Who’s up for a fight? [Writing real fight scenes]

Recently I have been chatting with a friend and fellow author about writing fight scenes in her novel. Unlike most writers, this is an area that doesn’t give me too many problems, or at least, not of the same kind that they experience.

Let’s lay down a few antecedents: I have been trained in 26 different fighting systems, holding black belt degrees in 14 of these, and a host of weapons during a long and interesting life. But my knowledge is not just theoretical. Unfortunately, I have had to use those skills on occasion… and I’m still here, so they must work. I also have an encyclopaedic knowledge of many other fighting styles and weaponry. Oh, and with two exceptions, none of that stuff was oriented to competitions (with rules and regulations etc).

I love to read thrillers and there are many written by ex-soldiers. Whilst most get the details of the ‘conventional’ fighting (using weapons issued by their army/navy etc) right, many have little or no experience of ‘unconventional combat, particularly the close-quarter variety that their protagonists display on the pages of their books. So as a source for a writer attempting to produce a convincing fight scene, studying them is not always the way to go. As for Hollywood, well forget it. Bruce Lee once commented on the difference between real combat and theatrical representation of combat – in movies you only ever see the latter.pen mightier

Now I’m going to try the impossible here (those who know me well, will recognise the trait that gets me into trouble more than any other). I’m going to give you, the potential writer of fight scenes, a few pointers for making your combat more realistic. This will give you a good foundation which you can then embellish at will. So this post isn’t too long, I’m going to stick to unarmed fighting – maybe, in a hypothetical Part 2, I’ll talk about weapons, although they will get a mention or three here. The following will be Fictional-genre generic; I won’t be speaking about magic spells – never used them – you’re on your own for that.

There’s a huge difference in the way a trained fighter and Joe Public react to the threat of a fight. It all starts in the amygdala. This beastie sits at the base of our brains and associates stimuli with emotion. It’s the thingumajig that stops you holding your hand over an open flame (once you’ve done it the first time, of course). It’s a primitive part of our brains responsible for the fight or flight reaction. Joe Public will usually go for the flight option, if available. If it isn’t, then the submission option is next up. It’s only when Joe Public tries for the fight option that trouble occurs. A trained fighter is, of course, also subject to this process. The difference is analysis. Someone who has fighting skills (not just an experienced bar brawler) will take in a series of factors which will enhance the decision the lizard brain chooses.

These factors include:

a)      Number of assailants – even a large group is limited in how they can attack one person. I’ve fought more than ten at once, successfully, because I used the other factors below to restrict the number that could interact with me at any given time. Almost all group assailants will not have practiced their attack, so they will get in each other’s way naturally, something your protagonist can help with.

b)      Space and terrain – it’s a very different thing fighting in water, on ice, on sand or loose dirt, on a hard surface, on an incline or uneven surface, in a narrow area, on a moving vehicle (think cars, trucks, trains, aircraft, or even horseback). The area you have to operate can be used to limit what your opponent(s) can do, and it can limit your protagonist’s options too. Hollywood took this to a ridiculous extreme in the second ‘Kill Bill’ movie with the fight in the trailer. As a master swordsman, I teach my students to draw a metre long katana in a space the width of their bodies, in less than a second, and most get the hang of it very quickly. The scene in question, where the swords couldn’t be drawn because they kept hitting the walls, was hilarious, for all the wrong reasons! Using the terrain as a weapon (Hollywood again tends to limit itself to throwing dirt into the eyes of the fighters) is important. Many of the older fighting systems that use throws are based on this. When a human body is thrown onto a hard floor, against a streetlamp, railing, wastebasket, parked car etc, the terrain becomes the weapon. It’s not about using a kerbstone to hit the bad guy, just the opposite in fact.

c)      Natural weapons – in traditional Japanese fighting philosophy it is recognised that the human body has 16 natural weapons (obviously including items such as hands, which can be used in a huge number of ways, feet, head, elbows etc). Learning how to use these effectively is the basis for the world’s unarmed fighting systems. But there is another natural weapon that trumps all of these – your intelligence. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people in casts because they threw a punch and broke bones in their hands or feet (of the 206 bones in our bodies, more than half are in our hands and feet). There’s a Golden Rule in striking – never hit something hard with something soft (an untrained fist against a jawbone is not recommended).

d)     Acquired weapons – there are so many everyday objects that can be turned into effective weapons that you would be surprised. In the average room, in an average house, there will be over fifty! In your car, probably about another twenty (I once took on three assailants, as part of a demonstration, while sitting behind the wheel of a stationary car. After a few seconds I had trapped all three using everything from the driver’s seat belt, steering wheel, window frame, and handbrake, left the vehicle and walked away). No I’m not superman, or Jason Bourne, but by using imagination tempered with a little knowledge (primarily of anatomy and physics) you would be surprised just what can become a weapon if needed. What’s the weirdest weapon I’ve used? It’s a tie between a banknote, a cardboard drinks coaster and an ice cube. Newspapers, magazines, umbrellas and walking sticks are almost conventional. It’s all about being flexible …in your thinking.

e)      Attitude – I always advise my students (bodyguards, police, military, Joe Public) to act if attacked. The puffing out of the chest, bluster approach could get you killed or seriously hurt. It’s tantamount to incitement. I recommend making yourself smaller (than the attacker), stepping back at an angle (better defensive position as it allows offense while reducing target area), relaxing your whole body (it makes for far quicker reaction time), and slowing your breathing (deep breathing increases oxygen flow to the brain and muscles which helps think clearly, react faster and control the adverse effects of adrenaline). I also strongly insist that (in a mugging situation) nothing you have on you, NOTHING, is worth your life – just hand it over and forget about violence, even if you are confident in your abilities. Only if your assailant is clearly bent on doing you harm no matter how much you collaborate, should you react.

f)       Offense/defense – many Martial Arts taught as Self-Defense are based on allowing your opponent to make the first move. Whilst legally this allows for justification for your defense, one blow etc could be all they need. The old adage of ‘a good offense is the best defense’ may be applicable. When faced with multiple opponents, often the bluster-boy is not the leader. Scan the group, identify who’s in charge (eye contact between them can be a dead giveaway) then go on the offensive against them can be a good strategy if your protagonist has the skills. Don’t know who’s the leader? Go for the biggest. That scene in the Tom Cruise Jack Reacher movie where he explains his defense to the four thugs (something you should never do) is strategically accurate, believe it or not. In the herd mentality, when a leader is taken down, the herd usually is unfocused, needing time to find a new leader – time your protagonist should not allow.

g)      Time – there are two aspects to this subject; real fights are short (10-15 seconds, maybe half a dozen blows exchanged) which is extremely boring for Hollywood. Chasing the bad guy across rooftops as blows are exchanged is visually exciting, but it takes its toll on the body’s ability to sustain the fight. Impacts and injuries from the other guy do too. Only a superhero would last more than a few minutes, so if you want to be real, watch the clock. The other aspect I mentioned is the apparent slowing down of time in a fight – this is a sensation produced by the excess of adrenaline released into the body – it makes you react faster; it doesn’t make you a time traveller. Also, when the fighting stops and your body tries to resume normal operations, it usually induces nausea and vomiting (show me the last time James Bond threw up!).

h)      Adrenaline – I’ve already mentioned this several times. I hinted at its adverse effects too. One of these is that it’s an exceptional natural anaesthetic. I‘ll give you a fr’instance: a few years ago, one of my students saw a bunch of some 30 skinheads beating up a single individual in the street. No cops about (cowards generally choose their terrain more carefully than their victims). So he intervened. Finally the cops turned up… and arrested everyone… including the victim and my student.  They were in a police car on the way to the cop shop when someone remarked that my student’s white shirt was bright red at the back – he’d been stabbed during the fight and was unaware of this due to the adrenaline coursing through his body. (As I’m sure you want to know – he did get released with no charges and he put 6 of the attackers in hospital before the cops arrived).

i)        Attacker’s weapons – In my experience, most attackers when wielding a weapon, tend to focus on that weapon to the exclusion of anything else they could do. This means that often, when you ‘remove’ that weapon from their control, psychologically you’ve won the battle. There’s something I also teach my students about using ‘recovered’ assailants’ weapons – if you know how to use it, keep it; if you don’t, throw it away where the assailant can’t regain control of it.

j)        Finally, don’t be too specific. This was the mistake I made. Compare these two short fight scenes (the first is from ‘2012’ my first novel, is technically correct, and makes this mistake; the second is from ‘the CULL – Bloodstone’ and is my latest – see I’ve learned something too!):


The third attacker had grabbed the woman’s bag and was trying to wrest it from her limp form. Grey stepped towards him, and the man released the bag, letting the woman fall to the sand again. He sidestepped her prone body and faced off against Grey. The man launched a series of short, rapid Wu Shu punches aimed at Grey’s torso and face. Grey slapped them away. He countered with a couple of stabs at the man’s eyes, designed to focus attention on his fingers. The man did not take the bait; he stepped back out of reach and lifted a leg, preparing to drive a forward kick at Grey’s stomach. Grey sidestepped the kick, pushing it further aside with his raised knee, trying to spin the man. The attacker knew his business. He altered his motion into a sidekick catching Grey a glancing blow on his ribs. Grey stumbled back. The assailant advanced, preparing to finish him off. Grey tripped and extended his right hand down to the sand to stabilise himself. The assailant raised his left hand ready to deliver a chop to Grey’s exposed neck. As he stepped in, Grey twisted and brought up the knife he recovered from the sand, burying it to the hilt in the man’s upper leg. The man let out a primal scream, sharply cut off as Grey chopped to the man’s Carotid. (and so on for 4 paragraphs)

the CULL – Bloodstone

Katie jumped. She twisted in mid-air, hitting the speaker squarely in the chest with her left heel. His hand came away from the gun as inertia threw his body backward. Katie struck at the neck of the man to her right, connecting solidly. The third man already had his weapon drawn and was raising it to fire. Katie ducked, grabbed the box the shouter had dropped, and flung it with all her might at the gun arm of the worker.


I can’t (and shouldn’t) write your fight scene’s for you; it’s your novel after all. I will however put my knowledge at your disposal. Write to me via my website (www.ericjgates.com – Contact Eric page) and ask specific questions please. I’ll do my best to help where I can. You don’t want to fight about that, do you?


Dialogue in a Nutshell

writing is an art


It sounds easy right. You get two or more characters together and you start them talking. Ah, but did you know there are rules to writing dialogue?Of course there are!

But, don’t worry, I’ll try to make them easy to understand and follow. So, let’s get started. We all know that dialogue is plain and simple just easier and faster to read than narrative. It keeps the reader interested and moves the story along.

That’s your first rule. Dialogue has to move the story along. As Dwight V. Swain says in The Things They Say article, “…ever and always dialogue must advance the plot. How do you make dialogue do this advancing? By having it give the reader information needed to understand what’s happening.”

I highly recommend a book titled Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue by Gloria Kempton. I believe this book is the ultimate “go to” for your dialogue needs. Ms Kempton writes, “Dialogue not only creates space on the page, which is visually appealing, but it’s also what brings characters to life in a story, which is emotionally appealing. We’re much more interested in a story’s setting when it comes through a scene of dialogue.”

Yes! I totally agree. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to my writers, use dialogue to set your scene. For example:

“The water is so warm!” Maureen said as she stepped slowly into the gentle waves.
“What did you expect when we came to Florida, you silly old girl?” Kay laughed at her friend.
“I wasn’t sure, I mean, living next to Lake Michigan all my life, didn’t even prepare me for this. But, ” she paused as she bent down to pick up a pink seashell. “After Harold died and left me all that money, I knew I wanted something different.”
“This is different.” said Kay with a wry smile.
Maureen lifted her face to the bright sun. “It’s so wonderful here.” She shaded her eyes. “I just wish those darn seagulls would go find someone else to bug!” She laughed as a bold seagull dived hoping to snap up a tasty treat.

Do you see how we learn from this simplistic example that the scene is set in Florida at the seashore, and we learn even more, the characters are from somewhere in Michigan and they’re probably older. All done without using narrative.

Just as important, while you’re moving your story along with your dialogue, don’t wander. And, no chit-chat for the sake of adding dialogue.

According to Ms Kempton, there are seven functions of dialogue.

Characterizes/Reveals Motives
According to Ms Kempton, “The most effective way to reveal your characters’ motives is through their own mouths.” In that same vein, the best way for you, the writer, to introduce a character to a reader is to use dialogue. You can use the same things you use in real life when you’re interacting with other people: facial expressions and body language.

Remember, as Dwight V. Swain reminds us, “There are things a writer must think about, be aware of. If the words he puts in his story people’s mouths are out of character, he’ll be hard put to rise above them. Those words should reflect such factors as sex, age, occupation, status and background.”

Sets the Mood in the Story
As the writer, you’re in charge of setting and controlling the mood in your story. When characters interact, they exchange feelings and emotions. You should also be educing an emotion from the reader as well in order to hold their attention; to keep the reader turning that page.

Intensifies the Story Conflict
According to Ms Kempton, “Every scene of dialogue, in some way, needs to move the story conflict forward.” That’s a tall order, right? Just keep reminding the reader by using dialogue to show how critical it is for your character to achieve his/her goal.

Dwight V. Swain tells us this, “By the words your people say and the manner in which they say them, dialogue should characterize and individualize them, give information to advance the plot, reveal and build the emotion that galvanizes the story.”

Creates Tension and Suspense
Ms Kempton says it better than anyone else, “Effective dialogue always, always delivers tension.”

Tension and suspense must the at the core of nearly every scene. You might characterize these scenes with shorter words or shorter sentences to create more tension.

Speeds up your Scenes
That all elusive plot point – pacing. Yes, you can control pacing with dialogue. Used correctly, dialogue can move the story along quickly. Narrative, on the other hand, will slow the story down.

Adds Bits of Setting/Background
Go back and re-read my example above and see how I added bits of setting and background through dialogue. Most writers want to use narrative to set the scene before starting into the dialogue. That’s not necessary.

Ms Kempton states, “Setting and background can actually be made interesting when incorporated into a dialogue scene. The reader experiences the setting through the viewpoint character’s observations, and depending on the character, this could prove very interesting indeed. As long as there’s tension, of course.”

Communicates the Theme
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King writes, “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest…it seems to me that every book–at least every one worth reading –is about something.”

Stephen King is right. That something is theme. You have to know what your story is about and what you want it to convey to your reader.

Conflict + Resolution = Theme

This is what Gloria Kempton says about dialogue and theme, “Dialogue is not only a faster and more effective way to communicate the theme than to use long paragraphs of dry exposition, but it’s also more emotional, up-front, and personal with the reader.”

Dialogue is one of the most important tools the writer has you should learn to use it properly. Loren D. Estleman in her article Five Ways to Strengthen Fiction With Dialogue, suggests five steps for developing an ear for dialogue.

Write Plays
She says that even if you never sell them, the practice of writing dialogue forces you to exercise speech usage.

Listen to People
Janet Evanovich in How I Write can answer this, “Pay attention to the spoken word. Play it back in your mind. … Dialogue is everwhere if you just listen.”

Read a lot of Dialogue
Read. Read. Read. You’ve heard it all before. Read lot’s of dialogue, see how other authors are doing it.

Read your Dialogue Aloud
Read your dialogue into a tape recorder than play it back. Have someone else read it to you. Listen to it carefully. You’ll be surprised at what you hear and how quickly the fixes come to your mind.

Don’t try so hard to make it work. Dialogue must come naturally. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Some other DO’s and DON’Ts in Dialogue courtesy of Robert Newton Peck and Janet Evanovich

Do keep your sentences and phrases short. People rarely talk in monologues
Don’t worry about overusing the word “said”.
Do break up your dialogue with an interjection from another character or a thought or action if any dialogue runs longer than three sentences.
Don’t add useless “ly” adverbs following each said.
Do use a telling detail to remind us who’s speaking when the conversation goes on a long time.
Don’t use so many exclamation marks!
Do make sure each character uses different grammar and figures of speech appropriate to who he is and where he comes from.
Don’t underline every other word because you think it’s important.
Do be sure to use a reasonable balance of dialogue and narrativeThat’s it. Dialogue in a “nutshell”.  Now get out there and show the writing world what you’ve learned!


Time for a Selfie! (A newbie’s guide to the Self-Edit)

I often use the analogy of movies when talking about writing novels because they do have a number of things in common. This is yet another, although here there is a marked difference. This is yet another one, although here there is a marked difference. Without a doubt this is possibly the most soul-destroying event any new writer will experience.

When making a movie, the Director will film many takes that will notDirector - Cut! end up in the final version of the film. These could be because the actors made a mistake, burst out laughing in the middle of filming, or simply because the Director just could not produce what he wanted. These days, this material is not lost on the Cutting-room floor when the Director and Film Editor put their heads together to create the final version of the movie, the one we will see in the theater. Usually these ‘outtakes’ appear as Extras on the DVD version of the movie, so at least the Director has the opportunity of placing more of their work before the viewing public.

Not so in the Writing world.

When you have completed your First Draft, where your sole objective is to transfer your story from your mind onto the page, the next step is polishing it. This is known as Hara Kiri Editing and there are several steps you should follow.

Once you have literally, or mentally, typed ‘THE END’, a feeling of achievement, tempered with fear, will wash over you like a Tsunami. Yes, you can understand the achievement bit – it’s been a hard slog, but finally you are there – you have written a novel!

Final Draft
No, sorry, you haven’t written a novel; you have written the first draft of a novel.

I mentioned ‘fear’; why fear? Come on, search within and recognize that YOU KNOW you made compromises, especially as you neared the end; you know you CAN do better; you know there is room for improvement. Don’t be ashamed; we all do this, although many will not admit it.

As a creative writer, yes YOU, we now leave behind the pure abandon of fabricating something out of thin air and take a step to a hybrid situation where we will force ourselves to modify our creation while still trying to keep that freshness that abounded when we were pounding the keys. It’s a bit like Dr. Frankenstein deciding his monster would look better with blue eyes and less of a hooked nose…

Let’s take a look at the first part of the editing process, step by step.

The first step, as soon as you have finished you novel is:


You need a rest, a brief one, from what you have just written. I know the ‘just written’ bit refers to an extended period of time, months, maybe even years, but you have to distance yourself from your creation for a while and gain some perspective. It’s like a surgeon operating on a family member; unless you are objective, things are not going to go well!

But I’m finally a writer… I want to write, you say.

Fine, then write… something else. Try your hand at a short story, or an article, or a blog entry, or anything not related to your novel. It will still be there when you come back; don’t let impatience be your downfall after working so hard for so long.

After a couple of weeks you can pick up your story again and you may note your attitude towards it has subtly changed. It’s now easier for you to extract the scalpel and start cutting.

I know you have agonized over every word; battled the demons of randomness to memorize the Thesaurus and select the most suitable syllable to relay your ideas to your reader. But… you now have to make your book Lean and Mean!

Step two is a Selfie. No, I’m not suggesting you take a self-portrait for the back cover; I’m talking about a Self-Edit.

First label the data file that is your novel ‘[title] FIRST DRAFT’ and make at least two copies of this, if you haven’t already done so, on pendrives and remove them from the vicinity of your computer. I’m a little Old-School too, so I always print out a full copy. Then run the whole novel through your Word Processor’s Spell Checker. Okay, you’ve been doing this as you went along; fine, but do it again now. Make sure you have the right version of English selected (UK, US, whatever) and all the checking options switched on.

Done that?

Document come back clean and approved?

Now read this:

I have a lovely spelling check

That came with my PC,

Witch plainly marks, four my revue,

Miss takes I can not sea.

I’ve run this poem threw the thing.

I’m sure your please too no.

It’s latter perfect in every weigh.

My checker tolled me sew.

Many years ago, an anonymous writer produced the above and it’s as true today as it was when it was first parsed through the spell checker – it comes out clean – no errors!

These are Homonyms and they are the bane of any Spell Checker. A Homonym can be at the same time a Homograph (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and a Homophone (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling). There are a few obvious ones that will now be lurking in your novel: there and their and they’re; we’re and wear; for, four and fore to name but a few (phew?), but the list is long, believe me – Google ‘Homonyms’ and the Internet will provide you with a huge list. You could type these into the ‘Find’ field in your Word Processor and check each one, but there are easier solutions, as we’ll (wheel, well?) see (sea?).

Just a minute. Didn’t you (ewe) say we should read through our work and catch stuff like that?

Yes, but…

Now read this…

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

 No, this is not a joke; it’s a real study done a few years ago at Cambridge University which basically concluded that if you retain the first and last letters of any word in their correct position, and all the others are present, our brains can correctly interpret the sense in short paragraphs of text. There’s an old joke by comedian Eric Morecambe about playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. It’s pattern recognition, which is how we read.

Okay, the spell-checker would catch all of those, we hope.

Then there’s this:

Your memory will recognize the

the words and convince your

your brain it is reading what should

be on the page.


Nothing wrong with that, right?

Look again.

Still not spot it? Read it aloud.

So if we can’t trust the Word Processor or our own brains…

I’ve mentioned the existence of self-editing software before. This is not just a spell-checker on steroids, as so many are, offering little more than your Word spell check. It’s much more and a boon to writers of all levels. It’s easy to use and its job is twofold:

a) enable you to do a Selfie far more diligently and effectively

b) improve how you write.

Check out Stylewriter (just click on the name to visit the site – there’s a FREE trial of the software too) as a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I thoroughly recommend it. Also the company that produces it not only have the editing software, but a really useful website to teach you, using videos, how to get the most out of it. There’s even a Writing Course. When using the software, remember to switch on all the options, especially things you may think are not necessary such as checking quoted text (dialogue) where you may deliberately break the rules.

This stage of the Selfie will take time; three or four FULL days at least for a full-length novel, as you examine everything reported (including Homonyms) and make changes as you go along. Save your document as ‘[title] FIRST DRAFT’ – yes, I know we already did that, but we are only just getting started. We won’t move on to the SECOND DRAFT until we finish the Selfie.

Don’t forget to update the security copies you made after every editing session, too!

Next, PRINT the whole thing out – single side, double-spaced with a wide (two inch, five centimeter, right-hand margin and an inch on the left) margin. Yes, I know you only want to produce an eBook… bear (bare?) with me.

Now the hard bit…



Hang on! Shouldn’t I be giving this to friends and family to read and check my novel for me?

Not yet.

Find a quiet room where other family members, friends, visitors, Joe Public in general are banned!

Close the door, grab a pen or pencil, find a comfortable chair, turn to page one and…

 …read your novel ALOUD.

Read AloudNo, I don’t mean just move your lips… act it out!

Imagine you were reading it to an audience.

Read exactly what’s written, obeying all the punctuation marks (pausing for commas, semi and full colons, full stops/periods, ellipsis, etc; exclamation and interrogation marks should be treated accordingly too).

Dialogue should be read and infused with emotion – imagine your work is now a movie and you are hearing actors representing it on the screen.

Yes, you will find yourself saying “silly me; I’ve made a mistake there” (or shorter words conveying the same sentiment) and pausing to make use of the acreage in the margin – good, you’re getting the idea – don’t stop to rush to your computer to make the changes yet though. Work through the complete novel – it will take days, but it will give you a great sense of the rhythm and flow whilst drawing your attention to things you have forgotten to include (!) or stuff that needs cutting (!!) because it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. You may even change the order of events (!!!), even whole chapters (!!!!). You may decide to eliminate complete characters (!!!!!!).

I told you it was hard work, but comfort yourself with the knowledge that your novel will be all the better for this.

My very first draft of ‘2012’ (note use of lower case – I refer to the copy that was the input to the process described above) was 118,000 words in length; the published version was 88,000 words. Yes I did just say I chopped 30,000 words from that novel!

A trick I have for this stage of the Selfie is to use the right margin for making corrections (I always choose a contrasting ink color that’s easy to spot against the black ink on the page), underline the text where the correction needs to be applied, and then put a large X in the left-hand margin at the start of the line. I also fold down the top left-hand corner of any pages that have any corrections to make them easy to locate. You will probably find that most pages will end up like this the first time round; at this stage in ‘the CULL – Bloodstone’ only four pages out of the complete novel did not have bent corners, and one of those said ‘THE END’!

Finally, if you haven’t been carted off to a mental institution at the behest of worried family members after hearing you talk to yourself for days on end in a locked room, you are ready for the next bit of the Selfie.


Apply all the changes. When you finish each chapter, save it (backup copies as well) and go back and read it aloud again, this time not only checking you haven’t missed anything, but evaluating the PACE of what you’ve written. Try to be as objective as possible, and ensure you are judging ONLY the Pace. Try to isolate your assessment so it doesn’t take into account preceding or following chapters (you have an unfair advantage over your readers in that you know what’s coming, remember).  

When you have finished, run the whole beastie through the self-editing software again.

Then, and only then, you can change the resultant document’s name to ‘[title] SECOND DRAFT’. If you are doing this right, you are getting pretty bored with your book by now. That’s a GOOD sign. Soldier on; we’re getting there.

Now, if you wish, you can post your work on review sites or have friends, Romans and countrymen Beta read the creation.

Finished, right?

Just need to see what the amigos think of your masterpiece.

Only a question of waiting now…

Sorry. Now’s the time to get the Professionals involved…

How not to be small COVER

The above was an extract from “How NOT to be an ASPIRING Writer” by Eric J. Gates

- Amazon link:


Learning to Write For Your Audience

There is a big difference in writing what is in your heart and writing what people will read.  It’s a tough lesson that most writers never learn and spend many years wondering why they are not able to get published. They are writing for themselves and not for their audience.  The tricky part is how to incorporate your passions, your opinions, and the impression you want to leave on the world in a way that can also be published and eaten up by a literary audience.  Writing about a broken heart, your childhood, that fight you had with your best friend in high school, or any other subjective topics can be great to write about in the therapeutic sense, but could possibly be very difficult to get seen by mass audiences.

For all purposes of disclosure, I have only written one book so far and am currently working on my second book so I never claim to be an expert in the publishing world.  However, I was discovered by a publisher, sought out for my writing after having multiple poems published, and took the opportunity that was handed to me to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming an author.  It was during this process though that I learned that writing is a business.  Let me say that again, because this is the most important part of the whole article: Writing is first and foremost a BUSINESS.  Now don’t get mad and turn to another site because I just offended the inner artist in every writer- that truth was as difficult for me to learn as it is for you to hear.

If we want people to buy and read our books, it has to be appealing to other people.  I wrote a short story once about my grandmother and not to toot my own horn, but it was amazing.  However, if you didn’t know her, you probably wouldn’t read past the first sentence.  Does this mean that your writing has to be impersonal?  Of course not! But is does have to be objective.  It has to have the ability to draw in people with similar, different, and every other type of opinion, whether your writing makes them agree with you or it makes them furious- at least they read it!

My second book coming out is based on a true story but as close as I want to stay to the true story line, no body wants to read about how a first love broke a young girl’s heart and betrayed her in such a deep way that the rift between them could never be healed.  That was the true story, but the book has to have a happy ending according to my publisher and as frustrating as that can make me feel sometimes, I know she is right.  Writing is a business. People read our books to escape their lives, to spend a few minutes in a fantasy and a different world, and to feel emotions that they can’t find in their own lives.  This is what we should hang on to when we feel down about our story lines, or changing a piece to better market itself.  We don’t just write to sell books even though writing is a business.  We write to give people an escape. We write to bring smiles and tears, healing and hurting, memories and new adventures.  We provide people with joy and excitement and an outlet for their emotions.  We should be proud of that aspect of our business of writing.

Yes, writing is a business and sometimes we have to write for the marketing and business world rather than what we really want to write.  But we are also being given the gift of helping a stranger to heal, teaching someone to love, and bringing people joy all over the world.  Writing is a business but writing is also a gift from us to the world and from the world to us.

Better Yet, Write That Novel!

nanowrimo-vidya-sury-love-booksHey folks! Today we’re at the hallway mark of National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org). If you’ve taken on this challenge for yourself, you’ve probably doing everything in your power to stop procrastinating and actually write those 50,000 words by the end of the month.

In my latest moment of procrastination, I read with delight Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds most recent blog post: When Haters Give You Lemons (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/11/12/the-nanowrimo-dialogues-when-haters-give-you-lemons/). Seriously, if you haven’t read this guy’s blog, you’re really missing out. Not only is he a great writer with a unique style, but he is also hilarious and candid at the same time. His recent post was a back and forth imaginary discussion between him and us on why we shouldn’t let critics of Nanowrimo get us down.

The debate surprised me, because I thought, why would anyone get down on a Nanowrimo participant? Sure, as an indie writer I’ve seen plenty of that, but why sweet, little harmless Nanowrimo. Even the acronym is adorable.

Well, good ol’ Chuck provided a link to this blog post: Better yet, DON’T write that novel (http://www.salon.com/2010/11/02/nanowrimo/), I knew once I clicked on the link that there would be no going back, and there wasn’t.

Just to clarify, Chuck states that this blog post is three years old, so this was written before I even wrote my first Nanowrimo last November. At the time, I thought it was such a grand idea. What harm could there be?

Well, apparently a lot, from the perspective of Salon co-founder Laura Miller. Funny enough, when I began reading her blog post, I thought I was reading an article by Margaret Wente, the columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national paper. This type of thing is right up her alley, you know. Someone playing the devil’s advocate. But then I saw that she actually meant what she wrote. Really. And she’s a writer. Of a book.

Here’s what I think. She’s put way too much thought into it. I personally believe it must have hurt her brain to write that darn thing. I thought that it would make a great plot for a dystopian novel: don’t write a book. It will only corrupt our youth.

I can’t possibly dissect the entire article (well, I guess I could, but then I would never finish my novel), but here are some key points in italics. Miller writes:

Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read.

First off, no one participating expects anyone to read a first draft of what they’ve written. And if they have, it’s usually by mutual agreement like beta swapping or critique partnering. Did Miller expect anyone to read her tripe of an article? If she hadn’t been so intentionally provocative, did she think she would have had over 300 posted in response? Secondly, the book world should just cater to her needs and wants, is that it? What she may view as literary genius some others might see as trash. Just look at a review on goodreads, and you’ll see what I mean. Then she says:

The last thing the world needs is more bad books.

Yes, the bad book trope. I just love that argument, because famous literary authors or genre authors or fiction authors have never, ever written a bad book. Or didn’t do so in the beginning, but learned through the act of doing. And yet is the world not filled with ugly architecture or foul music or putrid tasting food, or spoiled wine or vulgar art or offensive theatre? Is it only the book world that chooses to saturate and dilute all of the good and honourable books with their trash?

Frankly, there are already more than enough novels out there — more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it’s our job to do so. This is not to say that I don’t hope that more novels will be written, particularly by the two dozen-odd authors whose new books I invariably snatch up with a suppressed squeal of excitement.

I don’t even know how to respond to this paragraph except to ask, WTF? So, let me get this straight. In Miller’s opinion, the world already has too many books so why would anyone write any more and it’s not like there is anyone but her and a handful of a few other elitists who also read. This is really beginning to sound like a Twilight Zone episode or the plot of Fahrenheit 451.

Rather than squandering our applause on writers…why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? …They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

Again, I am trying to fathom how this writer actually believes what she’s writing. More support for readers? While attacking Nanowrimo, she suggests that somehow readers are somehow an endangered species. That’s like saying if every amateur artist suddenly started painting, the world would run out of people to come and look at art. And as far as readers not being given proper nurturing, there are already enormous resources for readers. I for one follow at least a dozen book blogs and I’m also a member of Goodreads, and entire on-line community for readers.

Not surprising, Laura Miller is no fan of self-publishing either. In her post: When anyone can be a published author (http://www.salon.com/2010/06/23/slush_3/). You’re welcome to read it for yourself, but here are a few lines:

You’ve either experienced slush or you haven’t, and the difference is not trivial. People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is.

Maybe all of her rage against Nanowrimo and self-publishing comes from the above paragraph. She doesn’t state what her experience is but maybe at the beginning of her career was an intern at a publishing house?

All I can say is what I know now. Currently, there are only a handful of agents or publishers in my experience that will even accept unsolicited manuscripts, so I haven’t a clue what she is talking about.  See more about that from my blog: http://www.heidiloney.com/queries-in-canada-literary-agents-and-publishers/ . The majority of agents will only accept a query letter, and maybe some pages if you’re lucky. The query letter is like a letter of introduction, in the same way a cover letter is. Like a job application, only those qualified for the job will be called for an interview.

Furthermore, in both posts she assumes that anyone who attempts to write a manuscript will submit it to an agent and if and when it is rejected, that person will choose to self-publish. This is where she is wrong. Many self-published authors are indie authors by choice. Also, many published authors have chosen to forgo traditional publishing with subsequent books and choose self-publishing instead. Furthermore, many indie writers have become hybrid authors in that they are have both self-published and traditionally published works.

What still troubles me is how we’ll get there. Will readers have to flounder in an ocean of slush before the new gatekeepers appear to rescue them? And if so, how long before they contract slush fatigue?

Miller argues without merit, that the self-published novels will be in such abundance that the even the new gatekeepers (book bloggers or book reviewers, as an example) will not be able to sort the trash from the trash not. IMHO, readers will find their books like they always have – through word of mouth. Sure, an indie author can be a guru at social networking and marketing, have a dazzling book cover and book blurb, but if they can’t write worth a lick, no one will recommend their book.  The reader is the new gatekeeper.

Now back to Nano.  HL.

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