Featured Articles

Editing Dialogue

Posted by on Feb 8, 2016 in Featured Articles | 3 comments

Editing Dialogue

Recently I had a conversation with an author about the differences between editing dialogue and editing narrative. It occurred to me that this is something I do automatically, but I don’t really know if it’s a hard and fast rule or if editors follow their own rules. Maybe editors don’t make adjustments or aren’t consciously aware they make them. Perhaps I over think things. Anything’s possible. So, me being me, I decided to try to put down on paper some of the reasons I edit dialogue and narrative differently and what adjustments I make in my editing and commentary. Dialogue is more casual than narrative. Most people do not speak proper English. We use contractions—hell, we make up contractions on the fly. We speak in fragments and run-on sentences, and we mispronounce words. Young children confuse verb tense, and those learning the language misuse words altogether. Dialogue isn’t always perfect. Dialogue conveys a character’s voice. Often, the technical “rules” of writing that make narrative clean and concise can squelch the voice of a character significantly. Take comma splices, for example. We’re all well aware comma splices are a no-no when used more than very occasionally in narrative. However, we speak in comma splices all the time. At least, I do. I’m from New York, I talk fast. See what I did right there? If I were to speak that sentence, there would barely be a pause, much less a stop. Yes, technically I could use a semicolon, but I actually like to leave the comma splice to show the speed, urgency, or sense of united thought those two separate phrases are meant to convey. The same can be said for fragments—perhaps your character is impatient and barks one-word orders a lot—or run-on sentences—maybe your character is a little absentminded and loses her train of thought, resulting in a long, drawn-out ramble. These “mistakes” add another layer to the picture you’re painting of your character. Dialogue conveys a character’s emotions. A character’s words are predominant in drawing an emotion from the reader, but how the dialogue is punctuated can aid in that goal… or not. If I were to read a paragraph of narrative full of ellipses, em dashes, and fragments, I might twitch a little. Okay, a lot. But imagine your character were a small child attempting to relive a frightening experience for the sake of therapy or a police report. Those pauses, stops and starts, stutters, and bits of words would be crucial in showing her terror. So, what adjustments do I make when I’m editing? Overall, I tend to ease up on the rules when it comes to dialogue as long as the reasoning behind deviation from the rules is valid. (Please note that this does not pertain to dialogue tags, which I will edit to death if they’re too creative.) But if Sam and Joe are having a chat, and suddenly all structure and format disappears from their dialogue without an obvious reason, I’ll mark it up and most likely leave a comment wondering what the point was. Conversely, if there’s dialogue between children and every sentence is grammatically correct with perfect syntax, punctuation and spelling, I’ll most probably flag that, too. What differences between narrative and dialogue would you, as an author, flag to edit differently? What other things do you think dialogue can convey with a more relaxed edit? Let me know; I’d love to hear what you think. Happy...

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When Good Body Parts Go Bad

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

When Good Body Parts Go Bad

We’ve all read that story. You know the one with independently moving body parts, right? This is called disembodied motion, and it’s an issue that can worm its way into the writing of even the most seasoned of authors. But is all disembodied motion bad? Of course not. As with most things in the English language, there’s an exception to almost every rule. But this article doesn’t focus on when to use disembodied motion. It’s to help authors learn how to spot it in their own writing and how to fix it. What Is Disembodied Motion? Let’s start with a blatant example of disembodied motion. When Martin entered the room, his eyes flew across to Jane. When she spotted him by the potted rhododendron, her eyes traveled up his lean body. His legs carried him over to her, and when he reached her, his fingers caressed her cheek. Before her mouth could speak, his lips caught hers in a searing kiss. As you can see, there are many body parts moving independently of Martin and Jane with very little interaction between these two because their body parts are doing it for them. It’s as if their body parts are making decisions without the characters’ permissions. The Problem There are several reasons why disembodied motion should be avoided. It creates a disconnect between the action happening and the characters themselves. The focus shifts to their body parts, which take center stage and cuts out the actual person responsible for those actions. It lacks real emotion because, honestly, how much emotion do one’s legs feel? When taken literally, it can be quite funny, which probably wasn’t the author’s intention. And let’s not forget the phrase “I found myself…” which creates a disembodied state for the characters to do actions as if they’ve lost control of their body and are powerless to stop their actions. The Fix So, what’s an author to do to safeguard their manuscript from good body parts gone bad? Look for places where your story feels impersonal, especially in scenes with physical interactions between characters. Search the manuscript for body parts—hands, eyes, head, fingers, legs, lips, etc.—and determine if they’ve hijacked the action. Ask your critique group or beta readers to pay attention to those quirky phrases such as “she threw her hands in the air.” Hire an editor (cough – Write Divas – cough) who understands how to spot and correct disembodied motion. Find better ways to describe the scene without resorting to disembodied motion. This can be difficult when trying to avoid the repetition of a word when describing an action. So how would I have fixed the disembodied motion in my atrocious paragraph above about our two would-be lovers? When Martin entered the room, he spied Jane in the corner. At the same moment, she looked up and met his gaze. Giving him an appreciative once-over, she smiled and his pulse quickened. In his haste to get to her, he almost tripped over that half-dead rhododendron she’d been torturing since college. When he reached her side, he caressed her cheek and gave her a searing kiss to show her the power she had over him. The next time you write a scene and you suspect body parts have become more important than the characters who own them, take a step back and read the words in the literal sense. If you start to laugh or notice that it sounds a little ridiculous, you’ve probably found some disembodied motion. What tricks do you use to keep your characters’ body parts in line? Please share them in the comments below. Now… go write...

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Drawing An Emotional Reaction From Your Reader

Posted by on Jan 18, 2016 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Drawing An Emotional Reaction From Your Reader

Drawing an emotional reaction from your reader Recently I read a sequel with a male lead whose inner struggles nearly cost him everything—his love, his job, his child—and I cried at no less than three points in the story. As he pulled himself back from the edge and turned his life around, I wondered what about this character and his story prompted such a visceral reaction from me. The easy answer is the fact that it’s a sequel, I loved the first book, and I’d anxiously awaited the second. But that’s not quite the whole picture. Because I’ve read plenty of books—and their sequels—and they don’t all pull an emotional reaction from me. But the ones that do… well, they have a few things in common. So, as an author, what can you do to pull this reaction from your reader? First of all, give the reader a character they can care about. Not a perfect Mary Sue, but a real person. Give your characters flaws; it makes them more believable, more human. Readers are more likely to react to a character they can relate to, whether in a good situation or a bad. Give your character layers and depth. And moods. We all have them. The more real you make her, the easier it will be for your reader to connect. Conversely, give your reader someone they can loathe. But remember that villains have layers, too. No bad guy is 100% bad all the time. Some of the very best villains of all time have a not-so-bad side. In your story line, create realistic situations, but don’t be too careful or cautious. In life, good things AND bad things naturally happen. Babies are born. People die. In your story, good and bad should both occur. Characters are born. Characters die. Yes, I said it. Kill someone off. Don’t be afraid. One of the best things about writing is the godlike aspect it brings the author. You can always reincarnate that character, or aspects of that character, in a future story. Or—dun, dun, dun—bring him back as his evil twin! Ha, kidding. No, really. Don’t. In addition to the story line you create for them, also force your characters to actually be human beings and live. Wives get promoted. Fathers lose their jobs.  Kids choose to use drugs. An alcoholic takes her first step into an AA meeting. People have to make life or death decisions and hard choices, which create conflict. And without conflict, there can be no resolution. Don’t forget to foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. For any emotional reaction—good, bad, or something in between—anticipation is imperative. It could be the slow burn of sexual tension or a sick feeling of dread that builds until the reader is begging for it to end. Whether it’s subtle or blatant, use foreshadowing to your advantage. But then don’t be afraid to throw a curve ball. Depending on the curve, that can rank right up there with “kill off your character.” Nothing brings out a reaction from the reader like a curve ball. Often the reaction is something akin to “tosses book across the room” or “how could she kill off Sam?” Sometimes it’s more positive, like “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” And that’s when you know you did it right. And while you’re doing all that, craft scenes that show the emotion you’re trying to summon from your reader. This is where all that “show, don’t tell” stuff your editor has been yammering about comes into play. Choose your words carefully and for maximum effect. Paint a picture of the grief your leading lady is feeling. Choreograph a dance of joy for your happy couple. Pen a song that expresses your protagonist’s frustration and angst. Humans are pretty complicated beings. We don’t feel one simple emotion at any given moment—we usually have a bunch of feelings swirling around us at any given time. So mix things up. Add some bittersweet to your joy, some humor to your anxiety, some anger to your sorrow. Conflicting emotions create… well, conflict. And conflict...

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Writing Conferences Page 2

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Writing Conferences Page 2

Writing Conferences 2016 (July – December) Be sure to check back often as I will continue to add to this list when I find new writing conferences. Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list, so if I missed your writing conference, e-mail me the particulars at contact@writedivas.com/old or leave a comment below and I’ll add it. For events scheduled for the first half of 2016, please click through to the January through June page.   July Jul. 5-9, 2016 – ThrillerFest XI, New York City, NY Jul. 9-16, 2016 – Antioch Writers’ Workshop Summer Program, Yellow Springs, OH Jul. 10-17, 2016 – Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop, Newport, OR Jul. 13-16, 2016 – Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, San Diego, CA Jul. 15-17, 2016 – 2016 AWC Writers Conference, Birmingham, AL Jul. 15-17, 2016 – ConGregate 3, High Point, NC Jul. 16, 2016 – All Write Now! Writers’ Conference, Cape Girardeau, MO Jul. 20-24, 2016 – Writing the Rockies 2016, Gunnison, CO Jul. 21-23, 2016 – Midwest Writers Workshop, Muncie, IN Jul. 21-24, 2016 – West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, Morgantown, WV Jul. 24-29, 2016 – Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, St. Helena, CA Jul. 24-30, 2016 – Stonecoast Writers’ Conference, Portland, ME Jul. 24-31, 2016 – Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, Santa Fé, NM Jul. 28-31, 2016 – Cascade Writers Agent, Editor, Authors Critiques & Pitch Workshop, Kent, WA Jul. 28-31, 2016 – Leap of Faith PNWA Conference, Seattle, WA Jul. 28-31, 2016 – Mystery Writers Conference, Corte Madera, CA Jul. 30, 2016 – NW Book Festival, Portland, OR   August Aug. 1-2, 2016 – Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, Edgartown & Chilmark, MA Aug. 3-6, 2016 – Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference, Langhorne, PA Aug. 4-7, 2016 – Cape Code Writers Center Conference, Hyannis, MA Aug. 4-7, 2016 – Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, Fort Bragg, CA Aug. 5-6, 2016 – Florida Authors & Publisher Association Conference, Orlando, FL Aug. 6, 2016 – Chapter One Young Writers Conference, St. Charles, IL Aug. 10-20, 016 – Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ripton, VT Aug. 11-14, 2016 – Writers’ Police Academy, Green Bay, WI Aug. 12-13, 2016 – Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Conference, Hagerstown, MD Aug. 12-14, 2016 – Willamette Writers Conference, Portland, OR Aug. 12-14, 2016 – Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, New York City, NY Aug. 15-18, 2016 – Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference, Jantzen Beach, OR Aug. 18-21, 2016 – Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference, Nashville, TN Aug. 20, 2016 – Mississippi Book Festival, Jackson, MS Aug. 25-28, 2016 – American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, Nashville, TN   September Sep. 12-18, 2016 – Brooklyn Book Festival, New York City, NY Sep. 15-18, 2016 – Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference, Cedarville, CA Sep. 16-17, 2016 – Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Lexington, KY Sep. 23, 2016 – Penned Con 2016, St. Louis, MO Sep. 23-24, 2016 – Ridgefield Writers Conference 2016, Ridgefield, CT Sep. 23-25, 2016 – Chicago Writers Conference, Chicago, IL Sep. 24, 2016 – Tallahassee Writers Conference, Tallahassee, FL Sep. 30-Oct. 2, 2016 – Write on the Sound Writers’ Conference, Edmonds, WA Sep. (TBD), 2016 – St. Louis Small Press Expo, St. Louis, MO   October Oct. 6-8, 2016 – Ozark Creative Writers Conference, Eureka Springs, AR Oct. 7-9, 2016 – Wik’16 Writing and Illustrating for Kids, Birmingham, AL Oct. 15, 2016 – African American Author’s & Empowerment Expo, Timonium, MD Oct. 15, 2016 – Carolina Book Fest, Charlotte, NC Oct. (TBD), 2016 – Lit in the Lou, St. Louis, MO   November Nov. 5-6, 2016 – Texas Book Festival, Austin, TX Nov. 11-13, 2016 – La Jolla Writer’s Conference, La Jolla, CA   December   TBD Decatur Book Festival, Decatur, GA Sunriver Writer’s Summit, Sunriver, OR January –...

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Writing Conferences

Posted by on Jan 11, 2016 in Featured Articles | 2 comments

Writing Conferences

Writing Conferences 2016 (January – June) Be sure to check back often as I will continue to add to this list when I find new writing conferences. Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list, so if I missed your writing conference, e-mail me the particulars at contact@writedivas.com/old or leave a comment below and I’ll add it. For events scheduled for the second half of 2016, please click through to the July through December page.   January Jan. 15-17, 2016 – Compel, Polish, Pitch & Sign Writers’ Conference, Salt Lake City, UT Jan. 15-18, 2016 – Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, Atlantic City, NJ Jan 16, 2016 – Fun in the Sun (mini) Conference, Ft. Lauderdale, FL Jan. 16-23, 2016 – Writers in Paradise Conference, St. Petersburg, FL Jan. 22-23, 2016 – Write on the Red Cedar, East Lansing, MI Jan. 22-24, 2016 – San Diego State University Writers’ Conference, San Diego, CA Jan. 23-24, 2016 – Children’s Picture Book Writers & Illustrators Conference, Corte Madera, CA Jan. 26, 2016 – UVU Book Academy Conference, Orem, UT   February Feb. 4-7, 2016 – Coastal Magic Convention, Daytona Beach, FL Feb. 11-13, 2016 – Life, the Universe, and Everything, Provo, UT Feb. 11-14, 2016 – 2016 San Francisco Writers Conference, San Francisco, CA Feb. 11-14, 2016 – Savannah Book Festival, Savannah, GA Feb. 12-13, 2016 – South Coast Writers Conference, Gold Beach, OR Feb. 12-14, 2016 – 17th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference, New York, NY Feb. 12-15, 2016 – Southern California Writers’ Conference, San Diego, CA Feb. 12-17, 2016 – Aloha Romance Writer Rendezvous, Laie, HI Feb. 18-20, 2016 – Amelia Island Book Festival, Amelia Island, FL Feb. 18-20, 2016 – Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, Tempe, AZ Feb. 19-21, 2016 – Asheville Christian Writers Conference, Asheville, NC Feb. 19-21, 2016 – Deckle Edge Literary Festival, Columbia, SC Feb. 25-28, 2016 – Left Coast Crime 2016, Phoenix, AZ Feb. 25-28, 2016 – Sleuthfest 2016, Deerfield Beach, FL Feb. 26-27, 2016 – Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, Natchez, MS Feb. 26-28, 2016 – Annual Digital Author and Indie Publishing Conference, Van Nuys, CA Feb. 27, 2016 – Oregon Christian Writers Winter 2016 One-Day Conference, Salem, OR   March Mar. 4-6, 2016 – The Catholic Writers’ Conference, Online Mar. 5, 2016 – WordCrafters Writing Festival, Eugene, OR Mar. 7-9, 2016 – Digital Book World Conference + Expo, New York City, NY Mar. 10-13, 2016 – New York Pitch Conference, New York City, NY Mar. 11-13, 2016 – Illustrators’ Day and Springmingle’16, Decatur, GA Mar. 12, 2016 – Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, Wye Mills, MD Mar. 12-13, 2016 – Dahlonega Literary Festival, Dahlonega, GA Mar. 12-13, 2016 – Tucson Festival of Books, Tucson, AZ Mar. 16-20, 2016 – Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville, VA Mar. 18-20, 2016 – MidSouthCon, Memphis, TN Mar. 18-20, 2016 – Temecula Valley Indie Christian Writers Conference & Book Fair, Temecula, CA Mar. 18-22, 2016 – Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, Mount Hermon, CA Mar. 19, 2016 – Mid-South Christian Writers’ Conference, Memphis, TN Mar. 19-20, 2016 – Create Something Magical Conference, Iselin, NJ Mar. 30-Apr. 2, 2016 – AWP Conference & Bookfair, Los Angeles, CA Mar. 30-Apr. 3, 2016 – Tennessee Williams New Orléans Literary Festival, New Orléans, LA Mar. 31-Apr. 2, 2016 – National Undergraduate Literature Conference, Ogden, UT   April Apr. 1-2, 2016 – Palm Beach Book Festival, Palm Beach, FL Apr. 1-2, 2016 – Write2Ignite! Conference, Tigerville, SC Apr. 1-9, 2016 – Big Island Retreat 2016, Kailua-Kona, HI Apr. 7-9, 2016 – Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference, Oak Ridge, TN Apr. 7-10, 2016 – Desert Dreams Conference, Scottsdale, AZ Apr. 7-11, 2016 – The Novel Experience Event, Atlanta GA Apr. 8-9, 2016 – IBPA Publishing University, Salt Lake City, UT Apr. 8-9, 2016 – Write & Publish Your Book Workshop, Oxford, MS Apr. 9, 2016 – Honolulu Writers, Authors and Poets Gathering, Honolulu, HI Apr. 9-10, 2016 – Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Los Angeles, CA Apr. 12-17, 2016 – Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, Las Vegas, NV April 14-16, 2016 – Midwest Graduate Students Conference on Writing: Radical Writes, Cape Girardeau, MO Apr. 14-17, 2016 – Arkansas Literary Festival, Little Rock, AR Apr. 15-16, 2016 – Orange County Christian Writers’ Conference, Fullerton, CA Apr. 15-17, 2016...

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Deus ex Machina is Not a Dating Site for Ex-Robots

Posted by on Nov 9, 2015 in Featured Articles | 4 comments

Deus ex Machina is Not a Dating Site for Ex-Robots

If you’ve ever heard of deus ex machina and wondered what it is, have I got an article for you. Deus ex machina is Latin and means “God from the machine.” It refers to a plot device that results in a miracle that saves the day when all seems lost and there’s no way out. This is used when the author has written themselves into a corner. It can come from a not-before-mentioned ability, a new event or character, a surprise object, or it was all a dream or something created in someone’s mind. The result usually leads into a happy ending. The Greeks were famous for their use of deus ex machina by dropping Zeus or Aphrodite or some other god into the scene to foil the villain’s plans at the last minute. Even Shakespeare and Jane Austen have used deus ex machina. So why is this frowned upon? It results in a plot that feels contrived and a reader that feels cheated and manipulated. It also undermines character development, but it ultimately paints the author as lazy and lacking in creativity. But surely this plot device isn’t still being used, right? Wrong. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz used the “it was all a dream” trope. But my favorite example of this is in the television show Dallas from the 1980s. Patrick Duffy, the actor that played Bobby Ewing, quit the show and the writers killed his character at the end of that season. A year later, Duffy wanted back on the show. How did the writers write themselves out of the corner? With the infamous shower scene that turned the entire previous season into a dream. Of course this use of “God from the machine” has been ridiculed and used as fodder for countless comedians in the late 1980s. Another example is the use of the eagles in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. After destroying the ring, Sam and Frodo are hopelessly stranded on Mount Doom with no hope of rescue. But then the eagles appear and save them from certain death. Of course this leads readers to eventually ask, why didn’t they just use the eagles to fly into Mordor and drop the ring in the volcano of Mount Doom from above? That’s one of the risks of using deus ex machina. It’s a simple plot device that in hindsight could have shortened the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy from over 9 hours to about 30 minutes. Of course I can’t talk about deus ex machina without mentioning Fight Club, which employed the “it’s all in his head” version. If you haven’t read Fight Club and don’t know the outcome, I won’t spoil it here. But in my opinion, Palahniuk’s use actually worked for me. Deus ex machina is used successfully in parodies and comedy for humor. But if you aren’t writing humor, it will most likely come across as a plot device and make your story’s outcome contrived. If it’s convenient or an unintentional coincidence, you should probably take another look at it and decide if it’s deus ex machina. And if you’ve written yourself into a corner, review and rewrite your story and resist the temptation to play God. What uses of “God from the machine” have you seen in books? Please share them in the comments below. Now… go write...

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