Magical Words: Working the Crowd

DragonCon 2018 – from Nerd Nation Magazine

It’s convention time again. ConCarolinas, ConGregate, DragonCon, and so forth. Which means selling books, which mean working the crowd.

You know, it’s very amusing watching people used to the solitary occupation of writing and editing, nearly all by nature introverts, figure out how to work a crowd.

Gail Z. Martin gave some excellent advice related to “Working the Crowd – How to Survive and Thrive Staffing a Booth”. At one time she was a corporate marketer, so her simple list of advice is sound. The Magical Word post was published August 24, 2016.

Item 1 – Wear comfortable shoes. Concrete floors are not kind to knees and the back.

Item 2 – Stand as much as you can. It give you energy, you are more visible, you will attract more people, and it is easier to talk. I (Erin) have been told to stand at work as it conveys a welcome; you are paying special attention to the person. It also matches body language with both people standing.

Item 3 – Try not to eat in your booth. Don’t NOT eat – get food, but if you have to eat at the table, keep it hidden. Half-eaten food disturbs people. And most people don’t like interrupting people who are eating.

Item 4 – Make the booth attractive. Swag, create levels, use banners behind to create depth.

Item 5 – Smile. At everyone. Invite them closer.

Item 6 – Use the person’s name – at cons, they come with name tags. Ask questions to engage them – what do they like to read, are they enjoying the con, how is the weather.

Item 7 – Hand them the merchandise. Studies show people are much more likely to buy something when they have handled it.

are just some of the twenty suggestions. Again the URL is:

Magical Words: Cutting Out the Filler

Photo by Charles Chen on Unsplash

When writers go back and review their old works, it can be a humbling experience. David B. Coe worked on a re-release of his first series where he found over 20,000 words just taking up print space in his books. Filler that didn’t add anything to the story. He broke them up into the following groups:

  1. Passive and distancing constructions
  2. Adverbs
  3. Weakening words
  4. Beginning and starts.

From reading the May 31, 2016 Magical Word post, “Cutting Out the Filler”, you will discover what things needed to go based on these groups. Remember to bring the same scalpel to your writing.

  1. Passive – Remove copulas (I have mentioned this in other posts).
  2. Distancing constructions

Distancing constructions come in several forms. Any time we use “could” we are possbily adding extra words. And often using “saw” or “felt” or “heard” injects unnecessary words into the perceptions of your point of view character. For example:  “He could hear a horseman approaching” is wordier than “He heard a horseman approaching,” which is wordier than “A horseman approached.” And since we’re in the POV of our narrator, we KNOW that she has heard this.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, of course. Yes, it’s possible that your POV character divined this magically, or saw rising dust — perhaps we need some sensory input. “Hoofbeats shook the ground. A horseman approached.” Now we’re using more words. But we’re saying more as well. We’re showing rather than telling. My larger point stands: eliminate distancing constructions from your writing. Even if this doesn’t save you words in the long run (though trust me, it will) doing so will improve your writing.

3. Adverbs – No need to remove them all; they add beauty and clarity. But are they necessary. Mr. Coe mentions fixing items like “He glanced briefly.” noting that a glance is always brief.

4. Weakening – Drop the waffling words. I (Erin) constantly have to slash out “a lot” or “a bit”, “slightly” and “nearly”. “Tend” keeps getting killed and resurrecting. Sometimes a statement needs to be soften, but usually our storytelling needs stronger stuff.

5. Beginnings and starts – I’ve talked about this a lot before. I hate these for the action genres like thrillers and urban fantasies. “He began to think on things.” “She started to run.” … “He thought on things.” “She ran.” Unless the act of beginning is important, these need killing too.

The URL is: (It may no longer be available. After nearly a decade, Magical Words website has been taken down.

Writing Exercise: T is for Turn on a Dime

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Sometimes a scene needs to turn on a dime. A song reminds the MC (main character) of an important clue in the Mystery or a loss making them long for true Romance. Not everything in life flows smoothly from one point to another.

A.J. Hartley discusses “Instant Transitions” in his August 24, 2012 Magical Word post – URL: (see below as no longer exists)

WRITING EXERCISE: Write a short scene, five hundred words or less, where the tone or point of the scene makes a left turn through an Instant Transition.


As Magical Words website has finally been taken down – here is the original post by A.J. Hartley:

Instant Transitions by A J Hartley

I was struggling with a passage I was working on once in which I had a character sitting in a coffee shop chatting to a friend. I needed to make my protagonist remember something crucial about a crime scene. The problem was that the friend had no connection to the case and the scene was relaxed and upbeat. Getting my protagonist to suddenly remember what he needed to would not so much derail the scene as pack it with C4 and blow it up. Not what I was going for.

So I wrote and wrote and the scene got longer and longer as these two happy little coffee drinkers dragged the long dead conversation round to something that might finally provide a plausible segue into a reminiscence about the crime scene and our hero’s all important realization. It was interminable, and when the subject finally came up it still felt labored. The first person I showed it too said, “yeah, I figured that was coming, but it still felt like being sideswiped by a bulldozer.”

Let’s file that under “Epic Fail.”

Not long after I was reading a book by someone else (someone much clever than me, as it turned out) in which the author executed a complete about face mid scene by dropping in the distant sound of a backfiring car. For a split second the protagonist thought it was a gunshot, and suddenly he was right back there, remembering, and the scene turned on a dime. It felt perfectly natural and it was only my own recent struggling with a similar moment that made me see the conveniently backfiring car for what it was: a ruse, an authorial interpolation designed to move the story sharply sideways.

I returned to my own story, hacked out three pages of aimless café banter and decided that something acrid in the scent of burned coffee drifting from the kitchen reminded our hero of the crime scene. Job done. It felt right, even rich—as if the extra detail made the café feel more real and the characters a shade deeper—though it was nothing more than a trick to switch the direction of the scene.

When done well, devices like this are practically invisible and they save you a huge amount of time which you might otherwise spend easing into the shift. Often you don’t need to take that change in direction slowly at all and any number of invented details might prove helpful. Try these examples for size:

“He was still laughing when he caught his reflection—slightly distorted—in the stainless steel coffee mug and suddenly he was back in the alley, the monstrous head with the gash-like mouth and its array of jagged teeth looming over him in the night.”

“She smiled at the thought, then eased her way past the damp plant which had swelled across the garden path. Its scent rose up like heat as she touched it: lavender. Instantly she was back in her grandmother’s house, aged about ten, gazing down at the knife in her hand.”

The transitions look clumsy because I’ve announced what I’m doing, so it stands out, but if this was just part of a story you were reading I THINK you’d roll with the shift because the transition moves the reader to somewhere striking, something far more interesting than the transition itself. In each case, the details (the distorted reflection and the lavender) actually add to the scene, make it feel more real, even though they are no more than a magician’s distracting flourish with his left hand, while the right one palms the card.

You’ll notice also that both examples make no attempt to suggest a gradual mood shift. I want a quick transition so I use words that make it happen and don’t apologize for it: “suddenly” and “instantly” in these cases. Again, I think such terms actually soften the blow on the reader who is being redirected because they fess up to the speed of the shift and make the surprise register in the character as well. Readers will accept a lot of things if the character in the story feels them too: it’s when characters accept without comment what any normal reader would find strange that you run into problems. “Suddenly” acknowledges that something slightly odd just happened, that the character has registered it, and then moved on. Nine times out of ten, the reader will too and you’ve pulled off your transition.

Any other tips for economical tonal transitions?

Magical Words: Motivation (D is for Diver)

Photo by Ricky Shirke on Unsplash, meme words added by Erin Penn

The admonition of the meme is harsher than my normal, but I think the picture captures the base of it well. The dancer works to have her body respond elegantly and swiftly to the dance requirements. Her workouts don’t only include the present dance, but other muscle memory building techniques, stretches, balance, movement, and freezes.

Writing is the same. It can’t be a sometime thing. It can’t be put off until tomorrow, and then tomorrow again and then tomorrow again. A to Z blog tour can help break the cycle of “I’ll find time to write tomorrow.” Writing muscles – from speed of typing, creative flow, self-editing as you go, having the characters actually talk to you, grammar and paragraph flow, and dozen of other techniques and skills, need constant work. Of course sometime life interferes, just like sometime a dancer can’t dance.

I’ve been a better writer. I write faster and more, when I write daily. It’s what works for me. A doctor-author-friend can only write on weekends; this method works for him. What writing exercise builds your muscles and gets you to your goals, that is the path you need to dance on.

I got the meme words from Lucienne Diver in her Magical Words post from October 3rd, 2012, “Motivation”. The URL is:

Magical Words: Writing With A Baby

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

Babies not only pull at your heartstrings, they pull at your hair and your time. I have five sisters, all of whom decided to have children therefore I’m blessed with a lot of niblings, so I’ve been around a lot of babies. Only one of my sisters committed to retaining a career after having children; the rest have decided to be primary caregivers to the next generation, sometimes holding down a job, but mostly depending on their significant other to provide the hours outside the home needed for income to cover housing and food while they covered the hours needed inside the home to create healthy, well-developed adults from their mutual commitment when they decided to have children.

Doing something on top of children, let alone when the offspring is at their most neediest, always amazes me. Babies are WORK. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Many potential authors think that when they have a Baby they will also write their Novel.

Many potential authors are delusional from the future lack of sleep.

Catie Murphy discusses her commitments, both to her novel-writing career and her child, in the Magical Word post from March 31, 2011, “Writing With a Baby”. The comment section includes a comments from others holding down the dual career of author and parent.

By the way, happy Women’s History Month.

The URL, for those that prefer the cut and paste method is: