Now Is the Right Time To Write A Book

write a novel for your readersDo you have a burning desire to write a book this year?

You’re not alone!

I believe that everyone has at least one book within them. Whether they wish to share a story idea that’s been simmering for years, sage business advice to help others succeed, a personal life story that just needs to be told, or a family history project that is time sensitive.

As a ghostwriter of twenty years, I’ve worked with many clients in each of the above categories. I love them all because each genre has its own particular challenges and its own rewards. And although they are all unique, each book project requires the same elements and preparation.

If you follow the steps in this article, you will avoid the common problems people face, which can cause writer’s block and cause them to fail in their goal to complete their books.

Get ready…

Before you can really get started on a book, you need to prepare yourself for the project. I believe the reason most people never complete their books is that they don’t set themselves up properly from the get-go.

Make a firm decision to write a book

Make the firm decision to write a book—no matter what. This decision will help you stay on track in the face of distractions. Give yourself a final deadline and target dates along the way for milestones to complete. That will help you finish your book.

Find the time

The best way to complete your book is to make regular progress. Find a time of the day when you won’t be disturbed. This may be early in the morning before the kids wake up, or late at night after all of your other responsibilities are done.

If you can only carve out a few hours a week on the weekends, that’s a good place to start. Just know that you might find you lose some time in reacquainting yourself with the material if you allow too many days to pass between writing sessions.

See if you can find even a little time to write every day. You’ll soon be immersed in creating your book and may even find extra time to work on it.

Find a place

writers need a good, dedicated spaceFind a dedicated writing space. Somewhere around your home, with a door you can close, would be most convenient. I know some writers who are inspired by the great outdoors and settle down near a lake or in a meadow. They don’t even mind the occasional visits from beetles and spiders.

It doesn’t matter where you set up, as long as you can write without distraction.

Experiment, and find your place.

State your purpose

Over the years, my clients have voiced a variety of different purposes for writing their books. Many writers yearn to see their names on the cover of their books. As an author, I understand; I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your creation in print.

Beyond that, there are authors who crave financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom in order to help. Some simply wish to complete their books for the benefit of their loved ones.

Be clear about your purpose right from the beginning. It will allow you to better determine what direction you will take.

Determine your readership

One of the biggest errors you can make as an author is to fail to identify your readership. You can’t write a book to everyone. Trust me, you’ll fail. No, you need to target your words to a specific demographic.

It’s important to figure this out early, because the voice and style of your book will depend on the readers you wish to entertain or educate. After all, wouldn’t you write a how-to book for experts in your niche market differently than you would a science fiction novel aimed at a young adult audience?

Consider your themes

Share the good and the bad when writing your book with your ghostwriterSimply put, the theme of your book is the glue that ties everything together. This idea often conveys a universal truth, such as Love, War, Forgiveness, Courage, Friendship or Faith.

For example, I think we can all agree that J.R.R Tolkien communicated courage beautifully in The Hobbit, as did J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter. Friendship was another theme in both these works.

Keep in mind a book’s theme is rarely stated outright. It’s more subtle. It’s a takeaway the reader will experience and consider for years to come when you express your viewpoint of the world and the human condition through your characters’ beliefs, actions, experiences and conversations.

Get set…

Now that you’re fully set up to write a book, it’s time to organize your thoughts. A lot of first-time writers fall on their faces when they just begin to write without a strategy. After all, if you were to bake a wedding cake for your best friend, you’d probably do a little research and at least follow a recipe.

Create detailed notes

It is so helpful to jot down detailed notes before you begin to write a book. Get these ideas out of your head and onto paper. This process will help you envision your story and get the creative juices flowing.

I have found an effective way to collect notes is to create an idea folder. This could be a word processing document or a notebook. Any thought you have about your book should be recorded in this folder. Don’t worry about the order, grammar, spelling or anything else.

Just let your ideas flow.

Have fun with it.

Remember to research

Photos are good research tools for your bookResearch is crucial for any book project. If you’re writing a memoir or recording your family’s history, you’ll need to provide accurate details as to time, location, appearance of the historic events. This also holds true if your novel is set in a past era.

Fortunately, you have many resources available to you for research. Many writers use the internet and the library, but don’t forget the treasure trove of information within the minds of your family members. Many of them lived through the decades past and can share experiences with you.

As you gather information, add it to your notes file. Be sure to always record your sources, so you can refer back to them.

Your story will take place in a location. If it is a real place, use the information from your memory or research to paint it accurately. If you are writing fiction and setting your story in an imaginary place, I recommend that you do some world building. World building consists of fully fleshing out the universe which your characters occupy. This includes the geography, history, scientific laws and developments, culture and customs of the inhabitants, etc. By having a crystal-clear idea of what these are, your story will flow, and your readers will happily come along on the adventure.

Know your characters

Regardless of your genre, you will probably have a cast of characters in your book. Even most business books include personal anecdotes that involve friends and family. These characters all need to be developed.

I find it helpful to create character biographies. Here I list each person who will be featured in the book and jot down their name, birth date and various other attributes that will help me write realistically about them. Some things to consider might be:

  • physical appearance
  • clothing style
  • speech patterns
  • mannerisms or habits
  • hobbies

Go…

At this point you have an excellent, solid foundation in place; you are well set up for success. Now it’s time to pull together all your notes and research into a cohesive plan. Then you can begin to write.

Create an outline

Ghostwriters create an outline by asking who, what, and whereAn outline allows you to organize your notes to create a good flow for your book. I am a big fan of outlining. It’s a road map that allows me to know the direction I’m going with my book. Without an outline it’s very easy to take a wrong turn and wind up in a dead end.

If you’re writing a novel or memoir, consider putting all the incidents in chronological order. That’s usually the best plan. Of course, you can opt to indulge in the occasional flashback, but don’t overdo it.

Your outline can take any form that works for you. After all, it is for your eyes only and is purely a tool to help you organize the content of your book.

When writing a business book, I suggest that you create a table of contents along with subheads. Jot down descriptions or bullet points under each to remind you about the content you wish to share.

For a novel or memoir, I prefer to use a different system. I create a large incident list which answers the following questions:

  • Who is in the scene?
  • Where does it takes place?
  • When did it happened?
  • What happened in the incident?
  • What is the purpose of the scene in your book?

Note: The last point is by far the most important aspect of this process. After all, if a scene has no purpose, it will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.

Write your first draft

Once the outline is completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now it’s time to get words on paper.

New writers often edit as they crank out the first draft. Try to avoid doing that. Just get the rough draft completed. I know, it won’t be great. That’s OK! You’ll fine tune your manuscript during the editing phase.

So just sit down and write…

And write…

And write.

If you’re writing a memoir, and find yourself sharing personal stories, be as detailed as possible so that you can help the reader feel as if he were right there with you. To do this, close your eyes and see the colors, hear the speech patterns, smell the odors, taste the food, and feel the textures in each incident.

The same goes for a novel. Use your senses when you’re telling the story. Draw on personal experience if possible. If not, use your world building notes to help guide you.

If you’re penning a how-to book, be sure to give step-by-step, detailed instructions for your reader. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about the subject. Imagine what questions he may have as he tries to do the steps, or any difficulties he may run into, and address them accordingly.

Edit your first draft

Edit your bookAfter completing your first draft, it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week to take a breather from the project.

The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. It can happen that you switch gears on a subject mid-writing. In that case, you’ll need to go back and make adjustments.

You will also pick up on issues with flow as you read it through. Some scenes will flow right into the next, while other transitions will be choppy. This is the time to fix that.

While doing this you may spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the time to focus on grammar or punctuation. Instead, make sure the story sings. By the time you finish this phase, you may find that you’ve altered and rearranged the words so much that fixing typos doesn’t make sense.

Once you’ve worked out the major kinks, you can review your manuscript for errors in grammar and punctuation. I’d recommend hiring one or two editors to look at your story with fresh eyes. It’s always good to have a detached person review your work.

With these steps for how to write a book, you should be ready to start. Regardless of the decade and what is going on in the world at the time, there’s no time like the present to begin. If you have any questions or would like some help, please contact me. My greatest joy is in helping others achieve their dream of sharing their story in a book.

 

Author Bio: Laura Sherman (aka the Friendly Ghostwriter) has been helping authors write their stories for twenty years. When she’s not busy building worlds for her clients, she homeschools three children as the family travels the country in her RV.

 

5 Tips to Help You Prepare to Write Your Novel

A woman begins to write a novel

You’ve been dreaming of writing a novel and now have the time to do so. You sit down at your computer and stare at the blinking cursor on the blank screen. You know the story concept you want to write but have no idea how to start.

Instinctively, you know that “It was a dark and stormy night” probably isn’t the right beginning. But what is? To ensure that you communicate your concept effectively, you need to prepare to write your novel.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Outline your story idea before you write your novel

A budding writer recently asked me for advice. She was having trouble writing the ending for her book and was stuck. The problem was that she had set off without a plan and then found she’d written her character into a situation she couldn’t resolve. While some people feel that they can write a novel by just typing away with no preparation, that approach can be difficult and frustrating for a new writer.

It is true that magic is created when you’re engrossed in the writing process, but I find that it’s most effective to prepare to write your novel before letting your story flow from your fingertips. I find that when I am properly set up, the process is smoother because I have guideposts and mile markers to help me find my way.

Without a plan you might wind up in a ghost town

Writing without a plan is a bit like taking a road trip by just choosing a compass direction and taking off. It could be a brilliant choice, or you might drive for two hundred miles to discover a small town that doesn’t even have a motel. Sure, it can be an adventure, and I’m sure you’d get something out of it; but if you’d done a little research, you may have found a National Park two hundred miles in a different direction with glorious waterfalls and amazing views. Similarly, outlining before you write will save you from wasted time and words. It will save you from the disappointment of tossing thousands of words later.

There are many ways to outline. One way is to write a rough summary. It’s a bit like sketching the image before you apply paint to the canvas. Just summarize your story in a few pages. Don’t worry about grammar. Do be sure to include all major plot points.

Another system I like to use involves a journalistic approach to each incident in the book. I like to jot down:

  • The title of the incident
  • The characters who will appear
  • When it took place
  • Where it happened
  • The purpose of this scene in the book

 

For instance, I might create an incident like so:

  • Title: First day of college
  • Who: Theon, George, and Mikey
  • When: Sept 5, 1983
  • Where: North Dorm of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA
  • Purpose: Introduce college setting and show Mikey living away from home for the first time.

Since the outline consists of notes from you to you, the form it takes really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the method helps you to prepare to write your novel.

2. Shape your story

Shape your story with structure as you write your novel

Now that you have a list of incidents or a basic outline of the story, it’s time to shape it into a format that will work. If you’re not familiar with the three-act structure, it’s worth looking into. Once you understand it, review a few of your favorite books and movies and see how they incorporate the three acts into their story. Then consider how your story can fit into that structure.

In addition, it’s time to consider the arcs your characters will follow throughout the story. The main characters need to follow paths that make sense for your book. Although you might decide to work out the details of their journeys as you write your novel, you should have a rough idea of where they’re going and where they’ll end up before you start.

Conflict is a key element for any story. Throughout your book, your main characters should encounter many conflicts and difficulties along the way. These serve to raise the readers’ heart rates as they turn the pages or swipe forward. Suspense and mystery help keep readers interested.

As you take these factors into consideration, your outline or summary may need adjusting. That’s normal. At this phase, your story is a bit like clay that you can mold and squish into the shape you desire. After all, you’re the creator.

3. Get to know your main characters

A great story has strong, believable characters. As you prepare to write your novel, you can get a head start on creating characters that your readers will identify with and cheer for. Start by jotting down notes about your main character. If you feel stuck, imagine that you are interviewing him. Prepare questions ahead of time. It might help to start with a detailed physical description. Then write down basic information about him, such as:

  • Occupation
  • Marriage status
  • Number of children
  • Hobbies
  • Mannerisms

Create fun, realistic characters when you write a novel

After you have an idea of his basic attributes, you might delve into his ideology, general life philosophy, religious preferences, etc. Continue with this exercise until you feel you can answer any question about him with confidence. In other words, you know him inside out. Take the time to get to know each of your other characters in a similar way. When you know your main characters this thoroughly, many of the scenes will write themselves because you know how your people will act in any given circumstance.

If you still feel that your characters are disconnected strangers, imagine putting two characters into a room together. Set up the scene and watch how they interact. Take notes. Observe their mannerisms as well as their dialogue. Write it all down. You’ll learn a lot about them in this way.

Don’t worry about bit players in a scene. Although adding a few words of description can help set the scene, you don’t need to create a biography for the ballroom dancing instructor who appears only on page 39.

4. Build the world

If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy story, you’ll need to spend some time building your world. This is a lot of fun! The laws of physics might not be the same, nor will the native plants and animals necessarily resemble those of Earth. Consider the history of the races that inhabit your world. What makes them distinctive?

One writing coach suggested to me that it helps to keep the setting somewhat familiar for the reader and change up only a few key things. If everything is completely different, it makes it hard for people to relate easily. They’ll get confused and put the book down. Also, you can wind up spending a lot of time explaining the nuances of the world, which can be boring and pull the reader out of the story.

world building is a key part of writing a bookAs you prepare to write your novel, think of all the aspects of the world that you will need the reader to understand. Sometimes it works to create intricate background stories that delve into the history of the society. Of course, it’s never a good idea to dump this data in a prologue or the first few chapters, as it clogs up the story with a lot of facts. Instead, talented authors weave information seamlessly into the story. However, you, the creator of this world, must understand the basics of the universe that you’re building so that you can craft your story within the rules and guidelines of it.

For instance, for the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling spent some time working out the rules of the magical people. She had to do that to keep everything consistent throughout all the books. Part of that process would involve sketching out the characteristics of the basilisk, the boggarts and the dementors ahead of time.

Some authors enjoy creating detailed maps of their worlds to orient the readers with the layout of the land. You’ll also sometimes find detailed genealogy tables for a family of characters in the book. There are many ways to build a world. Select the ones that work for you and your story.

5. Set yourself up for success

It’s easy to say that you want to write your novel. It’s another matter altogether to create a plan to actually do it. I’m reminded of the “Just Do It” motivational video that circulated a few years ago. There’s some truth in that statement. Sometimes you just need to bypass all the distractions that inevitably will crop up and decide that you’re going to complete your book. However, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.

Find a comfortable spot to write your novel

find a good place to write your novelThis might be your bed or your dining room table. It might be a lawn chair in your back yard. Or it could be a bench at a nearby park. It helps to have a steady and established spot, where you know what to expect in the environment. Comfort is important. Make sure your seat is comfortable, giving you the back support you need.

Your space should be as free from distraction as possible. Definitely don’t put yourself at the center island of your kitchen when the children are all home and running around. You’ll get interrupted in multiple ways. Ideally you have a room where you can close the door (and maybe lock it).

Find your writing time

When I was younger, I did my best work at midnight. Honestly, I couldn’t think with doing anything meaningful before 10am. Nowadays, I like to write in the mornings. I have  three kids and find that I write the best before everyone gets up. 6am is a great time!

I recommend selecting the right time of day for you, then working consistently at that time every day. If you’re serious about writing a book, you’ll need to put in at least one hour. Remember, it takes a while to get into the groove, so giving yourself a 20-minute window will just be an exercise in frustration.

Set realistic targets

Some people might find it more productive to set a word-count writing target each week than a time goal. If you are a daydreamer by nature, time targets won’t help. After all, sitting in front of your laptop building castles in the air for thirty minutes isn’t going to help you write your novel.

So, how many words should you plan to write a day? That really depends on you. You can estimate that 250 words is about a page, so I’d encourage you to write a few pages each day. When I get going (and I’m well set up with an outline), I tend to max out at 5,000 words. After that, it becomes an unintelligible jumble of syllables.

Set a daily, a weekly, and a monthly target. Also, decide on a final deadline for your book. Then make those targets, or better yet, beat them!

 

Being a mother of three children, I’m a planner at heart. I believe that if you really want to write your novel, you need to properly prepare and follow through with the targets you establish. Set yourself up for success and don’t accept failure as an option. If you’re embarking on your first book and want a few tips, please check out my blog or write me for advice. I’m always happy to help!

How to Select the Right Ghostwriter for You

How to find the right ghostwriter for youIf you find yourself eager to complete a book project that has been on your mind for years, but know you need help, it might be time to hire a ghostwriter. After all, if you haven’t found the hundreds of hours required to write a book in the last few years, chances are you won’t have the time today…or tomorrow. So, how do you find the right ghostwriter for you? That’s the challenge I wish to tackle with you today.

Research candidate ghostwriters

You can easily determine whether a candidate writer can help you with your story by researching her. Any qualified professional ghostwriter will have a website with testimonials. You can also throw her name into a search engine and see what you find. It’s a good idea to verify how reputable she is by checking her out on Google.

For instance, try typing “Laura Sherman Ghostwriter” into Google and see what you find. The first page will have various entries from my blog, but you’ll also see mentions of me from other professional writers.

You can also type in various key words that interest you and see what pops up. If you search for subjects like “memoir themes,” “help writing a book,” or “ghostwriting contract,” you’ll find a variety of writers that show up (myself included). That’s because we blog and guest blog a lot about these topics and have experience in these fields.

Now, it’s worth noting that a ghostwriter doesn’t need to rank well on Google to be a good match for you. However, a reputable ghostwriter should have some kind of web presence (other than social media).

Nail down pricing

Discover your budget to hire a ghostwriterWhen you begin searching for the right ghostwriter for you, there are different ways to narrow the field. I suggest that you determine your budget before you start interviewing. Some ghostwriters won’t post their rates, while others are upfront about their fees on their websites. If you can, ask for the rate before you begin the interview process. It will save you a lot of time and aggravation.

For instance, if your budget is $5,000 for an average-sized book, I wouldn’t be a good candidate for you. I charge one dollar per word (or $50,000 for a 200-page book). No matter how much I fall in love with your project’s concept, I can’t take a 90% pay cut.

If you have a small budget, I’d recommend that you scour one of the many freelancer websites to find someone within your price range. Just please be warned: you will get what you pay for.

Professional ghostwriters usually charge somewhere between fifty cents and two dollars per word.

Discover the ghostwriter’s preferred genre

Select the right genre for your bookOnce you find a ghostwriter within your price range, you’ll need to make sure your story is one he or she can write. The genre should be within the ghostwriter’s wheelhouse. Writers often specialize. For instance, I write memoirs, business books and novels, but I will only take on projects that are uplifting, inspirational or educational. Other writers don’t have such constraints on topic, while some only write books in a specific genre. For instance, I’ve seen certain ghosts who only write romantic comedies, how-to books, or screenplays.

The right ghostwriter for you will have prior experience writing a book similar to yours. So, if you’re writing a memoir, I wouldn’t recommend a writer who has only done scientific textbooks or who specializes in cookbooks.

Read up on the ghostwriter to discover his or her area of expertise. If you have trouble finding this information online, simply ask the ghostwriter about their preferences in an email or during the initial conversation.

Summarize your story to the ghostwriter

A ghostwriter doesn’t need all the details of your story to determine if she is the right ghostwriter for you. The broad strokes are enough for her to make a decision. With this in mind, don’t download your entire story to the writer in the initial conversation. Instead, find a way to summarize it in a few paragraphs. I recommend that you prepare this before you contact a prospective ghostwriter.

I can tell you that after twenty years in the industry, I can quickly determine if I can do justice to a client’s story.

For example, here are two excerpts from recent requests:

  • “My husband of 25 years abandoned me and our children to take up with another woman. I want to write a book to get back at him and her.”
  • “I’m a successful real estate investor and businessman. I want to share my story of how I overcame various challenges to inspire others to follow their dreams.”

Both wanted memoirs written, but each had a very different purpose. Since I specialize in uplifting stories, I knew I wasn’t the best ghostwriter for the first person and told her this immediately. However, the second project was well within my wheelhouse and I was chomping at the bit to start writing that book. I didn’t need all the details to be interested.

Hire the right ghostwriter for you

Find the right ghostwriter for youFollowing these guidelines, you can quickly narrow down the candidates who could potentially be the right ghostwriter for you. Once you’ve done this homework, set up a time to talk to the writer about your story. You want to be sure that you are able to communicate easily and that there is an immediate and budding chemistry between you two about the project. That’s important as this will be a long-term relationship.

If you’re interested in learning more about the steps that follow, check out my article on How to Effectively Work with a Ghostwriter. It’s a fun and rewarding adventure.

And please feel free to email me anytime to learn more about the process of working with me.

How to Effectively Work with a Ghostwriter

By Laura Sherman

how to work with a ghostwriterIt’s 2020 and you have a great story to tell or wisdom to impart and wish to write a book. However, your demanding schedule leaves little time to put pen to paper. In addition, this is new territory for you, and you might not be fluent with all the rules of writing and storytelling. This is the moment where most people reach out to me as they realize they need to work with a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is a professional writer who specializes in helping her clients bring their stories to life. She writes the book and you own the rights—you’re the author. Although you’ll need to be involved, she will do 90% of the work and will help see your project through to completion in a timely manner.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with many different clients on over three dozen memoirs, novels, and business books. While each relationship was unique, I’ve picked out some common steps you can expect to take if you decide to work with a ghostwriter.

Finding the right ghostwriter for you

Your first course of action is to interview and select the best ghostwriter for you and your project. The most popular way to find ghostwriters by searching for them online. You’ll find there are a lot of choices, but you can begin whittling down the list by determining three important requirements before you start interviewing.

First, know your budget. At least know your range. For instance, if you wish to write a 100-page (25,000-word) book and have a budget of $12,500, that’s fifty cents per word. Don’t contact someone who charges two dollars per word. Find writers within your range. This will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Second, know the genre of your book. You don’t want to waste your time on interviewing a writer who specializes in novels when you intend to write a business how-to book.

And, third, prepare a brief summary of your book. I can’t tell you how many clients spend over an hour sharing their entire story with me during our initial conversation. It’s draining and exhausting for the author and the writer. While you need to share the overview of the story to determine that the ghostwriter will be a good fit, it should be an elevator pitch lasting only a few minutes so that you have enough time and energy for the rest of the interview questions.

After you’ve determined that the potential ghostwriter is qualified, has a lot of prior experience, and is within your price range, it’s time to interview her on the phone. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time. For a little advice about the kinds of questions to ask, please read my article: Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter.

When you speak on the phone, make sure that you and your ghost can talk comfortably and easily. You want a ghostwriter who listens well and asks intelligent questions. Ideally, she will engage in your story right away. And there should be an immediate bond; it should feel like you’ve been friends for years.

Signing with a ghostwriter

when you work with a ghostwriter have a good contractOnce you’ve found your perfect match, it’s time to make it official. Your ghostwriter should have a ghostwriting contract for you to sign. Always put all the important details in writing so there are no confusions later.

Your contract should include the following:

  • all milestone deadlines and payments
  • the expected word count of the book
  • all the services that will be provided
  • a clear agreement that the author will hold all copyrights
  • the permitted number of revision requests
  • a confidentiality agreement
  • a contingency plan in case there are disputes.

Plan to pay 25% of the total fee upfront. This covers research and outlining, which in my experience is often the most time-consuming phase. I work on a milestone approach so that my clients always know what to expect with each payment. For example, with the first payment they will receive a detailed outline within two or three months.

Work with a ghostwriter to gather research information

Now that you’ve selected your ghostwriter and have signed the contract, it’s time to gather all your research information and notes. Don’t worry if your notes are messy and disorganized. Personally, I never mind if the notes provided are riddled with typos and grammatical errors. All I’m interested in is the information, so that I can begin formulating the outline for your book. Then I’ll set up an interview schedule to fill in the gaps.

Notes can come in a variety of forms. Over the last twenty years, clients have given me:

  • Diaries
  • Website links
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Handwritten notes
  • Audio or video files
  • Photographs
  • Rough drafts of chapters

research when you work with a ghostwriterIf you want to work with a ghostwriter, but don’t have any written notes prior to signing the contract, that’s completely fine. Your ghost will be able to guide you, so that you can give her the information she needs.

For instance, if you desire to write a memoir, I’d ask that you jot down a list of crucial incidents. This list can be very basic. The wording should be designed to help you remember what happened. For instance, you might write “the time I met Mary on the subway,” or “graduation day,” or “the big argument with my brother two years ago.” You know what each phrase means and can instantly remember all the details. Of course, if you’re so inclined, you could also note a few details at this time.

In the case of a non-fiction book, your notes would take the form of chapter titles for a preliminary Table of Contents. Under each chapter title, you would list out the subheads you plan to incorporate into that chapter, along with a few comments about what you want to say.

As you work with a ghostwriter, she will take these notes and use them as a starting place to create her interview questions. These questions will help her get more details to flesh out your story.

Settling a few important details

As you pull together the research notes, consider these important aspects of your book:

  • the genre
  • the readership
  • your goals

select the right genre for your bookWhile you determined the general genre of your book before starting your search for your ghostwriter, now you can get more specific. This will help your writer when she begins outlining.

For instance, if you’re a successful businessperson, you might have a choice between writing a memoir or a how-to book in which to share your hard-won knowledge. Or if you have led an exciting life, you might choose between writing a memoir or creating a fictionalized version of your story, turning it into a novel.

Next, you need to determine the readership of your book. This will help you choose which incidents to include in your story and the style in which they will be written. After all, a college textbook would be quite different from a romantic comedy. Or a World War II memoir would be written in a very different style from a space opera science fiction novel.

And finally, you need to clarify your goals. Do you hope to gain financially? Do you wish to share your wisdom and experience to help others improve their lives? Or do you simply wish to record your family history for your loved ones? When you know why you wish to publish your book, you can work with a ghostwriter to realize those goals.

Interviewing with a ghostwriter

Some people I speak to seem to have the impression that a ghostwriter is someone who follows a celebrity around all day, perhaps living in the guest house or in a spare bedroom. While I have seen this portrayed in movies, in real life it isn’t terribly practical.

I find that it is most effective to interview clients over the phone and via email. It’s rare that I ever meet them in person (although sometimes I have had the pleasure). In-person interviews aren’t necessary and don’t make the process easier.

During these interviews a ghostwriter will gather details on all the incidents in your memoir or novel. If you’re writing a how-to book, your writer will want to interview you to gain insight into the information, techniques, and tips which will be featured in the book. In addition, successful nonfiction books include amusing, illustrative anecdotes to hold the reader’s interest. These are usually best communicated through interviews.

As you continue to work with a ghostwriter, an effective way to pass on important information is through written materials, such as documents, notes, emails, etc. But ongoing oral interviews are key to a successful outcome because they give her the opportunity to master your voice. Becoming familiar with the way you express yourself will allow the writer to convincingly write in your style. After all, this will be your book and your name will be on the cover.

Tips on interviewing

When you are interviewed, be prepared to be honest and candid. Don’t try to hide things. Take responsibility for your actions. If you attempt to blame others, your readers will lose respect for you and interest in the book. Embrace what happened, no matter how embarrassing or messy it may seem to you. That’s important. Then be sure to express how much you’ve learned from your mistakes. This will resonate with your readers. After all, we’ve all been there.

use your senses when describing a scene in a bookAnother tip is to consider all of your senses when you describe a scene. People typically default to their sense of sight and describe what they saw. While these descriptions are crucial, it’s important not to forget all the other perceptions.

For instance, let’s say you’re sharing the story of your tenth birthday with your ghostwriter. Think about the sounds of the outdoor party. Were there birds singing or perhaps cicadas buzzing and clicking? Then try to remember the smells of freshly mown grass or grilling hamburgers. You should probably also delve into the emotions of the day. Were you excited or disappointed? There are so many possibilities. The more sensory details you add, the richer your story will be.

And finally, I’d suggest that you and your ghostwriter limit each conversation to about an hour. While an hour and a half can be fine, I wouldn’t recommend marathon three-hour talks. You’ll get worn out, and your ability to recall the details might diminish.

Planning your schedule

Plan your schedule when you work with a ghostwriterWhen you work with a ghostwriter, she will do the heavy lifting for your book, but remember that you also have a key role in your project. Some ghostwriters collect all the information upfront, learning as much as they can, and quickly deliver a first draft for the client to review. They basically complete the book without continued input from the client. Once the rough draft is finished, that’s when they request feedback and make adjustments accordingly. I feel that is a potential recipe for disaster.

Personally, I want to make sure to be delivering the style of writing the authors expect. To that end, I send pages to my clients for feedback on a regular basis, as I write them. That way I can be sure to be on the right track and deliver what my clients envisioned.

It is important to be upfront with your ghostwriter about your available time. In the beginning, you should plan to spend minimally a few hours a week on interviewing, answering questions, and providing feedback. A good ghostwriter is flexible and, with some forewarning, can work around your schedule.

Giving feedback

When you work with a ghostwriter, she will require feedback. It’s important to be specific in your comments, so that she can learn and improve. For instance, don’t simply say, “I didn’t like that.” Rather, explain what you felt was missing from the passage or what nuance you felt wasn’t correctly captured.

It’s also key to point out what you felt your ghost got right. Good feedback is just as helpful as correction. We learn from both equally.

It’s a good idea to give a quick turnaround on edits to your ghostwriter, as that will speed up the process and help her learn faster. Ideally, you can tell her when you’ll be able to review the document so she can schedule around it.

I like working with MS Word. I find Track Changes a helpful editing tool because the client can make changes within the document and I can immediately spot the edits. Plus, he or she can write comments that help explain the changes made. It’s a great tool for any writing team.

 

Work with a ghostwriterYour story is important and deserves to be heard. If you don’t have the time or know-how to write a book yourself, having a ghostwriter help you is a real option. Knowing how to pick a ghostwriter allows you to find the person who is best suited for you and your project. And understanding how to work with a ghostwriter allows you to two to become a strong team, one that works together smoothly and effectively to bring your story to life so that you can share it with the world.

Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell

Show don't tell when you write to engage your readersThere are quite a few rules for writing, but one of the more senior commandments is show, don’t tell. I know this can be a baffling concept to new writers. Honestly, I’d hate to see a lack of understanding of this golden rule stop anyone from putting pen to paper.

As with most new skills, show, don’t tell simply takes a little practice to master. With practice you’ll find that soon you’ll begin to apply the rules almost instinctively. While honing this skill, I’d recommend that you read some of your favorite books over again and observe how the authors bring their stories to life by showing their readers various details. You’ll find there are many ways to accomplish this goal.

The meaning of show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell simply means that you allow your readers to experience incidents through storytelling rather than overtly tell them what happened. Showing is often done through character development, in which you thoroughly share sensory details, action, and dialogue.

The reason showing is so effective is that it puts your readers directly into the shoes of the main character and lets them to see things through his or her lens. It’s a much more immersive experience for the readers, allowing them to lose themselves in your book.

An example

In order to illustrate the difference between telling and showing, here are two passages:

Terry had a fear of spiders.

Or:

As the spider crept along the tartan quilt, Terry’s body convulsed with an involuntary shudder. His heartbeat quickened as its eight legs inched toward his arm. Would that he could move it away, but none of his muscles would obey his silent plea for escape.

 

Which version did you prefer? Did one make you feel the emotions along with Terry?

Most people would agree that the second example plops the reader in the middle of the scene and adds layers to his terror. And it’s possible that the reader might experience a shudder of his own.

Use dialogue to show feelings

Characters express emotions through dialogueWhen attempting to show, don’t tell, dialogue can be a powerful tool for a writer. You can show emotions and reveal the deep relationships between characters in an engaging way. Body language also gives the readers insight into what’s going on.

Keep in mind that people have various ways of communicating. Based on their past relationships, they will speak to each other in different ways. Consider how you speak to and interact with your grandmother. Now think about how you speak with and interact with your sibling or your best friend. Each relationship is very different, right? We all have different behavior codes for the variety of people in our lives who are important to us. Well, the same would apply to the characters in your book.

It’s also worth mentioning that people aren’t cut-out duplicates of one another. We all have different traits that create our personalities. Examine all the people you know. Do they each speak in the same way? My guess is that they have slightly different accents, use different words to communicate ideas (probably with a variety of slang terms), and sometimes slip into half-sentences. Use these personal experiences when you write. It’s through your characters’ idiosyncratic ways of speaking that you can reveal their emotions, intentions and purposes.

Sometimes I find it helpful to see the incidents of my story as scenes in a film. Screenwriters have to show what the characters are experiencing through their actions and dialogue. In a film you couldn’t say, “Joe was angry” unless you included a narrator in the script, which would be awkward. No, you’d need to show that he was angry.

Same goes when writing a book.

Example

So, you could write:

Sally decided to leave her husband of twenty years. When she confronted him about it, he became very angry.

Or you could write:

Sally stood at the doorway and studied her husband. “Joe?” she said as she fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.

Joe crumpled the newspaper onto his lap with an exaggerated flourish. “Yes? What is it?”

“I…” she faltered, then took a deep breath. “My bags are packed.”

Joe glared at her. He grabbed his cane and slowly eased himself out of the chair to a standing position. “You’re really doing this?”

She gave a quick nod. “Yes.”

Sally watched as Joe’s face turned a familiar shade of purple. If he’d been a cartoon, steam would have been coming out of his ears right about then. She took an involuntary step backward.

“Twenty years of my life wasted,” he said through gritted teeth. “Get out. And don’t bother to come back.”

Avoid overusing adverbs

Show don't tell when you write a bookWhy is it that we hear seasoned writers warn against using adverbs? After all, they are an important part of speech, modifying not only verbs, but adjectives and other adverbs. Pretty universal, right?

Well, Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing:

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”

Dramatic? Yes. But that’s Stephen King’s signature style.

So, is it wrong to use an adverb? Nah. Just don’t overuse them because they can become a crutch. After all, tossing in a ready-made adverb can be easier than investing the time to show the reader how a character feels. Maybe that’s why Mark Twain warned us that “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.”

An example

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Becky said condescendingly.

Or:

Becky folded her arms across her chest, her lips curled into a smug smile. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

 

There is no doubt about it, writing is a balancing act: You want to find your unique voice while obeying all the agreed-upon rules of the craft. If you’re new to writing, give yourself some time to develop your own style. Don’t worry too much about all the rules like show, don’t tell until you begin editing your own book. And remember, while it’s good to know the rules of writing, they aren’t intended to become a straitjacket. Keep writing and enjoy the process!

How to Create a Compelling Character Arc

Your protagonist needs a powerful character arcBestselling novels and memoirs have believable and memorable characters who carry the reader through the story. Think of your favorite books. Consider the main characters. They probably followed a compelling character arc, which encouraged you to follow them loyally and happily on their adventures.

What is a character arc?

A character arc is the journey the character follows through the story. This path usually parallels a traditional three-act structure. As you develop the first act, your reader is introduced to your main character. The stage is set, a conflict is established, and the character’s goals are revealed. Then the character encounters an incident that incites her to begin her journey. This catapults her into the second act, where she follows her personal call to action. Then in the third act, she encounters the climactic confrontation and has her triumphant victory.

There are four main kinds of character arcs used in literature:

  • Transformational
  • Positive
  • Flat
  • Negative

Transformational and Positive arcs are somewhat similar. At the start of the story the character is in an unfavorable situation, but, by the end of the story he winds up in a far better position. Flat character arcs have no change. The character stays the same throughout the story. This type of arc is usually reserved for superhero-type protagonists, who have no need to change. They start out good and end up good. It’s worth noting that often minor characters don’t change much. In a negative arc the character ends up in a worse position than when he started.

As a ghostwriter, I specialize in transformational or positive character arcs because I feel strongly that these make for a better reading experience. Although stories like Breaking Bad, where the main character becomes a meth dealer to solve his problems, can be very popular with viewers, they aren’t my cup of tea. I prefer to stick with uplifting plot lines.

Positive character arcs

transformation of a character in a book you writeIf your story has a happy ending, this is probably the character arc you’ll want to choose. A popular example of this would be Harry Potter. He starts his journey as an abused boy, confused by his special abilities. Along the way he blossoms into a confident hero of both the magical and muggle worlds. It’s worth noting that many of the other major characters go through their own arcs. For instance, by the end of the series, Hermione and Ron are quite different, because their personal stories are very different.

If you’re writing a memoir, you are the protagonist of your piece, and your experiences will determine your character arc. Most likely it will be a positive one, otherwise why would you write your book?

Over the last twenty years I’ve worked on seventeen memoirs. Each one told the story of my client’s fierce battle to overcome nearly impossible odds. The reason these books were successful was that the reader believed the characters’ journeys and could identify with the authors on some level.

One client shared his story of growing up in an impoverished community which lacked running water and electricity. He had a happy childhood, but there were many challenges and a lot of conflict. As he grew up, he overcame many obstacles. By the end of the book, he found his way to America and became a successful entrepreneur. The story is powerful, riveting, and relatable to many. Not surprisingly, this book is currently being made into a movie.

A few tips for a successful character arc

Tip #1: Conflict is key

You need conflict in your bestselling book!Any story worth reading will start off with a bang (ie: it will throw the protagonist into a heap of trouble early on). Honestly, I always do my best to drop my readers into the deep end of the pool so that they have to tread water to keep up.

Now, in order to produce this kind of an effect on your reader, you need to create conflict throughout your book. Your main character needs to struggle and fight his way through whatever circumstance life throws at him. Sometimes this conflict can be quiet; perhaps it comes in the form of a disagreement. Or it can be splashy, like the beginning of a war or an invasion. A story without conflict will become a book that collects dust in a forgotten thrift store.

Tip #2: Develop strong characters

Your goal is to create a main character your reader will want to follow. This can be difficult if she isn’t well developed. You must introduce your main character to the reader early on and make her intriguing and captivating. Give her strong characteristics. Be clear and certain in your presentation of her attributes and personality.

I recommend that before you begin writing your first draft, you create bios for each of your major characters. Flesh out their back stories, work out their motivations, and make sure their behaviors are believable. Really understand who they are. Know them just as well as you know your real-life best friends. Once you have realistic three-dimensional characters, you can create compelling arcs for them to follow.

Tip #3: Show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell is a popular phrase among writers. It means that you need to show elements of your story through action rather than through narrative. Keep this in mind as you create your lead character’s transformational arc.

For instance, how boring would it be if your protagonist announced out of the blue that he planned to turn over a new leaf and stop selling drugs. Where is the conflict and drama? Your character needs a reason to make a change. And you must show that to the reader.

Tip #4: Determine the correct character arc for your story

Select the right character arc for your bookBy choice I have never written a book with a negative or flat character arc. But that doesn’t mean that these are not viable options. You will determine the correct path for your character based on your story and the message you wish to impart.

For instance, if you’re writing a high-action adventure story along the lines of Indiana Jones, it might not work to have your main character undergo too many changes. A flat arc could work. In addition, it’s possible to tell a powerful story with a positive message through a negative arc illustration. The Godfather comes to mind as a good example. Michael Corleone starts out as a good guy, but by the time the door closes at the end of the first movie, you can see that he’s undergone a transformation for the worse.

Not every character arc needs to see the protagonist through from complete failure to complete success or have a complete one hundred-eighty degree shift in viewpoint. Not every protagonist needs to be an Ebenezer Scrooge who turns from a miserly grump into a philanthropic benefactor by the end. No, the change might be a bit more subtle.

 

As you work on outlining your book and creating the protagonist for your novel, consider the arc he or she will follow. Choose one that works for the story and the message you wish to write. Create an engaging character and a compelling arc, keeping in mind that you want your readers to relate to and understand them. Using these tips, you will find your readers rooting for your main characters and happily and loyally following them on their adventures.

Being a Ghostwriting Nomad

I'm a ghostwriting nomad who loves to write books for authors

Recently, I was interviewed by Letty Tippins, a popular YouTuber. She found it interesting that I earn a living on the road as a ghostwriting nomad and felt her viewers might be interested in what I do.

I have to admit that traveling with our family in our RV inspires me to write. It’s the ideal way for me to earn a living and I’m always happy to share my business model with others who might be interested in following in my footsteps.

Living Life with Letty

Letty has a fascinating channel about her exciting travels around the country in her van. This free spirit hasn’t allowed her rheumatoid arthritis to stop her. Instead, she chronicles her adventures, good and bad, so that others can learn.

People love her.

I love her.

I am one of her biggest fans, so I was thrilled when she asked if she could interview me for her viewers.

What I do as a ghostwriting nomad

Over the last two decades, I’ve written a wide variety of books for my clients. I love how unique each project is. To date, I’ve worked on seventeen memoirs, eight business books, and ten fictional works. The average length of the books I’ve written is 50,000 words. But the word count usually depends upon the budget of the client (I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite).

My clients live all over the world. Currently, I have clients in New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, and California. People often ask if I have to fly out to meet my clients. The answer is no. Even when my client happens to be in a neighboring town, I rarely interview him or her in person. It’s much easier for both parties to simply chat on the phone and use email.

My purpose as a ghostwriter is to write a book that matches the creative vision of the author. I help my client find his or her written voice (which will be a bit different from the spoken voice) and create a style that matches his or her unique viewpoint. That way the author can really get his or her message out there and help others.

I can’t think of a more rewarding vocation!

The benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad

Our family has criss-crossed the country three times now. We’ve seen many of the National Parks and have met many wonderful people. It’s fascinating how each state has its own character, culture and style. There is no better way to experience that than in person. After all, written accounts and TV shows are just two-dimensional representations of the real thing.

One of the benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad is that I can open my door to a new vista each day. I breathe in the air, take in the flora and fauna and talk to the people. I immerse myself in new adventures. As a writer, I can tell you these experiences are truly helpful because they broaden my horizons and expand my base of knowledge. I can add to my ever-growing personal database of information.

Bottom line, my books are enhanced by this lifestyle.

How you can become a ghostwriting nomad

Become a ghostwriting nomad

I wrote an in-depth article about how to become a ghostwriter for all who are interested. In it, I tried to cover all the bases. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to write me. I do sometimes coach new writers.

Many prospective ghostwriters have asked me for tips about how to find clients. This is one of the biggest challenges for many writers. My advice is to start a blog.

My blog is my one and only lead source.

It works because people use their search engines to ask questions about writing and ghostwriting, and my website pops up. Why? Because my content is current, relevant, and helpful.

There’s no secret sauce required for success. Hard work and a willingness to share information helped me get where I am today. You can do it, too! Now, I understand that a blog takes a while to build. You just need to start. Today. Write once or twice a week. Answer questions that you know your readers will have. Be a valuable resource for people online. It will take time, but in the end, people will be knocking on your door asking you to write their books for them.

Other articles you might enjoy reading:

Now Is the Right Time to Write a Book

How to Edit Your Own Book

What to Expect in an Interview with a Ghostwriter

 

 

 

Common Word Errors — Part 1

Every writer battles word errors. You know the words I mean. Yours might not be the same as mine, but I would imagine you have common word errors pop up in your writing just as I do.

These trouble words can lead to nightmare scenarios that are enough to keep some people from ever writing. Imagine your embarrassment when you find out the query letter you sent to an agent was riddled with common word errors. Or your chagrin when you learn about all your mistakes from various poor reviews after you finally publish your first book on Amazon.

As a writer, you know the power of words. The words you choose leave a lasting impression on your reader. You want the impression to be good, but the incorrect use of words can spoil the effect you work so hard to create.

Unfortunately, common word errors happen more often than would be expected, especially in these days of self-publishing, when some authors cut costs by skipping the editing phase of a book project. Learning how to edit your own manuscript is key to minimizing common word errors.

I’ll be discussing various kinds errors in this series, but in this article I wanted to zero in on homonyms.

Tricky homonyms

Homonyms are two or more words that sound the same (and are sometimes spelled the same), but they have different meanings. When you fully understand each word, and the differences between the homonyms becomes clear, then it’s easier to use them correctly. Here are a half-dozen of my favorite trouble words.

There or Their or They’re?

common word errorsThese three words mean completely different things:

There indicates a location: Put the pot of petunias there.

Their shows possession by people or things previously mentioned: Put their pot of petunias there.

They’re is a contraction ofthey are”: They’re putting their pot of petunias there.

Tip: If your trouble word involves a contraction, try expanding it out into two words. For example: “they’re” becomes “they are.” It can help you determine the correct choice.

It’s or Its?

This one is probably top on the list of common word errors. The confusion lies in the apostrophe. That mark is used to indicate either missing letters (a contraction) or a possession. In this case, the apostrophe signals a contraction.

It’s means “it is,” as in: It’s a beautiful rose.

Its indicates that something belongs to “it”: It’s a beautiful rose that lost its petals.

Again, if you expand “its” into two words you can quickly see if the contraction or the possessive is the right choice. For example:

The child stood on its (or it’s) head.

Expanding out the contraction, you’d get:

The child stood on it is head.

Nope! That makes no sense. Must be:

The child stood on its head.

Your or You’re?

The misuse of these homonyms leads to funny statements. Your indicates that something belongs to “you.” And you’re is a contraction of “you are.”

For instance, there is a big difference between:

Your dinner!

And

You’re dinner!

The first one means you’re about to eat, and the other means that you won’t be around long enough to worry about grammar anymore.

Than or Then?

Then is used in relation to time, while than is used to show a comparison.

So, you’d say:

Barry went to lunch at noon. I’d like to go then.

Or

I’d rather go to lunch with Barry than later at 2pm.

Now, it can get really confusing if you’re comparing two time periods, as in:

I’d rather go then than then.

But that’s a different story…

Farther or Further?

Both words indicate distance, but it’s the quality of the distance that makes it tricky.

Farther indicates physical distance, whereas further implies a more figurative concept of distance.

So, you’d say:

I’m farther down the road than she is.

And

I’m further along in the book than he is.

Tip: Farther has the word “far” inside it. This can help you remember that it has to do with physical distance.

I hope this helps make it far more clear so it won’t give you further difficulty.

Complement or Compliment?

Sometimes, it’s just one little letter that makes all the difference.

To compliment is to praise something or someone and to complement is to complete or enhance.

So, you’d say:

He complimented her on her new dress.

Or

He complemented her so well they got married.

Remember that scene from Jerry McGuire?

“You complete me.”

“Shut up, you had me at hello.”

Yes, they complemented each other nicely. No compliments necessary.

As you can see, understanding the meaning of the words helps in choosing the right ones so that you can avoid common word errors in your writing. If you find these confusing, I recommend keeping a little journal of your personal trouble words so that you can refer to them whenever needed.

Understanding The Three-Act Structure

Writing a book using the three-act structureToday I’m pleased to present a guest blog from Erick Mertz, author and ghostwriter, who is an expert when it comes to structuring a book. I asked him to write this article to give my readers a good foundation in the three-act structure.

Writing a good book, one that connects with readers, requires the mastery of story fundamentals. You must understand characters, the “who” of your book, as well as the setting, the time and locations where your story takes place. No element, however, is more richly rewarding than the plot.

The plot describes the series of events that take place throughout the course of your story. It is the action, those challenges your character faces on his or her path toward achieving their end goal.

A lot gets written about how to properly formulate a plot. Structuring the events in a story the right way leads to a higher degree of readability, meaning your readers will simply enjoy the book more. Getting the right events in place is important, but the right events in the wrong order will leave your readers confused, or unsatisfied, which ultimately leads them to put your book aside in frustration.

Don’t let that happen. Once your readers get into your book, you must do everything that you possibly can to keep them engaged. Getting the right events in the right order is critical to achieving this. One of the ways you give yourself the best chance of achieving this is to follow a classic story structure that has been around and engaging readers for nearly two thousand years.

What Is The Three-Act Structure?

The three-act structure is used in books as well as playsThe first thing you may have thought of when “three-act structure” was mentioned was the theater. Stage plays breaks into acts, usually two or three, with an intermission between them. This is the time when the stage changes form and you can go out into the lobby for a quick breath of fresh air.

Using a three-act structure in a book or a screenplay is not indicated by a roadblock break in the action. There is no end of Act I break written on the page. In a book, structural shifts are seamless. While some changes may come in the form of a chapter break, there isn’t a callout anywhere that says, commencing Act II, as there would be in a stage play script.

Rather than roadblocks, a writer signals changes in the act by way of subtle shifts in the focus of events. Instead of being told the act change has happened, the reader senses it through the events that unfold. Events in a three-act structure build off of one another, behaving like emotional building blocks. Early scenes set the tone for future events, always narrowing in focus and increasing in intensity until the very end when the main character — your protagonist — reaches their goal.

Three-Act Structure & Character

Before diving into the elements of the three-act structure, it is important to establish a fundamental understanding of core character archetypes. In the most rudimentary terms, characters break down into three main types: protagonist, antagonist, and ancillary characters.

The main character, or the protagonist, is the central focus of the story’s central journey. They are the person (or creature, force of nature, or animal) whose path of change we are following. Change comes to all characters, but the protagonist’s change is the one we really care about the most.

Opposing the protagonist is the antagonist. This is the story’s villain, the force putting up the resistance to the main character’s change. Their actions are focused on holding back, slowing down, or stopping the protagonist on his or her way toward their goal.

By and large, ancillary characters are along for the ride. They attach themselves to either protagonist or antagonist (although sometimes they act alone) and are the ones helping achieve those ends. Think of them as the cast of fun, interesting, helpful, or hindering partners that move the story along.

When we refer to events within the three-act structure, they come in reference to what the protagonist is doing and where they are. In rare instances, those events connect to what is being done to them. You will see that the other character roles are usually there to affect what the protagonist is doing.

Act One

During the first act, setting and character are established. This is what writers call the ordinary world, where the main character has their roots planted before the real story starts. We see this is how they were living before the “inciting incident” an event that happens during this section.

Act One is important for a couple of reasons. First, it provides the necessary context. We need to see who our hero or heroine is before the adventure. At some point in this story they are going to change — hopefully drastically, in the direction toward a better self — so this is our chance to see their life before.

The other reason Act One is important is because it is where the “inciting incident” occurs. Every hero receives a call and it usually comes in the ordinary world when they least expect it.

Act Two

Gears in motion as you write your bookThe demarcation between Acts One and Two is the moment when the story’s hero chooses to accept their call to action, something they may have denied before. They’ve debated about the ordeal long enough. They’re no longer thinking about doing something extraordinary — they’re on the path to doing it.

Act Two is the book’s longest section. It comprises roughly 50-60% of the length. This act comprises most of the action, from the early part of the adventure to the introduction of antagonist forces to the set-up for the final conflict.

Every hero is faced with a unique challenge all their own. In Act Two, they are meeting that obstacle, learning about the mountain they must climb, and actually climbing it. This is where they stumble and fall down, before getting strong enough to make the push to the end

Any storyline can be thought of this way, from fiction to memoir to business book. All of our lives and journeys, real or imagined, are filled with conflicts that require acceptance, practice, and trials before the climactic moment on the path to ultimate success.

Act Three

Act Three commences moments before the final challenge is breached. It is arguably the shortest section of a story, centered around the climactic confrontation and falling action.

What is the climactic confrontation? Think of the moment in the story when the hero meets the villain, opposite forces facing off against one another. The protagonist has been moving steadily toward meeting their goal and the antagonist has been pushing back. This is when push comes to shove, the moment when someone has to triumph.

What constitutes the falling action is everything that happens after the climax has been resolved. Maybe the antagonist is vanquished, and the protagonist receives the proper laurels. In one way or another, the journey of transformation has been completed and the hero can return home.

The Three-Act Structure In Action

DumboPerhaps the simplest visualization of a three-act structure is through the Disney classic, “Dumbo”.

In Act One, our protagonist, a baby elephant with ears too big, is born into an unforgiving world. He is an outcast in the circus and struggles to find his worth in a world cruel to misfits.

Act Two begins when Dumbo works to find his place in the circus. His journey is to find his means of fitting in despite an outcast status he is helpless to do anything about. At first, he fails in his big change, but with some grit and determination (and the help of his guide Timothy Q Mouse) he works to find a place for himself. Through this process, he learns that he may have the ability to fly.

At the beginning of Act Three, Dumbo on the edge of trying out his new trick of flying in front of a packed entire circus tent. After much trepidation, he is successful, which ultimately solidifies his place in the circus as an equal to his peers. The antagonist of prejudice has been vanquished.

The Three-Act Structure — In Conclusion

Understanding how to employ the three-act structure is an invaluable tool for reaching your readers. While the idea of a structure might seem rigid, it actually works quite the opposite way. Knowing where certain events should fall makes structure intuitive and leads to happy readers.

Biography:

Erick Mertz, Author and ghostwriter

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter/editor/manuscript consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can read more of his thoughts about the business and craft of writing at his website here.

How to Edit Your Own Book

Edit your bookIf you want to be a great writer, and create a best-selling novel or memoir, you must learn how to edit your own book.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Star Trek. Doctor McCoy would often say, “Damn it, Jim. I’m a doctor, not a _______!” (fill in the blank with brick layer, engineer, etc.) I have the feeling that some writers might identify with that sentiment. I can just imagine them saying, “Damn it, Laura. I’m a writer, not an editor!”

I hear you.

I get it.

However, I beg to differ. There’s no getting around the fact that you need to know how to edit your own book.

While you are a writer and can magically weave words together to create worlds and entice your readers, you are also in charge of making sure your words communicate. The editing process will help you accomplish that.

When you learn to edit your own book, you will become a stronger writer. Your first drafts will become better and better with each subsequent book, because you will spot your weak points and correct them. Not only will you improve your ability to structure plot, create characters and highlight themes, but you will probably reduce the number of spelling and grammatical errors.

Edit your own book before you publish it

It’s important to note that after you edit, and before you publish, you will need to hire outside editors to make sure everything works. Most authors hire at least a developmental editor and a copy editor. If you have questions about this area, please check out my article about the different kinds of editors available to you.

However, before you turn over your work to a professional editor, you will need to make sure it is the best you can make it. That way the editor can do a better job for you.

The editing process begins with you

editing is a bit like cleaning up after a partyThink about it.

Your editor can do a much better job if he doesn’t need to wade through a super rough draft. It’s a little like hiring someone to clean your home after a party where litter and lampshades are strewn around the floor. While some may feel it is silly to clean up for the cleaner, it actually makes sense.

With the obvious mess out of the way, he can spend his time doing a detailed cleaning. It’s the same with your manuscript. When you clean it up, it will save your editor time, which will save you money.

The editing process ends with you

When you hire a professional editor, she will give you a lot of comments. Some will be elements that you must change, while others will be an opinion. You need to recognize the difference and act accordingly.

If you misspelled a word or misused a comma, you’ll need to make those corrections. However, sometimes the editor might not quite get your voice, your style, or your meaning. In those cases, you need to know not to make those changes. If you plan to develop a long-term relationship with an editor, communicate directly with her about those points so that she can understand how to better edit your work. If she is defensive, find another editor. There are many good ones out there.

Publishing options

While it’s true that traditional publishers provide in-house editors for all the books they have under contract, you still need to get in the front door. It’s vital to present the best draft you can. Otherwise, they will ignore your manuscript and reach for one of the many thousands that grace their inbox.

Most authors opt to self-publish. Although you can self-publish anything these days, the last thing you want is to publish a book full of plot holes and riddled with typos and errors.

You can never erase the bad reviews you’ll get.

Proper editing will go a long way to encouraging a slew of five-star reviews, which will help you to develop a following.

Edit your own book with the big picture in mind

It’s a mistake to focus on grammar and editing when you sit down to edit your own book. This isn’t a good place to start. Instead, begin by looking at the overall structure and flow of your book. Later you can work your way down to the fine details. When you tackle the big picture first, many of your words and sentences will change, thereby possibly eliminating the need to correct spelling and grammatical errors.

When you edit your own book ask what is my story aboutTo get a sense of the big picture, I find it helps to find a one-line answer to the question, “What is my story about?” The answer you come up with will help you align your book around that central concept.

For instance, let’s say you determine that your book is about how you struggled through adversity to become a successful business owner. Skip the late-night stress-baking scenes or the irrelevant tiffs with in-laws. Unless the scene directly relates to the purpose and thrust of your book, delete it.

Let’s examine various key elements of the big picture.

Plot

When you first start to edit your own book, I suggest that you examine the plot. Make sure it hits all the areas you need it to hit:

  • Have you followed the three-act structure?
  • Does the story flow logically?
  • Is there a good level of conflict and tension?

If you haven’t outlined your book, now might be a good time to analyze the purpose of each incident within your story. If you can’t find a purpose for the scene, delete it.

Characters

The next step is to scrutinize your characters carefully from a big picture viewpoint. Do they each have a purpose in the novel or memoir? If not, cut them out. This can be the hardest part of editing for an author, I know. Writers tend to get attached to the people they created.

While you are sharpening your editing sheers, keep in mind that a character’s role can be small, yet significant. For instance, the barista who serves Joe a cup of joe every day might be a sounding board for his new ideas. Or Clarissa’s strict piano teacher might help the reader understand why she is such a perfectionist as an adult.

The main characters should all follow character arcs. In other words, they need to have some sort of transformation through the incidents of the story. Look over a few of your favorite books. Can you identify the character arcs within the stories?

If you’re writing a memoir, keep in mind that you are the main character of your story.

Themes

Themes are the main ideas that tie your story together. Universal themes deal with ideas about Love, Friendship, War, Faith and the like. More specifically, you can have themes such as “Persistence always wins in the end,” “Family is important,” or “Being true to oneself has rewards.” For more information about themes, read my article, Great Memoir Themes.

Your book should explore one or more themes. I like to think of it like weaving gold thread through tapestry to make it shimmer. You never want to hit your reader over the head with a theme. Instead, you want to suggest it and have the readers recognize the concept for themselves. Or not. Readers never like to be told what to think. I mean, who does?

As you edit, make sure your story aligns with your theme. For instance, if you want to promote the idea that kindness wins in the end, you might not want your lead character to succeed by gleefully hurting others around him with no consequence.

Zoom in to edit your scenes

zoom in to view the individual scenes of your bookNow that you have all the big picture elements the way you want them, it’s time to closely examine your individual scenes one by one.

In the opening scene you want to grab the reader by the scruff of his neck and (hopefully) never let go. One way to do this is to drop him in the middle of the ocean and demand that he treads water to keep up. This is the make-break point of your book. The opening scene can be the most challenging to write, so some authors rewrite that first crucial scene after they complete their first draft. It can be easier to edit after the book is completed because you know exactly where the story winds up and you have all the story elements worked out.

As you review each scene, make sure it has a strong purpose in your story. It should move the story forward or illuminate an important aspect of your characters.

Also, determine if the scenes flow well the way you have them organized. You might need to switch them around. If you do, be aware that you may need to create new transitions.

If you’re a writer who writes by the seat of his pants rather than outlining ahead of time, this is a good time to sprinkle in a few foreshadowing elements. If you’re a plotter, these may be covered. However, while editing, you might have brilliant insights that inspire you to add in a few more.

This is also a good time to review your transitions. If they are too jarring, your reader will be flung out of your book and might never find his way back. Ideally, you want one scene to flow into the next like a long river.

Characters, a closer look

When you examine your characters, make sure they are believable and three-dimensional. Even if a character is secondary, she needs to have proper development and realistic motivations for her actions. Of course, a bank teller who appears once on page fifty-nine doesn’t need a back story, but consider that the third-grade teacher, who is featured in a quarter of the book, will need more than a mere physical description.

Continuity is something to look at in this phase. In the big picture you’ve gone over the character arc and made sure each main character has hit the highs and the lows that he or she should. But now it’s time to make sure each character is consistent in his speech and actions. If Matilda was angry and sullen in the first part of the book, but suddenly becomes cheerful halfway through, there needs to be a reason. Likewise, if you established that Terry wasn’t very bright, it wouldn’t make sense if you later have him wax intellectual about a scientific discovery.

Point of View

You can write your book from different points of view:

  • First person – The protagonist is telling the story. He is part of the story and shares his experiences directly.
  • Second person (rare) – The narrator is telling the story of “you,” so that it seems like the action is happening to you (the reader).
  • Third person limited – The narrator shares some of the thoughts and experiences of the characters, usually just one character.
  • Third person multiple – The narrator shares the thoughts and experiences of several characters.
  • Third Person omniscient – The narrator shares the thoughts and experiences of all characters.

Make sure you are keeping the point of view consistent throughout the story. For instance, if you’ve chosen third person limited and are writing from Mary’s point of view, you can’t suddenly switch over to James’ in the middle of a scene. Find a way to show how he is feeling from Mary’s viewpoint.

For instance, you wouldn’t say:

James couldn’t believe his ears. How could she have said that?

Instead, you might say:

Mary took a step back as James advanced on her saying, “How could you say something like that to me?”

Dialogue

Create realistic dialogue for the characters in your bookDialogue should have a purpose. It should move the story forward by providing information, advancing the plot or giving insight into your characters. Dialogue can be a wonderfully subtle way to reveal your characters’ motivations, as well as their overall moral compass and viewpoints.

Each character should have his or her own way of speaking. For instance, someone who is angry at the world will speak in shorter sentences, whereas someone with a flair for the dramatic might wax poetic with long, flowery prose. In addition, people in the real world sometimes make up their own words or phrases.

As you edit your own book, read your dialogue out loud or maybe have a friend read it to you. Listen carefully to the words and see if they sound real. Bad dialogue stands out like a leech on your leg.

Make sure each character has a distinct voice which is consistent and predictable. Pay close attention to your main character’s voice, especially if he or she is the narrator.

Edit your own book line by line

Now it’s time to zero in on each line of your book. Again, you shouldn’t focus on this task until you have completed the big picture and the scene analyses. Here you’ll focus on the word choice and look for errors.

Line editing is an art and there are many, many ways to edit your words so that they communicate effectively and efficiently. There are too many areas to discuss in this article, but I wanted to highlight a few key ones.

Show, don’t tell

This is a writer’s mantra.

When you edit your own book and see that you’re explaining something such as an emotion or a thought, consider how you might show it. This allows the reader to see it and draw his own conclusions, making him an active part of the story.

For example, you wouldn’t say:

Susie thought of the way Barry broke up with her. This made her feel sad. She missed him so much.

However, you might write:

Susie saw Barry across the room. She turned with a sigh and blinked away a tear as she fingered the silver chain he’d given her the previous month.

For a more detailed explanation of this concept of show, don’t tell, please check out my article on the subject.

Minimize your use of adverbs

Adverbs can weaken your writing. They also tell the reader something rather than allowing him to experience it. So, it’s good to use adverbs sparingly. Instead, use strong verbs to show the reader what is happening.

For example:

“I’ll do it later,” he said tiredly.

Instead, use something like this:

John yawned and closed his eyes. “I’ll do it later,” he murmured.

Keep your language real

Never try to impress your reader with fancy vocabulary. Instead, focus on words that best communicate your ideas.

For example, please don’t say:

Katie was stultified as the lecturer pontificated.

Rather, try:

Katie found the lecture boring.

Take out needless words

edit your own bookWhen you write your first draft, the emphasis is on getting your ideas on paper. You should just let your ideas flow. To do that, you’ll probably use a lot of words to give them form. Now it’s time to delete the filler words.

For example, you may have written:

Smith took over the empty pilot seat in order to navigate around the mountain peak.

You can tighten it like this:

Smith took over the pilot seat to navigate the mountain peak.

After all, we can guess that no one was in the seat when he sat down and of course you’d go around the mountain peak.

Remove redundancies

When you write your first draft, you may find that you’ve repeated yourself. This is the time to edit out those redundancies.

For example, it is not uncommon for writers to write:

he thought to himself.

You can simply say:

he thought.

You can only think to yourself.

Or if you wrote:

She kicked him with her foot.

You can edit it down to:

She kicked him.

We know it was with her foot.

Check your “trouble words”

Proofreading is part of editingThese are words that give you difficulty. Maybe you just can’t remember the spelling or the grammar rule. No worries, everyone has them.

For instance, some people struggle with the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Or they have trouble remembering when to use “it’s” and “its.”

Luckily, there are plenty of online resources and tools to help you with trouble words. But nothing beats finding these errors for yourself. So, keep a list of your trouble words handy and look out for them as you line edit your own book.

Congratulations!

You’ve made it through the editing phase of your book project. Now you can turn over your manuscript to one or two professional editors. Then it’s off to the printing presses, virtual or otherwise.

If you have any questions or need help as you edit your book, please feel free to comment below or write me directly.

How to Write Dialogue: Four Quick Video Tips

I belong to a few online writing groups. I love to answer questions that new writers have about how to write and encourage them to continue on their writing adventure. Writing takes practice. And to be able to write dialogue requires a good ear. Check out my article on How To Write Great Dialogue for a more in-depth analysis on the subject.

In this video, I wanted to highlight a few key points to remember.

Tip#1: Write dialogue that sounds real

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV show and just found yourself snapped out of the story? Chances are that the dialogue didn’t sound real to your ears. When characters speak in a way that sounds artificial, the readers can lost interest.

When I was in high school, I remember watching General Hospital. Soap operas are notorious for having poor dialogue. I couldn’t watch one nowadays. There’s no purpose for the interchanges half the time. Or the purpose might have been to prolong the scene.

You’re writing a book. You’re interested in drawing in the reader and keeping him or her engaged. In order to do that, you need to make sure your dialogue is tight and sounds real.

Tip #2: Delete unnecessary pleasantries

The only way to learn to write great dialogue is to start somewhere. I remember when I first started to write stories in grade school, I would begin at the beginning. It made sense. Mary walks into the room to talk to Joe. Wouldn’t Mary greet Joe? Then wouldn’t Joe greet Mary?

Well, sure, in real life you might hear:

“Hello, Joe,” Mary said.

“Hello, Mary. How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m good, too.”

In a book, these pleasantries are a bit painful to read. Most of the time you can shorten them and cut right to the purpose of the dialogue between the characters like so:

“Hey, Joe,” Mary said. “How’s it going?”

“Great! I got a new job.”

That’s better. It leads into an interesting conversation.

Tip #3: Add humor into dialogue when possible

Now, I’m not saying you should force humor into every scene. That would be awkward.

However, I know that when I really know my characters, when I’ve truly developed them, they tend to create their own dialogue. Some of my characters are good friends. And when two friends get together, they usually crack jokes. This lapse into comedy often includes inside jokes that others on the outside might not get. As an author you need to make sure the reader is in the loop, so that he can understand the banter.

Tip #4: Write dialogue for your readership

Remember that not everyone is always going to get every joke. Some readers won’t get your sense of humor. That’s OK. They aren’t your readership!

In the above scene with my daughter, we throw in a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Will everyone know the film? Probably not.

You don’t need to write dialogue so that everyone in the world will understand each joke on the first pass. It’s hard to create inside such a tiny box. Simply go for communicating to your readers.

It’s important to identify your readership before you start writing, then write to those people. Teenage boys will probably have a different sense of humor than middle-aged mothers. Maybe.

Simply consider your readers as you write dialogue between two characters. And remember, you can perfect dialogue when you edit your book! Don’t stress about it too much in the first draft phase.

I hope you enjoyed this video and found these tips helpful.

Dialogue tags in a book