Friday, May 31, 2013


Tomorrow is a very special day. Tomorrow, June 1, 2013, marks my only son’s thirty-sixth birthday. Sometimes I joke that the day he was born was the worst day of my life. I say that because there were some delivery complications and I waited for some number of hours frightened of the outcome. The fact is it was the best day of my life. He fills in all the little spaces that I cannot. He is there when I need him and he needs me. I like that!

At twenty one he decided to join the army. I drove to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to watch him graduate basic training, which was an eye opener for me. There were plenty of parents there, together we watched our children march in formation, do coordinated calisthenics, and stand at attention. Practically without exception I saw the young people divert their eyes and glance at the smiling faces of their proud parents. I say virtually without exception because my son never looked my way, not once. His was a face of absolute concentration, a resolute focus that convinced me he would excel at whatever he undertook. His was the face of a man on a mission.

Within months he was invited to go through Selection. This is the Army’s thirty-nine day process of assessing who has the best chance of becoming a member of the Special Forces. Only three percent of those invited to Selection become Green Berets. This program defines and recognizes the best of the best. My son is one of the three percent.

He did his duty in Iraq twice, seven months each time. He overcame hardship, worked hard, and along with his small team accomplished his mission. He returned home safe and unharmed. Sometimes I think he leads a charmed life. He was in many situations, like an IED exploding under the Humvee he was riding in, where others were hurt, but he was not.

If there is any fear in my son, it never shows. He is kind, generous, and compassionate. He has an incredible intellect and an ability to see the world and its machines as they really are. I often wonder if I have made my mark in life. It occurs to me that my son is my legacy. He is the best of me without the worst. He carries my name and continually makes me proud. If people do remember me, it will be as his father.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Yesterday I wrote about Memorial Day, our veterans and my family. The piece was well received by many of you and in keeping with the season, the weeks between Memorial Day and Independence Day, I would like to continue with this theme. As I mentioned, my older brother served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield.

Recently I was cleaning out some files and I found something I wrote in March 1991.


When first he went, it was 1970, I was sixteen years old. I knew where he was going and I had a vague idea of what he might be doing, but I certainly did not understand why my brother had to go.

He went with many other young American soldiers to Southeast Asia to fight a war that no one really understood. It was on every newscast, not the 24 hour news cycle we have today, but still it was a lot of information. Yet, no one understood. Without question he proudly did his duty.

Thank God he came home alive, but he was no hero. There were no heroes in 1971. Our dead exceeded 57,000 and our casualties filled military hospitals across this great nation while society turned its back and pretended innocence. Many of those brave men and women who returned often wished they too had died and still we turned our backs.

Twenty years passed and in those people, who came to be my personal heroes, I found strength and valor that I might not have otherwise discovered.

This time when he was called I was thirty six. I knew where they were going and I knew why. They were on their way to the Middle East to protect our shrinking world from a powerful tyrant.

At first I was angry, angry because he had volunteered, angry because he was risking a life that is very dear to me. My anger was followed by an acute feeling of helplessness. In this situation I would have no control.

The day he left I stood in the soft grass on a little knoll for a better view of a man who sees inside my soul. His helicopter was fifth from the end. As they lifted, hovered, and then turned in formation cold rain and warm tears stung my cheeks. I was filled with pride, fear, and hope. Hope for the life of my brother and his friends, fear of the unknown, and pride in those inspiring souls and this wonderful country.

Now they are again coming home. This time there are few injured and fewer dead. I was proud the last time and now I am prouder still. We are all Americans and they are all my brothers. This time they are coming home heroes and with them they bring peace and hope.

Paul D. Alexander
March 4, 1991

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our Veterans' Stories, Our Span of Wars

I was born between wars. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in February 1972. The timing was such that the draft was abolished and I missed the military and the Vietnam War by weeks. My mother was pleased; my brother spent a year in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970 and she had enough. She insisted her second son not go to war.

My brother survived, he came home with a heavy heart, but he survived. Later he flew –med-evac helicopters in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. My mother did not like it, but she kept her mouth shut. My dad spent the last part of World War II in Japan, but that was before he met my mother. Since I have never been to war I cannot say how difficult it must be. I know it must be almost overwhelming. However, I do know from very personal experience how hard it is to be the one to not go. To be like my poor mother, home waiting, wondering and praying.

My son was a Green Beret; he did two tours in Iraq. Because he was in Special Forces he had access to satellite phones and computers, overall his ability to communicate with me was extraordinary. Still, the only peace I had during that total of seven months was in those telephone or Skype conversations. The rest of the time I held my breath. Like my mother I waited and prayed, all white knuckled.

If you have done the math you see that my immediate family has deployed a total of six times. Maybe it does not seem like a lot to the casual observer, but for me, the guy waiting at home, it was six eternities and a history lesson.

We celebrated Memorial Day this week. Many did so at the end of a ski rope or a barbeque fork, but there are still too many U.S. soldiers deployed around the world continuously paying our price for freedom. They may have celebrated, but they did so with one eye on the horizon and the other on the trigger.

I salute those brave men and women who have served and protect us still. I bow before those at home who wait and support our soldiers and their service. Memorial Day is a time for us to remember the high cost of liberty and democracy. Whether we are at home or deployed, in our hearts and minds we all pay a price.
Make an effort to thank every veteran you meet, hear their stories, and remember what you are told because it is our history, our history of peace.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, May 24, 2013

Indy Books, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

There are those who look down upon Independent authors and their books. They probably do so because their perception of the quality of those books, and the writing, is poor. If and when they do read an Indy book they are probably more critical of the grammar, composition, and spelling, right along with storylines and characterizations.

It is true that traditionally published authors have more people behind them proofing, editing, reviewing, and generally ensuring the quality of the books. That does not mean they do not make mistakes, you can find a few in virtually every book in print. Indy authors can also have the same kind of support if they are willing to pay or if their circle of friends, who are willing to work for free, have the kind of expertise necessary.

Bestselling Traditional authors can bend the rules of grammar and composition, invent new words and new spellings, and be perceived as unique for their “style.” When an Indy author bends the rules he/she is typically seen as substandard, sophomoric, or just plain bad.

Indy authors write great stories, not every single one, but a substantial number. When an Indy author writes a bad book the only way to recover is to start over, from scratch. Traditional authors write bad books and sometimes fail miserably, but somehow we forgive the exceptions and look forward to the next page turner. Traditionally published books are not always great, neither are independently published books. However, there are many books out there in both categories that are fantastic.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or its publisher. Read samples of books online before you buy. Decide for yourself if you like the work based upon the merit and ability of the author. If you like the book, buy it!

Our world cultures all depend upon the written word for our tactile foundations of understanding. We can all do our part to maintain the word’s significance in our lives and in the lives of generations yet to be born. Read more, read well, it can be a brand new world.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bookbub, Kicking Butt & Taking Names

Recently an author friend of mine signed up with Bookbub to help promote one of her books. She is an Independent, Indy, author and writes non-fiction. Her promotion is still in progress with great success. Bookbub should be of interest to readers as well as writers because they always promote good, highly discounted books. They have more than a million subscribers to their free discount notifications. When reviewing comments about their site and service I found a substantial number of grateful readers who mentioned the advantages of being steered toward outstanding, affordable books.

Let’s break this conversation down into a segment for readers and one for authors.


Readers can go online to the Bookbub site, sign-up, and choose a genre of titles to receive, all for free. Bookbub’s editorial committee reviews every book that is submitted for promotion to ensure quality and an acceptable discount. They promote free books, 99 cent books, and even $2.99 books. The books can be available electronically from sites like Kindle, Barnes & Nobel, Apple, Smashwords etc. Print copies can also be obtained, although the deep discounts do not usually apply. As a reader, just imagine that an impartial third party will send you a brief e-mail every day with a list and short description of the kinds of books you like.

Indy authors work just as hard, if not harder than traditionally published authors. They are responsible for the writing, proofing, editing, publishing, and promoting. It is a daunting task with myriad variables and incredible competition. I try to read at least one Indy book per week. They are not all to my liking, but neither are all traditionally published authors and works. If I find no value in a particular book I may not finish. If I like a book I try to post a review and/or let the author know what I think. For my predilection the world is too full of negativity. If I don’t like a book I usually keep my opinion to myself. After all, it is just my opinion.


Let’s call my friend, the Indy author and subject of this post, Madame X. Her first book has been out for more than a year; she has had free KDP promotions, sales events, she blogs, posts everywhere online, and wins awards for her work. She receives ample good or excellent reviews and still her sales have been not great, until Bookbub.

Bookbub reviewed and approved her work, she agreed to lower the price to 99 cents and keep it there for at least a week. Within the first couple of days of the promotion X’s book made it to 53 on the Kindle paid bestseller’s list. As authors we all know how hard it is to improve your ranking on Kindle. The competition is fierce and on the more popular days with book buyers everyone’s sales increase.

I am not saying Bookbub is the do all and end all. There is a small cost involved with the process. However, it is working for X and we all need all of the help we can get. I wish you good writing and great selling. What we need is the opportunity to put our books in front of a mass audience. What good is the work if no one reads it?

Readers, please be kind. Writers, be diligent and persistent. Together we can improve the literary standards of our world.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fiction is Harder Than Truth

Before we begin, in keeping with my tracking of Dan Brown’s “Inferno” success (not infernal), he is still ranked at number 1 in Kindle books with 382 reviews, 36 of which are 1-star. As we noticed before the percentage of poor reviews to good is continually decreasing. I credit this trend to haters losing their momentum.

Fiction is harder to write and more subject to harsh criticism than non-fiction and memoirs. This is not to say that authors of non-fiction are any less skilled or work less. Fiction comes from the author’s imagination and although he has some freedom with facts, geography, and imagery, in the end it all has to, in some way, be believable. In non-fiction, if the facts are correct, if you have all the persons, places, things, and occurrences in the right place and in the right order there is nothing to criticize about the story itself. Critics can review grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the author’s choice of topics, but that’s all.

In fiction, the characters must seem real and be believable. If the reader’s perception of a character’s actions, dialogue, or situation is that it could never happen, the reader believes it poorly written. Needless to say, every reader has a different opinion and preference of what will pass as real. Thus we can explain the huge difference between Dan Brown’s euphoric fans and his adamant haters. It does not necessarily mean that Brown is a bad writer; it means that his work is not believable, and does not appeal to a particular reader. A fiction writer can cause a character to survive a 100 foot jump from a building. It only requires a few keystrokes. However, to make it believable the jumper must be able to justify his survival. We all know vampires, werewolves, and superheroes can easily jump from any height, right? The novelist must either create normally believable scenarios or some extraordinary justification/explanation that readers will accept.

Fiction writers are subjected to readers’ grammar, spelling, punctuation, and composition reviews along with plot, characterization, dialogue, and story. Fiction can be stranger than truth if the writer wants it to be, it just has to be believable.

The next novel you read, try to imagine the author’s perspective, and if the story is a good one, give him or her a break.

It is motorcycle season and signs everywhere caution us to watch out for bikers. Let’s do that and while we’re at it, let’s watch out for authors.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Novel’s All Important First Line

If other writers are anything like me, they struggle with the first line of every novel. It is the line that catches the readers’ attention and sets the tone for the entire story. The most notable first lines in history are well and widely known. Who can possibly forget lines such as?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Perhaps we don’t all remember every word of this incredibly long sentence. Unless you are also prone to memorize poetry you probably do not get much past the first twelve words. In that one sentence Dickens gives us an overview of the story to be told. Memorable, poignant, and important, the elements we all strive to produce in our work and most importantly represent in our first line.

My first attempt at a first line is usually quite easy. Of course after I finish the prologue or first chapter I generally rewrite the first line. After the second chapter I do it again and I continue this process throughout the writing. What happens to me is, as we have discussed before, the characters influence their own stories and their personalities and by making these changes they alter the first line introduction to the story.
The process is fluid and self-settling, it requires the author to be open to the possibility that the opening line is not in his mind. Rather, it comes from the minds of his story’s characters. If the opening line does not touch the writer’s sensitivity, it most certainly will not touch the reader.

When you begin a new novel I encourage you to read the first line aloud. Allow it to roll off your tongue, savor the moment, and let it touch your heart. Remember how it makes you feel. You might even write those feelings on a slip of paper. When you finish the book bring that memory out and consider how the first line set the stage for the book you just read. See if that feeling matches your impression of the book. I hope you will find many first lines equivalent to the quality and creative uniqueness of the books you read.

There is so much to be discovered on the written page, we have only to look!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gatsby’s Style and Pageantry, Fitzgerald Would be Proud

Today, I want to talk about the movie The Great Gatsby currently in its second week of Screening nationwide. However, before we get into that, in keeping with my last several posts, I checked in to see how Dan Brown’s Inferno is doing on the bestseller’s list. He is solidly holding the number 1 spot with an incredible 253 reviews of which only 26 are 1-star. The percentage of one star to total reviews is lessening. I think this means those people, who rush to write bad reviews for the attention, or feeling of superiority, or for whatever reason, have lost their initial momentum. It will be interesting to continue tracking this percentage over the coming weeks.

One other aside, my friend and fellow author Marlayna Glynn Brown is ranked number 61 on Kindle bestsellers with her memoir Overlay. Marlayna has several books out, of which Overlay was her first. It is a candid, uplifting story of overcoming the difficulties of an alcoholic, abusive family. Congratulations Marlayna, keep writing and selling those great books.

Now let’s examine our topic, The Great Gatsby. I am a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan. I have a leather bound copy of The Great Gatsby, which I reread before going to see the movie. Having done so I went to the theatre with great trepidation because my past experiences have typically resulted in disappointment in the way movies fail to capture the essence of books. However, in this case I was thrilled at the result. With very few minor variations the movie closely followed Fitzgerald’s story.

The cinematography was incredible. We have already discussed the importance of authors seeing their characters and surroundings in their minds’ eye as their stories play out. I think Fitzgerald’s mental image of Gatsby and his environment, the house, the parties, the people, and the cars must have been very close to what we saw on the big screen. In fact, the movie was shot and edited in such a way to make it feel as though you were reading a book. The scenes and point of view POV changed just as it must on the written page.

I left the theatre encouraged by the experience and proud because F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous book finally got the big screen treatment it deserves. If you have not seen the movie I encourage you to do so. Let me know what you think!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, May 17, 2013

Are Kindle FREE Books A Good Deal For Writers or Readers?

I am still checking Dan Brown’s Inferno progress daily. Kudos, he is holding solid at number one in Kindle books. Mr. Brown’s reviews for this work have hit 90, 13 of which are 1-star. The price you pay for fame and financial success appears to be public criticism. Anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming rich and famous can look at the lives of those who are and decide for themselves if it is a fair exchange.

Kindle provides authors the opportunity to offer their books for free. Their primary requirement is that the authors give them exclusive digital rights to distribute the book for a minimum of 90 days. Within that 90 period an author can provide his book to readers completely free for a total of 5 days divided in any full day increments that the author chooses.

Authors who successfully promote their books for free do so by preparing the market for the upcoming giveaway by assaulting the Twitterverse, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other social media. When the giveaway day arrives if the preparation has been well done the author is rewarded with massive downloads, which can number in the tens of thousands over a forty eight hour period. During that time the author can admire his ranking, his fifteen minutes of success, and feel like a bestselling author.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. So what happens with writers and readers post successful giveaway?
Authors generally experience greatly improved sales in the days and weeks following a giveaway. It would appear that a good rand in free books translates into being noticed by paying customers after the fact. This is good for the author.

The reader on the other hand may be a serial downloader who regularly hunts the free ranks in search of interesting titles or intriguing covers to add to their Kindle library. I suppose some number of those books eventually get read, but the fact remains, perceived value is everything and if it was free we tend not to value it. Therefore, those books go to the bottom of the reading list and often never get read. This is bad for the author and not good for the reader. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

A recent study reveals that negative reviews are more likely to be written by readers who did not pay for a book. The assumption then would be that if readers do not respect the value they do not respect the work.

Are giveaways a good thing or bad? It is up to each of us to decide. I have promoted my books for free on Kindle and experienced some degree of success laced with a modicum of heartache. I would do it again. I have downloaded some number of free books to my Kindle. I try not to download anything I do not intend to read and I avoid downloading too many for my time constraints. I never think of those books as valueless, I choose to consider them a gift from the author for which I am thankful.

Download as many free books as you like, but please remember there is a hardworking author on the other end counting on you to appreciate the effort if not the work.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is the Right price, Fair price, for Kindle Books

Yesterday I discussed Dan Brown’s newly released Inferno and I had to check in today to make sure he was still ranked at number one, which of course he is. By the way, I also mentioned he had nineteen reviews, two of which were rather cruel one-stars. Today he has fifty seven, six of which are one-star. I understand someone not liking a particular book or writer, but I will never understand a reader’s need to write a mean spirited review. There are thousands of ways to deliver a critique without making it a personal assault.

Anyway, I digress. My theme today is e-book pricing because in a readers’ forum I read a rather spirited discussion about the excessiveness of Brown’s $14.99 price tag. I admit it is a lot of money for something you cannot hold in your hand. However, the value of something, perceived being more important than actual, is based upon what the buyer is willing to pay and the seller willing to accept. In this case Kindle readers are paying a premium to get an early look at the work of someone they like or a book that has incredible buzz. Given, the hardback is only a few dollars more and although I love my Kindle I would always rather have a bound copy of something I like for my shelf. There are still an incredible number of readers out there who only want books on their Kindle or Nook for the convenience.

Amanda Hocking is the perfect example of a young YA Indie author who made a huge success of her books at 99 cents. It was not until later, when she signed a traditional publishing agreement that her prices began to go up.

The point is this: Are Hocking’s books worth more now that she is with a publisher? Are Brown’s books worth more because everyone is talking about them? Is the true, fair price for an e-book .99 or $14.99? I think the answers depend upon you, the reader. If you like an author and want their book then $14.99 may be of little consequence. If you are shooting in the dark and guessing that you may or may not like a new book then you might be overpaying at .99.

The author’s perspective is quite different than the reader. The author spends countless hours writing, rewriting, editing, researching, and trying to ensure the highest quality book. There is a value for this work. If a writer can sell millions of copies at .99 and make .35 for each then perhaps that is a good deal. However, if his work is so popular that he can sell millions and charge $14.99 then he has established his own perceived value.

We make published authors’ books worth what they charge by what we are willing to pay. If you want Dan Brown to lower his price, stop buying his book.

To Mr. Brown I say again, congratulations, job well done!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dan Brown, Burning It up with Inferno

Every man, woman, and child who has ever picked up a pen or switched on a computer, with a storyline in mind, has dreamed of the astronomic success enjoyed by Dan Brown. His newest Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, was released this week amid incredible fanfare and today is ranked number one on Kindle with nineteen reviews and a whopping $14.99 price tag. Achieving and maintaining this lofty spot on the best seller list quite possibly means dozens of downloads per minute. Dan Brown has certainly won the literary lottery.

Albeit two of the reviews are one star, today Dan Brown is king and his book is the law of the literary land. I am sure Brown does not like bad reviews, but he probably looks at his bank balance and finds very few number ones. The naysayers are undoubtedly soon forgotten in the comparison. If I were he, I would remind myself that the greatest artists and writers in our history also received some amount of negative feedback. After all, you cannot please everyone.

Doubleday seems pleased; they are reportedly printing an incredible four million copies of this, fourth in the series, tome. I am certain they have no worries that those volumes will gather dust on the store shelves.

It has been four years since Robert Langdon’s last symbology riddled adventure. This chapter in his story promises to continue pleasing Brown fans as it is replete with the requisite enigmatic characters, art, science, criminal enterprise and human angst. Aided in great detail by Dante’s Divine Comedy the hero races through the streets of Florence assisted by this version’s adhoc, platonic heroine.

Of course the story depends upon the threat of a global conspiracy. Fortunately, in this new millennium of conspiracy theories the thesis becomes even more believable than before.

I say if you don’t like it, don’t read it. I admire Brown for his work and his success. I would never consider myself qualified to negatively critique an author who draws readers like moths to the flame. Rather, I say thank you Mr. Brown for showing the rest of us what is possible.


Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Write or Not Right, Purple Prose is the Question

Purple Prose got its name because the color is representative of royalty. Therefore, the language associated with this flowery representation of the writing craft is considered by many to be too fru-fru, overly sensitive, and exceedingly descriptive. Others say that the demise of purple prose is due to common readers unable to associate with colorful, well developed descriptions. Charles Harrington Elster made a case for the erosion of our collective vocabulary and general disdain for purple prose in the following quote.

"Purple prose doesn't seem to have become wholly pejorative until the twentieth century, when steep declines in the vocabulary and reading comprehension of college-educated Americans caused a panic in the education establishment and the newspaper industry, which together launched a campaign against prose that displayed royalty, grandeur, and power. This led to the disappearance of the semicolon, the invention of the sentence fragment, and a marked increase in the use of words like methodological."
(Charles Harrington Elster, What in the Word? Harcourt, 2005)

I must confess I like purple prose, especially in specific doses that you might consider purple patches or passages. Sometimes, as a reader, I want a description of the dawning sun against a colorful backdrop of landscape, clouds, and sky that makes me believe it was a work in progress being created in the moment on some magnificent canvas being painted by God.

When a basic description of a person, place, thing, or action lacks color and excitement purple prose can breathe in new life. Imagine how dull and mundane his work would have been had Shakespeare written Romeo and Juliet in the following way:

“I wish I was her glove. That way when she touches her face it would be just like me touchin’ it.”

Perhaps Paul West said it best:

"It takes a certain amount of sass to speak up for prose that's rich, succulent and full of novelty. Purple is immoral, undemocratic and insincere; at best artsy, at worst the exterminating angel of depravity. So long as originality and lexical precision prevail, the sentient writer has a right to immerse himself or herself in phenomena and come up with as personal a version as can be. A writer who can't do purple is missing a trick. A writer who does purple all the time ought to have more tricks."
(Paul West, "In Defense of Purple Prose." The New York Times, Dec. 15, 1985)

Purple Prose is not for everyone. However, before you take up arms against it, remember sometimes a little color is good for the soul.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Monday, May 13, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Four “Let them be true to themselves”

I have read book reviews that plainly stated the author’s use of dialogue was unrealistic. Certainly there are times when this is true. However, it is important to remember that just as dialogue was created by one writer the review was created by another (both flawed humans). In other words don’t always take another person’s opinion as fact. Decide for yourself, read the dialogue in the context as written, consider the background of the characters as developed, and then decide if characters of a particular age, socio-economic level, academic preparedness, and geographic upbringing would actually say those things as purported.

Mark Twain is renowned for his characters and their use of language. Perhaps if Twain were a newly published author today his critics would not be so fond of his use of language, dialect, and vocabulary. In fact I am certain many would say it was unrealistic. Of course Twain would have laughed them off and probably advised that they try not to drown in their own ignorance.

Most writers work hard at creating realistic settings, language, characters and stories. Let’s not rush to judgment and assume to know what is right or wrong. When in doubt give the author the benefit of the doubt.

Stay tuned, next entry I plan to take on “Purple Prose or no Purple Prose, that is the question.”

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, May 10, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Three

In my last post, Entry Two, I mentioned that how characters in a book look and sound is not always the author’s decision. I probably should have said, not completely the author’s decision. When we begin a new novel we have a story in mind, which should make its way to outline form along with the establishment of the cast of characters. Then we create what we think is the physical description of each and develop a first draft of each individual’s speech patterns and dialogue style.

I think most authors begin the actual writing at this point. In this way the characters are allowed to flesh themselves out. With first draft pages in hand we have an image of how the characters interact with each other. If too many characters are blonde, it creates confusion. Likewise if every character uses the same words, expressions, and has the same accent the reader is unable to discern who is who. Of course we can specifically write “Peter said” after every dialogue entry, but how unimaginative is that?

When the characters begin to speak to each other we hear the differences in their voices and their choice of words. Every character does not need to sound like he comes from a different part of the world; the differences can be quite subtle, especially when creating family members. After all, being raised and educated in the same environment by the same set of role models will cause us to in many ways sound the same. This too can be a useful tool. We might hint to the reader that two individuals are brothers by the same use of some unique phrase.

At the same time, overuse of a particular hard to read accent, or an annoying phrase can alienate the reader. Too much of a good or a bad thing does not create interest. I cannot overemphasize the importance of salient dialogue that represents the individual characters and makes them real in the reader’s mind’s eye.

When we focus on believable we can see and hear if the characters work together. When they effectively communicate with each other the reader is drawn into the conversation. Whether writers test dialogues in model situations or begin writing and see how they work, they will always depend upon the characters themselves to establish their uniqueness in the novel.
The next time you have your nose in a book try to imagine the characters in the setting as described, having a conversation as written, and ask yourself one simple question. “Is this realistic?”

Stay tuned for my next entry.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Two

Beginning at the beginning in character development means a physical description. I like to start with the Protagonist, quite likely the most important person in the story, and then move on to the antagonist. Following these two characters with the rest of the cast in order of importance is very helpful when visualizing how they will interact in the execution of the plotline (plot is a completely different conversation, which we can discuss at a later date).

As important as each character’s degree of beauty is how that character will react to others in the story. If the protagonist and antagonist are a couple is it important which is taller and by how much. For example, if the female is the antagonist perhaps it is beneficial that she tower over her mate both physically and emotionally. Conversely, if she is the weaker of the two she could be diminutive and frail in all senses.

The same consideration of interaction, as explained in the previous paragraph, can apply to many, if not all, physical as well as evolutionary characteristics. Strong, self assured, characters can have gone to good schools, had loving parents, learned their lessons well, and can be well spoken and even avoid regional accents and dialects. Weak or despicable characters can have had the opposite experience, which could result in a completely different view of everything that surrounds the characters.

Weak characters may maintain the continual use of profanity as an important element in their vocabulary. Strong, well educated, characters can avoid profanity or in certain circumstances use it to make a point. If the author only allows this character to use a particular expression or word once, in the making of a point, it seems more like a mistake. Should we choose to use this tool it is important to establish a pattern of use, which will provide the reader a certainty of purpose.

In “The Great Gatsby” F. Scott Fitzgerald allowed Gatsby to use “old sport” so much that even Nick Carraway grew weary of its use. This was part of Fitzgerald’s characterization of Gatsby as a man who needed an anchor to a superfluous life. Like the planned creation of his history and surroundings, Gatsby used this expression to camouflage certain other longings and the heartache that haunted the character since childhood.

How characters look is not necessarily the author’s decision. Often they are a product of their purpose and everything about them is created to enable them to serve their function. Love them or hate them, they all have their place.

Stay tuned for my next entry.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry One

Reading a novel has the potential to be more fulfilling than watching a movie. A skilled author can put you inside the characters’ minds, describe surroundings in minute, explicit detail, and provide insight that may not be noticed on the big screen. However, if the writer falls short of good characterization, meaning insufficient physical descriptions and inadequately developed personalities, the story becomes unbelievable and very often two dimensional.

In this and subsequent blog posts I will endeavor to explain some of the considerations in the development and continuous delivery of characters in a book.

I have read many explanations of how other authors create their characters and give them their unique voice. Once I read an interview with a bestselling author wherein he explained how he often tests his characters’ voices by writing multiple versions of the same dialogue, while experimenting with different expressions, word usage, and verbal characteristics. In the end he chose the version that best represented the essence of each character. I like this process and have experimented with it myself.

Before we can get to the voice (meaning each individual character’s choice of words, accent, delivery, favorite expressions, and any other elements that make the character unique) we must first know the character and understand his/her role in the story. In any book primary characters will receive more attention, and greater detail, than other individuals with a much smaller role. Too many primary characters in a story often confuse the reader and distract from the plot.

First, before we can know how a character sounds we must develop basic information through which we can imagine, or hear in our mind’s ear, his/her unique voice. It begins with the simple stuff: gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, ethnicity, education, upbringing, propensities, geographical culture, and how we envision the character in the story.
Once we have a mental image of the character we can begin to listen to what he might say and how he might say it. From there we can actually write a few versions of the aforementioned sample dialogue and see which entry best represents the character.

Stay tuned for my next entry. In future posts we will discuss accents, word usage, grammar, profanity and the importance of individualism in truly memorable characters.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets

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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Value of Reviews, Good and Bad

Authors, Artists, and Performers build their reputations and their name recognition on reviews, word of mouth, and a general buzz. The ability to create and produce their art is dependent upon the artist’s creativity and flair. However, the same personality traits that allow one to be creative also foster a certain degree of fragility in the creator’s emotional make-up. There is no greater feeling than a positive, uplifting five star review and nothing more devastating than a one star. This is particularly true when that lone star comes with acidic words sans tact.

Creative types establish their own ways of dealing with these situations. Some avoid bad reviews altogether (much easier said than done), it is akin to trying to look away from a train wreck. Others allow advisors to read the reviews and only relate what the artist needs to know. Sadly, most artists read their own reviews, obsess over the bad ones, and bask in the temporary solace of the good ones. (The latter fits me.)

I offer this suggestion for artists and audiences alike; consider the quality and accuracy of the review before you choose to believe what has been said or written as a true representation of the work. Reviews that include some criticism of the facts as portrayed by the artist can be judged by the accuracy of the reviewers’ use of the same or related facts. In books, if a reviewer is critical of composition, grammar, or spelling consider the quality of the review itself. The bottom line is simple, if a review is poorly written or inaccurate how can it be considered a fair judge of someone else’s work?

Remember the artist cannot defend himself without being bombarded by the wrath of sour grapes. It is up to us, the audience, to defend those whose work we like and respect.

Defend your favorite artists, performers, and writers today!

Elizabeth’s Secrets

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Today is the beginning of a new series of blog posts and corresponding tweets about writing and the writing life. Stay tuned!