Friday, January 4, 2013

Becoming a Writer (Part III)

Well, I just sent the publisher the final version of my manuscript.  No going back now!
Boy, I hope I didn’t miss any typos or spelling errors. 

I’m a nervous wreck.  Seriously, I am literally sweating…worried that I screwed up somehow!  What if I accidentally sent them an earlier draft with all kinds of horrible mistakes? What if I forgot all the verbs?? Or vowels! Holy crap, where are all the vowels???

Breathe!  Breeeeeathe!!

Okay…. Let me finish my story about how I got Riddle in Stone published.  Perhaps that’ll keep my mind off of my pending humiliation and failure….

If you recall from the first two installments of this story, I always wanted to be a writer. Since I was a kid, I wrote story after story, but even when I had publishers interested, I never finish any of them. Finally, with the encouragement of my incredible wife, I finished a 500-page manuscript. However, when I pitched it to agents, they basically said that it was a good idea, but I sucked as a writer. 

Sucked!!  Those were their exact words!  SUCKED!!!

At that point, I did something that I always made fun of…I started reading books on writing.  Specifically, I read (among others) Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing.”  Both books are fantastic.  If you want to get published—get them! 

More importantly, if you want to be a writer, you have to STUDY the CRAFT of WRITING.  That’s really important! Extremely important!!

Everybody seems to think that they can be a writer.  After all, they got an “A+” in College English!!!  Right?  How hard can writing a novel be??


There’s far more to writing than throwing words on a page.   A TON MORE!


Anyway, after reading King and Stein (and re-reading my manuscript that I thought was so good), I realized that I had several issues with my writing.  One of them was creating interesting and effective dialogue.

You see, in my first manuscript, I tried to write like how people actually talk. I tried to be “realist.”

But that’s completely wrong. People are boring. Nobody wants to read a book with “real” dialogue.  Why would they?  They could just listen to people on the street.

What I learned from King and Stein was that dialogue isn’t just characters talking.  One character says something. Another replies. The first says something else….

Good dialogue moves the story along. It creates emotions in the reader. It also helps develop the characters. 

We learn about the characters by what they DO and SAY.  I had the “doing” down, but I didn’t have the “saying.”  My dialogue was not only boring, but it didn’t show us who the characters were.  My dialogue was “flat.”

Let me put it this way…. If you take out all the dialogue attributions (“he said,” “she said,” etc.), you should be able to tell who’s speaking by what they are saying and how they are saying it.  Just like you and your friends use different phrases and speech patterns, so too should our characters.

My first manuscript didn’t do this.  All of my characters sounded the same.  They all spoke like … well … like me. 


Once I realized this, I vowed to get better.

So I joined a website called  (It’s a Tolkien fan site. If you love Tolkien, come join us! It’s a good group of people.) and I began writing little stories on their writing threads.  I wasn’t interested in writing anything cleaver or meaningful.  I just wanted to practice writing dialogue. 

So I started with this character named Edmund the Scholar who st-st-stuttered.   Edmund literally got up from the Prancing Pony and started walking down the road out of town.  I had no idea who Edmund was or what would happen to him.  I just wrote.  Every day, I wrote for 15 minutes or so.  Again, all I wanted to do was practice writing dialogue.  Nothing fancy. 

Well, to draw this incredibly long story to it’s boring conclusion… those 15-minute writing exercises on the threads of www.the turned into a story…a story about this lovable loser type who wants to be a hero, but finds that being a hero isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I pitched the story to three or four agents.  And one of them, Joelle Delbourgo, loved it.  Even though she didn’t usually represent fantasy (I’ll tell you more about how to pick and approach an agent later), she wanted to represent my work.   She loved the character…and the story’s ending.  Thankfully, Diversion Books loved it too. 

So that’s how Riddle in Stone got started.  It was simply a stupid writing exercise.  

But the key here is that I had to learn how to write.  I’m still learning.  I'm still working on everything.  Read a lot, write a lot…learning from what works and doesn’t.  I have a long way to go.  But, I'm headed in the right direction (hopefully).

Well, that’s it for now, dear imaginary reader.  If there’s anything you want me to talk about—the craft of writing, what else I learned from King and Stein, writing agents—just let me know.  I don’t know everything, but…together…we can become better writers.

Until next time….

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I am very close to finishing my first draft, but I know I have some painful rewrites in my future. It helps so learn from someone else who has gone there and back again!

    1. Wow! This is really incredibly kind of you. I hope my little posts can be of help. That's why I'm prattling on about such things! If there's anything that I can do to help, just let me know.

      Thanks for visiting!!

  2. I have a stutterer in my fantasy novel. He used to be the greatest knight in the land, but he got his skull broken by a mace and somehow lived through it. Now he gazes off into space most of the time and drools, but if his lord is in danger, he turns back into the fighting demon he once was.

    1. This sounds really, really incredible. What is the name of the novel? Maybe we could post a link here and encourage everybody to pick up a copy.

  3. So what's it like being a writer about to be published? Stressful? All you hoped?
    I've always wanted to know what it's like to actually write under pressure, if it's anything like an essay with a deadline...

    1. What's it like? Have you ever run naked through a shopping mall?

      Right now, I'm very nervous. I'm not sure if the book is going to be good enough and that it'll get panned. Or it won't sell at all. What if only a couple hundred copies get sold? Ugh.

      I don't know. Maybe it's just me. I should be happy. Writing a novel has always been a dream of mine. And here I am, about to get it published. But I can't seem to enjoy the moment.

      If the book starts off well...sells 200 copies within the first 30 days, I'll be thrilled. But I don't want to get my hopes up.

      As for writing under pressure...I have a deadline of August 2013 to get the third book done. I doubt that'll happen. I am just starting the manuscript. I suppose I would be more stressed out about the deadline if it weren't for my impending failure with Book One:)

      I'm an academic by training. So I tend to have tons of deadlines. I'm used to them. It's really important to start early, set realistic goals, and then plan for the worst case scenario.

      Are you a writer Sharena?

    2. I am lol, (shay from AW).
      The funny thing is, I would love that too, you know? Walking into some bookstore and seeing my name on the spine of a book, but at the same time you open yourself up to a whole bunch of other things both thrilling and frightening. I read a post not that long ago about a lady who said after she became a published author, she realised she really took her private, leisurely writing for granted!
      Weirdly understandable.

    3. That is very understandable. Writing for yourself is and EASY!!! Now... ugh! What if I suck? I now suck not only in front of a lot of people...but FOREVER!! The suckiness never goes away! It's always lingering out there suckifying. :)