Archive for February, 2010


February 19, 2010

Sooner or later you’re going to have to write a query letter to an editor, publisher or agent about your book. I know you don’t want to do this, but unless a miracle happens, and an agent swoops down from the sky because they have telepathically learned your book is fantastic, which isn’t likely, you are going to have to do it.

The following is a sample to help you.

The letter should be in business format on letterhead stationery, typed and single spaced. Neatness and accuracy counts.


Editor’s name and address

Re: Query about


First paragraph should grab editor’s attention — short and clear. It should set the tone and voice of your project.

Second paragraph states thesis of the novel. Be specific — why it will interest the editor’s readers, its timeliness and slant, why it is important, and how you will solve the problem. (Use your marketing sheets to outline the details.)

Third paragraph states your qualifications to write this project and the research done or that will be done.

Fourth paragraph concludes with publishing details about length.

Thank editor and ask whether he or she would be interested.

Sign off,

Your signature

Your name typed beneath your signature

Your address (if not on letterhead stationery)

Enclosure: SASE (#1O envelope), (sample chapters and synopsis if guidelines state they are wanted.)

DON’T FORGET THAT SASE or state that the material is recyclable, the envelope is for their reply.

Ready, set, write.


He was such a character

February 15, 2010

The essence of all fiction writing falls into the realm of characters. Characters lead the action, give the work life, and make the reader interested in finding out more. Good characters give a story meaning and depth. Poor characters force the death knell of even the most outstanding plot.

You need to know everything about your character, right down to what they ate for breakfast. This is not only important, it is essential. Did they have granola? It makes them a different person from the guy who had frosted flakes.

Even the minor character sheets are important. You may not find it disconcerting that your minor character’s name on page forty is Joe when it was Clem on page five, but your reader will. They will also be upset that the raven-haired beauty on page ten is a carrot-top on page ninety-two. Authors need credibility. The author who misses the details loses his credibility in a hurry.

At this point it is wise to caution against stereotypes. Fat, dumb sheriffs, dingy blondes, and Brad Pitt handsome heroes are overused and tiresome. Create your own set of characters, believable and interesting, then place them in a setting made for the voracious reader.

Much has been written recently about archetypes. In fact, entire books have been written about male and female archetypes. While this may work for some writers, I believe it detracts from making characters “real.”

Giving your characters flaws adds more dimension to them. Even Superman® has a problem with Kryptonite. Author C.J. Box’s continuing character, Joe Pickett, is a game warden who can’t shoot straight. Your reader doesn’t want to see a perfect character. The reader has a problem identifying with perfect people because they know nobody’s perfect. The flaws make more believable, sympathetic characters.

Potential characters are everywhere. Pull up a chair and observe the world. You will find some of the most exciting and interesting characters are as close as your nearest community gathering.

Knowing Your Characters:

To emphasize again, in fiction you must know your characters. Without “missing a beat,” you need to know how your character will react in any given situation. Will he/she run, freeze, or fight? Kiss and tell? Laugh or cry? When your character is presented with an untenable situation, you should be able to keep on writing because you know how your character will respond.

Generally, men should not try and write from a female viewpoint and vice versa. Most writers have difficulty slipping into the viewpoint of the opposite sex. If you aren’t able to “think like a man,” your reader will know it and fail to believe your entire work. There’s truth to the statement that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” Writing from the opposite viewpoint is a difficult assignment.


February 5, 2010

Idle chit-chat that doesn’t move the story forward is a waste of your reader’s time and your effort. Dialogue should move the story forward or give the reader a better understanding of the character.

Condense the essence of the conversation. Now you have good dialogue. How would the main character hold this conversation? What would he/she say? But REMEMBER —always remember — that everything that is said should move the story toward the ultimate end.


Frequently, writers wish to use dialect to give the reader the flavor of the region or the character. USE DIALECT SPARINGLY.

If you have a character who drops g’s let him drop a few, then use the dialogue for this character in the same way as any other, dropping an occasional “g” to remind the reader of this habit. Your reader will take care of the rest by dropping the “g” every time the character is in conversation.

Thinking and speaking

Many times a character is thinking rather than speaking a particular set of lines. Thinking should not be indicated by quotation marks. Quotes are reserved strictly for speaking and dialogue.

Italics are frequently used to indicate thoughts in books; many authors feel it is useful and (since the advent of the modern computer) necessary to indicate the thoughts with italics. Some editors still do not wish to see italics in manuscripts, but most are now computer savvy enough to accept italics.


Authors occasionally feel that “said” becomes tedious in a long string of dialogue. This problem is solved in several ways. 1. It is not always necessary to identify the speaker after the initial pieces of conversation.

Example: If there are only two characters involved in the conversation.

“That’s not true,” Joe said.

“You know it is,” Allison shouted.

“________________________________” (This will be Joe speaking.

“________________________________” (This will be Allison’s dialogue.)

Alternating paragraphs will belong to each of the speakers and need not be indicated by “said Joe,” etc.

This format shouldn’t be continued longer than 2/3 of a page lest the readers forget who is speaking and resort to counting lines.

REMEMBER: Whenever speakers change, a new paragraph should begin. Occasionally, new writers will want to pile several lines of dialogue into one paragraph.

Remember your high school English teacher? New thought, NEW PARAGRAPH.

A second way of eliminating the dread of “said” is by adding tag lines.