Tag Archives: narrative

May 25

Mary Deal Talks about Creating Your Story Title

Creating Your Story Title

Something writers of multiple stories will experience: Titles may come to you in a flash. Some will take some thinking through.

If you’ve written your first and only story thus far, you may feel you have a great title for that one piece of prose. However, caution should be taken due to lack of experience in titles. You can only know how easy or how difficult choosing a title will be when you’ve written a few stories.

For the person who writes many stories or many books, again, choosing a title may come easy, or it may be one of the most difficult aspects of writing.

Your book will first be judged by its title and cover art. Those are the first two criteria that will attract a potential buyer if they know nothing about you or your book or books. The title and cover must entice the viewer to look further and flip to the back cover and read the synopsis.

Here are some tips to help both the beginning writer and the experienced.

~ Your title should covey the overall message of the story.

An example would be if your story is about a crime taking place in an apple orchard. If you title your book “The Apple Orchard,” then you might have the front cover showing something happening in an orchard, or something related to the crime. Otherwise, a bland title like “The Apple Orchard” could represent anything from a romance to a UFO abduction under the apple trees. The title and cover of this book must work together.

An example of this type of title is Joseph Wambaugh’s “The Onion Field.” His cover is a very dark field with telephone poles and gorgeous sky in the distance. If you did not know the crime behind “The Onion Field” you would have no idea what the story might be about. Wambaugh is just lucky enough to be a bestselling author so people know him and what type of stories he writes, but most of us are not yet bestselling authors. We need more to attract readers.

~ Use an important phrase from within your story. It can be from the narrative or the dialogue.

In my latest thriller, Down to the Needle, the character Joe Arno is goading Det. Britto to hurry. Time is running out. An innocent person will go to lethal injection. Arno says, “Do something, Britto. We don’t want this case to go down to the needle.” This story is about how the case slides mercilessly all the way down to the needle. In my mind, I asked myself: What better title could there be?

Be selective. Choose some of your very best lines of narration or dialogue. Use the very best, or change the wording a bit to fit.

~ An overall theme.

In my award winning thriller, River Bones, I selected from the overall theme. The Sacramento River runs through rural farm and crop lands. Tourists vacation in boats and some stay through the summer. Though illegal, they dump their dinner leftover meat bones and other foodstuffs into the river. It’s easy to find bones here and there or washed up near the river banks. It’s also easy to find bones when a crime is committed by a person who buries his victims in the soft damp river banks that promotes decay.

I named that novel River Bones for that reason, also because just the mention of bones can send shivers down a person’s spine.

In order to decide just the right title for your story, think about what you’ve written. Think about the best lines you’ve written. Your title is right there in your prose.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Mar 09

Character Mannerisms as Told by Mary Deal

Character Mannerisms
by
Mary Deal

In fleshing out the narrative of a story, writers need to describe mannerisms of the characters. These gestures and habits help the reader know your story people and what makes them tick. The actions each character performs must be in accordance with the scene and their responses to it.

These seemingly innocent extras that the writer adds must be accurate. Readers, especially avid readers, know when something isn’t right as the plot moves along. A wrong point or description can stick in the readers mind and distract from their ability to suspend disbelief and to lose themselves in a story.

An example might be when you have your character making physical gestures. When they roll their eyes, make sure it fits what you having them doing. Neurolinguistics teaches that a person rolls their eyes to the left if telling a lie, also known as constructed (made up) information. So if your character is telling a lie, make sure you don’t say he rolled his eyes to the right, which is from where remembered (true) information is pulled in.

Instead of being so detailed, which necessitates accuracy, you might simply want to say something like:

“He rolled his eyes, looking disgusted, and then studied the papers again.”

That’s a simple sentence that not only provides a good description of what is happening with the character at that moment, but also allows the reader to feel the character’s emotion.

A different example is if you have a left-handed cop. You might assume all cops in your story are right-handed, but suppose you make your cop character different. To flesh out his actions, you might want to add something to the fact that in spite of being an awkward left-hander, he was an award winning sharp-shooter quicker than lightning with his left handed draw. His left hand draw was quicker than any of the right handed cops on the force.

To include something like this about the cop does not and perhaps should not all be added when the cop first enters the story. Defining actions and gestures such as these are parsed out throughout the story whenever a scene allows for them. Perhaps with the cop, he might be identified as a sharp-shooter early in the story. Deeper into the story when the scene dictates him drawing his service revolver quickly, the rest could be added. Breaking up the information like this adds cohesiveness to the telling of the tale. Readers will remember that he was a sharp-shooter and will feel the connectedness to this character.

As with psychological aspects such as rolling the eyes in one direction or another, or other physical gestures, these must be accurate or they should not be included if the writer is unsure about the legitimacy of the facts.

Keep your readers in mind at all times during the writing of a story. Know that readers have read enough stories to know when an author is weak in their research.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jan 26

Something We All Hope for: Avoiding Rejection, an Article by Mary Deal

Avoiding Rejection
by
Mary Deal

The following tips are some that have been reconstructed from a handout I gave at one of my workshops for writers already far along in their manuscripts. On the registration form I asked what each attendee would most like to learn. Surprisingly, the frequently mentioned information pertained to feeling insecure about submitting once the manuscript was finished, and how would they know it was ready for submission.

In order to help avoid rejection of your manuscript, you need to think through what you’ve created. Start by analyzing these points before submitting.

Does your story start off strong enough to grab a potential reader’s attention?

Does your plot contain enough twists and turns to keep the reader from knowing the ending beforehand? Or is your story so predictable that it might be boring?

Does any possibility exist that you’ve created a story that creeps along, when it should fly and keep the reader turning pages?

Do you know the difference between a slow moving, arduous read and a story that moves like lightning where the reader has difficulty keeping their eyeballs in their sockets?

Have you included your own opinions in the plot sequences instead of allowing the scenes and characters to write themselves?

Are you preachy and trying to make a statement concerning something in which you believe and wish to share? Have no doubt. It is a definite turn-off and will show in your writing.

Have you developed your story to its fullest potential? If not, that would be the same as a detective having four clues and investigating only three. Whatever happens in your story, make sure you cover all aspects and possibilities of each scene.

What about your narrative voice? Is it different from your characters’ dialogues? Does it sound realistic or forced?

Always be careful of clichéd writing, and the use of stale jargon. Use only the most recent language of the time period of your plot that people in real life would use if they were your characters. To have a story taking place in present time, but using age-old language just doesn’t work. That’s unless the author shows that their particular story requires it.

Does each and every scene pull in the reader? Are the scenes developed so the reader knows when and where things happen and how the characters fit into that scene? In other words, have you written the scenes well enough so the reader will feel a part of it all and not know that they sit in a chair reading a book?

Do you have the appropriate beginning, middle and ending? As already stated, the beginning should grab the reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading. The middle may sag if you’ve simply tried to flesh out the story by adding inappropriate information that doesn’t feed into and forward the plot. The ending should be dramatic or contain the element of an Aha! experience. Whatever the experience, the reader must feel satisfaction for the characters when the story concludes.

Are your characters’ dialogues commensurate with the types of people you’ve created them to be? Do all your characters sound the same? Even if all your characters share the same backgrounds and social status, you must make each of them unique. One of the easiest places to accomplish this is through their dialogues.

As with the story line, the same applies to the characters. Are they lackluster predictable types?

Do your characters perform to the best of their abilities while moving through the plot? They can be demure to dastardly, but whatever they are, make them true to type and the best that they can be for the situation in which you’ve placed them.

Have you had your finished manuscript edited by a new set of eyes, preferably professional ones? A relative or friend critiquing your manuscript just isn’t enough – unless the person is an English teacher, perhaps.

Too, here’s something I do:

I have my final manuscript in one long file. I do a search for various important words that I may have used throughout the book. When I find too many of one word, I replace some of them with a different word or phrase with the same meaning. To read the same words too often begins to make the writing seem amateurish, as if the author had not seen the inside of a dictionary or thesaurus.

Lastly, these are some suggestions that should be thought through before submitting your work to agents or publishers. This information also applies to short story and novella writers, even some nonfiction. Much of this information may have crossed the mind of the writer way before getting to the end of the writing phase. In that case, that author is a huge step ahead and their manuscript will show it.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Oct 15

Western Romance, Chick Lit, Feminist…all Descriptions of Mike Angley’s Guest Author, Lotus Landry and her Novel, “Skookum Man”

MA: I’m joined today by Lotus Landry, author of the Western Romance, Skookum Man. Lotus had a prior career as a software applications developer for aerospace projects – among these were line-of-sight helicopter sight stabilization code. She resides in the Los Angeles vicinity and has two adult sons. (One of her sons is able to combine software and storytelling as a video games developer). She is a native of Seattle and grew up not far from the setting of the book.

Lotus told me she chose to write a novel because she loves to work on very large and intricate projects – especially those which fall outside the boundaries of traditional genres. I can understand that with her background in the aerospace industry, something that warms my heart!

Please tell us about Skookum Man.

LL: In Skookum Man a chick lit feminist confronts a greenhorn ladies man in 1830s rainforest. It’s been tagged as: Western Romance; Feminist; Chick Lit; Pacific Northwest; Kindle Romance. The book is set in a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, the Pacific Northwest, circa 1810. Men and women from divergent worlds meet in an Arden-like forest. In those strange woods the reader is introduced to: wood-wise ingénues, confused men, matronly women, clever animals, and assorted asses and fools. The introductions are lovingly conducted by a benign narrative presence.

That’s a happy beginning- but as the story progresses….the benign presence becomes somewhat sinister. The wood-wise ingénues lose their wisdom; the confused men become calculating; and the outpost seems to contract into itself. As in many fairy tales, the story’s conclusion is uncertain and … disturbing(?). It is a fairy tale with a modern edge – a romantic speculation – a speculative history. The book’s airy structure and modern references contribute to its bouncy, tale-like mood.

It features Jane, who is sometimes called ‘Matooskie’, and her accidental boyfriend, Robert. Jane, who knows how to take care of herself in the remote rain forest of the Pacific Northwest, has been brought up as a free range child. She is multicultural and disciplined enough to master Latin.

Robert is a newly arrived officer at the fort, a remote place with several peculiar luxuries but very few romantic options. He has a history of being a slick player of sophisticated women of the London social scene. He is honored as ‘skookum’ by the local Indian clan even though he demonstrates that he has no wilderness skill sets.

MA: Tell us more about Jane, or Matooskie.

LL: The main character, Matooskie, has trouble integrating her two natures. She has a Chinook Indian heritage from which she derives her expertise for surviving in the forests, but she is also eager to please her father by adopting the trappings of a proper British lady.

Matooskie is extremely tenacious and goal directed and loves keeping secrets. She is sharp enough to master Latin with the assistance of the private tutors who pass through the fortress as guests.

MA: Yours is such a unique story…how did you come up with the idea?

LL: I was influenced by contemporaries from the Pacific Northwest. When I wrote the heroine as a person with a passion for botany and a compulsion to classify plants, I gave her the habits of my best friend’s mother, a horticultural writer, who deposited her children on trailheads in remote mountain forests where the children were instructed to seek rare plant species.

When I invented another woman, the woefully displaced British matron of the story, I gave her the confusion of a 20th century transplant to Oregon from Maryland, who mistakenly thought that she could not leave the house – for months—until the rain stopped. I included native people as some of the first people I myself saw when I moved into Oregon were Indians spearing and smoking fish along the old Columbia River highway.

MA: Any person, childhood experiences that you drew from?

LL: When I consider the inspiration for writing Skookum Man, it becomes apparent that whatever happened to me in the fourth grade did not stay in the fourth grade. Of course, this is the year that kids become immersed in the history of their respective states and the folklore sticks to them like pieces of campfire marsh mellows on a stick – even when they settle elsewhere. In my case, we studied sea explorers and the forts and covered wagons and it wasn’t unusual for one chum to blurt out that she was a descendant of the famous trapper, Joe Meek. Regrettably, when one moves away and settles in another state, one ends up clueless (for decades) about the arcane of the new state because fourth grade can only happen in one place. The brain accumulates only one set of lore that is reinforced by the field trips of childhood.

MA: Okay, so what’s in your writing future?

LL: I’m currently working on my next novel, a cozy mystery set in contemporary Orange County, California. It features two career women with unusual occupations who belong to a Homeowners Association.

MA: Lotus – thanks for stopping by and telling us all about Skookum Man. If my readers want to learn more, please visit: www.matooskie.com.
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Sep 01

“Drop the Words” (Put Your Hands Up! Back Away from the Keyboard!) by Mary Deal

Drop the Words

Colloquialism and slang have their place in diction. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. However, it doesn’t fit in proper grammar usage when attempting to make your story or book, fiction or nonfiction, the best that it can be.

Consider these:

Eat it up
Where are you at?

Read these sentences again, only this time, substitute the word “down” in place of “up.”

In the first example, how can you “eat it up” if you can’t “eat it down?” Simply put, you “eat it.”

In the second sentence the words “where” and “at” are synonymous as to location. You may as well ask, “Where are you where?” Properly asked, it’s “Where are you?”

When writing, in proper grammar usage, some words need to be dropped from sentences all together. However, if you develop a story character who speaks using these colloquialisms, then his or her diction must be established the first time that character speaks. And further, the character’s language must follow through with similar jargon anytime his or her dialogue is included.

Written dialogue allows for misusages of grammar. It enhances drawls, brogues, and general linguistics found in varying regions and among groups of people. However, in writing narrative, drop the words that make your writing look amateurish and you, the author, unprofessional. Dropping the poor grammar in the narrative portions of stories sets the dialogue apart, which is a must. and draws attention to the uniqueness of each character.

An exception is when the narrator intends to make the narration sounds like the storyteller speaks that way. An example would be when a person from the deep south is telling his life story. We know it’s about him in his own words. We allow for his dialect in both the narration and dialogue. Or a person with a foreign accent tells his or her story; then the narration and dialogue will have great similarities.

With the exception of the above example, and particularly in the editing stage, drop the words that do nothing but distract from the value of the sentence.
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Mar 09

Vampire Detective Novelist Mario Acevedo Swoops Down To Visit The Child Finder Trilogy

I write about Felix Gomez who went to Iraq as a soldier and came back a vampire. My stories are macho hard-boiled noir with a supernatural twist. In the latest adventure, WEREWOLF SMACKDOWN, Felix gets trapped between rival lycanthrope clans in Charleston, SC, and the impending rumble could doom the supernatural world. Read More

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Jan 19

The She-Rain Dossier, A Wonderful Treasure Of Information About The Book And Author Michael Cogdill

A child living as prey to an opium-addicted father, drowning in a gene-pool of lowest expectations, feels shackled for life to the tobacco farms and cotton mill poverty of 1920’s western North Carolina. Some of the only beauty he knows rises in the eyes of a girl, surviving times harder than his own. Emerging from their adolescent love, the narrative rises far out beyond that opening milieu of violence, ignorance, and language-literal religious fundamentalism. It branches toward likely the least expected figure ever in a Southern novel. Her mystery begging the question — what might have been, had an African-American infant born of scandal been placed on the arms of one of the grandest American fortunes of the early 20th Century? Raised utterly cloistered in the clefts of Appalachia, steeped in her adoptive mother’s Vassar education, classical piano, the refinements most mountain people considered as distant and alien as the stars. When that son of an opium addict happens upon her — each in uniquely desperate times — they set off the beginnings of seismic change to the worlds they’ve known. Driven by what Faulkner might call human hearts conflicted deep within themselves — the feel of it terrifying and beautiful at once. What overflows them distills to ways of life that melt the hard rocks of racism, classism, the self destruction of living down to the worst human expectations. By its contemporary end, the telling of this story has moved readers of both genders to tears of our best human possibility. I’m deeply humbled by this, and by how the story entertains with humor, the grit of real adventure, and forms of love least expected. Read More

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