Saturday, November 28, 2009

Writing Advice from author JUDITH MARSHALL

Please welcome today's guest host Judith Marshall.

Judith Marshall is a author of Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, winner of the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club. She is currently working on her second novel, Staying Afloat, the story of a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother who morphs into a sex-starved adulteress.

Do pay attention to your characters. Remember story is as much (if not more) about character as about plot.

Do make your characters original. The beauty of this approach is that your plot will often grow out of a unique character, instead of vice versa.

Do use a less expected way of describing your character; instead of saying her eyes was were “blue,” you could say, “Her eyes were the color of the lake behind her.”

Don’t use stock, cliché, or outrageous names. You will either look lazy or like your trying too hard.

Don’t introduce too many characters at once. Figure out a way of staggering them or focus on one and ignore the others. You can switch the focus later.

Don’t describe just the usual characteristics, such as eyes, hair, and face. Go farther. “The sun reflected off his bald head.” “The skin on her face was drawn tight across her cheekbones, eyelids stretched smooth, forehead shiny and line-free -- all the signs of recent cosmetic surgery.”

Remember readers don’t want the ordinary, the everyday; they want to be captivated. Ask yourself: Are my characters interesting? If not, there’s more work to be done.

I attended the subject webinar recently, sponsored by Digital Book World.  Since I'm knee-deep in promoting my new novel, "Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever," I was quite interested in the topic.  The panel included  Jane Friedman, Publisher & Editorial Director, Writer's Digest, Diana Vilibert, Web Editor, Marie Claire, Dan Blank, Director of Content, Reed Business Information, and Patrick Boegal, Director of Media Integration, Media Logic.  The highlights follow:

1)  If you blog, be sure to use your personality.  Posts should be either entertaining or useful (i.e. for non-fiction).
2)  Bloggers should post two times a week and be consistent.
3)  Book store owners check out blogs.
4)  Use analytics (even the free ones from Google) to determine your ROI for blogging.
5)  Facebook offers an "incredible opportunity with fan pages."
6) Twitter is becoming more powerful every day.  Writer's Digest requires each editor to participate on Twitter.  Authors should be use it, along with Facebook to build an audience.

As much as we authors hate to take time away from our writing, being involved in social media is a must.  Deal with it!  BTW, I hope this post was useful, if not entertaining.

WRITER'S BLOCK can strike at any time in the process – when you can’t finish a book or when you can’t send it out into the world. According to Dr. Jane Anne Staw, author of “Unstuck,” anxiety is at the root of writer’s block.

To remove some of the obstacles to writing, Dr. Staw suggests:

1) Ask your inner critics to leave
2) Don’t think to big (i.e. thinking about the whole novel or casting the movie)
3) Write on a regular basis, so you don’t have to keep starting over
4) Think small – pick a moment and write about it for 15-20 minutes. The best writing is small – the details are essential
5) Remember, writing is about revision: 1st stage – get it down, 2nd stage – flesh it out, 3rd stage – check the flow, 4th stage – polish and fine tune (word choice and syntax), 5th stage – punctuation and line editing, 6th stage – self-dialog.


  1. Thanks so much for being my guest host today, Judith. Helping other writers is a wonderful thing. I remember when I first started; it was a lonely world back then. If only I'd had someone like you to help me. Sure would have made the learning process easier.

  2. "Eyes the color of water" that is so simple yet effective. thanks.

  3. Lots of good tidbits today, thanks, Judith and Joylene. The descriptive aspect is always something I battle. I see the characters and their settings in my mind's eye but forget that others can't read my mind! Much of my revision time is spent on giving my characters more depth on the page.

  4. That's how I write too, Carol. I get everything down as fast as I can, then I spend the next 5 drafts polising. It would be a sad day if I had do get it right the first draft. Thank goodness for revising.

  5. "Don’t introduce too many characters at once. Figure out a way of staggering them or focus on one and ignore the others. You can switch the focus later."

    Good one. No one wants to be overwhelmed right out of the gate. One author that I read often has, on occasion, listed the characters & what their role or rank or title is in the story. Too many for starters & they were dumped in the reader's lap to sort out. Very confusing & detracted from the story. I prefer a handful of characters that impact the story rather than dozens of bit parts.

    Good post.

  6. That's what turned me off Tom Clancy's work, that and too much description. But honestly, the fellow must have hundreds of characters, 10 or more within the first 3 chapters. Last time I was in the airport, I saw 5/6 different men reading his work.

    Hi Penny. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment for Judith.

  7. My disappointment was with Clive Cussler - but he had a writing partner for that series. Read 2 - end of series for me.

  8. Great post, Judith. Lots of good info.

    Is blogging everyday too much? I joined Twitter last year, but can't see where it has increased hits on a joint blog I belong to. When I searched the stats, none come in from Twitter.

  9. Hi Doug,

    Glad you enjoyed my post. In the webinar I mentioned, the advice was to blog twice a week. However, if you have the time and have more to interesting things to post, I see no reason not to blog more often, although it does take away from one's writing time. As for what twittering does to drive traffic to blogs, until you build a audience I'd say very little. The key is to tweet something provocative enough to make readers want to go to your blog for more. Another suggestion is to include your web or blog address in every tweet. Best of luck...

  10. That's helpful to know, Judith. Thanks. In fact, your entire post had some great ideas. Hope you'll come back again and share some of your experience with us? Every little bit helps.


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