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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Author'sTips: Reading has helped me improve my writing--Mona Risk.

Reading has helped me improve my writing as much as the many workshops and seminars I attended. Armed with a pencil, I used to check the paragraphs or scenes I particularly liked, or mark with an X those that annoyed me. An X meant, "Bad. Bad. To avoid." In a way, a lousy book helped me polish my craft as thoroughly as a good one. I saw firsthand examples of the pitfalls that could turn off a reader or an editor from a story. Of course, I am talking about published books, so even if I didn't like a scene, there was obviously an editor who didn't mind it. The more I wrote manuscripts, the more I read and analyzed books. I became a compulsive critique and reviewer. .

Honing the craft to write my own books have transformed me into a difficult-to- please reader. Now, more than ever, I like a well-written book with a strong voice, fast pace, grabbing emotion, and unforgettable characters I can identify with or root for. But then, isn't that what editors look for in a wannabe author? So my tastes are not unusually difficult to satisfy, right?

Yet I see many successful writers do things that can pull a reader out of a story: Wrong use of a foreign language; sagging middles where the scenes stagnate; slow pace; introduction of new characters in the last chapters to help the resolution. I will comment on two of them.

1- Use of foreign words adds pizzazz when used correctly. I enjoy reading a foreign word here and there because it enhances a character's voice or conveys the right mood. I often use foreign words in my own books as my heroes are always foreigners while my heroines are American.

I peppered FRENCH PERIL with French words, but then I am fluent in French, and know what I am doing. For TO LOVE A HERO, a story set in Belarus, I asked my son's Russian in- laws to write for me the Russian translation of the few words I wanted to use. In BABIES IN THE BARGAIN, my hero is Puerto Rican, I can mumble a few words of Spanish but I am certainly not able to write correctly. When I asked for help from a neighbor, she said that her Argentinean Spanish wouldn't be correct for a Puerto Rican. In Florida, I have enough Latino friends who were able to give me the correct word and spelling.
While I was reading an emotional scene from a bestselling author, I came across a sentence that sounded like Haitian Creole rather than Parisian French, and burst out laughing. Of course my hilarity took me out of the wonderful moment. Why didn't that author check her words? The same thing happened as I was reading a romantic suspense and later a historical. The French words destroyed the mood. If you are going to use foreign words, please check with someone who can give you the correct meaning and right spelling.

2- Slow pace: I recently attended a whole day workshop with Mary Buckham, a wonderful instructor, if not the best. She explained why a slow pace can kill a book. Fifty years ago, with no television or computer to distract them, women had plenty of time to read narrative with beautiful descriptions and enjoyed emotional introspections. They read Hemingway and delighted in his wonderful but lengthy descriptions.

By contrast, today's women are continuously on the go, juggling the duties of their jobs with the responsibilities of motherhood. They read whenever they can afford a minute to sit and relax, in the doctor's waiting room, on the plane and at the airport, on the treadmill,…Career women and busy mothers can't afford to waste time. They want to get to the plot and emotional development as soon as possible before rushing back to their business or children. They want to be entertained quickly in the few minutes they can spare to read your book. Don't waste their time with useless descriptions. Give them a few details that ground them in the setting and move on.

Mona Risk writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press, TO LOVE A HERO and FRENCH PERIL, and medical romance for The Wild Rose Press, BABIES IN THE BARGAIN and Rx FOR TRUST.

Rx FOR TRUST will be released on December 4, 2009. All her books are available at

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