Yes! You Need to Build a Twitter Following

by Tim Kane

I’ve heard folks talk about needing a twitter following of at least 10,000 before agents or editors will consider you. Hogwash. It’s not the number of followers that matters, but the quality. I know this because I’ve made all the mistakes and have survived.

When I first started Twitter, I abhorred follow backs (That’s when  you automatically follow someone back after they follow you). I knew that having a low ratio of followers (people following you) to following (those you follow). If it’s upsidedown, that means that you’re too desperate. You follow thousands of people, yet only a few hundred follow you.

What we all want is the celebrity status. You know what I mean, when you have tens of thousands of followers and you only follow a scant hundred. But unless your name is a household word (not yet for me) this is nigh impossible to achieve.

Strike a balance. Strive to make your followers about even with your following. Most Twitter folk know that below 2000 is the building stage, so don’t worry about it. Now, this is easier said than done. To gain more followers you should rely on the autofollow or follow backs. Yes, you heard me. That very thing I used to hate.

It works like this. You follow some tweeps hoping that they will follow you back. If they do, awesome. More followers for you. If not, then you need to unfollow them to keep your ratio of followers to following even. The trick lies in using the right software.

Balance Your Followers

Enter ManageFlitter. This site allows you to peruse through all those tweeps you follow and see who’s following back. (Don’t worry, you can use it for free with some limitations.) Give people a few days or a week to follow you back. If they don’t, then unfollow. It’s that simple.

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The Right Followers

Now the challenge to get followers who matter. I used to follow only other writers, because I was a writer. Yet this doesn’t make sense. I want readers, not writers. So for all my new followers, I seek out those that love reading. This is where ManageFlitter comes in again (although you can employ these same techniques by searching Twitter directly).

The search function allows you search tweeps with keywords. I often search the most recent tweet as people often don’t put relevant information in their bio.

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My favorite searches are those words that readers tend to use:

  • amreading
  • goodreads
  • reading
  • bookreivew
  • book addict

This brings up a a group of tweeps who have used this term. Most of them are actual readers. Now, a word of warning. I tried using just “read” or “book” and got terrible results. Many people use these words to refer to all sorts of activities and I ended up with the wrong sort of tweeps.


All this is well and good, but you have to engage your tweeps to make this successful. No one is going to follow you if all you do it push your own book or, worse yet, ignore twitter. Just log on a once a day and respond to people. Better yet, strike up a conversation with one of your new tweeps.

Have at it and soon you’ll have a bevy of new followers that want the writing you produce.

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How to Write About the Legal Process

by Jim Riffel

One of the most frequent categories of questions I see on Internet forums for writers is how the legal system really works, usually in a criminal setting. I’ve covered the courts for over a decade, so maybe it’s just something I notice easily. However it works, I think it’s worth providing a basic criminal court system primer to get you started on your manuscript. At some point, you’ll want to check on specifics in your community and state. What follows applies to state courts in San Diego County, in California.

Photo from the set of The Green Mile

Photo from the set of The Green Mile

Most arrested criminals are booked into jail on suspicion of some sort of offense and have a bail amount assigned according to a “bail schedule,” which lists dollar amounts for each type of crime. If the accused can’t make bail, he stays in jail and the District Attorney’s Office has 72 hours on working days to file charges and bring him into court (if you’re arrested on a Friday morning, your weekend is screwed).

Those who make bail are given a date for their initial court appearance.

An arraignment will be the defendant’s first time in court. Most criminals are visited by a public defender in a courthouse holding tank, where they are advised of the charges against them. The charges are not usually read out loud in open court. The defendant will almost always plead “not guilty,” even when caught red-handed, because the public defender won’t know any of the circumstances about the case. The defense lawyer will probably handle 10 or so defendants that day and is generally assigned to the courtroom itself, not a specific defendant. The judge will set a bail amount and schedule future court dates. If the prosecutor wants a high bail set and the defense attorney objects, that is about the only time the circumstances of the alleged crime are discussed openly in court.

About a week later, there will be a readiness conference before a different judge in a different courtroom. Another public defender, the one actually assigned to the accused, will discuss the case with the judge and prosecutor and usually decide amongst themselves whether the previously set dates for future hearings are realistic. Because of issues with evidence, there can be two or three readiness conferences before the next step…

…which in felony cases is a preliminary hearing. The case will be sent out to still another judge, who will oversee a hearing with witnesses and evidence presented that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of days. At the end, the judge will decide whether the prosecution has enough evidence to justify sending the defendant to trial. The defense will cross-examine witnesses, but generally does not present its own case. In misdemeanors, the prelim is skipped and the case goes straight to trial.

If a trial is ordered, the defendant will be arraigned again, make another guilty/not guilty plea, and receive a trial date. Sometimes that happens the moment the “prelim” ends. Sometimes, it takes place a week or two later before, yes, still another judge.

Usually, before a trial is held, there will be a couple more readiness conferences. Sometimes at this stage they are called status conferences. Defendants will sometimes agree to plea bargains at readiness conferences, even the ones before preliminary hearings.

Trials can be postponed several times. Before they start, a hearing can be held on pre-trial motions, usually over whether certain evidence will be admissable. Jury selection will begin with a pool of 60-80 candidates for major cases, and can take anywhere from an hour to a few days. The trial itself consists of opening statements from the lawyers, the prosecution witnesses and then the defense witnesses. The prosecution can put on rebuttal witnesses and, if it does, the defense can do the same. Rebuttals are rare. Evidence is followed by closing arguments by the lawyers, after which the jurors go into the little room and make a decision. Trials, from the beginning of jury selection to the verdict, can last from half a day to six months or more. Court officials in downtown San Diego think a trial underway as of this writing might last a whole year, setting a local record.

Sentencing can be set 30 days after a defendant is found guilty. Like everything else, sentencing hearings can be postponed a couple of times, often because required reports from the overworked county Probation Department aren’t quite ready. Sentencing doesn’t end everything, of course. Many defendants choose to appeal and sometimes they win.

It should be pointed out that the yelling and shouting you see in the movies or intense questioning of a witness who breaks down and admits being the real killer at the end of the television hour just about never happens. Judges like orderly proceedings, so lawyers who badger witnesses are quickly admonished. Also, more drama occurs away from a jury than before one. The news media often covers preliminary hearings more thoroughly than trials because that’s the first time the evidence is aired publicly, warts and all. Sometimes what appears to be a huge case upon arrest and arraignment turns out to be not so much at prelim–reality bites.

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Rewrite Your Novel as a Short Story

by Tim Kane

I’ll admit, I’m stealing this idea from io9. But, it’s a damn cool idea that I plan to try out. First, backtrack. Say you have a finished draft of a novel. In my case, it’s after the thrill ride of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I have draft of the story, but it’s rough with more than a few typos. Rather than dive right into revisions, I plan to rewrite the whole thing as a short story. Yes. That does sound like a lot of work. So why toil away?

Story arc.

I know that just because I have a 50,000 words, doesn’t mean I have coherent story. If I can successfully condense this into, say, a 5000 word story, then I could get to the meat of the narrative.

The trick is to not look back at the original. Then, I’d be tempted to simply revise that. If I forget a scene or two, then those must not have been that pivotal. Maybe I’ll need to invent some new material. Excellent. Then I could add it the manuscript.

Best of all, I’ll discover if the whole concept actually works, of if I need to go to square one. So if you’re looking for a fresh perspective on your writing, think of going small.

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Set the Scene

by Tim Kane

Whether you’re writing with abandon or carefully plotting each moment of your novel, setting is crucial to the unfolding action. Your characters can’t simply act out their drama in a white room. Here are some tips to upping the ante on setting.

Get Ridiculous
What’s the strangest place you could set the scene? Under a waterfall. Funeral home? Candy factory? Imagine you’re writing an episode of Scooby Doo, they always set their action in bizarre locales.

Tie the Setting into the Action
Where would make the most sense to have the next setting, but still be a surprise for the reader. Think of a setting you used earlier in the novel, one that might have been a throwaway at the time. Revisiting this scene will add more depth to it. Think of yourself as a TV director with only a limited budget for sets. You’ll to reuse a few, so make them work.

Match Scenes to Characters
Have a character that loves learning, set the scene at a school or classroom. An outdoorsy type, set the scene on a mountain trail or a surf spot. Or, you can flip it on your characters. Make them uncomfortable by setting the scene where they would not want to be. This, in itself, will create tension. Maybe your character hates kids. Then you put him in a Chucky Cheese or McDonalds play area.

Imbue the Scene with Symbolism
The setting can be a character too. It can foreshadow upcoming events. Even provide hints to future plot points. Get creative. When you think about upcoming scenes, what flashes to mind? Usually this will be a mood or a feeling. Create a scene that matches that mood and you’ll propel readers through the story.

Where ever you set the action, make it interesting.

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Nail Your Pacing by Manipulating Time

by Tim Kane

I never understood pacing until I had to teach it to students. For me it was always something I recognized in its absence. When the pacing is bad on a novel, it puts you to sleep. But how to define it?

Time manipulation. Specifically collapsing time and blowing it up. For an amazing example, check out “How to Eat a Guava” by Esmeralda Santiago. This really shows how time can be expanded to fill pages, but only second transpire in real time.

The best way to explain pacing is to think of the events of a day taped along the length of a slinky.

  1. Wake up
  2. Breakfast
  3. Drive to work
  4. Answer emails
  5. Argue with coworker
  6. Lunch
  7. Meeting
  8. Drive home
  9. Dinner
  10. Sleep

These are all in sequential order, but it’s a snooze. The exciting moment, the argument, is mired so deep in triviality, that a reader would be comatose before reaching it.

Now, if you consider these events attached to a slinky, you can contract certain events. Instead of slogging through events 1 through 4, collapse them into a few sentences of narration. Or, better yet, employ a jump cut and simply skip over the boring bits.

Now we get to the interesting problem. Just like a slinky, if you contract one section, you expand another. This is the argument. But to make it truly work, it needs to be injected with emotion. Simply relating how the argument went down, in some dry fashion, makes the reader think he’s viewing a scientific report. The protagonist must feel something vital about this incident to warrant it’s attention.

Writers can manipulate time to serve their needs. Collapse the bits that are trivial and blow up, or expand, on the moments that matter. Your story is your slinky. Play with it.

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Read Like a Reader, Write Like a Writer

by Tim Kane

I recently needed to read through my entire manuscript one last time, yet I needed to see the text as a reader, not a writing. It seems weird to say, but there is a difference. When I read someone else’s book, I don’t edit as I go. Even my own stories, once published, my mind tends to leave alone. However, when I view my writing in the word processor, I just can’t resist the urge to keep tweaking.

The trick is perspective. For one edit-read I printed out the whole thing, sat on the couch, and poured over it. Trouble is, I don’t have time for that approach. My solution, PDF. I emailed to my iPad, but you could do the same with a Nook or Kindle. The goal is to place the story in a format that I associate with reading (not writing). And it works.

It’s scary how the mind works. In order to make any changes to typos and such, I read the PDF, but still have the laptop handy. That way I can quickly make the change and get back to reading. Midway through this process I thought, “Man, this is a waste of time. I should just read from the computer.” Nope. The instant I started to read from the word processor, my perspective on the text changed. I could feel that switch in my brain flipping. It even happens when I turn my iPad sideways and make the text feel more like my laptop.

No, to get the reading feeling right, it must look and feel like a printed and published story.

Next time you need to view your work as a reader, consider these tricks.

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Pesky Pronouns

by Tim Kane

Recently, I set to work editing down the pronouns in my manuscript. No short order. In the process of weeding them out, I sliced away 4000 words. Yet even then, I wasn’t done. Passing the book onto a freelance editor, he found ways to even further minimize the impact of repetitive he’s and she’s. What follows is a list of some situations that I found cropping up over and over.

Join Multiple Sentences
Starting every sentence with a pronoun or the character name is not only repetitive, it’s poor writing. Combine sentences to decrease the pronouns and keep the flow going.

  • Instead of “He _____. He ______. He ____.” Try “He ______, ______, and ______.

Use Subordinating Conjunctions
Grammar is your friend. Honestly. Make a list of a few useful subordinating conjunctions and memorize how to use them.

  • Instead of “_____ as he _____.” Try “______ while _____.”

Avoid Extra Description
There are times when the situation is so obvious, you can do away with the extra language. Look at these examples.

  • “He nodded his head,” becomes, “He nodded.”
  • “She shrugged her shoulders,” becomes, “She shrugged.”
  • “He held it in his hand,” becomes, “He held it.”

Think about it, what else are you going to use to hold something, your foot? We’re not chimps. Likewise, you can only nod your head or have a smile on your face. Thinking only takes place in your head and tears only come from people’s eyes. Cut unnecessary description whenever possible.

Use Gerunds
Gerunds are those “ing” words that act like verbs or nouns. No need to go crazy memorizing the grammar on this one, just get a feel for what works.

  • “Muscles tightening along her neck,” becomes, “Neck muscles tightening.”

Cut the Obvious
You know the situation in your story better than anyone. If you’re penning the next War and Peace with twenty some odd characters in each scene, there may not be much you can do about repeating names. However, most of use only have two or three people on stage at any given moment. The reader is smart. She can figure out what’s going on, so you don’t need to remind her of the obvious.

  • “He passed the book over to her,” becomes, “He passed the book over.”
  • “She took the money from him,” becomes, “She took the money.”

If it’s obvious who the action is affecting, then do away with the extra “to him” or “from her.”

Delete Most Dialogue Tags
These things are insidious. They breed faster than fleas. Again, this goes along with the obvious. If there are only two people in the scene, most readers will be able to tell who’s who. Especially if you’ve done your job as a writer and given each speaker a distinct voice.

Now, don’t try and think about all these while you’re writing. You’ll end up frustrated with a blank page. Save these tips for editing, after the fact.

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