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. If you have overcome some obstacles and can share your successful actions, you might just 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.

Then again, it’s possible you may have a fictional story that has been on your mind for decades. Not sharing it with the world just isn’t an option. Am I right?

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
steps to take for help writing a book

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

Avoid problems when writing a book by outliningIf 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. For example, if you’re writing your life story, pick up 700 Sundays or a memoir you enjoy. Reading another author might give you ideas to help you sculpt your own book.

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. For example, I’ve worked with clients who will share with me a pet name for a relative halfway through the story. So, only the second half of the book will have that character’s nickname. Fortunately, it’s an easy matter to insert the new name.

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.

Now, you’ll also spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the right 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 quite a bit, so fixing typos doesn’t make sense.

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:

Write Your Family History

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

Hiring a ghostwriter

Should I Write and Publish My Memoirs

Writing a Book: Your First Few Steps

Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

Three-dimensional Characters Are Vital for a Successful Novel

three-dimensional characters are all around usMost first-time writers have trouble creating realistic personalities for their novels. Whether you’re writing a memoir or a novel, one of the most important elements will be crafting three-dimensional characters.

Think about your favorite books. Weren’t you drawn to the people? If you’re anything like me, you empathized with and related to various characters and might have even been sad when the story was finished because you had to say good-bye to your new friends.

If you’re a writer, you probably recognize how important research is to writing. When you sit down to write a novel, or write your memoirs, you need to do a little homework. After all, you must know about the locales discussed in your book. These are crucial to creating a realistic setting and background for your characters.

However, what you might not realize is that you also need to research the individual personalities of your book if you wish to create truly three-dimensional characters.

Yes, even if the book is a work of fiction, you must buckle down and do your research. Why? Because you need to know and understand the nuances of each important character in your novel before you can portray them realistically. In addition, each person must develop throughout the story, completing a journey by the end. And that development needs to resonate with your readers.

Keep it real

Meeting a character in a novel is a bit like meeting someone for the first time in life. It’s probably more like a good blind date, right? Think about it. When you first get to know a new person and hit it off, you see them in a certain light. That might be a tad rosy; that person can appear to be almost perfect.

Someone new in your life will go out of his or her way not to display negative emotions. No angry outbursts, no overly dramatic scenes, no whiney arguments. That’s because he or she isn’t comfortable enough to expose their flaws in case they cause you to bolt.

No, your new acquaintance will be perfection personified, using only the best manners when they are around you.

Now, as you continue to develop a relationship with that man or woman, you’ll start to see a few faults peek out. Buttons pop up. Stephen might be super polite, but when faced with any sort of emergency, he turns into a whiny mess. Georgia might never swear, but when she finds a cockroach in her food, she will drop the f-bomb like a sailor.

Why am I mentioning this? It’s because if you want to create realistic people for your book, you must write as if you’ve known them for years. Skip the honeymoon phase. It’s overrated. Jump to the real person, the real Stephen or Georgia. Fast forward and allow them to reveal their idiosyncrasies.

That’s how you create truly three-dimensional characters.

Trust me, no one enjoys reading about flat, boring, “perfect” people. Would you? No. Your readers expect and demand that you write as if the person really existed in our world. Bad guys aren’t always bad, and good guys are rarely saints.

People have a lot of gray areas.

Give them balance.

Communicate with dialogue

Three-dimensional characters communicate with dialogue. Use great dialogue in your book.Communication is an integral part of life. It’s a bit like breathing when it comes to interactions between two people. After all, silence is usually death in a marriage, isn’t it?

Communication is also a bit like a signature for some people. Even with your eyes closed, you can sometimes pick out who said what just by the way they speak. Certain phrases are said in a particular way. Think of the people in your life that you know really well. Don’t they have catch phrases or ways of mispronouncing words that are endearing?

Heck, some of my friends make up words on a regular basis. Looking it over, there are so many different ways to put words together in order to communicate an idea. That’s partly what makes us unique three-dimensional characters in life.

Through great dialogue in a book, you can really get a feel for a character’s personality. When it’s done well, you can almost hear the people speaking out loud. That’s the point when a reader gets lost in the pages of a good book. Have you ever read a passage and actually forgotten that you were reading? I know I have.

As a reader, I find it very easy to lose myself in the story when the words just flow from character to character. Personally, I’ve always loved dialogue-driven books.

As a writer, when I’m in the zone, when I know and understand my characters, it feels like I’m a fly on the wall. I’m there, just listening in to the conversation. They speak, I write. I’m just basically a stenographer. It’s that simple and that easy.

Three-dimensional characters have a unique style

As I mentioned, people tend to say things in a certain way. They have expressions that are unique to them. Some writers refer to these as “verbal tics.” A disgruntled teen might slap a parent with “Whatever!” on a regular basis. I’ve heard some extremely polite people always refer to strangers as “sir.” And I have a friend who punctuates statements with a “BAM!” I don’t know anyone else who does that. These nuances set people apart like color on a painter’s pallet. 

A character’s communication style may also be influenced by the specific geographical location from which he hails. That’s where research can really help (thank heavens for modern search engines). For instance, someone from Minnesota might tack on “eh” to a statement to turn it into a question, eh? Or someone from the south might regularly use the second person plural pronoun of “You-all.”

Honestly, I love creating these phrases for my characters. It’s an excellent way to reveal some aspect of their personalities.

Create bonds between characters 

Characters in books bond through good dialogueIn the real world, when two close friends get together, their exchange can take on a life of its own. Someone on the outside might have trouble translating all the idioms and inside jokes the two friends have created together over the years. For instance, when I visit my friend in Massachusetts and I’m losing at a board game, I’ll accuse her of “punching me in the stomach.” She’ll retort by calling me a “carpet bagger.” After thirty years of visits, I can’t even recall the reasoning behind these expressions anymore, but I’m sure when I see her next these phrases will pop up in our normal conversation. It’s just how we interact.

As a writer, it’s your job (and pleasure) to create that realistic dialogue between close friends. Now keep in mind, it’s important not to lose your readers. They have to be in on the inside jokes. They must understand your characters well enough to understand the snippets of snappy dialogue you provide.

Sometimes you’ll need to use slang terms from another country to make it more believable. For instance, if your character is German, he might say “Gesundheit!” (meaning “good health”) instead of “God bless you!” when someone sneezes. Or if you’re creating another world for a science fiction novel, you might need to develop new words so that the reader becomes immersed in your book’s universe.

One of the best examples of this was when the characters in Battlestar Galactica used “frak” to communicate a popular swear word. It’s brilliant, because we all understood what the creators meant, but it helped the viewers know they weren’t in Kansas anymore (not even close). The writers introduced us to a new word, and today I think you’ll find it has become part of our culture. And yes, most schools forbid its use as they would any other swear word.

Mannerisms speak volumes

We all have our own mannerisms that help to define us. For instance, when someone raises an eyebrow, we know he is a bit skeptical of the previous statement made. We all know what that look means.

When building a character for your book, consider creating mannerisms that make him uniquely him. For example, I knew a Grandmaster of chess who would tap his head with all five fingers when he was deep in thought. I doubt he knew he was doing it, but it was a signature move. If you saw his bowed head and drumming fingers, you’d instantly recognize it was him.

If you’re writing a book and get stuck for ideas, go out and look around. Go to a crowded place, maybe a mall or a party, and observe what people are doing. Take notes and find a way to use that information in order to help you create more distinctive characters.

Draw from life

take notes as you observe life for your bookThe best way to write detailed actions, descriptions and dialogue for three-dimensional characters is to live your life. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Look around and notice how people behave. Take notes. I mean, literally take notes! You may want to carry a notepad with you wherever you go, so that you can jot down observations. You can also get an app for your phone that allows you to take notes.

It’s fascinating how people will put together a phrase or what they do when they think no one is looking. Also, notice how people interact, especially when they know each other well. Often, they will shorten phrases that everyone knows. “I guess I could do that” becomes, “I guess.” Or “Would you like to come with us?” turns into, “Wanna come?” The average person usually doesn’t speak the Queen’s English, so your characters should avoid these formalities as well (unless they are appropriate for their personality).

Keep in mind that there are a lot of silent communications as well. “Please pass the salt” is sometimes replaced with a nod of a head toward the saltshaker. John Cleese once commented that in England everyone always apologizes for everything. If someone wants the salt, Mr. Cleese pointed out that people will tend to nod toward the shaker and say, “Sorry?” I laughed hard at that observation.

 

Honestly, creating realistic personas is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing for me. It is a bit like getting to know a group of cool people, except you are the one who will give them form and life. I encourage you to take your time and relish the experience.

If you need help writing a book or just want to bounce ideas about how to create three-dimensional characters, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to help!

If you’d like to learn more about writing, check out these articles:

Write Your Family History in 2020

How to Hire a Ghostwriter

A Ghostwriter’s Fee

Learn to Become a Ghostwriter

What to Expect In An Interview with a Ghostwriter

How to Create a Compelling Character Arc

How to Write a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book

Write a prescriptive nonfiction book from your laptopA prescriptive nonfiction book is basically a how-to book that gives someone direction or information on a subject. It does not tell a story. Instead, it helps readers understand about an area of life. Readers wishing to improve a skill or educate themselves on a topic would reach for a prescriptive nonfiction book.

CEOs, business leaders, and entrepreneurs are great candidates for writing a prescriptive nonfiction book. They often have wisdom to share that can help others.

Should you write a prescriptive nonfiction book?

If you’re reading this article, you most likely have a concept for a book and are wondering if you should follow through on that idea. After all, it will take you hundreds of hours to put your ideas into a form that others will want to read.

To answer that question, allow me to ask a few more:

Have you developed a niche area of expertise?

If you’re an expert in a field and have a unique and specialized focus, most likely there are others who would like to learn from you. Maybe you understand how to decorate an airbnb to maximize your ability to rent it out, or maybe you can produce a full-length feature film on a shoestring budget. The possibilities are as wide as one is creative.

Do you have specialized knowledge in a particular field?

share your knowledge in a prescriptive nonfiction bookAnyone who has taken the time to study a subject thoroughly, drilling down to gain an insight into a field of knowledge, probably has at least one book within them. For instance, maybe you’ve achieved a master’s degree relating to the effects of global warming on a specific ecosystem, or maybe you have developed tasty recipes for certain restrictive dietary requirements. Your hard-won research deserves an outlet so that others can learn and benefit from what you’ve discovered.

Is your way of doing things better than the norm?

When I first learned to play chess, I was taught how all the pieces moved, then told to “play.” I was nine and found the experience a tad overwhelming. When it was time to pass on my love of the game to my first child, I realized I could improve on this technique of teaching.

I started teaching my son when he was four by introducing him to one piece, the rook. I focused on how it moved and made sure he understood that before I moved on to the bishop. He soon learned how to play proficiently, and this success propelled me into teaching hundreds of other young kids. I felt this technique was better than the normal way to teach, so I wrote the book Chess Is Child’s Play in order to help other parents become good chess coaches for their kids.

Can you make someone else’s journey easier?

Help someone follow your pathAnyone reading this article who has forged a new path in life has undoubtedly stumbled along the way countless times. Those errors you committed years ago probably paved the way to solutions that others can benefit from today. There is no need for others to scrape their knees on the same problems if they can read your book and learn how to avoid them.

If you answered YES to any of these questions in the subheads above, you should consider writing a prescriptive nonfiction book. Readers are eager to learn from you, so why not share your knowledge with them.

Tips for writing a prescriptive nonfiction book

Tip #1: Define your terms

Being an expert in your niche area, you’re probably fluent in the language of the field. Depending on the subject, the terminology can be very specialized and complex. Remember that your reader is probably a novice and completely unfamiliar with these foreign words. I remember a time I went to a country on the other side of the world with a good friend and sat on his friend’s couch and listened to them speak their language for hours. Even though I had studied the language a bit before the trip, I was lost. I’ll admit, I felt left out. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

Don’t make this mistake with your reader; don’t allow them to feel left out.

To remedy this potential problem in your book, define all the industry terms you use. I think some people think readers will be impressed if they liberally sprinkle hard-to-understand technical words throughout their manuscript. Trust me, they aren’t; especially if they don’t understand the words.

Remember, your goal is to teach; the goal is to be understood. Keep it simple so that everyone can get it.

Tip#2: Start with an outline

Get the key principles out of your head and onto paper in the form of an outline. There are a variety of methods, but I usually bullet-point the important subjects and make sub-bullets for all the related topics. I’ll jot down a few notes under each to help me remember my main point for each segment.

This outline will form the table of contents of your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Tip#3: Add personal stories

add personal stories to your prescriptive nonfiction bookWhile your readers have picked up your prescriptive nonfiction book to learn more about a subject, they still want to be entertained. No one enjoys reading dry text.

Entertain your readers with exciting stories and humorous anecdotes that complement the lessons you wish to impart. When you’re outlining, you can add a few lines about these stories to jog your memory.

Tip#4: Include practical exercises

Very few people can absorb information without applying the data. It doesn’t hurt to include a few practical exercises in a prescriptive nonfiction book. Get people out of the mode of just reading and put them into action. The goal is to have them use your wisdom in their daily lives to reap the benefits.

Create assignments that are simple and easy to follow. Make it so that your readers can accomplish each task relatively easily and then perform that task again and again. If you feel they might fail, break down each step into even simpler steps that will help them achieve the overall intended goal. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your reader.

How to write your first draft

When you have your detailed outline worked out, begin by writing one chapter. This can be any chapter; you don’t need to start at the beginning of your book. I’d suggest starting with your favorite topic, one you know very well. You’ll gain confidence in writing that way.

Keep the above tips in mind as you write your first draft.

Continue to write a few more chapters, in any order that you like. Once you feel confident, start at the beginning and write the chapters in order. This will help with flow. However, if you write chapters out of order, you can always correct flow and transition issues later in the editing phase.

That reminds me: please don’t edit as you write. Just let the words flow onto the pages. A lot of new writers will want to rewrite and rewrite. This is just a waste of time. Get the first draft written. Then you can edit.

As you progress through your first draft, you might think of other segments to include in your prescriptive nonfiction book. This is great! However, don’t stop what you’re doing to write the new piece. Instead, add it to your outline. Then write it when you get to it, if it occurs later in your book. If it comes prior to the chapter you’re on, complete the segment you’re writing before you add the new piece in.

The Final Stages

Proofreading is part of editingWhen you complete your first draft, read your book all the way through and fix all the typos you can find. Make sure all the segments flow and the transitions work well. Look for any repetitions of ideas and remove them.

Next, you’ll need to hire an editor. Every writer makes errors, and these can be very hard to spot in your own work because you’re too close to it.

Although you might know an English major who can help you for free, I’d recommend paying to hire an experienced professional editor. He or she will be fluent with all the latest style and grammar points. Yes, these change over time. For instance, when I was young, it was proper to put two spaces after a period. Now it’s one. Honestly, there are countless grammatical points that have changed over the last few decades. It can be hard to keep track.

If you can afford to hire two editors, that’s even better. One can do the heavy lifting and point out errors in grammar, style, transitions, flow, as well as help you fact-check. The other can do a light review, catching any remaining little errors.

Once you’ve completed the editing phase, it’s time to publish. You can either write a proposal and find an agent and publisher or self-publish your book on a platform like Amazon.

Today self-publishing is very quick and easy to do. It’s the popular choice for most authors. And you have the added bonus that your prescriptive nonfiction book can really be any length. Just be sure that you’ve covered your topic thoroughly.

I can tell you from experience, sharing knowledge about a niche area of expertise with others is terribly rewarding. I continue to receive praise for Chess Is Child’s Play a decade after its release. I’m truly grateful when people write in to thank me for helping them teach their four-year-old child to play chess.

Of course, if you need some help writing your prescriptive nonfiction book, please email me. I’d love to help you!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How to Edit Your Own Book

How to Select the Right Ghostwriter for You

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Tips for Self-Publishing Your Book

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

 

 

Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

Avoid memoir mistakes and avoid frustration

Most people who contact me wish to write their memoir. It’s an extremely popular genre with readers, too! We all love to step into the shoes of another person and learn about their world for a few hours. However, readers will put your book down if you fall into certain traps and commit basic memoir mistakes.

If you want to avoid frustration in writing and marketing your book, avoid these common memoir mistakes.

What is a memoir?

A memoir is a very personal story, told by the author from his or her viewpoint, which shares a certain period in the author’s life. While it can be confused with an autobiography, it actually has a different feel. An autobiography reads more like a biography but is told from the author’s perspective. It typically commences with the author’s birth and spans through their entire life. This book a bit more clinical in style, whereas a memoir is all about emotion.

Reading memoirs allows us to delve deeply into the lives of people who have done something remarkable in their lives. Perhaps they overcame incredible odds to reach success in some aspect of their life, or they fought an illness and survived, or maybe they lived through an extraordinary moment of history. We can learn so much about others and ourselves through memoirs.

Popular Types of Memoirs

Within the memoir genre there are a host of categories to choose from. Of course, there is bound to be some overlap, but here are a few options to consider when writing your memoir:

Transformational stories

Stories of transformation can be popular memoir themes

As a ghostwriter, these are my favorite memoirs to write. These are the stories where the author has overcome some great obstacle in life and wishes to share the details of his or her redemption or recovery. This can encompass overcoming an illness such as cancer, surviving a traumatic childhood to achieve success as an adult, recovering from an addiction, leaving a country with an oppressive government to flourish in a new place, or the classic rags to riches story, which can take many forms.

Success in business stories

When you talk to most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll discover they faced numerous daunting obstacles as they climbed the ladder to victory. People in power will often tell you that they failed many times before they figured out how to make it. They wish to share the lessons they learned and their triumph with others, and a memoir is a natural vehicle for their story. This type of memoir is also a favorite of mine (and there is often crossover with the transformational memoir).

Travel stories

Some memoirs take the reader on a journey through an exotic land, sharing all the details of that location. These stories usually encompass another theme, so they aren’t only about the new foods the author ate or the striking vistas he or she viewed. Rather, they are usually about a spiritual, emotional, or transformational journey for the author as well.

Memoir Mistakes

After talking to hundreds of first-time authors, I’ve discovered there are some common misconceptions about how to write a memoir. If you’re considering writing your life story, you’ll want to avoid these very basic memoir mistakes. Don’t worry, they are easy to sidestep.

Memoir Mistake Number 1: Focusing on the trivial rather than the big picture

Focus on the big picture to avoid memoir mistakes

When you write your memoir, you aren’t recording your life’s trivial events in detail. This is high on the list of memoir mistakes because your readers are not interested in what you ate at each meal or which bus you took to work. Toss most of the trivia and focus on the big picture.

This is fairly easy to do. Before you begin writing your memoir, ask yourself, “What can the reader learn from reading my story?” You might need to dig deep and really mine for the gold that’s there. The lessons you have learned over the years will form the backbone of your book.

It might help to zero in on a theme. This will provide focus. There are a wide variety of great memoir themes to choose from. Here are just a few examples:

  • Hard work pays off
  • Self-pity is a trap
  • A positive outlook helps you attain your goals
  • Change can be a good thing
  • Life is too short not to forgive

When you determine what your book’s theme is, your next step will be to find incidents that illustrate these ideas for your readers. Of course, you wouldn’t want to come out and tell your readers what the theme might be within the pages of your memoir.

Instead, you should show your readers your message through the incidents of your book. Delve into the emotional sacrifices, mistakes and triumphs to share the journey you took. They’ll get the message!

Memoir Mistake Number 2: Covering your entire life rather than focusing on a specific time period

Remember, you’re not writing a school essay or an autobiography. A typical memoir mistake for new authors is to want to start at birth and move forward chronologically. You’re writing a memoir, which will focus on a certain period, one that would fascinate a reader and teach him or her something new about an area of life. It’s a slice of your life, rather than the whole pie.

Now, it’s worth noting that a memoir is usually not written in diary form. Journaling can be a wonderful and beautiful expression of one’s deepest thoughts, but it usually doesn’t translate directly into a book. For one thing, the target reader of a diary is, well, you; a memoir is usually written for others to read. Having said that, one client recently hired me to help her compile her life story into a book that she could then have and read. If you are the sole target reader, you should write your book the way you would like to read it.

If you hire a ghostwriter to write your memoir, keep in mind that diaries always have a strong place in the research of a memoir. Having been a professional ghostwriter for twenty years, I can tell you that a client’s diary is a rich source of color when I write a memoir for a client.

Memoir Mistake Number 3: Not considering the feelings of the real people mentioned in your book

It's a memoir mistake not to consider the feelings of others when writing your book

Memoirs are not a good avenue for retribution for past wrongs done to you. Writing a book for revenge is a sharp-edged weapon which can do permanent damage. Besides being a morally questionable action to take, remember that you can open yourself up to lawsuits.

When you write your memoir, you can’t avoid discussing the lives of the people around you. They will become the main characters in your book. Sure, you can change the attributes a bit—maybe alter the name of the grouchy neighbor or make the schoolteacher a brunette instead of a blond. These minor modifications can go a long way to hide the characters in your book.

However, it will be impossible to completely conceal certain pivotal people in your life. For instance, your parents or siblings will recognize themselves.

The safest approach would be to ask all your friends and relatives who might be in your book how they feel about that. If they agree to be featured in your memoir, take the additional step and ask them to sign a release. You can find examples of a legal release online. If any friend or family member refuses to sign, it might be best to keep them out of your memoir.

The bottom line is that whenever you put something in writing, it becomes permanent. While you might feel fine with airing your family’s dirty laundry today, will you be all right with it two years from now? How about twenty years? To avoid these memoir mistakes, it’s best to write about everyone in a good light now to prevent potential upsets later.

Memoir Mistake Number 4: Writing for every reader rather than settling on a specific demographic

Don't write for every reader; pick a demographic.

Before you even outline your book, you need to determine who your reader is. When I’m working with a first-time author, I’ll ask who the ideal reader might be. Many times a client will say, “all readers.” Writing for “everyone” is high on the list of memoir mistakes because you need to pinpoint a demographic and write to them. The more specific you can get, the better.

Some examples of your audience might be:

  • Teenage boys who are addicted to video games
  • Medical professionals who are open to holistic cures
  • Parents who have lost a child to cancer
  • Fans of Star Trek

Consider that you might be at a dinner party. You have a story to share, something amusing that happened to you last year. How would you share that anecdote? I would imagine that you’d tell it differently if you were visiting the White House, seated with dignitaries, than if you were sitting with your bowling buddies or your teenage children. You’d use different vocabulary and your tone would probably change a bit. That’s because you’d want to create the biggest impact with your storytelling; you’d want your audience to receive your communication on a level that they would enjoy.

So when you write, you need to keep your specific type of reader in mind, as if they were in front of you. Of course, even though you’re writing to that reader, that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy your book. You may accidentally discover a new category of reader as you begin to market and sell your book.

 

When you write your memoir, it can offer your readers a peek into your soul and universe. They will relish this. Memoirs are an important genre of the literary world. Just avoid the common memoir mistakes and you might just make a difference in someone’s life.

Enjoy the journey!

Check out these additional articles:

Write and Publish Your Book

How to Write Great Dialogue

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?

Understanding Characters

 

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!

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.

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.