Writing Mistakes – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: Writing Mistakes (Page 1 of 3)

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Writing Mistakes: Not Taking Time Off

As artists, we writers tend to be a bit addictive. There are few things more wonderful than the joy and suffering of creation, and it feels so nice to be able to sit down and write to our heart’s content. Hours can fly by in a heartbeat, and before you know it, you’ve got a pounding headache, tired eyes, a body wired from too much caffeine, but three or four chapters done. We want to do it as much as we can, so every spare moment is spent in the pursuit of writing.

But that’s a mistake!

If you’re always writing, you’re never learning, living, reading, or networking–four of the key ingredients to being a writer. You need to spend time:

Learning — This is essential for your career as a writer. If you never study how to write better, subject your work to the cruel mercies of critiquers, or work on sharpening your skills, you’ll never improve.

Living — Your work has to draw on real life experience in some way or another, but how much experience can you get from behind a desk?

Reading — Without spending time reading, you will NEVER improve your skills. Reading helps you to see what other authors are doing right, as well as what they are doing wrong.

Networking — You cannot do well if you treat your work as an island. You have to reach out to others, interact, offer help and advice, and basically market yourself as a writer.

But you can’t be doing these things all the time either! If you never take time off, your poor brain is going to explode from all of the stress and worries of writing, reading, living, working, marketing, and so on. You can’t let your family and friends suffer as a result of your passion.

How can you put feet to this?

In the New Year, I’m going to back to work on January 5th. I’ll get that solid 1 hour per day to work, hopefully five (sometimes six) days per week. Here’s how I’m going to divide it up:

Monday, Friday, and Saturday: Writing Time

Tuesday and Thursday: Networking/Marketing Time

Wednesday: Study/Critiquing/Beta Reading Time

Of course, I’ll try to fit in writing every day, but at least by having this division, I can make sure that everything that needs to get done does get done. It’s by no means a perfect system, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

And, of course, I will be taking time off from the 24th of December to the 4th of January. That is a solid 10 days to spend with the family, friends, and recovering from the post-turkey food coma. Hopefully, when I emerge from my vacations, I’ll have a few chapters of Book 2 under my belt.

I will post a few book reviews between now and Monday the 5th, as I have a long list to get through. To all of my friends who are taking the holiday off, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! See you in 2015…

Writing Mistakes: The Publishing Trap

In this week’s episode of Writing Mistakes, we’re going to deal with one that very nearly sucked me in!

With The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer finished, it’s time for me to look into publishing options. I already know what I can do if I go the route of self-publishing, so I decided to send it out to a few traditional publishers to see what they say. I’ve gotten a few positive answers, and I have at least two good options that I should know more about before the Christmas holidays.

A third option presented itself to me the other day, in the form of an offshoot company of an established publisher. But when I was sent the writing contract, a friend of mine pointed out that there were some SERIOUS red flags. When I posted the details of the contract to a Facebook group filled with publishers, writers, and authors, the responses I received were mostly along the lines of “Run, run far away!”

The truth is that for newbies like me, the world of publishing is WAY beyond my understanding. All of the legalese about “net profit”, “profit sharing”, “licensing rights”, “worldwide rights”, and all the rest is very complicated. Thankfully, there are people who can help!

DO NOT make the mistake of signing the first contract you see. I haven’t signed anything simply because I want to find the best deal for my book–both in terms of marketing help and royalties earned. But I’m glad I haven’t rushed into anything, because had I done so, I could have found myself locked into a contract that would earn me next to nothing.

Don’t be sucked into the promises made by publishers who want to offer you a “great deal”, but who offer it with iffy terms.

Always look up the publishing company on sites like Preditors and Editors to see what it has to say.

Ask people you trust for feedback on the terms of the contract, and find people who understand these contracts to help you figure out exactly what you’re being offered. Lost in the legalese may be something that could SERIOUSLY impact your ability to make money as a writer.

If you don’t have a lawyer to go over it, go online and search for sites that will peruse your contract to make sure everything is above-board. There are sites like this that exist, and they can help you save yourself from a nightmare contract.

 

For those interested, I have a document with a sort of “flow chart” to help you figure out whether or not your publishing contract is a good one. It was created by the CEO of a publishing company to help newbie authors avoid the publishing trap!

 

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Writing Mistakes: Being Anti-Social

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is spending all of their time in their little bubble.

As a writer, I love it when there is nothing of the outside world to distract me from writing a great story. I put on my headphones, sip my cup of coffee, sign out from my email/social media accounts, and just dive right into my world of writing. It’s a joyous escape that serves as the outlet for my creativity.

But as a writer, if I spent all of my time in that bubble, I’d never get anywhere.

You see, the downside of being a writer is that you’re trying to sell yourself, your books, and your stories, and you can’t do that from within a bubble. Being anti-social may help you to write a great story, but it will not help you to get others interested in that story.

So, as a writer, it’s in your best interest to be a little bit less anti-social. Oh, there should still be times when you block the outside world out, and that’s when you’re writing. However, don’t retreat so far into your bubble that you fail to communicate and network.

I’ve been sending out requests for help with my upcoming book launch, reaching out to people who have helped me in the past. This is the answer I received from someone I wrote to:

Unfortunately, I am unable to help anyone at the moment with book launches, beta reads, and the like. I am in the middle of revisions on 4 books. Also, I can’t help but add that I find it extremely rude when someone, who rarely speaks to me and has never offered to help promote my work, hounds me to death when he/she needs a favor for their books. I wish you luck with your launch, and congratulations.

The truth is that I have never thought of helping any other authors launch their books, do reviews, be a beta reader, etc. I’ve been so focused in my own little world that I’ve failed to be more social and help those who are helping me.

This is why I’ve decided to start offering book reviews (see the link at the top of the page) to any and all authors. Anyone who is helping me with my upcoming book launch will be given priority, but anyone who is interested in a book review is more than welcome to submit their book/work.

As a writer, it’s in your best interest to be more social. Spend more time talking to others, helping them, answering questions, and making friends. Be a good friend by giving back to the people who are helping you, and you’re guaranteed to be far more successful as an author!

Writing Mistakes: Using “But”

I didn’t think using the word “but” was a mistake, BUT according to my editor, it is one of the weak words that should be used as sparingly as possible.

Here’s how the word should be used [1]:

To suggest a contrast that is unexpected in light of the first clause. “Alfred is late, but Josephina is not.”

To suggest in an affirmative sense what the first part of the sentence implied in a negative way. “We never leave late, but are always early.”

To connect two ideas with the meaning of “with the exception of” (and then the second word takes over as subject). “Everyone but Alfred was late to the meeting.”

Seems simple enough, right?

Here’s my original use of the word “but” in a sentence:

Pain flared as tree branches whipped at his face, but it did little to slow him.

My editor decided that it would look better like this:

Pain flared as tree branches whipped at his face, yet it did little to slow him.

Now, in my opinion, I think the “yet” does look better in this instance, but it’s hard to know when to use “but” and when to opt for “and” or “yet”.

So how do you know when it’s better to stick with “but” or when to look for other options (“and”, “yet”, “though”, etc.?)

Writers, any ideas that can help?

 

[1] http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm

Writing Mistakes: Jumping the Gun

I’m getting dangerously close to completing the manuscript of The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer. It’s in the hands of the editor at the moment, meaning I have just a week or so until I begin work on the final draft. From there, it’s on to formatting and getting it ready for the final step: publishing.

I will ship the manuscript out to a few dozen publishers on the off chance that someone is willing to take a risk on a newbie writer, but I’m also going to prepare for a self-published launch just in case. I’ve been reaching out to friends and compatriots for help, and I’m very excited about the results I’ve gotten! If all goes well, it will be a wonderful, widespread launch come (SPOILER DATE NOT INCLUDED).

Yet someone told me this about my efforts to set up the launch:

“That’s all bullshit, release the book now if it’s ready… send it to all your Friends and fans and ask for reviews.”

This week’s writing mistake isn’t me talking about mistakes, it’s about me asking questions to help avoid a mistake on my part. So here’s the question:

When should I publish, and when should I launch the book?

I’m thinking of publishing the book online a month or two before the actual launch date, that way I can start getting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. That way, when the launch date actually arrives, there will be enough reviews that people who see it will be enticed to buy.

But is that the right way to go? Should I publish on the same date as the launch? Should I publish earlier and start driving more traffic to the book before the launch date?

Any of you fellow writers out there, PLEASE comment–either here or on Facebook–and give me your advice. How did you do it with your books? What worked best? What would you recommend?

I don’t want to jump the gun on the publishing, but I want to make sure that this one hits big in the only way I know how.

My thanks!

Writing Mistakes: Overdoing on Symbolism and Themes

The other day I was browsing through one of the many Facebook groups I have joined, and I stumbled upon some author talking about how he or she managed to include symbolism in their stories. They found the common theme by the end of their first or second book, and they worked it into the entire story. Unfortunately, that could actually be a mistake!

Symbolism and themes definitely deserve a place in novels and fiction, but that place is somewhere in the background. If the theme is an overarching one that is the focus of the book, it can actually make your story a bit predictable.

One author talked about how he picked up a book series where the theme was cleansing, using water as the image. By the time he finished reading the first book, his mind was so absorbed with trying to predict how the series would use water again that he failed to enjoy the story.

How is this bad? Well, considering that a large percentage of your readers will be fellow authors, what you’re doing is taking them out of the position of reader and transforming them into an observer–or, even worse, a critic.

If you follow a predictable pattern of imagery, themes, and symbolism, your readers will start looking for ways that you will include it into your work. They’ll start critiquing the concept of your story, rather than enjoying the story itself. When that happens, you’ve nearly lost your reader, and it’s very hard to get them back!

Themes, images, and symbolism definitely have a place in your book, but it shouldn’t be at the forefront of your reader’s minds. The symbolism should be subtle, hinted at instead of thrown in people’s faces. If your story revolves entirely around symbolism, it will be almost too obvious. You want it to be in the background of their mind. You want them to say, “Hang on! That book/series was all about (X concept)”, but you want them to say it AFTER they’ve finished reading the book.

Don’t shove your imagery or symbolism down your readers’ throats or make it too “in your face”. Instead, assume that they’re smart readers who will be able to winkle out the theme for themselves, and they’ll appreciate the fact that you left it subtly in the background!

 

Writing Mistakes: Writing a Weak Blurb

You may not realize it, but the book blurb is almost more important than the book itself! Sounds a bit counterintuitive, but the fact is that your book blurb is the only thing that is going to hook people on the contents of your book.

Take your very favorite book of all times–mine’s Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch–and think about what made you read it. It was often a good review from someone else, but before you picked up the book, you probably read the book blurb.

Let’s take Lies of Locke Lamora and write a crappy blurb for it:

Locke Lamora is a thief in the city of Camorr, together with Jean Tannen and his friends. They pull off capers and heists, but then one day they find themselves in deeper than they expected. Things are about to go badly for this roguish criminal and his pals!

Would you read that book! I certainly wouldn’t!

Now, let’s take a look at what the book blurb actually says:

An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.

Much better, right?

Your book blurb MUST be effective, for it’s the only thing that will entice people to buy it. It’s even more important if you self-publish! You’re already at a disadvantage of self-publishing your book, so you need to use those five to ten sentences to really draw people into your story and make them sit up and take notice.

Sad to say, it’s much harder to write a good book blurb than you think! I’m struggling to write a good one for my latest book: The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer.

Here are some tips I’ve found to help me as I write my blurb:

  • Try to make your blurb match the great blurbs you’ve read
  • Focus on your character, and what the “stakes” are for him/her
  • Tell your reader Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How
  • Condense the blurb, but make sure there’s enough information to hook the reader
  • Match the blurb style to the book style

Note: These tips are not my own, but they come from:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-write-an-effective-blurb-for-a-self-published-book/

 

I’ll be posting the blurb to my book in the next few weeks, so let’s see if I can take these blurb-writing tips to heart!

 

 

Writing Mistakes: Fluffy Dialogue

Your dialogue can make or break your novel–something I am learning the hard way as I work on the second draft of The Last Bucelarii Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer. Reading over my dialogue, I’m discovering where I’m going wrong with the way my characters carry on conversations. Not only is there a lack of emotion in some places where things should be pretty raw, but also I find myself using fluffy dialogue.

“What the heck is fluffy dialogue?” you may ask. Basically, fluffy dialogue is anything that is unimportant to the story.

Dialogue should be included for a number of reasons:

It should tell you more about what a character is thinking.

It should give you more insight into the character’s personality and motivations.

It should establish relationships between characters.

It should show emotion and be filled with tension.

Fluffy dialogue–or marshmallow dialogue, as some writers like to call it–has elements of the above, but those elements are usually lost in wordiness, useless phrases, curses, and unnecessary additions.

Think about this sentence:

“If I ever see you again,” Jack snarled, “I’ll kill you.”

Simple, concise, and pretty much says what the character is thinking and feeling. Now examine the sentence below.

“God damn you, Charles,” Jack snarled. “Don’t ever let me set my eyes on you if you value your life. If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you in a way that will make your ancestors shudder.”

Same meaning, but WAY too long to say something simple. It does give a bit more insight into Jack’s character, but it’s too much for what you’re trying to communicate.

To keep your dialogue from becoming fluffy, keep it short and simple. Only include information that is necessary–both to the development of your character AND the story. Once you have that, trim everything else out.

Select a random page from your WIP and read the dialogue aloud. If it doesn’t sound like something that you’d say, it’s probably in need of a bit of polishing. Make sure your dialogue:

Has conflict

Is compressed

Gives each character their own unique voice

Only gives relevant information

After that, trim the rest of the fat!

Note: 21-time New York Times bestselling author, Jerry B. Jenkins has a great post on how to write dialogue effectively.

Check out: How to Write Dialogue That Captivates Your Reader

 

 

Writing Mistakes: Clichés

Clichés–you can’t help but hate them every time you see them!

Here’s a list of some of the more common clichés:

  • In a nutshell.
  • At long last.
  • Going forward.
  • All walks of life.
  • At the end of the day.
  • Bring to the table.
  • I’m giving it 110%.
  • Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
  • As bold as brass.
  • Uphill battle.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Too little, too late.
  • Sleeping like the dead.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • Never say never.
  • Laughter is the best medicine.
  • People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
List courtesy of: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/write/cliches-to-avoid.html#ixzz3GhPU4OGi

“But,” you may be wondering, “why are these clichés bad? Isn’t the fact that they’re clichéd mean that they’re ‘tried and true’?” (another awesome cliché!)

Well, when your writing is full of clichés, it makes you–the writer–appear to be both uncreative and lazy. After all, good writers are supposed to create NEW things, not use the same tired phrases, stories, and plot lines that have been around forever.

When a reader sees clichés in your writing, it basically tells them “This writer isn’t really trying hard enough.” It often makes your readers lose interest in the book pretty darn fast!

In reading over my first draft of The Last Bucelarii–Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer, I encountered a few interesting clichés:

–          “His pride deflated like a balloon” — Do you think the classic fantasy story has “balloons”? I don’t, but even then using “like a balloon” is pretty lazy writing!

–          The kindly priest — I wanted to use a kindly priest to help convince the Hunter–a remorseless assassin who kills only for money–to do the right thing, but that’s amazingly clichéd. Thanks to an alert beta-reader who pointed that out to me, now the priest is a hair away from killing the Hunter in retribution for his actions, but is only leaving him alive because he needs him to do a job. A less clichéd option that works much better.

–          The monologuing villain — Near the end of the book, the villain needs to give the Hunter a lot of information. The villain rambled on and on, with the Hunter saying little. That monologue is very clichéd, and usually ends up with the hero escaping while the villain’s attention is focused on his speech. Definitely had to change that!

–          Single-file fighting — Like in kung-fu movies, many people will only fight one at a time. In the climactic scene, I had “number two” villain fighting while the “big bad” villain stood by and watched. If they were truly trying to kill the Hunter, they’d take him down together.

Watch out for those clichés–not just the phrases and words, but also plots and twists. Get creative, and don’t resort to lazy writing!

Writing Mistakes: Repeated Words/Phrases

This is a problem I didn’t know I had until I got my latest book back from a particularly awesome beta reader.

Her note went along these lines:

“Great story, but I can’t help but notice that you repeat yourself a number of times throughout the book. Makes it kind of hard to read.”

Ouch!

Every writer has a “crutch” word that they use all the time. Hillary Clinton way overuses “eager”,  Jack Kerouac used “sad” too many times in On the Road, and Jennifer Egan used “abraded” just a bit too noticeably in Look at Me.

There were a few words I leaned on a bit too much in the first draft of my new book, The Last Bucelarii: Blade of the Destroyer

Felt. I used this one not only for emotions (felt sorrow), but also for sensation (felt something cold and wet). It’s a good word when used in moderation, but I realized it could be removed. For example, instead of “he felt a rough hand grab him”, it is now “A rough hand grabbed him”. Simpler, more concise, but it leaves “felt” free for when the character really does FEEL something.

Scream. The demonic blade the Hunter carries talks to him, and it tends to “scream” when it senses its victim is near. But when other people are screaming in pain, the word “scream” stands out like a sore thumb. I have to go through it and look for all the uses of the word to see if I can change it to “crying”, “shouting”, etc.

  1. When his blade isn’t talking to him, it sort of pounds in the back of his mind like a headache. I could probably go over the book right now and find at least 100 uses of the word “pound”, and most of them would be referring to this sensation. I think I’ll have to revert to using words like “throb”, “pulse”, “chatter”, and others to avoid overusing this one.

It’s important to find the words that you use too much, or even the phrases that are overused.

The characters in this book tend to curse very colorfully, using expressions like “Watcher’s balls” and “Keeper’s taint”. While these curses can be funny, they can often seem out of place. Simpler is often better.

How can you tell if you’re overusing a word? Well, if you don’t have AMAZING beta readers like I do, here’s a tool to help you:

Spork Forge

Basically, you can copy and paste your text into the box, and it will tell you how many times you used certain words and phrases you used a lot. A wonderful tool to help you make sure you’re not overusing or repeating the same words too many times!

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