Dilemma

Dilemma

Have you ever come across a book that’s so badly written you would rather cut your arm off than turn another page? That’s how I felt last night! Let me explain . . .

I was contacted by an American author who asked me to review her book for Amazon UK. She hadn’t received any reviews on my side of the pond and was keen to change this situation. I agreed and she sent me a free copy in return for a review. I added it to my list and began reading it Thursday night in bed.

Astounded by how immature the writing was (and bearing in mind I was really tired), I put it down telling myself it had to get better. WRONG!  I picked it up again last night and after half an hour I couldn’t stand to turn another page. This is what I found:

>          The book had either been self-edited or edited by someone who wasn’t professional and didn’t really know what they were doing. Whoever did edit it should be pinned against a wall and shot!

>          The characters were like cardboard cut-outs and one dimensional. There was no emotion SHOWN whatsoever. The reader is TOLD someone is happy/sad/hurting/angry, but there’s no emotional connection so you can’t empathise with the character. You can’t imagine what they’re feeling because there’s nothing to hook into.

>          There was no description used anywhere. When the characters were in a tropical location I wanted to SEE the golden sand, HEAR the waves lap gently on the shore, SMELL the salty air, ADMIRE the lush scenery with its colourful blooms, WONDER at the indigenous people’s customs. I didn’t want to be TOLD the place was ‘beautiful and peaceful’ I wanted to SEE and IMAGINE it for myself through good use of description.

>          The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic, even robotic in places.

>          The plot moved on, but because the writing was so bad, you couldn’t get a sense of where it was heading.

>          Part of the book is set in Eastern Europe yet the characters don’t have names typical of their Iron Curtain home, they have English/American names. The author obviously hasn’t done any research on the country and very little on their customs.

>          If I didn’t know better, I would say the book had been written by a six or seven-year-old as the style is like, “The cat sat on the mat”, and “He was a coward and his name was Fred”. I think you get the gist!

In the right editor’s hands, this book could possibly have been made into something half decent, but it would have meant scrapping it and starting again.

Anyway, here’s where my dilemma comes in. I’m not one to publicly trash another author’s work – I would hate to have it done to me – yet she’s asked me for a review. I won’t normally review a book unless I like it and am therefore reluctant to post a one-star review with nothing positive to say about it. I could email the author and give her a private critique, explaining why I don’t want to publish a review, but my instincts tells me she won’t take it in the right spirit. I think she’ll (A) blow off my critique because she thinks she’s such a good writer and her crap doesn’t smell (I’m sure you know the sort I mean), or (B) bad-mouth me for daring to criticise her work, or (C) run a hate campaign against me and try to smear my good name, or all of the above.

I’ve worked hard to build my reputation, both as a writer and an editor, and the last thing I want is to have my name tarnished.

So what would you do? All opinions very gratefully received coz I’m really stumped!!

 

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Review: YUM by Nicole Antonia Carson

I’ve been meaning to write a review of this fantastic book for months and I’ve finally gotten around to it. YUM is not your normal horror; it has shades of dark comedy and plenty of suspense. George Orwell meets George Romero in this interesting novel.

 Yum

This dark comedic horror offers thrilling suspense and enough plot twists to tie you in knots!

The premise of this well-written and unique tale, set ninety years in the future, is that animals have mastered the art of speech and are equal with man. Animals are fitted with opposable thumbs and as a result they are able to fully contribute to society, hold down jobs, live in houses and socialise with other species. Consequently, in all but a few countries in the world, laws exist to protect both humans and animals alike from being eaten and if caught, the penalties are severe. The new society works well until a rash of feedings begin . . .

The two main characters, Dr James Lewis and Emily Lewis (Dr. Lewis’s great-granddaughter), are beautifully characterised. James is a champion for animal rights and spearheaded the changes to society at great personal cost and sacrifice. He is a brilliant man with a gentle soul, but at 93 years old, he needs a little help from modern science to keep his faculties intact. Carson has given this character great depth, successfully hooking the reader into liking and caring about this fragile old man. She artfully explores the different sides to his character and manages to make him jump of the page. Emily is a teenager growing up in a family of very high achievers and she feels overwhelmed and dwarfed by it. However, she has inherited her great-grandfather’s determination and love for animalkind, giving her the strength to follow her own path and not the one her high-powered mother has in mind. Again, Carson has crafted an amazing character; the reader can feel and relate to the angst Emily suffers as well as her loving nature. Emily is no pushover though and has a bit of a temper, which has been realistically portrayed.

All the supporting cast have been brought to life and each given their own personalities so you find yourself attaching to them as well.

The plot is interesting with unexpected events occurring throughout and culminates in the most unexpected twist of all. It moves along at quite a pace and the author has timed it extremely well, giving you moments of respite before the next whammy hits. The tale is very different and enjoyable. Whilst there is a little comedy, it’s subtle and in no way detracts from the serious side. The dialogue is realistic and relatable and Carson does well to make it specific for each species. I felt the description was a little underdone in places, particularly when it came to some of the more emotive scenes. However, Carson sets the scene sufficiently for the reader to imagine what’s missing.

For me, the mark of a good book is when you want the story to continue after you’ve turned the last page and that’s what I wanted with Yum. A great and entertaining read from an author to watch!

Characterisation

This post was hosted by the lovely Madeline Dyer during the Heart Search Blog Tour. She asked me to write on something I’m quite passionate about – characterisation. Here it is:

There’s no easy way of saying it, so I’ll be as blunt as a spoon. It doesn’t matter if your story is character-driven or plot-driven; if you don’t breathe life into your main cast then your story is like a decapitated chicken – dead from the neck up! So how do we make sure our main characters come alive for the reader?

Okay, so here we have our two main characters. Let’s call them Paula and Fred. At the moment they are like cardboard cut-outs. Sure we could add a bit of colour by saying Paula has black hair and hazel eyes, and Fred has ginger hair and blue eyes, we could say they are tall or short, thin or chubby or variations in between. We could go one stage further and include that Paula has a tiny scar above one eyebrow or Fred has a wart on the tip of his nose; it’s a start – it gives the reader a little something to picture – but is it really breathing life into them? The simple answer is, no.

We need to give them personalities, emotions, hopes and dreams, in short we need to make them realistic and relatable.

You need to spend some time getting to know Paula and Fred; find out what makes them happy or sad, angry or soft and gooey, what their aspirations are, whether they are essentially good or bad and what makes them tick. Once you’ve gone through this process of building a personality profile for them you then need to make that personality come alive.

The most effective ways are through dialogue and through showing their emotions.

So if you were writing a scene where Paula was angry about something Fred had done and she was giving him a serious tongue-lashing, the worst thing you can do is just pen the obvious drivel some writers call dialogue. Put yourself in Paula’s shoes and make the dialogue realistic to fit the scene. It’s okay for Paula to stutter in her anger and call him names. It’s fine for her to get her words a bit mixed up in the heat of the moment. Isn’t that what happens in real life? Now think of how Fred might defend himself (if he does at all – that’s your call. He might be the type of guy who holds his hands up, admits he’s dropped the ball and wants to make things better) and make his dialogue as realistic as hers.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But what is the magic ingredient? Showing!

Think about the expressions on their faces and describe them. No you don’t have to go to the nth degree, but a phrase like ‘her flashing eyes narrowed and her voice was laden with venom’ paints a very strong picture for the reader to get hold of. Now think about body language or gestures they might be using. ‘Fred held his hands up as if to ward off her words, taking a step away from her’- again this allows the reader to form an image of what is occurring in the scene. Using small phrases to show how your character is feeling and reacting to a given situation makes them much stronger, which culminates in a story which is now much more interesting than two-day old dishwater.

The vast majority of readers want to connect with the characters in your story, they want to feel their emotions, be able to picture the scene and see how each person is behaving, some even want to imagine themselves as either Paula or Fred. But they can only achieve this if you bring those cardboard cut-outs to life.

A quick tip to help you with characterisation is to people watch (and no I don’t mean for you to stare at people until you get a punch on the nose or a visit from someone wearing a uniform and carrying a badge). Take snippets from what you see and hear around you. When you’re out shopping or at the movies or wherever, watch how people relate to each other and listen to extracts of their discussions. Make mental notes or even better, carry a notepad around with you and if you see or hear something you think you could use, jot it down.

All your characters need to be given life; they need hearts and minds to make them relatable and speech to make them realistic.

 

Avoiding the Drama Queens

This post appeared on day 2 of the Heart Search Blog Tour and was hosted by the amazing Kathleen M Barker, author of Ednor Scardens and The Body Wars. She gave me a subject she wanted me to write about and this was the result.

I’m sure we’ve all been there; we’re engrossed in a book, we get to an emotional scene and the dialogue is so over the top it’s either like eating a whole jar of syrup or drinking a bottle of vinegar. At that point, it leaves you wondering whether it’s worth carrying on to the end or chucking it in the pile to go to the charity shop.

When we’re writing emotional scenes, it’s very easy to get carried away in the moment and swept up in the heartache or declarations of love, especially if you are a romantic at heart. Even some films have dialogue which is over-mushy so you can’t always rely on them to be realistic.

So how do we do it right? How do we keep our dialogue realistic and not over-blown in emotional scenes?

Primarily I would say drawing on your real life experiences. Have you ever had a friend cry on your shoulder over the break-up of a relationship? Have you ever had a friend jilted at the altar? Has a friend ever come to you describing, with excitement over the moment his/her partner first professed their love or proposed? Do you remember a friend coming to you for advice on how to break off a relationship? I’m sure 99% of you can say yes to at least one of those questions.

Think back and try to replay the conversation(s) in your head. Write down what you remember. Even if she was the biggest drama queen going or he was theatrical to the nth degree, it still happened which makes it real. I’m sure some of us can recall more than one discussion, so write down everything you can recall and what the situation was at the time. Now you have something to draw on when writing your own emotional scenes.

Another thing to think about is your own personal experiences. I’m pretty confident when I say the vast majority of us had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend before getting married. So cast your mind back to some of the times when you and your partner parted company or exchanged the ‘I love you’. Think about what you felt, but also what you said to your friends and family about it. Write it down, even if its fragments of dialogue here and there, every little helps.

Put yourself in the minds of your characters (after all, you created them, you know what they’re like and how they think) and write what you think they’d be likely to say. If your character is a toughie who normally rolls with the punches and tells it like it is, they are obviously less likely to be over-emotional and gushy when someone tells them they love them, but then again even the toughest nut can crack. But even if your character is a soft as marshmallow it doesn’t necessarily mean they will pull out an Oscar-winning dramatic performance. This is where knowing your character is key.

When you’ve written an emotional scene, bookmark it and carry on writing. Once you are well past the dramatics, after a couple of days, go back and read the bookmarked section and ask yourself, is this realistic? Would this character talk like this? Refer back to your notes if need be (remembering the age you were when the incident occurred as teens tend to be more melodramatic than adults as a general rule). If it’s over-done, you can scale it back. A good editor will look carefully at these types of sections and will be the first to tell you if there’s not enough or too much emotion and suggest ways to improve it.

In conclusion, if your dialogue isn’t realistic and relatable, your character won’t be either. And if readers can’t connect with your characters, it makes it very difficult for them to enjoy your work.

I hope you found this useful. What are your thoughts on this subject (either as a reader or a writer)? Let me know in the comment form below.

Thinking – #BlogFlash2012

#BlogFlash2012 30 Days, 30 Prompts, 30 Posts

The challenge

Write a 50-100 word post for each daily prompt on your own blog during August.

Your post can be factual or fictional, prose or poetry, anecdotal or otherwise! It’s not too late to join in – just click on the #Blog Flash icon on the home page

Ok folks so above is the challenge and this is Day 1, so here is my contribution to today’s prompt – Thinking

Day 1 - Thinking

Day 1 – Thinking

I spend a lot of time thinking, especially when it comes to crafting my characters.

I want my characters to be ‘real’ so my readers can relate to them. The physical descriptions are important – you need to get a picture of them in your mind. But in my opinion, their emotions, thoughts, dialogue and their reactions to different situations are what gives them depth and makes them believable.

I give serious thought to plots. The twists and turns, the ups and downs, and a well-described world is what grabs the reader and leaves them wanting more.

I’m thinking now…

The Boomerang Effect

When I finished my first draft of Heart Search and the initial euphoria had worn off a little, I gave my raw manuscript to my editor, Maria Johnson, to smooth out the rough edges. At that time, I had no real idea of what was involved and the true ‘boomerang effect’ (as I affectionately call it) my novel would be involved in.

Maria skilfully and professionally guided me through the process, giving explanations, good constructive criticism and recommendations along the way. By the time Heart Search: Lost was ready for submission, I’d learnt so much about the process, how hard a good editor has to work and the importance of building a good working relationship between author and editor.

Now, one of my nicknames is ‘Hawkeye’, mainly because if something is lost on a carpet or furniture, no matter how small, I’d be the one to find it. So where is this leading? Be patient, I’m getting there! Lol.

I was reading a book on Kindle and began to notice various grammatical errors, words missing and the like. The author was a contact of mine on Twitter and I sent her a polite Direct Message mentioning I’d found errors in her book. She sent me her email address and asked if I would tell her what I’d found, which I did. This was the start of a lovely friendship between Alison DeLuca and me.

After she’d written her third novel, she asked me to beta read and line edit it for her. I not only did that, but also gave her feedback and suggestions for structural changes. Alison and I worked well together and our friendship has grown as a result. Alison was very happy with the work I’d done for her and has recommended me to some of her author friends.

Now I’m editing the third novel of Connie J Jasperson (on Alison’s recommendation). This time I’m doing more than just line editing. Connie warned me her manuscript was, in her words, “very raw” and needed a lot of work.

When you edit you have to look at so many things; attention to detail, as well as a good grasp of grammar is a must. These are the sorts of things an editor must look for, apart from the obvious spelling mistakes:

  • Repetition of words and phrases within a sentence and/or paragraph
  • Over-use of words – ‘that’ being the most common
  • Sentence structure – does the sentence flow? How does it sound when read aloud? If it doesn’t flow then it need changing and then you make recommendations of how to improve it
  • Extraneous words
  • Grammar – this is more than just having commas in the right places. It also involves looking at over-use of exclamation marks, seeing where two short sentences could be joined and what punctuation is required to do it successfully
  • Dialogue – has it been written too formally (as in the ‘Queen’s English’) or is it realistic?

These are just a few examples of what a good editor will do for you, but in each case there should be an explanation for the author as to why something isn’t working as well as suggestions for improving it. I can’t stress how important this bit is. How can a writer learn and grow if they don’t know why something they’ve written is wrong or why it doesn’t flow? And as for the suggestions to improve a particular section, this gives the author ideas of how they can correct it in their own words.

Some authors think an editor should just go ahead and make the changes for them, rewriting sections as necessary, but what they fail to understand is no one can imitate an author’s voice. Of course I could make changes to Connie’s manuscript, but would it read differently to the rest of the novel? Of course it would! Connie has her ‘voice’ and I have mine.

Anyway, having finished the first round of edits (I’ve been sending them to Connie a chapter at a time); along with an overall feedback on the novel, we are now starting Round Two. And this is where the Boomerang Effect comes into play.

No editor is infallible and whilst they will try their very best to capture everything first time around, there are the occasional holes in the net and bits do slip through. Now Connie has made the changes based on my first set of comments, I’m now going through it again to check there’s nothing I’ve missed and this time to look at any sections within the story that slow it down or aren’t really needed. I will make my recommendations and it’s then up to Connie whether she accepts them or not. At the end of the day, it’s the author’s choice to accept or reject suggestions an editor makes. It’s their baby and they’ve poured their heart and soul onto the pages so it has to be their decision.

Again, we have the Boomerang Effect. After this second round, I will have a final check over before Connie sends it to someone she trusts to beta read it and ask them for constructive criticism and feedback on the overall story. At this point, the author can take it upon themselves to make changes suggested by the beta reader or discuss them with her editor before making the changes – again her choice. However, it’s very important for the author to save each version of the manuscript under a different name so if something doesn’t work, they have a reference point to go back to and, if necessary, restore an original phrase/sentence/paragraph.

So what happens next? Yep, you’ve guessed it – the manuscript Boomerang’s its way back to the editor for final checking before it goes to the publisher. [I can’t wait for this to be published – it’s an AMAZING novel!!]

I’m happy to say Connie and I have built a lovely friendship as well as a great working relationship. She can see by the way I’ve managed the first round of edits, the loving care with which I’ve treated her ‘baby’, and appreciates the way I’ve handled the constructive criticism with kindness. Connie is a joy to work with, as Alison was; they are both consummate professionals when it comes to their writing and it shows in the way they’ve responded to the editing I’ve done for them.

Most of what I’m able to do with editing, I learned from my own editor and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude, one I may never be able to repay.

One final word of caution, to those considering undertaking an editing job for someone, be prepared to spend humungous amounts of time and maybe even put your own projects on hold. Editing is a time consuming job if done with the loving care each manuscript deserves and you can’t duck when that Boomerang comes flying back!