Monday, October 20, 2014

Punctuation in Dialogue

As promised, here's another blog post about punctuation. We don't have room here for me to go into every single rule, but here are a few to get you started.

First off, let's talk about direct address in dialogue. That's when your character is talking to another character and he calls her by name.

"Hey, Sally!" Bill called.

Notice that because he's talking directly to her, we put a comma before her name.

If he's talking about Sally, there's no comma.

"I wonder where Sally went," Bill said.

Now let's talk about punctuation to attach a speech tag to a speech. A speech tag, dialogue tag, or just plain tag is what tells the reader who is speaking. For instance:

Bill said

Bill whispered

Bill yelled

Bill called

You attach a speech tag to the speech with a comma. Like so.

"I'm sure glad you came over tonight," Bill said.

I've seen some authors use a period after "tonight," and that's incorrect.

You use a period when you're using a beat. What's a beat? An action that shows who's talking.  Like so.

"I'm sure glad you came over tonight." Bill uncorked the sparkling cider and poured her a glass.

Notice the period in there. Don't get confused and use a comma.

Here's a little trick to remember the difference.

A comma is shaped like a tag. So you use a comma with a tag.  

Have fun, and happy writing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Point of View 301: Narrative Distance

Rebecca Rode, Guest Blogger
“I can’t relate to this character. Can you get me into his head more?”

“It feels like you’re telling me the story rather than showing it.”

“Your protagonist seems so bland—she needs a unique voice.”

Ouch. We've all heard feedback like this at one time or another. I would guess, though I can’t say from experience, that even New York Times Bestselling Authors don’t get it perfect on the first try. All three of these comments reveal glaring issues, aspects that will require hours of rewriting and polishing at the very least. Get into his head. Show, don’t tell. Don’t forget voice.

May I suggest something that may sound strange? I bet that these three problems can be solved—or at least minimized—by taking a second look at your point of view.

Point of view? Wait a second. Every high school graduate knows the difference between first and third person. Why on earth does POV matter? You just choose one and run with it. Right?

Yes, but here’s the thing. POV is basically the lens through which we watch the story. Some stories are easy to follow, while others seem so distant they require binoculars. Sometimes, the most glaring problems can be solved by reducing the distance between the reader and our story. I call it narrative distance, although I've heard it referred to as other things.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that Susie tiptoes down the stairs to meet her prom date, who is talking to her father in the kitchen. Susie hears her dad make a joke at her expense, and her date gives a nervous courtesy laugh. Then we read:

“Susie decided to talk to her dad about that later.”

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this. Many books are written this way, and for a good percentage, it’s necessary for the genre. (But it’s important for a writer to do it on purpose, knowing the benefits and the risks first.)

Now take a look at my lovely scale-o-fun:

1                     2                      3                        4                      5                       6                    7

Where would you place “Susie decided to talk to her dad about that later” on the line?

Personally, I would put it around 2-3. It feels like a narrator telling us what she is thinking rather than us hearing her thoughts. One reason for this is the word “decided.” Her decision is a point reached after a train of thought that we didn't get to see. Second, we read the phrase, “her dad.” It’s not Dad, it’s her dad. Susie would have never called him my dad, at least not to herself. To her, he’s just Dad. Sometimes it’s the little things that add distance.

Now, like I said before, distance isn't necessarily a bad thing. Thrillers, for example, often use distance with their characters, even protagonists. Distance has many purposes. It can make a villain seem cold and calculating, a main character seem aloof or above others, and it’s a great way to keep secrets in a mystery novel.

If that’s not what you’re going for, though, you may want to slide a bit higher on the scale.

How do you do that? Back to Susie’s story. Something like, “She sighed, suddenly determined to discuss it with Dad,” puts us closer to the middle. It involves an action we can follow. It calls her father “Dad” just as she would, and we feel much more in her head. Many novels live in the middle range. The authors who place their stories here often use what some call “third person close” POV, which allows distance when needed and yet closeness during emotional scenes. 

If you’re writing a Young Adult novel and your narrator needs more voice, you may want to consider getting as close to the narrator’s head as possible. Slide the narration closer to the high end of the scale with something like, “Ugh. Not again! She’d have to chat with him about that.” Notice that it’s possible to show thoughts without italics. Yes, we’re being told what she thinks, but since it’s in her voice, we’re not just watching her think something—we actually think it with her. We are her. This is one reason first person POV is so often used in YA lit.

Remember, there is no right or wrong in an author’s decision to add or subtract distance from a work. Think of this scale as a tool. Moving a manuscript from one end to the other can result in a completely different tone and feel to a book. But if you’re having issues like the ones described above, this method may help.

Here are a few examples from the book list on my Kindle. Do you agree with where I placed these selections? Can you think of other examples you've read recently?

Check out my website for more writerly fun at


“The road has some patches of snow, but mostly it’s just wet. But this is Oregon. The roads are always wet. Mom used to joke that it was when the road was dry that people ran into trouble.” (If I Stay by Gayle Forman)

“I’m a reporter for the Deseret Morning News, Utah’s second largest paper. Sound glamorous? Try writing six hundred words on the umpteenth charity fund-raiser you've attended that month while Chad Nettle, my editor, breathes fire down your neck at one in the morning.” (House of Secrets by Jeff Savage)

“The engine was getting close. And I thought I heard a second—or were there three?” (Variant by Robison Wells)

“My theory was, as I turned the handle of the sharp stick, it would turn the potato, and as it rubbed against the knife, the knife would cut the potato skin off. The thing about theories, though, is that real life doesn't always follow them. Sometimes you lose your perfect potato on the way to school.” (Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman)


“Raven felt stunned. Not from losing the game, of course. No one could beat Maddie at a Wonderland game. But Raven had never allowed that question to enter her before: If I didn't have to be the Evil Queen . . . (Ever After High by Shannon Hale)

“The pounding took up again, louder. It echoed to the marrow of her bones. Her younger brother, asleep in the next bed, stirred. ‘Police! Open up!’ What time was it? She peered through the curtains. It was still dark outside.” (Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay)

“It surprised me that he would ask such a personal question after our morning of impersonal conversation. I sighed. My feelings were too complex to delve into, so I picked the simplest one as an answer. ‘I missed my home.’” (Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson)

“For some reason, I had to suppress a shiver. I didn't like Iker. He was a narrow man—everything about him was angular and sharp: his beaked nose, his chin, the point of his head, which was ill concealed by his greasy black hair. I did not wish to go into his room, yet we had no choice but to try and find him.” (Defy by Sara Larsen)


“The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Mr. Collins made his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without loss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to the following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about it in a very orderly manner.” (Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen)

“It appears incredible to me that any kind of trick, however subtly conceived and however adroitly done, could have been played upon us under these conditions.” (The Time Machine by H.G. Wells)

“The old lady whirled round, and snatched her skirts out of danger. The lad fled on the instant, scrambled up the high board-fence, and disappeared over it.” (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Perks of Being an Author

There are a thousand-million perks to being an author. 

Some of the things I really love:

1. I get to meet the most amazing people

2. I get to set my own schedule

3. I determine my success for the most part

4. I get to help others achieve their goals

5. I get to teach at conferences and workshops

6. I get to do workshops and assemblies in     schools

7. I get to see my words compiled into books

And many other things-but this video exemplifies the perks I love!

What are your favorite perks of being an author...and would you consider being on TV a PERK? Why or why not?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Literary Couples

by Donna K. Weaver

I don't always write romances, but I always have a romantic element in my books. Probably why it's never appealed to me to write Middle Grade.
But sometimes, literary couples don't work. It might be the intent of the author that they're a bad couple, but other times it's just that it doesn't work for me.

Couples I hate:

Andrew "Ender" Wiggins and Novinha
This is the one I hate the most. I absolutely loath this toxic relationship. Ender deserved so much better (from Speaker for the DeadXenocide, and Children of the Mind)
Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
Enough said.
Perrin and Faile in The Wheel of Time series. 
What can I say? This woman was so not good enough for him. I will concede that in the last book, she finally started improving but, seriously, I would not have grieved if she'd died (as so many beloved characters did).
Couples I like:

Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre
Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables
Lucy and Nicholas in Moonrakers Bride

These are a few of mine. What are yours?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week and Other News

photo from
It's Banned Books Week
If you don't know what this is, here's the wicki answer:

  1. Banned books are books to which free access is not permitted. The practice of banning books is a form of book censorship, and often has political, religious or moral motivations.
We read/love them anyway. 
There are many books that have been challenged, Harry Potter,The Giver, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Girl, James and the Giant Peach, A Light in the Attic, even Charlotte's Web. Here's a list of banned books, pulled from the American Library Association's website.
 How many of them have you read? Tell us in the comments below.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
57. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike 

In the Other News section, Save the Date! 
Our next writing Retreat in Heber, Utah will be on March 26-29th Classes focusing on Marketing you and your book. Come join us for classes, friends, writing and great atmosphere! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Anthology Call for Submissions

"Hidden Identities" 
Contemporary Romance 
Anthology Project!

Although this is not sponsored by iWriteNetwork, you are the first people we thought of to invite! 

Here are the deets:
• Genre: Contemporary Romance (Sorry, no YA and it has to be clean)
• Theme: Hidden Identity (of a main character)
• Size: 10,000-15,000 words
• Purpose: Getting your name out there. If the anthology makes a little money, it will be used first for advertising to spread the contributors' names through ebook-dom. Beyond that, the proceeds will be returned to the contributors to defray their cost for producing the novelette they submitted.
• Scope of Project: Novelettes will be included in the anthology for 3 years from publication date. After 90 days of the anthology's publication date, novelettes can be published by the contributing authors in other mediums.
• Submitted works must be original and not already published in some form somewhere.

How do you get involved?
Letter of Interest: Send an email to that includes your synopsis and first page, embedded in the email.

Time Frame 
• Story synopsis and 1st page are due October 1, 2014
• Submissions accepted will be notified by October 15, 2014
• Full drafts due for critique on January 15, 2015
• Return all critiques to contributing authors by February 1, 2015
• Complete revisions and edits on your story from the critiques returned to you on Feb. 1st, too
• Have (you pay for) a professional line-edit completed on your story by February 28, 2015
• Submit author bio and back cover blurb for your story with your finished story on Feb. 28, 2015

• Meet deadlines
• $20.00 upfront for marketing, This will be paid back as funds become available from book sales.
• Critique all works accepted for publication, and you will receive critiques from all authors for your submission, too!
• Submit your story to critiquers and for final submission in Word doc or docx using 1" margins, 12pt Times New Roman font.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

It's vs. Its

We all know that an apostrophe creates a possessive, right? In other words, Mandy possesses a dog, so it would be known as Mandy's dog.

But there is a time when this is not the case, and it trips up a lot of authors until they memorize the rule.

That is the curious case of "its" vs. "it's."

"It's" is never, ever a possessive.

Take a look at this sentence:  The dog licked it's bowl.

This is incorrect. The dog has a bowl, yes. But "it's" is not a possessive.

So, what is it, then?

"It's" is a contraction, just like "let's" and "wasn't" and "shouldn't." It's the joining together of the words "it" and "is."

Correct:  Mandy's dog licked its bowl. It's such a cute little dog.

My next few blog posts will be about punctuation. As a line editor, I spent most of my time correcting punctuation, so I know it's an area that is helpful to address. So stay tuned for that.  :)