Apr 102015

by Suz deMello

For a while now—since the Fifty Shades trilogy attained prominence—there’s been a steady stream of online bloggers and critics dissing the books…and for good reason. They’re poorly written and edited. Fifty Shades is basically a Harlequin Presents with sugar kink.

Let’s look at the main characters, for example. Ana Steele is a perfect Harlequin heroine: still a virgin while about to graduate college. So immature that she seems to have some sort of disorder. Even though male after male in her life is attracted to her, she’s so sweet and modest that she’s unaware of her sexiness. And she’s immediately, deeply and irrevocably attracted to the “hero.” This is also a characteristic of the typical Harlequin heroine, even though artificial conflicts are created to provide some kind of story line. Otherwise the books would be over before they’ve properly started.

The “hero.” Ah, Christian Grey. Volumes have already been written about his abusive behavior. He stalks Ana, forces her to ditch her friends, especially her male buddies. He pressures her into a kinky relationship she is too emotionally immature to handle.

Skimming only two or three Harlequins will reveal the strong similarities between Grey and the basic Harlequin alpha male: the macho guy who’s really a broken child inside, but also fantastically wealthy at an absurdly young age—has anyone else noticed how mere millionaires are no longer acceptable romance heroes? Billionaires only in this club.

When I was writing for Harlequin/Silhouette, I would go through the books and highlight what appeared to be necessary character notes of the H&H. Her virginity and innocence. His contrasting wealth and sophistication. Her blushing confusion. His Rolex, limos and private plane. I’ve employed all these tropes.

Perfect ingredients of a classic BDSM power exchange? NOT. Those of us honestly involved in safe, sane and consensual BDSM avoid an unsophisticated partner until that innocent has been educated.

Setting aside the clichéd characters, the writing is poorly edited, if it was edited at all. Here’s a discussion of one craft aspect with an analysis from one of my writing manuals, Plotting and Planning:

For many, creating paragraphs in fiction—that is, dividing parts of a scene or interaction into manageable bits—is such an obvious process that it doesn’t need discussion. (Non-fiction is completely different and beyond the scope of this treatise). In Starting From Scratch, Rita Mae Brown doesn’t discuss paragraphs in fiction at all. I also had thought it was fairly easy until I encountered Fifty Shades of Grey, which contained selections like the following:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits. He frowns, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now.

“Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

Normally, when we write interactions between people, the actions, words, and thoughts of each person are grouped in separate paragraphs. When we switch people, we create a new paragraph. So this selection should have been written thusly:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits.

He frowns, and turns his attention back to me. “Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now. “Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

What’s the reason behind this convention? So the reader can know who’s thinking and talking, we place the identifying dialog tag along with the dialog. Often we may not need a tag at all, when only two people are interacting. The convention makes this possible. Readers know that when a paragraph ends, the next paragraph belongs to another character.

The bloggers and critics who slam Fifty Shades are mostly romance and erotica authors. And more than a little of our resentment is that old bugaboo, professional jealousy.

And who can blame us? It’s hard to feel all warm and cuddly about E.L. James’ success when she so obviously does not deserve the millions she’s raking in. The writing is so bad that she clearly did not spend the years that most of us do developing our craft. We feel she doesn’t deserve her success, at least not based on the books. All of us have an early manuscript that should never see the light of day, let alone publication. E.L. James’ has, and it’s a massive bestseller. It’s galling.

I once wrote about professional jealousy that it has at its root cause an unhealthy interest in others. I still believe that. I know nothing about E.L. James. She is completely irrelevant to me. Her success does not equal my failure—in fact, the popularity of her books could increase the popularity of mine.

And she could be the happiest person in the world or one of the most miserable. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I have been the target of resentment because of my “success.” Imagine that! A floundering midlist author the object of professional jealousy! Blew me away, too.

It happens that the time I noticed that resentment was also when my father was dying. I was stunned that anyone would be envious of me.

The lesson? The woman we resent for her success may be the most distressed and tortured human being walking this planet. We just don’t know—it’s our nature to put on a brave face while inside we’re screaming in pain. It’s also our nature to compete, but we must learn to maturely deal with the emotions that result from competition.


About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

Feb 272015

By M.Christian

“Dialogue can be tricky—”

“Whatcha mean ‘dialogue can be tricky’?  It’s just people talking, right?  How hard can it be?”

“You’d be surprised.  For instance, a lot of people think that dialogue should be … um … er … ah … accurate.  But if you wrote down how people actually talk it’s kind of … muddled … youknowwhatImean?”

“Okay, I getcha: you mean people should have distinctive voices, sound like human beings, but not cram those voices with the stuff real people actually say when they’re talking.”

“Bingo!  It’s also important to know some basic dialogue grammar and punctuat—”

“—like dashes for when someone gets interrupted—”

“—right!  Or when you…”

“Trail off, right?  What about ‘OK’?”

“Well, the jury is out on that one.  Personally I don’t like two huge caps in my dialogue.  I prefer the more natural ‘okay.’  The same with tags, some people think that you have to have at least one tag at the end of a line of dialogue, but others say you don’t need any as long as it’s clear who’s doing the speaking—especially if it’s just between two characters, like us.  Just be sure not to go too long without a tag as readers can sometime lose track of the characters.”

“I’m hip.  I heard someone say that you should know who’s doing the talking by their vocabulary or style, but not to be so obvious that it’s clumsy.”

“It’s tricky, to be sure, but it really helps bring a character to life.  Also, don’t hesitate to use typographic emphasis in dialogue, especially when it makes what a person is saying clear.  Just stay away from ALL CAPS—”

“Jeez, no need to shout.”

“Or too many exclamation points!!!!”

“Which just sounds weird.”

“It’s much better to use simple italics … just be sure and put them where they’re most needed and not just willy-nilly as, again, it comes off as … bizarre.”

“Right.  What also gets me is when characters talk all stilted-like.  I mean, come on: you can be loose and be hard to follow but too stiff and it’s like listening to two damned robots.”

“To be sure!  Try listening to your characters.  Pay attention to writers who do dialogue well, or to good movies or TV shows.  That’s how a writer learns, after all.  You can also use … what is it called?  Oh, yeah: grammar as a way of giving a character life like … pauses, like that.  Or (watch where you’re stepping, buddy) asides, like that, or [can you tell me the way to the train station], he said in French.  Stuff like that.  But, again, don’t try to be too clever ’cause it’ll just pull readers out of the story.”

“What about if you have someone who’s … what did Bob say? ‘Quoting from another character’?”

“Yeah, that can be tricky. Technically you just have to put a single quotation mark in there like you did, but I don’t like to have people directly quote another character.  It’s confusing, and unrealistic since we rarely remember what someone exactly said: kind of pulls the reader out of the dialogue.”

‘Then there’s the Brits—’

“Oh, yeah; that can be confusing: British copy editors often have single quotes for dialogue.”

“You know what ruffles my feathers?”

“Do tell.”

“When people think you have to have a whole new tag at the end of each line of dialogue, like repeating ‘said’ is some horrible rule to stay away from.  I mean, come on, it can get real silly real quick: people ‘said’ then ‘uttered’ then ‘proclaimed’ then ‘spouted’ … sheesh!”

“I hear ya.  The same goes fer people talkin’ way too much with whatcha might say is an accent.  Get with it, folks: if ya can’t understan’ it it ain’t gonna work—”

“Or when youse puts in whatcha think is ah poinsonal style a’ talkin’ and all da happens is it’s either confusin’ or insultin’—youse catcha my drift?”

“Oh, yeah!  Nothing worse that a character you can’t understand, or one who sounds like a poorly constructed stereotype.   I understand wanting to show off someone’s character through their dialogue, but ya gotta do yer research and keep it down to a dull roar.”

“Like with historical characters.  Oh, man, that gets my goat: when you got this Roman legionnaire saying, like, ‘okay’ or something like that.  Or a Victorian British character using 21st century terms.  Sure, too much accuracy is just as bad … ’cause I doubt anyone would ever understand a word they were saying … but that doesn’t mean throwing a bunch of anachronisms into a story, either.  So, what about sex?”

“Here?  Now?  With all these people watching?”

“Ha-ha, Mr. Comedian.  No, I mean what about dialogue with sex scenes?”

“Oh, that.  Well, stay the hell away from onomatopoeias—”


Now who’s the comedian? Onomatopoeia: ‘the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named’, according to Webster’s.  In erotica it’s oooooh, aaaaah … stuff like that.  Sound effects, you could say.  Always horrible in erotica.  You can just write that someone laughed or moaned.”

“Oh, yeah, I know what you mean.  Like you said, too, I guess: make sure your characters use the right words for what they’re doing.”

“God, yes. And research is important but, again, don’t let it get in the way of being clear about what’s happening.  Back to the Victorians: they used a lot of slang for sex and body parts—so you can have fun there … just not too much or it can either get confusing or make you look like a show-off.”

“Okay, Mr. Expert: what advice can you give a writer about dialogue?”

“Well, for starters, feel your characters.  Listen to them.  Don’t worry about avoiding grammatical mistakes—you can always fix that later—just get their voices down on the page.  Use your own life: the way you and your friends talk … just don’t be too literal.  Try to push yourself: if you feel your dialogue could do with some work, read plays or listen to movies or shows with the picture off to get a feeling for how people talk.”

“Sounds good to me … but you forgot an important one.”

“Oh?  Enlighten me.”

“Write nothing but two people talking to each other.”


About M. Christian
Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement. Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with more than 400 stories, 10 novels (including The Very Bloody Marys, Brushes and The Painted Doll). Nearly a dozen collections of his own work (Technorotica, In Control, Lambda nominee Dirty Words, The Bachelor Machine), more than two dozen anthologies (Best S/M Erotica series, My Love for All That is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica, The Burning Pen, and with Maxim Jakubowksi The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road).  His work is regularly selected for Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and others. His extensive knowledge of erotica as writer, editor, anthologist and publisher resulted in the bestselling guide How To Write And Sell Erotica.

In addition, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited twenty five anthologies to date. He is also responsible for several non-fiction books, notably How to Write and Sell Erotica.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he’d want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.

He can be found in a number of places online, not least of which is mchristian.com.

Dec 062013

By Margie Church

What are train wrecks? Manuscripts riddled with passive voice, head-hopping (switching between one point of view and another), excessive adverb use, incorrect dialog tags, and dangling participles.


Most of us have long forgotten our grammar lessons and wouldn’t know a homophone (one of my deadliest sins) from a dangling participle (another sneaky bastard). Your brain must function like a serial killer’s (not a cereal killer) to get your work ready for submission. Whether you edit as you write or do it afterward, if you think one pass is going to catch it all, you’re mistaken. You’re also mistaken if you think it’s your editor’s job to fix your mess. Your editor’s job is to show you where the polish still needs to go.

The following excerpt is from my first book. Damn, I was proud of that accomplishment! That said, it’s riddled with some of the most common writing mistakes. I’ll also mention that this book was edited and published. Give this a read, and then I’ll take it apart and show you where the problematic areas are. I numbered the paragraphs for easier reference.

  1. For the next two weeks, Allie ignored all of Devon’s emails and phone calls. She found it difficult. Over the past months, she became accustomed to regularly communicating with Devon. She missed hearing from him and even more so, she hated to admit she missed the sound of his voice. All the more reason to put some distance between the gorgeous Brit and me.
  2. Finally, Devon tracked Allie down at work. She was surprised to see him.
  3. Devon fired off questions in true lawyer fashion. “There you are! Why haven’t you returned my calls, Allie? You’ve missed our weekly meetings, too. Have you been ill? Have I done something to offend you?”
  4. Allie heard the hurt and upset in his voice. She looked around, hoping nobody else did. “This isn’t the time or the place to discuss it.”
  5. Devon shook his head. “Of course not. Where are my manners?” He reached in his vest pocked and handed Allie his business card. “Stop by after work and we’ll talk then, all right?”
  6. “I can’t, I have another commitment,” she lied. Seeing him again captivated Allie. Even his eyebrows are perfect.
  7. “Allie, what is the matter? Why won’t you talk to me?”
  8. “I’ll call you soon. I have other customers now, Devon, if you don’t mind.”
  9. Devon let out his breath in resignation. “Of course, I understand. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable.” He leaned forward across the counter and spoke for her ears alone, “I’ve missed you, and I won’t wait long.”
  10. A blush crept up her neck and into her cheeks. Allie nodded.

In paragraph 1: Passive voice sucks the life out of the scene. I’m telling you what Allie did over and over. Regularly, the adverb, is in the wrong position. Verb tense (became) is wrong.

Paragraph 2: There’s a problem with the setting. Where is Allie when this scene opens? That needs to move up. I have a slight POV switch here from Allie to Devon, and more passive voice.

Paragraph 3: In case you forgot his name, I used Devon again. Snore… The sentences are weak and I could use some descriptions to show you his mood.

Para 4: Sentence construction is weak and I’m not showing you a thing.

Para 5: Couple of punctuation errors in there. Did you spot the typo? Pocked. Um, yeah.

Para 6: Passive voice, incorrect dialog tag.

Para 7: In case you’ve forgotten her name or can’t figure out who’s talking, I’ve used Allie again.

Para 8: The second sentence is awkward as heck. Needs smoothing.

Para 9: We start with a sneaky POV switch to Devon, and end with a bad dialog tag. Devon can only let out his breath in resignation if we’re in his POV…and we’re not. Put a period after alone.

Para 10: Another POV switch – this one is tougher to find. Allie cannot SEE the blush creeping up her neck unless she’s looking at her reflection. She can feel it or imagine it’s there.

Wow, for a couple hundred words, that’s a lot of bad writing. Now, let’s turn on that killer instinct and fix this train wreck.

Allie reflected on her feelings while swishing a cloth over a coffee spill. She’d ignored all of Devon’s emails and phone calls for the past two weeks. Her lips turned down. She missed their talks. She’d become accustomed to communicating with him on a regular basis. She missed the sound of his voice even more. That startling admission made her cringe. All the more reason to put some distance between the gorgeous Brit and me.

As if on cue, Devon walked into the coffee shop. Her heart rate increased at the mere sight of him.

He strode to the counter and fired off questions in true lawyer fashion. “There you are! Why haven’t you returned my calls? You’ve even missed our weekly meetings. Have you been ill? Have I done something to offend you?” Uncharacteristic emotion laced his words.

She looked around hoping the busybodies were occupied with something else. She whispered through gritted teeth. “This isn’t the time or the place to talk.”

He drew back. “Of course not. Where are my manners?” Devon produced a business card from his vest pocket, and then handed the crisp white card to her. “Stop by after work, and we’ll talk, all right?”

“I can’t. I have another commitment.” She had to keep up the lie. The truth wasn’t allowed.

“Allie, what is the matter? Why won’t you talk to me?”

“I’ll call you soon. I have other customers.” She indicated that he needed to step aside. “If you don’t mind.”

Devon released a long breath. “Of course. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable.” He leaned over the counter and spoke in a soft voice. “I’ve missed you, and I won’t wait long.”

Heat crept into her neck and cheeks. Allie nodded.

Although the revision is longer than the original, it’s a much better read. It’s alive with actions you see, not hear about. The editing mistakes are corrected.

Test yourself by copying the original excerpt and see what you can do with it. And by all means, ask questions. I’m here to help you understand how to improve.


About the Author: 

Margie Church writes erotic romance novels with a strong suspense element, in keeping with her motto: Romance with SASS (Suspense, Angst, Seductive Sizzle). Never expect the same thing twice in one of her books. She tackles subjects and conflicts that aren’t typical in romances. Life is complicated. People are, too. Marrying those concepts makes her work fascinating to read. Margie was 2011 GLBT Author of the Year, and her book, Hard as Teak, was named 2011 GLBT Book of the Year at Loves Romances Café. She is well-known for her BDSM erotic romances as well.

Margie lives in Minnesota, is married, and has two children. Some of her passions include music, poetry, walking on moonlit nights, fishing, and making people laugh. She also writes children’s books under the pen name Margaret Rose.

Keep up with Margie:

Margie’s website: Romance with SASS
Margie’s blog: authormargiechurch.wordpress.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/MargaretRChurch
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MargieChurch
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MargieChurchAuthor
Pinterest:  https://pinterest.com/margiechurch/
Margie’s Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Margie-Church/e/B008H7HO4I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1