Writing Well

I’ve borrowed this post from Carolyn Howard Johnson’s blog because I feel writers need to be reminded at times about simple rules regarding good writing.
Rules of the Road
Valerie Allen
To write well and be more successful, every writer needs to be aware of the most common standards in the publishing industry:
  • Ultimately your manuscript must be in a word processing program
  • Use one inch margins on all sides
  • Justify text, including the first sentence
  • Indent .5 for all paragraphs after the first one
  • Use 12 point type, simple fonts (Times New Roman works well)
  • Use one space after the period
  • Dialogue requires quotation marks (“Where are you?”)
  • Start a new paragraph with each different speaker
  • Keep the speaker’s action and dialogue in the same paragraph
  • Use subject verb sentence structure
  • (USE: “This is important,” Valerie said.
  • NOT: “This is important,” said Valerie.)
  • For time sequence use both words: and then
  • (USE: She picked up a pen, and then wrote a note.
  • NOT: She picked up a pen, then wrote a note.)
  • Punctuation marks go inside quotation marks (“Here I am,” Valerie said. “Where are you?” she asked.)
  • An apostrophe replaces a missing letter (goin’, won’t)
  • Use italics for internal character thoughts.
  • Limit the use of exclamation points (!) and dashes (-)
  • Use only one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence
  • USE: “You did what?” NOT:“You did what?!!!”)
  • Avoid clichés
  • Avoid over-use of that, very, just
     Valerie Allen, author, playwright, and speaker, writes fiction, non-fiction, short stories, plays, and children’s books. She is a popular speaker at writer’s conferences, libraries, and community events using her book: Write, Publish, Sell! Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Ideas for the Marketing Challenged2ndEdition. It is available at http://bit.ly/ValerieAllen
     She is a co-founder of Authors for Authors, which supports new and experienced authors with book fairs, book launches, book displays, and writing seminars. Authors from across the US have had their books displayed at two annual Florida book fairs held in March and November sponsored by AuthorsforAuthors.com

Life Sentence, thrilling new Sci-Fi novel

Fellow writer and friend, Jim Gaines is visiting my blog today. Hi, Jim, can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself—where you grew up, family, career, etc.?

I was born and raised in Massachusetts, in Somerville and Saugus.  My family is pretty international, since my mother came from Germany and my father was from a Portuguese-Canadian family. My son, John, was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we lived with my late wife, Josephine Roberts, an English professor at LSU. A while after Jo was killed in a highway accident, we moved to Fredericksburg to be closer to John’s grandmother in Richmond. Up to that point, I had been a professor of French at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, having previously been trained at Michigan State and the University of Pennsylvania, and having taught briefly at schools in Battle Creek, Michigan; Gonzales, Louisiana and Dijon, France. I taught at the University of Mary Washington from 1998 to 2014 before retiring. John graduated from UMW in English and went on to get a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Pittsburgh. He currently works for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do to relax?

I like anything associated with nature, such as gardening and bird watching. I still try to watch French and German TV every day and read newspapers from those countries, where I have relatives and friends. John is very active in an international humor annotating group on the internet. We like to travel and a recent vacation to Iceland may contribute something to our future work.

Your novel, Life Sentence, is a Sci-Fi thriller. Give my readers a sense of the story. 

515zvxjyqclSure. It involves a German convict, Willy Klein, who turned whistle-blower against a nasty corporate scheme and had to defend himself against assassins sent to eliminate him. His death penalty is commuted to service as an executioner in an off-world penal colony where he is befriended by a wonderful alien pleasure worker named Entara. They are forced to part when he continues to be persecuted and she is recalled to her home world for an arranged marriage. After several adventures, Klein receives a distress message from Entara and, with the help of a human religious cult, gets to her planet of Forlan just in time to confront her odious husband and forcibly derail his plans to enslave Forlani females. Leaving Forlan with enemies on his trail, he becomes an indentured worker on the bizarre world of Song Pa and faces danger and near-death before returning to the penal colony and making a tremendous sacrifice for its indigenous beings. We wanted to avoid the old blast-em-up Sci-Fi and write a story about how humans face many different challenges in dealing with different alien races.

Please give us an idea about your journey to publication.

This book began as a novella in 2004, when I presented it at a writers conference to an editor who immediately began talk of a contract. However, it would have meant producing a full text rapidly and a sequel in 18 months, which I could not do while I was teaching. As I neared retirement, John urged me to finish the novel and offered to collaborate. It turned out that he introduced many of the characters and added a whole new dimension to my original concept. We completed the last chapters and set a 2-year plan for publication, ultimately deciding to self-publish on Kindle and CreateSpace.

When did you decide to write a novel and how did you pick the genre?

I had been tossing around Sci fi ideas for decades, since the first short story I ever did in high school, was sci-Fi–in  French!  We have always watched Sci-Fi movies and often discussed different plot ideas. During my last two years of teaching, I taught a course on non-traditional approaches to 17th century French literature that included early sci fi by Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac and Gabriel Foigny, and that prompted me to return to serious work on my original story.

Are you planning on a follow up to Life Sentence, or are you starting a completely different novel?

Yes, we have nearly completed a second novel in the series we call the Forlani Saga. When I originally presented the story to an editor, she raised the objection that Klein dies at the end of the first novel. I explained to her that the plan was to continue with other characters who would take center stage in the following novels, as the French author Honore de Balzac did. So we started to write Spy Station quite soon after finishing Life Sentence, using Entara and her eldest daughter as the central characters. We wanted the second novel to have a single setting, so we imaged a peace conference on a space station, with lots of espionage intrigue. John added many interesting characters as we went along, including an intelligent dinosaurian, a couple of robot doctors, and a human villain who somewhat resembles Dick Chaney. We continued to create new alien races, as well.

Do you write anything else other than novels?

During my academic career, I wrote six books on French literature, which is a very different process from fiction-writing. I have also written poetry for much of my life and published a good deal. I have published some short stories, one of which deals with French colonies in the Caribbean and has actually been referenced in some literary bibliographies because one of the characters is a historical figure. Besides his comedy annotating, John has done numerous articles for library sites on various types of books, especially monsters and Sci-Fi. That’s a lot on the plate already, but if time permits, I may eventually write a book on pirates, since I also taught a pirate course at UMW.

What is your next project(s)?

Once we finish Spy Station within the next year, we plan to work on a third novel in the Forlani Saga, tentatively entitled Earth Regained. Our little planet gets completely ravaged during Life Sentence and Spy Station, and we want to explore how it can be reclaimed by characters such as Entara’s daughter, Klein’s human daughter Amanda and her husband, robotic settlers and a newt-like race, the Talinians, who are given grants on Earth in return for helping rehabilitate the planet. Of course, we will have some villains, too, and some human characters that change sides in the course of the story.

Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know about Jim Gaines or Life Sentence?

John and I are devoted to creating something different in Sci-Fi that invites people to think in new terms about the adventure of outer space and what we may find there. As a language specialist, I have always confronted the difficulties of communicating across cultural boundaries and that remains a central concern. As Steven Hawking has stated recently, our greatest challenge will probably be to establish a clear exchange with any aliens we meet and to avoid the kind of mistakes made in Earth’s own early colonial period, especially because we may be in the shoes of the Aztecs and the Dahomeyans this time, instead of the colonizer role. Ray Bradbury, Karel Capek, and A. E. Van Vogt understood this very well, and we hope to carry on in their tradition.

Jim, thank you for an interesting interview. Life Sentence sounds captivating; I hope it’s a huge success!



Writing Authentic Dialogue

I ran across a piece written by Valerie Allen concerning the basics of dialogue that I’d like to share with my fellow writers. Her background is extensive, she is a veteran author and director of several book fairs in Florida. She is also a popular speaker at writers’ conferences, and is co-founder of Authors for Authors. Below is her advice on creating dialogue.

bigstockpeopletalkingThere are no absolute rules about creating good dialogue, but some guidelines help shape a story. Well written dialogue goes unnoticed by the reader because it sounds right. It is not stiff. It is not artificial. It is written to sound as if someone is speaking.
Dialogue has three main functions:
1. Reveal more about a character
2. Establish the relationship of one character to another
3. Move the story forward
Some basic guidelines for using good dialogue include
  • Create a new, indented paragraph every time a different character speaks
  • If more than one speaker is involved in the conversation use his/her name to clarify who is speaking
  • Use the noun-verb form (Valerie said not said Valerie)
  • If it is a statement the tag is said (“Valerie is here,” she said.)
  • If it is a question, the tag is asked (“Valerie, where are you?” she asked.)
  • Use movement, a gesture, or a tag instead of said/asked (Valerie opened the door. “Here I am.”)
  • Use vocabulary appropriate to the age, education, and culture of the speaker, as well as the context of the story
  • Write conversation as it is spoken, not structured as standard written English
  • Dialogue is primarily about what the speaker believes his/her problems or conflicts to be
  • Punctuate so it is easily read without confusion
(George, the alligator bit me.
George, the alligator, bit me.
George! The alligator bit me.)
  • Do not have characters continuously address each other by name
  • Do not have characters giving each other information they already know; use exposition (Not: Valerie, I remember on your birthday, July 20th, we went on a picnic.) Valerie likely knows when her birthday is!
  • Avoid dialects; use just a few telltale words to give the flavor of the dialect and then return to standard English
  • Contractions make dialogue more natural (It’s; I’ll; We’re)
  • Use apostrophes for missing letters (don’t, you’ve, goin’)
  • Incomplete sentences are common in dialogue
(“Where are we goin’?”
“Where out?”
“Quiet, or you’re not goin’.”)
Good dialogue should mimic common speech patterns to keep the story believable and fast paced.

Who Knew They Were Free?

books-xlargeDespite rumors and predictions to the contrary, printed books continue to enjoy huge popularity. Ebooks, however, maintain their large share of the market, mostly due to their convenience and lower price. That said, if you are a voracious reader there’s a way to get popular titles at  greatly reduced prices.

Bookbub.com offers a service in the form of a daily email listing ebooks that are free or deeply discounted for a limited time. Recent examples are: The Girl on the Train, slashed from $11.99 to $1.99 for one day only; Gone Girl from $9.99 to $2.99; The Da Vinci Code was given away free for one week.

The Bookpub emails are sent out each day and more than 7 million readers have taken advantage of this remarkable service, downloading books on Kindles, Nooks, iPads, iPhones, Droids, and more. One reader exclaimed she’s downloaded more books than she can read in a lifetime.

There’s something for everyone—fiction, non-fiction, romance—more than 20 categories to choose from, and all at least 75% off retail or free. The bottom line is readers can save hundreds of dollars using this service. Check them out.

New Release From Successful Author

What’s it Like Having Two Different Publishers? That’s the question I posed to talented author, Marilyn Meredith. She honored me by being the first to host her on a brand new blog tour. Enjoy her comments below.

Marilyn at CRSA ConfereinceOver the years I’ve had many different publishers for all sorts of reasons. For my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the first publisher was a pioneer in e-publishing. The problem was no one had a clue what e-publishing meant. Because there were no e-readers at the time, the book had to be read on the computer and didn’t catch on. From there I went to another novice e-publisher, though by that time, print on demand had come along. I switched publishers and had two more books in the series published, but the publisher decided to move on to other pursuits. Of course I found another publisher.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series had a bit of a different history. The first publisher had four books in the series printed as mass-market paperback. Sadly, she passed away unexpectedly. The next publisher knew all about e-publishing and print-on-demand. Life became a problem, and she gave up her business. It was purchased by Mundania Press who has continued to publish the series.

Both my present publishers are savvy about the publishing business, but tackle things in totally different ways. Because I am friends with the publisher of the RBPD series, we discuss both publishing and other topics on a regular basis and even have lunch together now and then. I hire an editor to go over my manuscript before I send it on to the publisher, because she doesn’t have a big staff.

I’ve met the former and present owner of Mundania at different conferences. I’m Facebook friends with both. Mundania has a huge stable of authors and professional editors and cover artists on staff. I’m very fond of covers of my books done by one of their artists.

My feeling is the biggest difference between the two publishers is the size of the operations. I’m happy with both.

The latest in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is Seldom Traveled.Seldom Traveled Front Cover

The tranquility of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

Who is Marilyn Meredith?

Marilyn has had so many books published, she’s lost track of the count, but it’s getting near 40. She lives in a community similar to the fictional mountain town of Bear Creek, the big difference being that Bear Creek is a thousand feet higher in the mountains. She is a member Mystery Writers of American, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, and is a board member of Public Safety Writers of America.

New Contest: Winners will be randomly picked from those leaving the most comments on the blog posts. Each winner can choose one of the earlier books in the series as either a print book or e-book.

Tomorrow’s stop is here: