Tag Archives: paragraphs

Jun 22

ACTION WORDS! An Article by Mary Deal

Action Words
Mary Deal

When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.

To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.

I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:

Afterward, she went on her way.

If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:

Afterward, she sauntered away.

Afterward, she slipped away

Read this phrase:

Danced across the floor

Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…

Did a two-step across the floor

Waltzed across the floor

And this:

She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone

Felt is also quite common.

She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…

She slid her hand between the seats

Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:

The thought of dying came to mind.

…with something like this:

The thought of bleeding to death came to mind

The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.

The above has two words to watch. We could have used:

The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.

Here’s another sentence with two words:

The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.

More exciting:

The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.

All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.

Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.

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

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Apr 06

Sex…with Finesse by Mary Deal (Contains Adult Content: That Ought to Bring in a Few Extra Visitors!)

Sex…with Finesse
Mary Deal

(Adult content)

One way to ruin a good story is with a lackluster sex scene or bedroom scene.

As I edit writers, one of the most important problems I find is that fledgling writers have great difficulty writing the obligatory sex scenes, love scenes, bedroom scenes, whatever. Men and women have different types of difficulty. Some women seem afraid to put their feelings and emotions on paper for the entire world to see. Men write withholding or censuring words, or they express the idea of sex without emotion.

What I tell both men and woman is to secretly write down – commit to paper in longhand – everything they know about sex – everything beautiful or every lewd act they know of. Writing with pen and paper keeps a person connected to their concentration. These can be quick notes or the whole scene in paragraphs. Write every dirty word that comes to mind. (Are there really any dirty words anymore?) In committing to paper, something they must do is to additionally write from the POV of the opposite gender. Too, the writer should describe the sex act from the first gleam in the eye all the way to orgasm. Since no one will ever see what is being written, they are to use any words or any language to describe the scene they wish to express.

Another exercise is to write a column of one-word descriptions. When finished, begin again at the top. Only this time, write a complimentary word from the POV of the opposite sex. This provides not only an idea of how well you understand the opposite gender’s POV but also provides a measure of how well you’ll be able to write a response from the opposite sex into the story.

Write everything you know about sex. Take the time to do the exercise just once. When I once ask a guy how much he knew of his real life partner’s ability to respond to him, his response was, “I just keep trying to —- her. She’ll come around.” Needless to say, he wrote some of the most worthless and incomplete sex scenes I have ever read.

One writer reached a point of having finally written a sex scene so well that she went on to write more. I know what her motivation was, considering when you write thorough love scenes, it has the potential to keep you rocking on the edge of your seat!

The simple rule is just once; write everything you personally know about sex. Every bad word and every phrase. When it’s all written down, for sure, you won’t want anyone seeing it or pre-reading some juicy love scene you’ve decided to include in your next story. Heaven forbid they might get to know you better!

This is only an exercise. To keep your thoughts private till you’re ready to do some serious writing, destroy your notes when the exercise is completed. But don’t just simply tear them up and flush them. Celebrate. Burn ’em! Tear them up into fine little pieces and burn them in a bowl much like a funeral pyre. Celebrate the end of frustration and inability to write about sex.

What one gains from the exercise is this: Once completed in privacy, with the repressed thoughts on paper, you will have brought yourself in touch with sex as you know it. You will have faced the fact that you’re either too shy about sex or too brazen, or anything in between. The simple act of committing your knowledge to paper in private seems to allow us to better write about the act when it must be included in stories. For once, you will have written all you know about sex. The initial reason for clumsily stumbling through the obligatory scenes is gone. Committing your views to paper that first time only once is, for the writer, like the first step on the moon. Once you take that first step, you overcome hesitation and apprehension.

You needn’t analyze your responses to these exercises and try to convince yourself that you understand yourself sexually. All this exercise accomplishes is to help you find easier ways of expressing sexuality through writing. It’s almost like saying, “Never mind who you are. Just get in touch with it.” The premise is that once you have written all you know about sex, you will not hesitate to write about it again.

You may not be happy with the very next love scene you write but now you will be able to examine and critique the scene in first draft. Having already written something you know conditions the mind, and the Muse. Now you’ll want to improve upon your scene and your Muse will happily comply. After all, you’ve already written out far more than you need.

Most critics say that in writing sex scenes that we are to suggest, or imply the action. Tantalize your reader with only suggestions of what people do in the sex scenes. Suggest. Writing out every last detail of the sex act becomes nothing more than pornography. That could ruin the image your story needs to convey. You will know exactly what you wish to include in your descriptions and what to leave out after having completed this simple exercise.

This is a good sex scene, leaving something to the imagination:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was already too excited when he slipped between the sheets beside her. He seemed hesitant. The moment she pressed her body against his, he pulled away suddenly and his breathing changed. He clutched a handful of sheet and drew it to himself as he struggled to maintain his composure. Then he said, “I-Im sorry. We’re going to have to wait a while.”

At first she was disappointed. Then she realized she had teased him mercilessly and kept him waiting right through coffee and desert and had herself, brought on his great embarrassment. She smiled, nibbled his ear then prodded his shoulder. “Roll over,” she said. “I’ll give you a feather massage.”

This, to me, is what I call porn writing:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was too excited as he slipped between the sheets. He pressed hard against her and his body felt coarse and clammy. He clutched at her buttocks and breathed heavily and immediately lost it on her thigh.

She felt dirty and frustrated. Her super stud was a dud. In disgust, she threw back the sheet and made a dash for a hot shower where one potential evening of good sex slid down the drain.

Did the coarseness of the second version destroy the sensuousness you felt from the first?

While I realize both versions will appeal to different audiences and that both versions have their places in appropriate plots, it’s still better to leave something to the imagination even if you have your character purging her disappointment in the shower.

Learn to write sex scenes with finesse. It’ll work in every plot.

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

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Feb 16

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue as Only Mary Deal Can Describe Them

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue
Mary Deal

First let me quote from the Oxford Dictionary before we discuss usages.

Prologue: 1) A separate introductory part of a play, book or piece of music. 2) An event that leads to another.

Denouement: The final part of a film, play or narration, in which matters are explained or resolved.

Epilogue: A section at the end of a book or play which comments on what has happened.

A Prologue can set up the rest of a story. That is, it can relate a brief occurrence that led to the present action of the story that we then jump into the middle of in Chapter One. Used this way, a prologue becomes a bit of back story, should not take up any more than a few paragraphs, and definitely should not be as long as a full chapter. Too, anything that isn’t foreshadowing for the rest of the story should be cut.

The longer the Prologue, the more it seems the writer is, again, quoting back story when, in reality, back story should be incorporated into the present of the telling. This is done through conversations between characters or brief remembrances of the main character. Providing too much life story in the prologue, keeps the reader bogged down in the past when you really want them immersed in the action of the now that starts with the first word, sentence and paragraph of Chapter One.

Completely opposite of that, the Prologue can also be used to show the outcome of the entire story up front before Chapter One begins. In other words, your story has a problem the main character needs to resolve. The story goes on to show the character resolved those issues and then shows the climax and denouement, which led to the information first presented in the Prologue.

My preference is not to read a book where I know up front that all ends well. I want to feel all the indecision, fright and other emotions that the characters may endure. Then I want the relief of learning how their situation is resolved. If I read up front that their lives went back to normal after something drastic had happened to them, I won’t feel their emotions as I read.

Part of reading is to experience what the characters endure. First reading that everything came out okay seems, in my opinion, to diminish the thrill of suffering with these story people. So what? I ask. I already knew these people would prevail.

The Denouement tells how the characters are affected once the climax of the action is made apparent. If a mystery, the climax happens when the perpetrator is caught or gets his or her comeuppance. You cannot end the story at that point. You must tell how this climactic revelation affected all the other characters. That portion after the climax is the denouement.

The denouement need not be lengthy. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. It can also be one or more brief chapters.

In my thriller, River Bones, after the perpetrator is caught and people realize just who the serial killer is, many more additional clues are found to cement his guilt. Too, a few subplots needed to be wrapped up that did not really affect catching the perpetrator, but which followed through and fed into the action of the entire story. That wrap-up, my denouement, took two additional brief exciting chapters. But that wasn’t all….

An Epilogue is best used to show how the story resolution affected the characters after a period of time has passed. Yes, it’s enough to catch a perpetrator and everyone return to their normal lives in the denouement. However, in River Bones, I used an Epilogue to not only wrap up the strongest subplot, but to create a situation where it leaves the story open for a sequel.

Another example might be a romance. After the lovers settle their differences and end up together in the denouement, the Epilogue might be used to show that a year later they parted. What caused them to part must be something already written into the story beforehand. The Epilogue is not a place to introduce new information – ever. Whatever happens in the Epilogue is a result of some action already dealt with in the story.

Between prologue, denouement and epilogue, the denouement is the only part necessary to any story. Think hard about using Prologues and Epilogues and have good reason for doing so.

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

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Jan 12

Mary Deal Dishes Up 10 Book Signing Essentials!

10 Book Signing Essentials

When I began to have my own book signings, I found it fortunate in that the larger stores, Border’s Books and B. Dalton, provided not only tables but white cloth covers as well. Not till a little later did I realize that this did not hold true for all stores. I began to make a list of essentials a writer needs in order to present themselves in a professional manner.

1) Even larger stores sometimes have no table cloths. Carry your own. One store had an ample sized table but the cloth only covered the top. I prefer to tuck my travel bag of promotional materials under the table when possible for an easy grab when I need them. Therefore, my larger cloth was thrown over what the store provided, hung all the way down in front, and I was able to keep my bag out of site.

2) Carry a letter-sized plastic picture frame with your photo and book cover for display on your table. Sometimes, but seldom, stores will have their own stand-up table sign already made. I found these to be lacking. In addition to my photo and book cover, I also include a brief Bio of two to three small paragraphs. It’s amazing how many perspective buyers like to read about the author. It seems to draw them closer emotionally. They feel they know you and didn’t have to spend time asking you about yourself. Instead, they ask about your book.

Something extra I do is put a full-sized book cover photo on the back side of the clear plastic frame as well. The book cover can then be seen from various directions.

3) Have another stand to place your book in an upright position. Books lying flat on the table top can only present their edges to viewers. You want your cover showing in all its magnificence.

4) The major book stores have their own signs made and hanging on the front of the table cover, in addition to other areas in the store. However, for those shops that do not have posters, hopefully, you will have had some made. If your book signing is in your area, take some posters to the store to have those hung at least a week prior to your arrival.

5) Postcards. You can mail postcards to friends and even store and business owners in the area where your book signing will take place. When I run out of bookmarks, I use these cards instead.

6) Bookmarks. I often run out of bookmarks because people want to take one as a reminder to buy the book later. It’s unfortunate that they don’t buy it right away, but if a bookmark helps them remember, give it freely. This has worked for me. Too, at your table, every book should have a bookmark stuck into it.

7) Business cards. Though I’m not intending to show favoritism, I use vistaprint.com for all my cards. Wherever you prefer to buy them, Kinko’s maybe, make sure to have enough. Try to put your book cover on the card. If that’s not possible, make it something related to writing or to your Web site. Have these on your tabletop too.

8) Brochures. If you have a Web site and books to sell, you might consider having some brochures made – or make them yourself. Make them professional looking and not looking like a Xerox copy of a Xerox copy. If a signing is in your area, pass them out to people you meet in your daily routine of shopping and such. Ask local stores to display a few. If in a town outside your locale, arrive early and hand out some brochures to people in the area. This works well in malls. Have some of these on your table top. People will pick up anything to learn more. That means they spend more time at your table.

9) Flyers. Store managers are grateful for any help you can offer. Ask them if they would like some flyers to display around the store. Your flyers should be professional in appearance and not something you threw together and printed out on a bad printer. No Xerox copies as mentioned in #8 above.

10) Many other items can be given away to those who purchase your books. This is a simple way of saying thank you and building rapport with a reader who potentially will look for your next book. Too, one good item is pens or pencils with the book’s title, or your Web site URL. For promoting my Egyptian suspense novel, The Ka, I purchased huge quantities of tiny hand carved Egyptian scarabs in real colored stones. I allowed those who bought books to sort through the bin to find two that would match, possible to make earrings or whatever. Giving out little inexpensive extra items produces an aura of fun too.

Any or all of the above items serve to enhance your professional appearance and express to the store managers and prospective book buyers your sincerity, intention and commitment to your craft.

In today’s economy, when people cannot afford little luxuries, even one or two of these items will serve you well. Stand up at your table and get a lively conversation going with those who come to see you. It’s amazing what a smile can do.

Read More

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Nov 03

Mary Deal Dishes on Dead Words

Dead Words
Mary Deal

Write lean!

When I began to scrutinize my writing for words I could cut and still keep the story together, I was surprised! In the interest of keeping my stories lean and to the point, I found I could drop modifiers and make my sentences more professional.

Sometimes we want to add a word or two, seemingly to deepen the meaning of an act or some bit of dialogue. This is where many writers ruin their stories. For example:

She was so very ecstatic!

“So” and “very” are modifiers that needn’t be used in this sentence. The word ecstatic is the height of elation, the nth degree. The word needs no modifiers.

She was ecstatic!

Three little words that say exactly what I meant it to say without being verbose and taking up word space in the story that could be put to better use.

Another word is “just.”

– It was just that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

– The problem was that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

Drop the modifiers even if you must rewrite the sentence. Notice, too, that the corrected sentence doesn’t begin with “it,” which has no meaning when used this way. “It” has no meaning at the beginning of a sentence until we know what the sentence is about.

“It” can begin a sentence, usually inside a paragraph, when what is being referred to has already been mentioned.

Another example of dead words or overuse is the word “had.”

When writing in 3rd Person or past tense, it’s appropriate to use the word early in a paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should not contain the word “had.” Had sets up the paragraph in past tense. Only occasionally will there be no way around it and you must use it twice. Used early in the paragraph it sets up the tone of the action, even through subsequent paragraphs.

More dead words appear at the beginnings and ending of sentences.

-Where are you at?

-Where are you going to?

-That they could not have known, they took a chance anyway.

-They came running around the corner.

In some cases, your characters may speak like this, but sentences such as these should not be part of the narration. Unless we know to what or to whom these particular words refer before using them, they are out of place and make the subject of conversation obscure.

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

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