How to Write Your Characters’ Actions with Clarity

How to Write Your Characters' Actions with ClarityHave you ever tried to watch an old film? Not a digitally remastered edition or a corrected copy, but a genuinely old film, silent and sepia-toned. Some frames are misplaced or backwards. Some aren’t there at all.

You can follow the action well enough, filling in the gaps where they appear-but that doesn’t mean you don’t see the gaps. Maybe the story is interesting, and maybe the cinematography is compelling, but the experience is jerky and abrupt. That’s fine if you’re watching out of historic curiosity, but not so much if you’re trying to engage with the story.

If you’re writing a novel or memoir, this is exactly the reading experience you risk when the action you write is inexact or incomplete.

What Is Action in Fiction?

When I talk about action, I don’t just mean fast car chases or massive explosions. I mean any and all action, like the simple act of walking into the kitchen to boil a cup of tea. A story is based upon action big and small, and your readers’ investment in your story has a lot to do with their ability to imagine the action you describe.

But writing action-action that isn’t jerky and inconsistent like an old film, but rather clear and effective-is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s one of the greatest challenges faced by authors. As a book editor I see such struggles frequently, and they take on a few different forms.

How to Use Context to Create Clear Actions

Suppose I told you I walked to my computer so I could write this blog article. Simple enough, right? Readers know what walking is. Readers know what a computer is. This act is not difficult to imagine.

But consider this: Where is the computer?

Some people keep their computer in the living room or the kitchen. Some may write at an office or in a coffeehouse. My computer happens to be in my bedroom, and if that’s what I imagined when I wrote that first sentence, then I failed to convey that to my readers. I didn’t provide the necessary context.

Context is the information readers need at any moment to understand your writing in the way you intend. In this instance, our concern is context in the form of setting. Because I didn’t establish the physical location of my computer, readers were left without the information needed to understand the action I described.

But I didn’t just fail to mention where exactly I was walking to. I also didn’t mention where I was walking from. And without basic and necessary details like where I’m starting from and where I’m going, even the very basic action of walking becomes confusing and impossible fully to understand.

In the context of film, imagine frames so faded over time you can no longer see the background. When the picture is incomplete, much of the meaning is inevitably lost.

The depiction of action requires the same details readers would need were they navigating the real world. My computer is in my bedroom. I’m walking to my bedroom from the living room. To reach my bedroom from the living room requires traversing a hallway past the laundry room and the kitchen. When I enter my bedroom, my computer is against the near wall directly to my left. With each new bit of context the action becomes clearer.

How Incomplete Actions Pull Readers From Your Story

Where a lot of authors really struggle is skipping not only the context, but the action itself.

Suppose I’ve walked from the living room to my computer in the bedroom to write this blog. I hear a knock at the front door. Then I open the door and find a package by my feet.

Again, none of the action here is all that complicated. Yet once again, I’ve omitted something: not so much context and setting, but rather the action that enables me to open the front door. I never get up from my computer. I never leave my bedroom. I never walk to the front door. I’m just suddenly there.

Readers are smart. They can infer the action that must have happened in between. But it’s just like the old film: yes, the viewers can and will fill in the gaps, but the effort means they’re never really absorbed in the action. A story with incomplete and missing action-a story that includes missing frames-is a jarring, awkward experience.

How to Craft Clear Transitions and Scene Changes

So you’re watching that old film, and you’ve come upon a sequence that’s actually pretty well-preserved. The frames are complete. The action is clear and easy to follow. And more than that: it’s really, really good.

Then, without warning, you find yourself in the middle of the action-packed climax. What the heck happened? How did you get here? No matter how absorbed you were in the film a moment ago-in fact, especially if you were deeply absorbed a moment ago-you’ve just been thrown right out of your suspension of disbelief.

For an old film, this may be the result of a missing reel. In a novel or memoir, it has more to do with writing like this:

I sat back down at my computer and carried on writing my blog post.

I honked my horn at the car in front of me. Come on! Move it!

Now, obviously, my computer is not in my car and I’m not writing my blog post while driving. (Never blog and drive, kids.) After a moment of confusion, readers will realize the intent here is a change of scene.

But that doesn’t make the transition any less abrupt.

So what do we do? We have a few options. We can write or summarize the action in between these two scenes. For example, I can explain that, as soon as I sit down at my computer, I realize I need to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I get into my car and get stuck in traffic. So now I’m in my car, honking the horn.

Alternately, if writing or summarizing the action in between is tedious-if it doesn’t serve the story-I can instead write a transition. A transition can be pretty simple. It might look like this:

A half hour later, I sat in the driver’s seat honking at the car in front of me.

By adding a half hour later and slightly tweaking the sentence, I convey to readers this is a new scene. Because I take the time to do so, the shift from one scene to the next is less abrupt.

Finally, I can utilize a section break-that is, a gap between the sentences, often marked by punctuation (typically, asterisks). Used in moderation, this is a clear designation indicating the end of one scene and the start of another.

3 Rules of Thumb for Clear Action

What can you do to make sure you’re writing effective action? Here are some ideas to keep in mind.

1. Your role as a writer is to guide readers from one moment to the next. Always consider not only where you want them to be, but also how they get there.

2. Setting is fundamental to action. Be sure to define your setting, especially when it changes. Remember: you may see setting and action clearly, but readers can’t if you don’t show them.

3. Whenever there’s a change in place and/or time, it’s critical we see either action, a transition, or a section break.

Don’t forget that even the best, most impressive story in the world will fall short if the frames are missing or the film is incomplete. Be clear in your action and watch your story come to life.

If you’d like to receive a free checklist to guide you toward clearer action in your writing, visit the Writer’s Ally!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How have you clearly indicated your character’s actions in your current scene? Tell us in the comments!

The post How to Write Your Characters’ Actions with Clarity appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

Complex chemistry in Saturn’s moon Titan’s atmosphere

Saturn’s frigid moon Titan has a curious atmosphere. In addition to a hazy mixture of nitrogen and hydrocarbons, like methane and ethane, Titan’s atmosphere also contains an array of more complex organic molecules, including vinyl cyanide, which astronomers recently uncovered in archival ALMA data. Under the right conditions, like those found on the surface of Titan, vinyl cyanide may naturally coalesce into microscopic spheres resembling cell membranes.

12 Tips for Writing and Releasing Collaborative Book Bundles

12 Tips for Writing and Releasing Collaborative Book BundlesBook bundles are a fantastic way to expand your platform and your writing opportunities.

I have collaborated with other authors on five difficult book bundles-and have at least two more in the works. The first collection, Thirty-One Devotions for Authors, included-you guessed it-thirty-one authors, ranging from some of the most well-known among Christian authors to newbies. When my short story Slider won an honorable mention position in The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction Contest, they included it in their anthology along with other winners and honorable mentions. My third collection (now no longer available) included previously-published full-length novels bundled for resale as a set.

Each of these approaches to book bundles have their own degree of success and satisfaction. By far, however, the most fun collaboration has been that in which each participating author writes a fresh novella for a new collection.

Why Book Bundles?

Short works are fun and challenging to write. Novellas are generally around 25,000 words, but must be as complete in characterization and story arc as a full-length novel. That adventure alone is reason enough to encourage me to participate in these novella book bundles.

It also gives me a chance to play. I’ve been writing a contemporary Western romance series and have another in mind when it’s done. I also like to write contemporary romance and women’s fiction, but both of these currently go against my brand. Considering the fact that the bulk of my readers prefer their heroes in cowboy hats and boots-and since the two series I’m working on provide such heroes-I’m genre-locked for a while. Collaborating on book bundles has allowed me to write about different people in places other than the ranch and rodeo.

If you’re a new writer, collaborating on book bundles is great for visibility. If you’re an established author, participating gives you a dual benefit: you get to pay forward by helping newbies get publishing creds and you get an income from a new product.

So, how can you put together book bundles?

What Authors Would You Like to Include in Your Book Bundles?

Including friends is always appealing, but you must also consider which business roles the collaborating authors need to fill. Filling these roles with participating authors will help you save on production costs. Doesn’t matter if the same person fulfills multiple roles-although it’s good if there are several different people to shoulder the work.

For a successful collaborative effort, you will need:

1. Authors in Your Genre (or One Reasonably Similar)

This is particularly important if you’re a newbie hoping to break out in your genre of choice. It’s slightly less important if you’re an established author who just wants to play in other genres. Keep in mind, however, that if your anchor author-the one with the highest visibility-is in your same genre, that person’s audience could become your own.

2. An Anchor Author

You need at least one author with a good platform (visibility). As I mentioned above, this will give you access to your target audience. It will also help generate sales and, if you go through Kindle Unlimited, pages read.

3. An Eagle-Eyed Proofreader

My preference is for an author with a side editing business, both content and copy. Editing is the highest expense of any publication, so it’s vital to have an editor on your team, or at least people with enough experience in the craft and mechanics of writing to catch errors before they go public.

4. A Cover Designer and/or Formatter

You’ll need both. There’s no bigger headache in this process than pulling together several novellas into one harmonious unit and putting a cover on it. But the cover is your first marketing tool. It’s what will catch your readers’ eye and draw them in. Your book’s format is what they’ll see if they sneak a peek on Amazon. This means you’ll need people who can make both the outside and inside appealing.

5. An Accountant

At the least, you’ll want someone with a good head for numbers. Once you start selling books, you’ll need someone to divide the royalties and keep up with expenditures. Also, since no one person wants to pay taxes on the group’s total royalty income, the accountant will need W-9s from each member in order to issue 1099s at the end of the year. That way, each person pays taxes on only a fraction of the royalties. (Issuing 1099s is necessary only if the total royalty income is over $600. Under that amount, the royalty income could simply be divided and reported individually.)

6. A Marketing Whiz

To make an income, you have to promote. Generally, it’s important for everyone participate in this, but it’s great to have at least one idea-generator who can come up with unique ways to make your book bundle stand out.

How Much Does It Cost to Produce Book Bundles?

Production costs can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending upon how well you choose your writing partners to fill the list above. If you have people who are good with editing, cover design, and formatting, you can save a bundle. But following are some expenses you may not be able to avoid.

1. ISBN

This is your product’s individual number. You can publish without it, or you can have one assigned through your publishing agency of choice. Either way, this is something to discuss with your team members early.

If you want extensive distribution of your e-books through Apple, Kobo, Nook, and Kindle, you’ll want a number that doesn’t include Amazon’s Kindle code. Amazon is a huge competitor of every other company in this business, so the others are not likely to honor Amazon-assigned ISBNs.

The same is true if you decide to do a print version: retailers and libraries aren’t too fond of Amazon. This means having an ISBN that doesn’t bear their code is a plus, but it also costs. Check with Bowker to determine cost.

2. Print Versions

If you decide to release a print version of your book bundles, each contributor will want to buy books for their own inventory. Generally, paperbacks run around $5-$7 wholesale per copy, but the more pages included in the collection, the higher the cost. The more you buy in bulk, the less the cost upfront, but shipping tends to even things back out.

3. Email Promo Services

Getting posts on blogs and publishing in magazines are nice ways to gain publicity. Social network posts are wonderful. Facebook and Twitter parties are great. Goodreads giveaways are beneficial. But to put your release in front of a seriously broad audienceor, preferably, more than one audience-email promotion services are invaluable.

Most authors have heard of BookBub, the most expensive service (and the one that’s the hardest to get on with), but there are so many others. Each has varying degrees of success, but using several together within a close time frame for sales bumps, or even fanned out for continuous sales, works undeniably and for considerably less than BookBub. (Still, if you can afford BookBub and can get on with them, don’t pass up the opportunity.) The most comprehensive list of services I’ve found is on Indies Unlimited.

3 Final Considerations

There is a lot to consider when doing group book bundles, but they’re fun and worthwhile. Novella collections are popular these days, so if you have an opportunity, jump in-or start one on your own. Here are a few final things to consider and before you and your crew begin:

1. What Is Your Book Bundle’s Theme?

Tiny House Linda Yezak Book BundlesWill your bundle have a theme? Will the theme be interlocking, asThe Bucket List Dare, in which the characters in each story know and mention each other? Or will the theme feature unconnected stories with a unifying motif, as inComing Home: A Tiny House Collection,in which each story includes a tiny house?

2. What Is Your Publication Date?

All the authors need to be aiming for the same deadline. It doesn’t have to be carved in stone, but unless you have one, your team will find excuses not to work on their novellas. Set up a deadline for the each author’s draft to be finished and ready for edit, a deadline for the professional editing to be finished, and a deadline for final revisions to be finished.

3. Who Will Design the Cover?

By the time the novellas are being edited, you’ll want to decide on your cover design and determine your marketing strategy and release plan. So often authors who just want to write don’t realize the work doesn’t stop there. Find a diplomatic whip-snapper to keep everyone on board and on time.

Whether you’re a newbie looking for pub creds or an established author hoping to increase your product line, book bundles are a great way to achieve your goal. Grab a team and start writing!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you ever considered participating in book bundles? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments!

The post 12 Tips for Writing and Releasing Collaborative Book Bundles appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

Coming Soon My First Book!!!

My preferred title Geology For Astronauts didn’t win out but I love the cover!

For all my long-time readers out there who have been wondering what I’ve been up to these past few years, I can finally let you in on my big secret! I wrote a book! My first book entitled Aerial Geology: A High Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks will be published by Timber Press in October!

Land Lungs: A NASA satellite image of the Missisippi River Delta

Aerial Geology is a coffee-table style book that takes a bird’s eye view of 100 geologic features all over North America through NASA satellite photos, aerial photos from airplanes and my own shots and explains their geology on a grand scale. As many of you know, I’ve been making my living as a freelance science writer for the past ten years, while crisscrossing the continent by car and on foot. In many ways, this book is the culmination of a decade of studying the Earth, as a science journalist and an insatiable hiker, and I can’t wait to hold a copy of it in my hands.

Ink Stains on Earth: Lava flows at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, also by NASA

My favorite thing about my job as a science writer is that I get to learn something new everyday. I’ve hiked in all 50 states and have visited 89 out of 100 locations covered in Aerial Geology (the remaining 11 are still on my to do list, including the Bugaboos in British Columbia and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) and I learned A LOT about North America the most geologically diverse continent on Earth in writing this book.

Hells Canyon on the border between Oregon and Idaho is the deepest canyon in North America deeper than the Grand! I’ve hiked along the edge of this canyon and rafted the Snake River through its deep, dark heart two summers ago. Photo by Malcolm Andrews/ Aerial Horizon.

From the introduction of Aerial Geology:

Geology and mountaineering go hand in hand. The higher you go, the more you see and the more you see, the more you learn. If mountaintops are fantastic classrooms, airplane window seats are even better. In many ways, geology is best understood from the air. Altitude lends a greater perspective of the land and lets you begin to visualize the extraordinary forces have shaped our planet over the last 4.45 billion years.

Follow me from the edge of Alaska, down the West Coast, to the desert Southwest, over the high Rockies, across the patchwork Great Plains, and up the ancient fossil-rich mountains of my childhood, to the edge of the East. This book is for everybody who ever wondered how seashells end up on mountain tops and for the high flyers who gaze out that tiny oval on every flight. I hope this book changes the way you see the world and inspires you to get out and explore more of it.

Seashells that lived in an ancient ocean make up the limestone ridge to the summit of Woodward Mountain (10,659 feet) in southwest Montana

Aerial Geology will be available in print October 2017 from Timber Press. You can pre-order a signed author’s copy direct from me for $25, plus shipping, through the Paypal link below. Or pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound or find it online or at your local bookseller in early October.

Thank you, as always, for all the support! This community’s well-wishes and encouragement have sustained me on this ever winding, forever climbing path. I’ll be posting on here from time to time. You can also follow the Blonde Coyote on Instagram.

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*** Pre-ordered books will ship in October.