When do you break the rules?

I’m a recent devotee of Margie Lawson’s deep EDITS system. She recommends that you use highlighters to code different aspects of your writing. Whenever you see too much of a color, that lets you know your writing is out of balance.

It also shows your tendencies. My writing tends to drift into thoughts, action, and dialogue, if I’m not careful.

I’ve recently gotten hooked on The Hunger Games series (I am writing YA now, after all). There’s a spot in Mockingjay that’s a page-long monologue/info dump. Had I done the same thing, my editing partners Jackie and Martha would have jumped all over me.

But Collins has sold a bazillion (give or take) books doing the exact same thing I’ve been taught is poor writing. The experts tell you not to do something, then you see someone famous do it and it’s fine.

So what’s the message here? Is it that poor writing habits pass if you’re famous? Or, are they not poor writing habits after all?

I don’t think there’s a book on the planet that’s perfect, grammatically or stylistically, We like what we like. If you’ve read Mockingjay, you’ve probably passed over the same section without thinking twice about it. There’s nothing that says Collins is wrong, or that Lawson is right. It reminds me of a quote I once heard and will paraphrase: if you make your reader fall in love with your characters, you can get away with anything,

Hope this helps! 


Seven Essential Things to Remember About Very Important Characters

I’m all for original content, but I’m also for not reinventing the wheel. I came across this blog post and thought it insightful enough to re-post. What do you think: good advice or not?Image

Stories revolve around protagonists and antagonists and it is a good idea to introduce them in the first chapters of your book. I believe they are the Very Important Characters (VICs) in a story. Their motivations will drive your story and we want to know what happens to them at the end. Other characters like love interests and friends play supporting roles in well-plotted stories.

I think it’s a good idea for authors to know as much as possible about VICs. Even if you never use all the information, you will know them better than you know yourself. I suggest you complete a good character biography template, like the one we use on our Writers Write course, or create your own.

Seven ways to ensure you give VICs the attention they deserve

  1. Make them powerful enough to make choices.
  2. Make them the centre of attention. Even if they aren’t in a scene, the other characters should talk about them or think about them.
  3. They must make frequent long appearances throughout your book. If they don’t, you may have cast a character incorrectly.
  4. Make their actions and decisions memorable. As VICs, they are responsible for inciting actions or responding to events.
  5. Make the reader empathetic towards them. Your reader does not have to like them, but they need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  6. Make these characters viewpoint characters. Readers like to see the story through their eyes.
  7. Make sure they are worthy opponents for each other. If you want to create a compelling, memorable protagonist, you need a strong, three-dimensional antagonist. (Read 10 Essential Tips for Creating Antagonists)

If you do this, you will probably find that it’s easier to write your book. You won’t be giving prime time to supporting characters and you’ll be concentrating on the plot, not the sub-plots.  


What are you willing to pay?

People who don’t value their time don’t care how they spend theirs and will probably waste yours, if you let them.

With every business decision, I sit down and do the following equation: X x Y =Z where X = time I would spend to do it myself Y = my hourly rate; Z = total dollar amount it costs me. If Z is higher than what a subcontractor would charge me, I pay them to do it.

I write, publish, and consult full-time. I tutor in the evenings, have a toddler, and my wife is pregnant with our second child, which means my time is very valuable. When I started my consultation platform, I sat down and asked myself  – what should someone else pay me for my knowledge and expertise per hour? I settled on an amount and don’t make apologies for it. Either people can pay it (and will want to) or they won’t – it’s nothing personal and shouldn’t be taken that way.

With the push for self-publishing and indie publishing over legacy publishers, people believe they can do everything on their own. There are free templates, and conversion tools (like Calibe and Sigil) to help you do it.

Of course, you can do it yourself, but should you? I can sing, but I can’t sing well. I’d rather let someone else do a better job.

You may come to a tipping point with your project. You’ve finished your manuscript and need editing. Would you spend six hours of pay to have a professional do it for you, or take however long to do it yourself? If you’re being honest, you admit to missing errors because you either fall in love with your own prose or you are too familiar with the material.

Of course, you can hand it off to an English teacher or a friend. But the only English teachers I know as ruthless with a red pen as I would be don’t have time to edit a 272-page MS, especially as a free favor. And a friend may give you a pat on the back and no constructive criticism, which is not what you need.

Or, maybe it’s time to design the cover. I consider myself pretty techie, but it’s nothing I have a desire to try. Why? Because Z is higher than what my cover designer charges me. WAY higher. What’s the point?

When it’s decision time, weigh out your options. Be strategic. And don’t waste your time!

Editing: The boilerplate, the bold.

A first-time author once called some of my writing advice “boilerplate” which she could find “on any writing website.”

I can find the lyrics to “A House is Not a Home” on the web, but it doesn’t mean I can sing it well.

My critique of her introduction — that ten pages is too long, even for historical fiction — caused the season of her discontent. I get it: constructive criticism of your book is like getting a call from your child’s teacher. “Little Brian is a problem child. He could use some after-school tutoring at .012 cents per word.”

I told her to cut the froth: very, quite, feel, and a few other words we authors tend to think are important but really aren’t at all. Cramming the introduction of three to five characters into one scene was too much. Imagine a party where you meet five people in the span of ten minutes. Who do you care about and why? What if they leave the party shortly after meeting you?

If you’re feeling particularly wordy, give my “rule of thirty percent” a shot. What’s the rule of thirty? Do a word count on a particular section and cut it by thirty percent. You think to yourself “Brian, I can’t do that. (Enter scene/character/dialogue) is too important to cut.”

Be bold and try it. Reword your sentences to shorten them. Tighten your dialogue to show what the characters are thinking or doing rather than telling your reader what to think. Stop explaining everything and let your characters act it out.  FYI: Your prologue shouldn’t be longer than 3-5 pages. If it is, it should be a chapter, not a prologue. Hope this helps.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

On the inside with a book agent

Last Saturday, I joined Nancy Knight of the Sullivan Maxx agency for a workshop. You can read more about Nancy and her qualifications here. If you’ve decided the indie route is not for you, and your dream is to make it to the frontlist of one of the Big 6 (Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster), here is some information you need to know.

  1. “How long does the publishing process take, from soup to nuts (assuming there are no hitches in editing, design, or production)?” Nancy’s answer: “I’ve seen publishing contracts go as high as 36 months (a.k.a. we will publish your book within 3 years of signing this contract). Between two to three years, and that’s if I sell it tomorrow.”
  2. Nancy’s advice: “The money flows one way, from the publishing house (sales), to the agent (15% of those sales), to the author (royalties between 6%-15% of sales).”
  • “You do not need to be published to be a professional writer.”
  • To query her, write a fiction synopsis (a narrative telling of your story) between 3-5 pages long and include the first three chapters (double-spaced with proper margins). Send them as e-mail attachments, not embedded into the e-mail.
  • “Always be working on your next book. Finish it, then edit it.”
  • “Unagented manuscripts get sold and agented manuscripts are still selling for big bucks.
  • “Editors are your creative partner, not an collborator. Line edits should always make the book look better.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.


Compelling characters create connections

Every author wants characters you, the reader, believe in, root for, love, or hate.

You want your reader to care about your characters, no matter how prolific or damaged they are, and you do that by establishing a connection between character and reader.

I’m willing to bet that most people who drive by a terrible accident are either irritated from the delay in traffic, or curious as to the extent of the carnage. Few feel more than that towards those involved because of a lack of connection with them

How do you build that emotional bridge? Here are two ways I found to be effective:

  1. Use a character profile. The one I use is LONG (about 250 questions), but the thought it provokes adds layers to your characters. For a copy of the one I use, e-mail me (brian[at]authorbrianthompson[dot]com) and I’ll send it to you. Add these details in sparingly, not all at once in an information dump, and it adds flavor to your cast.
  2. When creating your character, ask yourself “who cares?” Authors tend to think readers should care about our characters because we say so. Compelling characters create connections. Complicate his/her life en route to his destination.

Darrion James is the protagonist of my first novel, The Lost Testament. He’s divorced, financially ruined, outed as a mulatto passing for white, and is scheduled to be evicted in less than 24 hours. He boards a train and is robbed of his meager possessions. A mysterious passenger shows him The Lost Testament and she’s killed shortly thereafter. Now, suspecting he’s a fugitive, he is stranded in the segregated town of his youth. The only person he knows is his mother, whom he has not seen in over twenty years.

You still may not care about Darrion, but aren’t you interested to see what happens to him?

Give it a shot and let me know how it works out 🙂

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of the Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

REVIEW: “Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships” by Allison Bottke

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging RelationshipsSetting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships by Allison Bottke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People in 140 characters or less: “sanity=analysis, introspection, support, trusting God. Practice!”

If you find spiritual self-help books to be trite and preachy, Allison Bottke’s “Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships” is the opposite.

While the book uses the anagram + numbered steps formula to self-improvement characteristic of a lot of self-help books, it does it well. Foundation building, goal setting, personal anecdotes and scripture provide the foundation upon which Bottke contends will help the reader conquer the difficulties of a challenging relationship. The advice is useful, practical, and tried-and-true by Bottke herself. I don’t like to be taught at, but taught to. She does that well.

It is the third book in her “Setting Boundaries” series (I have not read the other two), and I have to assume that Bottke does not “preach from the mountain” in the other books as well. That makes the hard-to-do activities (analyzing your character and temperament, setting boundaries within family and friend relationships and sticking to them less impersonal. I’m a proponent of many of her techniques, namely a support group for accountability and yielding to God. Great job!

View all my reviews

Write compelling fiction with hooking, tension, and nukes

As an author, you want to write a page-turner: fiction so compelling that the reader ignores sleep, eating, etc. to read what you have to say.

How do you do that?

It starts with hooking your reader in 1,500 words or less, or about the first five pages. You must get the reader to quickly buy into what you’re selling. There are no hard-and-fast methods, but here are three I have found to be effective.

1. Up the “oh crap!” factor. Increase the trouble for the protagonist. For example, at the beginning of The Lost Testament, Darrion James is divorced, broke, and about to be evicted. He can’t get a job because of his ruined reputation. Then, he falls asleep on a train and gets robbed of what little he has, and finds himself stranded. See what I mean?

2. End each chapter on a high note. I read Left Behind in two days. Almost every chapter ended on a high note, a cliffhanger, or mystery I felt needed to be resolved before I put it down. If you can master that, your reader will put it down. . .after they finish it.

3. Delete the unnecessary. Authors are word merchants, but we often fall victim to using too many words.

How do you tell what’s unnecessary? Push the action, reveal character, or delete it. Adjectives and adverbs are like whipped cream on cheesecake — you can do more with less. Or, the “nuclear” option: do a word count and cut 30 percent of it. You can’t cut that much? Start deleting and see where you end up. Be a surgeon and not a serial killer.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of the Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

Time-saving tips to edit your own writing

Editing my writing is like doing laundry: I hate to do it, but it has to be done. We might as well do it efficiently, right? Let’s go.

Write from the heart and edit with your head. Effective editing requires emotional disconnecting from the text, while good writing and rewriting needs that connection. It’s the reason why you shouldn’t edit yourself as you write.

Like most editors, freelance or not, I charge by two determining factors: word count and how much work I have to do. Substantive editing is reserved for extremely dirty copy: writing with more than just grammar, punctuation, and syntax problems.

Error-plagued copy can multiply your charge per word by up to three times. For the self-published or indie-published author, efficiency is crucial because you’re on your own dime.

One thing I always do is to read my copy backwards, sentence by sentence. This breaks up the flow of my writing, and I can see your mistakes more clearly.

Also, try this: hit “control-F” to activate your Word or Works program’s find and replace function. Enter the letters “ly” together in the “Find what” box. This will highlight your adverbs ending in “ly,” one by one.

Weak verbs need adverbs as modifiers. Try to replace the weak verb with another verb that eliminates that need for a modifier, which will simultaneously lower your word count.

Happy editing!

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of the Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

Editing worth every cent. . .literally

Nothing bugs me more than a misspelled word or a misplaced comma in a book (bad or implausible plots are a close second). The mass paperback publishers generally don’t have any errors, and if they do, they are not egregious.

By contrast, self-publishers seem to skip this part, settling to do it themselves or to have an old English teacher do it (nothing personal against English teachers; I used to be one and ask advice from several from time to time). Doing your own editing is like self-diagnosing an illness. Some of the times, you’ll be spot on, while on others, you could not have been more wrong. After all, if you could self-diagnose yourself (self-edit) adequately 100% of the time, there would be no doctors (professional editors).

When I shop, I can go no frills on a lot of things if I want. For ketchup (tastes funny) and bleach (less potent), I will always pay full price. Take the same attitude with editing. It will leave a different taste in your audience’s mouth and carry less potency as a product if you don’t. Your product is part of your brand, and your brand is part of your name. Would you want the word association with your name as an author to be “cheap” and “unprofessional”?

When looking for an editor, you want somebody who has 1.) work you can check as a reference, 2.) a reasonable price. For regular copyediting, expect to pay no more than .01 per word. For example, the word count for my novel The Lost Testament was about 80,000 words. If I only needed basic copyediting (grammar, spelling, etc.), then I shouldn’t have paid more than $800. For line editing (line-by-line scrutiny), I believe you should not pay more than .015 to .02 cents per word, and for content editing (if I needed to make sure my period details for 1962 were accurate, in addition to the line editing, etc.), then I should pay no more than $3,520 for editing. I do all my own research and fact-checking, so I never use content editing. I stick to line-by-line, because the English language punctuation, grammar and syntax rules are fluid. Sometimes, you can bend them. Sometimes, you can break them. But consistency is key.

I would like to recommend my editor, Steven Manchester. His rate for line-by-line editing is $3 per page. Using the example of my book, at 80,000 words, or 266 pages, his charge would be $798 for a job that’s $2,720 to $3,520 by current industry standards. Not only is he a gifted author and editor, but he’s also a brother in Christ, a man of integrity, a veteran and a good friend. Check him out.

Be blessed


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