The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Forty-Four
April Comes to an End
Welcome back to the Mailbag! I thought I’d mention the months just in case you’re like me and have a hard time keeping track of time. Since I left the public specter I honestly don’t know the date on most days. Sad but true. I am a perfect example of tunnel-vision. I have a goal and that’s all I think about during the writing week….well, that and feeding all the critters and keeping my wife happy.
Enough from me. We’ve got some great questions and they demand answers as April comes to an end.
From Ann: “Question: Why is it that some people take kind, constructive criticism badly (even in a private email) and others welcome it? I'm happy to take suggestions and comments on errors, from other writers, as long as they're not rude. Isn't that one of the reasons we're here?”
It’s an interesting question, Ann, and I’m not sure I have a comprehensive answer for you because, well, humans are complicated.
I do think that, as a collective group, writers tend to be an insecure lot. Egos are fragile, and any sort of constructive criticism is taken, by some, as an attack on their writing abilities. Not all, mind you, but enough to say that with some confidence. I’ve had the same thing happen to me. I privately emailed a writer and told them about a couple of misspellings. The writer was hurt and annoyed and told me so. Lesson learned by me. Not everyone wants constructive criticism. I don’t understand it but I suppose it’s not necessary for me to understand.
I want to grow and I appreciate criticism as long as it is given in a respectful manner. If it is delivered rudely then my claws come out.
From Mary: “ I was looking on the Internet at agents and publishers and lo and behold a day later I got a call from a self-publishing agency. Of course they were interested in my novel, but I still haven't checked their rates. He said they offer editing services for an additional fee, but, their publishing service includes a team that will review my novel before publishing, a marketing service, etc., etc. Do you think this is on the up and up?”
Mary, it is quite common and without knowing the name of the company you mentioned, I suspect it is on the up-and-up. Most self-publishing agencies offer a variety of packages with a variety of services. Be forewarned, though: those services do not come cheaply. Make sure you know what you are signing up for before you hand over a credit card.
If in doubt, check with the writing community and get recommendations for companies. There are quite a few of these companies popping up now, so I would recommend asking around and finding out what others have done and what services they have paid for.
First or Third Person?
From Craftdrawer: “Here is a question you may be able to help me with. Several books recently self-published on Amazon Kindle have the writer writing in the first person (Ex: Colleen Hoover) I thought that when writing a book or story it was typically written in the 3rd person. Do you know the rules to this and what is the best way to write?”
Craftdrawer, interesting question and a good one. First, there are no rules regarding first or third person. I’ve read a great many novels written in first person. My novels are written in first person. The advantage of first person is it gives the author a chance to explain in detail what is happening inside the head of the protagonist….his/her thoughts, beliefs, whatever. Third person gives those same opportunities, but not on such a personal level as first person.
If you’re just going to tell a story and you are not into the touchy-feely, philosophical nature of man and his actions, then third person is probably the way you’ll want to go.
But there are no rules and either one is acceptable. As a matter of fact, many authors will bounce between the two in the same novel, and that is also acceptable.
From Sha: “Hey, Bill! I'm back because I have a question. I was going to wait to ask Janet Reid, but I'm not close enough to completion, so I'm posing my question to you.
How do you feel about subheading chapters?
On one hand I think they act as a spoiler alert; the reader knows what to expect. On the other hand, I feel they can push the reader forward. Say the reader has read 100 pages and wants to stop. Giving a hint of what is to come may propel the reader to move forward.
Then again, from a publishing standpoint, will naming chapters mean a table of contents needs to be added to the novel? I can see it in a non-fiction novel or a how-to type book, but I don't expect to see a table of contents in a fiction novel. You don't want a reader to pick and choose. Rather, you want him to read from cover to cover.”
Sha, this is another example of the great questions I receive each week on the Mailbag.
I’ve seen it done both ways, obviously. In all honesty, I’ve never understood the need for subheadings in chapters of a novel. It seems to me to be a matter of personal preference. I suppose your explanation is as good as any, something of a spoiler alert, or a teaser, but I really see no point in it and I don’t do it.
Having said all that, I’ve seen it done in quite a few novels, some by very good authors, and I have never seen a table of contents along with it. You can read into that what you will.
Your Sneaky Voice
From Zulma: Can your voice change when writing dialogue for your characters? I think it should because your character is not you. Do you think that subconsciously your true voice slips in?
Zulma, you must be peeking over my shoulder while I work on my latest novel.
Most definitely, your writing voice should change when writing dialogue for characters. How boring would it be if all the characters sounded the same? It does not have to be a major change in voice but it should be distinctive enough to set the characters apart. I remember one character in the “Longmire” series who never used contractions. That may not seem like a big deal but it is very noticeable once you’ve read a few pages of dialogue.
The second part of your question is very true. I catch myself subconsciously writing my own voice into dialogue, and I do it quite often. Thank God for edits and beta readers. I think this is one of the most natural things for a writer to do, a quagmire that is easy to step into and difficult to get out of. Hopefully questions like this one will raise awareness and keep some writer from making the same mistake.
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Weren’t Those Great Questions?
Well I think they were. You guys and gals are getting smarter with each week and I love it.
So, if you have a question, add it to your comment below, and I’ll answer it next Monday, same time, same place. In the meantime, enjoy your writing. Remember to make it special. Remember it is part of your legacy and will live on long after you have died.
Dazzle us all with your words!
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”