Guest Post: Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have? by Ryan Lanz

Please welcome back author and blogger Ryan Lanz! This time, Ryan will be discussing the differences between talent and skill, and which you need to make it in the writing world. 

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

What does each really mean?

This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

Which is better?

Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


The combination of the two

If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?

The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

Conclusion

If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

Original post here.


Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Guest Post: The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags by Ryan Lanz

Today, I’m pleased to host author and blogger extraordinaire Ryan Lanz. His article is packed with tips on how to correctly use dialogue tags. As someone who struggled with this as a beginning writer, trust me when I say: this is great stuff, and I wish he had written this post years ago! Over to Ryan …


Writers use dialogue tags constantly. In fact, we use them so often that readers all but gloss over them. They should be invisible. However, there are ways to misuse them and make them stand out.

In an effort to avoid that, let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags. Toward the end of “Tag travesties” is something I sorely wish someone had told me before I started writing.

Why do we use dialogue tags?

The simple answer is that we use them to indicate who’s speaking. In visual media, such as movies or television, the viewer can easily tell who’s talking by lip movement and camera angles. When reading a book, obviously that’s not an option.

Tag travesties

There are certainly ways to misuse dialogue tags. When I was a new writer, I felt compelled to overwrite. I’m sure every new writer goes through a version of this. I observed how successful writers used simple tags like “said/asked” and thought to myself, that’s boring. I’m going to be an awesome writer by making them more interesting. You don’t have to admit it aloud, writers, but we all know that most of us have. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • “We can’t cross this river,” Alanna exclaimed repugnantly.
  • John crossed the room and shouted disgustedly, “I’ll never take you with me.”
  • “This has been the worst day ever,” Susie cried angrily.

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, let’s up the dosage with a paragraph:

Hank crossed the room and sat down. “We should have never waited this long for a table,” he seethed, leaning over to glare at her. 

“If you wanted a better spot, you should have called ahead for a reservation,” Trudy returned pointedly.

“Well, perhaps if you didn’t take so long to get ready, I could have,” he countered dryly.

Can you imagine reading an entire book like that? *shiver*

So why do new writers feel the urge to be that . . . creative with their dialogue tags? Back in the beginning, I thought the typical tags of “said/asked” were too boring and dull. It didn’t take me long to realize that dull (in this context) is the point.

Image your words as a window pane of glass, and the story is behind it. Your words are merely the lens that your story is seen through. The thicker the words, the cloudier the glass gets. If you use huge words, purple prose, or crazy dialogue tags, then all you’re doing is fogging up the glass through which your reader is trying to view your story. The goal is to draw as little attention to your actual words as possible; therefore, you keep the glass as clear as possible, so that the reader focuses on the story. Using tags like “said/asked” are so clear, they’re virtually invisible.

Now, does that mean that you can’t use anything else? Of course not. Let’s look further.

Alternate dialogue tags

Some authors say to never use anything other than “said/asked,” while others say to heck with the rules and use whatever you want. Some genres (such as romance) are more forgiving about using alternate dialogue tags. I take a more pragmatic approach to it. I sometimes use lines like:

“I’m glad we got out of there,” she breathed.

The very important question is how often. I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch. Imagine a cake mix with a liter of vanilla flavoring, rather than the normal tablespoon. The more often you use anything other than “said/asked,” the stronger the flavor. If it’s too powerful, it’ll tug the reader away from the story and spotlights those words. In a full length book of around 85,000 words, I personally use alternate dialogue tags only around a few dozen times total.

By saving them, the pleasant side effect is that when I do use them, they pack more of an emotional punch.


Related: How to Write Natural Dialogue


Action beats

I have a love affair with action beats. Used effectively, they can be another great way to announce who’s talking, yet at the same time add some movement or blocking to a scene. For example:

Looking down, Katie ran a finger around the edge of the mug. “We need to talk.”

That added some nice flavor to the scene, and you know who spoke. The only caveat is to be careful of not using too many action beats, as it does slow down the pacing a tiny bit. If you’re writing a bantering sequence, for example, you wouldn’t want to use a lot of action beats so as to keep the pacing quick.

Dos and don’ts

Sometimes, action beats and dialogue tags have misused punctuation. I’ll give some examples.

  • “Please don’t touch that.” She said, blocking the display. (Incorrect)
  • “Let’s head to the beach,” he said as he grabbed a towel. (Correct)
  • Sam motioned for everyone to come closer, “Take a look at this.” (Incorrect)
  • Debbie handed over the magnifying glass. “Do you see the mossy film on the top?” (Correct)

Conclusion

Like many things in a story/novel, it’s all about balance. Try alternating actions beats, dialogue tags, and even no tags at all when it’s clear who’s speaking. By changing it up, it’ll make it so that no one method is obvious.


About Ryan

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Image courtesy of Onnola via Flickr, Creative Commons.

Guest Post: The Best Information for New Authors by Allison Conley and Annette Abernathy

Welcome back to this week’s special guest series by professional beta readers Annette Abernathy and Allison Conley of BetaWitches.com. They’re offering writing tricks and providing advice on how to sell your finished book. In the last post, the beta readers talk about their top tips for new authors.

Content Note: One of the tips shared is about writing intimate scenes between adults, so best not to read at work or around the children!

beta witches guest post

Allison Conley and Annette Abernathy share some of the most blatant, consistent problems their clients tend to have.

Annette: The story begins with the first sentence. That means the first sentence has to grab the reader. People have short attention spans these days, so give them that powerful, compelling reason to invest in your story.

Allison: The most fundamental part to writing a book is the characters! No matter who they are or what they do the reader has to empathize with them. A bad plot filled with holes can be forgiven with great characters. Characters are the glue that holds the book together.

Annette: Each action of the character’s story has to build towards character growth. Don’t have a character, especially the MC, be a vegan all through the book and then she suddenly eats meat just to try it on page 100. There has to be a compelling reason why a character does anything.

Allison: This is so important! Make sure that the character has the same personality all through the story. It doesn’t make sense to have a quiet person be an introvert halfway through the book. That makes the character come across as bipolar and shows that the writer has a terrible command of the story. How is the reader going to root for the character if they are all over the place?

Allison: Also, remember that this is a book, a medium that highlights the most exciting parts of your characters. It’s not a documentary of someone’s life. Even nonfiction books don’t tell everything that’s not essential to the characters development or plot. Use the benefits of the medium to your advantage when writing your book.

Annette: Good writing can take character inconsistencies and make them a major plot point, though. Your MC may have to eat meat on page 100 or starve. That scene could add pivotal character insight that furthers the plot and the readers renewed interest in the book.

Annette: Speaking of plot points one of the most exciting plot developments in a book is a sex scene. I’ve learned from my readers that just having sex doesn’t mean a person can write a sex scene well. I can’t go into this subject too deep here, but the basics to a sex scene are:

1. Give the couple chemistry from the start.

2. Know audience expectations. I you’re writing a traditional romance don’t have the man stalk or rape the woman and have her thinks it’s passion. That’s not sexy. It’s very sick. Also write a man that a real woman would be attracted to.

3. Write the scene like real sex. I once read an intimate scene that lasted ten pages because the characters had to discuss everything before it happened, although nothing actually happened. Real sex is breathy and in the moment and no one is going to stop for a play by play! Women release oxytocin in their brains that make them want to be close to the man more during an orgasm. Men release vasopressin that makes them feel more responsible for the woman during orgasm. Know what the body does during sex and use that to make the act more real and passionate. It takes skill to make sex boring. The word sex alone makes parts of the brain react, but there seems to be a lot of writers with this skill.

Allison: When you write really intense scenes make sure there is that perfect balance of detail (invoke the senses with mood and visualization) and succinct prose to move the action along. Make it as if the action is happening in real life for the reader.

Annette: Yes! Please take that last point to heart. If you can make a reader see the story and characters while they are reading they will continue to read your book. After they finish that book they’ll yearn for more. Good TV does this, and we are living in a time where mediums are blending. The most popular TV shows have movie qualities (high caliber writing, excellent acting, stunning visuals, and real soundtracks). Movies are now series. Books are being made into movies and series more and more each year. Write your story so it can be a movie series, a TV show, and a book series all in one.

Allison: Writing a book that can stand alone is the best way to go about what Annette said. If you have a detailed, compelling novel it’ll be easier to turn it into other mediums. Think about this from the beginning of your writing process. People always say that the book is better.

Annette: Great point. A book is like a website while movies and TV series are social media. People always want the book (and the website) to be the home base of the story. So make sure that your book is a welcoming home for the reader. That means really putting the work into making it great.

We know that this is a lot of information and probably feels like an info dump, but you can put them into practice on your work in progress bit by bit and once you intuitively get this you’ll be farther ahead than the majority of writers.

Reach out to Alison and Annette at their spellbinding home https://www.betawitches.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BetaWitches.


About Allison

Allison Conley has a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a minor in Sociology. She finished the Seeding Entrepreneurs Across the Midsouth (S.E.A.M) program in 2016 for her work as an entrepreneur and artist in the greater Memphis Tennessee Area.

About Annette

Annette Abernathy has a B.A. in psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies, and a professional certificate in photography with a background in visual storytelling.

Guest Post: How to Sell Books by Allison Conley

Welcome back to this week’s special guest series by professional beta readers Annette Abernathy and Allison Conley of BetaWitches.com. They’re offering writing tricks, providing advice on how to sell your finished book, and sharing their must-know items for new authors. Here are Allison’s book marketing tips!

beta witches guest post

Hello indie authors, this is your customer speaking. As an avid reader, beta tester, communications writer and copyeditor, I have literally read some of the best books out there and some of the worst books that I wish never made it out there. Every genre has been equal opportunity. I will buy your book as long as you tell me a good story period. However, you may have to work a little bit harder to reach the other bookworms who have not necessarily been in your shoes. Here are some tips for turning those black and white pages into green and white paper!

Sales equal sales. Through my journey as a sales and marketing manager I have figured out through practical application that discounted price points are the key. This can make or break your sales tremendously. When you are coming up with the price points for your book, make sure you incorporate some budgets for deep discount sales at he very beginning. Every customer loves to feel like they are getting something good for cheap. Many times me and my cohorts have bought a book online or in the bookstores because of the “today only .99” or the shiny neon starburst with 20% off. As a new and or independent author, you may not be able to afford to do this with out giving your product away and that is not the goal here. So set some good price point in the beginning and have some sales to draw attention to your books and get your customers buying.

Have a strong web presence for your books/brand. We live in an age where social media is king, queen and the entire royal court, so you must have a web site for your book at a minimum. If you have social media for your book, that equals more sales. Every digital community is a direct place to meet customers. If you put you product out there, someone will buy it. Use the site to give snippets of the book and where you will be promoting your book even if it is at the local library. (F.Y.I. most libraries have rooms you can reserve for such said occasions.)

This is a good place to segway into my next point. Use clever marketing tools. And yes, social media is one of them. Go live on Facebook about your new book and tell us that you just found an antique chest just like the one your heroine keeps her weapons in at a yard sale or that you have a Christmas cookie recopies inspired the frosty villain in your book and you will show us how to make it on You Tube. You don’t have to tell us your book verbatim but give us just enough to keep your book on our minds and keep it out there.

Make sure you make it easy for customers to pay you. Provide links to your website or other places where people can directly purchase your book.

Make sure you elevator story is on point. Yes this is your summary. You should be able to articulate this as fluently in person as it is on your cover or in the Amazon summary. As a communications specialist, I know the importance of getting your point across effectively and quickly. You only have mere seconds to get your reader/customers attention so you should be able to do this on paper and in person. Test it out on your family and friends who will not blow smoke up your behind and them hit the road with your act. Try it out in bookstores and literary conventions and any place you feel like you can get your point across. If you can grab you customers’ attention quickly you can turn it into a sale.

With these tips and trick you should be able to make some progress selling your books.


About Allison

Allison Conley has a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a minor in Sociology. She finished the Seeding Entrepreneurs Across the Midsouth (S.E.A.M) program in 2016 for her work as an entrepreneur and artist in the greater Memphis Tennessee Area.

Genres Allison Beta Reads: Fantasy, Young Adult, Regency Romance, Romance, Erotica, New Adult, Contemporary, Christian Fiction, Historical, Historical Romance, Steampunk, Science Fiction, Thrillers/Mysteries, Horror

Guest Post: Six Things to Know About Writing a Book by Annette Abernathy

This week, I’m excited to bring you a series of three posts by professional beta readers Annette Abernathy and Allison Conley of BetaWitches.com. They’ll be offering writing tips, providing advice on how to sell your finished book, and sharing their must-know items for new authors. Annette is up first!

beta witches guest post

I’m a writer and a beta reader, so I understand both sides of the process. I’ve run my blog and have been writing novels and screenplays for years, but it was the editing process that really showed me the art of writing and storytelling.

I’d used critique partners, but they hadn’t stopped the 200 rejections. Eventually, I buckled down and hired an editor. With each edit I rewrote my book. That was a grueling process, but my editor opened my eyes to the possibilities of my characters. With each draft I learned more about myself and the world I’d built.

Once the edits were finished I began sending the book out to beta readers. As a beta reader I find that many don’t understand the difference between editors and beta readers. An editor helps compose the story and fixes grammar. A beta reader gives an opinion on the overall feel of the story, and the two shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Indies authors may think that they can get around spending money on editing by using free betas, but it’s better that an author use a real editor to get them past that first awful draft. That first draft is always awful and any professional will attest to this. No matter how good an author is at storytelling they should not try to edit their own book.

The truth is that all this is generic information that any article on beta reading will tell you. The truth is that you, the author, will find many people who will be sweet about your story. My book began to thrive when I faced the harsh truth that the first draft was truly terrible. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned.

  1. Know the purpose of your book before you write it.
  2. Understand that rewriting, editing, and beta reading is part of the process.
  3. Know your characters and realize that the reader only knows what you tell them.
  4. Be aware that you are probably one of thousands who is writing a novel in your same genre.
  5. Look for all the clichés of your genre and avoid them in your book.
  6. Know when to take the advice of an editor or beta reader.

I’ve hurt many feelings with the first piece of advice. Sometimes people think if they love a type of story enough that they’ll write the next bestseller. It can happen, but will it happen to you? Really consider what your purpose is and who is your audience? I write love stories but not romance, so my books don’t fit with all romance readers. Due to the nature of my books I’ve had men enjoy them. I knew that I wanted to write books that deal with abuse, mental illness, racism, and socio-economic issues, so I’m more aware of each niche group of readers who are potential fans.

  1. I’m also more aware of when a book goes off topic. Most of the time the outline changes by the chapter, but knowing the end goal keeps me in line. Even if an author is the most methodical at staying with the outline they still need that clear objective.
  2. I’m dyslexic, so writing has never been easy for me, and it’s going on two years since I began the edits for my first book. I cried and vowed to give up every day, but by the second book I was a pro! I knew what I was doing, so it was mentally easier. Still I won’t publish any book until all the feedback is opinion on style rather than suggestions for making the book smoother.
  3. I knew my characters so well that each one had a back story, quirks, and favorite foods. The problem was that I didn’t know how to write them. Learning how to introduce the characters and endear them to the reader helped me learn more about myself. The process became a spiritual journey.
  4. My editor and beta readers made me aware of number four without actually saying it. They kept saying that my stories weren’t like other stories out there. This felt bad at first since romance readers expect a layout that I was not going to give them. Then I realized just how many books in each genre are similar, and those are the ones that make it to the finish line. Imagine how many will be published. As the author you are competing with published books and books that will be published. Look for ways to make your story standout so much it could become a classic or genre changer.
  5. Don’t try to recreate a popular book! Think up a new angle and become the next big name. Don’t be content to be in the shadows.
  6. For me number six is the hardest. I tend to write about topics that many aren’t familiar with, so a lot of times I’ve had to ignore the beta readers. My editor helps me tell an unusual and provocative story, and I tend to take all their advice. Sometimes the beta readers tend to want to be experts when they aren’t.

When I read for other people I always assume that the writer is the authority, unless it’s obvious they aren’t. Whether the beta is helpful or not with the story they will always let you know what type of critiques you’ll get once the story is published. So it’s helpful to have beta readers outside of your genre read your book to help you grow your craft. It feels better when men like my stories because I do write love stories.

I’ve been writing for years and I do a lot of research on the craft of writing, so I hope that some of these tips will help out other writers. We’re essentially a family.


About Annette

Annette Abernathy has a B.A. in psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies, and a professional certificate in photography with a background in visual storytelling.

Genres Annette Beta Reads: Romance, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Psychological Romance, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Suspense, Erotica, Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction, Horror, New Adult, Mysteries/Thrillers, Literary Fiction