Friday, August 29, 2014

Writing a Novel: Voice and Character

The term 'voice' is used in a few different ways when it comes to literature. Often it is used to describe the author's voice, the style that makes his or her writing truly unique. This kind of voice tends to be consistent between stories, even when it shouldn't be. But there is another kind of voice, the kind that doesn't travel from story to story. This is the voice of your character, or characters, and is highly dependent on the story itself. Character voice is inescapable, and it is vital to a quality story, novel or otherwise.


Character voice is a powerful tool for writers, and it is especially important when it comes to characterization. The voice, or tone, of a particular piece of writing gives the reader further insight into the characters the writer creates. You can't escape voice, even if you want to, because all stories are told by someone. There may not be a clear narrator (as is the case with many third person narratives), but there is always a voice, and that voice should be consistent throughout the piece.


Even though every story has a voice, it is easier to note when the story is told through the first person narrative. When a story is written from the first person point of view, you are reading the narrative of the character just as if you were listening to the character's thoughts. In first person stories, voice is usually easy to identify.


Third person narration, however, has far more variations, sometimes making it more difficult to notice the voice of the story. In some forms, third person narrative is just another form of first person, simply replacing I with he or she. Sometimes third person involves a neutral voice, one where the narrator is above the character, not inside the character's head. Third person can also mean dropping into the head of any character at any time. In many third person narratives, the voice of the novel is not consistent with any particular character, or may change to reflect essence of different characters throughout the piece, but that doesn't mean these narratives lack voice.


As a writer, you get to develop the overall voice of your novel. It is totally within your control. As such, it becomes a powerful tool in developing your characters, both major and minor. Too many authors overlook voice as it relates to character development, but it really is very simple. Start by checking yourself frequently. The story is not about you (unless it's an autobiography or a memoir). It's about the characters themselves, and the voice of your story should reflect that. Try to take yourself out of the writing and focus on the characters.


When you're writing, think about the characters who is closest to your point of view. If your point of view is first person, the character is obvious. Third person takes a little more thinking, but you are almost always closer to one character than any others. The focus character may shift if you're writing in third person omniscient, so pay attention to these shifts. A shift in focus character means a shift in voice.


Once you know who your focus character is, address the language you're using. Newer up in flowery language or lengthy words, but this isn't always appropriate for your focus character. The language you use should be consistent with the character in question. If your character doesn't even know what 'loquacious' means, he or she certainly wouldn't say or even think that particular word. Choose something more in keeping with the character you're developing.


This might seem like it applies only to dialogue, but that's not true at all. Your descriptions, your dialogue tags, and everything else should use the same grammar and vocabulary your focus character would use. To an extent, anyway. If your character speaks in gibberish, please clean it up. And don't make spelling errors even if your character would. The point is there shouldn't be a word your character doesn't know or couldn't pronounce, but your writing should still make sense.  Let the tone of the story reflect your characters, but don't use that as an excuse for poor writing or horrible grammar.


As a writer, you best serve your story by taking yourself out of the equation. In most cases, the novel shouldn't sound like you're narrating it at all. Your voice, the author's voice, should disappear in favor of your characters. This is a simple concept, but it can be hard to accomplish. You'll have to review every sentence, look at them with unbiased eyes. I don't pretend this is easy, but your story will be better for it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Writing a Novel: Detail and Character

Most things in a novel are communicated using details. In many cases, the quality of fiction is equal to the quality of the conveyed details. Note that I said QUALITY. Not quantity. The details you choose to convey will determine how successfully the reader is able to put themselves into the story. Too few details and your readers won't have enough information to get involved. Too much and the story gets bogged down. It's a delicate balance.


This is also true of the details used to describe the characters in your novel. It is possible to go on and on for pages without imparting anything of any value, especially when discussing your characters. Think about the last time you asked someone to describe a person you'd never met. You'll get responses like, "He has brown hair," "He's five foot nine," or maybe, "He's got wide shoulders." None of that tells you anything important (and certainly doesn't help you pick him out of a crowd), so you ask what he is like. You'll likely hear the familiar refrain, "He's nice." Or maybe the opposite, "He's annoying." Again, this tells you nothing. Five minutes of your life you'll never get back.


Most people are really awful at describing someone in useful terms. Most descriptions are just too general, and generalizations are completely useless in fiction. Almost everyone could be described as nice in some situations, but annoying in others. These are not individual traits, and the art of characterization (at least in fiction) deals with the individual. So your job as an author is to make sure the reader understands how this character is different from all other people.


To accomplish this, you have to provide details that are specific enough that the reader can begin to construct that character in their own minds. If you do your job correctly, they should almost be able to see the character your describe. Every detail doesn't have to be completely unique to that character (let's face it, more than one person has blond hair, and many people shout when angry), but the combination of details should add up to construct a character who is immediately recognizable.


So how do you do this? First, choose the right details to convey character. Being scattered about it just doesn't work, and irrelevant details bog down your story. Don't describe the birthmark on a character's foot unless it has something to do with your story. Do they use the birthmark to identify the body? It is used in the plot in any way at all? No, then leave it out. A detail with no purpose becomes ridiculous. Make sure the plot is motivating you to reveal that detail.


Now that you've determined what details are important, you have to decide how to reveal them. Don't do it all at once because it will come off as a list. No one lists the specific details of anyone unless they've been asked to (which only rarely happens, by the way). Is a character's hair getting in her eyes? This might be a good time to casually mention her hair and eye color. Does she have pale skin? Or dark skin? Is there a casual way to reveal this (hint: Yes, there is)? You can always have another character notice physical details (as long as your using third person point-of-view), but again, only mention then if they're important to the story in some way.


When it comes to a character's personality, which is the most important part of characterization, the only good way to do it is to demonstrate personality. Use dialogue effectively to show how your character reacts to given situations. And if you've got any internal dialogue at all, make sure it reflects your character's personality. To do all this, you have to know your characters as well as you know yourself, so take some time to get to know them. Then you can impart the pertinent details to your reader.


There is a delicate balance when it comes to the details you'll need to create an effective and interesting character. Choose your details carefully, and remember that a detail is only as good as the reader who recognizes it and understands what it means. So be clear, be concise, and don't be afraid to hit 'delete' and start again.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Writing a Novel: Keeping Your Characters in Character.

All fiction is, or should be, character driven. The details of the plot should arise from the decisions the characters themselves make, and from the changes that occur within the characters as a result of those decisions. If you allow your characters to drive the story, the question of what happens next is easy enough to answer. You simply have to determine what your characters would naturally do next. You must keep your character in character.


The range of possible reactions of a single character will not be the same as the range of possible reactions for all characters everywhere. To illustrate this point, think of two people you know, two very different people. Propose a scenario, perhaps getting fired at work for no good reason. What are the possible reactions for each person? They'll likely be quite different. This must also be true of fictional characters. What your characters do and how they react to any given stimuli should be a direct result of personality. The personality of the character. Keep that in mind.


Think of your story, short or long, as a series of decision points. The decision points guide the story, and each decision made is a result of the personality of a given character. I'll use my first book, Arianna's Tale, as an example of this. At the beginning of the novel, Arianna sees a man in the ocean. This man has dark hair and a dark complexion, so he's obviously an Imperial. Arianna's people are at war with the Imperials. She should leave him be, letting the ocean swallow him. But, as a healer, she simply can't do that. She has to save him. Not doing so was never an option. If she hasn't save him...well, let's just say the novel would have been quite different.


If you've ever said the story was writing itself, or complained that the characters had taken over, then you already know what it feels like to allow the characters to drive the story. If you know your characters well enough, this simply happens. You don't have to think about what happens next because it really is obvious. This applies to dialogue as well as plot, by which I mean you don't have to agonize over every line of dialogue. The characters speak the way they speak, and they never speak out of character.


If, however, you don't really know your characters, you're in for a long haul. The story will get bogged down, the plot ends up going nowhere, and the dialogue falls flat. If this is happening to you, take a close look at your characters. Get to know them. Find out their backstories, write monologues in their voices, and maybe even interview your character.


Ack! Interviewing your own character? Yep. Sit down and ask them questions, both relating to the story and totally independent of it. How would each character answer these questions? This may take some careful thought, but it will be well worth the effort. Once the characters are truly alive for you, once their have realized their own voices, they'll have more power in your story. Your plot will benefit from it, and you'll have a better than even chance than even chance that readers will connect with your characters.


You could always go the other way and force the characters to go where you want them to go, but the story will forever have a false feel to it. Plot and character are too deeply connected to isolate from each other. If your characters aren't right, the plot will also be off.


Remember, the plot only makes sense if the character can deliver it effortlessly. So keep your characters in character.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Review of "Deryni Magic" by Katherine Kurtz

Yes, I know. Deryni Magic, written by Katherine Kurtz, is an old book. Old enough that it's out of print and I had to buy one to replace my old one from eBay. Still, I've decided to review the books I've been reading, and since I just re-read this one, time for a review.


If you're interested in Kurtz's Deryni series, this book will help you further explore that world. It gives some additional details into the history of the Deryni and explains much of they magic they use in the many Deryni books. It's also a good way to fill in the gaps. If you want some specifics on the magic used in the novels, this is the book you need. Especially for those trying to figure out all the references to warding cubes in the novels. It's all well explained here.


That said, it's not a good stand-alone book. If you haven't read any Deryni books (or didn't enjoy them), this one is likely to be more than a little boring. It is written rather like a history, so it's a bit dry. You need to be a fan of the many Deryni novels to get anything out of Deryni Magic. Remember that this book is not a novel. It's not a story with character development, or really any characters at all. It's a companion book, a grimoire, and should be approached as that. If you're looking for a story, this is not the book for you.


All in all, I'd give Deryni Magic 4 stars out of 5. Why not a full five? The prose leaves something to be desired. Even a history can be written so that it's not entirely boring.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Excerpt from Mage's Rebellion, Book 4 of the Imperial Series, by LA Quill

Just released in December of 2013, Mage's Rebellion is a full-length novel and the fourth book of the popular Imperial Series. Written for all the fans who thought I didn't have enough strong female characters, this story follows the adventures of Emperor Damuk's youngest daughter Calinda. What starts out as an attempt to prove she's more than a marriage prize quickly turns into something darker. Mage's Rebellion is available as a trade paperback or as an ebook (in most formats, including Kindle, Kobo, and Nook)

Read on for an excerpt from the book:

The wind whipped through her midnight hair, blowing it out behind her like a dark nimbus. Her hands gripped the thick leather reins as she leaned forward and rocked her hips in time with the horse’s powerful movements. The sun kissed her face, warming her cheeks and bringing a smile to her face. A sense of bliss filled her as she gave the horse its head and they all but flew across the desert.

Calinda glanced over her shoulder at her companion. He was keeping pace with her, which was unusual. Most people, no matter how much time they spent in the saddle, simply did not ride as well as she did. But this man wasn’t typical, so she should not be surprised that he could keep up when very few others could. He was one of the most skilled warriors the Empire had ever produced. Currently, he was second only to her father.

Thoughts of her father were like a black cloud settling around her, so Calinda turned her face back to the sun. Its warmth was more than physical. It filled her very being as they raced across the desert. Her horse, a beautiful black mare given to her by her parents, thundered over the sand, never putting a foot wrong. With Sesi moving between her thighs, Calinda had no need to watch the path ahead. She could just give herself up to the brightness of the day and the serenity of the desert.

Finally, after galloping for what felt like the better part of a day, Calinda drew to a halt. The other horse came up beside her and Calinda smiled saucily at its rider. She had a plan, and this man was a part of that plan. If only he would cooperate…

“Don’t give me that look,” Payton drawled, determined not to be taken in by Callie’s bright smile and dancing eyes. “A ride. That’s it. That’s what you told your brother and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Calinda dismounted and laughed. “Why do you think I didn’t tell my father we were going for a ride?” His look of confusion had her laughing harder. “Because he’d have seen through the lie.”

“Get back on the horse, Your Highness.” She was his best friend’s sister, and he usually didn’t bother with the title, but he was trying not to strangle her. A little formality would help remind him that she was royalty. And Royal Guards did not strangle royalty. Usually.

“I’m not getting on. You’re getting off.” Her hand glowed a soft purple and she snapped a tiny bolt of energy through the air. Her magicks were powerful, but she also had more control than most mages her age. At eighteen, she could destroy a building or light a candle. It was all a matter of degrees.

She hadn’t hit Payton that hard, but he still went flying off his horse. Landing on his ass in the sand, Payton groaned. The sound made her smile as she skipped across the sand to his side. He didn’t stand, but he did rise up on his elbows to glare at her. Calinda flopped down on the ground beside him, trying not to laugh at his plight.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Payton complained. Then his eyes widened as Calinda began to unlace her gown. “Don’t do that!”

“Oh, relax.” She continued to work the laces. “It’s not like I’m naked underneath.” The gown slid down to her hips and Calinda rolled onto her back, kicking her feet in the air to throw the silk gown across the sand.

Payton’s eyes widened, though he was not surprised. Clad in black leather breeches and a grey leather tunic, Calinda reclined on the sandy ground. Her riding boots matched the breeches and she pulled a pair of grey gloves out of the belt that cinched her waist. Once the gloves encased her slim hands, the young princess jumped to her feet and struck a casual pose.

“How many blades are you carrying?” There was a twinkle in her eyes as she looked down at him.

Crawling slowly to his feet, Payton just shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. We’re not doing this.” If he didn’t keep some control of this situation, it was going to spiral out of control.

“We’ve done it before,” she reminded him with a slight singsong to her voice. “What makes today any different?”

Payton threw his hands up in the air. “It’s different because last time Tristan caught us. Your brother might have thought that it was a big joke, but he did promise to tell your father next time. And I, for one, do not want to have to deal with Emperor Damuk when he’s in protective father mode.” Just the thought made him shiver.

“Where is your sense of adventure? It’s not like I’m asking you to sleep with me.” She stubbornly planted her feet in the sand and stared up at him, willing him to obey her wishes.

“What happened to the sweet young girl we used to know?” he retorted, more than a little appalled by her words. Ladies did not discuss such things. Ever.

To that question she had a ready answer. “Squashed by my father.”

“That’s not fair. Your father is a good man.” One of the few things he was proud of was his loyalty to the Emperor. He couldn’t let anyone besmirch the man, even if that anyone was his youngest daughter.

“It’s fair enough.” Realizing that Payton wouldn’t respond to demands, she changed her tactics. “Please, Pay. How am I ever supposed to prove myself if you don’t help me learn?” She put her hands on his chest and smiled sweetly up at him. Few men could resist that smile.

And Payton wasn’t one of them. “Fine.” He rolled his eyes as he drew the sword at his hip. He tossed it to her and noticed the ease with which she caught it. “But only for a candlemark. Then we go back before we get caught.” The sword across his back made a hissing sound as he pulled it free and twirled it in his right hand.

Calinda flexed her calves, stretched her shoulders, and made sure her grip on the sword was secure. Then she waited for him to come at her, anticipation rushing through her. 

***

“I don’t know. I think William can handle it.” Tristan pushed his jet-black hair out of his eyes as he reined in his horse. This one was young and jumpy and not fully gentled yet. It took all his concentration to keep the steed under control.

Damuk glanced at his eldest son out of the corner of his eye. “It’s far too much for a former thief to take on.” Tristan might be Crown Prince, Commander in Chief of the Imperial army, and a father in his own right, but the young man was still naïve in many ways.

Since he was quite fond of Marella’s husband, Tristan might have defended his brother-in-law. But he saw his father’s concentration drift and immediately came alert. “What?”

The Emperor pierced his son with his icy blue gaze. “Why is your sister outside the city?”

He couldn’t outright lie to those eyes. “She wanted to go for a ride. Payton took her. They… might be around here.”

“That wasn’t what you were going to say.” Something was happening with Calinda and he was quite sure he wasn’t going to like it. For just a moment he considered using his magick to look into Tristan’s mind, but ultimately dismissed the idea. He was too moral a man to invade his son’s thoughts, but it was a near thing. Especially when it concerned his youngest daughter. His errant youngest daughter.

Tristan wanted to tell him. He didn’t exactly approve of what Calinda was doing, even if all she was doing was wandering outside the city without their father’s permission. He suspected there was much more to it, and he should immediately tell his father. But she was his sister and he’d promised he would say nothing unless he caught her a second time. Finally he said only, “I can’t tell you. But we could… wander in that direction.”

Damuk raised an eyebrow. “You want me to find her.” It was a statement, not a question. But Tristan nodded, encouraging Damuk to guide his horse toward his youngest daughter’s aura. He shielded his own aura, and that of his son, so that Calinda would not sense their approach.

But Calinda was more than a mage. She had excellent hearing. So he held his steed to a fast walk in an effort to muffle the hoof beats. Phoenix moved like a ghost, hardly disturbing the sand as he walked. The roan was young, barely two years old, but he’d proven himself in battle more than once. It was unusual to see the Emperor mounted on a horse that wasn’t black, but Phoenix was singularly intelligent, loyal, and steadfast. Besides, the horse had been a gift from his wife. He’d have ridden the roan if the beast had been a ragged nag. He was only glad the beast had proven to be so much more. His wife had excellent taste.

Tristan came up beside him and Damuk held up a hand. His son slowed his pace and together they moved in silence. The sound of swords clashing echoed through the air and Damuk reached for his sword. But Tristan shook his head and Damuk eased the blade back into its sheath. His son might be naïve, but he knew his little sister. Possibly better than her own parents did.

They crested the sand dune a moment later and Damuk’s eyes widened. There was his youngest daughter, but she wasn’t going for a scenic ride through the desert. No, she was grasping a sword and sparring with Payton. More than that, she was dressed in leather and scrambling across the sand like a trainee. And she was not a trainee.

Anger darted through him at her blatant disobedience. Weeks ago, when she’d asked if she could join the guard, he’d clearly refused to entertain the idea. Women did not wield weapons, especially not women in his family, with the sole exception of his daughter-in-law. There had never been a woman in the guard, and his daughter would not be the first.

And yet here she was, scuttling around in the sand. He urged Phoenix forward, no longer caring if the pair heard him. And hear him they did, for they sprang apart as if they’d been burned. When Payton caught sight of both the Emperor and the Crown Prince, he stood immediately at attention but said nothing. He did, however, drop his sword in the sand.

Calinda also stood, but she was slower about it and she didn’t drop the sword she held. Instead, she stood glaring at her father, defiant and angry. But Damuk could tell that she was also uncertain and afraid. Good, he thought to himself, let her fear what I will do. He was angry enough to beat her, but this wasn’t the time or the place. He’d never struck one of his children in anger. It was his belief that if he was going to strike one of them, it would be only for discipline. And discipline and anger were never a good pair. No, discipline could wait. After he got her back to Crown City and had managed to control his burning rage.

But his anger was fresh and ready for a target. It found one in Payton. “Tristan,” he said over his shoulder, “Take your friend into custody.” His voice was quiet and controlled, almost calm. But anyone who knew him would also know this was when he was at his most dangerous.

Tristan shifted uncomfortably in the saddle. “On what charge?” He and Payton had been friends for almost twenty years, since they were just six years old. They’d been through a lot together, nearly died together. Arresting him just didn’t seem right. Especially when he’d not really done anything to deserve it.

“Treason. Lock him up.” His gaze shifted to his daughter, still so defiant. “And you will get on that horse and accompany me to Crown City.”

“I will not!” she snapped, clearly not willing to give in.

Damuk dismounted in one quick motion and advanced on her. He stopped when he saw her gown lying in the sand. It was the yellow silk riding habit that looked so stunning against her black hair and sun-kissed skin. Her mother had bought it on the other side of the mountains, deep in the Yarian Republic. And Calinda had just thrown it in the sand like a piece of trash. He picked it up and flung it toward her.

“Put it on!” Instead of waiting to see if she complied, he strode over to her horse. Sesi was high-strung and pulled away from him, but Damuk simply grabbed the reins and tied them to the pommel of Phoenix’s saddle. The roan would keep the mare in line. When he glanced over his shoulder, Calinda was clutching the gown to her chest. A single raised eyebrow had her scrambling to pull the yellow silk over her head.

When she’d tied the laces, he grabbed her elbow and almost tossed her on her horse. He considered having her ride pillion behind him, but he wasn’t entirely certain he wouldn’t throttle her if she was that close. Calinda opened her mouth to say something, but a sharp look silenced her. He wasn’t in the mood for her excuses.

Remounting Phoenix, Damuk shifted his gaze to Tristan. “I’ll see you back in Crown City. After I’ve dealt with your sister.” He didn’t so much as glance at Payton.

Tristan just nodded and watched as the pair rode off toward the capital. As they disappeared over the nearest sand dune, he urged his own horse closer to Payton. “That was stupid, Pay.”

“She said she just wanted to go for a ride,” he protested. “How was I to know she’d pull this again?”

“You could have refused. She can’t be doing this.” Tristan ran a frustrated hand through his hair, looking and sounding remarkably like his father in that moment.

Payton moved to pick up both swords. “Why can’t she? Your wife isn’t exactly the prim and proper lady.”

In that, Payton was certainly correct. Jewel, Tristan’s wife, wore breeches more often than not, had her hair cut short, and carried several small blades at all times. Still, Tristan shook his head. “Jewel is Kin. She was born and bred to be… well, not a lady. Callie is a lady and should act that way.”

“All she wants to do is serve in the guard.” Sheathing both swords, he gathered his own horse. “You’d let Jewel serve if she asked.”

“I would not,” Tristan said sharply. “Women don’t serve in the guard. Doesn’t matter who they are.” He firmly believed that. Women and men just… shouldn’t serve together. At all.

“But she’s good, Trist,” Payton insisted as he mounted his horse. “She moves like… well, like your father. She could maybe be as good as he is with a little training. She could certainly be as good as you are.”

“It doesn’t matter. And now she’s going to pay for your serious lack of judgment.” He set off toward Crown City, Payton slowly following behind him. After several long moments of silence, Tristan glanced over his shoulder. “She’s really that good?”

Payton just nodded, thoughts elsewhere. “Are you going to arrest me?”

Tristan snorted. “Of course not. But do yourself a favor and stay out of my father’s line of sight for a few days. Give him time to cool down.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Payton had already decided that it was better if he and Emperor Damuk didn’t cross paths for a while.

Silence reigned until Tristan quipped, “It was still stupid.”
Payton had to agree.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Advantages of Guest Blogging

Blogging has become a popular way to share information, opinions, and ideas with readers from all over the world. But creating blog posts on a regular basis can be exhausting and difficult. One newer approach to blogging is ‘guest blogging.’ The idea behind guest blogging is to allow others who do not regularly contribute to your blog, but may be considered experts in their chosen field, to write a post that will appear on your blog. You get great content for your blog, the expert gets some exposure by posting in a place they normally would not.

There are several advantages to guest blogging. The first is simply the exposure factor. For the most part, you’ll be asking experts to guest blog, and those experts will have recognizable names and possibly even a following of their own. Not only will you have your regular readers, but you’ll be able to attract readers who would perhaps not read your blog but are attracted by the expert name. In the case of monetized blogs, more readers usually equals more money.

A quality blog needs quality content, and guest bloggers can give you that. An expert in a given field can create something readable, friendly, and unique. And your blog will take on an air of authority if you involve more than one guest blogger. Search out experts in your field and have them contribute quality content. It will increase your traffic and your blog’s visibility.

The best way of attracting traffic is through quality backlinks, and having a guest blogger post something informative and fun is a great way to generate some backlinks. If the guest blogger has a reputation and is searched regularly, you’ll soon find that other sites, some with excellent page rank (PR) are linking back to the post, and so to your blog. This will help to increase your own PR, though this happens slowly.

Having quest bloggers with recognizable and respected names will help your blog get a reputation for quality. It will also brand blog as a destination, a place for the reader to find what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it. Never underestimate the power of branding. Take the time to select guest bloggers who will truly enhance the reputation of your blog.

Instead of having a guest blogger post on your blog, or perhaps in addition to it, you might choose to be a guest blogger yourself. This will allow you to gain exposure by getting your name out there. You can engage with readers you may not have otherwise reached, and you can simply have fun doing it. Of course, your motivation for guest blogging might be to sell a product. In this case, you’d usually place a link back to the product or service you’re promoting. Affiliate marketing through guest blogging has become popular in recent years and is an effective way to increase your own sales.

As a guest blogger, you’ll probably have to supply a post that is thoughtful and well written. This gives you the opportunity to stretch your wings as a writer, gaining a better understanding of blogging techniques, keywords, and search engine optimization (SEO). You will also develop your own ‘voice,’ if you haven’t already. This will attract additional readers, both to your guest posts and your own blog.

Guest blogging is a fun and effective way to get your name, promote your own products and services, and increase the PR of your own blog. When hiring a guest blogger, look for someone who has a thorough understanding of their area of expertise, understands your needs, and is excited about the idea. Everything else will follow in time.

First published at Helium: Advantages of Guest Blogging

Friday, November 8, 2013

How to Identify Blog Comment Spam

There are many great things about blogging. It allows you to interact with the online community and you can share your thoughts and feelings about many issues. However, not everything about blogging is fun. In fact, most bloggers will tell you that there is one particular thing about blogging that they would rather not have to deal with – blog comment spam.

Blog comment spam is insidious and annoying. These are comments left on your blog that are only designed to lead your readers to an outside website. Usually these websites are commercial in nature, but sometimes they are dangerous, leading your readers to download viruses that could destroy a computer. Not only are these a problem for your readers, but they make you look unprofessional. And while something they are easy to spot, some of these comments will be more difficult to ferret out.

The first thing you should do to keep your blog free of spam is to enable comment moderation. Most blogging platforms allow you to keep comments from posting until you have had a chance to review and approve of them. This is definitely a feature you should be using. In addition, if your blogging platform has an automatic filter to help identify spam, you should use this as well.

It is sometimes tempting to turn off comment moderation if there’s a conversation going on between your readers and you have to leave the computer for an extended period of time. Don’t do it. Disabling comment moderation only allows spam to fill up your comment boxes. If you do have to go away and cannot moderate your comments at all, turn all comments off until you return. It will save you a great deal of hassle in the long run.

Some blog platforms offer a ‘blacklist’ option. You can ban certain words without ever having to moderate those comments. While this is a great option for some words, there are other words that you might want to add but shouldn’t. For example, adding the word ‘financial’ to your blacklist will mean that any comment, even a legitimate comment, will be completely removed. Instead, choose comment verification, which forces users to prove that they are a real person, not some robot posting automatic comments.

Now that you’ve started moderating the comments your blog receives, you’ll have to decide if the comments you are getting are legitimate. As a general rule, legitimate comments will be relevant to your original post. Spam comments are often unrelated and include a link to an external, usually unrelated, website. These should be deleted immediately. Legitimate comments can sometimes have a link embedded, but this link will always be relevant.

Check the handles of readers posting comments. The handle might have a link embedded, but a legitimate link will always lead to either the commenter’s blog or a home page. They will not lead to commercial websites or anything selling Viagra or offering to check your computer for viruses. These are spam. You should also be wary of allowing anonymous comment. Most spam will be posted by the dreaded anonymous user.

Some spam comments are more difficult to recognize. However, if you see a comment with horribly bad grammar or a post that is so generic that it could apply to almost any blog post on the Internet, then the comment is probably spam. For example, “Great post … visit my blog” doesn’t usually lend anything to your blog at all.

If it looks like spam, it’s probably spam, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you think it’s spam, delete it anyway. At worst, the commenter will have to repost it later, and then you’ll be closer to knowing for certain that it isn’t spam. Err on the side of caution and your blog will have a clean look that is free of spam.

First published at Helium: Easy Ways to Identify Blog Comment Spam