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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 186

Updated on January 22, 2018

A Perfectionist at Heart, but . . .

I’m plagued by the desire to be the best.

The problem with that, though, is I will never believe I’ve achieved that level of success.

In other words, it’s a sticky-wicket!

Chasing one’s tail is exhausting and, ultimately, a fool’s endeavor.

This is one subject matter where I will not give advice. I have no answers about this unrealistic goal of mine. I will never be satisfied with my writing and that’s just the real of it.

So let’s talk about some things I can give advice about, based on my experience as a writer.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room! | Source


From Zulma: “I have a story brewing in my head that involves adultery. The key to the story involves a landline telephone as opposed to a mobile. I feel that with mobile phones being more prevalent today than landlines, the story should either be set in a time when telephones where more in use or the couple should be older and would have a landline in addition to their own personal mobiles. My husband says it doesn't matter and I should just write the story and not focus so much on small details. Am I obsessing over this too much or do you and your followers think it's something that lends a 'more real' feel to a story?”

Well, first of all, this is 2018 and my wife and I have a landline, so it’s not totally unheard of . . . oh, wait, we are older. LOL

Having said that, it really seems like a pretty easy fix. Landlines were still fairly common in 2008…just set the story in 2008 and be done with it.

As for the bigger picture, I think authenticity is very important, and I love that you are focusing on a small detail like that one. So many writers, many I know, would never consider that small fact and would skip right over it. I like you more today than yesterday, Zulma, for thinking of that. LOL

Two things have been established by your question: One, your husband is not a writer, and two, you are!

Different time periods require authenticity with regards to dialogue and scenes.
Different time periods require authenticity with regards to dialogue and scenes. | Source

Tugging at Heart Strings

From Eric: “My ghost writing is a blast because it is technical so I get called to make it personal. ‘We think of a life so altered by the wrongful conduct of another that they will never dance with their wife again’. So I dig deeper: Do your commercial clients ever desire you to cross breed to tug and the heart strings of their probable customer base? (you know - puppies playing with a little boy to sell sodas).”

Eric, I’ve been lucky with my customers. I’ve had two customers now for about six years, and they have loved my content writing from the beginning and given me free rein with my style. They love the results and have basically turned their websites over to me. And about six months ago I picked up a multi-millionaire in Texas who owns seven companies, and he is ecstatic with my writing style, and that writing style includes exactly what you are talking about.

I have basically crossed the line when it comes to commercial content writing. I make it personal for my customers. This is my style and I’m sticking with it. It’s what I’m good at. If my style does not marry with the needs of a customer, then we are not a good fit and we need to get a divorce. It’s that simple for me, and I make that known to the customers early on.

So yes, my friend, I tug at heart strings when writing content. I’ve said often in the Mailbag that I believe in the five senses when writing creatively. I also believe in the five senses when writing commercial content.

Character Biographies

From Linda: “Bill, perhaps asked before, but hopefully worth asking again. Do you create a biography (in your mind, or on a piece of paper if you are old and forgetful like me) for the characters in your novels before you begin writing? I'm thinking that something like deciding their physical, emotional, and mental characteristics before you delve in, and how they might be connected to other people in the story would help avoid problems or discrepancies.”

Yes, Linda, I do. It’s crucial for me to do so. My memory is not as sharp as it once was, and it is crucial that I do this. Where I stumble is in adding story details to some sort of organizer so I can look back and make sure I have no discrepancies regarding story facts. I will sometimes forget to jot down important pieces of the story for reference, and then I will contradict myself later in the story. And that is embarrassing!

I did exactly that in my last novel, “Shadows Fall Over Rosarito,” and the novel went to press with that discrepancy.

Ultra-embarrassing! One of my followers (thank you, Melissa) spotted it immediately and told me about it.


Every main characters should have a biography prior to writing a novel
Every main characters should have a biography prior to writing a novel | Source

Switching Tenses

From Paula: “I have a nasty habit of switching tenses when I write. Here’s an example: “She drove to the Mall and looks around for what she needed.” I’m aware of the problem but I’m not sure how to stop making those mistakes. Any suggestions?”

Paula, here’s my suggestion: be careful!

The fact that you are aware that you are doing this is a huge step in the right direction. There are a lot of writers . . . a lot . . . who make similar mistakes and don’t even realize they are mistakes. If you know you have a problem you can work on it, and my suggestion is to slow up, do an edit with only that in focus, and eliminate the mistakes as you go. We all edit our works numerous times anyway, especially novels, so why not do an edit specifically designed to catch tense mistakes?

That’s all I’ve got for you on this one.

No More Questions

This may be the shortest Mailbag on record, but that’s okay. I’ve got a lot to do, so we can stop right here and we can all go do whatever it is we do on a Monday.

I plan on chasing my tail some more. I’m really good at it, so why not?

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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