False Starts and Introductions to Novels: Too Cliché or A Forgotten Skill?

 

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“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —Ed White

Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro to a novel. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers?

The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book. If you’re a writer developing the draft of your novel, then this article is a must for you.

—Introductions—

Those First Introduction Paragraphs

The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns and issues. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.

This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth of a writer.

A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose

There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. You examine the first 250 words of your story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask yourself:

  1. What is the purpose of this introduction?
  2. Why is it set up like this?
  3. Is there a hook for the reader?
  4. Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
  5. What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent your own questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey your introduction can produce.

The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of your story and should let the reader what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming over it on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them.

—In the Reader’s Best Interests of Introductions—

Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting

I once heard a fellow writer say:

“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —Anonymous

Now, while that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of your prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.

Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel

Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.

You can also use internal dialog or exposition to hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read through, but that’s a topic for another time.

Stress is…Good for Readers?

Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into your story. Dangle that carrot!

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Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions

Approach your introduction with a sense of clarity and enjoyability for your reader. Have a plan for your intro, and reflect throughout the rest of your book. The promises you make in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, your introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.

—Concluding an Introduction—

Striking a Balance

In summary, an introduction to a novel is a significant part of the writing process. Take your time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after your twentieth read through, you may yet discover new insights about yourself as a writer.

Ask yourself:

Is it long enough to cover everything? Is it short enough to keep it interesting? Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?

If you can bond your reader with your main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulate yourself; you’ve accomplished a feat that most writers struggle with.

Final Words

Beginnings are always the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest. I hope this article has provided you with some semblance of wisdom in your writing journey—I’m by no means a professional myself.

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 😀

Hit the “like” button below if you enjoy what you see to stay informed of this blog’s updates. Also check out a recent article I did about meditation, creativity, and writing. Thanks.

 

Personal Thoughts on Writing and Creativity

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I once read an interesting set of questions from a fellow blogger and writer: What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

In this article, I’ll define what writing is, then attempt these questions as they relate to me. I’ll then go on to talk about my own experience with writing and how my perception of the craft has changed with time.

—Defining What Writing Is—

Since time immemorial, writers have existed. From ancient storytellers and cave paintings/etching to modern-day typewriters and word processors, this art continues as a staple of human existence. It would be difficult to envision a society without writers.

A writer is a person who produces and conveys information, particularly by written characters. There are many types of writers, from academic, to business, creative, and erotica. Fiction and nonfiction make up the general categories, but do we really understand what makes fiction?

—Fictional Universes—

Fiction is the very definition of creativity. There are no boundaries, except for the ones we set for ourselves in the story. Some rules do exist to create a loose outline, but we can define those standards however we chose.

In some ways, the products from fiction are a mirror of our inner consciousness. The things we desire; the things we envision being possible; the things we wish we had; the things we fear the most, and so on.

Writing fiction is like exploring who we really are. One may even consider it a type of pseudo-meditation. We become so engrossed in the art at times, we almost cannot stop. It becomes us because it is who we really are.

Writing fiction wipes away the limitations in our lives, but it can also be a form of escape, for better or for worse; I can personally relate.

—Nonfictional Universes—

On the other hand, writing non-fiction is more about the observation of the universe we dwell in. Non-fiction is limited by what we know for sure, as it’s based more off real life. Unlike its counterpart, non-fiction is objective with evidence to support written ideas. It may not be as thrilling as fiction, but it is also a lot more grounding to the self. It allows us to take a step back and appreciate the reality we dwell in.

Some people consider non-fiction boring, but how can we know for sure?  We have yet to journey outside our own solar system. As incredulous as it may sound, perhaps reality is not as limited as we think. After all, we set the limitations in fiction, but who are we to know what the wildest restrictions are? Only Mother Nature knows that answer.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

-Mark Twain

—My Experience with Writing—

Next, I’ll get to those questions (yay).

What do you write?

I mainly produce creative content via my upcoming trilogy, Ethereal Seals—then there’s some poetry and short stories I’ve sat on for a while. I also write on WordPress here and sometimes do paid commission copywriting elsewhere.

Why? 

Why do I write? Because, if I didn’t vent my creativity, I’d go insane, lol. Jokes aside, writing is an invigorating exercise for me. I don’t have many friends and my family doesn’t do much. If anything it helps organize my day.

What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis?

I suppose it would be the love for my OCs, Pepper Slyhart, Tarie Beyworth, and others. I can always interface with my creations—and get transported to a world of fantasy and magic. That universe I’ve created is unique, at least for me, and I hold it close to my heart.

What exactly makes you a writer?

That’s a tough one!

My journey as a writer has been a confusing one, to say the least—full of its own ups and downs, periods of enlightenment and depression. Since high school, I’ve dedicated my life to developing Ethereal Seals. The project didn’t take shape until later, well into my twenties.

So, what makes me a writer? I suppose it’s the years-long dedication I have under my belt. Although I don’t consider myself a professional by any means.

Who Do You Write For?

I write mainly for myself and a small collection of friends and fans. I’m not the next Stephen King or anything, just a dude who likes being creative with his free time. Why not use it to create whole universes and tell stories?

How Do You See Writing?

I consider myself more of an artist than a writer, as I get the greatest fulfillment from creating worlds and building characters rather than studying and refining prose.

I don’t like a lot of the tags and stereotypes people associate with “writers” nowadays. Instead, writing should be just a relaxing pastime that stimulates creativity. For a good idea of what I mean, check out this older article I wrote.

—Final Thoughts—

I don’t consider myself a writer in the widely-accepted sense; I prefer the term artist or word-smith (there’s an interesting one 😉 ). My passion comes from creating ideas and expressing them. I don’t write to make money, there’s too much stress in that—and writers don’t make good salaries anyway unless you’re someone like Brandon Sanderson. I’m simply a soul with a large imagination who likes to have fun.

Thank you for reading. 😀


Feeling ambitious? Answer the questions below like I did and post them to your blog. I’d love to read them. Cheers.

What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

 

 

Meditation, Stillness, Creativity: an artist’s revelation.

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—Meditation and Creativity—

I’ve practiced meditation for several years now. I find it to be a calming, insightful practice that stimulates creativity and it has helped with my writing and digital artwork. For more information on the practice, see this older article I wrote.

That said, I had a revelation about it quite recently that I feel is important to anyone reading this—be they a writer, artist, meditator, or an average joe.

When we ground ourselves in stillness, we draw inward and banish the noise of the outer world. In this fashion, we move to our inner universe. It’s here that nothing from the outside should penetrate this sacred place—ideally anyway.

—My Background with Meditation—

During the past few weeks, months, maybe even years—I’ve forgotten how long—my allowance for outside noise gradually increased outside my notice. It became so bad that I couldn’t focus, too anxious thinking about my projects and work. Even my sleep got messed up. I didn’t create that special place of rest and healing that I so desperately needed.

My point is when we do something like meditation or any other healing or resting ritual, we sometimes become forgetful of what that inner universe is really like. I feel so blessed to have reawakened to this notation—and I pray that, to anyone reading this, that you, too, treasure and respect your inner self.

Meditation is so beneficial to the body, but we can’t just sit down and force it to happen; it’s a natural, passive process that takes us on a journey inward.

—Tips on Practicing—

Here are some tips and methods to begin this practice, if you feel so inclined:

  1. Relax – Let go of whatever your ego wants you to think. Drink deep the chalice of stillness and mindfulness. Fight against the urge to think about anything, even your story. Regulate your breathing or chant mantras to redirect your concentration. There are dozens of ways to implement meditation.
  2. Time – Between writing, reading, family obligations, and a day job, it’s especially challenging to find the time to meditate. Our busy society discourages this–yet, without time to rejuvenate the subconscious, burnout is inevitable. Block out part of your day dedicated to meditating, even if it’s only 5 minutes a day. Your subliminal brain will thank you. Some people meditate better at night when the rest of the world sleeps, others in the morning. Find an ideal time that works for you.
  3. Space – Establish a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed. Be sure it’s comfortable and dark. If you need to, ask your living mates to not enter for a designated interval. Defend this personal space from any miscellaneous disruptions, if possible.
  4. Dedication – Meditation, like writing, doesn’t come quickly. With your routine established, stick to it. Some days may feel unproductive, while others will. Work your way up to 20 or even 60 minutes a day if possible.
  5. Tools – Implements like music, essential oil fragrance, or colors can enhance meditation. Everyone is different; experiment, and find what works best.
  6. Write After Meditation – The brain enters a different state after prolonged relaxation. During this period, creativity and productivity may be at its highest. Take advantage of this episode to work on your piece or jot down notes. Many legendary writers such as Shakespeare utilized this to produce their masterpieces.

—Some Additional Insight—

In ancient India texts, the act of writing corresponds to the fifth chakra Visudda, also known as the throat chakra. Your throat has a compact bundle of nerves at the neck. These contribute to the acceptance and expression of originality of voice. The main obstacle of the fifth chakra—which most writers struggle with—is doubt and negativity. Through meditation, confidence is restored, and the nerves purify.

The fifth chakra works with the second one at the navel, called Svadhisthana, or the sacral chakra.  This energy center controls pleasure and creativity. When the body isn’t producing sexual energy for biological reproduction, the life force goes towards the abstract, or creative ideas. Blockages in this chakra result in creative stagnation or exhaustion. Through meditation, the nerve endings restore their creative-inspiring state.

—A Spiritual Conclusion—

This is but a fragment of the information out there. Feel free to investigate the source links below. Writing bears an imprint of our soul, one that we transmute from the abstract (spirit) to the concrete (words). The physical and astral unavoidably connect, and neglecting one over the other cannot work for success.

Thank you for reading and I’ll leave you with this quote:

“He doth entreat your grace, my noble lord,
To visit him to-morrow or next day:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to meditation,
And in no worldly suits would he be moved
To draw him from his holy exercise.”

William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

 

Poetry, Writing Tips, and More

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Hello, hello to all my readers. It’s only a week into March and it has been a busy month. I’ve worked on my beta manuscript nonstop, seeking feedback and writing, revising chapters—you know the drill. This journey has been a long one, filled with pain and joy.

If you’re interested in beta reading, check me out on betareader.io here. If the link doesn’t work, look for an ebook with a green gem on it. Betareader is a great website for beta testing longer novels.


I’ve posted some dream segments from my beta manuscript involving the main OC, Pepper Slyhart. They’re a bit poetic and romantic, as they involve her love interest, Tarie Beyworth. The antagonist is a dragon queen, seeking to control Pepper’s heart. You can check out my latest one here.


Although it’s March, it’s never too late to celebrate fantasy and science fiction. 😀 February was #Fantasymonth, and I wrote a fun piece about my interests as a fantasy reader. If you feel so inclined, you can participate in the game here.


Last, but not least, I created a simple list about writing a protagonist, building tension between character and plot, and how to bring it all together. You can check out that post here.

That’s all for now, my lovely readers. The rest of this month promises to be a productive one. In the meanwhile, stay cool and persevere in whatever your dreams are. Love and gratitude. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Tips on How to Write a Protagonist

 

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A protagonist is the central character of a story. Unlike side characters, the hero influences the story the heaviest. Because the hero holds the plot together, developing a solid character is vital.

Below, I’ll discuss some tips on how to write a protagonist; things that should assist you with your hero’s development. These are guidelines, as the majority of the hero’s creation comes from the author.

How to Write a Protagonist

When learning how to write a protagonist, there are several things to keep in mind. How each parameter lines up can influence both the protagonist and the plot.

1. Gender

This is one of the more prominent points when you write a protagonist, as the POV can change considerably with the hero’s gender. I read an enlightening series of forum posts that discusses male and female characters. You can check this and this for additional information.

Stay true to your character’s quirks and personality. Don’t let traditional stereotypes interrupt that creative flow. If you hit a roadblock, ask a reader of the opposite sex. Often, he or she can add some insights to your character design.

2. Race

Whether your hero is Caucasian, African, or some fictional alien race, have that racial background define who they are and their ordeals. Maybe a particular breed of space elves are hated in society, or they lack a specific trait that humans take for granted.

3. Height, Weight, Body Mass

Maybe your hero is a short, fat dwarf or a lanky human. How they appear to other characters can influence how the hero comes off. Perhaps a tall protagonist looks formidable and therefore commands respect.

Maybe give your hero some facial scars, a distinguishing feature that sets them apart. Make them unique, as the main character should be.

4. Secrets

Any reader enjoys secrets; even better are secrets within secrets. What I mean is, wrap your main character in mystery. Give them an enigmatic past and don’t give out the answers too quickly.

Have your secrets evolve as the hero progresses through the plot. This evokes intrigue and helps pull the reader in.

5. Character Flaws

“There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

DrosselmeyerPrincess Tutu

Tension is fundamental on how to write a protagonist. Incorporate conflict into your characters, whether in their backstory, gender, race, or physical limitations. You can also give them technical flaws, like the inability to perform a skill or a specific action.

Giving them too many perks and too little flaws result in a bland, uninteresting hero. You want to challenge your hero, not make them a god; nor do you want them to fail in their quest.

6. Attributes

As in video games, especially RPGs or tabletops like D&D, a character in a story has a given set of attributes. These parameters define what the actor is good at, what he or she may fail at, and perhaps unique modifiers that make the character stand out from other characters.

First, define what kind of a character, or class, the actor is. Take your stereotypical warrior: they—usually—have high strength and resilience to trauma. Warriors may not specialize in other fields of ability like magic or stealth, but they have their toolbox of skills to make up for it.

Characters like the warrior fit a niche in a company of heroes, whereas others party members address their shortcomings. Having one character do all the work often comes off as lazy and boring. Give your characters a challenge that pushes them to their limits.

7. The Hero’s Journey

The hero should be someone who struggles through the impossible. The protagonist should suffer but persevere. This is a reflection of the journey we all go through—the Hero’s Journey.

It is vital when writing a protagonist that the hero is relatable to your audience. This draws readers in and generates sympathy and a sense of kinship with the hero. Plot out your story using the Acts found in the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell did an excellent job in his novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I highly recommend this book.

8. Antagonist

An antagonist complements the protagonist, forming a wholesome plot. The villain often provides the tension and challenge to the hero. In traditional works, the antagonist is a reflection of the hero with exacerbated personality flaws. It could also be a father figure.

9. Leveling Up

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As a character progresses through a story, they level up or gain additional attributes. With games, the hero adds new parameters to their character sheet. In a novel, leveling up is more subtle. The author may demonstrate this as a character acquiring a new artifact/weapon for study, graduating from school, or finishing a spellbook.

The development of new experience enriches the character’s worldview and the way they handle problems. A rookie fighter may view a few brigands with horror, while a veteran would display confidence.

This system of progression enhances characters and leaves a player or reader with a greater sense of appreciation by the end of the story. Typically, characters begin with little to no experience and graduate to seasoned fighters by the end of the plot.

10. Tropes

If you’re still struggling with how to write a protagonist, check out TV Tropes here to browse a list of familiar character tropes. That may give you some idea of what you’d prefer in your character.

As an example, the farmer hero trope is heavily used in fantasy settings, but it still works. My main hero of Ethereal Seals starts out as a half-dragon farm girl who trains into a knight by the end of the story, yet she fails at some tasks that others take for granted.

There are endless variations to this trope alone, and putting your original spin on it will help it stand out.

Conclusion

Learning how to write a protagonist can be a complicated process. There are certain factors to keep in mind, like gender, race, body proportions, and flaws. Tropes provide a convenient starting point for character creation. Remember to challenge your hero—introduce some tension.

I hope this article has provided a good idea of the thought and time put into a character. For more information, please check out the provided links throughout the page.

Thanks for reading. Much love and gratitude. 🙂


Like what you see? Click that follow button to keep up with blog updates.

I’m looking for beta readers in my app here. Click it and read about my ebook if you’re interested. My book cover has a green gem on the cover, titled Ethereal Seals: Dragonsblade. Thanks.

 

POV in Prose

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POV (point of view) in prose is a vital storytelling element; it even finds a place in nonfiction articles. It is like the camera of the reader. Imagine looking through the eyes of one person for the entire story. Maybe it switches to another character as the story progresses.

This article will give an introduction to perspectives, the different types of perspectives, how to use them, and the attributes associated. If you’re a new or aspiring writer, mastering POV is crucial—and this article is for you.

—First-person—

In nature, we are all born in first person perspective. Even as you read this article, your brain absorbs it from a first-person perspective. I, me, my, we, ours—these pronouns define the first-person viewpoint.

Don’t be afraid to explore the character’s inner universe. Stick to one character’s perspective per scene, if possible. Show the character’s emotions, why they do what they do. First-person is also popular in articles, as it adds anonymous credit to the author when needed, without specifying who.

Examples of First-person

I woke to the strident calls of my alarm clock, the morning rays stinging my eyes. My heart pounded in my ears, my neck wet with sweat.

Flashes of my previous day returned. I was back with my friends. We had finished our activities at school. Then, we saw it, the one thing a highschooler wishes he would never see.

Attributes of First-person

  • The narrator becomes the character
  • Creates an emotional and intimate experience with the reader
  • Makes prose more objective
  • The plural of first-person is “we,” the singular is “I”
  • ‘We’ or “our’ is an anonymous way to strengthen formality in articles

—Second-person—

You are reading this article. I am talking to you or you all in second-person. This is second-person POV. The narrator, instead of jumping inside the character’s head, dictates to the protagonist what is happening. In this way, the actor “hears” the narrator rather than becoming one and the same.

Second-person is often used in emails, tutorials, and other dictatorial pieces. The narrator brings the reader into the story and encourages them to engage in the plot or prose rather than from the remote standpoint of a character. In this way, second-person is more intimate than first-person.

Attributes of Second-person

  • Dictatorial POV in prose, more often used in the present tense
  • The reader is in the story rather than inside a character’s mind
  • The pronoun “you” can be singular or plural; can also use “you all
  • More intimate and emotional with the reader than first-person
  • Excellent for tutorials, certain novels, and articles
  • Perspective strictly limited to the reader
  • Works poorly in research papers or dissertations

Examples of Second-person

You wake to the strident calls of your alarm clock, the morning rays stinging the eyes. Your heart drums in the ears, neck wet with sweat.

Flashes of the previous day return. You were back with classmates. You all had finished school activities. Then, you saw it, the one thing highschoolers wish they would never see.

—Third-person—

This perspective pops up in many kinds of novels, particularly romance or fantasy. The narrator refers to characters by their name or as “he,” “she,” or “it.” Third-person finds popularity in news reporting and business writing, whereas the prose stays objective and accurate to a report or statistical paper.

There are a few types of third-person perspective, as it’s one of the more complex perspectives.

Third-person Limited

With this perspective, the reader is a separate entity from the characters. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character.

Third-person Multiple

Third-person Multiple opens additional information that Limited cannot convey. Multiple character perspectives are included, rather than just one.

Third-person Omniscient

The narrator acts as god and reports any and every thought or development between characters. This is perhaps the most difficult POV in prose, as it includes a large amount of detail and multi-tasking, otherwise known as “head-hopping.” Omniscient is a powerful perspective that can shorten prose and travel anywhere in a character’s history, but it can also be overwhelming for the reader if done wrong.

If you use this perspective, watch out for data dumps that slog the pace or may confuse the reader.

Third-person Objective

This perspective comes from a neutral perspective as if the reader is an invisible spectator at the scene. The reader—separate from the characters—watches the scene play out. Descriptors that describe internal emotions are to be avoided here.

Third-person Subjective

Subjective perspective can use internal dialogue strictly through the words of the narrator. In subjective, the narrator takes a larger role in telling the story, rather than letting the characters do all the work. This creates distance between readers and the characters but may improve pacing.

Attributes of Third-person

  • Places the reader in spectator mode, watching characters
  • Offers a variety of perspectives to suit the narrative
  • May provide a higher volume of information for the reader
  • Less intimate than first-person or second-person
  • Easier to confuse multiple third-POVs

To maintain a proper perspective in third-person, always ask yourself what character holds the camera. Maintain that perspective and avoid ‘head-hopping’ where possible.

Examples of Third-person

Tom woke to the strident calls of his alarm clock, the morning rays stinging his eyes. Tom’s heart pounded, his neck wet with sweat.

Flashes of his previous day returned. Tom was back with friends. They had finished their activities at school. Then, Tom saw it, the one thing a highschooler wishes he would never see.

—Final Remarks on POV in Prose—

There are many types of POV in prose. Selecting the proper perspective can alter the narrative drasticallyand favorably if done right.

Questions to Ask Yourself

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to include your own questions as needed.

  1. How does the story relate with the perspective of the characters? The reader?
  2. What do I (the author) feel about watching the characters from a particular viewpoint?
  3. What emotions or traits should be presented in the story? What POV best suits this objective?
  4. What should readers feel as they progress through the book?
  5. How should readers connect with the characters?
  6. Is there an underlying message associated with the perspective chosen?

Conclusion

I hope this article has provided you with a good introduction about POV in prose and how to select one appropriate for your prose. Knowing your characters and how they relate to the storyand to your audienceis the gist of it.

Thank you for reading. See the provided links below for further reading. Love and gratitude. 🙂


Hit that follow button below to stay in touch with this blog’s updates. I’m looking for beta readers for my new book, Ethereal Seals: Dragonsword. You can look for its listing here, it has a green gem on the cover. Thanks.

—Sources and Further Reading—

https://www.scribophile.com/academy/using-first-person-pov

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/first-second-and-third-person

https://writingcommons.org/collaborate/common-comments/point-of-view/522-avoid-second-person-point-of-view-

https://www.scribophile.com/academy/using-third-person-multiple-pov

https://www.thoughtco.com/third-person-point-of-view-1692547

http://www.thebeginningwriter.com/2012/03/look-at-different-types-of-point-of.html

Writing a Good Query Letter

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When it comes to writing, some writers dread the querying process. Unlike a manuscript, query letters are business. Similar to writing a cover letter for a job interview, this is your first impression to an agent or editor, so you need to make it count.

This article will talk about drafting a query letter and some helpful tips. Take these pointers with a grain of salt—they’re guidelines only, but I’ve found them useful.

Layout for Writing a Query Letter

Contact Information

Include any contact information before your first paragraph near the top of the page, right justified. This helps the recipient contact you if they need further information. It also breaks the ice—so to speak—and shows that you offer a professional medium of trust.

Personal websites are a big plus; these give the recipient an idea of what you’re capable of. Below your personal info include the agent’s information, left justified.

Salutations

Give a proper business greeting to the recipient. Use his or her last name with the suffix Mr. or Ms. respectively.  If you don’t know the name, use sir or madam instead—not recommended as it creates a less formal feel.

First Paragraph

Your beginning, like any book, should catch the reader’s interest. Show the recipient why they should continue reading when they have a hundred others letters to peruse. Use a hook to grab their attention. Stand out from the crowd. Mention the recipient’s credentials, information posted on their websites, or anything that shows you’ve done your homework and are serious about working with them.

Use your first paragraph creatively. Begin with some background that connects yourself to the agent. Illustrate your talents, achievements, and ordeals. Even flaws or setbacks can be spun positively. Usually, the first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the query letter. This can make or break your letter’s review.

If you don’t have a tangible connection to the recipient, skip into the action of your book.

Second Paragraph

Early on should be a brief summary of your book. Say a few things that help it stand out from ‘oh another fantasy fiction with swords, elves, and horses.’ Explain general plot ideas and the main characters, their conflicts, and so forth. Mention the premise, genre, audience, and word count.

“The main objective of a query is simple: Make the agent care enough about your protagonist and your plot that she wants to read more.” —source

Third Paragraph

Include any bio or additional credentials that help argue your cause. Keep it short and detailed.

Here’s an earlier article I wrote on novel length to help.

Final Paragraph

Conclude the letter by thanking the recipient for their time. Describe a few more positive features about your book to wrap up. Mention that you can send the first chapter if they’re interested. Sign off short and sweet.

Tips for Writing a Query Letter

A Good Fit

Before you query, make sure the recipient is appropriate for your querying needs. Explain why you are querying an agent, what makes you and the agent a good fit.

Readability

Use short sentences and paragraphs if able. This helps with readability, allowing the recipient a quick look at what you have to offer out of the hundreds of other query letters. Use simple vocabulary, don’t try to be impressive with complicated wording.

Submission Guidelines

Follow whatever requirements or recommendations the agent has on their webpage. Every agent prefers different criteria for submission.

Length

Some writers can fit everything in three paragraphs, but it’s not recommended to do it in less than three. The bulk of the letter should be about your story. Anything more than a page may be daunting to a recipient. Aim for three to five paragraphs.

Font

This is debatable. I use a standard 12 pt. New Roman. Some recipients may prefer New Courier or some other font. If you can’t find the recipient’s preference online, go with a font that is readable and distinct. Don’t use any color text. Keep it simple.

Grammar

This goes without saying if you’re a writer. However, I’ve seen many writers flub the rules when it comes to a query letter.

Look for mistakes like dangling participles or run on sentences. Even a small typo can turn an agent away. I use Word and Grammarly to double check my work. A proofreader wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Tone

A query letter is a business letter. Don’t get carried away with your personal background or your story’s description. Keep the formality. Avoid contractions for a more formal feel.

Credentials

Mention anything you have published, any degrees or significant achievements. Avoid details that fluff you up or make you seem unrealistic. Compare your story to another more notable example if it will help.

“In essence, a query letter is a marketing page that talks up your book, without overselling it. You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.” —source

Conclusion

Writing a query letter can be daunting. While there is no set formula for a query letter, the guidelines above should aid in the process. Here’s a brief overview for those who want a synopsis.

Overview

  • Include contact information and the recipient’s info
  • Keep it formal with Mr. or Ms. and avoid contractions
  • Use a hook in the beginning
  • Describe why your story matters and offer to send in the first chapter
  • Keep the length to one page, 12 font is ideal
  • Check grammar and tone suited for business letters
  • Adhere to submission guidelines
  • Connect with the recipient

Perseverance

Most of all, stay positive. There’s a good chance the recipient will reject or even fail to reply to your submission. Don’t lose heart! Remember that tens of thousands of others are in the same situation.

 

I hope this article has assisted you with your query letter needs. For additional information see the affiliated links below. Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. 🙂

Additional Sources

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter

https://nybookeditors.com/2015/12/how-to-write-a-darn-good-query-letter/

https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-query-letter/


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Dangling Participles

dangling_participle

Another revisit to a past post, this article describes how to improve one’s prose via dangling participles. I will define this term and how best to use it in written work, whether in essays or novels.

It can be tricky to spot at first, but addressing dangling participles adds clarity to a sentence, providing information that the reader may not have. Let’s begin with a basic definition of all the terms.

Definitions

Participles

Participles are challenging to define, but generally speaking, they are a word similar to both an adjective and a verb.

Take the phrase polish for example. You can say: it’s time to polish the wardrobe. This uses the vocab as a verb. If you say: the polished wardrobe, then the verb acts as an adjective, describing the wardrobe.

Other examples of participles may attach an -ed or an -ing to the end of the verb to create the past or present participle, respectively. This is the crux of what a participle is. They have other uses too as with verb tenses, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Participle Phrase

When you have a group of words with a participle in it, it’s called a participle phrase (PP). Consider these examples:

Running up the hill, Pepper heard the churning waterfall.

Taking a breather, Tarie considered the canyon that yawned in the distance.

The underlined words are the PP. Notice how they modify the second half of the sentence, using run and take as the base verbs for Pepper and Tarie. Here’s one more example:

Calming herself, Pepper felt the mindful void.

Notice the proximity of the participle phrase to the modified subject: Pepper. The noun doesn’t have to be adjacent, but it helps clarify what the participle phrase modifies.

Dangling Participle

A dangling participle occurs when the subject modified is unclear, leaving a dangling impression or meaning to the sentence. Here’s an example:

Running up the hill, the waterfall churned noisily for Pepper.

Taking a breather, the canyon yawned in the distance in front of Tarie.

In these examples, it sounds like the waterfall and canyon are modified. The correct identifier doesn’t follow, even if the author thinks it does. Implied modifications are never wise in prose.

Always bring the proper noun/subject closer to the participle phrase, like sticking them together with glue. That said, you can call this process glue participles, or glue parts, to help remember how to address dangling participles. 🙂

Here and here are more examples and exercises for those of you who are curious.

Exceptions

Comedy

As with most mechanics in the English language, there are exceptions. Sometimes an author may desire a dangling participle for the sake of comedy (most dangling participles read hilariously).

Steering Prose

A dangling participle can also—albeit crudely—keep a sentence or even a paragraph centered on a specific item. First, read the article as an unfamiliar reader would. Examine how the paragraph influences the reader’s perspective.

When done correctly, a writer can manipulate a reader’s viewpoint in creative ways. This can lead to interesting prose that may build up to a particular point later on.

Conclusion

Whatever the reason for using a dangling participle, make sure the audience understands the rationale behind using one.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Reread over your prose and dissect the usage of a dangling participle. Here are some questions to help:

  1. What is the participle—the modifier—in the sentence?
  2. What is the subject of the modification?
  3. Is the subject close to the participle for clarification?
  4. What is the objective of the dangling participle—if it exists—in this sentence?
  5. Can I do without it?
  6. Are there any other options available?

Develop a solid understanding of the sentence first before you rewrite or change the prose. Don’t speed through it. The mind takes time to analyze the layers that constitute English writing.

Rules Are Meant to be Broken?

Nine times out of ten, a dangling participle won’t be the best choice; but you’re the author of your own story or world so you can choose and define how prose should flow.

Mainstream professionals may not agree, but as long as your audience comprehends the reason behind a dangling participle, it should read okay—I say that lightly. Yet there’s always that one way to make it work. I’m certainly not a master of it.

I hope this article has helped you with any questions concerning dangling participles and the other vocabulary associated therein. Happy writing and thank you for reading!

Another mention to all you NaNoWriMo writers—a job well done. Sadly, I was too busy to engage this year. I’m hoping to attempt NaNoWriMo next November. Until then, there’s plenty to read, write, and research. Cheers. 🙂


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Book Length and Word Count

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I decided to revisit this old article and dress it up a bit. Take the word count example lists with a grain of salt. They are averages. Anyway, onto the meat and potatoes of this article.


The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. It may not appear to be at first, but there is a formula followed by countless writers and publishers. Depending on the target audience, genre, and book type, the word count in a book can vary.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets—so these guidelines are best loosely followed.

Book Length Guidelines

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on their genre and audience.

Audience

Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book length. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. Likewise, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book length for a more mature audience.

Age group Examples:

  • Poetry: 5 to 3k
  • Picture Book: 400 to 800
  • Play: 1k to 32k
  • Middle Grade: 25k to 40k
  • Young Adult: 50k to 80k

Genres

Book genres, of course, play a considerable role in word count.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries tend towards a lower end of the spectrum—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 words
  • Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000
  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
  • Historical: 90,000 to 100,000
  • Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 130,000

General Book Types

Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a short novel with a compact story; ideal for a quick read.

Book type examples:

  • Flash Fiction: 300 to 1,500 words
  • Short Story: 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novels: 50,000 to 100,000

The Endgame

Legacies

Ultimately, these listings are a guide, not necessarily a strict rulebook. You can have your long epic fantasy and do well with it. However, for new writers, it is best to start small and work your way up. A book length that is simple and sweet reads best.

Once one’s legacy is built, a writer can gamble a little more. Agents and publishers can reference this track record and this increases the chance the book gets published regardless of word count or even prose finesse. If you have enough avid fans who will buy the book, publishers will overlook certain shortcomings, since they know the books will rake in profits regardless.

For this reason, some authors start small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

Another thing to remember is that quantity alone does not a good book make.  You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it won’t read well.

Adverbs and excessive prose often slog writing; an attempt by the writer to look professional. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the word/phrase is, the better. The simpler a manuscript is, the more people can read it, and the more can enjoy it.

Word Impact

Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:

  • Character progression
  • Plot development
  • Environmental immersion

There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either.

Half of the fun comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment. Remember, a book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader.

Conclusion

Wrapup

The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on his or her goals and ambitions. Identifying core variables like the audience, genre, and book type are essential to the process.

A writer must first do the research, just as a builder must first draw out blueprints for a house—and research the terrain. Each brick of a manuscript’s foundation should be carefully placed with meaning. If you do this, your house of stories will last against the elements of agents, publishers, and readers alike.

A Final Note

Happy writing and have a great Thanksgiving! Also, one last shoutout to all you NaNoWriMo writers. Great work—keep it up! 😀

For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, you can check out the community page here for more information. The website also has an archive of helpful pointers for writers.

Thank you for reading. 🙂


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Essentials for SEO Article Writers

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This is a revised article of an older version on this forum. Additional and updated material should provide a better guide to SEO articles.  As always, any suggestions or feedback is appreciated.

Regardless, this article is for those who have some idea about blogging and digital articles.

Introduction to SEO Articles

Articles are attractive specimens for the presentation of information. In our age of information, the internet is rife with these nifty critters. Surprisingly, few fully understand it, but I will address that here.

While the method of writing an article is solely up to the author, there are some guidelines to understand. These pointers should improve searchability and make the lives of both reader and writer convenient.

SEO Articles—What Are They?

The Definition of SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is a convenient and lucrative way for a brand to advertise itself. Usually, through search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, or Duckduckgo, an article with good SEO will appear higher on the listings.

This feature encourages viewers to visit the article’s page. As a result, the page gets higher views and ratings. With increased scores, search engines rank the page higher, leading to more visits.

In other words, the SEO is like the pitch given to the search engine. Better pitches get better hits. Here is an idea:

image06

Types of SEO Pages

There are many types of web pages with SEO. Here are some to consider:

  • Product review pages: designed for the retail of goods and services
  • Blog posts (like this one): a flexible—and popular—way to engage an audience
  • News articles: essentially a digital newspaper or magazine
  • Guides and pointers: instructions on ‘how to’ something
  • Vlogs: pages that—unlike blogs—focus more on video and visual presentation; text transcripts work in this scenario
  • Glossaries: lists or dictionaries that viewers can reference

How to Write SEO Articles

Preparation for SEO Writing

Before you write that excellent SEO article, you must plan out what you intend to publish to the world. Ask yourself the following:

  • What idea is worth pitching?
  • What is the objective of this article? What are the keywords?
  • How does one present said idea efficiently?
  • What type of audience should the article target?
  • How long should the article be?

Define Your Goals

Keep it simple, but detailed enough that it satisfies what readers need. For example, on a product review page, the prose should be alluring and informative. Use supplementary blogs and pages to add to your testimony.

Google, in particular, ranks articles higher if other blogs and pages link to it. This suggests trust. If you link to one person’s blog, they—or someone else—may return the favor. Forming a web of digital blogging networks is an excellent start.

Keywords and key phrases

Identify what your article is about with a few core words. Let this be the crux of the article, what drives it. Include it in the title, intro paragraph, and ending paragraph. Distribute the keywords throughout the section in an informative way.

Do not go overboard. This may seem sloppy and unappealing (the keywords should be around .5% to 1.5% of the words, for most articles). This will boost the quality of your SEO and attract more readers.

Develop a spreadsheet first, detailing the data about keywords and potential competition. A simple Excel or Google spreadsheet works well enough. You can also use AdWord to help with the analytics of it all.

Remember, research, double check, and research again. The level of research you pour into an article will illustrate itself through length, clarity, uniqueness, and readability. Perfection is an impossibility, of course, but it is a solid ambition.

Audience

It is essential to know your viewer base before article construction. Different age and ethnic groups react differently to content. Research can help you identify the right audience group.

Depending on your reader base, the prose and complexity of the article should scale appropriately. For example, younger viewers prefer faster, more visual content. Older readers may prefer a more traditional or slower presentation.

If you’re writing for a very generalized audience and are unsure, use the average reading level for the country (around 8th grade). Here is an excellent program you can ‘copypasta’ your work into for analysis. It is also suitable for word counting and frequency— a fantastic SEO writing tool.

Headers

On that note of selecting an audience, there are ways to improve readability. For starters, master the usage of headers. Headers come with tags H1 through H6. H1 is the largest and most important. Use the header tags as you would a filing cabinet.

Here is an example:

H1 Header {the title}

->H2 Header {main section of the article}

—>H3 Header {minor section}

—>H3 Header {minor section}

->H2 Header {main section of the article}

—>H3 Header {minor section}

—>H3 Header {minor section}

Notice how the headers nest within each other in an organized manner. The H1 header contains the H2 and H3 sections—the H2 only the H3. An organized routine like this can greatly improve readability in an article.

Headers are also an opportunity to insert keywords into your article, for the sake of SEO. Search engines rank keywords in headers higher than in paragraphs. Headers summarize and offer hints to what a paragraph contains.

The words in a header should be unique and tailored towards the article’s objectives (which you hopefully outlined enough, before writing). If not, do not worry, it will come with practice and dedication.

Scale, Intro, and Outro Paragraphs

Most articles drift between 500 and 3000 words. Items longer than this some people won’t have the time to read. Instead, they will examine the first and last few paragraphs to get a general synopsis of the article.

Search engines tend to favor articles around the 1500 to 2000 word count. This implies abundance and value. Determine what word density is best for your blogging or company needs. Some writers do better on less.

Limit your paragraphs to three lines or less, if possible. The average attention span is low for readers in our busy modern society. Most readers prefer to get to the juicy tidbits of the article, rather than slog through paragraphs.

Highlight Important Points

It helps to highlight vital pieces in an article. Highlighting with headers, italics, or bold can help skimmers detect the juicy information in your article. Keywords also help, as some readers may use a find tool to locate a specific vocabulary.

This practice provides the reader with more flexibility, as those who are pressed for time can extract crucial parts readily, while others can choose to read the whole document at their leisure.

Catchy title

This should be a no-brainer for most writers. The title should be unique, snagging the reader’s interest, while not long enough to sound daunting. The title should match the information you present, giving the reader a snapshot of what to expect.

Make it a point to remember this point, as people absorb scientific articles differently than subjective ones. A simple blog update versus a lengthy report is like comparing apples and oranges. They will each attract their own unique viewer base.

Lists and bullet points

Readers love organized records, and bullet points should improve SEO.  Lists are easier to comprehend and take less time to digest. Make sure your listings are informative and straightforward. Your readers will appreciate it.

When you construct a list, capitalize only the first letter in a list item. Forgo periods at the end of the sentence, unless the listing is lengthy. Keep it short and sweet. If you find another method that works better, great, keep at it.

Coffee

Last, but not least, be sure to have that cup of coffee ready. I’m joking, of course (well maybe), but you should make whichever adjustments you feel necessary for a working environment.

Some people function better in an organized office, for example. Others find that classical music helps focus—whatever gets you going.

Conclusion

SEO articles are a curious breed of digital beasts. While difficult to understand at first, they can significantly improve the hits an article receives—this is no guarantee, of course. Persistence is important.

Becoming adept at SEO content takes time. Be patient with yourself. Take breaks from writing if you need to (I’ve done all-nighters before so I can relate). SEO articles are still a relatively new phenomenon in our digital age.

Regardless, learning the basics of SEO is essential to any digital writer. I hope this humble blog post has shown the significance of SEO—how to get started. For more information, visit the hyperlinks below.

And don’t forget the coffee. You’ll need it. 😉

Thank you for reading and good luck.

Love and gratitude to my viewers—click that follow button if you want updates. Thanks. 🙂

Additional SEO Writing Sources

SEO Copywriting and Search Engine Optimization

SEO for Dummies

SEO Beginner’s Guide

Secrets to Professional SEO Writing

Additional SEO Software Tools:

BuzzSumo—quick searches on a keyword for relevant social media threads

Moz—another keyword research tool

SEMrush—keyword rankings; fast and easy to use

WordCounter—keyword density, word counting, and more

Grammarly—grammar, readability, and overall sentence structure