Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween

I wrote this quick bit of flash fiction last year after finding this gorgeous piece at Deviant Art.

Happy Halloween by Yaichino

The delivery boy heaved a deep sigh. He hated delivering to this house. Having to pick his way through a patch of pumpkins all snapping and biting and hungry for a taste of ankle. Then there’d be that long climb up the tree, with scratching bark and roving limbs and those fleshless squirrels with flat black eyes and scissory teeth that liked to jump out of the dark and take little nips from his skin. Not to mention all the birds and bats and cats and every other manner of familiar, cawing and mocking and tripping him into falling right off the tree and landing in the marshy ground flat on his back. He couldn’t afford to fall tonight. He had too big of a load with him. His pack was full to bursting with all manner of things: eye of newt, toe of frog, scale of dragon, tooth of wolf. Herbs and oils, incense and charcoal. Party streamers, everburning candles, and a special centerpiece: a tall black pointed hat made of rich velvet and trimmed with satin and lace, inside which waited a troupe of ghost orchid pixies set to provide part of the evening’s entertainment. Yes, the sisters were going all out for their New Year’s revels this year. Well, really, they did every year. And every year, the task of delivering their specialty items fell to him. He heaved the pack on his back and gave another sigh, looking wearily at the full silver moon above and the leering pumpkins below, eyes and mouths lit with the bright orange light of their hunger. Oh, he hated to walk through that patch and climb up that tree. But they tipped well, and they’d be sure to give him a bottle of their moonlight wine as a New Year’s gift.  That stuff always guaranteed a happy New Year. So he steeled himself for it, and stepped into the pumpkin patch.


Have a happy Halloween and a blessed Samhain!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Revising your manuscript

Possibly one of the most important and often neglected aspects of writing is revisions. It’s all fine and dandy to bash out a novel in less than six weeks then have the horrors of the manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. So many authors (and I include myself here) have, at some point or another, submitted a manuscript for consideration to a publisher or literary agent without first revising it. And it shows, trust me.

Granted, when I first started out I was still blindingly convinced of my sheer and utter brilliance. Funny how these things change after being rejected countless times and one discovers literary agents and publishers aren’t falling over themselves to consider your submissions.

After each rejection I’d retreat to lick my wounds. The first thing I realised about why my short stories weren’t selling was that they were novels in disguise. Or so my crit partners were telling me. I listened to them. Solution: start writing novels. If I’d continued writing short stories in the hope of one day having enough cred to write a novel, I’d still be unpublished. And I admit freely that I cannot write a short story to save my life. (That’s not to say I don’t write them from time to time, for fun, but I tend to hide them on my fictionpress profile).

The first and most important lesson an author can learn is: don’t take advice from crit partners and other industry professionals personally. Once in a while you’re probably also going to meet a right twunt who’s going to say nasty things just for the sake of being a b1tch, but if you’ve worked hard to find some decent folks who care about you, you will have a better idea whether your writing stinks.

Your mom, cousin or the nice lady down the road will not give you an objective view of your novel unless they happen to be authors themselves. And, let’s be brutally honest here, folks, most ordinary peeps simply don’t possess the critical function to critique writing and tell you what’s really wrong with it. C’mon, they read (insert your least favourite cruddy best-selling author here).

Which is why writing groups can work for some. I’ve met my best crit partners, authors with whom I have a very close working relationship, who are at a similar stage that I am, through writing groups. I love and respect their writing. They love and respect mine. When they mention something about mine, I listen to their advice and I consider it. It’s a relationship based on trust. Most successful authors have their crit partners – like the ones who aren’t afraid to tell the likes of Stephen King when he’s being a daft bat.

The best thing you can do once you’ve finished your first draft is to send it to your crit partners. AND FORGET THE MANUSCRIPT EXISTS. Forget about it completely. It doesn't exist. Don’t daydream about which agent you’re going to query or which publishers you’re going to submit to. STEP AWAY FROM THE NOVEL and start your next project.

Yup, you heard me. Start your next first draft. Give your crit partner about a month or two to read your novel and get back to you. Then, if you’re one of those dreadful super-charged Energiser bunnies like me, you’ll almost be done with the first draft of your next work.

Now here’s the difficult part. ONLY start your revisions once you’ve finished the next WiP. Now you can send that to a crit partner while you get cracking on revising the novel that’s just returned.

You know what’s even more magic? You’d have taken two or so months’ break from your manuscript and, guess what? Your eyes will be fresh. Hell, it’s going to be like stepping into a new story. And the scary part is you’ll be more apt to see mistakes.

Oh, lordy, did you repeat “realise” twenty times in one paragraph? Or, goodness, Bill had a black tie on but it’s turned purple about halfway through dinner… Trust me you pick up stupid stuff you missed the first time. Stupid stuff that would make editors and agents groan and have a ::head desk:: moment, or laugh and point at assorted instances of homophone or apostrophe abuse. Or those darn pesky dangling modifiers.

There’s no standard rule of “Thou shalt revise your manuscript half a dozen times before you submit it anywhere” but you know what? Three or four revisions can’t hurt before you start submitting. If you’ve got the luxury of printing out an entire MS, go at it with a red pen while sitting on your veranda or in front of the fire with a cuppa.

And, perhaps the greatest rule of all: patience. Remember that the publishing industry is a waiting game. Be patient. The wheel, she turns slowly, mmmmkay? Don’t try to get everything done overnight. You’re only going to exhaust yourself and lose hope. Until you’ve got print deadlines to worry about, take your time and enjoy improving your craft. Learn from past mistakes and avoid them, finding ways to make each novel grow better than the last.

Because, trust me, your editor doesn’t want to correct the same kinds of mistakes you make in books three or four that occurred in book one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's Nichole working on?

After months in preparation, Rubicon Ranch, a collaborative novel that will be written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing, is just days away!

Recently widowed writer/photographer Melanie Gray finds the body of an eight-year-old child in the desert. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill Riley Peterson? It could be anyone in this upscale housing development. Everyone is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda.

The girl’s parents, Jeff and Kourtney Peterson have an eight-year-old secret they will do anything to defend, perhaps even going so far as to kill their own child. If she is their own child.

Honor student Dylan McKenzie has a secret life that gives him a feeling of empowerment. Does he find murder even more empowering?

Psychologist Mary “Moody” Sinclair, has already killed one child. Is she adding to her resume?

Sleepwalker Cooper Dahlsing is afraid he might have killed the girl. But is she his first victim? Or his second?

The motto of private investigators Mark and JamieWestbrook is: “Make a quick buck, and don’t get caught.” Could murder their way of making a quick buck, or perhaps their way of not getting caught?

Self-appointed neighborhood guard, eighty-two year old Eloy Franklin keeps watch for anyone who dares to endanger his Rubicon Ranch. Was Riley a danger?

Sheriff Seth Bryan, a recent transplant, is overqualified for his job. Still, he finds compensations, his most recent being the mysterious Melanie Gray. Does she have something to hide? Or is she only protecting herself . . . from him?

So who dunnit? We don’t know and won’t know until the end. With so many great authors involved, anything can happen! To make the unveiling of the killer even more interesting, after all the evidence has been presented, you can tell us who you want the killer to be.

We will post one chapter every Monday, beginning October 25, 2010, at: Rubicon Ranch. We hope you’ll enjoy reading the novel while we are writing it. To make sure you don’t miss a single chapter, you can subscribe by email at the Rubicon Ranch site:

Please join us on our adventure — it will be fun for all of us.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some useful links

I'm having one of those days where I feel like a complete fraud and have absolutely no business talking about writing, much less giving anything that could be construed as advice. So instead of a normal post I have some useful links, from people who actually know what they're talking about.

Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips - from the Absolute Write forums. Not only do I have this bookmarked, I printed out the initial post to keep in my Home School For Writers binder. The 32 tips are pretty straight-forward, mostly things that can easily revised once you get into the second draft of your first novel. After that you should be able to follow these tips in the first draft of everything else you write.

The SFWA's author information center has several articles on multiple topics.

The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words - your editor will thank you.

Nathan Bransford's How To Write A Novel post. Not only is he an agent, he's written a novel. In fact, if you're a writer and you're not following his blog, you need to do so. Seriously. Follow him.

Another blog every writer should follow is Writer Beware. It keeps followers updated of scams designed to separate a hopeful and perhaps desperate writer from their money. It would be great if every writer was savvy enough not to fall for scams, but sadly it seems that not everyone is aware of this rule:

Yog's Law: money flows toward the writer. A writer should never pay to be published. As far as I'm concerned, it's just that simple.

So take a look at these links - these people know what they're talking about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing press releases...

...without sounding like a complete tosser

Why press releases, you may ask. And why would you, an author, write one? I can think of a number of reasons. Press releases can announce a sale, a release or awards. You write a press release because you want to give a journalist or an editor incentive to follow up with a more in-depth article. Now wouldn’t it be nice if your local community paper, radio station or a magazine wanted to feature you? Hell, wouldn’t it be nice if they even knew you existed?

Here’s a scenario:
Author Marge Pennyroyal sold her novel, Little Red Robbing Hood, to Grimm Press and the book is due for release in a month’s time. She’s won a number of awards for her previous offerings and a well-known, best-selling author has written a puff for the upcoming work. Marge would like to generate some media interest in her writing, especially in her home town.

These are already brilliant bits of information to offer the media. Now, this is what Marge does with the information...

Local author releases follow-up to successful novel

Marge Pennyroyal is pleased to announce the release of her second paranormal romance novel, Little Red Robbing Hood (Grimm Press), on November 13.

Says best-selling author Stef May: “Little Red Robbing Hood had me laughing out loud all night. Marge has definitely got a winner here. Her characters are larger than life and her magical world is very well-realised.”

A winner of numerous literary awards, including the Golden Scroll award for “Best Debut Novel of the Year 2009” and a Ruby award from Paranormal Authors Unite (2010), Pennyroyal’s latest offers readers a continuation of her existing setting popularised in
Dawn of the Poppies (Grimm Press, 2009).

See the author’s website at or email for additional information.

Okay, that’s just a very short example. And no, those links aren’t real, and neither is Marge but, generally, press releases shouldn’t be more than about 150 to 500 words. They are short bursts of information that are quick to read.

What to avoid…
Whatever you do, don’t tell people what to think when you write your release. Avoid flowery writing. Don’t use superlatives like “the best” or “the most fabulous”. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve edited out words such as “unique” or “the most luxurious” from press releases I work on during my day job. If you’re going to try to slip in something good, rather have a respected industry professional say something nice about you to include in the piece. Or, if you’re going to try to personalise the piece, pretend you’re interviewing yourself while writing it. You need to report on the information. Don’t write in first person.

When all else fails, keep it simple…
Try to aim for objective writing when putting together your press release. What are you trying to say? Do yourself a favour and read some newspaper articles. Try to emulate the kind of objective style journalists are supposed to write. Your aim is to pass on information, not sound like a right twunt bragging about your achievements. You want to communicate clearly and succinctly. Take some time to think up a snappy headline that will communicate the gist of what the piece is about. Don’t go over 500 words. Most media types have the attention-span of a goldfish (speaking from personal experience, okay?) in an environment filled with numerous distractions. We simply don’t have time to read essays.

What next?
Find out who the book editors at your local newspapers and magazines are. Find out who their equivalent is at your radio stations. When you send out your release (and by gum I hope you proof-read it and get some of your writing buddies to cast their beady eyes over it), include low-res images of cover art and perhaps an author’s mug shot. But low-res, please. If an editor or journalist wants high-res visuals (of more than 500kb, they’ll contact you).

Oh, and be sure to include relevant contact information in your release, like phone numbers and email addresses. There’s nothing worse than needing a high-res image yesterday and the individual who sent you the release two weeks ago simply isn’t replying to her emails today, an hour before print deadline.

Get in the habit of writing a press release for every milestone you achieve, be it a book release, a book launch, an award or a new contract. Be diligent in sending these out to the right people and, you never know, you may just have given yourself the edge over many of your fellow authors.

* * * *

Apart from writing urban and dark fantasy, Nerine Dorman works as a sub-editor for a South African newspaper publisher and edits fiction when other people are sensibly watching TV or hanging out in shopping malls. Occasionally she pretends to be eccentric contemporary romance author Therése von Willegen. Yes. She’s a sucker for punishment. Follow her blog at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who knows what evil lurks....

I have a confession to make. I really enjoy writing the bad guys.

I do. There's something about them that is just plain fun to write.

Okay, so I don't get really graphic with the evil in my stories. I don't normally watch horror flicks, and don't often read uber-violent thrillers. My entertainment choices are more character driven than plot driven.

Maybe that's why I like being able to write about the bad guys. Someone once told me that every person is the hero of his or her own story. Very few people are pure good or pure evil.

The best heros in any story are the flawed ones. Take Harry Potter, for example. No matter what you think of the story, it's the obstacles Harry faces that make Harry a believable character. Who wouldn't feel for a kid with such a rotten family life? And Dumbledore? His knowledge and willingness to help those less fortunate make him just awesome.

Even Professor Snape is a great character. He hates Harry. He hates Harry's father. But he loves Harry's mother. And Snape does help Harry when necessary.

It's not just fictional characters who have these multi-demensions. Arguably one of the most evil men in history, Adolf Hitler didn't drink, didn't smoke, and was a vegetarian. Interesting.

As I write, I keep Harry and Hitler in my mind. Not only does my hero have to be flawed, but my anti-hero can't be all evil, either. It's as important to me who did it as why they did it. The reason someone committed the crime in my mysteries has to make least to the evil-doer.

Maybe that's why I enjoy writing about the bad guys. It gives me another perspective on the same story.


Saturday, October 16, 2010


There is so much work that goes into a manuscript. It can be a struggle to shape an idea into a coherent story. Fully developed characters take effort to craft. Research can be time-consuming and will sometimes send your plot on a whole new tangent. There's days when the words come so slowly you wonder why you bothered to open the document.

But there are also days when the words flow like a river, when everything comes together and your story winds up in a place you didn't even know it was headed, but it's so perfect it couldn't be better if you'd planned it. With all the hard, lonely work writing can be, it's important to enjoy those little triumphs. The big ones should be celebrated, too.

I'm not a very fast writer so in the three years since I've been writing seriously, there haven't been that many manuscripts to get as far as a finished first draft. That is still a new and exciting feeling, one worth celebrating. I've been working on this novella for about two months now. After I let my critique partner have time to read it and give myself a little break from it, I'll work on revising it and getting into shape to submit. There's a lot more work ahead, but for right now I'm going to enjoy the fact that I have a completed first draft sitting in my hard drive.

Not that my celebrations are particularly extravagant. "Loud music" pretty much covers it. Usually something that has to do with the story, music that either reflects the mood of the story or is referenced directly, or best of all, both. For this novella it was Led Zeppelin III. The album served as background music in one scene and I listened to the tracks from the second half several times while writing. It may not seem like much, but it's nice to kick back and bask in the glory of a completed manuscript to the tune of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.

What do you do to celebrate reaching writing milestones?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spreading the word

The internet is a marvellous thing. If this resource had been available to me when I was younger, chances are good I’d have had a head start with my writing career. There is a plethora of informative sites available geared toward writers taking those first steps. There is so much information available, it’s sometimes quite bewildering, but if you take time to hone your filtering, you’ll definitely find more than enough knowledge to write, revise, find an agent for or publish your first novel.

But that’s not where it ends. Many authors don’t consider possibly one of the most important aspects of being successful: marketing. Here’s where being handy at writing your own press releases, blogging and social networking can really help you. You can’t expect your book to fly off vendors’ shelves if your readership doesn’t know the work exists. And the buck doesn’t stop with the internet. You have to become adept at finding promotional opportunities in your immediate environment.

Over the decade or so that I’ve been involved in the media industry, with emphasis on below-the-line marketing, I’ve picked up a few tips that I’m happy to share.

The first question you need to ask is: who is your target market?

Who will enjoy your book? Where will you find them? In my case, I need to aim at people who enjoy urban fantasy with a gritty, dark edge (think Goths with an interest in the supernatural, Twilight fangrrrls and folks who slurp up Charlaine Harris’s writing). Where do they lurk? Social networking sites like Facebook and interest-specific forums provide ample opportunities to share links, as does Twitter. Blogging platforms such as or are just as useful. They’re even more magical if one combines them. Even better: they’re all free.

Add free press release sites to the mix, and you’ve got a helluva lot of outlets.

Written a novel about a young woman learning to become a belly-dancer? Then see about sending press releases to local belly-dancing studios in your area and beyond. Now here’s a really devious idea: design snappy flyers of your novel and leave them in coffee shops and internet cafés, or slip them into books similar to yours at your local library. Give just enough information to make people save the slip of paper and look you up online. Perhaps hold off the guerrilla tactics in your local bookstore, okay? Unless they’re already stocking your novel, that is.

Although many people complain about Facebook as a waste of time and energy when it comes to all the apps and stalking, take some time to consider the site. Used properly, it’s a powerful tool. Sure, you’ve added your best friends (as in real people you see once or twice a month); old school or college mates (you probably only bump into at clubs or shopping centres then bitch about how fat/bald they’ve become); family (now you don’t have to call them, hey?); industry-specific peers (other professionals you like or stalk); and friends of friends (random acts of friend-requesting that will probably because “I liked your profile pic and think you’re cute”).

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve actively begun marketing my novels is that people talk. I receive messages from people who buy my novel, enjoy it then mail me, purely because they first heard about it through the links I’ve shared. Sometimes they are moved enough to post a link to their status reports. This makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

As one of my friends, a South African author published through a large multinational publisher said to me, “It’s by word of mouth you’ll sell your novel, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re with a big or small press.”

It’s quite simple: the more “friends” you have, the more people will know about your work and will, perhaps boost your sales. People talk. Recently a friend of mine on Facebook bought a print copy of one of my novels upon seeing it was available locally after I shared a link. She read it and enjoyed it so much she lent it to a mutual friend who liked the story enough to tell me that much the next time we spoke. And I know of yet another mutual friend in that circle who’ll most likely borrow that soon-to-be dog-eared copy of Khepera Rising. Sure, I’m not generating additional sales but that’s three people who know of me and perhaps say good things to a wider circle. “Hey, I read this novel by this crazy Goth chick who lives up the road…”

Sure, I’m not making huge sales but I’m definitely creating a buzz. I don’t expect to churn out one best-seller after the other in the same vein as Ms. Meyer, but I want to make sure the right people know about my books and that I can gradually build loyal following of readers. And while I don’t have budget to pay a PR company, there’s much I can already do on my own.

Some people complain that nobody follows their blog. Well, maybe that’s because no one knows your bloody blog exists. Don’t just blab about your boring day at the office. Make your blog interesting by interviewing fellow authors, writing reviews and discussing some of the issues surrounding your craft in a way that will invite people to comment. Write about what inspires your tales. Share success stories. Blog it then flash the link via sites like Facebook or Twitter. This will not only alert potential blog followers that you blog exists but will also divert some traffic if people have their interest sufficiently piqued.

Another useful tip: get your friends to write reviews on sites such as Amazon and after they’ve read your novel. Granted, most people are just plum lazy but I’m blessed with friends who aren’t afraid to tell me what they liked or disliked, and I’m steadily building some lovely balanced reviews. These are far better than reviews that froth or gush. People like to read reviews about the product before they hand over their credit card details. Hell, if your friends don’t do it for you, band together with other authors you’re friends with and agree to write reviews for each other.

And if you tell me you don’t know any fellow authors, then you may as well just go and crawl under a rock and stay there. Networking in this day and age is vital. Piggy-backing on your peers is an excellent way of saying “Hey, howzit!” to potential readers.

Press releases are a great way to send out important news, like a sale or a new release. Where to send them, you ask? Mail them to your local newspapers. You never know, one of the editors might decide to use the information as a filler or, even better, send a journalist to do a story. Mail these to online press release sites. It may often feel like you’re farting in the wind but trust me, you may not see results immediately but they do help in building awareness. Ditto for arranging your own release event. Even if you’re meeting at a bohemian café, are serving cupcakes and reading a few pages to your best friends, do it. It helps you build confidence. And, once again, people talk.

Marketing is ninety percent bullsh1tting. If you present yourself as a professional, with a great product (and you’d better back up your claims by doing those revisions) then people will come to see you as a success. Once again it boils down to a simple axiom: people talk.

Say you’ve written a paranormal romance about wolf shifters, see about running give-aways of your novel online over Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Donating copies of your novel as prizes for charity events is excellent, as well. Not only will you get some coverage, but you’re also associating your brand (yes, your name) with a worthy cause. Copies of Khepera Rising will be donated at the upcoming SA Horrorfest as well as the Love Cats fund-raising event for the SPCA. The latter’s organisers have even gone so far as putting my name as a sponsor on the flyer. It may not seem like much, but this steady kind of publicity has made a difference. I’ve noticed in the past year that people are already referring to me not just as photographer Dr-Benway’s wife, but as Nerine Dorman, that crazy writer chick. I kinda dig that.

* * * *
Best-selling South African author Sarah Lotz has this to say about Khepera Rising, “Definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked, Khepera Rising is part hardcore murder mystery, part revenge fantasy and dark Gothic horror, and effortlessly subverts preconceptions about religious intolerance, the dark arts and Cape Town’s underground Goth culture with devastating effects. With its deliciously morally ambiguous narrator, non-stop pace, high body-count and gore-splattered pages, it’s sure to outrage some, but lovers of noir, black humour and no-punches-pulled horror will be hooked from the first page. It’s an accomplished, scathing and daring debut from Nerine Dorman, who clearly has a brilliant career ahead of her.”
Khepera Rising (book one) and Khepera Redeemed (book two) are available electronically and in print, from, or direct, from the Lyrical Press website (, as well as other vendors.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Writing: Your Ideal Reader

First of all I have to apologize for missing last week. Our internet went down Friday night and we couldn't get a repairman until Monday morning. Not having internet access didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, that is until Sunday afternoon. By then I'd had enough of being unplugged from the world. But I did read two books last weekend, plus we watched a few episodes of Firefly so that was good.

In Stephen King's On Writing he talks about having what he calls your Ideal Reader. He's not talking about a critique partner here, though that's certainly something a writer needs. A critique partner can help you break down your story and find the problem areas, whether it's grammar or characterization or a million other things. Having a critique partner is invaluable and when you have the right one, you can help each other and learn a great deal from each other. It can enrich both your writing itself and your life as a writer.

An Ideal Reader is something different. King is talking about the person who will read your work strictly as a reader, for the journey and the pleasure of the story. He mentions watching his wife read his work, eager for her reactions. I've done exactly that with my husband and it always makes me feel like I'm going to twist myself in half. On the one hand I want to watch over his shoulder and see if he laughs at what is supposed to be funny, does he cringe at what's supposed to be cringe-worthy, does he cringe at a paragraph I thought was really good. But on the other hand I can hardly stand to see his reaction. Usually I'm so nervous I have to be in another room while he reads something I wrote. He's always sure to tell me what I need to know the most: I like it, I don't like it (that's only happened once), and the response I find most nerve-wracking - what happens next? That's always exciting to hear, because it means he wants to know what happens next, but it can also be stressful because sometimes I don't know what happens next and it may be awhile before there's more for him to read. This is why I've gotten to where I finish a story before letting him read it.

While your ideal reader doesn't have to be your significant other, it should definitely be a person who enjoys reading whatever genre you write in. I'm lucky in that my husband enjoys urban fantasy and isn't phased when a vampire turns up in a story. If he hated paranormal, though, I'd have to find a different ideal reader. After all, we write for an audience that will enjoy our books, so our ideal reader should, too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hunting down those gremlins

It’s very rare for me to read a book nowadays without wanting to reach for a red pen. In my day-job and my after-hours work, I wrestle with words. I write, edit and proofread everything from advertorial and press releases through to paranormal romance. This has obvious benefits for my own writing but I’d like to share some tips for writers wanting to clean up their writing before they start submitting to publishers and literary agents. These tips are by no means exhaustive but they’ll go a long way toward helping you self-edit your manuscripts and saving your poor, dear editor so she can concentrate on other aspects of your story. At any rate, these five gremlins are the ones I catch most often, so I’d like to share the love.

Filter words
He said, she thought, Paul heard…
These are filter words that clutter up text and steal some of the immediacy and impact a stronger sentence construction. Granted, there are times when this kind of construction is unavoidable, but when overused, it chokes the flow of a sentence. Here are a few examples.

Davy heard the sound of water falling and saw the rain falling outside the window.

This sentence would be much more effective if:
Rain drummed on the tin roof and splattered on the paving outside.

If you’ve already introduced Davy as a viewpoint character then you don’t need to keep mentioning his name and, by using more descriptive words as active verbs, you’re saying helluva lot more about the situation. Words are not acting as separators and you can create more mood.

I want to weep every time I see characters chuckle, smile or laugh words. These are physical actions and are not related to how we speak. I’m a big fan of “said”. Such a simple little word but it’s almost invisible. Laughing happens before or after we speak. Here are some examples.

“You ate my grandma!” Little Red Riding Hood said, stomping her foot.

Can be simplified thus:
“You ate my grandma!” Little Red Riding Hood stomped her foot.
You avoid overusing “said” by turning a dialogue tag into an action tag.

“You big bad wolf, I’m gonna get you,” Little Red Riding Hood smiled wickedly.
This one should read:
“You big bad wolf, I’m gonna get you.” Little Red Riding Hood smiled wickedly.

Little Red Riding Hood's smile is a separate action from the speaking and can also be appended before the dialogue, to have her smile before she speaks. A full-stop closes the dialogue, on the inside of the quotation marks. When I see punctuation on the outside, I weep.

While house styles may differ from publisher to publisher, my personal preference is for “said” as a dialogue tag, aiming for action tags when I don’t want to overdo a “he said, she said” kind of conversation. Also, by using action tags in large stretches of dialogue, you also give a better idea of how the characters are feeling or what they may be doing.

I have a suspicion that because many of us watch a lot of films and TV programmes, which by their very nature offer us an omniscient viewpoint, many beginner writers feel the need to tell their readers everything. Although a third-person omniscient viewpoint is not wrong, it takes a masterful storyteller of the calibre of Terry Pratchett or William Horwood to pull this sort of writing off successfully. Current trends in commercial fiction show a preference for a deep-third point of view, either in first- or third-person, with one viewpoint per scene.

My advice to writers: Resist the temptation of giving away all your secrets. What keeps readers turning pages is not knowing what will happen next, and by sticking with the limited and often unreliable narration of one or two characters, readers know only as much as the characters and you can gradually build up to a denouement that will have people staying up late at night to see what happens next.

THAT word
We all have pet words, like that, really, actually, practically, virtually… or insert any of your choice that you end up using too often. That, more often than not, is one of the words I end up cutting. Most times it’s used it’s not necessary and more often than not acts as a word that fills space without adding real meaning. As for the others, I try to limit them to dialogue because hey, let’s keep the way people speak natural. But I expunge them from the narrative unless I’m using them in the correct context.

Let’s look at practically:
Little Red Riding Hood practically gave up hope.
Should read:
Little Red Riding Hood almost gave up hope.

Correct use of practically:

Little Red Riding Hood was practically orientated, and manipulated a hair pin to unlock the cupboard door.

Look at your manuscript and see if you have other pet words. Some of mine include however, perhaps… Find them and kill them, and you may see an immediate improvement in your writing.

Attack of the killer He or She
Watch out for too many similar words at the start of consecutive sentences. For instance:
He walked to the bank. He took out his wallet and drew money. He turned around and left.
Granted, that’s an extreme example but I see it. Often.

Look out for repeats, especially of names of characters, he, she, her, his and the. Watch also for the opening words of paragraphs being the same. Be alert for other words repeating within the same paragraph and jump out. Sometimes repetition of words that jump out is unavoidable, but catching the ones that are, for instance too many characters whispering at each other on one page, or overusing the word kiss… As an author, it is vital that you make an effort to increase your vocabulary, to become a walking thesaurus, if you must.

In closing, when you do reach the point where you are working with an editor, take time to analyse which points he or she highlights. Which gremlins crop up again and again? Internalise those gremlins and, when you begin work on your next manuscript, try avoiding making those same mistakes again. It will make you a better writer, and help you push your boundaries, which in a very competitive market is important if you want to make a go of being successful.

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Nerine is a published author and content editor for Lyrical Press, inc.
Email her at

Monday, October 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Searching for the perfect crime....

Once again, I'm desperately working on my Cerri Baker novel. This one, a sequel, will take place during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And the murder happens at a different Black Hills location.

And I've been selected by my publisher to participate in a collaborative novel—Rubicon Ranch.

And Halloween is almost here. And I have some projects due for my web designing day job. Oh, don't forget the book signing in Pierre, South Dakota, this weekend.

Given all that's going on, it must be time to sign up for NaNoWriMo!

I'm excited about "forcing" myself to sit at the computer and write. A lot. (1,667 words each day for 30 days.... yeah, that's a lot.) My biggest problem right now is narrowing down the ideas. Where should the crime take place? Should it be a murder? What time of year should the book take place in? The Black Hills have numerous beautiful—and secluded—places for mayhem to occur.

So I'm asking for suggestions... Where should Cerri's next adventure take her?