Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Guest Post From Author Rob Guthrie

Today I have a guest post from author and blogger Rob Guthrie! Buy his novels on Amazon here.

Five Ways To Make Your Manuscript Better RIGHT NOW (or: Death To Adverbs)

I was critiquing my own work the other day and I realized that for me there are these five things I do on a consistent basis that I always end up marking and changing later in revisions. (Unfortunately I also realized that several of these bad habits I'd been doing since I started writing---funny how we slip right back into our poor writing habits, isn't it?)

But then I started thinking about it and figured if these things are common mistakes and/or weak writing for me, there are probably others out there who do some of the same things and if I shared MY five weaknesses perhaps it would help another writer or two strengthen their prose. 

Here's what I suggest for a comparison. Save your piece under a different name (save it off somewhere with a "version two" or something in the title. DO NOT change the name of the existing document; open the original document and before you make any changes, select "Save As" and give it the new name. Make changes only to your newly-named document. This way if you decide the five rules haven't strengthened your prose, you can always go back to the original.

FYI: I've used the word "mistakes" in this blog and I probably shouldn't have. Few of them are grammatical mistakes in and of themselves. They are what I consider "style" mistakes; the kind of writing that makes pieces clumsy and inhibit flow and rhythm. It should also be noted that these are in absolutely no particular order; I'm putting them down as they come back to me.

1) Look for repeated words. What I mean by this is to look for words (any words) that you've used more than once within either the same paragraph or within one or two paragraphs of each other. The key here is that the words are not necessarily used incorrectly (in most cases they are not)---they are simply repeated too soon after using them the first time. I once read a manuscript by a writer who I swear used the words "space craft" something like 27 times in the first few pages (and twice in the same sentence more than a few times). All you normally have to do is come up with a different word that means the same thing. Like I said earlier, it's not that the word is incorrect (in my example above the writer didn't misuse "space craft" other than to OVERUSE it).

2) Go through your manuscript and every time you see an adverb following and word that denotes speech (said, yelled, murmured, whispered, shrieked, t0ld, etc.) and delete said adverb. Examples:

"Come over here now," she yelled loudly.

"But who do we tell next?" he whispered nervously.

"Just get in the car and shut your pie hole," he commanded angrily.

3) Go through your manuscript and in 98% of the places you use a word that denotes speech that is NOT "said", change them to "said" (yelled, murmured, whispered, shrieked, t0ld, etc.).

4) Shorten your dialogue. I don't mean write less dialogue, I mean when you write your dialogue, think about how you (and other people) speak in everyday life. People don't give speeches (unless they are literally giving a speech or a lecture). They don't speak in long, grammatically perfect sentences. They talk in fragments. Colloquialisms. They pause. One person's rhythm is different from another person's. Dialogue should flow naturally, like an actual conversation will.

5) Cut the length of your first draft by at least 40%. Most stories can be told somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 words. Somewhere along the line writers were told a novel had a certain length. That's like saying every car has a color, or every dish requires sage and oregano. Rare is the story that takes 100,000 words to be told. Forget the numbers game. Tell the story, but tell it concisely. Get to the point. You don't have to sprint, but neither should you crawl. Put this saying on your wall and live by it:

My book can always be shorter.
Number 5 is a really hard one; some people are convinced their novel needs to be 120,000 words. I promise you it doesn't, but I do understand that adhering to number 5 is really difficult for some people. So here's my challenge to you:
Do numbers 1 through 3. Just those for now. See if doing so doesn't make your manuscript a much crisper, infinitely sleeker, more professional ( less amateurish) read. Oh, and put this sign on your wall, just underneath the other one, and repeat it 100 times a day:

Adverbs will be the death of my writing.
Go on. Start saying it. And don't stop until you believe it.

Want to know what adverbs were invented to do? To TELL something. Your job as a writer is to show the story. You simply cannot show the story by peppering your manuscript with adverbs. You have to give them up. Lock them away somewhere and throw away the key.

I know. At first it's like giving up crack cocaine. (Fine, I've never tried crack cocaine, but I've seen what it does to people and if those people are willing to look the way they look and do what they have to do in order to do crack cocaine, it must really be awesome.)

In all seriousness, though: go after those adverbs without mercy. Kill them all if you have to. Your writing will be exponentially better.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


   It feels like it was just yesterday that I published my first novel,  The Impenetrable Spy, but it's been an entire year now. Because of my fans, in that year I've been in two newspapers, received recognition from the Ohio House Of Representatives, spoke to a 5th grade class about writing, been in two podcasts, wrote my second book and started my third, created this blog, did guest posts and interviews on other websites and met several fantastic authors!

   I never expected to sell more than ten books, let alone receive as much recognition as I've gotten from everyone. It's been a busy year for me, and I'd like to thank everyone who supports me, my blog, and my writing; without you, none of this would be possible.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Prologues contain events or an event significant to the plot, but normally don't directly involve the protagonist. 

Prologues aren't always necessary, but give the reader a better understanding of what is to come, or background on characters and events they otherwise wouldn't have knowledge about. One thing I have found annoying to read is how many people say prologues are worthless, and that they skip over them to the main story. Many writers include prologues for a reason, if they weren't necessary or didn't add to the story they wouldn't be written. With this knowledge, should we (as writers) write prologues? 

Some people hate prologues, some love them because they help them understand the story better. Below are some tips and types of prologues to help you decide whether or not you need one.

Writing a prologue isn't a reason to have a boring first chapter and vice versa. Always write the first chapter as if the knowledge presented in the prologue doesn't exist. Even if you hook people with the prologue, also make sure you hook them with the first chapter because as said above, not everyone reads the prologue. Also make sure you aren't using the prologue as an excuse to give out loads of information; it should be exciting. 

Below I've created a list of the four most used prologues.

Different POV or Character Prologues can be written before or after the events of the story, and are typically used in mystery and crime novels, where a murder takes place through the killer's eyes. This sets up the rest of the story. 

Historical Prologues typically give information on the setting of the story, and are normally used in historical or science fiction novels.

Future Prologues typically focus on something that happens after the story as a result of what happens in the story. 

Past-Protagonist Prologues normally give information on the protagonist and why he does what he does.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Twitter Do's And Don'ts 1

I have assembled a list of Twitter do's and don'ts below. Enjoy!

  1. Don't Overuse Hashtags- #It #Gets #Annoying.
  2. Don't Keep The Egg Profile Picture- I don't follow people back unless they have a profile picture. If you're an egg, don't expect me to follow back.
  3. Don't Stay Bio-Less!- I generally don't follow someone back unless they have a bio and/or a website link. It also gets people more interested in your profile if you have them.
  4. Interact- Twitter is all about the interaction! Don't just post links to things and not interact. 
  5. Don't Self-Promote All-The-Time- This can make you seem self-conceited; make sure to interact! A little self-promotion is fine (I do it too!) but don't be excessive. 
  6. Stay Active- If you only tweet once a month, you're defeating the purpose of Twitter. This also generally means that you don't interact with other Tweeps. Try to tweet once (at least) every day.
  7. Don't Auto-Respond To New Followers- I know people that do this, but it can come off as cold.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: Jack Wakes Up

WARNING: Lots of cursing, violence, and adult situations occur in the book. Ask your parents before reading.

   I recently started Jack Wakes Up, a novel by author Seth Harwood. I met Seth a couple months back when doing a podcast with the Book Guys. Seth's books are available on iTunes in audio format, but I got Jack Wakes Up from the library because I prefer reading a physical copy.
   Jack Wakes Up is a non-stop thrill ride; the author hooks you from the start! The book follows Jack Palms, a retired movie star and ex drug addict. In the three years he hasn't made movies, he's lived a fairly simple life. When his friend Ralph asks him to show a few drug dealers around the clubs, Jack doesn't object. He soon regrets the decision, and everything goes downhill for him, leaving the reader with a mystery to solve.

   I really enjoyed the characters because the author established good chemistry between all of them. Description was plentiful and painted a great picture in my head. The book has a dark mood but was lightened with comedy. I enjoyed the villains, and there were plenty of Oh No! moments that kept me hooked. The book never lets the reader go!

   It was a refreshing mystery, and I look forward to reading more of Seth's work. This book gets a whopping 5 stars from me!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

We lost author Ray Bradbury on Tuesday. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to his writing earlier this year in a Language Arts unit for school. I read The Crowd, The Veldt, A Sound Of Thunder, The Scythe, and Marionettes Inc. Even though I have read only a handful of his work, I can honestly say that it's inspired me to try out some short story ideas. Bradbury is considered the Godfather of Science Fiction to some, and one of the best twist-ending short story writers you'll ever find. Rest in peace Ray Bradbury, you're work will never be forgotten.