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DESCRIPTIVE WRITING

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DESCRIPTIVE WRITING

101 by Sherrie Clark

We all love to read those books that are hard to put down, those books that compel us to turn the next page even when we should be doing something else. Then when we’re away from it, we can’t wait to pick it back up again and read more.

So what can we as authors do to write our book in a way that has the same kind of effect on our readers? How can we take our book from good to great?

There’s really no secret formula. It’s about telling a story that engages readers, and in so doing, provoking their senses so that they experience the sensations you desire. One way to accomplish this is through descriptive writing.

Sound a bit overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. When writing a scene, consider everything in your setting. What is the year, the season, the month, the location, and/or the time of day that it takes place? For example, does the scene take place on a cold, blustery February day? Does it take place in the middle of the night on a dark deserted road? Is the setting on a plantation in the deep south during the Civil War? Does it take place in the mountains of Colorado, or in the middle of rush hour traffic in New York City, or on a cruise ship in the Caribbean? All of these are external influences that set the mood.

Now think about the influences that internally affect your character. What does he or she see, feel, smell, hear, and taste within your setting? For instance, is your character taking a midnight stroll on a beach?  Does he feel a cool breeze coming off the ocean and sand between his toes? Does he see stars in the sky? Does he smell the salt in the air? Does he hear the waves lapping upon the shore?

Maybe your character is sitting in a hot classroom taking a test. Does she feel anxious? Is she hot because the air conditioner is broken? Does she taste the sweat on her upper lip? Does she smell the musky wood from the old desk? Does she hear the clock ticking in the silence?

Becoming aware of your own sensory perceptions helps you understand your characters’ senses. When you do, your readers can’t help but feel what the characters are feeling. Even better, after sharing the same sensory experiences with your characters, they can’t help but bond with them. They’re hooked, and if you don’t let up, there’s no turning back for them.

Once that happens, sit back and smile because you, my friend, have just accomplished what all authors strive to do: you have created a bona fide page turner.


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THE MIDDLE COUNTS TOO

by Sherrie Clark

The beginning of your book should be the set up where you explain characters, relationships, the setting, and the situation or the conflict. Your first words are the ones that are going to grab readers and hook them. But don’t let up. You still must strive to keep them glued to the pages of your book and reading them.

Pay attention to the middle of your book. It should be the longest part and can sometimes be the most difficult to write. Make sure the middle of your book sustains your beginning and your hook. You don’t want it to disappoint as you develop your story but instead inflict a sense of urgency. It needs to compel the reader to need to know what happens next.

Pack it full of conflict. This is crucial because if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story. Give it a series of complications and challenges, and give your readers some surprises along the way. Make sure you insert important events, topics, and other things that keep readers turning page after page. Take them on a ride where they don’t necessarily know where they’re going, but they should have fun along the way.

The middle is the part of the book where you can lose your readers, but it’s also the place where you can shine. If you make it powerful, then you can hold your readers’ attention, and isn’t that what we all want as authors?


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Hook ‘Em with a Hook

by Sherrie Clark

When you’re deciding whether or not to buy a book, what is it that tips the scale and converts you from a potential reader to a reader? Chances are there was something about that book that hooked you.

What is a hook? It’s something that compels someone to say, “I’ve got to know more about this book.” Think of it as a shepherd’s crook that uses its hook to pull someone in the desired direction. In this case, the desired direction is buying your book, reading it, and grabbing hold of your message or story.

Your hook can be your title, your book’s cover, the back cover blurb, your book’s Introduction, and even your chapter titles. These are your chances to grab their attention, so make sure you apply a lot of effort on each. If you’re not a graphic artist, I would suggest hiring a professional book cover designer because this, along with your title, will be your reader’s first impression. These components will either cause potential readers to take the time to pick up your book and read the back cover. At this point, you’ll need to keep tugging on that shepherd’s crook.

This may require the employing of an editor. Your back cover blurb is a great tool to keep potential readers captivated. Your opening lines should knock their socks off and make them want to know what happens next. Once they’ve come this far and are still showing an interest in your book, don’t let up and disappoint. Make sure each chapter opens with a hook. Disperse hooks throughout so that you can make sure you’re keeping readers sucked into your story or message.

You have lots of opportunities to toss out the bait. With each one, entice them enough so that they want to take a nibble. The nibble can then turn into a bite. Then we want them to want to proceed to the next step in the process: swallowing and digesting. This is basically their buying your book, reading it, and learning from it or being entertained by it. After all, that is the purpose of writing and publishing your book–to share your message or story with others.


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PERSISTENCE PERFECTS YOUR WRITING

by Sherrie Clark

A cabbie was stopped by a young man in Manhattan who asked, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice,” replied the cabbie.

So goes it with writing. Write always and always write. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll become. Build those writing muscles so that you can convey your message in the best way possible.

During your training (and your training should be ongoing), you want to make sure you learn and use the proper form so that your writing muscles will grow and develop correctly. Learn the proper rules of grammar and punctuation. Read books in your genre. Read books outside of your genre. Read really bad books too, so that you can learn from their mistakes. Read books about writing. Build your vocabulary and use new words daily and in the proper context.

Talk with other writers and join writing groups and forums. These are places where you can get some great input on your projects as well as meet some good friends. I’ve always said that no one understands a writer like another writer, so in these groups, you’ll find others who “get you” without any defensive explanations. You’ll also learn about some good resources, and as we know, word-of-mouth referrals can be some of the best referrals you can get.

You’ll discover that the more you write, the easier it gets. You’ll find that you’re spending less time agonizing over a word and more time writing your next set of sentences. You’ll be like the athlete who started off slow and awkward but refused to give up. Because of perseverance, determination, and perpetual training, you’ll be able to catch that ball in midair and score as a professional writer and author.


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RESEARCH, RESEARCH, AND THEN RESEARCH AGAIN

by Sherrie Clark

Writing a book can be a very exciting journey, but where it ends up is going to depend a lot on effort, and within that effort is you rolling up your sleeves and performing research.

Actually, research isn’t the monster it’s reputed to be. It can be a fun adventure, and oh my, the stuff you’ll learn along the way. Your research will be a huge component in earning you a reputation of being an expert in your subject matter. If your topic is about salmon fishing in Alaska, you need to have your facts accurate about the state, the terrain, the climate, the tools needed, details about salmon, and other parts within your story or message.

On the other hand, including incorrect facts will cause both you and your book to lose credibility. Readers can tell the difference between a book with information that’s been heavily researched and those books with information that may not seem plausible, at best. It’s your responsibility as an author to know your subject matter and do your homework because readers are investing both money in buying your book and time in reading it. If they suspect you just wrote your book without checking and double checking your facts, they may feel like they’ve been sucker punched and put down your book and walk away, maybe for good.

It’s competitive enough out there in the book world, so put your best foot forward. Give your book all of the advantages and credibility as possible. Do your research. The time you invest in learning everything you need to learn about your topic will be conveyed throughout your writing. Readers will be pleased, and very importantly, you’ll possess a world of comfort knowing your book reflects a job well-done.


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STORY VS. PLOT: WHICH IS WHAT?

by Sherrie Clark

We’ve all heard the words story and plot when it comes to books, but these two terms frequently get confused and are used interchangeably. Actually, they each have a different meaning and a different purpose. As a writer, knowing the difference would behoove you and your readers.

Story is the idea. It’s the emotional while the plot is the physical. In other words, the story tells the what, and the plot tells how the what happens and how the what is done. Confused? Okay, let me try to explain it in another way.

The plot tells and drives the story. It shows how the story unfolds. The plot is the sequence of events. But don’t discount the story because without it, the plot would be boring, just a series of jumping off the cliffs, racing the cars, and buying the engagement rings. As readers, we won’t know the story of why the character jumped off the cliff, raced the car, or bought the engagement ring. Readers will find bonding with the characters difficult and thus the book itself because basically, we don’t bond with action; we bond with characters. Therefore, the story will help readers get more engaged in the plot.

Usually the plot is written around the story. For instance, let’s say we decide to write a romance novel about a female doctor falling in love and marrying a musician in a rock and roll band. That’s the story. Now we need to come up with HOW all of this is going to happen. That’s the plot. Of course, the same story can have different plots, but make sure each one of your plots moves your story forward. If it doesn’t, then you should probably consider making what can sometimes be the difficult decision of deleting that plot or at the very least, changing it.

So recognize which is what, and write your book accordingly. Take time to give your readers captivating plots, but don’t forget your story. They work hand in hand to accomplish your ultimate goal–writing that page turner of a book!


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THE DREADED WRITER’S BLOCK SYNDROME

by Sherrie Clark

It’s nine o’clock in the evening. The kids are asleep, and your spouse is in bed reading a good book.

You stare at your computer screen. It’s white, and that’s all it is…just white and void of any black words. You hear the clock ticking in the background, wondering why it sounds so loud. You feel warmer than usual. For the life of you, you just can’t come up with something to turn that white page into one speckled with words. Nothing seems to be formulating in your head, and you just don’t know why. You struggle and struggle, and still nothing comes to you to type. Don’t panic. Defining this quandary is easy.  Conquering it, well, that’s up to you, but it really doesn’t have to be difficult.

What’s happening is something that we writers try to avoid: writer’s block. Basically, it’s those things that keep us—block us—from writing. The block can be real, such as your children arguing, and you find yourself distracted and more than likely pulled in on the dispute. On the other hand, writer’s block can be a situation where you can’t think of what to write. Every writer faces hurdles and experiences fears, but once they intervene and stop the creative juices from flowing, then they need to be addressed. Maybe you’re still holding onto that initial fear that kept you from writing your book for so long. Do you still doubt your ability? You’ve shown your ability by starting to write your book. Do you feel inadequate in your knowledge of your topic? Research can fix that. Are you afraid that you won’t finish it? Take it one day at a time, and you can finish it. Remember your reason(s) for writing your book, and let that desire(s) overcome your fear. When what you want becomes larger than what you fear, then you can push through to fulfill that desire.

Maybe you don’t feel you can write for another reason. The kids aren’t fighting, and you truly aren’t afraid of writing your book. Maybe you just get bored easily. If so, then this isn’t writer’s block. If you’re getting bored writing your book, think about how readers are going to feel by reading it. Maybe digging in and spicing up your topic can help excite you and therefore, your readers.

Ultimately, tenacity is what will take you from a dream to a reality. It will loosen the hold of writer’s block. The only “stuck” we want to experience as writers is getting stuck in our chair so that we can finish what we started: writing our book.


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WRITER’S STYLE VS. WRITER’S VOICE

by Sherrie Clark

Writer’s style frequently gets confused with writer’s voice, but where does an author draw the line in the sand as to which is what? Whereas your writer’s voice involves your personality, your writer’s style involves the words you use and how you use them.

For instance, remember each writer has his or her own voice. It’s what separates you from other writers. However, some writers write using a similar style. An example would be authors of children’s books will use a similar style to each other as opposed to the style used by an author who writes true crime.

Style involves the technical and mechanical aspects of your writing. It’s your form and how you structure your sentences. It can be influenced by education, family, environment, and the part of the country where you grew up and where you currently live, and it can be influenced by other writers.

As a book editor, I have found that each and every one of my authors has their own writing style. While one author may use an abundance of the word “like,” another may frequently use the word “irregardless.” While another author may use words indicative of the area of the country where he or she lives, another may use words and phrases that reflect his or her life on the streets. While one author uses long sentences, another writer gets straight to the point.

If you’re dissatisfied with your writer’s style, you can develop and/or improve it. How? Start by learning new words and building your vocabulary, and then apply them to your everyday language. Learn how to replace passive words with active words. Get rid of the clichés. Alternate between long sentences and short ones. Learn not to overwrite, and give your readers the benefit of the doubt that they get what you’re saying.

Your writer’s style can be one of your greatest assets, or it can be a tremendous liability. Make sure your style is stylish, at least in terms of keeping your readers captivated and enthralled in what you have to write.


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WRITER’S VOICE: WHAT’S YOURS?

by Sherrie Clark

Have you ever wondered what your writer’s voice is or even if you have one? To answer these questions, let’s start by defining writer’s voice.

A writer’s voice is just that. When you write, the way you talk and how you speak spills over into your writing. Your writer’s voice is then expressed on paper through your creativity, your thoughts, your feelings, and how you tell your story or message. It’s your signature that sets you apart from other writers. Actually, your readers will probably be the best ones to describe your particular writer’s voice.

For instance, think about your favorite band or singer. You probably would know their music anywhere. Even if you’re listening to a song you’ve never heard before, you would know whether or not that song was being played by your favorite band or singer. That’s the same concept with a book. When you become a known writer or author, readers will know when they read your content because they’ll come to know your voice.

So to break it down, your writer’s voice is your specific cadence, your attitude, your perspective, your tone, and your inflection. It’s what you emphasize. Your personality is inherent in your writer’s voice, and your writer’s voice is inherent in your personality. They go hand in hand.

Just like our writing skills and abilities, our writer’s voice can change; it can even change from one book to the other. So ask yourself if you think your writer’s voice needs improving. Maybe it’s been repressed and just needs to be unleashed. Whether you want to find it and learn how to unleash it, or whether you merely want to better it, it’ll take some effort. And like anything else that’s important to us, the time and attention we give to our writer’s voice to ensure it has what it needs will be time and attention well invested.


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FICTION BOOK GENRES

by Sherrie Clark

Just like nonfiction, fiction has numerous genres. How many depends on who you ask. Furthermore, the genres outside of the more common ones can vary as well, again depending on who you ask. For the sake of this post, though, we’ll discuss some of the common fiction genres in alphabetical order.

First, let’s talk action. The ADVENTURE genre will provide plenty of that. In fact, action is the overpowering component in this book with characters taking risks and experiencing excitement, thrills, and danger.

The CHILDREN’S genre has its own target audience that includes babies to about 11 years old. The books contain lots of pictures and colors and few words, and its characters are usually caricatures. By the end of the book, the child learns a moral lesson(s).

From axe swinging to knife slashing to any other form of gore, the HORROR genre is sure to frighten readers and cause gasps of fear as the characters try to survive a murdering maniac. By the end of the book, these villains are either victorious, or if they’re killed or locked away, readers aren’t truly confident they’re gone for good.

When a MYSTERY needs to be solved, usually one of murder but could be something that just doesn’t make sense, this is the genre to consider. Readers walk through the clues and try to solve the puzzle right along beside the protagonist.

Who doesn’t like a little ROMANCE in their life, right ladies? This genre is a love story where the protagonist or heroine is female. She meets a man with whom she falls in love. This book explores the couple’s relationship and the obstacle(s) they must overcome to be together and live happily ever after.

With the SCIENCE FICTION genre, readers get to venture into the future or to another planet, or aliens from another planet come to “visit” us. Still, the story needs to make sense. To be placed in this category, science needs to be involved in some way.

The THRILLER genre (also called adventure or suspense) does just that—it thrills. It causes readers to sit on the edge of their seat while characters experience nail-biting events. Fortunately, the protagonist prevails in the end.

The WESTERN genre takes place in the 1800s. Although many of them live up to their genre name and have its setting in the western states, some of them do not. Not surprising, the protagonist is usually a rugged cowboy.

Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many more genres and within them, subgenres and hybrid genres. So choose your preference, for after all, the world of genres is your oyster, so eat up!


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