Should I Write a Memoir or an Autobiography?

write a memoir or an autobiographyIf you’re sitting down to write your life story, you’re probably considering your options. When I offer prospective clients a free consultation, one of the questions I usually field is whether they should write a memoir or an autobiography.

Many people think they are the same thing.

They aren’t.

While there are commonalities between the two genres, they are quite different in style and voice. This is a point of confusion for many. So before you begin writing your book, you must decide which option works best for you.

What a memoir and an autobiography have in common

Both types of books discuss the author’s life, as shared by you. For that reason, you would tell it in the first person. This type of storytelling differs from a biography, which you would write in the third person. This distances the reader from the author while memoirs and autobiographies tend to put the reader into the author’s shoes.

Although a memoir or an autobiography can be written in diary form, they aren’t actually a personal journal. For one thing, an author writes in a diary for himself, but would pen a memoir for someone else. It’s important to remember that a memoir or an autobiography must follow the rules of literature; both must read like a novel no matter the format.

How a memoir and an autobiography differ

While both feature a person’s life and are told in the first person, the tone and voice are often night and day. An autobiography is usually more of a formal work, which often begins at birth (or early childhood) and chronologically carries through the entire life. While there are exceptions, these books often have a dry feel, focusing on facts while just touching on emotion.

A memoir, on the other hand, dives headfirst into a sea of emotion. It tends to be intimate and passionate, highlighting a portion of the author’s journey through life. Remember, a memoir pulls out an era of the author’s life to examine and spotlight, making the story’s scope limited.

Which one is right for you?

What is the right choice? A memoir or an autobiography?When you’re selecting the style for your book, think about how much you wish to share with your reader. If you know you want to write only about a particular period of time, and you plan to share the emotional journey of that era with your readers, a memoir is a good choice for you. If you’d like to explore the entire scope of your life from a more detached perspective, I’d recommend an autobiography.

Not to throw a monkey wrench into your decision-making process, but I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate the third option I mentioned earlier. You might consider telling your life story in the third person as a biography. I had a client who chose that option because she was a toddler during the major event of the book. Her personal memory of the event wasn’t strong, but she had a lot of details of the historical incidents, so a biography made sense.

 

Whether you choose to write a memoir or an autobiography, I encourage you to write your life story for others to read. Readers can gain so much from your experiences. Think of how rewarding it will be when people write in to say how much you’ve touched their lives with your book.

If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter

 

 

 

Four Phases of Writing Your Book

writing your bookWhile you embark on the adventure of writing your book for the first time, you might be searching the internet for a magic formula that will enable you to turn your ideas into a completed book. Truthfully, this doesn’t exist, but I have discovered I always seem to go through four main phases. Perhaps discussing these will help you as you embark upon your adventure.

Phase One: Researching

With nonfiction, research is clearly an integral part of the process. When I ghostwrite a memoir, my client is my main source for information, but I also use the internet for supplementary data. After all, I often need to know more about a culture, time period, or group of people.

When writing fiction, this research can take the form of “world building,” as you are creating the world for your characters. However, I always find myself looking up facts about various real-world incidents to round out a scene.

Phase Two: Outlining

If you’re starting out as a writer and have never written a book, I strongly urge you to create a detailed outline before you begin.

There are many ways to create an outline. The format doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and gives you the major mileposts you’ll hit when traveling your individual path to your book’s completion.

If you at least sketch out the story first, that outline will save you countless hours and tons of frustration. For me, once the outline is complete the book is written—in my head. Now I just need to put the words on the page.

Phase Three: Writing the first draft

In this phase your job is to get the material out of your head and onto the page—one way or the other. Work from your outline, start at the beginning, and just write. Then continue to write and write and write.

This isn’t the time to edit.

So many new writers feel embarrassed when they reread their work. Many strive for perfection each step along the way. That’s a mistake. Save editing for the final phase.

Note: if you have trouble moving forward with your book, go back a step and review your outline. Something there probably needs correcting.

Phase Four: Editing

Edit your bookNow that you have your first draft completed, I’d recommend putting the project aside for a bit. How long? Well, that depends on you. The idea is that it should feel fresh to you. I like to give it a few days or even a week.

When you’re ready, read over your manuscript. If you feel you need to make comments, do so in the margins, but don’t cut pages or chapters. Read it as if you were a reader.

Next, you’ll need to read it again and again, looking for any problems with continuity, errors in content, flow issues, while making sure your transitions are smooth. Once these are the way you’d like them to be, you can focus on grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

If you can, hire a professional editor to read your manuscript. There is nothing like having outside eyes review your work.

 

Although writing your book is a time-consuming journey, it’s also highly rewarding. It is my hope that following these four phases of writing a book will make the process a little easier for you.

If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to help!

Check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

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 are not alone!

I believe that everyone has at least one book within them. Whether you wish to share sage business advice to help others succeed, a personal life story that just needs to be told, an exciting fictional story, or a family history project that is time sensitive, now is the best time to start.

As a ghostwriter of twenty years, I’ve worked with dozens of clients in each of the above categories. 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 you to fail in your goal to complete your book.

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. Remember, 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.

 

Should I Write My Memoir?

Should i write my memoir?Over the years quite a few people have approached me asking, “Should I write my memoir?” So many individuals have shared with me their ideas and dreams about writing a book. As a ghostwriter, I truly enjoy helping people fulfill their lifelong goals. It’s quite rewarding.

However, when most new writers sit down to share their life story, they get overwhelmed. They don’t really know how to go about starting.

Does that sound familiar?

If so, here are a few questions to consider:

What makes a good memoir?

This is a question many people fail to ask themselves. A book that seeks revenge or shares a horrific upbringing as its theme isn’t a book that should be written. That’s a common memoir mistake. Please write a book that you will still be proud of in five years.

Here are some elements to think about as you consider writing a memoir:

Will my book uplift others? Really, at the end of the day, you want to create a book that will inspire others toward greatness. You want to encourage them to live their lives to the fullest and to learn from your experiences.

Do I have an interesting story? A story is made up a series of incidents tied together by an overall theme. If you really only have an anecdote, even if it is hilarious, moving, or powerful, it isn’t enough for a book. It could make a good short story, though!

Is my story enlightening? If you have a powerful viewpoint and a story with lots of action, you have the makings of a riveting book. But it’s equally important that you have done something which would intrigue and educate the reader. Adventures are fun, but memoir readers expect to take something positive away from your life experiences. They want to learn from your example.

Should I self-publish?

If you’re a celebrity or have been the topic of a strong news story recently, you might be able to write a good proposal, find an agent, and get a good advance from a publisher. Otherwise, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that you will land a decent publishing contract. The other thing to keep in mind is that this publishing route will take about two years. Then, in the end, most likely you’ll receive a 10 – 15% royalty, which will only kick in once the book starts selling.

In this day and age, especially with the advent of eBooks, you can do very well as a self-published author. You’ll have to learn a little about the industry, but if you can pull together a marketing plan, you can sell your book on Amazon and make money.

Should I hire a ghostwriter to write my memoir?

hire a ghostwriter to "write my memoir"The answer really boils down to time, money, and skill. Writing a book on your own requires not only a few hundred hours of work, but quite a bit of experience. If you don’t feel you have that time or skill set, and you have a good budget, hiring a ghostwriter is a good option. To learn more about what a ghostwriter charges, check out my article: A Ghostwriter’s Fees.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about the process of how to hire a ghostwriter, please read my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

If you’re still wondering “Should I write my memoir?” please contact me and I’ll do my best to help you sort it out.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

My Ghostwriting Process

Great Memoir Themes

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?

Interviewing a Ghostwriter

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.

As an author, you are probably adept at magically weaving words together to create worlds and entice your readers, but keep in mind that 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 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 partyYour 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 first 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 and 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. While plotters might have that covered, during the editing process they might have brilliant insights that inspire them 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 said.

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. And if you’re in the market to hire a ghostwriter, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

How to Find a Theme for Your Memoir

Find a theme for your memoirWhen most people sit down to write their life stories, they often don’t consider various literary elements. After all, isn’t the book just going to be a series of events that happened in real life? While that’s true, you still need to follow the rules of writing. You must find a theme for your memoir. This theme is the fundamental idea that ties your story together.

Over the years, I’ve discovered several approaches that might help you find your theme:

Look for obstacles you have overcome

Overcoming obstacles to win against all odds is a favorite theme in books and film. Most memoirs involve a triumphant victory over a major life hurdle. This makes for a great theme because the readers can root for you while identifying with the theme as it relates to their own life.

Perhaps you battled a major illness and came out the other side healthy, or maybe you had a particularly challenging childhood and found success through forgiveness. Through sharing your experiences and achievements, you can inspire others to take action and make changes in their lives for the better.

Find lessons you’ve learned

Your readers might identify with the life lessons you have learned along the road to success. As you write your memoir, you’ll probably reveal a few personal imperfections along the way. If these flaws resolve as your story unfolds, these could become a powerful theme for your memoir.

For instance, one client of mine realized she’d been a little too trusting of unsavory characters and learned to stand on her own two feet by the end of her book. Other themes that might come from life lessons could include realizing that complacency won’t help you achieve your goals or that sometimes you need to face evil head-on to survive.

Summarize your story in a few lines

Ask what is the story about to find your memoir themeA writing mentor once advised me to answer the question What is my story about? before beginning the outlining phase. This direction was incredibly helpful to me as a budding writer because it pointed me in the direction of a good theme for my book.

This question should always be answered in a few lines, like an elevator pitch. Keep it short and sweet. From this, you can often glean your theme. For instance, if your pitch is about how you managed to escape a suppressive government, your theme might be how perseverance overcomes all odds.

I find that when I drill down to the core of the meaning of the book, I can find a theme easily.

Ask for help

If you’re too close to the story, it can be hard to pick out the theme on your own. In that case, you might try sharing your history with others and get their feedback. Getting that outside perspective can be invaluable to finding the unifying idea.

In addition, you might discover a few truths that you hadn’t uncovered before. I remember working with an elderly client who had become a successful entrepreneur. After a few in-depth interviews with me, he realized that the teacher he’d idolized as a child was, in fact, a serpent in disguise, denigrating and abusing his students. As we continued to talk, we discovered other destructive people who had caused him difficulties throughout his life. These conversations brought out a powerful theme for his memoir.

 

Finding a theme for your memoir doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply look for the universal ideas and takeaways you want you reader to receive. Once you have a theme for your memoir, you might just find that the words flow effortlessly as you share your life story with your readers.

If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

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 characters. The stage is set, a conflict is established, and the main character’s goals are revealed. After that, the protagonist encounters an incident that compels 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, because they don’t 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, 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.

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. These books were successful because the reader believed the characters’ journeys. They 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 because perhaps it comes in the form of a disagreement. Or it can be splashy, as 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. Firstly, give her strong characteristics. Then, 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.

 

Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!

Get help in writing your book

Do you need help writing a book? 

Perhaps you’ve lived an interesting life and wish to tell your story. So many people have overcome adversity and are now succeeding in life. If you fall into that category, there are many who would like to read about your successful actions. Wouldn’t it be a great feeling to help others who are going through similar situations?

Or maybe you’re a CEO or expert in a niche area and wish to share your knowledge with others. This is also an admirable goal, one your readers will appreciate.

Some writers have a fictional story that has been on their minds for years. It needs to be written because not sharing it with the world just isn’t an option.

When authors have a burning desire to publish a story, but know they can’t write it themselves, they often reach out to me for help. When that happens, I’m moved. It’s truly an honor for me to help a writer achieve his or her goal.

If you can’t shake the desire to complete your book, and it’s all that you can think about, it’s time to take action. Understand that if you wait a week, it will turn into a month, which will turn into a year. The majority of people who contact me tell me that they have been sitting on their book project for five to ten years. It’s at that point that they realize they need to do something different from what they’ve been doing, or the book never will be written.

I’m here to encourage you.

Now is the time to complete your book project!

If you need help writing a book and wish to hire me, here is my ghostwriting process

Steps required to write a book

There are various phases every author must go through to write and complete a book. The primary phases are:

  • Researching
  • Outlining
  • Writing the first draft
  • Editing

Although each author is different (and each will have their own process), I can tell you that these are the four main steps involved in writing any book.

Each stage tends to flow into the next. As an author and ghostwriter, when I complete most of my research, I am itching to organize all the information into a chronological outline. Then as I am outlining, there comes a point where I’m just dying to start writing. When that urge hits me, I pen a few pages for my client as a sample. This becomes the start of the first draft and helps me begin to establish the style and voice of the book.

The research phase

Research is crucial for any book project. Even when you write a memoir, you still need to do extensive research. After all, you will require accurate details of the time, location, appearance and historic events.

While the bulk of the research is done at the beginning of a project, I find that I continue to research as I write. Questions do come up and I need to look up the answers. This is especially true when I am writing about any period in the past. What was a popular rock song of the era? What kind of clothes were people wearing? These authentic particulars help set the tone of the story. Remember, readers will spot inaccuracies.

There are many resources for research: your relatives, the library, and, of course, internet search engines. There are so many data bases accessible by the public. For instance, when a client provides the street address of a home he lived in or a place where a significant event took place, I can easily look it up and see what it looks like from the street. Sometimes I can even find photos that give me a sneak peek inside.

The outlining phase

cost to hire a ghostwriter, communicate wellIf you get a chance to review my blog, you’ll see that I’ve written extensively about how to write an outline. That’s because I feel it is a vital first step for writing a book. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that you take a writing step forward without a good, detailed flight plan for your book. It’s the best way to avoid mid-air collisions. The last thing you want to do is waste time on a story line that just doesn’t fit into your book.

Having said that, I know some of you might be groaning at the very thought of sketching the story out before writing. Maybe you work best on a free flow basis. That’s totally okay. Do what’s right for you.

The first draft phase

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

Budding writers will often try to edit as they crank out the first draft. I urge you not to do that. Please allow yourself to just get the rough draft completed. It might not be brilliant. That’s OK! Fine tuning your manuscript happens during the editing phase.

Write each day to complete your bookSet up a regular time to write each day and stick to that schedule. If you hold yourself accountable for a certain word count, you will make steady progress on your story.

If you find yourself continually discouraged when you sit down to write, or if you tend to avoid writing in general, revisit your outline. There might be a flaw that needs fixing. Perhaps one of the incidents not quite working for you. That can happen if it doesn’t really have a strong purpose in your book. Also, take a look at the people in your book. Does every character have a reason for being? Are they realistic? Once you have these issues sorted out, you’ll know it because you’ll be excited to write again.

When helping a client craft his memoir, I often need to counsel him to not include certain people. While it’s fine to mention Daisy the barista in your personal journal, she might not warrant a mention in your life story. Stick to the characters that matter and move the story forward.

The editing phase

When you complete your first draft (Bravo, by the way), it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week before starting this phase. Give yourself a breather from the project. Fill that time slot by reading books in the same genre.

The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. Sometimes you start out with one idea and end up with another. When that happens, you 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.

Dialogueusing dialogue tags in writing a book is another element to focus on. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend reading your book out loud, especially the conversations. You’ll immediately know if they ring true or fall flat. If you find you have trouble in this area, take a break and go out and listen to how people speak. Watch a few movies you enjoy and really listen to the words. It’s interesting how informal and “improper” the dialogue can be!

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. If you’d like to learn more about the different kinds of editors, check out my article Different Kinds of Editors.

When you need a little help writing a book

People reach out to me when they can’t write a book on their own. It isn’t easy to pen a 200 page manuscript. For first-time authors the task can seem mammoth. People sometimes start out strong, then get caught in the middle of one of the above stages and falter. They find that writing a book is much harder than they had anticipated. If this happens to you, don’t despair. There are options, steps you can take to complete your book.

Hire a writing coach

The process of writing a book is not really taught in high school or college. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. I believe that authors learn how to write a book by reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture). When you’ve written a few hundred thousand words, that’s when you will find your voice.

There is another popular theory that suggests that if you want to gain expertise in a subject, you must put in 10,000 hours. There is no way around putting in the time to gain the needed experience.

So, if you want to write and publish your first book this year, what do you do?

One option is to hire a writing coach. She will charge by the hour to assist you to organize your thoughts and ideas and break through the mental blocks that are stopping you from making forward progress. This is a great solution for writers who are doing well overall, but just need an occasional helping hand. I charge $145 per hour to coach.

Hire a friendly ghostwriter

hire a friendly ghostwriterIf you are having great difficulties and it seems as if you may not be up to the task of writing your book, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you. I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite and will get the job done for you.

On the other hand, if you are a writer who just needs a little assistance, hire someone to edit and make minor rewrites. A professional ghostwriter can also act as a manuscript doctor, helping to troubleshoot your book and debug any issues.  For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line, while keeping your voice intact.

It isn’t cheating to hire a ghostwriter

Some feel that it’s cheating to hire someone to write a book for them. After all, their name will be on the cover, right? How can it be ethical to take credit if someone else wrote the book for them? Although I understand the concern, let me assure you, it’s done all the time. Hiring a ghostwriter is an accepted practice and you have the right to put your name as the author. After all, it’s your idea and really should be your book.

Having an experienced professional to help guide you through the book writing process will help you grow as a writer. It will give you an experience boost that will carry through to your second and third books. Your next literary adventure won’t be fraught with the perils of inexperience since you will have traveled these waters already.

If you need help writing a book, here are a few additional articles:

My Ghostwriting Process

Write Your Family History

Great Memoir Themes

Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter

Write Your Novel: 5 Tips to Help You Prepare

Write your novel

You’ve been dreaming of penning a story and now have the time to write your novel. 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.

One system for outlining

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.

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!

If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

Write Great Dialogue

Learn to write great dialogueIf you want to become an excellent writer, it is essential that you learn to write great dialogue. When two characters struggle for conversation, the dialogue stands out like a scraggly weed in a garden of tulips. The reader’s attention is quite suddenly ripped from the story and shifts to the awkwardness of the passage.

You must learn to write dialogue so that your readers feels as if they are eavesdropping on your characters.

If you look back at all your favorite books, you’ll discover that you probably got lost in the conversations. You might have even forgotten that you were reading. The words flowed naturally, as they might if you were conversing with your best friend or sibling.

If you’re a budding writer and wish to learn the art of writing dialogue, I can tell you that it isn’t hard. It just requires a bit of understanding, study, and practice.

How to recognize great dialogue

Characters need to communicate the way real people do.Dialogue is a tool that can breathe life into your story. It must always have a strong purpose, or it will fall flat and be boring. Never have two characters chat for the sake of filling a page with words.

When you write great dialogue, it allows the reader to see how a character feels and what motivates him to do the things he does. It defines his relationship with other characters. In addition, dialogue allows you to move your story forward, provide background information, foreshadow events, or set the mood for a scene. If it doesn’t do any of those things, those passages probably need to be cut.

Study dialogue

One of the best ways to learn to write dialogue is to study the dialogue within other works. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s true.

Definitely read lots of books. When you find one which captivates you, go back over the scenes you liked best and observe how the author conveyed his or her message. Look for style points that you might be able to use.

I also suggest that you glance at screenplays you like. After all, scripts rely on dialogue to tell the story. By studying these you can see what works and what doesn’t.

In addition, watch movies or television shows and pay attention to how the screenwriter tells the story through the people. Each main character should have his or her own way of speaking, which helps us understand their personality better. For instance, Tyrion Lannister (from Game of Thrones) uses off-color humor and intelligence to overcome potential prejudice. Or when Teal’c from SG1 lifts an eyebrow and says, “Indeed,” it speaks volumes about the stoic Jaffa warrior. Both characters are beloved by fans.

Eavesdropping helps

Man eavesdrops to learn how to write dialogue betterIf you’re anything like me, you were probably brought up to never listen in on the conversations of others. Well…I’m going to ask you to break that rule. I know it sounds weird, but if you eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers, it will assist you in your quest to write great dialogue.

Airports are good places to find interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Malls and cafeterias are other hot spots. If the place is too crowded, the ambient noise might be overwhelming, so pick a place where you can zero in on one group of people.

Really listen to how people naturally chat. Take notes. What slang do they use? Keep in mind that slang and pop culture references will date your piece. This can be helpful. “Groovy, Daddy-o…” would put us in a different era than “Gag me with a spoon.” “Wassup?” was huge in the 90’s, whereas the term “newbie” only became popular this century.

Really observe others as well. Conversation isn’t just about the words; it also involves gestures, facial expressions and vocal tones. Note these down. You can sprinkle them into your story later to make your dialogue more realistic.

Understand your characters

The best way to write great dialogue is to truly know your characters. To do so, I recommend writing character biographies. Besides physical description, background, hobbies and the like, you can do a deep dive into the characters’ personalities. Is Sam angry because he was overlooked for a well-deserved promotion? Perhaps Georgia is grief-stricken by the death of her husband and Luke is so self-involved that he doesn’t even see another’s point of view.

Give your characters distinct voices

By knowing your characters, you can jot down phrases, physical mannerisms or speech patterns that reveal their true natures. Following the examples above, you’d probably find Sam speaking in short, clipped sentences, while Georgia might speak more hesitatingly. And Luke might have trouble answering a question directly because he doesn’t really care what anyone else is saying.

Make the speech realistic

Some new writers might wonder about contractions. As a child, I was taught that a good writer never used them in formal writing. Later, I learned that isn’t always true.

Sure, there are times when a character might shout, “I will not do that!” If you read that line out loud, you’ll probably find yourself punching each word individually. “I…Will…Not…Do…That!”

However, most of the time, in a normal (not yelling) conversation, the character would use a contraction. “I won’t do that!” It is more casual. And that’s often the right way to go.

Also, consider if characters completely spell out their thoughts or do they sometimes trail off mid-sentence. I think you’ll discover that in real life we often don’t speak in complete sentences. And we don’t always say what we mean.

Show how characters are feeling through dialogue in your bookFor instance, you wouldn’t write:

Darla approached Sam uncertainly.

“Go away, I’m mad at you!” he huffed angrily.

This on-the-nose exchange is boring. Instead, here’s another option:

Darla tiptoed over to Sam, biting her lip. “So, I was thinking…”

Sam folded his arms across his chest and glared at her. “What?”

The reader can see that Darla is uncertain and Sam is angry. We don’t have to spell it out.

Like your characters

Whenever you invest yourself (and the reader) in a character, you have to be sure to like him or her on some level. Otherwise the character probably won’t be authentic.

Robert De Niro said in an interview that he must really like every character he plays—even the evil ones. He explained how he had to be able to relate to each character he portrayed in some way in order to get the audience on board. I have to say, that was very enlightening for me, as that concept applies for writers as well as actors.

If you look at it, evil people rarely consider themselves to be evil. They have a reason for their actions, just like anyone else. It’s just that their purpose is often self-serving and contrary to agreed-upon moral codes, making it disturbing for the rest of us.

When you write dialogue for a bad guy, get his or her viewpoint fully; think as he or she would. Otherwise your character won’t be believable.

A few tips

If you want to improve your technique, I recommend doing exercises geared towards writing dialogue. Here is an article with a few writing prompts. Personally, I like to put two developed characters in a room and just listen to them converse.

Then I write what they say.

It’s so simple it can feel like cheating.

Let it flow

Allow dialogue to flow when you write your first draft of your bookWhile you are writing your first draft, just let the dialogue flow. Don’t worry if it matches your character’s voice or motivation. Don’t agonize over whether or not it’s relevant to the story. And please don’t fret over grammar, spelling or punctuation. Just let it flow.

When you do this, you’ll uncover some sparkling gems of conversation that you might never have discovered otherwise. Don’t worry, you’ll have a chance to fine-tune your character’s words during the editing phase.

Delete the boring stuff

In real life, we sometimes carry on mundane conversations.

“Hi!”

“Hi!”

“How are you?”

“Good. And you?”

This sort of dialogue is terribly boring for a book. No one wants to read it. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.”

As a writer, you must be creative and work out how you can get your point across, forward your story, and develop your characters, all while trimming the humdrum.

Keep your dialogue exchanges short and snappy. Get straight to the point. You want to make an impact, so drop the reader into the middle of the exchange.

Watch the dialogue tags

When I was starting out as a writer, I loved to use any alternative to “he said” I could think of: “She argued” or “He pontificated” or “She moaned” (you get the idea). I went way overboard, and it became terribly distracting for my poor readers. Most of the time it’s much better to stick with the bland “he said.” Having said that, you can skip most of the tags, popping them in when needed for clarity.

For instance, you might write:

“Last night was rough,” Jane said.

Mary nodded. “You’re telling me. I’m sore all over.”

“Think we’ll be called in again tonight?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“It’s Tuesday,” Mary said. “Nobody wants to see us wrestle on a Tuesday.”

Read your dialogue out loud

Conversations between friendsWhen you complete your book, leave it alone for a few days to a week before you edit. Give yourself time away from the piece.

Now, read your dialogue out loud.

Bad dialogue pops out beautifully when you do this.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if the words don’t slide off your tongue easily, your character will trip over them, too. As will your reader.

Note: If you’re bored as you read through the dialogue, you need to edit. Don’t worry, that’s normal! Ideally, even though you wrote your book, you should be just as enthralled by it when you read it over as your future readers will be. When it flows and you get drawn into the story, you know you have a winner.

If you need help with dialogue, email me and we’ll sort it out. Dialogue-driven stories tend to be my favorites.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter

What to Expect In an Interview with a Ghostwriter

Write and Publish a Book

Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!

Write Your Family History

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Is It Charged?

How to Conquer Writer’s Block