Hire A Professional Editor?

Are You Ready To Hire A Professional Editor?

Maybe – but you might consider beta readers as a good first step.

Delivering your manuscript into the hands of a professional editor can be an intimidating step for any writer. It does not, however, need to be the first and only step in improving your first draft manuscript.

You may have heard of “beta readers”. If by some chance you have not, pay close attention. A beta reader is anyone that a writer brings in to give that first manuscript draft a test drive. With the same air of trepidation, a writer makes a dozen copies of their pages and hands them out to a few close friends.

Sounds great right? It’s a great way to kick off the re-write process without hiring a professional editor just yet. Where do I find these beta readers though?

A lot of writers I know work in writer’s groups. They’re great for accountability and networking. Writer’s groups meet weekly (or less often) to discuss new pages, characters and story lines. To many a new scribe, their writer’s group sounds like a pretty good place to test the waters. I would like to offer up a contrary opinion though: I don’t believe writer’s groups are the best place to find beta readers.

While it is true that most writers are voracious readers, I find other writers have skewed views of manuscripts and especially those still in development. All too often, I find that other writers look at your manuscript through a much different lens. They can offer great advice (usually closer to publication) but in those early phases, it may behoove you to cast a wider net and look elsewhere. And here is why.

On the road to publishing success, your book is going to have to impress readers. Lots of them. Thousands of them, in fact. Why not get your book into as many of those genuine book readers as you can? The people who curl on on the couch with a paperback. The passengers who pull out the latest thriller novel as they board an airplane. The person at the library who talks a blue streak about your work.

This is, after all, your target market.

When an inventor comes up with a brand new kitchen gadget, they don’t necessarily test market to the select few chefs who run Michilen star kitchens. However exclusive or skilled, it’s a limited marketplace. To become the new “must have” item, they need to get out to foodies and house wives and the millions of people across the world who prepare meals on a daily basis.

Your set of beta readers needs to amount to a few things. They need to be reliable. They need to be well read and opinionated about books and literature. Whether or not you include your Mom and her glowing praise for everything you do is up to you (I say yes, you’ll need that boost to your confidence).

More than anything though, before hiring a professional editor consider submitting your work to a diverse group that represents your entire market.

Of course, there are some of you I’m sure who are ready for a professional editor. If you’ve done a thorough job in the rewrite process already, then a professional editor can help you bring that final polish to your work and navigate the treacherous industry waters that lay ahead. If this sounds like you or if you’re stuck in any phase of the writing process, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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How To Expand Setting – Screenwriting Tips

How To Expand Setting

A current trend in screenwriting speaks directly to the need for writers to expand their thoughts on setting, specifically, how to expand setting itself. I’m talking about the appetite for “single location” scripts.

Anyone who has seen Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s “Buried” knows you don’t need an elaborate series of locations to tell a tough, heart racing thriller story. In the film (which famously cost $7,000 to produce, pointing to the reason why single location scripts are popular) Reynolds plays a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been buried alive and the entire 90-minute movie takes place inside of his coffin.

Claustrophobic? Then try Tom Hardy in 2014’s “Locke” where for a strong majority of the film we are stuck in the car with a man whose life is literally falling apart around him.

Maybe the most important factor in these films is that Reynolds and Hardy are terrific actors. They are the type of performers that can make this type of bare bones concept work.

There is something else at play though and that is a masterfully clever union of action and setting.

On the surface a coffin and a car are difficult locations to try and set an entire movie in. But, when considering how to expand setting, a closer look and careful planning expands that setting so that, while limited, it’s not going to choke off a good story.

Take Locke’s car for example. As a writer, setting an entire story in the car is a tough task. But look at the possible locations within the car to get the most out of it.

Front seat.

Floor.

Back seat.

Trunk.

If the car is parked in your script then you can make use of under the car, the hood and the roof, all while ostensibly limiting your script to the car.

The same thing can be said for that coffin.

In “Buried” the script, in the context of how to expand setting, confronts confinement head on with the obvious horrors. The story plays right into the viewer’s expectations. The writers move the character around inside of the confined space. They reveal new light and new darkness. If there are obvious phobias then go head on and show the audience or reader the desperation that the confined character feels.

Fear is, after all, one of the great motivators of action.

The success of “Buried” and “Locke” is in the bravura performances given by their actors but those performances are only possible in how deftly the writers (and directors) manipulated the space. Even if you’re not writing a single location project, look at all the ways to expand your locations to fit your needs.

The only truly limiting setting is one that isn’t adequately utilized by the writer.

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Writing good dialogue – Ghostwriting Tips

Tips For Writing Good Dialogue

Advice from a pro

Writing good dialogue, authentic dialog is tough. People talk in nuanced ways that aren’t always easy to capture on the page. They say you need an ear for it.

How does someone hone that ear though?

Playwright David Mamet’s advice on the subject is famously simple and abrupt. The great Mamet once advised a room full of eager creative writing graduates to eschew graduate school. Instead, he said, find a bar, preferably a pool hall without a television where they could sit down and listen.

Seems simple. Replace tuition with bar tab.

I have taken David Mamet’s advice to heart. I do not play pool (at least not well) but I do take frequent trips to a comfy stool at the quiet bar down the street and simply listen to what people say. It has proven to be the best means of achieving dialog that sounds like real people.

Writing good dialog comes from refinement.

Here are five truths and tips to refining your character dialog to achieve that authentic tone.

Read It Out Loud:

This may sound simplistic but a lot of writers that I know are afraid to do it. And why?

Because their dialog sounds hammy and on the nose.

If you want that real voice, read it out loud and avoid adding your inflection at all costs. This is a critical step, especially if you’re writing a screenplay, which is in large part a performance of your dialog.

Think In Negotiations:

All dialog is a negotiation. Think of what you say on a day to day basis at work or at home. Verbal communication is an expression of desire or purpose, all with the intent of affecting someone else.

This applies even when a character is talking to themselves. Self-talk is grooming for future interactions.

There is a very simple exercise to sharpen this sense. Put two characters in a room. One wants something that the other has but they cannot name or ask for it.

Write it and see all the ways allusion and suggestion enrich the conversation.

Negative Space:

Allow for negative space in your dialog. People don’t always say everything they are thinking. Omissions are as important as inclusions. If your character conversations begin with a hearty hello and end with their chosen means of good-bye, your dialog is probably overwritten.

A way to get this down is follow a simple rule: arrive late and leave early.

Conversations Are Rhythmic:

Straight line conversations simply do not exist. I cannot express this more emphatically. No one walks into a room, announces their purpose, gets what they want and walks out.

One of the ways I work on this is recording conversations. Get permission then record a normal conversation and you’ll see that it’s a rhythmic construct of all the above elements.

Introductions. Negotiations. Negative Space. Repeat.

Mamet Is Correct:

The core truth in Mamet’s statement applies. You cannot learn to hear real dialog a from TV or movie. Writers must find their story subjects in the world and listen to how they talk, interact, negotiate and feel.

An easy tip for writing good dialogue: Go out. Find that barstool. Sit. Listen.

If you’re having trouble writing good dialogue, or with any other area of your work, it may be beneficial to consider working with a professional ghostwriter. A ghostwriter works with you behind the scenes to take your writing to the next level. Considering it? Get in touch!

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Develop memorable characters – Ghostwriter secrets

Develop Memorable Characters

A ghostwriters secrets for character development

The right character sets a trajectory that is capable of carrying your story the distance. To achieve three dimensional depth for that character requires careful design though.

Memorable characters are rarely happy accidents.

When we describe a well known protagonist such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, we start with the most basic terms. Walter is a bedraggled family man and high school science teacher who upon discovering that he has a rare from of cancer decides he must come up with a way to pay for his expensive treatment.

This is a classic set-up. A guy with a problem that he has to reach far outside himself to solve. White could have curled up in a ball and accepted his fate, but that would not make for very interesting story telling.

Walter makes the informed decision to start cooking methamphetamine in order to make that kind of money. White is a science teacher. That means he can’t go and ask his boss for a raise. He has to reach outside of his world to drum up any serious cash. His job inhibits him on one hand but it enables him too. White he knows chemistry. Beakers and flasks and gas masks are his native environment.

To develop memorable characters, keep in mind that they must have something working against them achieving their goal. It should be insurmountable. It isn’t enough that White has to buy a broken down old Winnebago and lie to his wife in order to do cook up his drugs. The complications must escalate further and in a unique manner.

Walter White can cook the meth but he doesn’t know the first thing about selling methamphetamine. So, Walter is forced to enlist the help of his former student, Jesse Pinkman.

Herein you find a unique seed of conflict. White is an absolute control freak. The linear trajectory of his plan to manufacture and sell drugs is complicated by Pinkman’s more chaotic nature. The guy is a total screw up. His bumbling academic incompetence is precisely why he stuck out to White in the first place.

How do we escalate a story problem from the main character like in Breaking Bad? Here are a couple of questions I like to ask when I develop memorable characters to get to a deeper level.

Who Is The Character’s Natural Opposite?

I ask this question often throughout the story design stages. Who opposes my main character and their journey? Answering this comes both inside and outside of that character’s team.

In Breaking Bad there are enough competing street toughs and DEA agents to complicate White’s ascendance to meth kingpin. Those are complications from outside of White’s circle.

Character becomes interesting when you antagonize from inside of the protagonist’s circle as well. Pinkman is as much an antagonist as he is sales associate. Jessie offers a natural personality conflict to the power hungry White but they must struggle to work together. Neither White nor Pinkman can thrive in this new world without the other’s skill set.

Who Is The Character’s Story Doppelgänger?

Here is where this can get even more interesting. When creating a character arc, I like to look into the story at who is so similar to my main character that their purposes intersect and complicate one another.

Take Skyler White, Walter’s loving wife. At first the reality of her husband’s drug dealings are abhorrent. The taste of money and control gets to Skyler though. It feeds her in a way that is new and exciting to her.

Much of Breaking Bad is spent in a cat-and-mouse game between Walter and Skyler. Early on he does whatever he can to keep this revelation from her. The series becomes even more interesting (and I would argue attains legendary status) when they become two cats after the same mouse.

If you’d like to get to know how a professional ghostwriter can help you develop memorable characters for your stories, get in touch! Developing a good relationship with a ghostwriter can make the difference between getting published and wishing you could!

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Work With A Ghostwriter

Ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Think you’re ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist or online quiz readily available to determine your readiness, but in my experience critical moments arise that may mean it’s time to make a call.

First way to know you’re ready to make that call is simple. You have a story that needs telling. A narrative that haunts you. A life experience you can’t put down.

Obsession is fodder for good story telling. When Alice Sebold sat down to write her breakout 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones it was because indeed Susie Salmon’s voice was so visceral that she had to write it. You don’t need to reach the point that you’re being kept up nights by your story but if you can’t put it away, it may be time to investigate how you can work with a ghostwriter.

The second way is the age old friend advice: you should write a book. Since I started out in ghostwriting ten years ago, I have lost count of how many times a client came to me off of that very spark of advice. They were out at a party, or at dinner, and after telling a life story, some well meaning friend leaned over and whisper those words.

Some might argue that’s just a friend doing what they’re supposed to. There is another, more critical way to view that moment though. That friend is your first audience. When you question whether that story is worth ghostwriting, think of that friend as your first proof of concept.

Another critical means of knowing whether it’s time to write a book is, you recognize your story is unique. It may be hard to believe but there are stories that have not been told yet. I’ve met numerous clients whose stories were one of a kind, or took a unique view on history.

Publishers and editors have bottomless appetites for untapped stories. If you have something unique and want it told well, be bold and realize, looking into how you can work with a ghostwriter may be what allows you to bring that story to life.

If you’d like to share your ideas with a seasoned professional who knows the ins and outs of the writing business, get in touch with me and let have a conversation!

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Manuscript Makeover

Ways To Love Re-Writing Your Novel

If you’re like most writers, completing your novel’s first draft is a cathartic experience. From story inspiration up through meticulous plot and character development and execution, story creation is a special act, regardless of level of experience.

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Erick MertzManuscript Makeover
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