Monday, February 17, 2014

Bad Habits from Good People

Wow. I've been posting a helluva lot lately. But it's been fun, so thank you for visiting. I've been traveling for work recently, and it has been impossible to keep up with everybody. I promise to visit all of you and see what everyone's up to.

Couple quick updates:

1) My debut novel, Dragonfly Warrior, continues to sell pretty well. Just need to get some reviews to build up some credibility. If any of you have some suggestions on how to make that happen, PLEASE let me know. Interestingly, people have been buying my paperback more than the ebook version. Maybe it's because my paperback is so darn pretty (it really is). Not sure what to make of that, however.

2) I've decided to cancel my blog tour in March in support of Dragonfly Warrior. I'm busting my arse to: finish the third book in that same series, work with Miranda Hardy on another project and we have a deadline, and plan for publishing Shadow Warrior this June. So lots going on, and I really HATE doing stuff half-assed. I will, however, organize a legit blog tour this summer.

3) Lately, I've also been doing lots of beta reading and editing for several of my writer-buddies. I've noticed a few bad habits pop up, no matter the genre, and I think it's important to point five of them out. Maybe you are guilty of a few of these. I know I am.

Fancy dialog tags. I know, I really am good at beating a dead horse. I'm not a fan of descriptive dialog tags like whimpered, yelped, grumbled, barked, groaned, snarled, sighed, nagged...and all the other ones. These are a hindrance to your writing. They make the reader stop (kills flow), and it shows the writer's insecurity. Your dialog should be strong enough to help the reader know that a character is whining. In a 100K word novel, I might have three descriptive tags total. Use them sparingly and only when you have to.

Thought verbs. One of the author's main goals is to remove as many obstacles between the characters and the reader. That's how you get someone engaged in your story. Thought verbs just add a barrier between the two. Don't say: Jim thought about his mother. Doing so makes your reader have to think about Jim thinking about his mother. Just show us what he's thinking. Don't tell us that your character sees something. Show us what he's seeing!

The eyes have it. What's up with describing characters' eyes all the time. They gaze, they glare, they widen, they squint. They look here, they look there. If it's crucial to the plot, then go ahead. Eyes are a VERY important part of body language. They are the windows to the soul, after all. But just watch the over use of describing your characters eyes and what they're doing.

Character solitude. Nothing rings the death knell of a story like having a character contemplate life by herself. For cheesy 80s movies, having your character walk the streets in deep contemplation might work. But not for your book. I know that there are a few exceptions to this, but those are few and far between. Don't leave your characters alone. It's boring to the reader. Reading page after page of inner dialog is a better sleep aid than NyQuil.

As You Know, Bob. Often, I'll read some dialog where one of the characters is saying something PURELY for the READER'S benefit. We call these "As You Know, Bob" moments. The reader can sniff these out from a mile away. They know when the characters are trying to explain things directly to them. Watch out for these. It yanks the reader out of your world and back into reality.

33 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry you're canceling your tour, but if you're righting hard, then it's for a good reason.
I've managed to eliminate almost every fancy dialog tag from my writing now. Takes a lot of practice to wean off that bad behavior.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm guilty of the "thought verbs" and "the eyes have it" especially in early drafts. The "fancy dialogue tags" haven't really been a problem for me - knock wood! :)

DEZMOND said...

As a translator I actually like fancy dialog tags :) They show attention to details and commitment to writing. When I translate books without them and have to translate SAID, TOLD, ASKED gazillion times, I don't feel well :)

Robin said...

I love your five things. Looking back on what I have written thus far with my WiP, I KNOW that I am totally guilty of Fancy Dialogue Tags and The Eyes Have It. My character isn't real big on solitude. I get bored writing those scenes, so I know someone reading them is twice as bored. I don't think I am doing too badly with the other three, but I will watch for them when I read it when it's done and edit. Thanks!

I need to read your first book. It is on my computer and I just haven't done it. In fact, I am having difficulty reading ANYTHING. Just seems like there is no time. BUT, I think your best bet on those reviews is to contact anyone that you know who has read your book (because you emailed it to them or gave them a hard copy) and ask. I am not great about reviewing books after I've read them, but I will make more of an effort if someone Asks Me to do it. (You don't have to ask me.... I am throwing it back at the top of my To Do List.)

Probably a good idea to cancel your blog tour for March. In a few months your life is going to get crazy again. You don't want to be spread too thin... or do anything half-arsed!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Like dancing eyes - is that even possible?

Fancy dialog tags get annoying after a while. They really do detract from the story. I know I was bad about using them when I first started writing, so guilty as charged.

Jay Noel said...

Alex: That's my thinking exactly. Getting multiple titles out there is my priority.

Madeline: Good for you. I'm guilty of the EYES for sure. It's tough breaking bad habits!

Dez: I never thought of it from a translator's point of view. But even for a reader, the word "said" is invisible. Their brain doesn't have to think about it so the focus can be the actual dialog.

Robin: I was guilty of the fancy dialog tags a while ago, and now, it's what I hate most about anyone's writing. It's my biggest pet peeve. And I hope you enjoy Dragonfly Warrior!

L. Diane: Yes, exactly!!! Here and there, fancy tags are fine. In very rare instances, you need something other than SAID and ASKED. "Whispered" is another tag I don't consider fancy, but you just have to be careful.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Oh my, I just have to repeat what Diane Wolf says in her comment. They get annoying and seem contrived and in my first novel I used them a lot *embarrassed*. Nothing beats the plain ol tried and true he said, she said. I guess because it's so ordinary the reader can just keep moving along.

D.G. Hudson said...

All very good points, and easy to fix once you can identify them. Good for you, Jay, helping with beta reading. And, congrats on your book's selling well. I'm sure that cover is a draw.

Jay Noel said...

Karen: That's exactly right. If you aim to let the words flow smoothly to the reader, you have to get all the barriers out of the way. Fancy tags are a barrier.

D.G. Easy to fix when someone else points them out too. I miss half the stuff that needs fixing when self-editing. Getting beta readers to find stuff is invaluable! And thanks!

Andrew Leon said...

I was just telling my creative writing students on Friday to stick with "said." It's not even those other verbs you mentioned that are the problem; it's dialogue tags are where everyone wants to stick in all the adverbs that give other adverbs a bad name.

Jay Noel said...

Andrew: Adverbs aren't inherently evil. They're just bad when the writer is being LAZY. Using them in dialog tags is definitely laziness.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Glad your book is doing well. Great list of things to check for.

Jay Noel said...

Susan: It's not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it's not totally dead in the water either. So I guess it's doing okay!

Lexa Cain said...

Great post, Jay. Those are annoying habits, but luckily most the people I crit are beyond that stage and edit themselves to get rid of those before I even look at it!

Congrats on selling well and on your upcoming sequels!! I wish I could say I had either of those...

Jay Noel said...

Lexa: I'm way better at spotting these problems in other people's writing. I'm partially blind when it comes to self-editing. Thanks! But I'm sure you'll be skyrocketing to success with Soul Cutter.

mooderino said...

Best to do a job right if you're going to do it.

mood
Moody Writing

Jay Noel said...

Moody: I couldn't say it better myself!

Dana said...

Congrats on your book sales! That's wonderful. ☺

Jay Noel said...

Thanks so much Dana!

Rusty Carl said...

Great tips. And good reminders for me too. I'll be super focused on NOT doing something, then a year or two later I slip back into the habit and not realize it until someone points it out to me. Looking forward to pt II this summer.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I'm never doing another blog tour again. I think they're a waste of time.

Jay Noel said...

Rusty: I always slip into bad habits. Maybe because they're comfortable like an old pair of jeans. Thank Vishnu for editors.

Michael: I'm beginning to think the same thing. I think the only reason to do one is to get outside your normal blogging circle. Maybe just doing guest posts along the way is the way to go.

M. J. Joachim said...

It's easy to agree with a lot of your thoughts here, especially since I review so many books on my blog.

Mark Noce said...

Sounds like you're workign hard. If/when you pickup a blogtour again, let me know if you want to add another stop to your cyber tour:)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Fancy dialogue tags and thought verbs are two things sadly I think some authors try to avoid so much they make their books essay long with boring showing. You can describe a situation instead of telling yes but a good telling beats a boring showing any day of the week. This is why some 'telling' books are bestsellers because the best structure can't fix a boring book. So while I agree with you on some points Jay, we must always remember that the story is essential and that readers want to be entertained no matter the genre. Congrats on your sales Jay and good luck with blogging and commitments.

Christine Rains said...

You're a busy guy! I try very hard to stay away from a lot of those things too. Those dialogue tags get me now and then, though.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Oh man, I second all of those bad habits! It takes a lot of work to get in the habit of avoiding those, but it really does pay off in the end with a story that really comes to life :)

Tammy Theriault said...

you always are so full of wisdom...says "wildly". hehehehhehehe... :) tell the wife I heart her!

Maurice Mitchell said...

A wise choice to postpone or cancel the blog tour Jay. I think "As you Know Bob" and "Character Solitude" go hand in hand. Having a character act out or show exposition is better than having them talk to themself or someone else about a situation. So I've heard, since I'm not a writer.

Mr. Shife said...

Glad to hear your book is doing good. Awesome news, and thanks for the writing tips. It's always good to read those reminders. Have a good one, Jay.

Martin Willoughby said...

You are one busy man.

And it's also worth reminding ourselves about those five points, Martin thought wisely as he narrowed his eyes.

cube said...

You have been busy. Will you remember all of us little bloggers who knew you back in the day ;-)

The Desert Rocks & Intangible Hearts said...

Wow, I do all of these things--but oh well--hope leaving Penny alone didn't put you to sleep for long. :)

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