Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to win a RITA…or two…or three by Irene Hannon

Irene Hannon

Hey, friends, you're in for a special treat today. Irene Hannon graciously accepted my invitation to guest post on Seriously Write! Irene is a master storyteller and you are guaranteed to learn from her expertise. - Terri

As a three-time RITA award winner, I’m sometimes asked to speak on the topic of how to write a winning book. And what I have to say often surprises people.

Of course, a gift for storytelling, hard work, perseverance and an element of luck all play a role.

But beyond that, I believe the secret is focusing on the details—the basic building blocks of good writing that make your work shine…and stand out.

So here are 12 tips that can help you put the final polish on your writing and give it a winning edge.
1. Start in the right place, i.e. right in the middle of the action. Create a high-impact opening that immediately lets readers know something big is at stake. Begin with a bang—sometimes literally in suspense, but figuratively in any book. The opening must also leave readers with a question that makes them want to read on to find the answer.
2. Pay attention to chapter and scene endings. Leave the reader with a question or make the reader curious about what’s coming next. Give him or her a compelling reason to keep reading.

3. Establish time and place quickly in a scene. Ground the reader. Weave this information in as part of the story, not by stepping back in a narrative voice and telling the reader.

4. Never take the reader out of the story. This happens a lot when authors try to work in backstory or other technical data the reader needs. I find this a lot in suspense books when the action stops while some piece of equipment or a government agency is explained in the form of a data dump from a disembodied narrative voice. Anytime you slip into the narrative voice, you interrupt the action and slow the story down. That’s jarring to readers and pulls them out of the story—huge no-no. You want your readers fully engaged with your characters every minute.

5. Don’t head hop within a scene. It’s disruptive to story flow. Far better to let the reader, along with the point-of-view character, try to figure out what the other players are thinking by viewing their actions, inflections, and gestures through the eyes of the viewpoint character.

6. Pay attention to rhythm. For example, short, choppy sentences convey tension and urgency. This is a good technique for a highly charged scene in any genre. So use sentence length and construction to help convey mood through rhythm.

7. Cut adverbs. Eliminating adverbs strengthens writing by forcing us to choose better words. Don’t say she walked slowly; pick a stronger verb. She ambled. She crept. She limped. She trudged. 

8. Make limited use of dialogue tags (he said/she said). Most of the time you don’t need them and they bog down the pace. When you do need to clarify who’s speaking, use that as an opportunity to give readers an insight into the speaker’s character rather than just saying he said or she said. “No way am I getting anywhere close to Heather Callahan,” Jake declared.  How to improve that? “No way am I getting anywhere close to Heather Callahan.” Jake shoved the leftover chili in the microwave and slammed the door, stroking the yellow lab at his side when the dog flinched. Both examples tell us Jake isn’t a fan of  Heather Callahan, but in the second version, we also learn he has a kind heart because he cares about his dog.

9. Use as much dialogue as possible vs. narrative to advance the plot, deepen characterizations, and share background. People love to read dialogue. It keeps the story active and immediate and the reader feels engaged and in the middle of the action. It’s also a more natural way to add in backstory or important information.

10. Write tight and cut ruthlessly; if something doesn’t advance the plot or offer new insights into a character, cut it—no matter how much you love the words you’ve written.  Author Elmore Leonard, who was noted for writing tight prose, was asked once how he did this. He said he just left out the parts readers skip. That’s a great rule. Everything must be deliberate and there for a purpose or it should be cut.

11. Always take the time to choose the right word; Mark Twain said it best: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” The power of using the right word is amazing. Walked conveys a whole different meaning than sauntered. Take the time and make the effort to choose the perfect word.

12. Don’t overuse pet words. We all fall into this trap, and new ones keep cropping up. Consider making a list of your own overused words, then search for them after you finish a chapter.

Dangerous Illusions
by Irene Hannon
That’s it! I hope you find a helpful nugget or two in this list. I didn’t learn many of these tips until long after I’d published my first book—and every one I’ve applied has made me a better writer. Thanks for having me today, and happy writing!

Dangerous Illusions by Irene Hannon
Trish Bailey is on overload trying to deal with a demanding job, an ailing mother, and a healing heart. When a series of unsettling memory lapses leads to a tragic death--and puts Trish under police scrutiny--her world is once again thrown into turmoil.

Detective Colin Flynn isn't certain what to think of the facts he uncovers during his investigation. Did Trish simply make a terrible mistake or is there more to the case than meets the eye? As he searches for answers, disturbing information begins to emerge--and if the forces at work are as evil as he suspects, the situation isn't just dangerous . . . it's deadly.
Irene Hannon is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than fifty contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. In addition to her many other honors, she is a three-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romance fiction) and is also a member of that organization’s elite Hall of Fame. In 2016, she received a Career Achievement award from RT Book Reviews magazine for her entire body of work.