Opal Writers’ Magazine APRIL 2021
- The Um’s and Ah’s of Writing | Suzy Vadori
- The Writer’s Home Office: Diversifying Your Income Sources | Barbori Garnet
- Show Don’t Tell, Conflict Resolution, and Other Writing Shibboleths | Boris Glikman
- 75 Character Interview Questions | Allison Gorner
- The 3 Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make | Allyson E Machate
The Um’s and Ah’s of Writing
Have you ever been excited to read a book, only to find you’ve read chapter one three times and you just can’t get into it? There are dozens of reasons the writing might not grab you, but it could be as simple as the writer including too many filler words. These words creep into all kinds of writing, and can trip up your reader. But they’re easy to fix once you know where to look for them, so keep reading to find out how…
You’re probably familiar with Filler Words in speech.
These are the little words that fill the time when you’re pausing to think. “Um” and “Ah…” are both examples of words you might utter between thoughts when giving a speech in front of a crowd. I know when I’m teaching or speaking, I use the word “so…” to fill my gaps, and I’m working on not saying it. You likely don’t use um or ah in your writing, unless your character is saying it in dialogue. Yet, you might be using Filler Words in your writing all the same.
Filler Words in your writing are harder to spot, because on first glance, they look like they belong. And in some cases, they do. These words are not technically incorrect. They won’t be flagged by spellcheck, and you’re not breaking any writing rules by including them.
So, why should you care about these little words?
Much like listening to someone speak who says um before every sentence, filler words in writing can slow the pace of your writing, take up valuable wordcount space, and worst of all, annoy your reader, even if they can’t put their finger on why they aren’t enjoying your story.
What do these offensive little words look like? They masquerade as legitimate words. But they don’t add to your story. ‘So’, ‘that’, ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘just’, and ‘like’ are all examples of words you might be using as filler. You probably have a few of your own, as well.
That is the word I see used as filler most commonly in my Book Coaching clients’ manuscripts and it can show up between 1-2,000 times in a first draft manuscript. That’s a lot of words! But I’m not suggesting you can take them all out. Some of them are needed.
When that is used as a filler word, it looks something like this:
With Filler: One slight move and she could clasp the security that he offered.
Without Filler: One slight move and she could clasp the security he offered.
Notice that these two sentences mean exactly the same thing, while removing the word that.
But, why bother? There two main reasons you need to hunt these little words down in your writing and squash them.
- Your readers’ brains recognize filler words that don’t add anything to your sentences, and skip over them, tripping a bit on the way by. This can slow the pace of their reading and they may find it less enjoyable. Don’t annoy your reader!
- Regain valuable wordcount. The ability to eliminated thousands of words without giving up any part of your story and making your writing stronger in the process is a powerful editing tool, especially if you are a writer who tends to overshoot your wordcount target, and have to trim your manuscript back during the revision process. But even if you aren’t over your wordcount, eliminating filler words could free up enough space to add a whole new scene. Much more interesting than boring fillers.
Ready to hunt for filler words in your manuscript?
Use the find function on your word processor to search for each filler word, to see if you use them. Warning: don’t just find them and delete them, because these words have a purpose in some sentences, so you need to look at each one and see if it can be eliminated, or the sentence can be reworked without it.
If you find a word that you’re using as a filler, a good target is to reduce your instances of it about 70%. This is a great editing task to complete on days you’re feeling less inspired to write. It all has to get done, so use your time wisely.
Pay attention to the little things like filler words when you’re writing forward. You’ll start to use them less in your drafts, so that you don’t have as many to remove later. Your readers will thank you, even if they don’t know why they’re flying through your pages, and loving them. ▪
The Writer’s Home Office:
Diversifying Your Income Sources
Creating and growing several sources of income is important for writers to implement. Why? Because when one stream of income slows down or dries up, you still have other areas which are bringing in money to cover your expenses. Below are some suggestions on avenues to develop to bring in income from many streams.
- WRITE – You can bring in an income by writing books, e-books, stories, and poems. In publishing your books and e-books, you can submit to and publish through small publishers and online on Amazon. In addition, you can submit your writing for competitions and if you win, then you will have earned some decent prize money. Having your writing available in many places in print and online will increase the likelihood of more people buying your work as they will be able to access it in the way that works best for them.
- TEACH CLASSES AND LEAD WORKSHOPS – Do you like to teach and show others tips and techniques to help them improve their writing? If the answer is yes, then perhaps teaching classes and leading workshops would be a great fit for you. You can teach kids, teens, and adults a variety of things related to writing – structuring a novel, developing relatable characters, or incorporating facts and research into a historical novel. Because classes and workshops can be offered as one-day events or over the course of several weeks, there is lots of flexibility in offering a class and workshop at the time that works for your schedule.
- PRESENT WEBINARS – Share your knowledge of writing – whether that is fiction, poetry, or editing – by presenting webinars. Using platforms such as Zoom, Webex, or RingCentral, you can present the webinars yourself and advertise them to your audience (e-newsletter list, social media followers, and others). If you record your webinars, you could then make them available for people to purchase and download online anytime, thus creating another passive income stream. Or, you could team up with another writer and figure out a way to co-present the webinars.
- COPYWRITING AND EDITING – Having a copywriting job or contract can be a good way of bringing in an income from writing. Many businesses and people need copywriting services for their websites, advertising, e-newsletters, and other material. Having several copywriting clients means that you will have a more reliable income stream and if one client no longer needs copywriting, then you still have other clients. Another way to make money through writing is by editing. It takes time to develop editing skills and to be able to provide this service to others in need of editing. If you have experience with editing, then it is possible that you could offer editing services. Ensure that the type of editing you offer are areas in which you excel.
- ARTICLE WRITING – Can you write articles on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly, for a newspaper or magazine? As mentioned before, writing for more than one newspaper or magazine is a good idea so that if something happens to one publication, you still have others to write for and you can take the time to find another publication to write for. Writing a combination of weekly and monthly articles in a variety of formats – Q&A, tips, and lists – will keep things interesting and mean that you always have something to work on.
Diversifying your income streams from writing is a great idea. Not only will you have many things to work on but if one stream slows down or ends, you still have other sources to bring in an income.
With these suggestions of writing books, stories and poems, teaching classes and workshops, presenting webinars, copywriting and editing, and penning articles, it is my hope that you will be encouraged to find and create several ways to diversify your income sources. ▪
Show Don’t Tell, Resolution Conflicts,
and Other Writing Shibboleths
Seemingly we live in progressive, liberal times, where everything is questioned and nothing is taken on faith, yet in one area of our endeavours we still are beholden to arbitrary rules and regulations, which we accept as absolute truth and as some kind of sacrosanct gospel.
I am referring to such writing conventions as “Show, Don’t Tell”, “Conflict-Resolution”, and “Need to have characters in your story”.
If you don’t follow these conventions, then your stories are judged to not be literature and are rejected out of hand by the literary establishment. So, these conventions are like passwords that one needs to know in order to gain entry into the hallowed inner sanctum of literature.
I am speaking from personal experience, for I consistently ignore these conventions and just as consistently my work is rejected by editors. Yet, I refuse to change my stance on this matter.
My view has always been that one cannot hinder one’s creativity by saddling it with artificial rules. And so, when I write, I refuse to follow any established rules of writing, such as the rule that there have to be characters in one’s stories, the rule that a story’s plot needs to follow a “Conflict-Resolution” pattern, and the need for a story to “Show, Don’t Tell”.
I simply do not care for any artificial, external, prescriptive rules that one is supposed to follow when one is writing and I will always reject any restrictive, constraining limits on my creativity. I refuse to shackle and lame my creativity by any prohibitive limitations. It’s like deliberately putting chains on oneself when one is being creative – why would one do that to one’s creativity and constrain it so?
Given that fiction writing is such a complex and infinitely diverse field, existing in so many different variations, I really can’t see how one can put any external constraints on what form and shape a fictional story should take. Also, given that fiction writing is not an exact science by any stretch of imagination, I don’t see how rules such as “Show, Don’t Tell” could be considered to be absolute laws that every fictional story has to follow in order for it to be a valid and worthy fictional story.
I might also add that despite my stories not following these rules, my work, nevertheless, does have a dedicated readership who appreciate it.
As an example of a story that doesn’t follow “Show, Don’t Tell” and “Need to have characters” conventions, I include below my story, The Shadow of the Great Nebula of Orion. ▪
The Shadow of
THE GREAT NEBULA OF ORION
One day, the nebula in the constellation of Orion, already the brightest nebula in the night sky, started to shine more intensely, emitting a piercing blue-green light. Its luminosity became so brilliant that it cast shadows during the daylight hours too, something that had always been the sole prerogative of the Sun.
Naturally, this generated great excitement, for never before had such an extremely bright celestial body been seen in the day sky. Everybody rushed outside to look at this heavenly wonder and to gawk at their double shadows, the old familiar one and the new one created by the Orion Nebula.
It was then that the world was hit by a very unpleasant surprise, for there was something quite peculiar about the shadows caused by the nebula. Instead of being mute, inert outlines of a person’s physical form, they revealed the shadow of a person’s character. Everyone’s inner anxieties, delusions and insecurities were now exposed for all to see.
No one could be found who did not possess a nebula shadow. Even newborns had a shadow accompanying them; thus, coincidentally, vindicating some psychological theories and theological dogmas, while demolishing others.
Naturally, the consequences of this new phenomenon were immense in their scope. Billions of lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed and careers ruined as a person’s innermost complexes and most tightly guarded secrets were revealed to their spouses, family, friends, work colleagues and complete strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running depended so much upon one’s true feelings and nature being suppressed and hidden, even from oneself. Consequently, these revelations came as a heavy shock to the many who didn’t know what apprehensions, doubts and self-deceptions they had been concealing from themselves in the remotest reaches of their psyches or in the deepest substrata of their unconscious minds.
Humanity was in a dilemma over how to cope with this situation. It certainly couldn’t dim or extinguish the nebula’s brightness. It could have tried to adapt to a nocturnal existence, when the shadows would be less distinct, but surely that would have been too radical and onerous a solution. Yet who could risk or put up with the shame, the disgrace and the burden of walking around with all of their flaws and aberrations showing?
Inevitably, cults arose that chose to embrace with enthusiasm this new state of affairs. For them the Orion Nebula was The Bearer of Truth, The Great Enlightener of Mankind. Just as the Sun brought outer illumination, so the Orion Nebula was deemed to bring inner illumination to the world. The adherents of these sects took pride in letting others see their most intimate neuroses, and experienced catharsis in coming face-to-face with their fears, self-delusions and insecurities for the very first time. Having accepted their shadows, they felt more fulfilled and whole than they ever did before.
And then, just as suddenly as it flared up, the Orion Nebula dimmed to its usual luminosity. It didn’t take long for people to readjust to having only one shadow again. Lives, relationships and careers wrecked by the nebula were quickly rebuilt and almost everyone resumed living their old lives, maintaining total silence about that awkward period when their failings were revealed. It was as if the exposure of their inner selves was nothing more than a minor faux pas that is ignored in polite company. ▪
75 Character Interview
All great stories have one thing in common – memorable, realistic, well rounded characters. Dynamic characters draw the reader into the story and entice them to become emotionally involved. The need to know what is going to happen next with those characters keeps the reader turning the pages.
To create characters that cause the reader to become emotionally involved requires the author to have an intimate knowledge of each character. That knowledge needs to go beyond physical traits, although that is important, to the character’s deepest desires and fears, the past events that influence behaviour, and the ultimate goals that motivate action.
When developing a new character, an effective way to get to know them is to interview them. Conduct an interview with your character and answer truthfully, as the character, in first person.
Tell me about yourself (name, age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, etc.)?
Is there anything you would like to change about yourself?
What is your temperament (easygoing, impatient, etc.)?
What are your positive traits?
What are your negative traits?
What do you look like?
Do you have any unique or strange physical attributes?
Do you have any quirks or eccentricities?
Do you have any special skills or abilities?
How is your physical health?
How would you describe your style?
Where do you live? What is it like there?
Describe your home/house?
Do you have any pets?
Tell me about your family?
Do you get along with your family?
Why or why not?
How would your family describe you?
Tell me about your childhood?
What was the best thing about your childhood? The worst?
Tell me about your occupation?
Who is your best friend?
How would your best friend describe you?
Who is your mentor/hero?
How would your mentor/hero describe you?
Who do you love most in the world? Why?
Who do you trust most in the world? Why?
How do you decide to trust someone?
How do you know when you are in love?
Who do you like least in the world?
Is there anyone you hate?
Do you have any enemies/rivals?
How would your enemy/rival describe you?
What do you like about yourself?
What do you not like about yourself?
How well do you know yourself?
What do you deceive yourself about?
What puts your self-esteem at risk?
What secrets are you keeping?
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
Why have you kept this secret for so long?
Does anyone else know your deepest, darkest secret?
What are you afraid of?
What fear do you need to overcome?
What is preventing you from overcoming your fear?
What happens when you are faced with your biggest fear?
When are you brave?
What are your goals in life?
What is preventing you from reaching your goals?
How can you overcome this?
What will happen if you reach your goal? How will you feel?
What is your greatest source of frustration?
What is your greatest source of joy?
What embarrasses you?
What upsets you?
What are your insecurities?
When are you proud of yourself?
What makes you happy?
What is your fondest memory?
If you could forget something from your life, what would it be?
What do you notice when you first walk in a room?
What is your initial reaction to strangers?
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
What is your religion/philosophy on life?
Do you have any superstitions?
What are your political views?
What are you highly opinionated about?
What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
Do you have a favourite book? Movie? TV show? Sports team? Band/music? Food?
What is your dream vacation?
How do you see the world?
Describe your perfect world?
How do you learn best?
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
If you had one wish, what would it be?
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
These questions will help you to develop a dynamic character with the potential to grow throughout the course of the story and keep the reader turning the page. ▪
The 3 Biggest Mistakes
New Authors Make
Allyson E Machate
When writing a book, it can be easy to feel like your problems are as unique as your story. But the truth is that all authors tend to wrestle with the same challenges. This is a good thing—if others have trod this ground before, that means there are tested solutions out there. When it comes to problems, you don’t want to be unique.
There are three extremely common problems that stop new authors in their tracks and can keep you from ever finishing or successfully publishing your book. Solve these and you’ll write stronger drafts, improve your chances of publication, and enjoy more positive reader reviews no matter how your book gets to market.
Problem 1: Writing for “Everyone”
You’re at a writer’s conference. Someone asks, “So who’s your book for?”
You reply excitedly, “Really, it’s just a great story, everyone will get something out of it.”
But that isn’t how book publishing works.
If you’re hoping for a book deal, you need to be able to tell agents and publishers in one sentence precisely how your book fits into the marketplace. They want to know if your book is a good fit for their upcoming catalogs and how they will position it to sales reps, and if you aren’t clear on what exactly your story is or who it’s for, they aren’t going to figure it out for you.
If you’re marketing the book yourself, it’s even more important that you understand how to categorize your story and identify your ideal readers. Most indie books are bought and sold at Amazon.com, considered the world’s third largest search engine. Readers type in keywords or key phrases to find what they want, and Amazon directs them based on a combination of their own classification system and the details authors put into their book listings—including words that relate to who the book is for.
Imagine how romance readers would feel if they finished your “romance novel” only to discover the hero dies at the end. Or what a middle grade reader (and her parent!) will think of your very adult-themed novel that’s marked for readers of all ages.
Free resources on how to identify your “client avatar” or “target audience” abound online, so just do a search for those phrases along with variations like “how to find my ideal reader.” At the most basic level, you need to know:
• which categories are appropriate for your book (this list is used by major publishers and booksellers)
• the keywords or key phrases on Amazon that will direct the right readers to your book
• the demographics of your ideal reader such as age range, sex and/or gender, where they hang out or live online and offline, and what else they like (other books, TV shows, etc.)
If you aren’t sure how to get started, begin by looking at these details as they relate to other books like yours. You can learn a lot by what your competition is doing. You can also look for books or workshops about audience expectations for your genre. (HINT: Just start with what you think your genre is. These educational platforms will quickly reveal if you aren’t writing what you thought you were.)
Problem 2 – Letting the Muse Take the Wheel
Many people love the romantic notion of being inspired to write like a lightning strike from above. But that approach won’t result in a marketable book until it’s paired with good structure.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, successful writers don’t wait for the Muse to visit. They plan. They outline. And those who don’t are usually so practiced that they’ve internalized their knowledge of structure—in other words, they aren’t just winging it, even when it seems like they are.
Writing a book without educating yourself about good story structure often leads to significant problems: You’re more likely to get stuck and abandon your project or invest a lot of time in an overwritten draft that needs to be dramatically trimmed. Your plot or character arcs may have insurmountable issues that editing won’t resolve without complete rewrites, which can be exhausting not to mention disheartening.
Better planning up front leads to less wasted time at the end, and sometimes less wasted money too, if you’re hiring a freelance editor who will need to wade through that mess with you. So while it’s fine (and fun!) to let inspiration fuel you, at some point, incorporate how-to books or a workshop focusing on structure into your process. The sooner the better.
Problem 3 – Focusing Just On Writing
Learning how to write a marketable book can take years and multiple drafts to master. So, it’s understandable that when you start out, you may want to bury yourself in your craft and put off thinking about what comes next until you’re closer to The End.
Unfortunately, it’s a huge mistake to wait until your book is done before you start thinking about how to market it.
Many elements of an effective book launch require months and even years to develop, especially when you’re talking about building a mailing list and a network of other authors and industry influencers who will support your launch.
Consider the difference between:
• Writer A who spends two years drafting her novel and then starts to network with other authors and begins building a mailing list and social media platform.
• Writer B who spends three years drafting her novel, spending some time along the way to nurture relationships with other authors in her genre and create an active platform she can tap into when the book’s ready.
Who do you think is in a better position to launch their book when it’s finished? Would you rather put your book aside for a year while you prepare to publish, or build that platform while you write even if takes you a little longer to finish the draft?
Yes, it can be challenging to balance all your writing-related activities with your actual writing, not to mention everything else in your life. But no one said this was going to be easy (and if they did, they lied!). The key to solving this problem is mindset: Writing your book is the priority, but if you want to be an author, you need to embrace the full scope of what that lifestyle means and not get bogged down in whining about how much there is to do or skipping important steps.
Writing and publishing a book that you want strangers to buy and review positively involves a lot more than most people realize, which is why it’s great that you’re reading this magazine! Congratulations on taking the most important first step toward becoming a successful writer, which is to learn the business of writing as well as the craft.
If you keep these three common mistakes in mind and start taking steps to correct or prevent them now, your finished draft will the better for it. As will the results you find when you start sending that draft out into the world, whether as a submission to agents or into production for an indie project. ▪
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