Action vs Plot and Fresh vs Formula

A few months ago, a friend and fellow writer came to me with questions about action, plot, and how to tell a unique story. His questions were fantastic and I wanted to share our conversation for those of you who might be asking yourselves the same thing; “How can I write a story that is fresh and new if I’m following the ‘rules’ and ‘formula’ set out by tried-and-true authors?”

Hi Rebecca! I wanted to ask you about action vs plot. Are the two mutually exclusive? What’s the deal with that and why? Should one expect an action movie to have a plot? Why would viewers care if it doesn’t have one?

Oh, good question. Action, particularly in the action movie genre, tends to refer more specifically to motion and movements that are being taken. Action movies involve a great deal of momentum. The pace is usually quite fast and a lot of exciting events tend to occur.
Plot is more collective; it’s about WHY those actions happen, and when and how. The plot involves the motivations of the characters and the causal affect, why one action leads into, or causes, a reaction.

An action movie SHOULD have a plot, but some don’t. If stuff is blowing up and people are running about everywhere but there isn’t some underlying sense of motivation and purpose there is no plot.

A lot of ‘real life’ is fairly plotless. We do stuff, because it’s a new day; that’s action. But without goals and dreams there is no plot and we tend to wander from action to action aimlessly.

Is it ever a good idea to be whimsical or plotless? I can see that being intentionally plotless, would fit as a plot device (ironically) to make something seem more natural or possibly light-hearted…

Like I said, a lot of real life IS plotless, but during the writing process it’s best to have a plot because in a story things are supposed to happen for a reason. If you factor in an action or event that appears to be plotless it is because within your plot that ‘natural’ or ‘light-hearted’ event is important to the story.

This is Chekov’s Gun Theory, which states, “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”

What this comes down to is plot devices. Everything in the story should serve the purpose of the plot. If it isn’t related then it doesn’t belong in the story. The plotless stuff should get taken OUT of a story.

Guy gets up, has coffee, blows his nose, has a shower… The reader doesn’t CARE! So it gets cut. Unless something significant happens in the event, such as his coffee is poisoned or he blows his brains out of his nose, it is noise that will bore and frustrate a reader. If an object, scene, or an action doesn’t serve the plot then it’s superfluous padding which can slow down and even dumb down a story.

Why does a story need to be plot-driven?

Some stories are considered to be plot-driven while others are considered to be character-driven. If the scene develops the reader’s connection with the character it’s considered to be a character-driven scene and doesn’t necessarily ‘need’ a plot. But it’s better if the characters are driving the plot with all of their actions. That is how the two weave together.
Ideally, plot and character go together.

It’s the kind of thing worth considering when reading books. Look at them with your writer’s eye; pay attention to what feels connected to the greater theme of the story. Does anything happen that doesn’t, ultimately, lead into what happens next?
Life does that. If anything in my past had happened differently I wouldn’t be who I am in the present. And books are the same; the action serves the purpose of the plot, or at least it should.

Plot “devices” can be used for connectedness, people can often either remember or miss, something that happened earlier and how it relates to what happened later, but you want your story to be unique and character-driving is how you do that right? If a story is too plot-driven it often becomes contrived and predictable; it will feel fake, and readers will get emotionally disconnected.

You need both. Or rather, I should say, the best stories have both. There are plenty of stories that are “ok” which cater to one or the other predominantly but the stories readers come to love, the ones they become immersed in and won’t put down, are those which keep a balance between character and plot. Those stories build character enough to make us care that these things happen to this person, and plot enough to make what happens interesting.

So how do you escape the “same ol’ thing”? How do you make it something readers haven’t ever read before? How do you do something they wouldn’t predict?

Unique writing usually comes from voice. The same basic plot, even very similar characters have been written about hundreds of times before. (This is the basis of The Hero’s Journey.) But YOU haven’t written them. The way YOU tell the story will differ from the story someone else told.

If you talk to twenty people at a birthday party, every one of those twenty people would describe the party in a different and unique way. It would be like there were twenty parties instead of one. Each of us brings our own experiences and unique perspective to our storytelling.
Your storytelling can do things in a unique way based on your voice and the ideas that are uniquely yours.

Is it better to do what is expected or to prepare the reader for what is to come? Is dropping hints a good thing or should you just hit them with stuff?

It is better to balance the expected with the unexpected. Prepare and don’t prepare. Readers love twists, they love surprises, but they don’t like being mislead or sent off on tangents.

So, even if you do something unexpected, when the reader looks back it should be eye-opening for them. On reflection, they should be able to see the things that pointed to the twist before the twist happened.

For example, the second time you watch the movie, “Sixth Sense”, you realise there are lots of things that pointed to the twist from the very first scene. Natural human assumption about the way the world works creates a belief that causes viewers to miss those crucial hints the first time we see the movie, the twist makes us go “Shock, WOW!” and then ohhh, there, and there, oh yes, I remember that happening, etc.

Hints are good. Intelligent readers especially love the thrill of getting hints and trying to guess the ending. But be careful not to make those hints too obvious or the reader will guess and be right.

A lot of the advice you’re giving, and writer’s are given generally, applies because it’s a tried-and-true analysis of stuff that’s already been written, but how does one approach writing something completely new? Using the same methods as before doesn’t sound like it makes something fresh.

Well, you can write things completely opposite to that which is tried-and-true. It might work, but it might also become the biggest flop in this history of big flops. That’s what innovation is about; taking a chance that it won’t suck it big time.

If you want to write a book you can sell, you do it the way that has proven to work. Publishers don’t like taking risks so particularly for those of us writing for traditional publishers it can be important to follow the ‘rules’ and do what has proven to work.

If you want to do something fantastically unique and new, then don’t follow the ‘rules’. You have to be willing to break all the rules. It might pay off, but it might not. You have to weigh up if the risk is worth it to you. If you love the process of writing without following the tried-and-true, if it’s fun to be wild like that, then go for it. Forge the path for other writers to follow the new rules you create.

The only real ‘rule’ in writing is to write what you love. Because, odds are, if you love it there will be readers out there who love it as much as you do.

Original conversation took place on the 14th of September, 2010.

Mimicry: When What You Read Becomes What You Write

Beware, the following paragraph my be challenging to read. I’ve included an audio version for your convenience.

“If one took the time to sate a moment in mine company one might discern that I am not wholly within myself to-day. My head is spate with smatterings of conundrum and my speech is affected by a twisting of the tongue so greatly unlike one would normally be insisted upon to face that one might begin to wonder if I were fixed in the head and that I should deserve to be set to bed least my affliction be contagious or likely to worsen. I would argue that your ears, or rightly eyes, are deceived for I spake in a manner like I would commonly address a fellow and not in any dissimilar fashion discernible to my own considerable consciousness. This phrase is not perpendicular to any other. It stands upon itself and makes complete and perfunctory sense in all grammatical manner and typographical standing. It is, indeed, well writ and one would be in err to consider it otherwise. Yet were I to continue in this fashion for longer than these many sentences and to ramble on about for several more with none to pause or break to as many paragraphs you would, and rightly so, turn from me with haste.” ~ Rebecca Laffar-Smith [audio version (1.6 MB)]

Guess who I’ve been reading today? Ok, you mightn’t be able to guess from the paragraph above but I’ve spend three hours today immersed in the fantastical wanderings and recount of ship surgeon and intrepid adventurer, Lemuel Gulliver, a creation of Jonathan Swift and a book more commonly known as “Gulliver’s Travels“. (The original, NOT the Jack Black movie recently released.)

The copy I’m reading was published in 1814 and it is rife with strange dialects, odd and archaic words, and sentences or paragraphs so long and convoluted that I found myself wondering where each point began or ended and how they connected to each other. I remember thinking earlier today that if Swift had taken this manuscript to today’s publishers he’d have been slapped with so many rejections he’d have even further reason to grow increasingly discontent with his fellow man and indeed retreat into seclusion in disgust for the entire race.

But what I found more fascinating is that the more I read the more I began to think, and yes to speak/write, in Swift’s voice rather than my own. My subconscious mind began to mimic the odd turns of phrase, the lengthy soliloquy, and the haphazard constructions that make Swift’s writing uniquely his own. Has this ever happened to you?

One of the first “rules” of writing is to read. To read in abundance. And, perhaps part of the reason for this rule is to absorb so many different voices that no single voice affects the voice that emerges as you write; the voice that is uniquely your own.

But it’s fun to play with mimicry. So, if you have a chance today, pick up a book and spend a little time immersed in the author’s voice. Then, put the book down and see if you can put aside your own voice and mimic that of your chosen author. Explore your thoughts as they wander in the thinking of your chosen author.

How does your writing differ and what strange, unique, and fun ideas come to you when you’re not “wholly within” yourself?

Find You And Your Voice: An Interview with Oneself

Find You and Your Voice

Rebecca: When was the last time you evaluated your goals, examined your dreams? Get real with yourself about who you are, what you want, and what really drives your life and your writing. Mysti Guymon-Reutlinger visits today during her own sabbatical. She is taking a few months to discover herself and shares this interview with oneself that we can each do to find or rediscover the writer within.

I’ve spent a great deal of time writing for WRA (now The Craft of Writing Fiction) discussing time management, office practices, and tools to help you succeed. Given the time since my last article here, there might be question as to my continued work. Let me assure you that Rebecca has been more than patient with me in regards to articles and there will be plenty more from me in the future. For now, I’m doing something outside the box for myself.

This morning, I woke to find silence in my house and, with my creative juices flowing, posed an interview to myself. This is something I’ve done with fictional characters to better understand their needs and desires and how they blend with the story line set forth.

Why did you decide to ‘disappear?’

It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I have had many responsibilities in the writing world that I left. But in the end I know I needed to find Mysti beneath all the chaos to better serve my clients, family and me.

What are you hoping to find while off the map?

There are aspects of myself that I loved as a teen. I had an incredible determination to set goals and achieve them, no matter the odds. My life was simpler, allowing me the opportunity to really hammer out the kinks in what I was doing to reach success. By stepping away, I hope to regain much of that determination I once possessed.

Who are you wanting to become?

I can’t say I want to become anyone in particular. I want to be myself without the tension headaches and stress knots in my back. I want to rework how I work to have a wholesome, fulfilling life. I’m working on myself and my life to ensure that I have the best opportunity to achieve what it is I truly desire from life in general.

Where did you come up with this idea?

I’m sure I could bore you with the lengthy story, but in summary; I realized that I wasn’t happy on my current path and wanted to find a pleasant middle-ground again. I’ve always been an advocate for taking time for oneself and disconnecting from the computer, work and daily grind. Stepping away from all of those responsibilities for an extended period of time seemed very fitting for me. I’ve never been one to put one toe in the water to test the temperature, I’d rather jump in, feet first.

How are you working on yourself?

I am doing something different each day. From pampering my body and soul to trying new activities and foods. I am also reconnecting with family very intently after one very shocking and difficult death of recent weeks. Through all of that, I’m uncovering a new way to think, evaluate, act and react.

When do you plan on really resurfacing?

On my 30th birthday, October 30, 2010. I gave myself 4 months and 7 days to really work on myself and my life.

Is there any knowledge you’ve gained thus far that would help our readers?

Don’t be afraid to pull the plug.

By that, I’m not saying bail on all your gigs or writing endeavors. Instead, evaluate where you want to go and what key factors are most important. When running any business, you are in control of your destiny. You decide what is best for you and what isn’t. Act accordingly and you can find yourself enjoying the passion that inspired you to become a writer in the first place.

While this interview with myself is outside the box, the technique brings out great thought and understanding. When working with fictional characters, the questions I pose are much more intense and private. Just like I need to know myself at this stage in my life, knowing my characters inside and out will help me carry them through a story to completion.

What have you learned, or are you learning, about yourself as a writer? What would you ask yourself to find you and your voice?

Photo Credit: ihave3kids

Season To Season: Writing Is Influenced By Your Environment

The start of September brings with it a change of season, in the northern hemisphere leaves begin to fall from the trees and the scorching summer gives way to the cooler bluster of autumn winds. In Australia (and the rest of the southern hemisphere) we’re starting to see the sunshine again with rains easing and cloudy skies giving way to blue as spring begins. The cool weather will linger a few more weeks but already the dawn approaches more swiftly and the sunset lingers later on the horizon. Seasons change, and our writing changes with them.

The Seasonal Change Of Our Writer’s Voice

Seasons: SpringHave you ever noticed your writer’s voice change with the seasons? We spend a great deal of time at the page but the weather outside our office door influences more than the thermostat and wetgear. It influences our mood and motivation.

When the days of spring and summer bloom our mind wanders out of doors. Our bodies want to spend more time away from the keyboard and we venture out into the sunlight more often. Thankfully, the days are long and we feel we have more time to get things done, so taking an extra long lunch is a refreshing break before returning to the grind.

Sunlight also tends to lift depression. After moping through dismal days of cloud and rain many writers find new inspiration and motivation in the changing winds. Sometimes this is influenced by the fact that we are out in the world more and are therefore having new experiences and meeting new people. Perhaps the Muse ventures out more frequently when her wings won’t glaze with frost. Perhaps the warmer weather has melted the iced waters of The Idea Waterfall. For whatever reason, we’re bursting with new passion and eager to start new projects or complete old ones.

The winter brings its own advantages and disadvantages for writers. We spend more time indoors, snuggled in the warmth, and sitting still. This is conducive to writing, a pastime that is very challenging if one is in perpetual motion. Our thoughts tend to slow down, inviting deeper introspection. It’s a good time to follow set plans, to work on organization, and keep on top of tasks that require regular maintenance. The colder weather invites us to spend more time reading which is a great way to fill the well between writing and editing.

Do you find the weather influencing your moods like this or do the seasons affect you differently?

The Change Of Seasons In Story

Seasons: Autumn/FallThe seasons influence us as writers but they also influence the mood and motivation of our characters. Seasons have a strong impact on story and can play a significant role in your stories plot. Have you considered which season your current work is set in? How might the season, and the natural elements and environment that go with it, influence your story?

As a reader, the season is sometimes so seamless and integral a feature that we aren’t aware of it as an entity in a story or novel. Some stories contain so little influence from the weather that they could happen at any time of year. In temperate locations the seasonal changes might be so minute that they don’t even register with the characters or affect their actions and but even these temperate climes have environmental influences that affect mood and mayhem.

Have you ever noticed yourself naturally writing your characters into weather that mirrors your own? When it’s blustery and wet our characters huddle in their jackets and curl up in front of the fire. It feels easier, more natural, to have our characters share our environment. We live with them for days, weeks, even months at a time and when the season in our real life changes it can be difficult to continue writing about the drudgery of winter when the summer sun invites us outside into the light.

How have the seasons and the natural environment and weather influenced stories you’ve written and the characters who live within them?

Fascinated by the change in seasons? Read more from fellow writers in September’s Blog Chain at Absolute Write.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Laffar-Smith
Photo Credit: Per Ola Wiberg

Adapt Your Voice to Expand Your Writing Opportunities

Adapt your Writer's VoiceMany beginning writers hear the term “voice,” as in, “finding your writer’s voice” but aren’t sure what it means. “Voice” is the words we choose, as well as our sentence structure, the cadence of how the words fit together.

When people speak, we may have an accent or speak in a particular dialect of our native language. We also have speech patterns, slang phrases we use, and favorite expressions. These are often influenced by the area we live, our age/generation, our socioeconomic status, and possibly even what we do for a living. (Language directly influenced by our industry is sometimes called “jargon.”)

In writing, all of these things together form a “writer’s voice.” Many of us write the way we talk. But some writers are adept at adopting different voices. If you can write in a variety of voices, you can expand your writing opportunities to include:

  • Writing in a variety of fields and industries
  • Writing for the web, print, television or radio
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making $1/word or more writing for glossy national publications or trade journal

How to Recognize Other Voices

The first step to learning how to write in different voices, is learning how to recognize different voices — and what creates them — when you read. For instance, corporate writing adopts a more formal style. Blogs can be casual, fun or newsy, depending on the audience. Sales and marketing copy has a conversational style designed to draw in — and convince — readers.

To begin to pick up the cadence of different writing voices, read widely. Read everything. (Where have you heard that writing advice before? Everywhere, I’m guessing!) After you read something in a unique, distinctive voice, sit down and write something using that voice.

“Finding Someone Else’s Voice”

Writing in a different voice often requires more extensive rewriting. The first words that come out of our minds and onto our computer screen are usually our “natural” writing voice. In many cases, this is also the way we speak. (If you ever hear me give a webinar, you’ll recognize that I write these blog posts in my “teaching voice,” and I speak pretty much the same way when I’m teaching someone about writing.)

To write in a different voice, consider all the different ways you can say the same thing. Use words not in your normal lexicon. Vary your techniques and your sentence structure.

If you are ghostwriting, the best thing to do is to read everything you can that person has written. The same goes for submitting queries or articles to major magazines. You want to make that “voice” part of your mind, so you can hear it in your own thought patterns. You should begin thinking like your client, or like the writers of the magazine you want to write for. When you start to think like your client or your magazine’s market, you’ll start to write in a way they can relate to, naturally.

Take the Writing Voice Challenge

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a recent article or blog post you have written and rewrite it:

  • In the voice of your favorite author
  • As sales copy
  • As a corporate communication
  • As an email to a friend

After you do this a few times, you’ll be close to an expert at adopting other voices, and then you don’t have to worry if you land an assignment that forces you to write in a voice different from your own writer’s voice. You can do it!

Feel free to share your examples below in the comments or tell us other ways you experiment with “voice” when you’re writing.

The Growing Up of Writing

This month, for the AW Blog Chain we talked about birthday’s and “growing up”. Many of us remember growing pains as we grew through each of the life stages behind us but did you know that our writing experiences similar growing pains?

The Labor of our Love of Writing

The Labor of our Love of Writing

It all began, years before it all began. We gestated our love of language and writing through our own growth stages. Many writers can remember the joy of written creations shaping childhood. We daydreamed of the creativity we would, one day, bring into this world.

Eventually, the nesting period culminated in the pain and loss of childhood innocence. We brought our writing out into the harsh light of day. No longer could we cocoon our inspiration and ideas in the womb of secret passions. And so, our writing was born into the world. For the first time, others admired the wonder. Our baby was beautiful, at least in our own eyes, and the real journey was just beginning.

Each idea, story, or article is born in the same way. It starts, nestled safely in our minds and hearts until we push through the anxiety and pain to bring it out onto the page.

Cutting our Writing Teeth

After those labor pains, writing wandered through weeks of sleepless nights. We would delve into it at a moment’s notice any hour of the day. Often, we were tired, sometimes a little sad, but we were also high on the joy and wonder of creation.

As our writing grows up, however, teething inevitably arrives with sore gums, misery, and sometimes tears. Frustration dampens the thrill. What was once easy and effortless became a chore.

It is in this stage too that we begin to truly judge our writing. Our critical eye develops and we start to see our babies as they really are.

The pain of teething makes us want to stop. Many would-be writers do stop at this point, unaware that we explore new wonders, new tastes, after our teeth come in.

Temper Tantrums, Trouble Makers, and Id.

Temper Tantrums, Trouble Makers, and Id.

Have you ever met a three year old that was an angel ALL the time? I didn’t think so. Because after teething, children come into their twos, threes, and fours. These are the years of discovery. They find their personality, their Id, their sense of self and belonging. And in discovering how they influence the world around them, and that they are a single cog in the wheel of life, they rebel and test their boundaries.

Our writing also goes through this stage. After it’s munched on a few crunchy husks and found it’s teeth it reaches a stage of discovery. It becomes curious, it explores, it takes chances, and it gets hurt and scared. It tests its boundaries and throws tantrums.

This age of our writing is a wonderful part of growing up. It is when we discover our true voice and come to cherish what is unique about what we have to share with the world. These years feel the longest and sometimes, no matter how grown up we become, we revert to those trouble-making three-year-olds. Fear builds and we need to test our boundaries. We need to be reassured that we are safe and protected.

Striking Out with Writer Independence

Around the age of ten, most of us went through a new stage, we discovered that we could do things on our own. We no longer needed permission, we could make choices and decisions for ourselves. But, we were insecure in making choices so sometimes we would get clingy, emotional, angry, frustrated, and scared.

Once past the tantrum stage, our writing goes through a few years where it wanders in the youthful enthusiasm of childhood before it starts to understand danger and risk. Before then, it acts without realizing that what it does might be hazardous but as understanding dawns it begins to question what is right and it realizes that its power to affect others can do as much harm as good.

This stage of development is one that is truly magical but often overlooked. It feels like an in-between, we often just think the ten year old is a ten year old. Not quite a child, not quite a teenager, still young, carefree, and without the worries of the world on their shoulders. But a ten year old worries, and our ten year old writing become concerned too. As the weight of those worries build in the coming years it leads into the next stage.

Responding to Responsibility - Teenage Rebellion

Responding to Responsibility – Teenage Rebellion

When that former ten year old now about fourteen realizes they’ve had enough of the sense of responsibility that comes with growing up they rebel. They toss off the shackles of responsibility. They want to be carefree again. They want to make bad choices and they don’t want to be concerned with consequence. They want to be three-years-old again, when right and wrong didn’t matter and when they were still oblivious to danger.

Our writing loves this stage. If you’re in it you won’t know it but your voice is dramatically different in this stage. It’s not even really “you” so much it’s the mask you put on, the face you show others. This is also the age where you’ll find your writing most mimics others. You wear the masks of other people as your writing tries to fit in.

You’ll often find in this stage you begin to harness the ability to put deep emotional ties into your writing. That angst you felt as a teenager is angst your teenage writing gives voice. Before your writing reaches adulthood it can bleed on the page, everything is intense, without filter. It often lacks direction and almost never has a plan. It also ignores consequence. But it’s only steps away from the balance, understanding, and grounding of adulthood.

Balance, Understanding, and Grounding

All of these stages eventually lead to adulthood. You’ve been reckless, you’ve abandoned responsibility, you’ve discovered your sense of being separate and distinct from others, you’ve taken a bite out of life, and become your own person. You step away from your family and begin building a place for yourself in the world. You’re still learning who you are, because none of us ever really stop, but you’ve got a firmer grasp of yourself and your emotions. You’ve learned that you have a place in the world and that, to some degree, you have the power to shape that place.

When our writing reaches this same level of maturity it too has learned that it has a place in the world and that it has the power to shape that place. We’ve learned to harness our raw emotions, to give them essence and strength on the page. But we’ve also learned that those emotions play a part in the greater whole of our story. They aren’t just there for the sake of being there, they, in their very being, have significance to the story and to the characters.

We’ve also learned through growing up that there are times when writing is hard and there are times when we can write from the core of our three year old, we can write from the minds of our ten year old, we can write from the heart of our fourteen year old, and that all of those things are within the adulthood of our writing. In this, maturity of our writing, we have greater command and control. We know how to manipulate language, and to put our influence on the page.

In adulthood, we’ve also learned the importance of having a message. Our writing is no longer aimless, it conveys, it transforms, and it brings value to those around us. We’ve learned to be giving and we’ve learned to use our strengths to make a difference for others, and ourselves.

What have you learned as your writing was growing up? Do you think you’re still in one of these other stages? Do you recognize any stages I’ve not mentioned? How has your own writing grown?

See what other Absolute Writers have to say about “Growing Up”:

Why the Client is Always Right

Anyone who’s worked in retail knows the adage, “The customer is always right.” That credo often makes retail workers cringe. I’ve worked in several bookstores and most people wouldn’t believe the customers we had to accept as being “right.”

I can cite hundreds of examples of abused return policies, mis-read signage where the customer received a discount anyway, and complaints where the customer was clearly wrong, but the manager made right. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

The policy is not an excuse to act as a doormat, but it provides a good guideline for knowing when to cut your losses. In other words, is the bad PR worth the money we’ll save by not making the customer happy?

The words “bad PR” make me think of the recent Southwest / Kevin Smith debacle. Director Kevin Smith was kicked off a plane for being “too heavy”, and escorted out of a seat he clearly fit in. He was right; Southwest was wrong. But even if it was a close call — even if he had to struggle to get that armrest down — Southwest would have been smart to let it pass. Smith had been a passenger on the airlines countless times previously, flying with no danger to himself, the other passengers, or the plane as a whole. Southwest, known as the friendly airlines, has spent years and millions of marketing dollars building a good reputation for itself. Was it really worth it not to let Kevin Smith — a customer with a powerful voice and a lot of social networking cache — just be right?

For Freelancers, Clients = Customers

When you are a freelance writer, your clients are your customers. What are some instances in which the client is “right”, even if it may not seem like it?

  • When the editor changes your work in a way you may not approve of, but it is still factually and grammatically correct. Every editor has his own style, and publications typically fit the editor’s style. If the editor changes something, and it’s not how you would have written it, leave it alone. If you want to know the rationale, ask politely. But don’t argue.
  • When the client changes his mind about what he wants, and expects you to do more work as a result. Unless it’s specifically written into your contract (and you should have one for this reason) that you charge for re-writes, you should do the work. The client will appreciate that you went the extra mile, and you’ll get return work. If the client makes a habit of changing his mind after the fact, you may want to consider ending the relationship.
  • When you write to the client’s specifications, but the client just isn’t happy. I know a lot of writers disagree with me on this point, but I like to use this analogy: If I go to a hairdresser and I leave looking like Ronald McDonald, the hairdresser better fix it — for free. If I take my car to a mechanic and it’s not running well when I leave, I want him to make it right — at no charge. Doctors are probably the only professionals who can get away with not doing their job correctly the first time and then charge for repeat visits… but writers don’t have to live in fear of malpractice lawsuits, either.

Contracts Make it Clear
Again, the policy that the customer is always right isn’t designed to force professionals to act like doormats. Having a contract that clearly outlines what you will and won’t do for the given fee prevents misunderstandings, endless re-writes and wasted time. A contract helps ensure the client receives exactly what he paid for.

I don’t charge for rewrites and, in rare cases when a client is not happy, I will re-visit my work until it meets their specifications. I have many repeat clients, including editors I’ve worked with for more than 15 years.

If endless rewrites or complaints become a problem, I simply stop working for the client or publication. .. and I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. In some cases, because clients know I will rewrite with a smile, whatever the circumstances, they offer to pay me for the additional work. Again, everyone is happy.

As writers, we are service professionals. The number one goal of a service professional is to provide good customer service. That’s at the heart of the “client is always right” philosophy.

What are some instances in which you’ve accepted a client being “right” because it wasn’t going to hurt you, even if you didn’t agree? When have you had to put your foot down?

Three Secrets to a Successful Book Ghostwriting Career

The Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to become Successfully Publishedby Laura Cross

Book industry insiders estimate that ghostwriters author 60% to 80% of books published each year. And with book ghostwriting fees range from $10,000 to $100,000 per project — $10,000 being the very low end and $100,000 usually paid to more established writers (“celebrity” ghostwriters earn $250,000+ per book) – more and more freelance writers are discovering that authoring books as a “hidden writer” or collaborator can be a viable and lucrative career.

Here are three secrets to help you create a successful career as a book ghostwriter:

1. Learn How To Capture The Client’s Voice

The ability to capture and convey the client’s voice is an essential component for a successful career as a ghostwriter. Being able to effectively structure content and manage a project are also necessary skills for ghosting, but the ability to mimic the client’s speaking style and make it come alive on paper is the skill that will land you recurring, high-paying projects. Carefully listen to the client during your interviews and conversations (and review any available audio – videos, podcasts, etc. – as well previously published material written by the client) to learn how he or she structures sentences. Listen for specific phrases, word patterns, vocabulary choices, and tone, texture, and energy – and then practice recreating it until your words and the client’s words blend seamlessly.

2. Position Yourself As One Of The Experts In Your Niche

Are you the go-to writer for women’s fitness and health? Do you mostly write narrative essays or opinion pieces? Are you the how-to article guy or the relationship advice guru? Are you a freelance writer with a background in accounting or experience in social media? Ghostwriters who specialize in specific genres (such as memoir, finance and investing, or women’s issues) tend to be more successful than those who generalize. Capitalize on your experience and expertise by focusing your ghostwriting in one to three areas of specialization. Use your portfolio and online presence (website, blog, social media profiles and interactions) to establish and build your platform. Consistently deliver quality content and exceptional customer service to solidify and maintain your status.

3. Connect With Literary Agents

Literary agents are one of the best referral sources for quality ghostwriting projects. Many experts, business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, actors, television celebrities, sports figures, chefs, doctors, professors, gurus, and media-darlings-of-the-moment, lack the necessary skills to write a compelling book. Literary agents need to match their clients with professional ghostwriters or collaborators. Connecting with literary agents, and growing and nurturing those relationships over time, is an invaluable element to a successful ghostwriting career. (You can download a free chapter on “Finding and Selecting an Agent” from my book The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent at

Author, Screenwriter, Ghostwriter, Freelance Book Editor, and Writing Coach, Laura CrossLaura Cross is an author, screenwriter, ghostwriter, freelance book editor, and writing coach specializing in nonfiction books and script adaptation (book-to-film projects). She writes two popular blogs, and, and teaches online writing workshops.

Laura’s latest book is The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent: Everything You Need To Know To Become Successfully Published. You can download a free chapter, view the book trailer, read the full table of contents, and purchase the Book in electronic format at

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The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent

Have you every considered ghost writing? Are you in the process of finding a literary agent? Laura joins us today on her blog tour. You’re invited to ask questions in the comments. What would you like to know?

Six Easy Tips to Improve Your Writing

Talented author and song writer, Jill Moore shares six fantastic tips for writers. Honing your writing craft is a practice of love and dedication. Rules are meant to be broken but it is important to learn the rules, know how they benefit your writing before deciding which ones to break for best effect.

Improving your writing skills is actually quite easy if you know where to start. There are some areas of weakness that afflict almost every novice writer. Here are six simple tips to help you avoid these pitfalls and increase the quality of your written work.

  • Get rid of excess words.
  • Sometimes inexperienced writers can weigh down their sentences with extra words or phrases. Writers often refer to these excesses as “deadwood.” Evaluate your sentences and eliminate any words that are not required to convey the main idea. For example, instead of writing, “There were not a lot of horses left,” write, “Not many horses were left.”

  • Don’t use words as fillers.
  • Some words should be used very sparingly because they are not of much use and only take up space. For instance, the following sentence is overly wordy: “I actually liked the class, but basically, I have no time to attend it.” The words actually and basically are unneeded because they do not add any worth to the sentence. Writers often refer to these extra words as “utility words.”

  • Avoid Being Redundant.
  • Make sure your sentences do not contain two words that mean the same thing, such as, “We received a free gift,” or, “I needed to buy some things to purchase at the store.”

  • Be Wary of Multiple Conjunctions
  • Conjunctions, such as and, because and but, connect words and phrases. Be very careful not to overuse these words, because they will cause your sentence to be overly long and wordy. Instead of writing, “She is very nice, and she is interesting, and she seems like she has learned a lot in her travels, and she lives in New York,” write, “A very nice and interesting person who lives in New York, she seems like she has learned a lot in her travels.

  • Use Active Voice
  • Active voice, as opposed to passive voice, helps keep a sentence from dragging on and on. Here is an example of a sentence in passive voice: “A new road is being paved by the construction workers.” This same idea conveyed in active voice looks like this: “Construction workers are paving a new road.”

  • Choose Words Carefully
  • Although some words are neutral, many words have specific connotations. For instance, although the words sweat and perspire can be defined in the same way, most people interpret the word perspire to be something lighter or daintier than the word sweat. In the same way, calling someone skinny is generally perceived as negative, while referring to the person as slender has more positive connotations. Choosing the perfect word can sometimes prove difficult. Good writers will often use dictionaries and thesauruses to make sure they have chosen the best word for the mood they want to create.

Putting these techniques into practice may take some effort at first, but don’t give up! As you continue to pay attention to your writing, these techniques will become habits, and your writing will be much improved.

How Freelance Writing Almost Destroyed My Blog

Blog writing requires a different tool set. A blog entry is not a magazine article or a newspaper clipping. To connect with readers we have to break some freelancing rules and discover that what is right and acceptable from one medium will not work in this one.

When I started my blog just over a year ago I knew about writing. After all, I’d written hundreds of articles. I was making money from my writing. I was complimented, rewarded, praised, and touted. I wrote articles all about ‘you’, because freelance markets focus on their readers. I knew how to write captivating titles. I knew how to keep my points sharp and posts short. I even knew how to optimize content for the internet.

What I didn’t know was one fundamental element of a successful blog. I didn’t know “ME”.

Over the past year I’ve written some great posts about “you”. They were jazzy and informative. They would make excellent magazine articles. But Writer’s Round-About isn’t a magazine, it’s a blog. Month after month I created new magazine content and grew more and more deflated by the lack of response and the shallowness of growth. I didn’t understand that blog readers do not just want to know new information that can help them, they want to know real people have walked their path before them. Blog readers don’t come to Writer’s Round-About to know about themselves, they come because they want to know about me.

The First Clue: My All Time, Most Popular Post

Do you know what my all time, most popular post, on Writer’s Round-About is? It is a short, reflective post that is 100% about me and A Sax outside My Window.

I’ve often gazed at my site stats wondering, “What nugget of truth does this post hold? Why is it so popular? Why does it still get new hits every single day while other posts wither from loneliness in my archives?” The secret is, “me”.

The Second Clue: Following The Trend

Other posts in my statistics show similar trends. Reflecting on An Australian Writer’s Australia Day brought a wave of readers. The post has nothing to do with ‘you’, it’s all “me”. But enthralled readers were captivated by the story, the truth, the heart.

The Third Clue: Comments Say It All

I might have started to catch on by now but perhaps my inner child was calling out for acceptance because it took another element before I caught on. Your comments! When I talk about myself, you interact with me. Of course! Why would you interact with yourself, you don’t want to talk to you, you want to talk to others!

Why Freelance Writing Isn’t Blog Writing

In the end it comes down to this. A blog has a different audience, a different expectation, than a magazine. The writing needs a different perspective, a different depth and integrity. When I read a blog I want to meet a person. I want to know them. I want to walk a mile in their shoes and learn from their mistakes. I want to make a friend, to pat a back, to smile at a memory. I bet you want that from the blogs you read as well.

From now on I’m going to make more effort to share myself, my experiences, my thoughts, my heart. I hope you’ll respond in kind and remember, do not be afraid to talk about yourself. Blogging has created a new social acceptance. Ego is no longer taboo. Build your confidence and your voice. Be yourself!