Googled Questions

One of the things I have to say I love about WordPress (the host for this blog, if you missed that in the URL) is that they give you a stats page about your blog. It might be a little more addicting than it should be (I really want someone from Russia to read this blog one of these days to get that country filled in on the “where your readers are” map) but it’s very handy when it comes to seeing how you’re reaching your readers, and what posts are the most popular.

What can be interesting about the stat page, though, is that it will sometimes show you search terms that brought people to your page. For example, if someone searched “Jessica Dall” and then clicked over here from Bing or Google or another search engine, it might show “Jessica Dall” as a search term on my stats page. Of course the page isn’t going to let me know who’s doing the searching (or even what country they’re in) since I’m sure that’s some sort of privacy violation, but it is interesting to see what people are trying to find out when they make it to this blog.

So, for anyone who’s Googled something and haven’t found the answer they wanted here, I’ll do my best at answering some of those questions. (Questions edited for spelling mistakes/coherency)

Q. Is 300,000 words a long book?
A. Yes, it is, but hardly the longest out there.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Why it’s harder to get longer books published , or tips on cutting down word count.

Q. When writing in third person, can you say what several characters are feeling?
A. It depends. There are two different ways of writing third person: Third Person Limited and Third Person Omniscient. In the first (currently more popular) narrative, you are telling a story through the point of view (POV) of a character, just describing them as he/she/it rather than I. In third Person Limited you should stay in the head of your POV character (thus you can only say what they feel/what they observe. If they don’t know Character B is upset because she had a little sister POV Character’s age, the narrative can’t explain that while still in POV Character’s head). In Third Person Omniscient, the story is being told by an all-knowing narrator. It is generally uncommon to find true Third Person Omniscient stories at the moment (the style seems to have been most popular in the 19th century) but if the story is being told by a narrator who knows everything it is possible for that narrator to say how all the characters a feeling (just make sure you aren’t writing in Third Person Limited and then decided you’re going to call it Third Person Omniscient randomly just so you can jump back and forth with how characters are feeling).
Likely article(s) they were interested in: Head Jumping

Q. Should you use contractions in query letter?
A. Sure. I’m not sure there is a set protocol for it (I never knew one when I worked in submissions) but I don’t believe there’s any reason to sound overly formal in a query letter and (at least to me) you sound more natural as a writer if you use contractions, which is a good thing in my humble opinion.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: I don’t think there’s one directly related, but I do touch on why you should use contractions in creative writing here.

Q. How much narration do I need in a novel?
A. Depends on your novel. There are reasons to use narration some places and dialogue others. It’s about weighing the pros and cons to each. The big thing is not to worry too much about having a perfect ratio of narration to dialogue in your novel, it’s to make sure you’re telling the story the best way it can be told.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Pros and Cons to dialogue and narrative in Too Much Dialogue

Q. What’s the poison thing vampires have?
A. I don’t know, Googler, I don’t know… Apparently rather than turning someone into a vampire by feeding them your vampire blood (a la Anne Rice) in some books it’s “vampire poison” ( though I suppose it would be “vampire venom” if you’re going to be technical on the poison vs. venom thing) that turns a human into a vampire (the bite infects them or what not and if they don’t die the poison/venom changes them into vampires). Of course, it’s fantasy, so your guess is as good as mine.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: One of the many where I talk about writing problems where Twilight just happens to pop up…

Q. Is it ok to use song lyrics for writing prompts?
A. Absolutely. I’ve used a couple of different songs as the original inspiration for characters, plots, or even entire stories that have now been published. What you don’t want to do, however, is quote the song lyrics in your story (you can get into a whole host of problems with copyright infringement then).
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Writing Prompts

Q. What’s the shortest word count a publisher will accept?
A. It depends on the publisher (look at their submission guidelines as to what they accept before sending a query). It also will depend on if the publisher only publishes novels (generally considered to be over 50,000 words, but many publishers put novels in the 70,000+ words range) or if they also publish novellas and short stories. Of course, word counts are generally guidelines. One novel I have coming out this summer is around 51,000 words and the publisher generally doesn’t publish things that short, they just liked mine and made an exception. If nothing else, and you have an awkward word count, try searching for a publisher on a site like Duotrope which will let you search based one word counts accepted rather than just “novel/novella/short story”
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Word Limits

Q. Why do people say “dahlin'”?
A. Regional accents (in this case Southern US more than likely). If I remember my history of language class, that exact morphing of “darling” come from the fact that a US “Southern” accent is actually closer to an old English accent than many other US accents (supposedly Shakespeare would have sounded sort of Southern to us?) and thus it shares the same ‘h’ sounding ‘r’ as a British accent today (“dahling”). As to spelling it like that in a novel, “dahlin'” might be one you can get away with for phonetic spelling of accents (people generally will know what the word is without struggling) but as always, I’d be wary of trying to go overboard with “fonetik” spellings.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: Wy I Hayt Fonetik Axsents

Q. When are info dumps necessary?
A. Never. Ok, ok, probably not never, there’s always an exception to all writing advice and times you can do things that aren’t suggested amazingly, but as a general rule? Stay away from info dumps unless you’re parodying a Bond villain. There are almost always better ways to get information into a story than info dumping.
– Likely articles(s) they were interested in: Tips on how to get information in without info dumps in Info Dumps

Q. Is J. K. Rowling a bad writer/J. K. Rowling bad writing examples/examples of awful writing in Harry Potter/[and the list goes on]?
A. It’s interesting to see just how many different people are looking for examples of what makes J. K. Rowling a bad writer. Honestly, I enjoyed the Harry Potter series as some light reading as a teen, but no writer is faultless, so for those looking for some of J.K.’s weaknesses:
Over uses adverbs
– Clichéd plots/characters/etc
Flat Prose
Contrived Plot Points
And I’m sure there are more that people will point out (believe me, if you were a best seller, people would be picking apart every little problem you have in your novel too) but those are some major ones. Just remember, no author is infallible.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: But They Did It… about why best sellers aren’t always the best role models.

Q. Some real stories on why you shouldn’t use i cant believe it’s not butter?
A. All right, not really a question, and I don’t have an answer for it, but some how it linked someone to my blog. I really have no clue how. Still amuses me enough I felt the need to end with it. If someone has some sites with stories on why you shouldn’t use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” (other than that meaningless “margarine’s a molecule away from being plastic” myth) please let me know, since obviously a search engine thinks I can help people with that.
– Likely article(s) they were interested in: …um…I really have no clue…

But They Did It…

First, sorry for being away a couple of days. As much as I do love my editing, it can take up a lot of time (luckily my most recent projects have overall been very good. It’s always nice when you truly enjoy reading what people are having you edit) but as I am feeling like a bad blog-poster, I wanted to make sure to get today’s post up. And what is today’s post, you may ask? Best Sellers and Good Writing.

Now, what are some of the best-selling books/series of all time? – Lord of the Rings – Harry Potter – The Da Vinci Code – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Twilight Some of these books have sold over 100 million copies. But does that mean they’re well written? No, not necessarily. Now, I’ve already touched on some of my problems with Twilight in previous blog posts, but of all of the books listed, do you think we could get a consensus on one that everyone thinks is entirely brilliant without any flaws? Though I haven’t read all of the books I’ve listed, I have read a couple. But even the ones I enjoyed didn’t come off to me as faultless. J.R.R. Tolkien can overdo it with the description–the world is brilliant, but I totally skipped that three page description of a tree in Return of the King. Dan Brown’s characters can be one-dimensional–I read The Da Vinci Code in about a day, but couldn’t say I connected with/saw anything all that interesting in the characters. And, as much as I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series, there are plenty of people who point out J.K. Rowling’s writing problems:

“Rowling’s prose is as flat (and as English) as old beer, while Harry himself is not a boy of depth or subtlety.” — Guardian (U.K.)

In any decent story, the plot is advanced as characters make decisions. In Goblet of Fire, Harry has to enter a tournament because his name pops out of a cup. And he can’t decide not to enter because… the rules of magic say so! Things are just being thrown at Harry because the writer wants to throw them. (It’s even worse than an episode of 24).” — Daniel Radosh In his comment after his main article criticizing Rowling’s adverb use.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that these books are awful–as I said, I enjoyed many of them–but they aren’t perfect. As one poster on a yahoo forum put it: “I know that JK Rowling is a popular writer, but she is not a good writer. Many people use the argumentum ad populum fallacy to argue that JKR is a good writer. (AKA: The books are popular so the books must be written well). Popularity may sometimes be a result of high quality writing, but it can’t be used as evidence that the books are well written.” And truly, that’s what it comes down to. There is no test you have to pass to be a writer. Writing a best seller isn’t about carefully crafting a book after years of study under a master writer. J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist who ended up making Middle Earth partially out of his love for foreign (often made up) languages. J. K. Rowling supposedly wrote down the idea for Harry Potter on a cocktail napkin. Stephenie Meyer was a receptionist and then a housewife when she wrote Twilight. Years of dedication and work–while it can help–isn’t what makes an author write a best seller. Honestly, part of being a best seller seems to be, at best, luck. It’s being in the right place at the right time with something someone likes. Some people might write brilliant works that are never seen in their lifetimes. Some people might write a so-so novel they don’t care about in a week that sells 500 million copies worldwide. It might not be fair, but that always seems to be the nature of writing. What it does mean, though, is that best-selling authors aren’t any more infallible than anyone else. Copying one won’t save you from making writing mistakes any more than just trying to write something on your own.

This is especially true if you end up copying things that many people don’t like about the best-selling author’s writing (for example, J. K. Rowling’s use of adverbs or Stephenie Meyer’s purple prose). If a book you’ve read inspires you (best seller or obscure) think about what it is about the book that reaches you. What you’ll often find is that the books that generally reach you most do so because of their plot, characters, or something much more broad than just word use/writing style. Writing flowery prose, like Meyer, won’t make your book as popular as Twilight. Spending five pages describing every detail in your world, like J. R. R. Tolkien will at times, will not mean your book will be magically as well received as Lord of the Rings. Gain your inspiration from other authors you admire, but don’t use them as the end all be all for what writing should be.

Write what feels natural to you, learn, grow, take critiques, and become your own author. Not someone trying to emulate X. It’s likely you’ll write better that way.