Bump It Up: Marketing With Math To Master Facebook’s NewsFeed

According to Facebook, whenever someone visits News Feed “there are on average 1,500 potential stories” from friends, pages etc., and since nobody got time for that, Facebook uses an algorithm to determine which stories people see. If you’re promoting yourself via FB it makes sense to know how the algorithm works, and so I’ve done some research (links below), and summarized what I’ve found. Enjoy!

The algorithm, called EdgeRank, works like this:

Rank = affinity x weight x decay, or:

your relationship with users x post type (eg photo/text) x post age

Affinity

When ranking your new post within a user’s news feed, Facebook will first consider the user’s history with you and their past interactions with the type of material you are posting (photo, text etc), as well as reactions other people have had to your new post. Obviously, the more interactions the better.

If, within a person’s last 50 interactions, they’ve interacted with you, then FB will prioritise your content (providing that person hasn’t interacted just as much with others). Now I’m sure sneaky tactics like tagging people for a response won’t work (I’m looking at you, incessant shoe ads), but if you make yourself available online, keep conversations open and be involved, then you’re bound to be high in people’s interaction list.

Weight

Step two in the EdgeRank algorithm is assigning post weight. Photos and videos are heaviest, then text with links, then plain text. It’s instinctively obvious this is because visual posts are just more engaging – and I only have to look at last week’s stats on my Facebook band page to see the proof:

Facebook Stats

Want to see the posts in question? Check out our page

Comments have their own weight too, at just a little heavier than a like. So a conversation-provoking text update could end up with a higher weight than a picture, and therefore a higher priority in people’s news feeds. Louis Caballero of Ad Age suggests, using relevant content can spread your brand’s conversation further. So a Facebook update about a twitter trending topic could generate a larger conversation, which would then add more weight to your posts. And as the Folks at EdgeRank say, “It’s hard to trick an algorithm into thinking that your content is interesting. It’s much easier to rewrite your content so your fans leave more likes and comments.”

Some organisations use pictures to promote the posts they know will open up the most conversation. A brand might post a plain coloured square with a question on it, for example, so that it first gets prioritised by Facebook because it’s an image, and then because of all the comments it has attracted. So maybe next time you’re linking to something promotional, post a plain text update with the link in it, then remove the automatic thumbnail and instead use a relevant image. Like this:

Looks more noticeable, to me.

Looks more noticeable, to me.

Remember that negative feedback severely reduces your priority in News Feeds. It should go without saying then that you can’t just spam everyone with the same old promos about their book/blog/selves – yet people do it, so it pays to have a reminder in case they don’t realise that their innocent enthusiasm is coming across wrong.

Time Decay

This one’s pretty obvious; recent posts are more relevant, and therefore it pays to know when your fans are online. Luckily you can find that out by visiting See insights > Posts, in case you didn’t already know. However it also pays to know that if your page is relevant to users – i.e. they interact with it regularly – then time decay will have less impact as your stories will still have priority for them. So we go full circle, and get back to affinity…

Anyway, hope that summary saves you some valuable post-tweaking time. Want more? Here’s where it came from:

Facebook.com News Feed FYI: A Window Into News Feed

EdgeRank.net A Guide To Facebook’s Newsfeed Algorithm

AdAge Digital Facebook’s News Feed Changes Will Require New Marketing Strategies

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When Writer’s Block Isn’t Actually The Problem…

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat here trying to write this. It feels like writer’s block but I’ve realised I’m struggling against something else, and luckily the best cure is to just ignore it.

Recently I took a break from writing and blogging to concentrate on uni. I knew it was inevitable, and so when the time came that I had no time, I got used to it. Eventually uni finished for the year, but then so did my words. Instead of getting straight into the big changes my WIP needed, I spent my time pondering over stupid little details. What exact line should start this scene? How will this conversation run? It seemed I couldn’t write a thing until I’d already written it, and that applied to blogging, too. (Oh, and heaven forbid I even attempt it when there were spots on my computer screen I could be scratching off with my fingernail).

It’s only now I’m about to lose this time to uni again that I’ve ‘unlocked’ my creative self. Sure, what I’ve written has been appallingly awful but it’s out, and I’ve learned enough about editing to know I can fix it, now I’ve finally got something to fix. Until now, those ingrained editing habits were telling me my ideas were terrible before I’d even expressed them. For blogging in particular, I felt like I’d be intruding on your precious time with my un-precious words. I realised I had to tell that editor no, and go back to being an amateur, for a while.

So I am writing again, and with enough luck and coffee I’ll keep it up when uni rolls around. I will do my best to blog, perhaps not often, but at least when I’ve got something useful to share. Hopefully Helpful is ever my motto, and since I’m studying marketing I’m sure there’ll be plenty for the entrepreneurial writers out there! This post is about re-introducing myself to the wonderful world we writers inhabit. I hope to hear from some of you, because I miss you! And I hope that if you’re inner editor is giving you hell (maybe even without your knowledge, as it was for me), you can just forget about them too, for a while.

In denial: hunting down filler scenes you already knew were there

G’day! After two months locked in the university dungeon, I’m back! While I’ve been flat out studying (on Facebook, stalking people with more interesting lives than me), I’ve had time to ponder my WIP, and I’ve had a revelation:

Stepping away from your manuscript to see the bigger picture really works – by helping you forget the little picture. That’s means forgetting your babies, and seeing the real reason why you’ve done things which might not be working out. And that, is really useful…

Firstly, the babies I’m talking about are those little moments you (perhaps unconsciously) labelled ‘pre-tension’ or ‘character development’ etc, to justify scenes which weren’t going anywhere. Specifically, they’re moments which set up other moments. See, when you’re initially plotting a novel you know you have to cause conflict by putting your characters in unpleasant situations. But if the situation is so unpleasant, whatever action characters do to get there can feel unnatural.

These scenes-to-set-up-scenes are sneaky, because they might be perfectly believable. For example you might not notice the hidden info dump behind two characters discussing some upcoming event – especially if it’s completely believable. But at a closer look, or a look from a critique partner, you might notice that essential though that set-up is, there’s no reason for it to be shown. These little scenes can really slow a novel down, but the trouble is they’re inevitable. We start plotting before we really know our characters and our world. Then during editing this all gets fleshed out, but the plot remains as our framework. The result? Filler moments getting tied up with good writing.

And that’s why I’m writing today: because I’ve thought of a couple of ways to at least hunt these suckers down. The fixing is up to you!

  • Work backwards through your plot, asking how the characters got into each situation and whether the cause was natural. You are allowed a little serendipity and co-incidence, but if you’ve ever thought “well that could happen, so no-one can criticise it,” then maybe it could be improved. Consider all the situations leading up to the iffy spot and you might find you can slip in a clue, or some rational pre-event (as long as it’s not forced, either). The best part about that is that when readers get to the event you were worried about, they’re now thinking ‘of course!’ The result is you: plotting extraordinaire.
  • Write down all the decisions your characters make to land themselves in certain situations, and scrutinise them.   Would your goodie-two-shoes MC really be persuaded to go hang out at the old mine with the hot new guy and his bad-boy friends? Be careful that your answer isn’t, “of course she would, just look at this intense emotional argument I made her have with herself about it.” Characters should change throughout the story, but if you speed up that change just to force Explain Yourself hem into something, then both bringing them back to normal later, or making them continue to act in this new manner, could feel off.
  • Go through each scene, writing its purpose in one word without stopping to think. Take note of any labelled foreshadowing, emotional development, comic relief, world-building and so on. These might just be your subconscious justifications for scenes which had a much more basic purpose – to set up other stuff.
  • Consider tension levels. Not enough? Maybe there’s just not enough going on.

Tips From The Pro’s: A successful synopsis, and giveaway!

If anyone’s ever typed the heading ‘synopsis’, then run away for an hour, I get it. Another person who gets it is Jane Kindred, author of The House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy, whose been awesome enough to share her synopsis tips, AND the synopses which helped land her a contract with entangled publishing. Plus, to celebrate the release of the final book in the series, Jane is running a super-massive giveaway which you can enter, right at the end of this post! So what is Jane’s synopsis secret? The snowflake method. Full details are well worth a look and can be found here, but essentially it’s about taking a sentence and building from there. So:

  • Summarize your novel in a sentence.
  • Expand that sentence to include major plot points. But it should only be one paragraph, so you’re essentially looking at your setup, two-three disasters and your conclusion.
  • Do the same for your main character/s, with a one sentence summary of their story, and the rest of the paragraph outlining their definite and abstract goals, what’s stopping them, and their epiphany.
  • Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a paragraph, making each on (bar the conclusion) end in disaster.
  • Do the same for your character/s, so you have character driven synopses, too.

This can actually be particularly useful for writing a query or blurb, because it allows you to blend character-driven and plot-driven storylines, as Jane has so cleverly done in the blurb for the first in her series, The Fallen Queen.

Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.

Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.

Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.

If you think it sounds awesome, (particularly that last line!), it was. The Fallen Queen was so brilliantly written, in character, voice, scenery and plot, that it inspired the first in my ‘reviews from a writer’s perspective‘ series. Now, let’s look at the summarized synopsis that goes with it:

Grand Duchess ANAZAKIA may be an angel, but the youngest daughter of Heaven’s ruling house is also a bit of a hellion. While she gambles in the demon district, her cousin KAE, beguiled by the mysterious AEVAL, turns on Anazakia’s family and murders them all. With no one else to trust, Anazakia flees Elysium with demons BELPHAGOR and VASILY who promise to hide her among the Fallen in the earthly realm of Russia. Despite her disapproval of their intimate relationship, natural animosity transforms into grudging respect and a fragile friendship. But when Belphagor disappears with her signet ring, Anazakia finds herself comforting a heartbroken demon. No one is more surprised than Vasily when she ends up in his bed.

When Heaven’s henchmen catch Anazakia, she finds Belphagor at the palace in Elysium. Unaware that his attempt to bargain for her life has made him Queen Aeval’s pet slave, she believes the worst of him and bitterly reveals she is carrying Vasily’s child. Belphagor protects her from Aeval’s cruelty despite his shock. When she tries to escape, Anazakia stumbles into a surreal game of cards with Belphagor and her cousin Kae and realizes Kae is irredeemably mad. Even so, he is the only one to help deliver her baby when her pains come, and when a demon workers’ riot sets the palace ablaze on the eve of her execution, Kae rescues her from her room.

Amid the chaos, Vasily arrives with an army of Fallen, but the Queen refuses to give up Anazakia’s baby until a spark of power flares from the half-demon child. Aeval is powerless against the baby’s radiance. Anazakia tries to free Kae from the Queen as flames overtake the palace, but he is lost in his delusions. The demons have become her family, and Anazakia returns with them to the earthly city that bears her family’s name, leaving Kae to Aeval and madness.

The Fallen Queen What I like about this is the subtle character plots, in phrases like natural animosity, grudging respect and fragile friendship. And for those who worry that a short synopsis doesn’t provide time to establish their voice, this certainly does. It’s a hint of how eloquently the novel is written, and tells a lot about the upbringing of this character – as in phrases like ‘when her pains come’. I also love the hint of her darker, rebellious side, when she ends up in a demon’s bed, and he’s the more surprised.

 

 

Now let’s take the short synopsis and expand it. All the good stuff stays there, but with a few more, uncluttered details, to give an agent an idea what’s going on.

Grand Duchess ANAZAKIA may be an angel, but the youngest daughter of Heaven’s ruling house is also a bit of a hellion. While she sneaks out to gamble in the demon district, her cousin KAE, beguiled by the mysterious AEVAL, turns on Anazakia’s family and murders them all. With no one else to trust, Anazakia flees Elysium with demons BELPHAGOR and VASILY who promise to hide her among the Fallen in the earthly realm of Russia.

In the world of Man, Anazakia discovers why demons are so fond of falling. The dominant element of every celestial being manifests as a pair of wings, and hers can raise a storm. When the fiery Seraphim of Heaven’s brute squad capture Vasily and torture him for refusing to give her up, Anazakia releases a tempest with her wings to vanquish them to Heaven. But the Seraphim will not stay vanquished for long.

As the trio flees St. Petersburg for the Russian countryside, natural animosity transforms into grudging respect and a fragile friendship—despite Anazakia’s discomfort when she discovers the demons’ intimate relationship. But when Belphagor disappears with her signet ring after setting them up in a quaint, country dacha, Anazakia finds herself comforting a heartbroken demon. No one is more surprised than Vasily when she ends up in his bed.

Their romantic idyll is interrupted when a magical charm transports Anazakia to Heaven by mistake, delivering her into the hands of the Seraphim and Queen Aeval. Imprisoned in the palace, Anazakia finds Belphagor in an apparent position of privilege. Unaware that his attempt to bargain for her life has made him Queen Aeval’s pet slave, she believes the worst of him and bitterly reveals she is carrying Vasily’s child. Despite his shock, Belphagor does what he can to protect her from Aeval’s cruelty.

When Anazakia tries to escape as her due date draws near, she stumbles into a surreal game of cards with Belphagor and her cousin Kae and realizes Kae is irredeemably mad. Even so, he is the only one to help deliver her baby when her pains come, and when a demon workers’ riot sets the palace ablaze on the eve of her execution, Kae rescues her from her room.

Amid the chaos, Vasily arrives with an army of Fallen, but the Queen refuses to give up Anazakia’s baby until a spark of radiance flares from the half-demon child. Aeval is powerless against the baby’s hybrid element. Anazakia tries to free Kae from the Queen as flames overtake the palace, but he is lost in his delusions. The demons have become her family, and Anazakia returns with them to the world of Man, leaving Kae to Aeval and madness.

There you have it! Start with a sentence and build from there, and don’t forget to do the same thing with your character’s too. And finally, the contest. Jane is giving away: Snow_queen_large

  1. A $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble or Amazon
  2. Signed print copies of the entire House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy
  3. A gorgeous collector’s Limited Edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, illustrated by Ukranian artist Vladyslav Yerko

Just enter via the rafflecopter widget here! It’s all in celebration of the release of book three, The Armies of Heaven. If book one was anything to go by, it’s sure to be fantastic, so go check it out. And thanks so much to Jane for sharing these tips today!

A film that will make you say f***. A lot.

Today I’m going to show you something sad, then something happy. The happy thing involves an animal busting 80’s dance moves. The sad thing is the documentary, Home. It’s also inspirational, breathtakingly-beautiful, and scary as heck.

I’m known by friends as a bit of a hippie. But although I knew that we ARE running out of water, I didn’t realise that the water required to grow the grains to feed cattle in the US alone is catastrophic.

I didn’t know there were tonnes of carbon dioxide locked in permafrost in Northern Russia. Scientists don’t know what will happen when global warming releases it.

I didn’t know how many climate refugees we’ll soon be sharing our prized resources with. And I had no idea it could be this soon.

If this was yours, what would you do to protect it?

If this was yours, what would you do to protect it?

They’re just a couple of points which shocked me. Judging by the number of YouTube commenters who said the film changed their lives, I’m not the only one. You need to watch it. Get your kids to watch it too. And before you think it’s all doom and gloom, here’s the inspirational part (or what I took, anyway).

We still have resources, and we have hope. If you’re sick of being told to turn off your lights and use recyclable bags, fair enough. Let’s try a different angle. Say we swap one item from our weekly shop for a green alternative. You’ll get the immediate environmental benefit the product has to offer. You’ll increase demand for green products. You’ll place pressure on industries to clean up their act. Don’t believe me? You should study sustainable marketing, then tell me CEO’s aren’t paying attention to that kind of influence.

As the film says, it’s too late to be a pessimist. Just ask this guy…

The Summarized Editing Checklist, Plus An Editing Discount!

G’day, everyone, and happy 4th July! I’ve just received a holiday-themed email from Scribendi editing service offering an 18% discount until July 6th, (promo code INDE13), so I thought I’d pass it on! Having used a different editing service in the past I found it well worth it, but my main warning is this: edit the pants off your novel yourself first, or you might end up paying for fixes on something you’re bound to change. If you don’t want to risk that, you’re in luck, because at last I’m here to present the over-do-er’s editing checklist in all it’s summarized, un-formatted, copy-able glory! Complied from years’ worth of rummaging the internet for the best editing tips around, it’s been an invaluable resource for me, and I hope you find it useful too. (Links to the entire series, with more details in each post, can be found here).

Enjoy!

Structure

  • Does each chapter start and finish with a hook?
  • Do you have peaks and troughs in your plot/sub-plots and your characters’ emotions?
  • Do the climactic sections of your novel follow the structure of: Scene (Goal, conflict, disaster) and Sequel (Emotion, quandary, decision, action)?
  • Do you have too many action scenes in a row; or scenes where the character’s ordinary actions are described in too much detail?
  • If your novel feels too slow, check the MC. Are they driving the action or waiting around?
  • Are your characters’ goals clear?

Point Of View

  • If there are multiple changes in POV, check that they’re all necessary.
  • For each change, make sure the POV is clear within the first sentence.
  • Check for head-hops, e.g. POV character describing their eye colour, or knowing another character’s thoughts/intent.
  • Check for filters, e.g. I watched, I saw, I heard, I felt, I wondered, I thought.
  • Cut descriptions of things your character wouldn’t naturally perceive.
  • Use pointing words – e.g. ‘that/there’ – to place your character in the centre of their world.

Showing Instead Of Telling

  • Trim adjectives from your dialogue tags and replace them with an action – aka a beat.
  • Make sure your beats are original and build your characters’ personalities rather than just emotions.
  • Watch out for too-obvious information reveals – events, dialogue or even thoughts – and weave the information in instead.
  • If you must convey something through dialogue/ thoughts, at least showing something, by using words which build character or voice.
  • Replace ‘ly’ words with action. A mini-checklist: Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally.
  • ‘Seemed to’, ‘tried to’, ‘started to’, ‘about to’, ‘something started’, ‘fought the urge to’ and ‘immediately’ can be replaced with the actual action.
  • Check for situations where showing may not be necessary. e.g. it’s dull, irrelevant, or would be much simpler as a tell.

Characterization

  • Check that your characters react realistically to big events.
  • Do your characters’ personalities/relationships change throughout the novel?
  • Let characters define themselves by their actions/views/descriptions etc.
  • Does each character have a good and bad side?
  • Do you have two characters fulfilling the same role? Can they be combined?
  • Be careful characters aren’t describing themselves just to give information to the reader.
  • Check for lengthy/clichéd character descriptions and remove.

Setting

  • Do your layouts work? Is the position of your characters clear and consistent?
  • When switching setting, establish that setting in the first sentence.
  • When visiting a location for the first time, watch out for descriptive information dumps.
  • Use props to enhance setting, personality, emotion and to ensure characters don’t interact in the same way for too long.
  • Include physical sensations (e.g. all the senses).
  • Keep the amount of description appropriate to your genre.

Dialogue

  • Comb as many ‘ly’ words as possible out of your dialogue (she said urgently).
  • If dialogue feels forced, try experimenting with what isn’t said, or what is said completely out of character.
  • Use dialogue to foreshadow tension and hook readers.
  • Remove anything unnecessary to understanding who’s speaking (unless it serves another purpose, like characterization).
  • Watch out for big chunks of text without dialogue or white space.
  • People can’t snort/laugh/grimace/enthuse/hiss/breathe/smile/moan/growl/gasp words.
  • Watch out for overuse of names in your dialogue (or anywhere, really).
  • Check that if a character says something that’s not followed by a dialogue verb of expression (he said), it ends in a full stop.
  • During long periods of dialogue, add action to maintain interest and ground the reader in the scene.
  • Check for overuse of it/s, that/s, had, because and was, as they may indicate that you’re explaining things for the sake of the reader.
  • Make sure every conversation either moves the plot forward, increases tension or builds character/relationships.

For Nit-Pickers

  • Semi-colons should be used when you want a pause between two related sentences.
  • Search for double spaces and remove any hidden extras.
  • Make sure your auto-correct has changed every case of . . . to an ellipsis …
  • Check your compound adjectives: a compound adjective is an idea that can’t be separated or else it would lose its meaning.
  • Confirm your use of forward/s and toward/s, Mrs and Mrs. , Mr and Mr. etc.
  • Ensure numbers are spelled out and hyphenated where necessary – e.g. twenty-five thousand.
  • Search for every  ‘s  and s’ to uncover possessives that should be plurals or possessive names that end with s and therefore need s’.
  • Action clauses that use ‘ing’ or ‘as’ imply parallel actions which may be impossible.
  • Remove dangling participles e.g.  ‘Approaching the club, the music got louder and louder.’
  • Check that consecutive paragraphs don’t all start with the same thing.
  • Sentences should be structured as subject-verb-object, eg ‘Sam flung open the door’.
  • Conjugations of the phrase ‘to be’ – such as ‘she was’ – which can indicate passive voice. Also: was/had/were/is/am/are/has/have/being/been/just and be + verb.
  • Remove redundancies – e.g. entire lot, actual fact, sunk down, climbed up, heaps more and gathered together.
  • Remove crutch words and cliché phrases, e.g. ‘suddenly’ or ‘couldn’t help but’.
  • Sentences in actions scenes should be choppy and fast-paced.
  • Check unintentional repetition – in general and on a sentence level.
  • Check for overuse of adjectives/adverbs.
  • That v’s Which.
  • Lay v’s Lie.
  • Was v’s were.
  • Their/there/they’re, its/it’s, who’s/whose, faraway/far away and everyday/every day, that/which, was/were.
  • Though v’s Although.

The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Nitty-Gritty

At last, we reach the final installment of the Over-Do-Er’s editing checklist! From eradicating danging participles to doing a good old word search for things like ‘s to make sure you haven’t got any possessives which should be plurals, I’ve compiled as many useful tips and grammatical rules as possible. As pedantic as it may seem, it’s worth it. (Later this week I’ll post an easy-to-use summary of the whole thing). Enjoy!

Thai Sign Fail

Dinner with a view… not sure how I survived it.

The Nitty-Gritty Editing Checklist: 

General

1. Action clauses that use ‘ing’ or ‘as’ imply parallel actions which may be impossible – e.g. ‘pulling on my jeans, I run out the door’. (I guess that’s technically possible, but certainly not with my coordination). Search your ‘ing’s to make sure you’ve caught them all.

2. Banish dangling participles (beware – they hide!) For example, ‘Approaching the club, the music got louder and louder.’ The participle (approaching the club) doesn’t have a subject to refer to, so it attaches to the only available subject (the music), and ends up implying that the music is doing the approaching.

3. Check that consecutive paragraphs don’t all start with the same thing.

4. To ensure you’re writing in active voice, structure sentences as subject-verb-object, eg ‘Sam flung open the door’, rather than ‘the door was flung open.’ Conjugations of the phrase ‘to be’ – such as ‘she was’ – can indicate passive voice. Common conjugational culprits include: was/had/were/is/am/are/has/have/being/been/just and be + verb.

5. Remove redundancies – e.g. entire lot, actual fact, sunk down, climbed up, heaps more and gathered together.

6. Hunt down crutch words and cliché phrases, such as ‘suddenly’ or ‘couldn’t help but’.

7.  In your actions scenes, make sure the sentences are choppy and fast-paced.

8. Remove unintentional repetition – e.g. a character constantly being described the same way or words being reused in close proximity.

School Sign Fail

The Nit-Pickers’ Nightmare

1. Make sure all your semi-colons are used correctly – i.e. when you want a pause between two related sentences. More details here.

2. Search for double spaces and remove any hidden extras.

3. Make sure your auto-correct has changed every case of . . . to an ellipsis …

4. Check your compound adjectives: a compound adjective is an idea that can’t be separated or else it would lose its meaning. For example, there can be a light sky and a blue sky, therefore it’s not necessary to write ‘light-blue’. However, it changes the meaning when you separate free-range chickens. You wouldn’t just tell someone there were free chickens down the road, right? (Thanks to editor Lisa Terry for this!)

5. Whether you’re using US or British English, confirm you’ve got the right versions of words like forward/s and toward/s, Mrs and Mrs. , Mr and Mr. and so on.

6. Make sure any numbers are spelled out and hyphenated where necessary – e.g. twenty-five thousand.

7. Search for every use of  ‘s  and s’ to make sure there are no possessives that should be plurals, or possessive names that end with s and therefore need s’.

8. There would be loads more of these. Drop them in the comments!

Common Confusions and Relevant Rules

Check for the correct use of:

1. That v’s Which. ‘That’ introduces an essential clause, without which we wouldn’t understand the sentence. For example, ‘I don’t believe anything that I haven’t seen for myself.’ ‘Which’ introduces a non-essential clause, where the subject has already been identified. For example, ‘The car, which was parked outside the shop, was leaking oil all over the road.’

2.  Lay v’s Lie. ‘Lay’ refers to what the subject does to another object, for example you might lay the book down, while ‘lie’ refers to what the subject does to itself, so you might watch your dog lie (itself) down. More rules on their infinitives and past participles here.

3. Was v’s were. ‘Were’, as a past subjunctive, is used for stating conditions that are contrary to fact, such as ‘if I were a mermaid.’ ‘Was’, as a past indicative, is used for stating conditions where the falsity isn’t certain, such as ‘if I was to get a mermaid costume.

4. Their/there/they’re, its/it’s, who’s/whose, faraway/far away and everyday/every day, that/which, was/were.

5. Though v’s Although. Both are used to show a contrast, but ‘although’ is more formal.

6. Loads more of these too, I’m sure. What tips have you found?

Oh, and P.S. Don’t forget to check back this week, when I’ll post a dot-point summary of the entire checklist (all seven installments of it!) for you to copy for yourself.

WordPress’ New Twitter Widget (or I Found A Thingamajig!)

Breaking news… Two days ago I was customizing my twitter widget as normal and yet today, WordPress suggested I upgrade to the new Twitter Timeline widget as the old one is getting the boot. It promises greater customization – so I thought I’d check out what’s on offer.

The Twitter Timeline is already available in your widget page. Once you drag it into your sidebar to activate, you’ll need to follow a link to twitter to create your new widget. The page looks like this, so you can see there are loads of cool new options available:

Twitter Widget Creator

 

Auto-Expand Photos

It might look great, but do consider whether having too many images loading on your page is going to put off impatient readers. Also, just one photo will block room for other tweets – some might consider that a wasted opportunity to show what you’re about.

Theme

Light or dark. Unless the background to the dark theme miraculously matches your existing blog theme, I’d leave it light.

Streaming Your Favorites

Whether you tend to favorite useful links or just stuff that’s awesome, you’ll automatically be adding a little authority or personality to your blog using this option.

Link Color

Huzzah! Remember when I explained how to customize your link colors to match your blog header? Now you can tie your tweet links into the scheme as well. Sweet!

List

Displaying recent tweets has always been good for showing who you are, but the regular widget can potentially become clogged with random, personal, silly or not-particularly-relevant-to-your-reader tweets. However… listing people who have similar interests to you and therefore probably similar interests to a reader who is, after all, visiting your blog, will give that reader something useful, and they’ll remember you for it.

Search

I haven’t quite grasped why giving readers access to a hashtag search bar would be useful for anything other than causing them to e-wander back to twitter, so bear that in mind. (Unless they happen to start a #yourblogisawesome hashtag, of course).

Comparing features: Before and after I de-selected Auto-enlarge photos, customized my link colors and removed the border.

Comparing features: Before and after I de-selected Auto-enlarge photos, customized my link colors and removed the border.

Once you’ve created your widget in twitter, you need to copy the URL link of that page into your WordPress Twitter Timeline widget editor. From there you have a couple more options such as removing the border, (which I think is a great idea as I doubt it’s curved edges match your other widgets), and you’re done. And one of my favorite bits – people can now tweet straight to you from your blog! Talk about connecting you with your audience.

So… has anyone given it a try yet? And what do you think – great new features, or just a fix on something that wasn’t broken to begin with?

 

Re-designing My Blog – By Sneezing?

Yup, I’ve given my sidebar an overhaul. The reason? I’m not sneezing enough.

It’s been gaining popularity lately – the idea of ‘sneeze pages’ which summarize your content and thus propel people deeper and deeper into your blog. You may already have them, as I had in the three categories in my top menu for Blogging, Writing and Social Media and Platform Building, respectively. But if your blog theme places your menu above your header, who says your literary tissues are even being seen?.

We tend to skim down a page, so once our eyes have spied the most obvious image first – i.e. our header – they’re unlikely to travel up to the menu if placed above it. So, mimicking the ‘F’ shape our eyes naturally follow when processing web pages, I re-enforced my categories by placing them in the sidebar as widgets. I took my own photos (starring my gorgeous, new books, squee!) to ensure they matched my header and thus strengthen the visual pull down the sidebar. I also decided to show a miniature blurb beneath each sneeze-page widget, to entice that bit more than a caption-less heading can.

My new babies... only 143, 159, 191, 105 and 112 years young!

My new babies… only 143, 159, 191, 105 and 112 years young! ©Katherine Amabel

I placed my ‘Follow By Email’ widget next, so that new readers would see it almost immediately and thus have it in their minds as they explored my content. As any experienced telemarketer (don’t hate me!) will tell you, if you want a response you have to get your customer warming to it from the word go. You’ve also got to add a little ‘but wait, there’s more!’, and I did this next by adding a Top Pages widget.

A Top Pages list is essentially another sneeze page in itself, but by having something grouped by popularity you’re adding a certain authenticity to what you’re trying to promote. It’s also a great way to intrigue readers with catchy post titles, and you have the options of displaying a photo with each link to draw attention to it. If you’re considering this, though, remember you don’t want so many photos your page takes a year to load. You also don’t want so much content you drown everything out, so I forgot the photos and also deleted my Facebook widget (I wasn’t getting time for it – a huge no-no of marketing).

With all this going on in my sidebar, I realized next that a full archive list would be too much. However… changing the archive widget to a drop-down menu means readers still get important information such as how regularly you post, but you needn’t waste white space with messy, unimaginative post dates. In that space I  set my first ever widget explaining how my blog came about, to keep my WIP in people’s minds and (hopefully) show where I’ve come from and how hard I’ve worked to build this blog. Twitter makes an appearance next, followed by my category cloud – Atchoo!

All in all I’m thrilled with the new look. What do you think?

P.S. If you liked what I’ve done with my new photos, check out my tutorial on the program I used, here.

The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Dialogue

If you’ve ever written dialogue worthy of an episode of Days of Our Lives, this post is for you: my personal dialogue editing checklist, compiled from 3 years’ of searching the best writing blogs around and then torturing my poor characters with it. Enjoy! 

What you say matters...

What you say matters…

The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Dialogue

1. Comb as many ‘ly’ words as possible out of your dialogue (she said urgently) – nothing looks more deliberate and less confident than a writer who can’t bear just to use ‘she said’.

2. If you’re dialogue feels forced, try experimenting with what isn’t said, or what is said completely out of character. For example a hard-hitting question could be answered with a sigh or a hesitation. Or if your goody-too-shoes finally snaps and swears her head off, think what that’ll do to the tension and character progression.

3. Use dialogue to foreshadow tension and hook your readers, like in this awesome first line from Jim Butcher’s ‘Changes’… I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, “They’ve taken our daughter.”

4. Remove anything unnecessary to understanding who’s speaking (unless of course it serves another purpose, as above)..

5. Watch out for big chunks of text without dialogue or any white space, as your readers may skip to the next break. If your character is alone for the scene, a quick thought might be enough to give the eyes a break. Same goes for a character speaking for a page and a half. Break it up; rants are for blogs, not books.

6. Remember people can’t snort/laugh/grimace/enthuse/hiss/breathe/smile/moan/growl/gasp words. If you need dialogue tags just to show these emotions, then you’re dialogue clearly isn’t making its point.

7. Watch out for overuse of names in your dialogue (or anywhere, really).

8. Check that if a character says something that’s not followed by a dialogue verb of expression (he said), it ends in a full stop.

9. During long periods of dialogue, add action to maintain interest and ground the reader in the scene.

Auto Correct Fail 2

For every writer out there…

10. Check for overuse of it/s, that/s, had, because and was, as they may indicate that you’re explaining things for the sake of the reader.

11. Since dialogue can be used as an explanative tool, providing it’s done right, make sure every conversation either moves the plot forward, increases tension, builds character or deepens your portrayal of character relationships. If it doesn’t, it needs a-fixin’.

12. Found this useful? Don’t forget to check out my previous installments on StructurePoint Of ViewShowing Instead of TellingCharacterization and Setting. Plus the last, most fiddly list of all the best ways to find misplaced apostrophes, extra spaces, there/they’re confusions and so on, is coming soon!