Working on magazines for several years now, the most common complaint I hear from new writers is how short magazine articles are. Some actually complain at the word count, as if we might suddenly double it just for them. The truth is that it is much harder to write more concisely and takes skill to do so. If you don’t have a good editing service to help out, here are a few tips you can use for writing concisely. They’ll help no matter if you are working on a magazine article or dissertation.
Identify the major components of your work.
Too often people just start writing without taking stock of what direction to take. For magazine articles, this is usually not only the main body of the article but also sidebars and pull quotes. Other types of writing have similar extras. Your dissertation has footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Pay attention to details such as source materials along the way. If you focus on these things from the beginning, you will better be able to handle your task without having to go back later.
Outline your project.
Your outline is the skeleton of your writing. It holds it together and supports all the details. For a magazine, it is your title, deck, subheads, and sidebar titles. For your dissertation, subheadings are not that different from the subheads in a magazine article, just multiplied in length, number, and level of complexity.
Cut out unnecessary details.
For magazine articles you may have to cut extra illustrations beyond what is necessary to communicate your point. For any writing, there are extra idioms and phrases that become colloquial habits but are not necessary. Any illustrations that are perceived as extra will be cut first by an editor, so you might as well edit them out early in your writing process.
Limit the scope.
When you write for a magazine, you certainly can’t expect the article to be an exhaustive coverage of a topic. The same is true even for a dissertation. For dissertations, there will be extra research that is good but might be outside the scope of your current project. Knowing how to bracket writing scope and even save extras for later is a skill any writer can use.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
Establish your thesis statement and filter every detail, every argument, and every illustration through the thesis of your paper. It will help you stay on track, keeping a check and balance on the things of lesser importance. If need be, post your thesis statement somewhere prominent so that it is a visual reminder to you to write accordingly.
Focus on the audience.
What you write is largely dependent upon for whom you are writing. Don’t miss this important detail to help your illustrations and explanation hit right on target.
Watch the grammar.
Sometimes writers are too wordy because they use words that don’t really matter. Watch words that repeat and trim out the unnecessary ones. Some common problems are words like that and very. Read your work aloud and you will find extra verbiage you can cut and make your writing more concise. That’s our job here. So if you feel you do need help, consider using our editing service to give your writing that extra assist
As a start-up entrepreneur, one of the many lessons I’ve learned in business is to start marketing your product as soon as possible, even before it is ready for customers. Marketing creates demand and you should start building awareness early.
When a few of my colleagues mentioned I should write a book, I had no idea what I would write about. I just knew it would be about start-up companies because that’s what I’ve done for years and the stories always seem to fascinate people over lunch. So instead of starting with the book, I started a blog and shortly afterwards, I started article marketing.
I wrote about a lot of different aspects of start-up companies, everything from product development to humor about employee antics to advertising. I watched what attracted readers, and there seemed to be three topics that were the most appealing to them – funding, marketing, and customer engagement.
Fourteen months later, I held my first book in my hands. I also made sure I found a good book editing service to go over it very carefully.
I knew marketing and promoting my book would not be easy and quick. I reached out to all sorts of people, investigated many different types of marketing approaches, and I have tried a few different ones. You’ll find authors who swear by one or two methods, but no two authors do the same.
Virtual Book Tours
These are online book promoters. They use their network of contacts to get you placement in blogs, in online magazines, and on blog talk radio shows. They may even do Facebook advertising and press releases too. Some are specific to different geographic locations across the globe. I engaged several of these services and I found each one to be quite good. Each one has their own set of contacts. You can exhaust their contacts within a couple of months and so I needed to use more than one. These services suit my personal schedule as they do all the leg work, and I just need to be available or provide the content.
Traditional Public Relations and Publicists
This is one of the more expensive options and many of these firms have gone to a la carte service model, so some part of their services is affordable. The trick is going to the right firm, one that deals in your subject matter. These firms have contacts into the mainstream media from news organizations to television to radio to magazine. In six months, my firm secured more than 25 placements and they focus on media engagements with large audiences.
I hired a guest blogging consultant, who recommended doing four guest posts per week. In his experience, this really builds an audience like nothing else. He recommended researching the blogoshere to find the appropriate blogs, spending 2 to 4 hours getting to know each blog and its audience, and then proposing a guest post. Finally, he suggested spending 8 to 10 hours writing each guest post. It didn’t take more than a minute to figure out that this would consume more than 40 hours per week of my time, and it just didn’t fit into my personal schedule.
Next I met a highly successful Internet guru, who swore article marketing works to build an audience. This is how she built an audience of millions. I was already doing some articles, but not with structured intent. Steve Shaw, the founder of SubmitYourArticle, said it takes 6 months before you can see noticeable results from article marketing and recommends at least 8 articles per month for each article website that you use.
Email and Internet Marketing Campaigns
One of the techniques many authors swear by is joint venture marketing campaigns. The trick bestselling authors use is to concentrate all the promotion is a short time period such a one day and to build a group of authors that all cross-promote to each other’s fans. In brief, you contact bloggers, social influencers, website owners, newsletters providers, bestselling authors, and anyone with a substantial online presence and ask them to promote your book to their audience. These are your joint partners. They suggest gobbling together an email list of at least 500,000 people and a million person list is preferable. I tried this for about six weeks before I gave up, it was consuming all my time. I know authors who have done this method and it took them months to organize all the necessary joint partners. You can hire services to do this on your behalf, but as I found out, these services are specific to a particular genre and reader demographics.
Book Reviews and Book Contests
I have reached out to podcasters and other authors with complimentary books to review my book. I search Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu for possible authors to contact. iTunes is a great place to find podcast candidates. I have also paid for sponsored book reviews and entered independent book contests. I got the most traction from those that I contacted and secured their help for free. One day I may win one of those book contests, but the winners (at least in my non-fiction business category) tend to be serial authors from the smaller publishing houses.
The Internet is full of advice about authors building social platforms. This includes a website, a blog, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, Twitter and LinkedIn. There are services that will offer to build this platform for an author, but that’s the mechanics. The real work is in generating the content, interacting with the audience, and building your fan base – and I have not seen a service yet that will do this part. You may ask yourself why building a fan base is important. What I’ve learned is the media will check you out online before committing to having you appear in their publication or on their show. Even joint partners will search for you online.
For Facebook, I set aside a small monthly budget to advertise my fan page. On LinkedIn, I share links to my blog posts in groups that are related to me topic. This brings readers back to my website. For Twitter, I use the free version of socialoomph to queue up tips that I tweet to my followers. I also send out links to my blog posts to send readers back to my website.
My advice to authors is not to take on more than two marketing services or efforts at a time. I find I can’t handle too many requests. I may have to spend 20 to 60 hours setting up of a new marketing service. One week I had to write 15 guest posts and articles, and everyone wanted unique and different topics.
The lead time to just get into the line-up for many of these marketing services can be four months. The shortest lead time I’ve experienced was 8 weeks.
There are consultants and services for just about everything for authors. You need to pick and choose what you want to do and how much you want to spend. I’ve been quoted fees from $500 to $50,000. There are service firms who arrange for speaking engagements, virtual conference events, Facebook parties, and just about everything imaginable.
For me, it is a matter of how much time I can spend promoting my book. Yes, you can do-it-yourself, and on my own I’ve managed to land articles in such publications as Entrepreneur magazine. But my time is limited and I need others to help me promote my book.
About the Author
Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. Cynthia writes the popular Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog and has written the book, ““Startup From The Ground Up - Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs, How to Go from an Idea to New Business”.
#1 Make a Fabulous Claim
You can’t write about the whole world in 1000 words, which is about the right length for a crisp essay or blog. So focus in on a fantastic thesis. Make a really strong statement, such as this: “President Obama is the worst (or best) President in history.” Or this: “The U.S. is still (or no longer) the greatest country in the world.” Get the gist? Why bother to write if you don’t stake a strong position? Your powerful claim will announce to the world that you’re a player in the debate, grabbing everyone’s attention from the get go. A force to be reckoned with.
#2 Gather Your Evidence
Think like a judge or lawyer: you’ve got no case without evidence, aka facts. So inventory your facts. Go through the somewhat painful process of listing every single point you can come up with that supports your thesis. If you have no facts at all to support your thesis, not only will your argument be weak, you may not have an argument at all.
#3 Assume Your Audience Disagrees With You
Most people are jaded and skeptical—probably due to having been exposed to so many lies and liars in their lifetime. As a result, they often refuse to believe even concrete, supported, absolute facts that in some way dispute or are at odds with their own beliefs.
#4 Face the Facts: It’s a War Between Knowledge & Ignorance
Merely presenting what you know to be facts—no matter how solid they are and how much support you offer for them—will not convince an audience that’ been brainwashed, indoctrinated, fooled, misled, or otherwise convinced that their views are, themselves, facts—even though you know in your heart and mind you’re right and they’re wrong. I’m regularly confronted by people whose views are completely unsubstantiated and utterly disproven by the facts of reality, and yet they cling to those false beliefs, staunchly denying the absolute facts I present to them. It’s partly sheer ignorance, partly stubbornness, partly embarrassment at being proven wrong, and partly a “me against you” attitude. You know what I’m talking about. It’s happened to us all.
#5 Now Turn the Guns on Yourself: What Do You Know?
Now that we’ve put the audience in their place, so to speak, let’s put ourselves in our place. We, the writers, don’t know that much either. It’s important not to be seduced by hubris, or pride in our knowledge or positions. If you think you know it all, you’ll write an essay or blog that exposes your arrogant, absolutist point of view. And you’ll fail to construct a sound argument. And fail to persuade your audience.
#6 Perform Some Self-Analysis
So analyze your opinions. Tear apart your thesis. Rip into yourself as if you’re the opposition. Why do you believe your thesis is correct? Have you considered the opposite thesis? Why do you have your ideas and opinions? Where did they come from? Do you believe them simply because they’re yours and you’re comfortable with them? Is there a socio-economic or otherwise vested interest in arguing your thesis? Really probe your own underlying assumptions, beliefs, and values. Examine your reasoning. Look for flaws in your own logic and gaps in your evidence.
#7 Improve Your Knowledge Through Research
Open up your mind to the full spectrum of viewpoints on the subject. Read everything you can find. Try to get outside your own paradigm and evaluate the various positions as objectively as possible. Play the devil’s advocate. Don’t become complacent or self-satisfied. Really know not just what you’re talking about, but why.
#8 Get Rhetorical: Logos, Ethos, Pathos
Construct your argument like the Greeks did 2500 years ago—with logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos = being logical in supporting your thesis clearly and directly. Ethos = being ethical: honest and authoritative. Establish your credibility by being fair to the opposition. Build bridges to the audience by stressing shared values. Be measured in tone and don’t exaggerate. Pathos = the emotional element. Put a human face on the issue. Give the audience a reason for caring. Let them know what’s in it for them.
#9 Get Organized
Lead strong: state your thesis in the first paragraph. Then give the audience whatever necessary background information that they need to understand the subject. Follow that up with your case, your evidence, either starting with the most compelling or ending with the most compelling. Make an outline and decide how best to build your case before writing. However, don’t become so rigid that you can’t allow your writing to flow naturally. The organic approach is best: allow your points to grow out of each other naturally, as you write. You will only discover that natural order by and during writing.
#10 Note and Refute Opposing Views
Strategically, it’s a sign of strength to mention and quickly rebut the opposition’s key points. Decide what aspects of the counterargument to simply ignore, which ones to summarize and refute by showing their weaknesses, and which ones, if any, to concede as being valid, perhaps suggesting compromise and reconciliation. At all times, follow the principle of charity: be fair and honest about the opposition. The best place for this refutation of opposing points is in the second paragraph—before you launch into your case—or the second to last paragraph, before you give your concluding summation.
#11 Your Conclusion Should Conclude
In your conclusion, you should reach a conclusion, not merely a summary of what you’ve already said. You could, perhaps, play your ace in the hole in your last paragraph. Or you might explain why this is such an important issue, by noting its broader implications and possible consequences. Perhaps you could relate it to other or larger issues, suggesting the implications for humanity or the future of civilization. Be dramatic, but not melodramatic: always ground your statements in facts and reality.
#12 Hire a Good Academic Editor
Don’t hesitate to seek the help of a good editing service. Whether you need a dissertation editor, a thesis editor, or a book editor, an editing service like www.edit911.com stands ready to help.
It is plagiarism when you take something out of a book and use it as your own. If you take it out of several books then it is research. — Ralph Foss quoting Wilson Mizner
One moon shows in every pool, in every pool the one moon. – Zen Proverb
As a concept, plagiarism is easy to grasp: you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. In practice, plagiarism can be a slippery little sucker, eeling away to hide amongst quotations, fair use, common knowledge, and figures of speech.
Even worse, there is a distinct difference between academic plagiarism and the kind that happens off-campus.
Fortunately, the complexities of plagiarism can be navigated with confidence as long as we remember that the crime is a combination of theft and fraud. The value of the stolen object comes from the originality of its idea and/or the quality of its prose. The level of fraud depends on what is extorted from the victim.
In school, plagiarism occurs when the student tries to defraud the teacher of a grade by convincing the teacher they created something actually written by someone else. It does not matter if the actual author – such as a friend or a Website – agrees to this fraud. That only makes them an accomplice.
Professional plagiarism, however, requires that the original author does not give permission for the use of their work. For instance, an unknown song writer gets their tune stolen by a popular band. Even if the ditty turns out to be a dud, the song writer is the victim of theft, regardless of whether the song were copyrighted.
However, people who take from the author with permission are not plagiarists. Speech writers, ghost writers, and the like may give or sell their work if they want to. While the public may feel defrauded when they learn some actor’s “autobiography” was actually written by someone else, well, cry me a river.
But, you may ask, what about when the original author is dead? The moral answer is that passing off any dead guy’s work as your own is definitely plagiarism. The real answer is to get a lawyer to check if the estate holds a copyright.
So by understanding just what plagiarism is, we can tell when and how plagiarism occurs.
John gets an assignment in his history class to write a five-page paper on Thomas
Edison. He goes to Wikipedia and copies and pastes five pages of stuff. The only thing he actually writes is his name. Then he puts the whole paper inside quotation marks and lists Wikipedia on his Works Cited page.
Has plagiarism occurred?
No. John indicated exactly what he took and where he got it from. He still gets an F for being a lazy twit, but he hasn’t violated the honor code.
Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water. Stressing to meet her deadline, she goes into the paper’s “morgue” and finds an article written twenty years ago by some guy. She takes a few lines about the responsibilities of the government to keep the public safe.
Has plagiarism occurred?
Yes. She’s stolen from the author and defrauded the newspaper.
Scenario 2 -a:
Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water. Stressing to meet her deadline, she worries her last paragraph is really dull and livens up her prose with a famous but unaccredited phrase from Shakespeare: “to thine own self be true.”
Has plagiarism occurred?
No. Jane assumes that the reader will recognize the quote and that no one will think it’s her original phrase. The credit to Shakespeare is left out because she deems it unnecessary, not because she’s being deceptive.
Jose get an assignment in his third grade class to give a presentation on choo-choo trains. He goes home and asks his parents about it, then he watches a couple of shows on TV about trains. His friend has a father who works on trains, and he shows him some drawings of the inside of a locomotive. Jose eventually draws his own picture of a train and shows it to the class while telling them about the things he’s learned. He gives no credit to anyone but himself.
Has plagiarism occurred?
No. Though the information was new to Jose, he gathered up common knowledge and presented it in his own words. No one in the class thinks he’s pretending he invented trains or is the first person to talk about them.
Josie is writing a dissertation on President Bill Clinton. She’s fortunate enough to get a personal interview with him. It lasts for hours. She puts sections of the interview in her book, taking care to attribute them all correctly. She particularly likes his discussion of regulation and its effects on the economy. Worried that the dissertation is getting “quote heavy,” she takes several of his sentences explaining the basics, substitutes a few words, and leaves off the quotation marks.
Has plagiarism occurred?
Yes. Changing a few words still makes Clinton the co-author of the sentences, and removing the quotation marks means the reader will assume the passages are wholly original to her.
You are writing a seven-page research paper on the history of origami. You want to include information you found on the specific qualities of good origami paper. While this information is new to you, it may well be common knowledge in Japan. You decide to put in the information without citing a source.
Has plagiarism occurred?
I’d say no, but other teachers might say yes. Why take a chance? When you’re unsure, ask your teacher. Consult with a dissertation editor. Ask your dissertation editing service to run a report and/or flag any suspicious passages. If you’re finishing the paper the night before and can’t ask, cite your source. Nobody ever got sent to the principal for being too careful with their quotes.
A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. – John K. Hutchens
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. – Enrique Jardiel Poncela
One of the greatest dangers most new fiction writers face is that they have seen many more movies and TV shows than they have read novels.
The film audience looks through the camera, and its lens can look wherever it wants from any perspective it wants.
Take the case of a basic conversation at an Italian restaurant: the camera shoots over the man’s one shoulder, then the woman’s, then the man’s, close-up on her face, then over at the guy skulking by the pay phone, then back to the man, then at the bill, then at both people at the table in a wide shot that turns out to be from the perspective of the guy at the phones, then in his pocket where…there’s a gun! End of scene.
Film gets away with split-second changes in perspective for many reasons, but most especially because the audience doesn’t have to do the work to imagine the visual or auditory details of the story. They don’t even have to think, “Two people are talking at Italian restaurant.” The actors, score writer, prop master, lighting guys, grips, make-up and hair artists, cinematographer, set designer, wardrobe mistress, and caterers do that.
The novelist has only themselves and the words on the page. The relationship they form with the reader is much closer, much more intimate without cast or crew. The author must provide the reader with what they need to participate in the story, to be “shown,” not “told.” And absolutely essential to this intimacy is that the reader be able to listen to the narrator without distraction or disruption.
Of course, we are talking about a mainstream writer who wants to get published. Perhaps you’ll be self-publishing your book. The editors at a self-publishing company, if it’s reputable, will want to be sure that your book is well-written. If you’re Toni Morrison, Joshua Cohen, or the latest reincarnation of Jack Kerouac, you can make your narrator do whatever you want. How do they do that?
There are four major concerns:
1. Changes in Perspective
A writer’s arsenal:
- First person (I, me, us, we)
- Second person (you, your)
- Third person (he, she, they, them, it)
- Third person limited (the narrator is limited by following along a character’s perspective, or chronological order, or a specific place, or some other boundary)
- Third person omniscient (the narrator knows everything everywhere all the time)
Perspective is the primary difficulty of novel writers and their narrator, because the fictional narrator cannot leap about from character to character, peering over one shoulder then the next, without causing confusion. While the audience of a movie peers consistently through the eyes of the camera, the reader of fiction can be made to look through the eyes of multiple characters, including the character of the narrator.
Let’s try that scene at the restaurant as though it were in a novel:
John looked at Helen, concluding that she looked tired. It had been so long since he had been a date that he wasn’t sure if asking after her health would be an insult.
“I like this place,” he told her. “I’m almost a regular.”
Helen wondered if that were supposed to impress her. If John really wanted to win a woman over, he might try to visit the gym from time to time. She picked up the menu, tilting it up to block her eyes so she could gaze critically at his bald spot.
“Anything on the menu you want to recommend?” she asked, looking over the prices.
John worried about what Helen might like, scanning over the prices. While he ate here often, it was usually for one. Thank goodness they had agreed right away to go Dutch.
“I like the soup,” he said.
Helen’s face squinted just slightly, or perhaps flinched. John spotted a small scar on her nose. It made him think of small pox.
The guy hadn’t even picked a good table for his date, Baker thought as he scanned the lobby of the low-end Italian restaurant, making sure he was always the closest one to the pay phone. They were too close to the kitchen.
“I think I’ll have the minestrone,” John announced. Helen seemed to suppress a sigh.
Baker looked over the other diners. What a boring bunch, he decided. When was the damn phone going to ring?
Dinner ended, the waiter set a single bill on the table. Both John and Helen looked up in annoyance. They had specifically asked for separate checks.
What a cheap-o, Baker thought. The guy wasn’t even treating.
Inside Baker’s pocket was a Walther PPK. James Bond’s gun.
Whew, what a mess.
The reader can follow along if they try, but there is nothing to be gained from making them work so hard. The reader can’t even tell who the main character is supposed to be. There are many hints about the characters’ true selves, but what reader could keep them all straight as the novel progresses, leaping about from person to person?
Note that by writing from a character’s perspective and then shifting to third person omniscient, the astute reader will wonder just who, exactly, knows there’s a gun in Baker’s pocket and that it’s James Bond’s gun. Why would some all-seeing narrator make a Bond reference? Is this, in fact, Baker’s perspective we’re getting? Or maybe the gun’s?
Consider the basics of setting the scene while using multiple perspectives. How can the story “paint the picture” to provide a context when the meaning of the words change? To John, the restaurant is a familiar and comforting place, it seems to make no impression on Helen at all, and Baker thinks it’s low-rent. While that’s interesting, how can the reader develop an emotional connection? How can they fill in the blanks and see the restaurant for themselves?
Changing the narrator’s perspective means you’re swapping out a new speaker. Say you start with the perspective of an artist, “who finds the red sunset diluted with the soul of the world.” Then you start talking through an electrical engineer. The words “red” and “diluted” will no longer hold the same meaning. What is the reader to think?
Be kind to your poor reader, who simply wants to settle into the story and have a good time. Pick a perspective and stick with it. Let the words come from a single voice, or, if you must shift perspective, do it plainly and with obvious purpose.
A good exercise is to write at least one story of some length in the first person and be 100% honest about it. This is, after all, the way we actually live our lives. If we’re John sitting at that table, we may notice that Helen is trying not to be obvious about staring at our bald spot. If we’re Helen, we may learn she’s so critical of John’s appearance because it looks nothing like the photo he emailed her.
But if we are John and Helen and Baker and James Bond’s gun all at once, we’re probably going to put the book down and wonder how it got published.
2. Inappropriate Knowledge or Lack of Knowledge
This one is similar to perspective, but has its own concerns. It’s also something people usually associate with character. If your lead is, say, Trickster McGee, a steamboat captain of the 19th century who is not magical, then he should know how steamboats work but have no clue what a “computer” is.
But narrators are characters too. If the narrator is ever once limited in their perspective, then they must continue to be limited in that fashion unless they make a formal change in perspective from one character or location or time to another. Take the example:
Ace looked up at the sky, perhaps wondering if he could get right back into his plane. The sun was hot on his face, and the runway was clear and golden as a sunbeam. He thought he’d better get back into the cockpit before someone doubted his reputation.
There is no reason for the narrator to wonder what Ace is thinking one minute then know what Ace is thinking the next. Either the narrator can tell what Ace is thinking or the narrator doesn’t. Be your own editor and pick one.
3. Changes in Voice
A writer’s arsenal:
- Tone: primarily described as an emotion: happy, sad, mean, angry, delirious, rapturous, serious, conversational, casual, formal
- Voice: primarily described as a person: news anchor, scientist, boss, mother, child
The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming – an angry concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell. But she didn’t mind the heat or the littered midway called Times Square. She thought New York was the most exciting city in the world. — Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls
Nostalgic older man:
I scooted up farther and rested my worn Keds on the hump that ran through the middle of our old Pinto station wagon. I was skinny and tall for my age, which made my knees curl up toward my chest. Mom said I was safer in the backseat, but deep down I knew that it wasn’t really about safety, it was about the radio. I was constantly playing with it, changing the dial from her boring Perry Como station to something that played real music. – Glenn Beck, The Christmas Sweater
Outside it was getting dark. The streetlight came on outside the window. The two men at the counter read the menu. From the other end of the counter Nick Adams watched them. He had been talking to George when they came in. – Ernest Hemingway, “The Killers”
This isn’t an article on finding your voice. I’ll have to tackle that later. But once you have a voice, whatever it is, you need to stick to it.
If you’re writing, as most writers do, in a detached third-person limited perspective that does not comment on the action, you will startle the reader out of the story if you suddenly change your voice.
Hannah was really tired of the coffee at McDonald’s, but she saw no reason to shell out $5 for something equally horrid at Starbucks. The new place on Edison sounded halfway decent, and it wasn’t much of a walk out of her way to work.
Standing at the street corner and waiting for the light to get a move on and change, she idly watched a red car make an illegal U-turn. Man, pushing the start button on that monster would set off the distinctive roar of a pure thoroughbred race car, all muscle and no mercy.
She considered buying a bagel or something. The pastry cart that came around at work was so expensive.
The break in voice is actually good, if we’re looking to startle the reader and if there’s a payoff to being startled, such as finding out that Hannah is a car nut.
If there is no reason for the break in voice other than that the author likes cars, then it is again time to be your own editor. The sentence about “the distinctive roar of a pure thoroughbred” has got to go.
If your narrator has taken the perspective of a child, don’t use big words. If the narrator is supposed to be well-educated, use big words, but make sure they mean what you think they mean and check your grammar.
Your narrator is the one speaking to your reader and it is their voice they hear. If the voice irritates or confuses them, they’ll stop reading.
4. Breaking the Fourth Wall
The “Fourth Wall” is a theatrical term made popular by Denis Diderot. The stage usually provides two wings, a back wall, and the front, which looks out over the audience. Traditional theatre has the actors pretend that the audience isn’t there, that there exists a fourth, invisible wall between the action and the rest of the theatre.
Characters have been breaking that wall since theatre was invented. Shakespearean characters make asides to the audience to reveal what they’re thinking. Characters in political plays turn away from their scenes to make social commentary. And so on.
The term is used in film when a character directly addresses the camera and the audience beyond it (Ferris Beuller, Wayne Campbell).
In novels, an author breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the reader with warnings, commentary on the action, jokes, and other “asides.” As with other media, narrators can break this wall if they choose, but they must do it consciously and consistently.
Narrators break the fourth wall when they throw in judgments that don’t belong to characters, such as “fortunately” or “unhappily.” They break it when they point out that it’s a shame a character doesn’t know something.
Spot the break in the fourth wall below:
Tex walked up to his horse, the best damn animal a man could have. Lil Sal would eat from his hand and kick a stranger in the head. They’d survived more than one suddenly blizzard crossing the Rockies. And the sweetheart still had a soft mouth, meaning she only needed light guidance on the reigns. He’d sell his gun before he’d so much as rent Lil Sal to a sheriff’s wife.
Just who is saying “meaning she only needed light guidance on the reigns”? The narrator was speaking as Tex, and then breaks the fourth wall to explain what he has decided the reader can’t figure out for themselves. As an editor, I’d take the phrase out.
A narrator breaking the fourth wall on purpose can be fun, as long as the author never forgets how intrusive this is between the story and the audience. Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the classic story Andy Griffith used to tell in the guise of a clueless country bumpkin at a football game.
And what I seen was this whole raft of people a-sittin’ on these two banks and a-lookin’ at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture.
Somebody had took and drawed white lines all over it and drove posts in it, and I don’t know what all, and I looked down there and I seen five or six convicts a running up and down and a-blowing whistles…
I seen that the men had got in two little bitty bunches down there real close together, and they voted. They elected one man apiece, and them two men come out in the middle of that cow pasture and shook hands like they hadn’t seen each other in a long time…
I don’t know, friends, to this day, what it was that they was a doin’ down there, but I have studied about it. I think it was that it’s some kind of a contest where they see which bunchful of them men can take that pumpkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without gettin’ knocked down or steppin’ in somethin’.
This is wonderful, funny stuff, but you had better not want the audience to care about that football game. Basically, when you make your narrator this intrusive, the narrator isn’t just the main character, but the only character.
Break the fourth wall only if you must, and only with the greatest of care.
Following these basic guidelines for narrating fiction should keep your reader in a comfortable and imaginative space. Once there, they can concentrate on your story in the right way, getting to know your characters, envisioning your scenery, figuring out your symbolism, and enjoying themselves.
Give the reader an enjoyable experience, and they’ll always come back for more. If you’re not positively sure that your narration works, ask a good book editor or your self-publishing company to evaluate your book prior to self-publishing it.