Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Interview with Deborah Ratliff… “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

This past week I appeared on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk, Impact Radio USA to discuss the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?

Professionalism is a mindset and the attributes associated with professional careers should be applied to all of our endeavors, personal or professional.

Listen as host Paul Reeves and I discuss how writers should behave when appearing interviewing on radio, television, podcasts, in print, and online.

Click here for the interview

Click here for the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

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How to Avoid Info-Dumping By Asking Why

Get Your Reader Asking Why png

A common problem among writers is info-dumping, which is putting a ton of information on the page that slows your story down. Two common forms of info-dumping are in descriptions and dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot or character development of the story.

Here’s an example of info-dumping that does nothing to advance the story or show the reader anything meaningful about the character:

The house was set back a ways from the road, two-stories of stone with cream-white walls and black trim. The lawns were expansive, lush, and green. In the driveway were two very expensive cars, a Lexus and a Mercedes. He stepped inside the house with its’ high ceilinged foyer and richly-patterned rug underneath him. To his right was a huge living room that was bigger than his entire apartment, and there was the man who had called him to come here in the first place with a job offer.

Why is this considered info-dumping?

It’s a very basic description that doesn’t have any real emotion behind it. The sentence structures are written saying this-and-that with no reason as to why the character notices these details. If the purpose is to set the scene, it needs to be done in order to give the reader an insight into the character.

So how can we rewrite that previous paragraph to keep it from sounding like an info-dump?

Let’s get into our character’s head and see and feel things from his point of view.

He couldn’t believe a house could be set so far back from the road in the heart of San Antonio as he got out of his car and stepped onto the grass, sinking a little into the lush green as he made his way up to the house. He stepped inside and looked up at two-stories of open space then saw off to his right was a single room that was larger than his entire apartment. And in that room was the man who said he had the job of a lifetime to offer him, and by the looks of the house around him, the job could come with more money than he’d ever made before.

But at what price?

He stepped into the room to find out.

As you can see with the rewrite I started off the first two sentences with ‘He’ so we’re in our character’s POV. So instead of saying ‘The house was set back’ we hear the character’s thought about that (‘He couldn’t believe a house could be set so far back…’).

This first sentence shows that this house won’t be like anything our POV character has seen before. And why would that be? The answer to that needs to be a part of your story and that’s why you need to have not only the physical descriptions, but also your character’s thoughts and feelings about what they’re seeing. And most of all, there needs to be a hook after the initial setup to show WHY the character is in this setting but without stating every detail of that, too.

Another type of info-dumping can happen is when there is a lot of dialogue that has very little to break it up like the example here:

“What’s your name?”

“Mark.” He replied without looking up at her.

“So, what were you doing here?”

“Guarding a group of executives visiting the oil fields down here.”

“Oh, so where are they?”

“They’re safe.”

Here’s a rewrite of the previous set of dialogue to break it up a little and put a little internal reaction to it.

“What’s your name?” Jillian asked as she studied her rescuer.

“Mark.” He didn’t look up at her as he rummaged through the backpack he’d been carrying.

“So, uh, what were you doing here?”

“Guarding a group of executives visiting the oil fields.” Mark sat back a little but still didn’t look up at her.

“Oh, so where are they?”

“They’re safe.”

Well, that was good, Jillian thought to herself. And even though she felt like Mark was being honest with her, she wasn’t sure how much he might be holding back, either .

In my rewrite, I wanted to show was that Jillian was trying to learn more about the situation and Mark was barely cooperating. And though she felt like Mark was being honest with her, she also has a suspicion he might not be telling her everything either. And that suspicion creates a question of WHY that would be, which in turn will keep the story going for the reader.

And that single question, WHY, is the most crucial to ask with anything you write. Because in order to get a reader interested in your story, you want them to be asking WHY things are happening in the story. You want to show them through the character’s actions, thoughts, and feelings what’s going on in the story so if you put something on the page, it has to be the character’s POV, not yours (the author).

In conclusion, here are some points to remember to avoid info-dumping:

Keep things in your character’s POV at all times. Read your sentences back and if they are basic declarative sentences with no POV insight from your character then rewrite.

You can ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ by letting dialogue and your POV character’s reaction set the scene and not inject yourself (the author) into the scene as a third-person narrator.

Make sure your scenes will get your readers asking WHY. This will make them want to know what happens next, which is how you hold your reader’s interest all the way to the end.

 

Consistency is Key (The Self-Editing Guide Part 10)

Consistency is Key. We’ve all heard this bit of sage advice at least once in our lives—probably more—but you might be wondering how it pertains to writing, or even self-editing, for that matter. Fortunately, these wise words can be applied to many aspects of life, including the art of creating worlds.

You want your readers to trust you. You want them to believe your words and accept your world while they are immersed in it. Otherwise, they may not experience it the way you hope they will. There has to be a touch of reality in your creation, regardless of the genre (even fantasy and science-fiction worlds will probably have some sort of explanation for why things work the way they do). One way to instill that believability, is by keeping your story consistent. Even the most cunning and intriguing lies start to unravel when the teller doesn’t keep to his original story. When people find holes in your story, they start to feel disconnected and duped.

Here are a few things to consider and look for when reading over your novel for consistency:

DESCRIPTION: When describing your world or its inhabitants, it’s important to keep notes so you can remember the details when referring to them again later. Your readers get a visual when reading about your character stumbling through a giant academy that was once an ancient castle, and if later you describe the structure, its materials, or even its history differently, you run the risk of putting your reader off and giving the impression that you threw the story together with little consideration for the mechanics of it all.

The same can be said for describing your character as having red hair and a button nose in one scene, and then later mentioning her raven black locks with a long, pointy nose in another without having any significant or bizarre events that would explain such a transformation. And as Deb, our fellow Writers Unite! admin, has said once or twice, no description is still a description. If you don’t describe your main character in the first scene or two, your reader will fill in the blanks in their heads. So it might do more harm than good to suddenly take the time in the middle of the story to describe him or her because the reader might disconnect from the character. They’d imagined him or her one way for hours, but now you’re telling them the character looks another way. Be consistent. Make descriptions early on and stick to them. That way, your reader can get lost in the world you’ve built for them.

CHARACTER PERSONALITY: Your characters’ personalities are part of what drives the story forward and creates tension for your readers. The characters should come alive in the readers’ minds and feel like a real person. One way to destroy any chance of that happening is to be inconsistent with their personalities. If one moment Jane Doe reacts peacefully and calm to a rather serious situation, and then in another she panics and has to be counseled, the readers are going to wonder why her personality has changed so much with no significant events to explain the transition. You can’t let plot decide how your characters react to something. You can’t decide that the female protagonist needs to be swooned by the male protagonist so she should act weak and needy when he’s around or available to swoop in and save her, but then have her be a total badass when he’s not—all because you want her to end up falling for him in the end. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither should your stories. Decide early on how your characters will handle tragedy, and stick to that. Whatever you throw their way, consider their reaction, depending on their level of tolerance, their limits on stress, their overall development, and then have them respond accordingly.

PLOT: The number one thing many readers will notice is a hole in your story. Plot holes are sometimes difficult to catch, and often times, I read books where the author left one or two and I’m forced to ignore it and continue reading if I want to enjoy the book. But I also know as a writer that they’ve probably combed through that book three or four times fixing the plot holes they did find, and this finished product is what we are left with after most were taken out.

Sadly, many readers aren’t so forgiving when they find a plot hole. Some even look for them for pure entertainment—and with good reason. Have you ever looked up your favorite television series online to see what others were saying about the latest episode and stumbled across a fresh list of plot holes just published on a fan site? And as you read through, did it change your opinion of the episode? Things you hadn’t even noticed were inconsistent, now stood out like neon signs. One rule the writers had set in stone in season one was now being trampled on in season three. That is how a reader feels when they become immersed in your world, and then your story starts to unravel and contradict itself. This is a result of poor planning on the writer’s part, and it can be avoided.

Even if you prefer to write without outlining your story first, which is perfectly acceptable, you need to at least write a short synopsis of how a few things work in your world. It can be a short story, it can be a paragraph of pure telling, it can be anything you want. But you need to organize the thoughts spinning around in your head before you can get it all out on paper. It takes most of us days, weeks, and even months to get it all written, and by then it isn’t so fresh in your mind. Some vital things may get lost by the time you get to that point if you don’t have something to refer to. And when you’re done writing your story, you need to comb through it with an editor’s eye, searching for any inconsistencies.

Event Dates, Times, Etc.: This may seem insignificant, but it is one of the little things that stand out the most when a reader is experiencing your world for the first time. Take your story seriously. Create a world with consistent time, and make sure the hours pass at a realistic rate. If you’re writing a science-fiction or fantasy novel and time passes differently in your world, let your reader know. But make sure you stick to that new law of nature and make it believable. If you have a huge event coming up in three days’ time, don’t write only one days’ worth of plot and then have day three pop up out of nowhere. You have to follow your own rules before you can expect your reader to accept them.

One of the most important aspects of successful storytelling is consistency. The best way to make sure your story is just that, is to write a solid background—whether in paragraph or list form, whether you draw your characters or find pictures to describe on Google, find a point of reference and return to it when needed. Follow this advice, and I can guarantee your story will be much more enjoyable.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

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We Write. Are We Professional?

Writers lead exciting lives. We can sit in the safety of our homes or cafes or wherever we choose to write and have amazing adventures through our words. As George R. R. Martin wrote in one of his novels,

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…. The man who never reads lives only one.”

A writer lives those thousand lives as well.

Who are we who call ourselves writers?

We are ethnically diverse, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but share a passion for writing. We publish, some of us are highly successful, some not. Many published authors would refer to themselves as professional writers. The question is, are we?

 

What is a Professional?

 Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.

The attributes of a professional:

  • Appearance
  • Demeanor
  • Reliability
  • Competence
  • Ethics
  • Maintaining Poise
  • Phone Etiquette
  • Written correspondence
  • Organizational Skills
  • Accountability

These attributes should be self-explanatory. We should in all circumstances be neat in appearance, calm and respectful, reliable in completing tasks or arriving for meetings, and all the other skills listed. All are important, but competence requires considerable study and experience in our chosen profession. Whether accountant, nurse, musician, or writer, this behavior should be our norm.

 

The Pathway to Writing.

Words are an author’s musical notes, brush strokes, or accounting formulas, surgical techniques, grammar rules, or any other skill required to become successful in a profession. If, as writers, we consider ourselves artists, then we need to gain competency in our art and develop the attributes that represent professionalism.

Perhaps as a child, you exhibited a talent for playing an instrument, for singing, or for drawing. While not all children with demonstrated talent will become professional musicians, singers, or artists, the training for those who do invariably begins at an early age.

The path for artists is an arduous one. Countless hours of instruction and practice, learning not only the instrument, steps, or shapes but how to perform with others. Years of preparation, mentoring, and often formal study at a university is required for a career in music or art. Higher education is not required for either a career in music or the arts, but the additional training only increases expertise. Also, artists often have another hurdle before they can perform. They may be required to audition to join an orchestra or dance company.

But what about writers? In truth, writers also begin training at an early age. Primary and secondary education provides the basics of grammar, vocabulary, and creative writing. Some may continue on to college where they can major in creative writing or journalism.

Those who choose not to pursue an academic path to writing can find a myriad of articles and lessons on the Internet. Enter ‘how to write dialogue’ into a search engine, and the number of articles offered is staggering. The issue becomes which of those articles are credible and which ones are not. With the voluminous amount of material available, sorting through it to find what works for you can be daunting and confusing but necessary.

 

The Impact of Self-Publishing on Professionalism

With the advent of self-publishing, the number of authors choosing that route has reached an all-time high. An article by Dan Balow, from The Steve Laube Agency website, states, “Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone, according to RR Bowker. Two-thirds are self-published.”

That’s a lot of authors, and the question is how many of them have taken the time and effort to hone their craft and learn how to write. Unfortunately, not as many as should have. The areas of greatest impact on the level of quality for published books according to Barlow are:

  • Collegial control. A give and take relationship between publisher and author where negotiation is required to produce a satisfactory agreement for both.
  • Traditional publishing can take as long as eighteen months. Self-publishing can happen soon after “The End” is typed onto the manuscript.
  • Quality of the manuscript. Editing a manuscript is never completed, but all efforts should be made to create a flawless Often, self-published authors do little editing.
  • Length of manuscript. There are industry standards based on what readers expect that the self-publishing world often ignores. This alone can create dissatisfied readers.
  • Book cover. One of the most important components of a novel, the cover attracts the reader to pick up the book, read the blurb, and be interested enough to purchase. Too many self-published authors do not take proper care with the creation of their cover and shortchange themselves.

These are all important issues that all authors need to be cognizant of even with the assistance of a traditional publishing house. To be a professional as a writer, these are all issues that you must address as part of the competency attribute.

There is one aspect of publishing that many authors, traditionally published or not, have to deal with and it can be the most important task they undertake. Marketing their book.

We welcome others buying our novels for enjoyment. To accomplish that goal, marketing is a requirement. If we are fortunate enough to have an agent or a traditional publishing house represent us, we might have help in offering our product to our readers.

The cold facts are that total marketing support is rare for today’s authors unless they are already proven revenue generators. Many writers turn to self-publishing or small independent publishers where marketing more than likely falls to the author, and few are qualified to promote their books. How we accomplish that task can define us a professional and establish how we are perceived in the marketplace.

 

The Interview

 There are numerous avenues open to marketing books, but the most personal is the interview. From local papers and magazines to a written interview on the internet, podcasts, radio and television appearances, and book signings, the interview reveals the author behind the book. Being able to make the connection with the journalist or host is imperative.

The hosts of these media platforms offer their services, their expertise, and the most important commodity, their time. While some media organizations charge, the services are usually free for authors.

This provides tremendous opportunity to communicate with potential readers and one that can lead to repeat interviews, not only keeping the author in front of the public but also keeping their book and future books in the spotlight. An important tool for any author to utilize.

A common lament among these hosts is that authors do not respond to emails or messages, are not available at the time of the interview, or cancel at the last moment without a valid reason. Some answer the written interviews, returning the questions without bothering to edit. Some do not follow through on promoting the interview across social media. Not only a must for the author but also for the host who has provided the service.

However, the behavior that was the most disturbing to these hosts was how many authors they interviewed who never said thank you.

We discussed the attributes of professionals. Here are how those attributes relate to writers.

  • Appearance – Dress appropriately for a face to face interview or a book signing/reading.
  • Demeanor – Be respectful, considerate, pleasant, and have a good sense of humor.
  • Reliability – Be on time, provide materials requested
  • Competence – Learn your craft.
  • Ethics – Your reputation is at stake, always maintain integrity.
  • Maintaining Poise – Be prepared for uncomfortable questions by hosts or readers, stay calm.
  • Phone Etiquette – Interviewing by phone requires you to answer clearly and concisely, then pause, and wait for the host to speak so that you do not talk over them.
  • Written correspondence – Bios should be as short as possible and written in third Interview questions should be answered thoroughly and edited for good sentence structure and grammar.
  • Organizational Skills – Be prepared, have whatever notes you need with you and practice answers to questions that could arise about your book, your writing style, etc.
  • Accountability – You have agreed to submit answers to written questions or be available at a specified time for an interview or book signing and should honor those commitments.

And one last thing: A simple thank you to your host is respectful and will build a bond between you and a person who can be valuable to your future as a writer.

 

Are Writers Professional? We Can Be.

In this era of self-publishing, anyone can publish a book. Have a laptop and you, too, can be a published author. You don’t need a college degree, or an editor, or a book cover designer. You can do it all. But if you want to approach your writing as a professional, study your craft through an educational facility or study information available on the internet. Use an editor so your manuscript will be as error-free as possible, focus on a quality book cover, and be prepared to market your work. Most of all, be kind and say thank you to those who are helping to make you a success.

 

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Article written by Deborah Ratliff

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Please listen to my interview about this article with host Paul Reeves on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk, now on Impact Radio USA.

Podcast: May 21/23, 2018 WU! We Write. Are We Professional?

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Resources:

www.goodreads.com/quotes/georgerrmartin

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/professionalism

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-characteristics-professionalism-greg

https://stevelaube.com/self-publishing-changed-authors/

A Good Beginning

A Good Beginning picOne question that comes up a lot among writers, especially those new to the process, is where do I start my story? This is a very good question as the beginning is the writer’s only opportunity to get a reader’s attention and keep it until the end. It’s also where a lot of problems with a story begin, but there are some things a writer can keep in mind when working on a beginning.

Now, I write romance and a key element of that genre is the hero and heroine usually meet if not in the very first scene, by the end of the first chapter. This is because in a romance the story of the hero and heroine’s relationship is the key element, not backstory, or description of the world they live in, or a plot element happening to other characters. Personally, I think having lead characters introduced right away would work with any genre of fiction so a good beginning should start with them first.

A common way some writers like to start a story is with a flashback scene (or chapter) For me, a flashback scene (or chapter) at the beginning of a story can work if doesn’t feel like a character is narrating it from the present, future, or from the great-beyond, and if it also connects to the present story. I’ve read flashback sequences that I couldn’t figure out how they connected to the present and if a reader has to ask that question, then they’re going to be pulled out of the story.

Another way a reader can be pulled out of a story at the beginning is what I refer to as info-dumping. You don’t need to walk up to the first pages of your story and dump out all the backstory of your characters and research you have done. Communicate ONLY the key information you need your readers to know through your character’s actions and dialogue. And when it comes to dialogue, don’t do a marathon back-and-forth session trying to get all that information on the page. You’ve got plenty of time to reveal what you need to and if you need to know when to do that, let your characters guide you.

And by characters guiding your story I mean reveal what you need to as they learn of it. This eliminates any distance between the reader and the story itself because for characters to truly engage the reader, the writer needs to take themselves out the story. Your characters are the best guide for where to take your story and listening to them at the beginning will give you a solid foundation to start your story, and finish it.

Finally, you don’t have to have a flash-bang beginning, just something that engages the reader by getting the story into motion. Make that beginning come alive and get that reader wanting to know what happens next. Because if the reader is engaged from the very beginning, they’ll stay to the end. And that is the ultimate goal of every storyteller and to reach that goal, you have to start at the beginning.

 

Announcing the Writers Unite! Anthology Series!

Writers Unite! was created as a haven for the experienced and novice writer to come together to hone their skills and mentor each other. WU! has been committed to providing members resources to improve their craft through workshops, writing exercises, and informative articles, in addition to an interactive discussion about their writing issues.

In the spirit of providing experiences in all areas of writing, WU! created the Writers Unite! Anthology Series. The concept is for writers to write short stories or poetry of varying lengths on a topic and a collection of stories would be published.

WU! is pleased to announce our first anthology, The Realm of Fantasy will be published on August 1, 2018!

We have partnered with a publishing company, RhetAskew Publishing, to produce this inaugural volume in the series.  The team at RhetAskew is amazing to work with and we are very excited to be working with them.

We will keep you posted on the progress of Realm of Fantasy and on future anthologies. Our next anthology topic will be romance, so keep checking, we will post information about the second anthology volume soon!

Realm of Fantasy cover art:

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RhetAskew Publishing

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