I’ve been doing a lot of beta reading lately, and thought I’d do a quick five minute post on some easy solutions for frequent problems I’ve been running into in my reading;
- Tell not show
- Character reactions
- Action sequences
Of all the things I pull people up on these are the ones that I come across the most and today I wanted to give you the tools to help get around these things by letting you know what I use to avoid these horrible things.
When I first started writing the “Repetition Stick” from my editor started out as a light touch and ended up as a bludgeoning stick.
I quickly found an excellent tool in Rhymezone.
It allows you to look up rhymes for poetry (yes, I write a lot of poetry, I have a project about that I’ll be sharing at the end of the year), but what Rhymezone also allows you to do is look up synonyms!
So all of a sudden the dark cave that’s super dark becomes the gloomy cave that’s inky depths stretch on into the dark.
I have also recently found Power Thesaurus which appears to be another excellent resource for these issues.
Tell not Show;
I recently beta read this absolutely lovely little story involving a scene scape and the author really captured my fascination with the ocean floor in one sentence and then lost it in another.
We hear this all the time; show, don’t tell!
HOW? What witchcraft is this!?
There are heaps of blogs out there but where this one crops up a lot is in scenery and action sequences, and I’ll get to action in a moment but for scenery what I recommend is a little writing exercise… that doesn’t involve writing!
Imagine you’ve crashed on an alien planet, there’s only one space suit, and you’ve got to go outside and see what’s out there. There are no windows, and no cameras, so out you go, and now you’ve got to tell the shipmates what you see…
What do you see? Tell me, out loud, describe the above for me. Yes, do it, I’m not here to stuff around. You may think I can’t hear you, but believe me I am going to be sitting here listening. DESCRIBE IT TO ME, SOLDIER!
If you’ve just said you see an alien city, the first question from the shipmates is going to be; is their life? What does I look like? They will have questions. Answer them.
Chances are you struggle to find the descriptive words you want to use when saying it out loud, so now try writing what you see, as though recording for future generations, not missing a single detail, you are the first person to find the ruins of an abandoned alien city. What do you see?
Here is what I see;
Spires of silver strike the sky, the grasping clasp of the jungle wrapping around the throat of each building to strangle the life that doesn’t exist within.
You do not need to spend a lot of time on a description, even a single sentence will convey a landscape well. Picture what you want to convey, remove the story and characters and focus purely on the single scene.
This is one thing that I run into a lot, and its usually for a very fundamental reason; the writer is focusing on the plot, and not the character.
The reactions your characters have to the plot points, such as the emergence of a stranger in town, is both in dialogue and in reactions.
I was reading a romance once where a character quite literally abandoned her friends to follow a stranger down a dark alley, because he was hot. There wasn’t even a supernatural aspect such as feeling they were bound together. She followed him down a dark alley because he was hot.
EVERY WOMAN’S SELF PRESERVATION INSTINCT IN REAL LIFE WOULD BE; LIKE, NO.
It made it completely unbelievable. I lost so much respect for the character, and while the writer made an excellent follow on scene out of it, I had already lost a lot of believability for the character and thus the story.
So, when you need your character to walk down an alley, look at why. Is it a shortcut? Would you do it? Ask around for better natural reactions, say to a spouse or friend; hey, why would you walk down a dark alley? Chances are its not the alley, but something on the other side.
This is true in dialogue too.
What people say to convey the greater story elements should be in character to their personalities.
You are not going to have a cautious self-protective friend let the protagonist walk down a dark alley after a stranger. But you can’t have her, go with them either, it’d run the moment with said hot guy.
So what to do?
“Call me when you get to your bus stop.”
“Take my pepper spray.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?”
But above all, it shouldn’t be something like this;
“Wow,” she said, “he’s hot, go follow him and see if he’ll take you home.”
But especially from the over protective friend who wanted to get her friend a cab home with her.
Our protag is not a stray dog…
If you are questioning the actions of your characters but aren’t sure how to get it across, put yourself in their shoes, don’t force them into situations that aren’t feasible or you will lose a lot of believability in the characters, and that will lose you the reader.
One of the easiest ways I see writers lose action sequences is with succinct specifics and order.
There is a lack of spatial awareness, as the writer becomes focused on telling you what’s happening that the details get missed.
A sequence I read recently (in my own damn writing), had a character the MC was fighting suddenly disappear for several moments. They vanished from the script while the MC fought someone else.
What were they doing? Standing there?
Think of yourself as a sports commentator if you will, you want to relay the sequence of events in tight punchy lines to better relay to the reader (who is a listener too), what you want to convey;
Player one kicks the ball to player two, who kicks it into the goal. The ball rolls as though shot out of a cannon.
Really? That’s it?
The sequence should be as follows;
Player one kicks the ball to player two. Player two kicks the ball hard enough it’s as though its shot out a cannon, and scores the goal.
This seems simple enough but check your actions sequence for flow and look at breaking them down into single action sequence.
Sometimes I’ll do this, especially with fighting, by watching videos of the action sequence and doing a small exercise in describing just what I observe, the same as the above section with the landscape. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it does need flow through, so the action sequences make sense.
Ultimately, you’ll find that you make these mistakes, it’s the whole point of revising and editing.
But if you can teach yourself not to make them as you go you can make doing these things much easier. Sometimes its hard to tell, and that’s where getting beta feedback and good editors are going to pick these up for you. The more you can get this feedback, you can better focus on where you fall down as a writer and how to help improve not just that story, but you as a writer in whatever you are working on right now.
Google Selfpublishing scams.
Because if you haven’t yet, and you are a self publisher you may have made a colossal mistake. I write this article not to identify the scams but to make it clear that its likely someone you know is using scams to increase their self-promotion.
There are a host of articles out there identify the tricks that some services use to lure self publishers into getting their name out there, at any cost.
Promotional packages confirming best sellers.
Copying books, and republishing under new names.
Using KU read pages to push titles onto the Amazon bestseller list.
Writers buying their own books from bookstores to put themselves on the NYT bestseller list.
Dreadful isn’t it? The lengths that people will go to just to sell their work. But not you, right? Not me.
But these people exist in our community, and I was unpleasantly surprised when one of these people turned out to be someone I knew.
He worked hard.
He was always online.
I was happy for what I believed to be his genuine success.
I was wrong. He cheated.
For the sake of this blog post we’re going to call him John.
The article was about using racks of phones to download KU books and spin through them giving them a false sense of popularity and pushing John’s book to the top. It might have hit the radars sooner if he’d been in a key genre, but he wasn’t, it was a niche, a lucrative one but a niche nevertheless. Since they were pushing it to the bestseller listing the rest of the sales took care of themselves once he was at the top of his genre. People pay attention to those lists, not just the author so they can give themselves the hollow credit of calling themselves an Amazon bestseller.
But John’s “self-made success” lie got called out.
It came about on a facebook group that will go unmentioned. Someone wrote a blog post specifically about John and the service he’d used. Someone else in the facebook group then read the post and called out John in our facebook group. This was two years ago. I no longer have the any of the articles.
At the time the comment went online, the US was asleep. As an Australian I was not, and as Europe was waking up I watched this disaster of lies unfurl.
I asked him. “Did you do this?”
Of course the answer was no.
“How did this happen?”
“Someone is making things up…” At this juncture the conversation became garbled posts that made next to no sense. Mostly denial, but it was all so chaotic I couldn’t see clearly. I knew John.
I couldn’t believe the damage this would cause, it was catastrophic.
I contacted the facebook group’s administrator, I listened to John’s defence.
I wanted to believe, knew it wasn’t fair to think otherwise but then the article made too much sense to be ignored. I think I read it fifty times in the space of two hours.
It dug into the patterns of John’s success with an accuracy that was startling spot on. False accounts, fake reviews, but the worst of all was that the Amazon bestseller became meaningless to me because I knew now it could be bought. Even if John wasn’t guilty.
John never confessed, the outpouring against him created a slew of 1 star reviews and his reputation was charred. I wasn’t sure, but the implication was too strong to be ignored. His actions and mannerisms at the time spoke of guilt. He was someone I worked along side, helped promote, I’d been a mindless guppy for someone who was fucking the system.
It was tempting to give up writing. I didn’t.
I saw John the other day online. In a different group, but this time the other signs where there, ones I could now recognise. Bought Twitter followers, loads of five star reviews against new books that were the same garbage spilled out again. It was the wake up call I’d been missing for some time. One that reminded me I was in this for the writing, and that writing my books needed to be enough.
I wanted to believe John, but the fact of the matter was that I’d watched his success with disbelief for months. Because I’d been ignoring a truth for far too long.
There are a host of self-published books which do not have any redeeming features. Its why I review books honestly, why I’ve segregated my self-published reviews and my traditional ones.
I’d picked up one of John’s books and hadn’t been that impressed but figured it just wasn’t for me.
That was the last time I let a self-published book I couldn’t read simply “not be for me.”
I can and will read anything with a good hook and this book was garbage. Worse still, John had almost a dozen books just like it, all the same trash but someone was buying it.
After all, they’d been paid to. And now I can see John’s twitter account with the words “Amazon Bestselling Author.”
If you ever needed a reason to wonder why there are people out there who hate self-publishing then this is it.
Before someone offers you, for the right price, the success to an Amazon bestseller, ask yourself, for those fickle moments of fame that won’t be remembered, is it going to be worth fucking over every other author you’ve ever befriended? Because that’s what these scams do.
And it’s tempting to give up when you realise what lengths people will go to.
I didn’t give up.
You know what I did? I became a better writer, I wrote better stories. I review ceaselessly and with honesty for a damn reason!
I always have at least five indie books on my phone ready to read. I download trad books that pull my interest to keep my reading fresh.
The only way these people are found is if you review their books. So the next time you hesitate to give a bad review, remember this; it’s not just about giving the author clear feedback, sometimes it’s the only way these people get found out.