Ready for the Padded Cell

me-at-mellonA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

 

“Hi. My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. That’s how I was introduced in the first book about yours truly. It was fun reading about my exploits. I guess when you’re in the middle of it; you don’t see what’s happening around you. But the stories in The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect do a pretty good job telling part of my life story.past-imperfect-cover-12

 

“Since the book is about pasts, mine and a few other people I bumped into along the way, it gives you a pretty good idea who I am. Anyway I thought so when I read it. But sometimes what you think you know isn’t the truth. I found that out the hard way.

 

“You see, I grew up in a Mob family in New Jersey. Nothing like having a father who is the consigliere for one of the top Mob families in the country. And my darling mother was the daughter of another Mob boss right outta Chicago. What a pedigree. My name was Johnny Cassini back then.

 

“Me and my brother were raised thinking this was the only life there was. But after a while I got tired of it. Maybe that’s because I watched a lot of old movies while waiting for protection money to be dropped off at my hotel room in those days. These were Black & White films on the movie channel. But a steady diet of Bogie, Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson opened my eyes. And it wasn’t just seeing them splattered on the pavement. Sometimes these tough men played the good guys. That’s when I started seeing a different side of things.

 

“So I fled to Miami and joined another Mob. I know that didn’t exactly remove me from the life I was starting to hate, but I was seeing it from a different perspective. I worked on a gambling ship and met a lady who changed my life. She wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot, but this gal was the wife of the Mob boss in Miami. She was steering me away from her daughter who was even more trouble. And then everything went to hell.

 

“A dealer on that gambling ship went overboard one night, literally, so I switched identities with him and then hightailed it to Los Angeles. So Johnny Cassini died and Johnny Casino was born. But the story didn’t end there. I was having a hard time shaking my life of crime and got myself into some hot water when I was working for this guy in L.A. He had me kidnap this lady. She’s the one who really changed my life.”

 

“Let me take over from there, Johnny. Hi, my name is Ginger Caulfield. I’m a private detective, too. I was on a case and ran into Johnny during his crime wave here in Los Angeles. It was an odd meeting to say the least. He kidnapped me, but I could tell the guy had something, so when the case was over I told him to look me up sometime because I might have a job for him. He did.

 

hedgebetfinalcovercropped“Johnny worked for me several years until he had enough P.I. hours under his belt to go out on his own. I hated to see him go, but I knew he worked better alone. Most of the time I do my work solo like the case at the racetrack in Hedge Bet. I should amend that statement because I got my husband, Fred, to do some work for me. His trip to Mexico to bring back a witness led to a few choice words from him, mostly unprintable. But the guy’s a natural P.I.

 

“I had been in the detective business for a while and knew good people like Johnny when I saw them. In fact I knew a few things about Johnny that he didn’t know, but I have a reason. You see my uncle is a spy. His name is Robert Mackenzie and he has had some incredible exploits around the world ever since World War II. His story, at least the parts that can be told, are in a series called The SPYGAME Trilogy documented by a writer who I got to know through the years. She’ll explain this next part.”

 

“Hello, folks. My name is Elaine Barton. My dad was involved in Colonel Mackenzie’s exploits and I got caught up in a few exciting adventures in books like The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. The trilogy covers about fifty years and follows not only Mac’s life but also my father’s Air Force career. Parts of my life got caught up in this tale, too, and I put it all in book form. Though you’ll see in the books, some of it almost didn’t get written.”

the-odd-man-cover-4-croppeddry-bones-cover-view-2-smallstar-power-cover-trial-2

 

“Thanks, Elaine. Since I knew my Uncle Mac had ways of checking on people, I had him check out Johnny Casino. I learned his real name, bookcoverpreviewcroppedor at least I thought it was his real name, until another story in the Johnny Casino Casebook series uncovered something that even Johnny didn’t know. It changed everything for him. It’s in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody. That’s when I started seeing a pattern.”

 

“Hey, Gin. Johnny here. You aren’t the only one who is starting to see a pattern. When I had a case in Las Vegas, I met one of the biggest headliners in the world, Jack Lynn. He turned up in two of my stories, but then I noticed he was also in The Santa Claus Singer about a lounge singer called Frankie Madison. He met Jack, too.”

 

“I’ve got another one for you, Johnny. One of the guys I trained after you went out on your own, Chance McCoy, has a story about him and me in the upcoming short story collection called Second Chance. Chance is a special guy. You see, he got killed on a case, but his story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot.”

 

“I can give you another one, Gin.”

 

“Lay it on us, Elaine.”

 

“I’ve heard a rumor that there is a particular elf, yes, I did say elf, who is thinking about starting his own private detective agency to help ‘the little guy.’ How does something like this happen?”

 

“Maybe we should ask the author of all our books. Hey, G.B. What goes? The ladies and I want to know.”

 

“Okay, Johnny. I’ll confess. When I started creating this fictional world I had no idea you all knew each other, but as this world grew I saw connections between all of you. First it was Johnny knowing Ginger Caulfield. Then I wondered how Gin knew so much about Johnny’s past and I realized her uncle was Mac Mackenzie. Who else would have access to all that secret stuff?

 

“As for Chance McCoy, he told me a bunch of his stories and when he needed a fellow P.I. to help him out in a case, it just happened to be Gin Caulfield.

 

“Did I say he told me’? Yes, I did. If any of you readers have ever been to an author panel, I bet half of those writers mentioned that when they write their stories, especially the dialogue, they just sit back and let their characters speak because those people really do talk to us. That doesn’t mean we are ready for the padded cell… yet.

 

“We do ‘hear’ those voices if we have created a character with a past and a personality. And by that I mean that you should try writing a biography of your main characters and even for a few of the other people who play an important part in the story.

 

“You, as the writer, need to know as much as you can about the character you are working with. If you know where he or she was born, their education or even lack there of, or maybe even their desires or hates, you will be able to craft a character with depth. And maybe, just maybe, you will discover something about a character that they didn’t know. That’s what happened when I found out something about Johnny that shocked him and me.

 

“I can’t explain it, but by knowing who my characters are, I hear their voices and I basically transcribe what is being said in my ear. On top of that, I marvel at the fact that some of my characters actually know each other, but the small world I created is only a part of the larger world around us. I sometimes wonder if any of my other characters know or have run into these people sometime or somewhere. Anything is possible in fiction… if it is fiction. Or maybe there is a parallel universe where they all live—”

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

“Excuse me; somebody is at the door. I think it’s the guys from the asylum. They tracked me down and they are going to take me back so I can do some more writing.

Catch you later.”

typewriter

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings

me-at-mellon

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings… A Thought or Two

When I start writing a story I usually don’t have the entire story blocked out in my head. Sometimes I have a beginning and an end. That’s the best way because I know how the story opens and blessedly where the story is going to end. Usually I have at least a sentence or a paragraph that tells me what the story is supposed to be about. Sometimes I have a page or two of the gist that provides the flavor of the story. That tells me the sub-genre: a detective yarn, a lighthearted mystery, a darker tale, or maybe a holiday story because I write those, too.

notebookIf you ever come to my house you will see small notebooks all over the place that I can grab and jot down an idea if it drops out of the sky. And they do on occasion. My fellow author, Bonnie Schroeder, gave all us Writers-in-Residence ladies a notebook and pencil set for the shower that writes in the wet. What a concept. So I am covered wherever an idea strikes.

The all-important beginning sets that Tone for any piece of writing. This is when the reader bites off a chunk and chews it to see if they might like to stay around for the rest of the meal. When these ideas strike, they have to grab my imagination, too, or I’ll discard them and wait for another inspiration.

Sometimes the initial idea is a bit of business that sets up a crime. Once I know how it’s done, I have to see who does it. The all-important villain will be the second, if not the first, character I must get to know. Remember, the bad guy or gal is the reason the story is being written. If nothing bad happens, I won’t need my private detective or amateur sleuth or long arm of the law to solve the case.

The Plot might be something that I hear on television that sparks the idea. I seldom rip a headline off the front page because I can almost hear half of the writers out there in “Fiction Land” ripping it off their newspapers and I want to write something new. But I will take a headline and turn it upside down or inside out to get a story.

That’s the old “What if?” game. If there is a story about a politician killing his playmate on the nightly news, what if the playmate sets up the politician instead in the fictional take on that account? I did that in a story in From Light To Dark, a collection of short stories that run the gamut from lighthearted to down right evil.

typewriterStories are everywhere. The writer just has to see the possibilities. But remember, as a writer, you control your world and you can twist the story into something unique if you try. Just try not to twist it into something that doesn’t make any sense. More and more TV shows are turning into pretzels that barely make sense. That’s why I read more books than watch television.

So now you have a great beginning and maybe you are lucky enough to have an ending in your head. As I said earlier, knowing the ending lets the writer know where he or she is going. You don’t want to wander. And this isn’t only for the writer’s sake. If the reader gets lost along the way, they might put the book down and never pick it up again.

Make the ending as stunning as the beginning. When you are having a great meal and the dessert is terrific, too, you know you have had an experience. When someone puts down your book or even finished your short story, you want them to feel satisfied. And you want them to come back for more.

In TV shows, I can usually guess whodunit in the first ten minutes. That’s because of the formula that shows use. Sometimes it’s the lousy actor who plays the part who just looks guilty. He read the script and knows he did it and it’s written all over his face. I hate that.

In a book, I seldom analyze the story as I am reading it to see if I can pick out the villain. I want to enjoy the story and know we’ll get to the end eventually. I never read the end ahead of time, either. I wouldn’t have dessert before the main course, so why soil the meal?

I like to read the set-up, watch for clues, and at the end I’ll go back over the story in my head and see where those clues were if I missed any of them. Good writers leave them in plain sight. Readers just don’t know they were clues. There is nothing better than to say, “Boy, there was that clue right there all the time.” I love that.

The only thing I can caution writers against is dropping the villain and the clues in at the end where the reader had no chance to pick them up. Not fair to the reader or to the story. You can do better.

fat-lady-dancerNow how about the middle? There it sits. Is it a big, hulking middle that the reader has to push around the dance floor with no music or is it thin and bony with no rhythm at all? This middle section is where the reader learns all the little things that hold the story together. Some backstory and some character traits are sprinkled in along with the bulk of the plot. Whether it’s on the high-calorie side with lots of detail or maybe a diet plate with most of the fat is trimmed off, you have to make the middle tasty.

scissorsEditing happens here. Add a little to enhance the story. Cut some off to make the pages turn faster toward the climax. Sweeten it with some good dialogue. Add some choice settings to give it flavor.

Some writers over-write their work. They cut and paste so much that they lose the story completely with all the tape and staples and glue. If your story is ponderous you will lose readers faster than if it is short and sweet.

But don’t shortchange the reader either. They paid for a story, so tell them a story. Give them the details, not an encyclopedia. You want them to know the characters, but remember: some characters are only there for color or to give some vital information before going off stage. Have a few main characters, some minor ones, and everyone else is just there to set the stage.

This holds true for novels and short stories. I have read quite a few mystery novels that packed in so much extra stuff that I lost track of the plot. The characters might be fun and the banter clever, but that dead body lying in the living room still needs to be discovered along with his killer.

Tell me a story first. I’ll get to know the people along the way. Have a beginning that pulls me in. Have a middle that holds my interest. Have an ending that makes me glad I bought your book or read your short story. I’ll look for your books on the shelf again if you can do that.

books-on-shelf

A Nail-Biting New Release From GB Pool, Just in Time for Halloween!

Author GB Pool has come out with a standalone novel, Caverns, which is a perfect winter read and just in time for Halloween!  As someone who worked downtown Chicago, I could imagine this happening. Here is a brief description:

CAVERNS chronicles a nightmare that happens in Chicago in the dead of winter when huge caverns are discovered beneath several expensive condominiums built near Lake Shore Drive. The caves were carved out by enormous rats that have been feeding on the landfill for many decades, but the vermin are running out of food… below ground. The two men who find the caverns are being hunted in order to silence them because they know who own those condos and who authorized the shoddy city utilities project on which they were built. The powers-that-be want to bury their involvement as well as a handful of people who know about it before one of their costly investments falls into the lake. When it comes to a disaster, you have to wonder which is worse: man or beast.

Caverns is available in paperback on Amazon.

Dialogue – The Workhorse of the Story By Gayle Bartos-Pool

Dialogue – The Workhorse of the Story
By Gayle Bartos-Pool
Dialogue is the workhorse of the novel, short story, and screenplay. Even Silent Movies had dialogue. Dialogue performs several functions. It provides: Character Development; Plot Advancement, and Action or Movement.
In other words: It brings the story to life.

Dialogue Enhances (Describes) the Character – How a character speaks and acts says a lot more about him or her than just the words. Dialogue tells the place of birth, type of education, her temperament, his soul. Speech patterns denote character just as costumes do for an actor whether it’s a stammer or a dialect.
“Honey, somethin’s happened to yer livin’ room. Did ya’ll get another dawg?”

Dialogue Advances the Plot – and Provides Pacing – Good dialogue always adds something to the plot, whether it builds tension, relieves tension, imparts needed information to the other characters (and the reader), animates the story, thus moving it along; or even slows down the pace when you need a breather.
“Why’d you get out of the fund?”
“Frankly, I was scared. They played too rough.”
“They?” That got my attention. “Who’s they? Does Racine have a partner?”

Dialogue provides real time action. You are in the room with the characters as they speak. You are eavesdropping or right in the middle of the conversation. Or the character might be speaking directly to you. And dueling dialogue between opposing characters brings the reader right into the action. But note: as the argument gets more heated, the length of the sentences gets shorter.
“I never loved my wife!”
“Did you kill her?”
“No!”
Dialogue gets you Up-Close and Personal – Provides Tone and Mood while it brings the reader into the story. – How the words are delivered sets the verbal stage on which the scene is set; a whisper denotes mood just like a rant.
I lowered my voice before asking her my next question. “Do you outrank him?”
“No, I sleep with him,” Trin whispered.
 Remember: A character blurting out information that advances the plot is far more interesting than a long narrative description. But note: Dialogue is the illusion of conversation.
In order to know how a character speaks or acts, or even the words he uses, you must get to know your characters…intimately.
First, make the characters seem real to you as well as to your readers. Let them speak to you and trust them. Most writers will tell you they actually “hear” their characters, and it is that particular “voice” that makes a character unique.

Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellant.
Make a character sound different from the other characters with him by adding: a dialect or a foreign accent or words to denote an education or lack thereof. Add rhythm to their speech to show how the person is thinking at the time: hesitation vs. rapid-fire.  Word choice might show a character’s education level, but keep it consistent; a drugged out biker probably won’t quote Shakespeare, but a  professor in prison might quote Hamlet.
Speech should:  Move the plot along by telling us something about the character; convey information about the plot; add to the mood; change the POV to get another character’s side; and add to the reality of the piece. Just make sure somebody (a character or the reader) learns something new during any conversation. But if something is conspicuously held back, make sure it is found in the next chapter or at least by the end of the story.
If there is no purpose to the dialogue, rewrite it or dump it.

“Larry and I didn’t have children. We had two ‘vipers’ instead, just to be different. And to tell you the truth, if they didn’t kill their father, they hired someone to do it. But their funds are limited now. They’ll have to do the deed themselves.”
Language & Body Language
Simple gestures describe the characters more fully than words alone. Instead of: “Go ahead. Date my ex-wife!” he shouted. Try: “Go ahead. Date my ex-wife,” he said while slamming his fist into the wall.

Body language or Stage Business Helps Dialogue.
            “I love you,” he said.
She blew smoke in his face. “How nice.”
Instead of a constant stream of he said/she said, use stage directions to show how someone is reacting while talking.
“I’m crazy about you, too,” she said, looking at her watch.
Internal monologue can shake things up.
I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.
Things to Avoid:
Expository dialogue: “As you know, Fred…”
Pleasantries: “Hello. Nice weather we’re having.”
Long speeches – Unless you’re Shakespeare; less is always more in dialogue.
Adverbial action tags like: “I loathe you,” she said fiercely. –can be replaced with action: “I loathe you,” she said, grinding her cigarette into the back of his hand. “Have a nice day.   Instead of: he said gravely. Try: with his head bowed he said…  
Sometimes what the character doesn’tsay is important: “I knew you wouldn’t care if I left you,” he said. She bit her lip.
Keep you, the writer, out of the piece. Don’t let your thoughts get tangled with those of your characters.
Write a biography of your main characters, whether it’s a paragraph or a page, describe who they are, where they came from, their background. Where a character was “born,” went to school, and his neighborhood will dictate his speech pattern, whether it’s a Southern drawl, a French accent, or a gangsta rapper from the ‘hood.’
If you are having difficulty, start with a “stock character” straight from central casting. If you want a villain, pick a character from some old movie, like Edward G. Robinson, and than mold him into your own creation. You can always find a picture in a magazine that fits the type of person you want in a particular role. Cut the picture out and devise a background for him or her.
If you know your characters, you can find their individual voice, even if the character isn’t human. Dogs, cats and birds have found their way into great stories.
After you have written your scene, read it aloud or have someone else read it to you, or use one of the many software programs that reads your work back to you. It will make a huge difference. You will hear things you didn’t know you wrote (both good and bad) and you will pick up the redundancies and misused words. And you just might find out how good you are at writing dialogue.
Let your dialogue work for you. It has a lot to say.   

Character Matters: Your Main Characters Attract Readers, Make Them Memorable

Author G.B. Pool gives us the scoop on writing memorable characters. Visit Gayle’s Author Page on Amazon!

Character Matters: Your Main Characters Attract Readers, Make Them Memorable

Aristotle wrote in The Poetics that stories are made up of 5 Elements in balance: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the Meaning of the Piece. He thought plot was the most important element, but I wanted to talk about character in this blog.

As in most crime fiction, there is always a bad guy or gal. Some writers want to give the villain a good point like he loves dogs or his mother. I seldom bother. I paint him bad with no redeeming features unless there are extenuating circumstances and my bad guy isn’t so bad after all. In fact once or twice the bad guy has a soul. But usually in a story like that, he or she is actually the star of the piece.

But when I write a main character, I want him or her to be someone I would invite into my home. After all, I spend a lot of time with these characters while I am reading not only my own books but books by other writers. If I find them repulsive, mean, heartless, I really resent the time spent getting to know them. On more than one occasion the character has been written by a famous author and I frankly think the character stinks. That will also be the last time I read one of their books.

Aristotle mentioned that characters should have some redeeming quality. I do reserve those good qualities for the hero and other important characters. The bad guy can be bad to the bone as far as I am concerned.

Another thing Aristotle mentioned was that all the characters should be appropriate to their station in life. I am sure when he wrote The Poeticsthere was far more of a class system operating. Even in Downton Abbey, the folks living above stairs have a different attitude than the ones living below stairs. Not that this is right or wrong, it was just what society at that time and place was like. I’ll root for the rebel, but I would still be cognizant of the time period in which the story was being told.

There was a movie, The Admirable Crichton, where a shipwreck strands a bunch of aristocrats and their butler on a desert island. The resourceful butler saves everyone with his ingenuity. When the bunch is rescued, he reverts back to the butler and life went on.

But if the writer is true to the inherent abilities of his characters, the story will work. A housewife who miraculously knows everything about solving crime has been watching too much CSI. And a cop will tell you many of the procedures on those police shows are laughingly wrong.

Dick Francis will have his main character who is expert in some interesting thing like wine making or photography, use his skills to solve a crime. That I can believe. If he turns into a latter-day MacGyver and can make a nuclear weapon out of a box of matches and a can of hairspray, sorry, NO SALE.

Just keep your character consistent. If he hates height, make something payoff in the end that uses that fear of heights like Jimmy Stewart’s character in Vertigo. I keep a character chart that lists when each was born, when certain things happened in his life, and even things that happened during that time in history just to know what people were exposed to.
  I started doing this while I was taking an acting class. What a great way to learn about a tight story structure, dialogue, and character. My teacher, Rudy Solari, had us write a mini-biography of our own character so we would know where the character came from and what motivated him or her before he or she set foot on the stage. We could glean some things from the script and make up the rest, but you sure know who you were when the scene started.
This works for writing characters, too. When I was writing my Johnny Casino Casebook series I wrote out a bio for Johnny. Boy did I learn a lot about him. There were even some things that came out in the second book that even Johnny didn’t know. It made him more interesting.

Know your character. Character matters.

Hobbies, Passions, and Writing

by G.B. Pool

Writing may be your obsession, but you might also have a hobby or passion that sometimes helps you over those dry times when a story isn’t quite gelling and you need to leave the keyboard.

Some “crafty” writers use their hobbies, like quilting, cooking, or bookbinding, as a launching pad for their writing. I set up a mystery panel once called “Murder on the Menu” which featured authors who write stories around cooking. Joan Del Monte (Death Has a Yellow Thumb) mentioned that for some reason, mystery writers eat a lot in their books, so writing about food is a natural. Check it out.
Dick Francis gave his heroes a hobby or profession that always played a part in the story. And frankly, it’s fun for readers to learn something new about a topic they know little about. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae.
So if you have a hobby or an interesting job, why not incorporate it into your story? You are probably an expert on the subject, and you sure know the terminology, so why not share that knowledge with the reader?
Years ago I worked for a miniature shop. We sold dollhouses, tiny furniture, and precious little knick-knacks. I made many of the things for the store. We also had a Christmas shop in the back with hundreds of ornaments, Santas, and holiday decorations. I became obsessed. I have over 3500 Santas.
As a writer, I thought of a story that would include a Santa Castle, a talking Polar bear, and of course, Santa Claus. I designed a castle on paper and eventually wrote the story. Years later, I built the castle, furnished the rooms and crafted the Polar bear and even Santa. The story hasn’t been published as yet, but the creative work is done.
I was on a jury many years ago. It wasn’t a terribly exciting case, but my imagination came up with a much better story about a former private detective who ended up on a killer jury. I used to be a P.I. myself, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to write about my heroine’s background. The book is published, Media Justice. You can even get it on Kindle.

Your hobbies and life experiences can find great places to grow in your books. At least they are a starting point for ideas. After going with my husband to the horseraces at Santa Anita Racetrack, I wrote my second Gin Caulfield novel. And remember, if you have a hobby, an interesting job, or have been to a cool place, you have firsthand knowledge. That ring of truth will add to the reality of your story and you have already done the research.

Edits, Rewrites, And Selling Your Soul

Author G.B. Pool has plenty of experience editing her work, and with one novel and a list of anthologies under her belt, her methods must work!

Every “How to Write” book has a chapter on “Editing and Rewriting.” Whatever you write can always be improved by a careful edit, and thoughtful look-over, and a final rewrite to tweak those areas that don’t sound right. You could spend the rest of your life rewriting if you aren’t careful. Hopefully you have a friend who tells you to stop before you rewrite the life out of your work.

Over-writing is a problem we can all have when we are looking for the perfect word or phrase. Maybe you should try looking for the best word, and not worry about perfection. Perfection is stuffy. Walk away from your work, literally, go into another room, and think about what you want to say in that section. The words that come into your head, off the cuff, will be truer than the ones you agonized over. Spontaneity is always fresher. Write it down and then leave it alone.

As for basic editing like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, have someone else do it for you. Just like parents who never see flaws in their children, even the two-headed ones or the ones who wind up in jail, you will miss errors in your own work.

Join a writers’ group, ask a teacher, or pay a professional to go over your work. Even if your Aunt Mabel is a professional editor, too often a friend or relative will be too kind. (They will overlook the two-headed kid, too.) An agent or publisher won’t be kind. They will toss your error-laden manuscript in the trash and remember you the next time as the person who can’t submit a professional piece of work.

Make sure that writers’ group you join isn’t afraid to point out mistakes, holes, or continuity problems. A good teacher will know how to get out the red pencil and correct grammatical errors. And a professional editor has seen it all before and will know how to spot obvious errors. It’s worth the money.

So you rewrite, edit, polish and submit. And an agent likes your work. Hoorah! Your characters are memorable. The plot is appealing. The agent handles that genre. They know a few publishers in that genre. Everything is wonderful…but…

It’s the “but” that will have you asking yourself, “How much of my story will I change to get it published?” If the change doesn’t amount to much, I’d rewrite it in a heartbeat.

But what if your agent loves everything except one of the key points in the story around which everything revolves. Should you tell her she should really read the entire book to see how it fits together, or do you try to adjust the part she doesn’t like to suit her?

A screenwriter will tell you once you submit your script, a thousand hands will rework it, reshape it, and in the end you won’t recognize anything but the title…if they keep the title. Screenplays aren’t novels.

How much of your book are you willing to change for someone else? Granted the agent has the contacts, the clout, the name recognition that could get you published. But what will you be giving up? Your name goes on the cover. You are the one who will be explaining why the plot missed the mark…for eternity. You have to make that decision.

My advice: First, find a way to explain to the agent/publisher exactly why you can’t change that major plot point. Thank them for pointing out the fact you didn’t write that part clear enough and say that you will tweak that section. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself: What do I value most?

And remember: Your agent might be wrong.