General Writing

A Trip in a Police Cruiser, Got me Thinking

Last week my husband and I trekked to Grand Island, Neb., to attend the state fair. Little did we know that day would end with a ride inside a police cruiser.

No, we did not do anything wrong. In fact, the policeman took pity on us. Let me explain.

Every year my husband and I travel to Grand Island so I can sell my novels at the Nebraska Writers Guild booth. Authors take turns selling their books and in exchange we tell attendees (interested in writing) of the benefits of joining the guild.

I always park at a certain place when we attend. However, when you sell your wares, you have to bring your own books. My husband and I had two luggage bags. I pulled one and he the other. As we were making our long walk to the 4-H/FFA building, a fair volunteer, who drove a golf cart, approached us. “Would you like a ride?”

“Yes,” we answered. We both gave a large sigh of relief. It was a long ways to that building and her assistance was a Godsend. However, who would know that this action would later cause us a lot of grief.

How you ask? The simple answer is one word, b e a r i n g s.

I lost my bearings. If we had walked, I would have remembered landmarks to get us to the right entrance/exit gates. But since I did not, we ended up at the wrong exit.

A group of policemen were directing drivers into a parking lot. I yelled at one of the officers, asking if the road in front of us was Stollely Street. He came over to us and pointed toward a street at least a mile from where we stood. He looked us over, seeing our luggage. “That’s a long walk,” he finally said.

I could not believe we had walked around a host of fair exhibits and buildings only to travel in the wrong direction. I was dumbfounded. I could not even come up with the side street where we parked until the officer uttered the name, Roush Street. “That’s where we parked.”

He left and in a few minutes returned with his police cruiser. We got in. He joked, “You won’t be able to kiss in here.” He was right as my husband slide into the tiny space between the plastic glass and the door. If you never have been inside a police vehicle (which we had not), do not itch to do so if you are overweight because you will be squashed. The policeman opened the door for me. I sat down beside my husband, and yes there was no way to kiss with Plexiglas dividing us. However, who would be in the mood when you were riding in a police car?

The officer drove us to our car and helped unload our bags and place them into my vehicle. We shook his hand in gratitude for taking pity on a couple of stupid idiots.

However, this got me thinking about writers, and how we too can lose our bearings. We forget to focus on our next undertaking and not fret about a past mistake or pet project, which did not do as well as expected.

As literary agents will tell you, what is the next hottest story type in publishing? Is it a paranormal, a graphic romance trilogy or what? Answer is no one knows. If they cannot figure it out, how can you? Thus, the best thing to do is to move on with your next idea, leave the past behind you and do not give up.

Experts say the worst mistake many authors make is to give up after weeks or months of disappointing sales. What about the movie, “Wizard of Oz?” Did you know it flopped in theaters at the time? What revived this enduring classic? When it ran on television screens years later so your work also could be that sleeper. My hope, though, it does not take decades for you to achieve that success.

So keep your powder dry, get involved in your next venture and do not worry about the past. And as always I will end with a God bless.

Categories: General Writing | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

So You Want to Publish a Book (Post 1): Is Your Book Ready to be Published?

Over the last two months, a couple people have asked me the same thing:  “I wrote a book.  Now what do I do?”  To answer each person separately would take a lot of time, and given that I was in the process of moving, I didn’t have time to sit down and write a series of blog posts to address this question.

Today, I’ll start the series.  That way when I get this question again, I can provide people with a series of links to help address the issue.  This is intended for people who have never published a book.

ID 37475863 © Iqoncept |

ID 37475863 © Iqoncept |

The first thing you need to consider is this: is your book ready to be published?

Self-publishing and even traditional publishing isn’t what it once was.  Regardless of the way you choose to  publish, you need to have a product that is worth publishing.  The bar has been raised on what you can publish.  With writers fine tuning their skills and taking editing seriously, you need to make sure your book is on par with theirs.

If you want to land a book deal with a publishing house, you will need a polished version to hand in to the acquisitions editor.  If you want to publish it yourself, the savvy self-published authors are seeking to have their books compete with the publishers, meaning they want their books to look like it came from a publishing house.  This is about putting a professional step forward.

So before you decide to publish, you need to consider two main things: editing and the storytelling craft.

So don’t skimp on the edits.

This doesn’t mean you spend years editing.  That’s too long.  But I would say a month or two of working through edits is minimum.  You don’t want to make the process so long you never get anything published, but you also don’t want to rush through it.  The best technique is to pace yourself.  I edit 1-2 chapters a day.  That way my mind is fresh when I get to it, and I don’t have time to get exhausted.  I also use a system of checks and balances where I have two to three others go over my book.  After taking in all the edits and making all the changes, I recommend a final read through.

I know in this instant gratification world we live in where things are usually given to us as soon as we want it, it’s easy to get impatient and want the book up today.  But taking the extra time to edit will be worth it.

Do you have a compelling story?

This is a harder one to pin down and explain since the definition of what makes for a compelling read varies from person to person.  But let’s just put it this way: are you so engrossed in your own book you get lost in it?  Or do you find yourself skimming?  If you’re skimming, chances are those parts are slowing your book down.  A compelling story is one in which you want to read everything.  It doesn’t have fillers that get glossed over.

The average reader will forgive an occasional typo, but they won’t forgive a story that bores them.


Until you have the two things above settled, you can’t move forward.  But for the sake of this blog, we’ll say you have a compelling and properly edited story.   That would bring me to my next post which I’ll put up next week.  In it, I’ll discuss whether finding a publisher or self-publishing is the best fit for you because there is no one-size-fits-all approach in this business.


Categories: Editing & Rewriting, General Writing | Tags:

Avoiding the Info-Dump

I graduated from college back in May after a very busy senior year, during which I was fortunate enough to not only do a senior thesis, but to do a novel that I really wanted to write as a senior thesis and get excellent feedback from my advisor and a fellow senior. Around April my advisor, a creative writing professor with quite a few books published, my second reader, a favorite teacher of mine who was as much a nerd and an even bigger science-fiction enthusiast than I am, and I met for my thesis discussion, where we’d go over the progress of my novel and where I would go for the third draft once I got around to that.

While they generally liked my story, which is titled Rose, they had a number of very good suggestions on ways to make it better. One of the suggestions, and something that I hadn’t even considered, was that a lot of the information received about my antagonist came in three big bursts over the course of the story. They suggested that maybe I should space out when such information was given, and maybe vary my sources. In fact, they pointed out that one character seemed to be there only just to dole out information about the antagonist. He didn’t really serve any purpose beyond that.

This stunned me. And you know what else? I realized they were right. I was doing a lot of info-dumping in this story, and that it was actually working against the story I was trying to tell. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to avoid info-dumping in this and future stories, and I thought I’d share some of those tips with you.

But first, what exactly is an info-dump? It’s when a huge amount of information is deposited in a single place. In fiction, it’s like exposition, only it’s too much exposition. Think of it like this: if any of you watch Once Upon a Time, you know that flashbacks are a big part of the show and that the writers take care to reveal new facts over time, peeling away layers so that there’s always a bit of mystery left in the characters you think you know very well. Now imagine in one episode they took all the backstory of a single character and reveal it all at once? That’s so much information, it’d make for a five-hundred page biography! And all in the course of forty-two minutes. You’d be overwhelmed. That there is an info-dump, and it’s something writers should take pains to avoid.

So how do you avoid the info-dump?

The key is to space out the information you reveal. Don’t reveal everything about a character, a place, or an object all at once. Instead make sure it happens gradually, over a long period of time, and between reveals make sure there’s time for the characters to do other stuff and for the reader to focus their attention on other aspects of the story. After all, between flashbacks on Once Upon a Time, there’s still evil witches or monsters or manipulative adolescents to deal with.

Another good tip is to make the information come from multiple sources. Look at Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. How do we find out about him, who he is, where he came from and what he did? Well, we find all that out over time, but we also find out about him from many different sources. We first learn his name and the night he disappeared from Hagrid in the first book. We later find out what happened to him after his defeat from the villain himself at the book’s climax. In the second book we find out about his life as Tom Riddle and a hint at his political views from the piece of his soul in the diary, in the fourth book we find out how he came back to power when he tells it to his followers, in the fifth book we find out about the prophecy from Dumbledore, and our information is completed when we find about him from the flashbacks Dumbledore provides us in the sixth book.

But how do you decide when information is to be revealed? Well, that’s for you as the author to decide, but info should come when it fits or works for the story. Back to Harry Potter for a second. There’s obviously a lot of information about the Wizarding World. So much, that not all of it was revealed in the books and JK Rowling is still giving out snippets of information to us through a variety of sources. Wisely, she only gave out information when it was relevant. Would it have really have helped us, the reader, to know about goblins’ attitudes towards wizards keeping their works in the first book? It would’ve been interesting to know, but it wouldn’t have mattered much to the story at that point. And while we wondered if Hogwarts was the only school for magic in the world, the existence of other schools was only revealed in Book 4 because other schools were a big part of the story. In a similar, you should only reveal information when it’s relevant to the story you’re telling.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially in terms of characters, is we should already feel we know and have an opinion about someone or something before the information is revealed. In one of my favorite anime, Code Geass, we get to know one of the main characters early on, not through the info given to us about his past, but by his personality and actions. We get to know that he is kind, selfless, and will gladly put his life on the line for others, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. It isn’t until halfway through the first season that we find out the incident in his childhood that made him this way, but by that time we already have a very positive and sympathetic view of this character and the info reveal does surprise us, but doesn’t color our opinion of the character as much as it would’ve if we’d learned that piece of information at the very beginning of the series.

Another great example is Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Early on we don’t know much about Annie besides what she chooses to reveal, and we can’t even rely on that. Why should we? She’s nuts! She’s violent, obsessive, and can switch from sweet to scary at the drop of a hat. By the time we find her scrapbook later in the book, we already know her and how we feel about her. The info in the scrapbook is certainly revealing, but it only adds to our dislike of the character. It isn’t what we base that dislike on.

There’s more I could say about avoiding info-dumps, but that’s a very long article to write. Let’s just finish it by saying that learning to avoid giving out way too much information is something we earn through time and practice. With experience, great tips, and a good bunch of people around you, we learn how to do it while still telling the excellent stories we want to tell.

All that and more will certainly help me when I get around to the next draft of Rose. I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out when all is said and done!

What tips do you have for avoiding info-dumps? How have they worked out for you?

Categories: Editing & Rewriting, General Writing, storytelling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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