AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: JON RIPSLINGER – YOUNG ADULT NOVELIST

Jon Ripslinger

This month I’m spotlighting Jon Ripslinger, former teacher and author of eight young adult novels published over a span of 21 years, all featuring 17 to 18-year-old protagonists.

Though he’s marketed his more recent books, Jon has had no formal, written book marketing plan. He’s seen firsthand the changes in marketing in the publishing world. For his first three books, the publisher handled all of the marketing and Jon wasn’t asked to do anything. However, he said, “Now, I’m expected to be deep into marketing on social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads, and I have a blog, all of which was unheard of when I started out writing in the 1990s.”

Jon views book marketing as a necessary chore; he dislikes it but the publisher expects him to do it. He said, “I find it difficult, and worse than that, marketing on social media takes a great deal of time away from my creative efforts. Some days I spend all my time working social media and none on a new novel or short story.”

TWOG JonThe time book marketing takes and how it’s shifted his priorities have surprised Jon as his publishing career has progressed. “When I was writing in the late 1990s, I spent all my writing time on writing. Every day at the computer, working on a rough draft, the next day editing what I’d written the day before, then pushing on with the script. Not anymore. Working on my blog and social media sites comes first, then comes working on a script—if I have time. Having said that, let me add this: For my most recent novel, The Weight of Guilt, Red Adept Publishing at no cost to me provided me with a content editor, a line editor, and two proofreaders. The publisher also provided at no cost to me the book’s cover and back-cover text. I get 50 percent of the profits. So I believe the publisher has every right to expect me to work hard marketing wherever and whenever I can.”

Jon has found the most marketing success in social media, in part thanks to his over 500 friends, many of whom are former students from when he taught English at Davenport West High School for 33 years. He maintains a “One-minute Romance” blog which features, so far, 104 approximately 800-word long short romance stories. The blog has received nearly 17,000 hits; Jon expects 20,000 hits by the end of 2015. He’s had successful book signings, too, selling 30 to 40 books at each of his seven at the Davenport, Iowa, Barnes and Noble. He’s found Twitter the least successful: “Most of my fellow twitterers are authors but strangers who, like me, are simply hawking their books, though I try to provide advice about writing in 140 characters or less.” Jon has not yet tried paid advertising but said he will consider some future Facebook or Twitter ads.

For his latest book, The Weight of Guilt published by Red Adept Publishing, the house arranged a blog tour during May and the first week of June. He said, “The tour features 17 book bloggers who have agreed to join in and highlight posts about TWOG. Some bloggers simply spotlight the book by posting a short bio of me and the book’s first chapter; some have interviewed me; some have asked me for guest posts; some have read the book and posted four- and five-star reviews, which is very encouraging, since the reviews are also posted on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and more. I have found the blog-tour strategy very successful for creating a buzz about the book. It’ll take a while before I find out if the buzz results in sales.”

Jon finds inspiration from posters that have hung in his writing room at home for over 30 years that state “Miracles happen only to those who believe in them,” and “Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” Great advice on their own, but Jon also offers this advice for other recent or soon-to-be published authors: “Establish yourself on social media immediately and be prepared to spend a lot of time on your chosen sites. Study what successful writers have done on these sites. If you can, be unique. Traditional publishers might hesitate to publish your book, regardless of how good it is, how well written, unless you can prove you’re ready, willing, and able to promote yourself and your book. Self-promotion is expected of you. It’s now part of your job as an author.”

Click on the title of each book below to learn more from Amazon. The books are also available at other national and local book retailers.

The Weight of Guilt, 2015, Red Adept Publishing. Two girls John Hawk dates die violently. Suffering from terrible feelings of guilt and believing his life is cursed, John is accused of rape and murder.

Who is Lori Darling, 2013, Martin Brown Publishing. Carl Mueller discovers the girl he’s madly in love with has been and is being sexually molested by her father—since she was ten years old.

Missing Pieces, 2012, Martin Brown Publishing. Kyle Donavan suspects his dad killed his mom, dismembered her with a chainsaw, and sank the pieces into the Mississippi. River.

The Hustle, 2010, Martin Brown Publishing. Five-foot-one Sean Duffy, a one-eyed pool player, falls in love with six-foot Mary Jo Moon and wins her love be defeating her abusive, former boyfriend in a violent game of nine ball.

Last Kiss, 2007, Llewellyn World Wide.  Billy O’Reily makes love with his girlfriend in her bedroom for a final time—she breaks up with him—and the next morning she’s found dead.

Derailed, 2006, Llewellyn World Wide. Wendell Stoneking’s girlfriend is a single mom, a senior in high school, and when her psycho ex-boyfriend kidnaps their son, Wendell is forced to risk his life before the psycho rapes Robyn and kills Tyler.

How I Fell in Love & Learned to Shoot Free Throws, 2003, Roaring Brook Press. Danny Henderson’s girlfriend, a new girl in school, breaks up with him and goes into hiding, fearing bullying, when he discovers she’s a test-tube baby with two moms, and she’s afraid he’ll tell everyone.

Triangle, 1994, Harcourt Brace.  Best friends since grade school, Darin and Jeremy fall in love with the same girl. And one of them has made her pregnant.

WRITING CRAFT – QUICK START GUIDE

Photo from Steven Depolo, flick creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/5749192621/
Photo from Steven Depolo, flick creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/5749192621/

Do you want to start a writing craft journey, but you’re not sure where to start? You know all of the great reasons to write (for mental health, to express creativity, to inspire or help others, etc.), but you just can’t seem to begin? It’s easier than you think.

Step 1: Get out your Whittler
Carve out time.

While looking at your calendar and considering all of your other obligations (work, school, kids, chores, etc.), decide on a writing craft goal for the next week. Think of it like exercise. Start slow and increase your goal each week. Next, PEN it in. View your writing time as an appointment you can’t miss unless you have an emergency. Note: Laundry and dishes are not emergencies.

Carve out space.

All you really need is a pen or pencil and paper, but you may like a lamp or light, chair, desk or table, computer, and reference books. You can plan to write outside of the home like at a coffee shop, but it is a good idea to have some writing space at home for when you can’t get away.

Be ready.

Keep index cards or notebooks plus pens or pencils everywhere you go (by the bed, by the toilet, in the car) so you can jot down ideas and thoughts when they come (which you know will be when you least expect them). Or carry a digital voice recorder.

Sept 2: Get on the merry-go-round.

Do you already have an idea for a poem, story, creative essay, or another writing craft project? Great. Write it down. Write. Write. Write until there is no more. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.

Not so lucky? Great. Write. Set the timer and write about anything and everything in your head in no particular order without worrying about writing mechanics. Use prompts from books or websites. Go somewhere and write what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Make lists and then when you write, pick one and go: places lived, old friends, vacations taken, questions you’ve had, heartbreaks, foods you like/dislike, things you know, teachers you’ve had, jobs you’ve held, or one of hundreds of other topics. Ask yourself, “What if…?” and then answer the question. Start with “I want to write about…” and then go into details. When you think you’re done, set the timer for a few more minutes and keep going.

Eventually, an idea for a poem, story, creative essay, play, or other work will come to you.

Step 3: Get it in shape.

Some projects may require research beyond what you already have in your head. If so, get that done first. Good resources include the library, the internet (just be careful of user-generated sites), personal interviews, and observation. Once you have everything you need, put your words in the final form you desire (poem, story, novel, etc.). Leave out stuff from Step 2 you don’t need or want but still don’t worry too much about the nitty-gritty, writing-class type details.

Step 4: Get it good.

This is where you really get down to business. Read through your piece as many times as needed to make it more exciting, interesting, readable, and insightful. If you need help, visit the book store or check out books at the library about whatever form you’re writing in (poetry, fiction, non-fiction) as well as about creative writing in general.

Especially in fiction and creative non-fiction, you can amp up the energy in your writing by using specific but not clichéd words, using dialogue, or by using shorter sentences. You can increase tension by creating a character; giving him or her a big, important problem; putting him or her in danger of not being able to solve the problem; then solving the problem while creating additional little problems that must also be solved before the story ends. Keep the stakes high; continually ask yourself, “Who cares?” In all forms of the creative writing craft, increase the impact of your images by creating pictures with words, involving all of the reader’s senses, and writing active rather than passive sentences.

Deepen insight by showing readers a truth about human behavior or offering a new way to look at something. Keep your point of view consistent unless you have a reason not to, keep your reader in mind as you revise, and show, don’t tell. (Show: “She shuffled her slippered feet across the hardwood floor.” Vs. Tell: “She was tired.”) You’re voice and style in creative writing is uniquely you. The only way to hone it is by practicing and learning by reading other work and writing craft books. The most important thing to keep in mind is your voice is YOU. Find yourself, who you are, what you’re about, how you feel, what you think, and you will find YOUR voice. The most efficient way to do this is to write.

Step 5: Get it in sharing shape.

Read and correct any of the nit-picky mistakes until your eyes glaze over. There are numerous writing craft reference books available if you need to brush up. Remember to:

  • Use correct punctuation and grammar (and if you break the rules, have a reason).
  • Read your work out loud and word for word and/or have others read it and give feedback.
  • Cut “That” out: Read the sentence without “that”; if it doesn’t belong, chop it.
  • Remember the power of said: It is a nearly invisible word so think hard before using something else like shouted or whispered. Try to make the dialogue speak for itself.
Step 6: Get it polished.

Once you think you have your work all edited and ready to go, read through it one more time. If it is a book-length piece and you want someone else to publish it, consider professional editing. No matter how good we are, our brains always want to read what we should have written and not what we actually wrote.

Step 7: Get it out there.

If you want your work published in print or electronically, query agents, publishers, and/or magazines as appropriate or publish it yourself. If you’re not interested in publication, you can still share your work with friends and family or start a blog (several are free). Participate in open readings or give your poems and stories as gifts.

Embarking on a creative writing craft journey can be a rewarding, healthful, and life-changing experience. Following these seven easy steps will get you going.

COMMA SUTRA – POSITION FOUR

CommaSutraTime to attempt to master another comma position in line editing: between adjectives. When using adjectives to describe a noun in sentences, at times you will need commas between them, at times you will not, and at times there will be commas between some of them but not others. Unlike with the intuitive comma use, often you can’t tell when a comma should or shouldn’t be used just by reading the sentence out loud. Fortunately, however, there is a rule you can use.

When using two or more adjectives, commas should be placed between those that describe the noun independently and separately. No comma is appropriate when the multiple adjectives are dependent upon each other. Diana Hacker (2009) in her A Pocket Style Manual refers to the distinction as coordinating adjectives and cumulative adjectives (p. 59-60). To test whether the adjectives are coordinate or independent, read them with the word “and” between them.

For example, from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters on page 13:

“I did not think again about the letter until I arrived home from school the first of March to find a thin envelope with a border around the outside like a red, white, and blue candy cane and several canceled stamps addressed to me on our kitchen counter.”

If you use “and” instead of the commas:

“I did not think again about the letter until I arrived home from school the first of March to find a thin envelope with a border around the outside like a red and white and blue candy cane and several canceled stamps addressed to me on our kitchen counter.”

This makes sense so the commas are appropriate. In fact, commas are needed so your words don’t read like they were written by a preschooler. In this case, you could also determine the commas are needed by reading it aloud. If you try to read it without, “outside like a red white blue candy cane,” you might pass out from loss of breath (especially because it is quite a long sentence anyway).

According to Hacker (2009), cumulative adjectives don’t describe the noun separately and reading them with “and” would be cumbersome and nonsensical. For example, from Missing Emily on page 12:

“A passing elbow collided with mine, sending my books flying to the floor in slow motion.”

Reading “A passing and elbow collided with mine” doesn’t make sense so a comma would not be appropriate. As has been the case with all of the Comma Sutra positions thus far, whether to use a comma or not is still a subjective decision to a certain degree. The “and”s might make sense to some but not to others. The important thing is to consider the use of commas in your sentences and make purposeful choices about whether or not to use them.

 

Source:

Hacker, D. (2009). A Pocket Style Manual (5th ed.). Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

DUCT TAPE (Book) SELLING by John Jantsch

Confession time. Yes, you love writing. You love it when your words touch just one reader. And having a bunch of positive reviews is better than having a ton of sales. But admit it, earning at least enough money from your books to live comfortably so you can do nothing else other than write more books IS your ultimate dream. Isn’t it?

If it is (it’s mine), you have to accept the fact, at some point, that you are a salesperson in your book marketing. And you have to sell many things, but ultimately, you have to sell your books. Duct Tape Selling: Think  Like a Marketer – Sell Like a Superstar by John Jantsch (also the author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine) isn’t about book marketing, but there’s plenty of helpful advice for marketing books.

Build a Community

For an author, you can think of building a community like building a platform, a group of people who like you, your ideas, and/or your writing who are most likely to buy your books. Think about the seven touchpoints Jantsch talks about in the context of your book: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat (other books), and refer.

Lead Defining

Jantsch says that lead defining “is done most profitably when you can define an ideal prospect’s particular behaviors” (p. 34). Define your ideal readers as narrowly as possible so you know where to find them and what to say to get them to pick up your book.

Content Building

Duct Tape Selling‘s advice about building a general platform is also pertinent to building an author platform. You can do this by blogging consistently without worrying about the number of readers because you’re looking to build a presence; podcasting; and collecting emails by trading something free. Jantsch says, “Sharing content is a great way to engage your buyers. Read what your buyers read and share that content across your social networks” (p. 139).

Write Every Day

I love the part of the book (p. 119) where Jantsch sings the praises of writing every day. There are seven great reasons to write every day, but here are my two thoughts on a couple that are especially good for authors:

#1 – To be a better salesperson. It helps you as an author to talk about your books, but it also helps you to improve your product (book).

#7 – To establish a name. Maybe someone will see your book, think “Hey, they write on that blog,” and buy it.

If you are at all interested in the broader picture of marketing books, I recommend Duct Tape Selling. If you are an author into the book selling game for the long haul (i.e. you want it to be your career), I strongly recommend it.

Have you read Duct Tape Selling or any of John Jantsch’s other books? I’d love to hear your thoughts on tips to apply to book marketing. Just put them in the comments section below. Or contact me…

GET VISUAL WITH STORYBOARDS FOR NOVEL WRITING

deskWhen novel writing, it’s sometimes easy to forget what your characters look like, especially if you’re like me and can only make weekly appointments to work on it. My workspace is also relatively small considering all of the other things I write and that take up my time.

After a storyboarding workshop the winter before last, I decided to create a visual profiles board to assist me with my novel writing. I had already written character sketches and found images online of people who I thought looked like my characters, so it was just a matter of copying them and old-school cutting and pasting.

The result is the board you see on the right side in this photo. With pictures of my characters (and other key items like my characters’ home) attached to a piece of foam core, I could tuck the board away and pull it out when working on my novel. When I was done, I stashed them back out of the way, keeping my space tidy and organized.

I also made a board to plot out the evidence to weave in as I wrote the mystery portions of the novel. I printed the outline/list descriptions of what I planned to include in each chapter. I then cut them apart and glued them to a piece of foam core with enough space for small sticky notes to go between. I wrote the evidence pointing to the actual murderer (no spoilers here) on one color of post it, evidence pointing to the character who I wanted the reader to think was the murderer on another, and evidence pointing to someone else on another color.

At the point when I’d done the storyboards, I was writing one chapter each week. So when I wrote, I looked at the chapter description, wrote the scenes, and weaved in the evidence bits. Within several weeks, the novel’s first draft was completed and my mystery elements were all included.

Have you used a storyboard when writing your novel (or other book)? I’d love to hear about it. Just type them into the comments section below.

Want to find out more about the book that was written with the above methods, Taming the Twisted, and about my other titles? Click here to visit my author website at www.jodietoohey.com.

THE COMMA SUTRA – POSITION THREE

CommaSutraPosition Three of the Comma Sutra in line editing addresses the commas which should occur between two, three, or more (though I wouldn’t recommend too many more) independent clauses in sentences. Usually, these independent clauses are connected by and, but, or or one of their siblings of nor, for, so, and yet. Or and nor bring up their own whole other issues – either, or and neither, nor – but that isn’t really about commas, so we’ll table the discussion for now.

Unless your sentence contains short independent clauses, you should use a comma before the and, etc. (the coordinating conjunctions) to, according to Diana Hacker in A Pocket Style Manual (5th Ed.) “tell readers that one independent clause has come to a close and that another is about to begin” (p. 58). As Ms. Hacker warns, this rule only applies to independent clauses.

Here are a couple of examples from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters:

Two short independent clauses where a comma is not necessary:

“I think she likes Mate but I am not worried.”

Longer independent clauses with a comma:

“I have not known what I should write to you, but I will try to answer the questions in your last letter.”

How do you know if your clauses are independent and whether they are short enough to omit the comma? You guessed it: read the work out loud. Read the clauses as their own sentences – such as “I think she likes Mate,” and, “I am not worried.” If they make sense as standalone sentences, they are independent. To determine if the length of the clause requires a comma, read the sentence out loud. If the meaning is clear, you can leave the comma out. If the meaning is confusing, or if by the time you finish the sentence, you are lost and don’t remember what the first part of the sentence said, you probably need a comma.

As with Positions One and Two of the Comma Sutra, this one has a degree of ambiguity, and it is open to varying subjective interpretations. What’s the bottom line? Seek out every coordinating conjunction and multi-clause sentence in your writing and question it. Make an informed, purposeful choice – comma or no comma – and go with it. Others may disagree, but you’ll have your thought-out reasons with which to defend yourself.

Source:     Hacker, D. (2009). A Pocket Style Manual, 5th Ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston/New York.

REVIEW – How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

Photo from Amazon

I’ve been receiving Joanna Penn’s emails directing me to her helpful blog posts about writing and book marketing for at least of couple of years now. So when I started to dig into planning to market my next book, Taming the Twisted, I purchased a few of her book marketing and writing business books. The first one I read is titled simply, How to Market a Book.

If you know Joanna from reading her blog, you will love this book. It has the same conversational, friendly, open, and honest voice that it has. The book is divided into sections so that the reader can easily find and read what he or she needs to know right now. It includes information on the basics with book marketing fundamentals as well as clear, step-by-step how-tos covering specific tactics.

How to Market a Book has solutions for you whether you need to do something to boost sales just for now or to increase reach for the long haul. I also liked that the book contains up-to-date information, which is invaluable in the ever-changing book marketing world. She covers social media, audio books, podcasting, video, and book trailers, which were non-existent not too long ago, as well as information on more traditional book marketing options like press releases, reviews, and traditional advertising media.

In addition to the practical advice, what I really enjoyed was the underlying story about Joanna’s life as an author. She talks about how she manages her fiction-writing life along with her entrepreneurial life, balancing and marketing them both. This resonated with me because of my varying personalities: fiction and poetry writer (visit jodietoohey.com for more info), business and copywriter (wordsywoman.com), and author services provider (right here at wordsywomanforauthors.com). Sometimes I think I’m crazy having so many different personalities, but Joanna gave me hope that it can be done, and successfully, which would make for a fun and rewarding career.

How to Market a Book by Joanna Pen can be purchased on Amazon (click here) as well as other online retailers, I’m sure. (P.S. I’m not an affiliate of either Amazon or Joanna Penn – I recommend her book for no other reason than it’s that good.)

I’m doing a major study blitz to find out all of the latest tools for book marketing, so if you have a resource or book you recommend, please share in the comment section below.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: David Dorris – Author on the Road

David Dorris is taking his Life it Too Short series on a journey still in full swing. He’s committed to marketing the books, and not just in the short term. His first Life is Too Short book, which he wrote during his breaks while working at Nestle, was published in 2002. The second edition, Life is Too Short: Choices in Life was lengthened by 20,000 words and published in 2008. He added another over 20,000 words in Life is Too Short: Life is What We Make It with Tate publishing in 2011.

The first Life is Too Short book was written by accident. David said, “I coached softball for thirty years and always liked to teach the kids about life as well as sports. In August of 2001, [during breaks while working at Nestle Purina,] I started to write a paper to give to my team the next year.” Someone asked him if he was writing a book, so he thought “why not give it a try.” In October of 2002, David presented the books to his team and bought them ice cream at Quad Cities’ local shop, Whitey’s. The Quad City Times newspaper came and did a story about it. He kept going from there.

Life many first-time authors, David was surprised by the marketing involved after publishing a book. When asked how he feels about book marketing, David said, “I am learning different strategies. … It’s a lot of fun and I have a great time at book signings. It was difficult at first, but I discovered that after you publish a book, you are not just an author but also a sales person and the more I work at this, the easier it gets.” He said he’s learned what sells his book and who might be interested in events. “I also have events lined up where I can talk about my book to clubs and organizations and then have a book signing.”

David works with a marketing manager at Tate Publishing, including getting help to line up book signings. After an event is scheduled, he answers a questionnaire, which the book marketing manager sends to the local media. David has had better luck holding signing events at organizations other than book stores, including the YMCA, Jaycees, Optimist Clubs, Rotary Clubs, and local college book stores and libraries. He was told after a signing at a college book store reading on December 5, 2014, that he was the only author who’d sold all of the books they’d ordered for an event.

David said, “I believe I am finding the right kind of audience for my book. I am convinced if I can get my books to the right groups, I can sell a ton of them. I am not saying this because I wrote the book. These books won’t sell themselves, so I find when I explain my book to others and show them my book reviews and tell about the success stories that go with it, that sells my book.”

He explains that it also helps to sell the book when he talks about how he wrote and researched it. While watching movies from the thirties, forties, and fifties, he takes notes about comments about making life better. “I may get twenty-five ideas … [then I] pull up my book and insert these ideas,” netting hundreds of ideas in the book.

David credits self-training to his marketing success. “I worked at Nestle Purina for thirty-five years and the one thing a supervisor taught me was to learn to train myself. … He said, ‘Don’t wait to be told to do something, just get it done.’ As a landlord and an author, I do train myself. I was fifty-four years old when I was told to train myself. If I had learned that when I was younger, I might have accomplished more with my life.” This self-training has included some trial-and-error, including a $300 ad in the local newspaper, which wasn’t successful. He has had good luck with sending letters to the newspaper editors, though. “Since the subject of my book is about life, I read the letters from the editor of the QC Times. I then pick a subject, respond, and I use materials from my book to make a point. Some people recognize my name at a book signing and I have been asked if I had my books advertised in the newspaper.”

Recently, David has started a program to partner with local charitable organizations to share his profits with them. The program was recently announced in a feature article the newspaper printed about David. He cautions, though, “Sharing profits with organizations have strict rules about how it is done. You can’t put it in print what you are going to do with your money. When you give, you donate without any publicity.”

He’s also had success by simply talking to people, including with the approximately one hundred places his marketing manager sent to him in a list. He said, “There are always people that are glad to have you do a book signing and then there are some people who are not very nice about it. When people are not nice, I just move on. They may have a change of heart later. I always try to be polite and professional. As published authors, we are also salespeople and we should try to use our time where it will get results.” This is great advice. Don’t be afraid to try different things to market your books; but if it’s not working, move on.

In considering the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion), David emphasizes the product: “I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get it published when you get to that point. Take some more time to work on it as if you were going to take the existing materials and start another book. Take this time to make sure that your book is the best it can be and check to see if there is anything of value that you can add or something you should take away from your book that will improve the quality of the product you are going to get published for marketing.” He also advises, “Make sure that you have a publisher that the book stores will accept. Find a publisher that will go out of their way to help both of you make money. … Also find a publisher that will help you with high quality content, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The better the product, the easier it will be to market.”

David has also done a lot of work finding his target market. He said, “One of your books may have to be marketed different than another. It could take a while, but you have to find your target audience. Try to find groups who will buy your books.” He also advocates taking responsibility for your book marketing. “You and you alone may decide the success of your book. Marketing is a full time job. There are hundreds of ways to market your book. It’s like panning for gold. It takes a lot of looking to find the right place for your book and when you do find it, that is when you will strike it rich.”

Learn more about Life is Too Short: Life is What We Make It and see the awesome book trailer on Tate Publishing’s website. It’s also available on Amazon.

DAYDREAM YOUR WAY TO YOUR NEXT NOVEL

Photo from Fritz Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3396219694/
Photo from Fritz Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3396219694/

When I was a kid, as a way to fall asleep at night, I would picture elaborate “day dreams” in my head. I was always the main character. When I was a teen, these mostly involved imagining how my latest crush would realize his love for me and we would be together. Eventually, I would get to a boring spot and I’d fall asleep.

But, sometimes, if my imagination brought me to somewhere emotional or with a lot of tension or suspense, it would keep me up half the night.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was actually training my brain to write fictional stories. So when I started to write my first novel, I already knew how to imagine the story – the trick was translating it into words on paper. To keep people reading, I just had to imagine the types of things that kept me up at night. And if I find myself getting sleepy, I know the story is going stale.

Now, when I work on my novels, I do the exact same thing but with a keyboard in front of me. I imagine the story in as much detail as possible, right down to the words used in conversation, and I type it.

If you write stories, you may already do this as well, whether you realize it or not. But, if you haven’t and you find yourself stuck, give it a try. Just write down what you see in your imagination.

The Comma Sutra – Position Two

CommaSutraToday we’ll tackle the intuitive comma in line editing. The one you really can only know is missing by reading your words out loud. I know, I know – reading out loud is a pain in the backside and embarrassing, especially if your kids have their friends over, but it is mandatory to find proper comma placement.

I’ll use a couple of examples from my book, Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters, of how something might have made no sense if I had left the comma out.

Page One:

If I hadn’t used a comma:

“Always full of unwelcome surprises Dad changed these plans.”

Now, when you read it silently, you might not notice anything, but read it aloud and your speaking voice triggers your brain into questioning if Dad was the unwelcome surprise or if Dad delivered the unwelcome surprise? Change it to “Always full of unwelcome surprises, Dad changed these plans,” and it makes sense. It says what you (or I in this case) want it to say.

One more example from Missing Emily:

Page 87:

Without the comma:

“I peeked around the corner and saw them crouched down their mouths tucked into the tops of their pajamas giggling.”

How did they crouch down into their own mouths? Were their pajamas giggling? The correct way to (and the way I did) write it is “I peeked around the corner and saw them crouched down, their mouths tucked into the tops of their pajamas, giggling.”

Position two of the comma sutra is difficult because there are no hard and fast rules. The only way to decide on the appropriate location is to read the words out loud, or at the least deliberately, carefully, and slowly. Notice where you naturally take a pause while reading; put a comma there. If you find yourself needing to re-read a sentence to make sense of it, consider how a comma (or two) might help.

 

and everywhere in between.