As I rev up for the Springfield Book Fair on Saturday, I need reminders to tackle the small stuff like this week's blog challenge. Thanks to Dee for that dope slap so that I got this written.
This week's writing prompt concerns the best writing advice I've ever received. That can be summed up in four short bullet points:
Ignoring the first three contributes to lackluster writing. That doesn't mean it won't be grammatically correct. A lot of amateur writers convince themselves that their work only needs someone to catch those typos and ensure correct grammar to polish it. As an editor, I know better. As a writer, I know better. As a reader, I know better. Good writing doesn't always follow the strictures of correct grammar. However, writing that consistently breaks the "rules" governing proper grammar demonstrates an ignorance of language and sloppy carelessness that offends. My teeth clench every time I read "I seen" or "her and I" or "between you and I."
I tell people that a good writer must know proper grammar in order to break the rules to great effect.
Oftentimes, I'm just speaking to the wind, for all the heed anyone pays my advice. Regardless, I'll continue with this short list of good advice.
Adverbs tell how something is done; they don't show. One can write "He walked proudly across the stage." It's grammatically correct. Yet using a more appropriate verb delivers greater punch: "He strutted across the stage." Of course, sometimes telling is the most expedient way to present what the author wants to say. In such cases, reserve adverbs for those passages when showing would occupy too much page space and cause the reader to lose focus on the advancing plot.
Active verbs keep the story moving. They add power. Sentence after sentence in passive voice drones, drags, and causes the reader to lose interest. However, when used sparingly (there's an adverb!), a declaration with a passive verb adds steely strength. If you're not sure whether what you wrote is active or passive, here's a quick guide: avoid using am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, and might.
Sensory detail adds richness and depth to immerse the reader within the story. Good writers appeal to more than just what the narrator sees, but involves the other senses of touch, hearing, taste, and smell. I find amateurs fail to do this especially in scenes involving lots of gore. They don't realize that blood and death stink.
Reader expectations, when violated, lead to brutal reviews. I have concrete examples of this. In The Barbary Lion, a paranormal romance that crosses over into abduction romance, the heroine reacts like a real person. The hero is a jerk of the first order. (He redeems himself. Mostly.) I didn't soften the characterization, which readers expected and for which they blasted the book. In Russian Gold, the heroine experiences of crisis of conscience and a terrible loss of self-respect for herself. Raised in the Midwestern heartland, she has values different from her more sophisticated urban friends and has a deep-seated need to earn the blessings she enjoys. So, she leaves the hero to earn back her self-respect and refuse to go back to him unless he gives up his criminal ways. I didn't see that as excessive or unreasonable for a normally moral woman, but readers did and--again--blasted the book.
Does this mean that I'll warp a plot if it doesn't adhere to reader-preferred expectations? Nope. I'm not that malleable. So, I'll roll with the punches knowing that I've employed the advice from others on writing well.
A few months ago, a client for whom I'd ghostwritten a book contacted me with an offer to write the next three books in his serial. This client had proven a challenge to educate as to what is and is not involved in ghostwriting. He wanted to negotiate a lower, bulk rate under contract for the next three books.
My rate had increased since signing the contract for the first book. I declined and responded with a counteroffer to write the second book in the serial at the same rate as the first, but stated the third and fourth books would be negotiated at the then-current rate if he wished me to ghostwrite them. He expressed concern at my unwillingness to "add value" and accept a lower overall per-word rate.
Truthfully, I thought I'd heard the last from him.
Surprise! Last week he contacted me, stating he wanted me to write the next installment. He offered a compliment: "The reviews for Volume One have been positive, so I feel good about completing the story." I went to the book's page on Amazon and read the reviews: really they're quite flattering and complimentary of the writing. Then he lowered the boom: "I can only pay you in $100 installments every 2 weeks. Instead of stopping work, I would like for you to work on the chapters back to back and just retain ownership of the writing until I have paid off the balance."
Okay, I replied, we can do that. I would retain ownership of the content until the project fee was paid in full. Only then would he receive delivery of the document and transfer of the copyright. I also specified the limits of service: drafting, one round of revision, and a final round of review and approval. After approval, my obligation is finished. Any errors or issues with the content are then his problem, not mine. I drafted a new contract and sent it to him.
This morning he wanted to lower the overall fee: "I have few chapters that are close to completion that would just need some editing and proofreading service. Can we negotiate a flat fee for this?" Again, I declined. His writing style does not match mine, and editing will not mesh them into a cohesive narrative. Readers will notice the egregious and glaring difference between his prose and mine. If he wants me to write the story, then I write the entire story. Besides, if the client writes well, why hire a ghostwriter?
I am quickly reaching the limits of my patience. Let me say this one more time: when you hire a consultant or freelancer, you do so because you have confidence in that person's expertise to perform a task that you either have not the skill or time to do yourself. Respect that contractor's expertise. A little respect goes a long way.
In other words, if a contractor doesn't value the service he or she provides, then clients most certainly won't. Hold your ground, assert your value, and don't accept insulting offers.
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“Well, hey, if it ain’t our resident author,” the waitress greeted them, cracking her gum between her teeth. Her bright eyes turned predatory upon examining the handsome elegance of the man accompanying Corinne. “And who’s this? Ain’t one of yer brothers, is he?”
“No, Tansy, this is Uberon,” Corinne answered with a laugh. “ He’s just visiting.”
Ignoring the cool look the tall man gave her, the waitress tapped Uberon’s shoulder and said, “Well, y’all can visit me any time, good lookin’.”
An unaccustomed feeling of jealousy surged through Corinne, spurring her to respond, “Get your own man, Tansy. This one’s taken.” The waitress lauged and leaned forward. "You let me know if he’s got any brothers.” She winked and got to business. “Y’all know what ya want?”
Corinne shook her head and relaxed, not quite knowing why she’d staked her claim to Uberon like that. It simply wasn’t like her. So, she placed a generous order that included a slice of the coconut cream pie that was the diner’s specialty. Tansy looked expectantly at Uberon who simply replied, “I’ll have the same.”
“Sure thing, handsome.” She winked at Corinne with irrepressible good nature and sauntered off to place the order.
“Forward woman,” Uberon commented in an undertone.
“Tansy wants a husband so badly she can taste it,” Corinne explained with empathy. “She barely managed to finish high school and good jobs are scarce around here. But she’s goodhearted; there’s no malice at all in her. She’d make some farmer a devoted, hardworking wife.”
“You are kind.”
Corinne shrugged. “Her prospects aren’t good. She deserves a man who will love her and treat her well—and there just aren’t that many eligible bachelors in Winterset. Most kids here grow up and leave for college and never come back. Those who don’t leave either can’t or they’re tied to family farms.”
She looked around the diner, silently noticing that most of the patrons were a generation or two older than she. She returned her gaze to Uberon’s and held it. “This village is dying. It’s too far from Athens to catch the university crowd.”
Uberon listened as his mate explained.
“About six or seven years ago, the village council decided to sponsor a farmer’s market to capitalize on what this area does have, a lot of vegetable gardens, farms, and old-fashioned handicrafts. The Christmas fair gets in some regionally acclaimed folk artists and visitors from a pretty large area, but it’s not enough to sustain a hotel or do more than add a temporary boost to the local economy.”
Corinne paused and realized she’d been lecturing him. Blushing, she took a breath and apologized. “Sorry, Uberon. I got a little carried away there.”
“You care about these people as a good queen should,” he replied.
“Queen?” she spluttered and shook her head. “I am no queen.”
His eyes took on a far-away look and he added so quietly she had to strain to hear the words, “I lost the caring of my people and left them to my son, who never cared at all.”
“Your son?” she echoed.
“Marog. He is dead.”
Overcome by sympathy as well as confusion, Corinne reached across the table and covered his hand with hers. “Oh, Uberon, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
He turned his hand to curl around hers. He lifted it and leaned forward to press a kiss to the knuckles. “You bring me naught but joy.”