Don’t Make Your Characters Do the Impossible

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I could enjoy the book I’m reading more if the characters would stop being contortionists. Every time they do the impossible, they pull me out of the story. This happened so often that I turned to see who published the book. I was surprised. It was a small but reputable traditional publisher.

This book has shown me how important it is for me, the writer, to learn to recognize and fix writing problems. It also warned me to be careful in choosing the editors I hire. All editors are human, and I expect them to miss a problem occasionally. I appreciate editors who know the writing problems to look for and who edit thoroughly.

Here are examples of impossible simultaneous actions. (My research said examples such as these contain participial phrases that suggest the impossible.)

Impossible Simultaneous Actions

 

1.

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Incorrect: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she walked away. (Is she walking bent over or duckwalking and dragging her suitcase on the floor before she let’s go?)

Correct: She set her suitcase on the floor and walked away. (And has the valid meaning and then or that the latter action is chronologically sequential to the first.)

Something that could happen: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she looked around for the man who’d pick it up after she walked away.

 

2.

Incorrect: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt. (If he’s pulling up the handkerchief with his hand, what is he wiping the stain with? His elbow?)

Correct: He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

Something that could happen: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he smelled the basil in the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

 

3.

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Incorrect: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she wrapped it around her neck. (How can she tie a scarf around her neck while she’s reaching behind her for said scarf?)

Correct: She reached behind her for her scarf and then (or just and) wrapped it around her neck. (My research showed that, opposed to the opinions of some, She reached behind her for her scarf, then tied it around her neck, isn’t wrong.)

Something that could happen: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she remembered she’d left her scarf on the train.

 

4.

Incorrect: Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her cell. (If she’s reaching in, how can she pull something out?)

Correct: She reached into her bag and pulled out her cell.

Something that could happen: Reaching into her bag, she pressed her lips together.

Participial phrases that suggest your character is a contortionist.  Click to tweet.

Do you have a favorite use of a participial phrase that shows an action that’s impossible?

Buy Link 

Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

What a Writer Can Learn From Reading Book Reviews

On the premise we can learn about an author’s audience from reading book reviews, I studied reviews for a Christian contemporary romance I had read. I became more intrigued by the relationship between reviewers’ issues and their star-ratings than the author’s audience.

The book had 262 reviews with a 4.7-star average.

  • 5 stars = 202
  • 4 stars = 42
  • 2 to 3 stars = 18
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Gabriela Pereira advises us to read 3- and 4-star reviews only (“Alpha-Blog Soup” Writer’s Digest May/June 2018). Pereira says, “5-star reviews are often too glowing to be useful, and people who leave 1- or 2-star reviews have an axe to grind.” She thought seven was the “magic number” of reviews to read to know an author’s audience.

I read sixteen 4-star reviews, breezing through story descriptions and slowing to a sloth’s-pace when the reviewer gave opinions about anything.

I’ve compiled stats below of what reviewers said about different aspects. Remember, these sixteen reviewers rated the book as “very good.” I believe the reviewers genuinely explored the story in honest reviews.

About the Author

  • Writes good banter, humor, and dialogue
  • Willing to introduce risky subjects

About the Reviewers

  • Loyalty to series/author. Regardless of whether they had problems with the story, twelve reviewers (75%) said they’d read the first book in the series, one or more of the author’s other books, and/or planned to read the next book in the series.

Opinions About the Story

 

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 Theme. Seven reviewers (44%) mentioned a theme. Five went with Theme 1 and two chose Theme 2.

 Plot. Eight (50%) shared their opinions on the plot. Four labeled the plot, and they gave the same plot name. Four mentioned they liked the fresh story twists; three weren’t impressed with the plot, and one gave no opinion on her plot feelings.

 Authenticity. Six (38%) said they were pleased situations and characters were realistic.

 Morality. Seven (44%) voiced concerns over moral issues in the story.

Lessons learned. Six (38%) remarked they appreciated learning from the situations.

Spiritual thread. Ten (63%) mentioned this aspect and gave positive opinions.

 Opinions About the Characters

 

Likeability of Main Characters. Eight (50%) cited problems with liking them. Some warmed up to them later in the story, and two said they enjoyed the story in spite of not caring for the main characters.

Secondary Characters. Seven (44%) mentioned liking the secondary characters. For one secondary character, three loved him and one disliked him.

Character arcs. Seven (44%) mentioned seeing the growth in the main characters.

What struck me was that seven reviewers respectfully voiced their concerns with moral issues, three disliked the plot, and eight had problems liking the hero and heroine, yet they gave the book four stars. These opinions came from ten reviewers (63%), some having concerns in more than one of these three categories.

My exercise showed at least 75% of the sixteen reviewers were loyal to the author/series. And 63% said they were happy with the spiritual thread. This may suggest the importance of

  • authors gaining loyal readers in their genre and receiving a loyalty “mulligan” when one book disappoints, and
  • writing series.

Try reading several 4-star reviews for a book and learn from the commonalities. Click to tweet.

What thoughts can you add to this exercise?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

Allow Characters to Feel Their Feelings

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We authors have a few tricks at our disposal to tell characters’ feelings. These techniques are fast and easy. They get the job done … or do they? The question is what job gets done and for whom?

Job done for author. The author can approach his deadline quicker, keep down word count, and get on with the plot.

Job done for reader. The reader must conjure up what the feeling looks like, is distanced from the character, and gives fewer stars in his review.

First, what are these techniques and, second, how can writers do a better job?

image by Composita

Naming a feeling

The author tells the reader the character is sad, angry, frustrated, scared, etc.

  • Sad, Annie turned and walked away.
  • Anger coursed through Fiona.
  • Millie feared what would happen.

The reader searches his feelings bank and tries to imagine what sad, anger, or fear looks like for this particular instance and for this particular character.

Using a prepositional phrase to name the feeling

Sometimes an author thinks he’s showed a feeling by couching the feeling in a prepositional phrase using such prepositions as with, in, or of.

  • Annie was filled with sadness.
  • Fiona made her decision in anger.
  • Millie experienced a feeling of fear at what could happen.

Add a strong verb in naming the feeling.

Sometimes an author thinks she’s solved the telling problem by adding a strong verb.

  • Sadness seeped through Annie.
  • Anger raced inside Fiona.
  • Fear zinged Millie’s heart.

Using made or caused.

Sometimes an author thinks he’s showing if he tells what made or caused the feeling.

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 His harsh words made Annie sad.
• The pitiable choices available caused Fiona’s anger.
• The gorilla made her happy.

 

 

How to Bring Feelings Alive Without Naming Them

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  1. Show what happens to people physically when they have the feeling.
  2. Give thoughts to the character that go along with the feeling.
  3. Give your characters behaviors and actions people do when they experience that feeling.

Examples

1. Cade read the letter reporting Gram’s death and was filled with sadness.

Cade read the letter reporting Gram’s death. His heart so heavy he could barely breathe, he raised his gaze to the old family photo on the mantel. Out of all the grandchildren, Gram’s hands rested on his young shoulders. His shoulders now warmed then cooled. Had Gram stopped for one final visit before going to Jesus? He looked back at the letter. A tear dropped onto her name and dissolved the ink into a blur.

2. Jake’s aloofness made Lauren angry, and she left infuriated.

Heat climbed Lauren’s neck. Just who did the creep think he was? Ignore her? How about this? She marched past him, making sure her handbag rammed him in the gut.

3. Sandy feared the look in Slade’s eyes.

Sandy stepped back, her heart pounding her ribcage. What was going on in Slade’s mind behind his smoldering gaze? Could she get to the door before he did?

Three ways to show characters’ feelings. Click to tweet.

What action, thought, or physical reaction would show a character’s frustration?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…