Posts Tagged ‘Terry Odell’

Roving Body Parts

By: Terry Odell

I recently read a blog with a firm stance on how to deal with body parts. I don’t entirely agree. I don’t have trouble with figures of speech, and if I’m reading that a character ‘flew down the block to John’s house’ I don’t see her mid-air. If someone writes “a lump of ice settled in her belly” I’m not seeing actual ice.

How do you react when you read things like this?

Their eyes met from across the room.

His eyes raked her body from head to toe.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this one. I’m on the side that doesn’t mind. I understand that ‘eye’ can be used as a noun or a verb. “He eyed her” is acceptable. “He gave her the eye” is an idiom I have no trouble with. I don’t see him extracting an eyeball and handing it to her. So if a characters eyes move, I don’t get visions of eyeballs floating free. Others would substitute the word “gaze.” I’ll use either.

Which side are you on? Would the following pull you out of the story?

Her blue eyes, enlarged by her wire-rimmed glasses, rambled from Colleen’s head to her toes.

“What’s wrong with my face?” Her fingers flew to her cheeks.

Yet there are those for whom those would be book-tossing offenses. Me, I see the eye movement in the first example, but the eyes remain firmly set in their sockets. In the second, my brain assumes the fingers are still attached to the hand, and I don’t think about body parts floating in space.

If a character eyes the room as he enters, what’s he doing? Eye is a verb as well as a noun, after all. And as a verb, my Synonym Finder (great reference book, by the way) lists view, see, behold, catch sight of, look at. And what about all those expressions using ‘eye’? In a pig’s eye. Do we put things into the eye of that pig? Or, keep an eye out for. Do we take an eyeball out and hold it until someone comes for it?

If we took everything we read literally, a lot of the richness of the language would be lost. If his eyes are pools of molten chocolate, do we really think that he’s got Godiva eyeballs? Or just deep brown eyes?

(That’s a metaphor, I think – if his eyes look like pools of molten chocolate, that would be a simile, right?) I’ve never been good at remembering terminology. Metaphors, similes, idioms, hyperbole—they’re things I use, but I don’t worry about what they’re called when I’m writing them.


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows.
Catch up with Terry on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Amazon.

Sweet Success for Terry Odell

Congratulations to Terry Odell on her recent release, TRUSTING UNCERTANITY. Remember T-Bone from PERSONAL ASSIGNMENT? This is his book, and he’s paired up with Chelsea, Emiko’s (remember the rainbow-haired Intel operator?) younger sister. Nothing is working out the way they expected.

Trusting Uncertainty. By: Terry Odell


ABOUT THE BOOK:

You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward. He thinks he can reset the past if he tries hard enough. Travis “T-Bone” Bostwick thinks volunteering for op after op will absolve him of the guilt he carries after a rescue went bad. When he’s sent on a simple ‘search and find’ mission as a favor to a colleague, he has no idea finding the woman will uncover something far more sinister.

She’s determined to be independent. Chelsea Goldman has spent most of her life avoiding her controlling mother hen of an older sister. She wants nothing more than to live her own life, make her own decisions. When she quits her job teaching wealthy middle school kids to move from California to Colorado to work for a new project focused on helping the less fortunate, she’s convinced she’s made the right life choice.

Terry Odell, Author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  

Terry Odell began writing by mistake, when her son mentioned a television show and she thought she’d be a good mom and watch it so they’d have common ground for discussions. Little did she know she would enter the world of writing, first via fan fiction, then through internet groups, and finally with live critique partners.

Now a multi-published, award winning author, Terry resides with her husband and rescue dog in the mountains of Colorado. Visit the author at terryodell.com and follow her on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads. Copies of her book may be purchased here.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms.
Click here to submit your Sweet Success Story.

Beware the “ING” Construction

Time Warps. Misplaced Modifiers.

By; Terry Odell

You don’t have to read science fiction to run into a time warp. At the very first writer’s conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the “ing” construction. Her explanation—it’s too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure.

But is it wrong? No. You have to be careful, and you have to pay attention. There are different reasons to avoid, or minimize use of those pesky “ing” words.

The Time Warp

First, I’ll talk about the inadvertent time warp, which I’ve been seeing a lot of in recent reads.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

“Running across the clearing, John rushed into the tent.”
“Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs.”

Using that kind of “ing” construction means the actions have to take place simultaneously. But is that possible in the above examples? No.

John can’t be getting into the tent while he’s running across the clearing. And Mary needs to open the door before she goes downstairs.

Don’t Dangle Your Modifier

Next, the dangling modifier. In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I’d written, “Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah’s eye.” Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!)

Make sure the noun or pronoun comes immediately after the descriptive phrase. Thus, the above example could be “Rubbing her neck, Sarah noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine.”

If your “ing” verb follows “was”, take another look. “John was running across the clearing” isn’t a strong as “John ran across the clearing.”  Of course, you’ll want to use stronger verbs, such as raced, sped, or barreled, but the idea is the same.

When you’re looking over your manuscript, you might want to flag words ending in “ing” and take another look to be sure you haven’t made any of these basic errors.

How to Spot them in Word

In your document, click the dropdown arrow by “Find” then select “Advanced Find.”
Click “More” and then check the “Use Wildcard” Box. Type ing into the find field, then click the “Special” Option, and “End of Word.” This will add a > character. You can use the Reading Highlight to see all of them, and the “Find Next” to deal with them one at a time. You’ll get more than just verbs ending in ing, but it’s still a quick way to spot them. The hard part is determining whether you’ve got a problem


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows.
Catch up with Terry on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Amazon.

Tension and Cliffhangers

By: Terry Odell

When we’re writing, we want the reader to keep turning pages. There are lots of ways to do this. Donald Maass speaks of “microtension” where every sentence makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next. According to Maass, the tension, the friction, make the reader want to know the outcome of the immediate situation. It’s not necessarily part of the overall plot. He suggests looking at any random page of a novel and studying the following three components: Dialogue, Exposition, and Action.

Looking at Dialogue

Escalating the language can add tension. Stronger verbs, more reactions, show friction between speakers. Raise the reader’s apprehension.

Looking at Exposition and Interior Monologue

To add tension, try to add the opposite, or conflicting, or contradiction of inner emotions. Two ideas at war with each other—and this holds true for literary work as well as genre fiction.

Looking at Action

In action scenes, use less expected emotions that play off the action itself. Action does not create tension. The reader must be emotionally involved.

Tension comes from inside the POV character’s emotional reactions to the action.

Tension can be subtle. It can appear in sub text.

There’s also the bigger picture – ending scenes and chapters so the reader wants to turn the page. Ending a chapter on a cliffhanger can do that. One of my critique partners referred to them as “landings.” There’s nothing new about cliffhangers. According to Wikipedia, “Cliffhangers were used as literary devices in several works of the medieval era. The Arabic literary work One Thousand and One Nights involves Scheherazade narrating a series of stories to King Shahryār for 1,001 nights, with each night ending on a cliffhanger in order to save herself from execution. Some medieval Chinese ballads like the Liu chih-yuan chu-kung-tiao ended each chapter on a cliffhanger to keep the audience in suspense.”

Newspapers and Movies

Newspapers used to publish novels in a serial format with one chapter appearing every month. There are numerous online sites that use the same approach.

Cliffhangers were used in the movies, such as The Perils of Pauline, a weekly series which was designed to bring viewers back for more. Soap operas on television used this technique as well. In fact, “mini cliffhangers” are used in most television shows to make sure viewers don’t change channels at commercial breaks. If you’re a DVR watcher of television, rather than a ‘live’ watcher, you can probably sense when to pick up the remote even before the commercial kicks in.

The End…

So, cliffhangers and tension are good to keep readers turning pages. But what about the end of a book? I read a novella (which triggered the idea for this post) where the story simply ended. The heroine gets a call from her new boyfriend who has gone missing, and he basically says, “I’m in terrible trouble.” I turned the page but there were no more pages. What I could do, and this was undoubtedly the author’s intent, was buy the second novella in the series. Did I? Nope. No way, no how. I was incensed at being played like that (not to mention I really didn’t care much for the characters anyway), and wouldn’t plunk down a cent for more.

I checked reviews, and was surprised to find that many people left glowing reviews for the story, while only about 20% of the people leaving reviews felt cheated by the cliffhanger ending.

What about you? When you get to the end of a book or story, do you want a cliffhanger? Or do you feel cheated the way I did?


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows. WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreadsAmazon,

Write with All Five Senses

By: Terry Odell

As writers, we’re encouraged to include all five senses in our writing. Most of us are guilty of relying too heavily on sight, with sound a close second, but we shouldn’t neglect the other three. Even so, it’s important to remember not to stop the story to insert sensory images. Otherwise, you end up with a checklist: Sight? Sound? Smell? Touch? Taste? These descriptions should tie into the plot as well as be grounded in the character. You can use them beyond adding descriptions to your scenes. Use them to show your characters.

Two authors I read a lot stop and describe—in detail—every character when he or she first appears in the scene. It got to the point where I stopped reading them because these descriptions did nothing for the story, very little for the character, who was often never seen again.

When I was training tutors for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, we had the class members fill out a survey to determine whether they were visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners so they could better help their students. Some people learn by seeing, others by hearing, and some need to touch something or be moving around. The same goes for your characters. You should know what senses are dominant for them. A character who’s an auditory learner will respond differently than one who’s more visually oriented.

When you’re writing, it’s important to bear in mind what your character would notice. For example, I hear birdsong. My sister-in-law can identify what kind of birds I’m hearing without ever seeing them.

A friend of mine, a musician, is also far more tuned into hearing than seeing. She’ll listen to the news rather than read it.

The sense of smell is another important sense. It evokes powerful memories. I can’t open a bag of birdseed without being carried back to my great-uncle’s chicken farm where I helped feed the chickens when I visited.

My husband worked on a farm when he was young. He has fond memories of those days, so the smell of manure will evoke an entirely different response for him than it does for me.

When your character walks into a room, what does he smell? What memories might it invoke? What emotional reactions? If a cop enters a homicide scene, what’s he going to smell? How will he react? If your character is visiting her mother in the hospital what does it smell like? But don’t stop with one sense. What’s she hearing? How does it affect her?

Taste can also evoke memories. Sitting at the dinner table, eating a dish that doesn’t quite measure up to Grandma’s. Why not? What’s missing?

Again, tie characterization into your sensory descriptions:

He ambled to the bank of vending machines and selected a cup of coffee he knew would taste like cardboard, not because he needed a caffeine jolt, but to avoid dealing with the thoughts bobbing to the forefront of his brain like a punching bag clown.

Then there’s touch, probably the most neglected sense in writing.

Is your character getting dressed? What does the fabric feel like against the skin? When exchanging a handshake, what does the other person’s hand feel like? Can it be a clue to character? Can it add tension?

She absently rubbed her hand where Windsor’s had touched her when he took the flashlight. A frisson ripped through her. It had been an uncallused hand, with very well-tended nails. On a handyman? Her mouth dried up. Her brain whirled. It made no sense. Who was he? Undercover cop? Private detective? Didn’t fit.

Again, don’t limit yourself to a single sense in your descriptions. Taste, smell, and touch play well together. Is your character eating a hot fudge sundae? How does the cold ice cream feel on her tongue? How does it contrast with the warmth of the fudge? Another example:

Randy arranged half a dozen pillar candles on the coffee table and lit them. The scent of vanilla filled the air. Sarah picked up her bowl. An ice cream purist, she turned the spoon over as she put it into her mouth so that the initial sensation on her tongue was the creamy richness of the ice cream, not the metallic taste of the spoon. The vanilla-scented candles intensified the ice cream’s sweetness.

It’s also important to understand the physiology of how the senses work. Eyes need light to see. Don’t make the mistake one author did. She was creating tension by having the characters in total darkness, yet they were able to see each other’s eye color, the colors of the clothes they wore. If you’ve turned off all the lights and closed the blackout curtains, your characters won’t be able to see anything. But it’s a good place to heighten the other senses.

You can also use the senses to create conflict. In a romance, for example, what if your hero is a visual person? He wants the lights on during lovemaking so he can see his partner’s responses. What if she’s a kinesthetic person? She wants it dark to heighten her sense of touch.

Or this example, where simple differences in learning types can create tension between two characters:

Rebecca shoved the book aside. “Words don’t make sense when I read. When I hear them, I can remember. Copying them from a book helps get them in my brain, but not always. If I try to take notes in class, I get so far behind what the teacher is saying that I miss it.”

“Then why don’t I read it to you?” Tim asked.

“I can read,” she said, a bit too snappish. “It’s just— Words don’t stick. Numbers are so much easier for me. I was always okay with math.”

Here are some more in depth articles about sight and taste.


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows. WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreadsAmazon,

Surgery for Your Manuscript

By: Terry Odell

Whether you’re traditionally published, indie published, or working on getting published, you want to present the best possible reading experience. I edit as I go, with much appreciated feedback from critique partners, but even so, when I hit “The End,” it signals the beginning of the real editing process. It’s highly unlikely the manuscript is ready to turn in at this point.

A tip: You want to fool your brain, because you’ve been looking at the manuscript on screen for months. Print a hard copy. You’ll be amazed at how much more you “see.” Also, use a different font. If you’ve been working in a serif font, like TNR, use a non-serif font. In fact, this is a great place for Comic Sans. I also print it in two columns, which totally changes the line length, and the words line up differently. More glitches will be visible.

Start with Major Surgery

So, you have your manuscript ready to go. First: the major surgery. This is a read-through with one big question in mind: Does it advance the plot?

Often, the answer is no. I’m not a plotter, so my characters lead the way much of the time, and sometimes they insist on a scene that’s brilliantly written, but doesn’t help the story. Or a plot thread that turns out to be unnecessary.

Cut the threads, then, right? Or the scenes. Trouble is, threads don’t exist in nice, tidy packages. There are other things to watch out for. Did you foreshadow that scene or thread? Did you follow up? Make a reference, even in passing. Those have to go. Then, you have to go back and deal with transitions. Consider this phase reconstructive surgery.

It’s more than likely the scene before the one you cut led into it. That will have to be adjusted. Likewise the one after it. If you ended the scene with a page-turning cliff hanger, that cliffhanger now sends readers into an abyss with no bottom.

Same goes for any shorter bits you’ve cut. Watch what happens right before and right after, and smooth out the edges.

One tip for dealing with these spackling jobs is to note key words from your threads and search for them. It might be the name of the character, or some specific scene detail, like what they ate for dinner, or what they were wearing.

An example: After deleting a thread, there was a subsequent reference that included a trigger for a reaction from my hero, and I needed that reaction. But the conversation was no longer viable, and when I cut it, there went my trigger.

I went back quite a few chapters, and found another conversation that had shown a much milder reaction from my hero. By snipping it from that scene and including it, with the requisite modifications, I was able to salvage the trigger I needed, plus the reaction.

Don’t Leave any Instruments Behind

Once you’ve dealt with the big things, and have checked to be sure you didn’t leave any instruments or sponges in the body after performing the surgery, it’s time for minor surgery. Your story might be finished, but you need to deal with the inevitable excesses. Words that don’t add anything to the story. In fact, they might add distance, keeping a layer you don’t want between your readers and the characters. Or, there might be awkward bits.

How do you deal with these?

You probably have your list of crutch words and filler words. Words that are the written equivalent of throat-clearing, or the ums in spoken conversation. Word lets you search for those. However, there are the inevitable words or phrases I’m not aware of, and new ones crop up in every book. I use a program called SmartEdit, and highly recommend it. The cost is nominal (I get nothing from the company—I just like the product)—and I think there’s also a free version. This program does not check for grammar, which is hard to do for genre fiction anyway. Also, grammar is not a problem for me. The minor errors I make, my editor catches.

What kinds of things does a pass through the SmartEdit program flag?

  • An Adverb Usage list
  • Repeated Phrases list
  • Repeated Words List
  • Possible Misused Words List
  • Foreign Phrases List
  • Profanity/Swear Word List
  • A Sentence Length Graph
  • Dialogue Tags (this doesn’t work as I expected it to, so I don’t use it.)
  • Proper Nouns list (This is more of an “anything that begins with a capital letter” list, but it’s helpful in catching a name you thought you’d deleted, or two spellings of the same name. In my Mapleton books, there’s always at least one place where I spell my protagonist’s name Helper instead of Hepler.
  • Sentence Start List
  • Suspect Punctuation List.

Going through all of these is tedious, to be sure, but as you work through them, you’ll see places where your can tighten your writing, so there’s an extra bonus.

Microsurgery

At this point, I’m comfortable sending the manuscript to my editor, but there’s one last step. Microsurgery in the form of listening to the manuscript. I do this after I’m done dealing with my editor’s feedback, because it’s another tedious process, and I’d rather listen to the “finished” product. Like it or not, there will still be clunkers and minor typos.

There are those who suggest reading the manuscript aloud yourself, but your brain still knows what’s supposed to be there, and you’ll miss things. I use Word’s “Read Aloud” function (it comes with Office 365. If you don’t have that version, there’s “Read Selected Text” which does almost the same thing.) There have been a lot of improvements in the voices, but it’s still going to be a computer. The plus side is that a computer reads exactly what you’ve written. There are pronunciation issues, but I find those make sure I’m paying attention. You’ll hear ‘clunkers’ as well as actual mistakes.

Here are a couple of examples of errors nobody caught.

She drove the up the dirt lane. A beam of sunlight shone through a break in the gray winter sky, reflecting off a sprawling white two-story house, as if to say, This is your light in the darkness.

Did you catch the mistake?

Or, a potentially embarrassing one: A line was supposed to say “Come in here” but as written, it was “Come in her.” That made the extra listening step worth it!


Terry Odell, Author

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.

Sweet Success for Terry Odell

Way to go, Terry Odell! Kings River Life Magazine’s reviewer, Kathleen Costa selected THE MAPLETON MYSTERY Novellas as a top pick for 2020.

The Mapleton Mysteries, By: Terry Odell

ABOUT THE SERIES  

THE MAPLETON MYSTERY Novellas, a blend of police procedurals and cozy mysteries. The series includes DEADLY PLACES, DEADLY ENGAGEMENT, and DEADLY ASSUMPTIONS. The series may be purchased through Books2Read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Odell, Author

Terry Odell began writing when she ran out of room on her walls for any more needlepoint. She writes mystery and romantic suspense, but prefers to call them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her series include, Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops, Pine Hills Police, Triple-D Ranch, and Mapleton Mysteries, as well as several standalones and short story collections. Terry grew up in Los Angeles, spent three decades in Florida, and now resides in the Colorado mountains with her husband and rescue dog. When she’s not watching the wildlife from her window, she’s working on her next book. Visit the author at http://terryodell.com.   Follow the author on Facebook, TwitterBookbub, Instagram, and Goodreads.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms.
Click here to submit your Sweet Success Story.

What’s in a Name?

Tips for Naming Characters

By: Terry Odell

Naming characters has always been a challenge for me. It seems my creativity comes to a screeching halt when I have to find a name for a character. One of my writing friends keeps a name bank, adding names she finds interesting while watching television. Maybe I should do that.

I tend to hit the Google Machine. “Male (or female) Names Starting with …” is a frequent search. Another thing to add to that search is the year that character was born. Name trends change with time. (I had a shocking realization when seeking a name for a character in a recent book, but I digress.)

Moving forward.

Pitfalls to avoid

You have names for your characters. But there are pitfalls to avoid so you don’t confuse your readers.

Names have to “match” the characters to some extent. For me, it’s a loose match. When I am stuck for names, and Google hasn’t given me anything I like, I go to my Facebook page and ask for suggestions. Some people ask me what the character’s background is. Honestly, our country is so much of a melting pot that names often don’t match one’s ethnicity, and it’s often a stereotype to try to give them “appropriate” names. I recall my daughter, when she was in school, asking if her friend Kiesha could come visit. What’s your first visual? Probably not the blue-eyed blonde who showed up. But if I want an ethnic name, I just add that to my Google search.

Another tip I picked up at a workshop was the reminder that the characters should sound like their parents named them, not you.

Keep each name unique.

Major warning: Names shouldn’t be too similar to other characters in the book. This mean no Jane and Jake, or Mick and Mack, or Michael and Michelle—and that includes nicknames. If everyone calls Michael Mike, and there’s another character named Norman, but Norman’s last name is MacDonald and everyone calls him Mac, then you’re setting things up for reader confusion. I recently read a book where the author had fixated on the letter B for character names, and these were major players, not bit parts. I don’t think I ever got them straight.

Many readers see the first few letters of a character’s name and connect it to whatever image they’ve created for that character. Your character might be named Anastasia, but the reader might be thinking “The blonde woman with the A name.”

Keep track of your characters names.

So, how do you keep track so you don’t confuse or frustrate your readers?

The late Jeremiah Healy prefaced one of his workshops—on a totally different subject—with a very vocal complaint about character names in books. He said, “How hard is it to take a sheet of paper, write the alphabet in two columns, and then put first names in one, last names in the other?”

Now that we’re using computers, instead of a sheet of paper, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. When I name a character, I fill in a blank field in the appropriate line. This lets me see at a glance when I start to fixate on a letter. I hadn’t been to Healy’s workshop when I wrote What’s in a Name? but when rights reverted to me, I used the spreadsheet and was shocked at what I’d discovered. THREE characters named Hank? Okay, only two, but the third was Henry “but you can call me Hank.”

In addition to making minor revisions to the text, you can be sure I updated the character names. Here’s the “after” spreadsheet.

Unfamiliar names

Other considerations. Foreign names might be realistic, but what if a reader is unfamiliar with the name, or its pronunciation? One of my critique partners wrote a book with a family of Irish descent, and she’s calling one of the characters Siobhan. (If I were naming a character Siobhan, the first thing I’d do would be to set up an auto correct, because I’d probably spell it wrong more often than not.) But typing it right is the author’s problem, not the reader’s. Do you know how to pronounce Siobhan? (shi-VAWN) If the author tells you, when you see the word do you “hear it” or is it strictly a visual?

Pronunciation

On that note, in another book by a popular thriller author, there’s a character named Venice. The author makes a point the first time the character appears, that it’s pronounced Ven-EE-chay. Do I think of that as I read? Quite honestly, my brain says “it’s NOT Venice”, but I don’t run it through my head as Ven-EE-chay. If anything it slows me down a bit because I’ve got that ‘seeing’ versus ‘hearing’ thing going. I know what I’m seeing/hearing is “wrong”, but I don’t remember what the right pronunciation is.

What does it sound like?

And then, there’s a whole new set of problems. Audiobooks. When I started to put my books into audio, I had to focus on what things sound like as well as look like. In my book, What’s in a Name, the heroine’s ex-husband’s name is Seth. Her sister’s name is Bethany. They don’t look very similar on the page, but when spoken, I’m concerned that they’ll sound too much alike, especially if they’re in the same sentence. Or even paragraph. I don’t want my narrator stumbling (or calling them both Sethany).

I hope my simple tracking chart system might help some of you avoid problems with character names.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.






Further Reading:
What’s in a Name? By: Robin Windmar
By Any Other Name By: Darby Karchut

Resist the Urge to Explain

By: Terry Odell

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled R.U.E: Resist the Urge to Explain. I think it’s a common “beginner’s” mistake and I thought it might be worth a mention.

Anyone who’s undertaken writing has heard “Show, Don’t Tell”—probably more times than they’ve wanted. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion can put the brakes on the pace of your story, and can do exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example, “Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she’d pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard.” The second sentence isn’t needed; it’s explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying “Mary was depressed” doesn’t pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary’s actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary’s actions? That’s what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let’s say you’re beginning to understand the “show don’t tell” and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:

After Bill canceled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:

Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he’d cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary’s depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill canceled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?

Mary’s feet felt like lead. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don’t need both. What about: Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary’s feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.

Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don’t insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?

“I’m sorry,” Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you’re telling something the dialogue should be showing. They’re propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with. All that ‘scaffolding’ merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can’t explain why. However, agents and editors are tuned into them, and if you’re submitting, you don’t want to send up any red flags.

Check your manuscript for ‘emotion’ words, especially if they’re preceded by “was” or “felt.” Are you describing your character’s feelings? Don’t tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don’t need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.

Avoid Deus ex Machina with Foreshadowing

By: Terry Odell

When you write, you’re likely to be throwing a lot of obstacles in the paths of your characters. You’ll be giving them skills to solve their problems. Whether or not your readers will believe what they’re reading depends, to a great deal, on proper foreshadowing. Without proper foreshadowing, what you’ve got is a deus ex machina. A magical event that appears, implausibly, out of nowhere.

Prepare the Reader

Johnny Carson said, “If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit.” So, you have to sell the premise early on. You can’t stop to explain a skill set at the height of the action. You have to show the character using those skills (or fears) early on, in a ‘normal’ setting.

Think about Raiders of the Lost Ark. If the movie had opened with Indy in the classroom, would viewers have “bought” that he was really capable of everything he’d have to do in the movie? No, but by showing him in the field in a life-and-death situation first, we’ll accept that he’s a lot more than a mild mannered college professor.

And, you have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it’s more like “sleight-of-words.” No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, “Oh, that’s going to be important; I’d better remember it,” you’ve pulled them out of the story.

Hide Your Clues

Show the skill or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book, and will foreshadow things to come.

An example from my book, When Danger Calls. Ryan, the hero, is in the midst of emotional turmoil. He’d confronted his father about removing all traces of Ryan’s mother after she died, as if his father didn’t care. Now, in this scene, his father hands him a box of mementos from his childhood:

Ryan leafed through the snapshots while he waited for the earth to start revolving again. He knew which one he wanted as soon as he saw it. He remembered the day it had been taken, right after he’d won third prize at the fair with Dynamite, his pony. He’d been so sure he’d get the blue ribbon and hadn’t wanted to pose for the family picture his grandfather insisted on taking. He was eight, Josh was eleven, and Lindy was barely out of toddlerhood, holding a wand of cotton candy. He saw the look in his mother’s eyes, as she looked at him, not the ribbon, not the camera. So proud, she’d made him feel like he’d won first prize after all.

The reader sees this as a scene showing Ryan’s emotional history and relationship with his mother. But later, when Ryan is stuck with a couple of kids, and he braids their dolls’ hair, readers should accept it. Here’s that bit:

“Mr. Ryan knows how to braid hair,” Molly said. She twirled around, revealing her now-braided ponytail, neatly adorned with a blue ribbon. “He did our ponytails, and our Barbies’, too.”

Frankie peered above their heads where Ryan stood behind them, his face marked by a grin more sheepish than Cheshire.

“He gave mine two braids,” Susie said, handing her doll to Frankie.

Frankie made a show of scrutinizing all four coiffures. “Everyone looks beautiful.” To Ryan, she said, “Where did you pick that up?”

He shrugged.

Molly chimed in. “On real horses. He used to braid their hair. For shows.”

Frankie smiled at Ryan, then got up and hugged the girls. “Well, that makes sense. Horses have real ponytails, don’t they?” She flipped their braids. “How about I fix you some sandwiches, and then Ryan and I need to talk.”

Stopping for Ryan to go back and explain about how he learned the skill would stop the action, even in a ‘quiet’ scene like this one.

The above example should show how even a “mundane” scene can be helped with subtle foreshadowing. When you’re writing, ask yourself if the details in the scene you’re writing are going to show up again, regardless of their significance. If the answer is “no” then you probably don’t need the details. Readers don’t want to waste time remembering things that won’t show up again.

In Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow, I’m impressed by how he uses every detail. When a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York, it’s not idle conversation. That tidbit shows up front and center later on. And even the little things, that might not be plot points, such as the origin of the use of “Hello” to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.

Is your character going to have to survive in the wilderness? We need to know he was always going camping as a child. Do you need to show a scene of him camping? Absolutely not. A mention of it in a discussion with another character, preferably mixed in with a lot of other stuff sets the stage but doesn’t shout.

Don’t Wait Until the End

Maybe you’re trying to reveal a clue that will be important later on. This is especially true in mysteries, where it’s unfair to spring things on the readers at the conclusion when you’re wrapping things up. But maybe your character is packing or unpacking a suitcase or purse. Your clue can be one of many objects you show the readers. And even better if the unpacking is done while you’re showing something else about the character. Perhaps your main plot point is that he is angry or upset, and he’s being haphazard about the way he takes things out or throws them in. Or maybe another character is watching, noticing his emotional state more than the actual objects.

As for fears – we know Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes at the very beginning of the movie. So we can fear along with him when he looks into that snake pit later. (And because of that opening scene, we know to expect something with snakes, which adds to the tension.)

Keep it Believable

So, let’s say the hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, “Of course. I’m a crack shot,” and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). Not only that, but she is an expert in first aid and manages to do what’s necessary to save the hero’s life. Plus, she’s an expert trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish. And she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches. All without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

She’s the heroine who can fill in for a missing musician, be it a rock band or a symphony orchestra. And she can sing like the proverbial angel.

(I’d like to say I’m exaggerating, but not by much.)

Believable? Not if this is the first time you’ve seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she’s cleaning up after a fishing trip. Or she’s doing a solo in her church choir. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don’t want to dump an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she’ll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you’re writing, it’s important to know what skills your characters need to possess. You might not know when you start the book, but if you’re writing a scene where one of these skills will move the story forward, and there’s no other logical way to deal with the plot, then you owe it to your readers to back up and layer in the requisite foreshadowing.

Before James Bond pulls off his miracles, we’ve seen Q show him the gadgets that will save his life. We know MacGyver has a strong background in science, so he’s got the theory and knowledge to pull off his escapes.

So when you give your characters jobs, hobbies, or put them in precarious situations, don’t forget to look at all the skills they need. Can they visualize what an empty space could look like? I can’t—that’s not in my skill set. Are they able to look at a blueprint and know exactly how many bricks to order, or gallons of paint it’ll take to cover the walls? Know those ‘sub-skills’ and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they’ll be called upon to do later in the book.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Find her at https://terryodell.com Twitter: @authorterryo Facebook: AuthorTerryOdell