Category: Writers Advice

Author George R. R. Martin is famous for killing off beloved characters in his popular Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire book series. I’ve often wondered however, how he feels about the writer saying, “kill all your darlings.”

I think writer Lisa Cron best describes what happens to a reader when a writer does not abide by the old adage “kill your darlings”. In the chapter Cause and Effect in her book Wired For Story, Cron outlines why digressions are deadly. Explaining the chemistry behind the human need to sense if not see casual connection in everything that is presented to the reader.

Okay, now imagine the story is a car and it’s zooming ahead at sixty miles an hour. You’ve completely surrendered to its momentum; you’re one with the story. Then a real nice field of flowers off to the left catches the writer’s eye. So he slams on the brakes, and you slam your head against the windshield as he hops out and frolics in the meadow. Just for a lovely, lyrical second. Then he’s ready to get back on the road. But will the story still be going sixty? No, because he just brought it to a dead stop, which means-provided he can coax you back into it-the story is now going zero.

Cron’s analogy is exactly what happened to me reading Game of Thrones. I was acclimated to the pacing and characters Martin used through the first three books of the series. Then I read A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4), and Martin slammed on the breaks and my head hit the windshield. The fans who have only encountered the show are fortunate they did not experience the pain of reading an eight hundred page tomb with none of the characters loved and admired from the first three books in the series. They are privileged to experience the story as it was intended, with books four and five combined into one narrative. They are also lucky that the show’s writers, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, are killing off the many darlings Martin presents in books four and five. My best examples of the darlings killed so far are:

  • Omitting what happened to Berric Dondarrion
  • Omitting the reincarnated Catlyn Stark
  • Never presenting the character Cold Hands
  • What’s happened to Breanne and Pod

These four changes can account for several chapter’s worth of material. I think it’s significant Martin endorsed these deviations from his story on screen. It’s a concession to his readers, admitting what he presented in those chapters was irrelevant to his overall story. If the material is not crucial to the cause and effect of the story then it’s a digression. Those chapters were some of Martin’s digressions, his darlings; scenes he enjoyed and assumed we the reader would as well despite their lack of connection to the progressing story.

I am fascinated by the fact that Martin spent years writing for television, but the choice to remove darlings and condense repetitive material in the last two books was made by his television writers.  As a Game of Thrones fan, I hope Benioff and Weiss push Martin’s focus back to presenting readers with only those chapters relevant to the cause and effect of the story. I would appreciate it if the pacing of Martin’s next installment, Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire #6), is nothing like A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5). Where the reader covers a thousand pages while the plot moves forward by a millimeter.

Martin would be doing his readers a service if he were to run his current draft of book six by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They’ve succeeded in killing Martin’s darling’s, and could point out those needing to be destroyed before his next book goes to print. As Renni Brown & David King present in their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, “It’s far better to rewrite your story in a way that makes use of the good stuff than to simply use your story as an excuse for writing the good stuff.”

Criticism. I don’t think I have truly crossed this bridge yet with my writing. I’ve read numereous other writer blog posts, where they mourn negative reviews of their work. I read their words and wonder if my life experience has prepared me for the kind of criticism I am sure to see in the near future. Over the years, I’ve been told by different supervisors, that I take criticism well.  When my editor praised my ability to take her criticism in stride, I saw it as further proof that yes, I do take criticism well. I don’t have a magic formula for dealing with criticism, but it is the focus of this weeks writers advice.

Writers Advice #6: Criticism, ready or not here it comes! 

I was an Army Intelligence officer, and my branch of officer gets copiously groomed during the basic course on how to take a beating during briefings. It is one branch of the Army where you could graduate your basic course as a Second Lieutenant, and walk into a position where you might be briefing officers with stars on their shoulder. I didn’t believe my instructors when they touted this fact. Boy was I wrong. I learned a lot in a short few years as a junior officer working with a Division staff. The best lessons I learned was how to take criticism, and not take it personal. I was surrounded by senior enlisted and senior officers, some of whom liked to tell me they had uniforms older than me. Everyone outranked me in time or grade.  I was constantly being criticized, mentored, chastised, and groomed. What does my fledgling officer career have to do with writing? A lot, I definitely grew a thick skin for job performance based criticism in the Army. I may not have had a novel torn apart, but I’ve had my share of lovingly crafted Operation Order Annexes and Appendices ripped apart.

1) It is impossible to please everybody.  What I found most frustrating about all the copious grooming I experienced, was the sheer amount of it. For me it felt like everyone around me felt the urge to impart some nugget of wisdom or advice. It just got to be a to much, to soon, and a to often kind of deal for me. While the majority of it was well intended, in the long run I had to decide who I wanted as my mentors. I needed to determine for myself who’s lead was best to follow, and let the rest fade into the everyday noise. I learned how to discern criticism by incorporating my opinions about the person giving the advise. How do you feel about their performance, experience, and ability? Do you revere them or does their opinion not mean a whole lot to you? This is easier to quantify when dealing with a supervisor or coworker. When you are dealing with a general audience reader you will never get a handle on how you feel about each individual. Which means you should not hang your hat on the good or the bad reviews. Focus instead on the people whose opinion you honor and respect. As writers we need to hone in on whose opinion matters to us.

2) The truth can hurt. In my experience, criticism that hurts the most, is what I’ve needed to work on the most. If it hurts, then a part of you is conscious of what has been addressed, and you are feeling the pain of the realization of a shortcoming or failure. It is easy to rebuff hearing a hard truth, play it off as false, or as being said by someone trying to be mean. However I think it is more brave to face down shortcomings. Don’t push away the people willing to deliver a hard truth with you. It takes heart and courage for someone to deliver a hard truth. People who have your best interests at heart will be honest with you, even when it is a difficult message to deliver.  Others will tell you how wonderful you are, and remain content to watch you fail, verses taking the risk of telling you about a potentially offending truth. It is up to you how you handle a hard truth, but in my experience it is much more noble to own your failures than ignore them.

3) Relevant Criticism will be accompanied by a remedy.  Often times helpful criticism will be accompanied by rationale or a way to improve the mistake pointed out.  For example:

  1. I didn’t like it, the characters were to dumb for me.   
  2. I was not a fan of the protagonist, she made a series of bad decisions I could not relate to or understand.

While both examples might have the same meaning, the second example gives an explanation. If I was given the above comments about something I wrote, I would simply write off number one as someones opinion, “oh well I can’t please everybody”. However number two I would latch onto. That is criticism I can take action to correct in the future.

  1. It was such a bad read, I didn’t finish it.
  2. I had a hard time finishing this book. There were numerous grammatical errors, and the formatting of the dialog was strange.
  3. I couldn’t finish it. There’s to much exposition narrative for my taste.
  4. This is just not my genre.

As someone who cares about writing a quality review for both the author, and future readers, I hate it when I run accross reviews where a reader makes a blanket comment.  For example the comment, “It was such a bad read.” This kind of critic is not helpful if it is not followed up with disclaimers or explanations as to why. A helpful review will give explanations of the good and the bad. In contrast to number one, two through four provide reasons for a potential “bad read” or low review score. Numbers two and three a writer can work to fix in the future, and number four is not the writer or readers fault. It is much easier for the writer to know the reader did not enjoy their work because of the genre, than get a blanket “bad read” comment.

4) Where is it coming from? This is the question I was taught to ask myself, while learning to be discerning about criticism.  Is what was said intended to be mean or are they trying to be helpful? This can be tricky, you have to be careful not to assume the worst in people. There is a difference between how you hear things being said when you read it, and what was actually written. It is easy to exert our own internal voice over written communication.  If we are negatively responding to something, we can suddenly be reading into what is there, and see a message that was never actually stated. Put the criticism aside for few days and circle back to it later when you might be less emotional about it. Have a trusted friend read it without telling them what kind of message you are reading.  See if they are reading it with the same message you are. If they are not, then odds are you are emotionally over reacting to what is there. Your ego is probably angry at the audacity of someone not seeing your perfection, and that is an entirely different issue.

5) Don’t “What if” about the future opinions of your audience. I had the opportunity to observe my daughters Kindergarden class last year when a guest speaker was presenting. At first the questions asked by the students were focused and specific. Towards the end, the five and six years olds questions got a little crazy, and these questions all began with the words “What if”. The teacher swiftly took over for a moment, reminding the class, “What if” questions were not allowed. She turned to me as an aside saying, “They’ll what if all day if I let them.” Don’t “What if” about the thoughts and opinions of your future readers. You too can what if all day if you let yourself. This is a form of worrying that is unproductive, and will not aide in your pursuit to handle criticism with grace. There was a study done about what Americans worry about verses what actually ends up happening. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found 85% of what we worry about never comes to pass. In most circumstances, we are our own worst critics. We will identify and perseverate over our flaws, while everyone around us will never see it. Generally speaking, most people are so self consumed, they hardly notice what we find fault with. Don’t get distracted worrying about something you cannot control, the opinion of others.

6) You will be judged. I didn’t forget about that other 15% of valid worries. Common phrases I’ve heard, when writers agonize over the lack of empathy people have when criticizing their work:

  • “They can’t even comprehend how much time it’s taken me.”
  • “It’s part of me I’ve exposed.”
  • “It’s my baby.”

Please, get over your self.  Quit being a baby. Yes it’s taken a ridiculous amount of time, yes you have made yourself vulnerable, and of course you have nurtured it. That’s how most art is made last time I checked. It is for these reasons I feel it takes a special level of courage to be an artist. Publication puts a writers art in front of an audience. Welcome to the world of being an artist, you shall be judged. Learn to deal with the critics, learn to get over the disappointments you might feel reading less than stellar review. Congratulations, someone actually read your work, hopefully they will share an articulate opionion of it.  You should honor the time the reader dedicated to reading your work, by considering what they are saying about it. Most people don’t open a book hoping it will be a terrible read. Be a professional, don’t hang your hat on what they say, but listen to your readers opinions. Doing this has the potential to provide you with an opportunity to learn something. If you can’t be a professional, your ego is to fragile. Being overly sensitive to negative criticisms about your work, means you are defining yourself by your work. If you cannot tough through this assault on your ego, I suggest you not pursue publication of your musings. You get to choose whether or not to place your work in front of an audience.  You need to choose how you react to them. You can ignore criticism, you can leverage it for your betterment, you could even try to fight it, but you will not escape it.

 

 

When I first started scrapbooking in 1995, I did what most scrapbookers do when they first start out, I organized my photos. I rounded up photographs from my childhood, rescued pictures from magnetic albums, and tracked down photographs taken with my dad. It was a big process trying to figure out dates, and put everything in order. I then went ahead and began scrapbooking-“in chronological order”. This was the best method for me to follow at the time since my pages were being crafted into strap hinge books with stationary pages. I was an enthusiastic new crafter and dove into my new hobby head first. After a few years of crafting the linear & chronological scrapbooking was not working to well for me. I would run up against a set of pictures that did not inspire me. I was stuck. You can say it was a scapbooking version of writers block. I began forcing myself into making pages even though I was uninspired. Inevitably I hated the pages I forced my hand at.  A few years later I evolved away from this linear form of scrapbooking. I created pages the way most are made now.  Constructed onto a single sheet of card stock. This method gives you the ability to slide pages in and out of album sleeves, making it easy to move pages around the inside of albums. This change gave me the freedom to wait, and scrapbook only what inspired me at the moment.  What does my tale of scrapbooking evolution have to do with writing?

Writers Advice #5: It’s not always linear.

When I began writing my first book, it was a good thing I was adjusted to creating things not in chronological order. I started with this tiny sketch of an idea. The first scene I wrote is now part of chapter nine. Scenes kept coming, I had plenty to write about, but the ideas were all out of sequence. I was writing everyday, and I did my best to take the finished bits and place them in chronological order. I wrote it all down as it came, and I didn’t judge any of it until it was time to edit.

Outline? No, I didn’t use an outline until after my first manuscript edit. I had to strip 134,000 words from my manuscript. My editor tried, but she agreed-there was no easy half way in my 234,000 word manuscript. We could nail down what could easily be taken out, but then I had some hard decisions to make about plot and sequencing of events. It was then used a sketch outline to aid me in the editing process. It helped me keep track of the essential as I mercilessly stripped out the unessential. My writer friends usually baulk when I tell them this story. They know the journey of writing words in quantities like these, and many know the struggle a good edit is. 

Would an outline have saved me the trouble of a editing out half of my first book?  No. And truthfully I think an outline would have hindered me in the same way those old albums and uninspiring photographs did. I was following the ideas of the story, and along the way I learned about my characters, the environment, and the culture. I now know, what I the author, and not necessarily what my audience-the reader, needs to know about the story.

“Generally a story isn’t finished when there’s nothing left to add; it’s finished when there’s nothing left to take away.” –Gregory Crouch

Gregory Crouch

If you are working off an outline and are stuck on that “next chapter”, the one the outline tells you to write but your mind doesn’t see, move on. Move down the outline to what you can see and write that. Is the outline telling you to write one thing but the vision in your mind is something entirely opposite, write that. Give yourself permission to work out of sequence, non -linear, and in non chronological order. Besides it’s trendy to show the end at the beginning, like the movie Pulp Fiction, or as depicted in several episodes of Breaking Bad. And by all means write the ending if you can see it, especially if it’s a good one.

When I started writing plays in high school I was given the advice to “read, read plays, and read lots of different plays.” I imagine my eyes must have gone wide with shock hearing this.  “Lots of plays?”  It’s not hard to read a book, the author tells you all the actions taking place.  A play is just not always a simple thing to read and comprehend.  It takes some thinking, you can’t be half asleep reading most plays.  Only about a quarter of the length of an average paperback novel, some plays still may take twice as long to finish.  I did follow the advice I was given to read lots of plays. I have a pretty nice collection of plays on displays with my books.  It was valuable as a playwright to read other plays.  It helped me refine the ability to read and hear the dialog while following the action purely by the words being said.  I also got a better handle on the amount of stage direction I liked or felt was needed. 

Writers Advice #4 –”Read”

When I hear other authors recommend reading (books), and reading often, I relax.  I can read books.  Twist my arm, I love reading books.  Why is reading other works a helpful exercise or tool for other writers?  There’s a handful of reasons, but I believe it comes down to learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What you can learn from the good.  There is a well-known and established practice called “copying from the masters”.  A writer takes a classic story and uses it as a blue print or template to build their own story.  Master Shakespeare copied from the Bible, and the works of Jane Austin have been made into countless novels and pop culture screenplays.

If you don’t need a template story, there is still much to be learned from a good book.  Pay attention to the style and pacing of the works you enjoy.  How was a particular character framed making you as the reader adore or hate them?  Why do you love your favorite book?  Break it down into the technical composition terms of writing.  Think about pacing, proportion, dialog, characterization, narrative, and exposition.  When you can identify the why-and pin point the technical reason a particular work was good, then you are learning how to use the same mechanics in your own work.

What you can learn from the bad & the ugly.  Just like the good, you should pay equal attention to writing you don’t like.  Let it teach you “what not to do.”  If the read is dragging, dig in and pin point why.  Are you reading endless pages of exposition narrative?  If you hate the protagonist, it’s valuable to determine where the author lost you.  If you feel the urge to skip-take note-figure out why. Observing others mistakes should help us learn, and hopefully prevent us from creating identical writing blunders.

 

In writer forums I have run across many novice writers who say they have a story but struggle with composing it.  They write it down and read through it and throw it away.

This leads to writer’s advice #3: “Writing is a process not instant perfection.”

My heart goes out to the young writers throwing away every draft.  Please stop judging your ideas so severely.  Most art manifests through a process, and writing is an art form benefitting from a lengthy process.  The story is sparked by an idea.  An author might know where it will end, a framework of the plot, and a few characters.  I’ve never met a writer who instantly knew each and every character, or their story cover to cover, first act to final, exactly what they would write.  I would be overwhelmed if one of my stories was one hundred percent in my head all at one time.  I am very content to see it bit-by-bit, scene-by-scene.  When you see the scene, follow it, write it and don’t judge it.  If the next scene in your mind doesn’t make any sense or flow sequentially with the last scene you wrote, that’s okay.  Keep going, write it down and trust you will flush out the details later.

“I know some things when I start. I know, let’s say, that the play is going to be a 1970s or a 1930s play, and it’s going to be about a piano, but that’s it. I slowly discover who the characters are as I go along.” – August Wilson

I’m a bad speller.  I own this, and I don’t care anymore I have this flaw.  I also don’t think about sentence structure and grammar when I am writing.  My spelling and grammar has gotten better with practice and time, but it will never be natural for me. I don’t think about these things when I write.  I care about the story, and the character.  Those drive me as a writer.  I could care less about word order, commas, and proper spelling.  If those are missing or mixed up in my draft I’m not worried.  It’s going to get flushed out and fixed up as I edit. If I miss it in the next draft, this doesn’t bother me either. Later in the process my draft will be in the hands of the right people who will help me fix all of my technical errors.  I’m blessed with a husband, friends, and Beta readers who have a talent for the technical.  Then later in my process I pay good money to collaborate with a professional editor.  Be the master of the story, and don’t let technical conventions hold you back.  Even the best writers have a process that involves working with technical and editing guru’s.  A good writer is not above eliciting help polishing their work.

If you are the writer who has a talent for the technical, hours of your time might be lost to formatting and sentence structure. You might benefit by letting some of this go. Stop thinking, let go, and let your story make it to the page.

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“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” -Ron Bradbury

Work on the pretty prose when your manuscript is done.  All the time you are spending fiddling with one sentence could be better spent flushing out an entire draft.  It is vain and ignorant to think your first draft will be one step away from perfection, great enough to publish when you are done. Sure there are writing savants out there, but I’ve never encountered one who worked off of a process that did not include several drafts.

Writers Advice #2: “Just do it.”

Sounds simple, and really it actually kind of is.  When acquaintances find out I am writing a book many blurt out, “Where do you have the time?”  I don’t have a good response to this.  Even with the number of times I have been asked this question, I am still a little thrown off by the question.  I feel the urge to answer their question with another question, “What do you mean how do I have time?”  I learned this is not the best response. It usually gets a rambling response revolving around me having four children, which apparently renders me completely void of any time.  The best answer I have come up with, and one people seem to accept is, “I don’t watch a lot of TV.”  It’s the truth, I don’t.  The older I’ve gotten, the less TV I watch.  Even though I love TV-there’s plenty of excellent stuff on.  I am just not dedicated to watching it.  I have other stuff to do, like writing.  Television is not like when I was growing up where it aired once to never be seen again until the show became syndicated.  We all know the good stuff will be there, ready and waiting for our instant gratification, on DVD or on one of the many streaming medias.

Where does my spare time exist?  It is most often found in the morning.  This crazy thing started to happen to me over this past year, I started waking up at 5am, 4am, and yes even 3am on occasion.  I didn’t set an alarm, I just woke up and could not go back to sleep.  My mind was awake and immediately immersed in the story of my book.  I would drag myself from bed and down to my computer to write.  Many times I wanted to go back to sleep.  I knew I had this thing or other to do and it would benefit me to have more sleep.  However I learned I wasn’t going back to sleep.  I just embraced the opportunity to have some uninterrupted time writing.

I don’t turn the story off.  I don’t think I could if I wanted to.  I find myself out somewhere doing my usual mundane routine and the story is there, characters interacting, action happening.  When a particular piece of the story begins to loop, playing over and over, for me it’s better if I get this written down.  It’s distracting and the sooner it’s down the better.  A little notebook is a purse essential for me.  I know this is not a foreign behavior for writers.  A theatre director, who was friends with August Wilson, told me he once witnessed Wilson ransack his car for something to write on.  He pulled an old discarded envelope from his glove box and proceeded to compose a few lines for a play he was working on.

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As writers we should not chase our story away to occupy our thoughts at a more convenient time.  Don’t feel bad for being a daydreamer.  Get them written down when you can.  Be happy you have the problem of being in the flow and not the problem of lacking it.  Stop in the middle of the grocery store and jot down that repeating scene in your head.  Write that character name on the back of a dry cleaning receipt.  If you wake up spontaneously at 4am-go write.

Sometimes people will confess to me that they always wanted to write a book.  They plan to do it someday.  I say, don’t wait.  There is no perfect time, when the stars are aligned, and your life is settled into what you deem are the proper condition suitable to writing.  One of my best friends said, “I hope George R.R. Martin doesn’t die before he finishes the story Game of Thrones.”  I agree, being a realist any one of us might fall susceptible to an unplanned tragic death, and Martin’s really not in the best shape. He does have a fabulous problem, being distracted with the art direction of his HBO series. I hope he does get an ending written before he departs this life.  But if you are putting off your story, it may never get written.

Stop telling yourself you don’t have free time.  Of course you do. You’re just not spending it on writing.  We make time for those things that truly interest us. Quit stalling-Just do it.

I was going to make Tuesday’s about writers advice, and start on this past Tuesday.  Of course I ran into the problem this week of doing things with my family during their spring break.  I love problems like that.

I’ll start with the first bit of writers advice I was ever given. I’m sure I was given plenty in school as a kid, but this one has stuck with me. It’s burdened me at times, and my brain has chewed on it on countless occasions.

#1: “Write what you know.”

I was told this my Junior year of High School. It was during the Spring Playwriting festival,  sponsored by my high school Theatre department. I didn’t like hearing this advice and it must be why it stood out all these years. I was fifteen and old enough to know I didn’t know much. It was my impression I was being told to slow down. How I should not expect to have much to impart on the artistic world until years of experience improved me. This seemed unfair and I was somewhat confused. I had read about teenagers and even children who had written and published books. Why were they asking us to write plays if none of us students had works inspired or entertaining enough to stage? I see now age really has nothing to do with it. But oh-boy did this one trouble me back then.

After years of thinking about this advice and weighing it against my own experience and what I have witnessed, I agree with it. If you write what you know, you are giving the work a frame that is authentic, genuine, and rings true with a general audience.

Is this bit of advice all exclusive?  Do I forgo details or certain characters if I am not the subject matter expert on their trade or the part of the world they live. Me personally, I’ll give it my best shot. I write what I know, my best guess I get nailed down.  Then I flush out the details with those smarter than me in that particular area. The advice was not meant to exclude those who don’t know the ins and outs of a topic they are inspired by. It’s just telling you to be authentic, strive for authenticity. Do research, go do it-find out, or find those who do know and pick their brain. I’m sure many are thinking, “well no kidding”, but I’m not just talking about historical accuracy or periodic dress. It is worthwhile to fact check opposite sex character point of view, language use in dialog based on location, military anything, and cultural implications/nuances.

Opposite Sex Character Point of View: The book Midwives is about a teenage girl who’s mother is a midwife and a tragedy that leads to her going on trail. It’s written by a man, Chris Bohjalian, and his protagonist is a female teenager. Kudos to him for having the courage to write and include details about material no man is going to inherently know without research. The moments where he lost me and I was mentally ejected from the story had nothing to do with childbirth, or pregnant women. It had to do with the mind of his protagonist.  She didn’t think like a teenage girl to me. She didn’t even think like a teenager at times. Pass it off as characterization if you will, but I was aware the book was written by a man who never bothered to ask the question, “Is the protagonist acting, feeling, talking, thinking like a girl”.

Language Use: I miss the Author Ed McBain. He wrote detective novels and his dialog was rich with terms, slang, and phrasing authentic to his setting. His attention to these details made the read seamless and real.  Sure you can pull off a good read without minding this kind of fact check, but I consider it an area ripe with opportunity. I also never want to be the writer with an American character using the term loo when referencing the bathroom.

Military Anything: Just because I am a veteran does not mean I would turn my nose at fact checking something I write about the military.  The military has a unique culture, and each service branch has it’s own culture, and you can even sub divide culture idiosyncrasies into different job specialties. Time served, war time vs. non war time, deployed experience vs. never deployed, male vs. female roles, rank, all of this is complex and interesting. These rules are a pretty big reason why some of the best books about the military stay focused on the authors own unique experience. The few that deviate away from this rule would fall into the category of historical fiction which has been copiously researched, like The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Don’t be the author who thinks you don’t need to fact check your work because you were in the service for a few years. Float your work by others you served with. Google it, bust out an old manual, or find someone who is in right now and pick their brain. Service members hate inaccuracies depicted in film. Don’t think they’ll miss it or grant you a pass for putting the wrong rank on (The General’s daughter), the unlimited ammo supply (Wind Talkers), or botching the pronunciation of an acronym (Black Hawk Down). We hate these things even more when they are in a book.

Cultural Nuances:  Going against culture or conforming to one can be a fascinating plot. However, violating cultural rules without explanation can pull a reader out of a book fast. I’m a big fan of fantasy fiction. As a reader I can’t stand it when an author has created a culture, taught me all about the rules/parameters of this culture, but then proceeds to violate or forget about their own rules. For example, J.R Wards does this all the time in her cult level book series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood. My best example is from book six Lover Enshrined. One of her long established vampire culture “rules” is in order for a vampire to become a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood their parents must be a mother who is Chosen and a father who is already a member of the Brotherhood. These titles making them the best of the best kind of vampires, who are of the highest rank, behavior, and honor.  In Lover Enshrined the protagonist Phury’s mother is depicted as a woman who never looked at him when he was a child. Then his father was painted as a drunk who 5 year old Phury is shown dragging into their family home before sunrise. His mother changed my whole perspective on these perfect chosen female vampires.  I was also expecting more to explain the fathers behavior, like when and how he left the Brotherhood. She never answers these deviations to vampire culture and it detracted from the credibility of her story.  If your work involves a real culture do your homework and run your work through people who live it.  If it is part of your world building as a fiction author-keep your culture strait by keeping a running list of rules. And if you are in the middle of writing book six, odds are you have fans who will happily dig into the cultural details for you.