Digital Ink: Writing Killer Fiction in the Ebook Age. To tell you about it, they've created a hybrid interview/conversation thing that's pretty entertaining in its own right. Kinda makes you want to check out their book, you know?
Bonnie: Thanks, Liv, for inviting Chris and me to hang out with you today. As you know, in the digital age, anyone can get published, but that doesn’t mean anyone can sell.
Chris: That’s for sure. I can’t tell you how happy I am that my first novel didn’t find a home. Yes, it was futuristic, but it was really a thinly veiled story of my early, desperate years.
Bonnie: Same here, Chris. Mine was set in the rock radio world where I started as a copywriter. Seven hundred forty-nine pages of people getting killed and having sex. I blush just thinking about it.
Chris: We both made the same mistakes everyone else did, and that’s what we want to talk about today. Bonnie has been an editor and writing instructor since 1990, and she has been a judge for almost every major writing contest. Since we have been working as co-authors, we have spoken at numerous conferences and reviewed all kinds of manuscripts. Believe me, regardless of how much experience any author has, we all face the same challenges and make the same mistakes.
Bonnie: The first one and the most important is character. If you don’t have character, you don’t have plot. You don’t have anything but an un-hatched idea. You have to know your protagonist better than you know your best friend. This person who drives your book must be both proactive and sympathetic. That mean you need to know the hole in that character’s life, something that probably began in childhood.
Chris: You have to do the same work on your antagonist—be his/her therapist. People don’t get up in the morning thinking, “I’m a rotten SOB, and I am gonna ruin someone’s day.” The good have flaws, and the bad have reasons. In order to find your antagonist’s reasons, you will have to go back to that person’s childhood as well.
Bonnie: That was the problem with my first book. The villain was evil.
Chris: Mine was evil and crazy. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I know other writers do the same thing.
Bonnie: The next area many writers bypass is the hook. Remember, the reader can preview before hitting that “buy” link. If your first chapter is backstory and the character thinking about her life, Robinson Crusoe style, you aren’t going to make the sale.
Chris: What about a fist in the face? That’s not any more effective than the Robinson Crusoe Syndrome. A hook has to surprise you, engage you, and pull you in. It can’t be all backstory, and it most definitely can’t be all action.
Bonnie: So true. Most beginning writers want one or the other—the fist in the face or the long, soul-killing back story.
Chris: Which leads us to an easy one. This should be easy, but apparently it’s not. And that is the basics of punctuation and grammar.
Bonnie: Many writers mess up on this one. They use both said and says as dialogue tags. They write present tense when the book is begging to be written in past tense. They don’t know the difference between lie and lay, sit and set. They have no idea how long a book should be. One college administrator sent me a draining manuscript of 100,000 words. Once I slogged through it, I realized it was only one-third of his novel. That’s right. Three-hundred thousand words of pure hubris.
Chris: I remember that one. Here’s a bonus glitch that’s connected to that. It’s basing a book too much on your own life, with a fictional you as the protagonist. I actually thought my own life was intriguing enough to turn into fiction.
Bonnie: My mistake as well. But first novels are as much about healing as anything else. Agree?
Chris: As I said, I’m glad—so glad—it wasn’t published. So here we have the three biggest mistakes writers make. Protagonists and antagonists who are not fully developed. Lack of attention to a hook.
Bonnie: And finally, the one glitch it’s so easy to fix—improper format.
Chris: And the bonus glitch of not trying to write yourself in as the protagonist.
Bonnie: We’re eager to hear your questions, and we’ll be picking a post we love to send a free book to one of you.
Bonnie Hearn Hill and Christopher Allan Poe are the authors of DIGITAL INK: WRITING KILLER FICTION IN THE E-BOOK AGE. Bonnie is the author of six novels from MIRA Books, young adult novels, and numerous nonfiction. Chris, a Los Angeles-based touring musician, is the author of THE PORTAL and a member of the International Thriller Writers Debut Author Program.