’ve resolved all big-picture content problems and even most style issues, such as slow pacing, awkward sentence structure, or overly wordy phrasing. My tips today are on the final “proofreading” step, how to ferret out those tiny little gremlins that escape your notice when you’re concentrating on content and even style issues.

When we read our own work, we’re so familiar with what we want to say that we fill in words that aren’t actually on the page, and skip over slightly misspelled words that still pass spellcheck, or little words that shouldn’t be there. Of course, getting detail-oriented, eagle-eyed nerdy friends who are great at spelling to read it carefully is a great option, if you know of some. If not, or in addition to that, I’m providing some tips for fooling your brain into thinking it hasn’t read this story before.

As someone trained to see errors, I find them everywhere – on signs and menus, in blog posts and articles, on website copy, and in published books. As an example, here’s the description of a workshop that appeared on a conference website a while back, which I’ve shortened and disguised a bit. Can you spot the 9-10 errors in this description? (Just for fun, I’ve added a few more errors.)

Copy with little typos: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience an attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the the confidence and skills to successfully preform in front of an audience? There are a few time tested trick to perform you work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in pubic and will also cover using social media sites lie YouTube to to host audio versions of your work.

 Errors fixed in blue: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience and attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the confidence and skills to successfully perform in front of an audience? There are a few timetested tricks for performing your work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in public and will also cover using social media sites like YouTube to host audio versions of your work.

And I just happen to be judging short stories in the thriller genre for Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction 2014 contest, where I was given 147 short stories and asked to choose only 10 of those to go on to the next level. Since I have to reject 137 of these stories, I have to be pretty ruthless, and any that aren’t polished won’t make the cut. Typos or spelling errors on the first page are an automatic no. As are long boring descriptions, a confusing opening, cardboard characters, lack of tension or intrigue, tedious repetitions, and switches in verb tense.

Here are some tips for fooling your brain into thinking your story is something new, something you need to read critically and revise ruthlessly before it reaches the demanding eyes of a literary agent, acquiring editor, contest judge, or picky reviewer.

1. Set it aside for a while. First, if you can, put your article, blog post, or short story away for a day or two before revising and editing it, and your book manuscript away for a few weeks or even a month, if possible, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a bit of emotional distance. If you’re on a tight deadline, start at #2.

2. Start with Word’s spell-check and check those squiggly red and blue lines under words. Don’t rely on Spellcheck, though, as it misses a lot (like the well-known gaffe above, “pubic” for “public”), and often suggests changes that make something correct incorrect. For example, in the Agent Dallas thriller manuscript I’m editing for L.J. Sellers, The Trap, MS Word suggests that “I like your thinking” (as in “I like how you think”) should be “I like you’re thinking.” And it often suggests the wrong its/it’s, and misses all kinds of typos in manuscripts I edit, like “crowed” for “crowded,” “father” for “farther,” “county” for “country,” and “manger” or “manager.” So definitely don’t trust spell-check blindly.

3. Use my two quick, clickable e-resources to verify spelling and word choices: QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips, and QUICK CLICKS: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips. Click on the titles to check them out. These handy resources will save you tons of time looking up words in the dictionary, and every word is verified as correct.

4. Do a search (“Find”) for words you know how to spell but tend to spell wrong when you’re in a hurry, especially ones spell-check won’t flag, like “you” for “your,” or “your” for “you’re,” “there” for “they’re” or “their,” etc.

Then choose some of the following strategies, which are also excellent for picking up on clunky sentences and awkward phrasing.

~ Increase the size of the type to 150% or 160%, by clicking on the + sign at the bottom right of the document.

~ Change the font to one that looks quite different to fool your eyes and brain into thinking this is new material you’ve never read (or thought of) before, so you need to pay close attention.

Try Comic Sansor Franklin Gothic Book or Book Antiqua.

~ Format it to book size, like 6″ x 9″, change the font to something nice, like Georgiaor Cambria, change it to single-spaced,  format it to two-column landscape, so it looks like an open book, then print it up and read it in a different location, somewhere you don’t write, preferably out of your home.

~ Send it to your Kindle or other e-reader and read it in a different location, preferably not at home.

~ In a print version, place a ruler or piece of paper under the line you’re reading to keep from skipping ahead. Or keep your finger under each word as you read.

~ Read it out loud. Wherever you stumble, your readers will, too. This will also help with punctuation. If you pause briefly, put in a comma. If you pause for longer, put in a period. (Best to avoid or minimize semicolons in fiction, and keep them right out of casual dialogue. And reserve exclamation marks for when someone is screaming or yelling, shocked, or in pain.)

~ Read the whole thing backwards or upside down (!). I’ve heard these suggestions, but haven’t actually done this myself, and probably won’t.

~ Get your computer to read it aloud to you, while you follow along. Newer versions of Word offer this, and Macs do, too. In Word 2010, for example, here’s how you enable text-to-speech: First, add “Speak” to the Quick Access Toolbar. Along the very top above “File,” the line that starts with W for word, at the far right is a down arrow. Click that. It will say “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.” Click “More Commands.” In the “Choose Commands” from the list, select “All Commands.” Scroll down to the “Speak” command, select it, and then click “Add.” Click “OK.” When you want to use the text-to-speech command, you’ll use the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, which looks like a speech bubble on a cartoon. To hear some text read aloud, highlight the paragraph or chapter you want to hear aloud, then click the Speak icon on the toolbar.

Follow along the text while listening to the text being read aloud. Stop it whenever you need to add or delete a word, or fix awkward phrasing.

~ If you’re self-publishing, get a sample book printed by CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) and read it somewhere else in your home, in a room where you don’t work, or better yet, away from your home, like in a coffee shop, a park, or the beach. I read one of mine in book form, pen in hand, on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, while stretched out in a chaise longue under one of those grass huts, and I caught all kinds of repetitions, sentences that didn’t flow as well as they could, were too wordy, or generally needed polishing, etc., as well as the odd typo.

Writers – do you have any other strategies to add for catching all those little typos lurking in your manuscript? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website: www.JodieRenner.com; blog: http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/; Facebook , Amazon Author Page.

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Fire up Your Fiction with Foreshadowing

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

To create a page-turner that sells and gets great reviews, be sure to keep your readers curious and worried throughout your novel. That will keep them turning the pages. You can add tension, suspense, and intrigue to your story very effectively with techniques like foreshadowing, withholding or delaying information, stretching out the tension, and using epiphanies and revelations. (All discussed at length in my book Writing a Killer Thriller.)

Foreshadowing is about sprinkling in subtle little hints and clues as you go along about possible revelations, complications, and trouble to come. It incites curiosity, anticipation, and worry in the readers, which is exactly what you want. So to pique the readers’ interest and keep them absorbed, be sure to continually hint at dangers lurking ahead.

Use foreshadowing to lay the groundwork for future tension, to tantalize readers about upcoming critical scenes, confrontations or developments, major changes or reversals, character transformations, or secrets to be revealed.

Foreshadowing is great for revealing character traits, flaws, phobias, weaknesses, and secrets; building character motivations; and increasing reader engagement.

Foreshadowing also adds credibility and continuity to your plot. If events and changes are foreshadowed, then when they do occur, they seem more believable and natural, not just a random act or something you suddenly decided to stick in there. For example, if your forty-something, somewhat bumbling detective suddenly starts using Taekwondo to defeat his opponent, you’d better have mentioned at some point earlier that he has taken Taekwondo lessons, or else the readers are going to say, “Oh, come on! Give me a break. Suddenly he’s Jackie Chan?”

But for every hint you drop, make sure you follow through later in the novel. Be sure not to drop in what seems like a critical piece of info or object, but ends up not foreshadowing anything. Readers will feel deceived and cheated. (For more on this, Google “Chekhov’s gun” or see my book.)

Also, do be subtle about your little hints. If you make them too obvious, it takes away the suspense and intrigue, along with the reader’s satisfaction at trying to figure everything out.

Some ideas for foreshadowing:

Here are some ways you can foreshadow events or revelations in your story:

Show a pre-scene or mini-example of what happens in a big way later, for example:
The roads are icy and the car starts to skid but the driver manages to get it under control and continues driving, a little shaken and nervous. This initial near-miss plants worry in the reader’s mind. Then later a truck comes barreling toward him and…

– The protagonist overhears snippets of conversation or gossip and tries to piece it all together, but it doesn’t all make sense until later.

– Hint at shameful secrets or painful memories your protagonist has been hiding, trying to forget about.

Something on the news warns of possible danger – a storm brewing, a convict who’s escaped from prison, a killer on the loose, a series of bank robberies, etc.

– Your main character notices and wonders about other characters’ unusual or suspicious actions, reactions, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language. Another character is acting evasive or looks preoccupied, nervous, apprehensive, or tense.

– Show us the protagonist’s inner fears or suspicions. Then the readers start worrying that what the character is anxious about may happen.

– Use setting details and word choices to create an ominous mood. A storm is brewing, or fog or a snowstorm makes it impossible to see any distance ahead, or…?

– The protagonist or a loved one has a disturbing dream or premonition.

– A fortune teller or horoscope foretells trouble ahead.

Make the ordinary seem ominous, or plant something out of place in a scene. Zoom in on an otherwise benign object, like that bicycle lying in the sidewalk, the single child’s shoe in the alley, the half-eaten breakfast, etc., to create a sense of unease.

Use objects: your character is looking for something in a drawer and pushes aside a loaded gun. Or a knife, scissors, or other dangerous object or poisonous substance is lying around within reach of children or an assailant.

Use symbolism, like a broken mirror, a dead bird, a lost kitten, or…

~ A no-no about foreshadowing:

But don’t step in as the author giving an aside to the readers, like “When she woke up that morning, she had no idea it would turn out to be the worst day of her life.” We’re in the heroine’s head at that moment, and since she has no idea how the day is going to turn out, it’s breaking the spell, the fictive dream for us to pass out of her body and her time frame to jump ahead and read the future.

~ Don’t like to plan your story out first? Just go ahead and write your story, then work backward and foreshadow later.

If you hate to outline and just want to start writing and see where the characters and story take you, you can always go back through your manuscript later and plant clues and indications here and there to hint at major reversals and critical events. Doing this will not only increase the suspense and intrigue but will also improve the overall credibility and unity of your story.

And remember to sprinkle in the foreshadowing like a strong spice – not too much and not too little. If you give too many hints, you’ll erode your suspense. If you don’t give enough, readers might feel a bit cheated or manipulated when something unexpected happens, especially if it’s a huge twist or surprise.

And again, the operative word is subtle. Don’t hit readers over the head with it. Not all your readers will pick up on these little hints, and that’s okay. It makes the ones who do feel all the more clever.

For more techniques for adding conflict, tension, suspense, and intrigue to any genre of fiction, check out Jodie’s book, Writing a Killer Thriller.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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Immerse Your Readers with Sensory Details

by Jodie Renner, editor and author  

How often do you hear — or feel — about a rejected novel, “I just couldn’t get into it”? A story might have a great premise and plot, but if we “just can’t get into it,” we’ll put it down and look for another one.

What are some aspects of a novel that make you yawn, go “meh,” or start thinking about what else you could be doing? I would bet that most times it’s because the author hasn’t succeeded in engaging you emotionally, in effectively sucking you into their story world, making you feel like you’re right there with the characters.

I read for entertainment and escapism, so I want to lose myself in a novel, not be a detached observer of the characters and events. Don’t you?

In my editing of fiction, I sometimes see too much general, factual exposition (“info dumps”); or neutral, mostly visual description; or a page or more of straight dialogue (“talking heads”), with little or no indication of where the characters are, what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting, or how they’re feeling/reacting to others and their environment.

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” ~ E. L. Doctorow

In order for your story and characters to come to life on the page, your readers need to be able see what the main character is seeing, hear what he’s hearing, and smell, taste and feel along with him.

And to empathize with and bond with the character, readers also need to see/feel her reactions and thoughts.

“If you write abstractions or judgements, you are writing an essay, whereas if you let us use our senses and form our own interpretations, we will be involved as participants in a real way.”  ~ Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction

So if you’ve written a half-page or more of nonstop dialogue, neutral information-sharing, or description that’s mainly visual, it’s time for some revisions.

To bring your scene and characters to life and engage the readers, evoke all or most of the five senses in almost every scene.

~ SIGHTS. Readers need to see what your viewpoint character sees: pertinent visual impressions of the scene and people around him. And best to include only relevant information, the things that character would actually notice in that scene. We don’t need a detailed description of everything in a room, for example — they’re usually too busy acting and reacting to study the room thoroughly.

Zoom in on some telling details, like smudges on a mirror, sweat on a brow, condensation on a glass, steam from a coffee cup, fists clenched, hands shaking, shoulders hunched, etc.

A small sampling of visual descriptors: glaring, faded, dim, bright, dingy, flashing, dazzling, blurred, sparkling, brilliant, flashy, radiant, shadowy, smudged, streaked, glistening, shiny, gaudy, gleaming, glittering, gloomy, glowing, hazy, misty, shimmering, streaked, twinkling, tarnished

Example of effective visual description:

“…people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.”
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

~ SOUNDS. We need to hear anything your POV character can hear, including tone of voice.

Some sound verbs: swish, rattle, crash, whack, crackle, gulp, slam, hoot, clatter, crunch, fizz, grind, gurgle, blare, chime, slap, chirp, chortle, thud, chuckle, clash, croak, rumble, croon, drone,  groan, howl, jangle, knock, ping, jingle, plop, roar, rustle, sizzle, slurp, thunk, tinkle, twang, whine, whistle

Example of sounds:

“…the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury. … a huge bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire.”
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

~ SCENTS – anything that might be pertinent or bring the scene to life —fresh coffee, an apple pie baking, bacon frying, a suspicious chemical smell, fresh-cut grass, the stench of a dead body decomposing, etc.

Some possible descriptors for scent: musty, damp, stuffy, sweet, sickly, rank, spicy, acidic, perfumed, fetid, musky, suffocating, putrid, tantalizing, mouth-watering, noxious, sharp, foul, rancid, stinky, funky, pungent, piney

Example of smells:

“…they were crammed in a tiny apartment that smelled of burning rubber and foot odor.”
~  Holes by Louis Sachar

~ TOUCH . We should feel any relevant tactile sensations of the viewpoint character.

Some tactile sensations to consider: sticky, fuzzy, slimy, clammy, hairy, silky, smooth, rough, soft, hard, rigid, fluffy, starchy, crisp, corrugated, rippled, abrasive, cracked, tough, bristly, burning, cold, cottony, damp, dry, feathery, furry, gnarled, hot, knobbed, knotted, leathery, limp, lumpy, oily, puffy, ribbed, rubbery, sandy, sharp, smooth, velvety, wet

Example of touch:

“On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy.”
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

~ TASTE.  Let us vicariously taste some of the things the character is eating or drinking.
Some descriptors for tastes: sour, bitter, oily, salty, acidic, spicy, fiery, sweet, rich, buttery, sugary, revolting, biting, fruity, full-bodied, gamy, gross, juicy, sharp, succulent, syrupy, tangy, tart, zesty, zingy

Example of taste:

“Slimy water that tasted like blenderized fishsticks slid down my throat.”
Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay

So if you want to write riveting fiction (and who doesn’t?), don’t keep your readers at a distance, impassively reading the words on the page. Suck them right into your story world, your fictive dream, by making them feel like they’re right there with your character, like they are your character. Evoke sights, sounds, smells, and tastes from the readers’ own memory banks, which will trigger emotions. Scents especially bring back feelings and memories, which readers can draw upon to be active participants in your story.

And show us what the characters are thinking and feeling, too — their inner and outer reactions to what’s going on around them. All of this enhances the readers’ experience and deepens their emotional investment with your story.

Check out these related posts by Jodie: “Show Those Character Reactions” and Phrasing for Immediacy and Power State Cause before Effect, Action before Reaction, Stimulus before Response. And see James Scott Bell’s excellent post yesterday on drawing on your own memory bank of emotions to enhance your fiction.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter.
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