Tag s | Tamela

Floating … Floating … Gone …

Writers learn about craft at conferences and on blogs, so I don’t pretend to be breaking new ground with this post. Yet I still see what are known as floating body parts and cliché creep into otherwise great stories. No, I don’t mean murder mysteries depicting a stray arm drifting in a river. I refer to much gentler fare.

Yes, floating body parts offer the reader–and writer–shortcuts. But relying on them as descriptions in narrative doesn’t challenge anyone’s imagination.

Rolling Eyes

The offender I see most often is:

She rolled her eyes.

Yes, we all know this means that her eyes went from the ceiling and back. No, wait a minute. Her eyes didn’t go to the ceiling and back. Her gaze went to the ceiling and back. See the difference? No pun intended.

Eyes are never glued anywhere–unless you’re talking about a stuffed teddy bear.

Fingers and feet don’t fly on their own.

And don’t throw up an arm–I’m terrible at sports and liable not to catch it.

Want to eliminate these from your writing? This post from A Novel Writing Site “Ban Those Floating Body Parts” offers suggestions, along with substitutions for the word “gaze.”

Never Famous Enough

Some bloggers say that famous writers can get away with using floating body parts. Perhaps. But rather than striving to be famous enough to get away with using them, why not hone your writing to its best, regardless of where you are in your career? Use your powerful imagination to find other ways of describing eyes locking and stares boring. The only exception I would make is that in dialogue, the occasional floating body part is appropriate. Why? Because that’s how some people express themselves. But narrative should be more formal.

Old Hat

Clichés are just as distracting as floating body parts in narrative. But for the same reasons as floating body parts may work in dialogue, so can a few well-placed clichés. Here is a list of clichés found on a website.

Your Turn

What floating body parts and clichés distract you the most in books?

When, if ever, have you seen a cliché or floating body part used effectively?

 

[A version of this post originally ran in November 2011.]

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

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My Hat Collection

As an agent, I wear many hats and I love them all!

Miner’s Hat:
Worn while picking through slush pile submissions.

Tiara:
Worn in celebration of gem discovery in the form of your marketable manuscript.

Gold Crown:
In celebration of signing you to be a new client.

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The Unhelpful Rejection Letter

Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.

Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.

Lead Me On

When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!

I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.

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Why Do I Have to Jump Through Your Hoops?

Recently, my assistant had a conversation with an author who did not send a complete proposal. The author was referred to our guidelines and gently reminded that we needed more material in order to make an evaluation. But instead of saying “thank you” for the guidance, the author declared they did not have to jump through any hoops, and took the opportunity to aggressively express their complaints about our review process.

What made this all the more frustrating to us is that it happens more often than you’d think.

Why All The Work?

Have you ever worked in an office where you could swear one of your coworkers could find something — anything — wrong with your work so they could get it off their desk and back onto you? Well, that’s not what we are doing when we ask for a proposal. We are not giving you busywork so we can get back to our soap operas and coffee.

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Charmed, I’m Sure

Dear Editor:

You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!

In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning? 

Cheers,

Tamela

Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works.

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Fresh Formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

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What Does That Mean?

Some time ago, I was writing a story and used a variation of the sentence, “He wished he could be fly on the wall when they had that conversation.” This puzzled my critique partner, who didn’t know it meant. She had never heard the expression “fly on the wall” before and didn’t know it meant the character could be an unobtrusive observer. I decided to change the sentence for fear others wouldn’t understand, either.

I grew up in rural Virginia, and we had some unusual local expressions. Consider:

ugly as homemade soap

screaming bloody murder

grumpy as an old sitting hen

bleeding like a killing hog

slow as molasses on a December morning

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Your Brand is Not a Limitation

It is All About Expectations

What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.

Your Best Friend

Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide”  and Cattle comes to mind.  And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.

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