Monday, July 28, 2014

Little Fixes - Your Turn

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that I have a penchant for finding little things in writing that are awkward and pull me out of the story. So often I wish the author and/or editor had taken one last pass through a manuscript and smoothed some of the rough edges.

I first wrote about my obsess... er, interest in those little problems back in October 2007 here at The Blood Red Pencil. Wow, we've been doing this a long time. But I digress. The title of that older post is Things That Drive an Editor Crazy, and not everyone has agreed with my critique. That's okay. We don't have to agree on everything, and one of the nice things about this blog is that we are all constantly learning if we keep ourselves open to new ideas and other opinions.

Today, just for fun, I thought I would turn the editing over to you, our readers. The following are some bits of writing that made me stop reading because I found them awkward. Why don't you try a rewrite on one or two and post in the comments? Hopefully, we can get them all smoothed out.

1.  When he arrived at Princeton, Limpys pickup and the area were crawling with people. (NOTE - in the story nobody was on Limpy's truck.)

2.  A group of kids are playing....

3. Sam, who had been listening despite himself, looked up at Smith. (This is a common device writers use when having a character do something they were reluctant to do, but the use of the reflexive pronoun is awkward. The context this sentence was taken from was one in which Sam was busy at his desk when Smith walks in to  "run something by you." Sam does not care for Smith and would rather not respond. So how could  that sentence be rewritten to better reflect that?)

4.  After five minuted of walking the beach is deserted.

5.  Suddenly he found himself blushing. (Again an awkward use of the reflexive pronoun. I'm also not fond of people "finding" themselves. Are they lost?)

6. I wasn't sure how long I'd slept for.

7. I don't want them to grow up an only child like I did.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Introducing New BRP Blogger Merry Farmer!

To our loyal BRP readers, blog owner Dani Greer, and my esteemed colleagues: I thank you for the past six years of camaraderie. While I must now step back from my monthly commitment here to tend the writing career I long sought, I look forward to stopping back in for guest posts. Now, I ask that you show my most competent and enthusiastic replacement the same warm welcome you gave me. Here's Merry Farmer!

Kathryn Craft: Merry, I believe we met at the Philadelphia Writers' Conference. How has that event shaped you, and what others have you participated in?

Saving Grace at Amazon
Merry Farmer: I knew I loved writing and that I wanted to be published, but I knew absolutely nothing about the business of writing. I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know! The PWC was the first time I met other serious writers, the first time I pitched to an agent, and the first time I heard a lot of the best advice about the craft of writing that I’ve ever heard. It was also where I heard about self-publishing for the first time, in 2011. Everyone was talking about self-publishing that year, and I knew as soon as I learned what it was that it was the path for me.

I’ve been to a lot of writer’s conferences since then, and I truly love them and think they’re one of the most valuable thing a writer can do. I’ve gone to several Romance Writers of America regional conferences, including teaching a workshop at the Chicago-North Spring Fling conference earlier this year. I’ve also attended RWA national conferences, which are enormous (over 2,000 writers attend) and overwhelming, but it’s one of the few times during the year that I can get together with all of my writer friends who I usually only hang out with online. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Kathryn: You like historicals and romance. What draws you to these forms?

Merry: I’ve always loved history. I majored in history not once, but twice in college, and my
In Your Arms at Amazon
sincerest wish right now is to go back to get an MA and maybe even a PhD in history. There is just something that has always appealed to me about the lives, thoughts, interests, passions, and concerns of people throughout history. Things that we consider dusty old boring names and dates were the reality and current events for billions of people who came before us. In some ways their lives were so different than ours, but at the same time, people have always cared about love, success, survival, and accomplishment, even if their definitions of those things have been different from our modern definitions. And I’m particularly fascinated by the fact that what most people think they know of history is usually not exactly the way things really were. In fact, what most people know about history is wrong. I love uncovering the truth and sharing that with people.

As for romance, well, I didn’t intentionally set out to write love stories, they all just turned out that way. I tried fighting it for a while, but no, that’s what I have in me to write.

Kathryn: Why did you decide to self-publish? When did you start, and how is it going?

Merry: Well, I don’t do well with authority. Ha! But when I first learned that self-publishing existed, how all of the responsibility was in the hands of the author along with all the control, I knew that was the path for me. I’ve been called crazy for actually embracing the responsibility and the work, the nearly literal blood, sweat, and tears, but for me that is far more satisfying than traditional publishing. And let me tell you, every step of the way in my self-publishing journey has been harder, more complicated, more frustrating, and more expensive than I thought it would be, but also so much more satisfying and rewarding! I love every second of it.

Kathryn: You are a prolific writer! Tell us a bit about how you set your goals and hold yourself to them.

Merry: I have two very important tricks that help me stay on track and stick to a writing schedule and my writing goals. First, when I’m drafting a novel, I have a 2,000 word per day word count goal. I strive to meet that daily goal the way some people make themselves go to the gym every day. I write down my word count in the morning and type my fingers bloody until I reach it, even if I know what I’ve written is terrible. Some days it’s more painful than others, but meeting the goal must be done!

Second, I know that I’m a morning person, so I get up at 5:30am every day to write for about an hour before getting ready for the day job. I do it every day (well, it’s more like 6:30 or 7:00 on the weekends). Every. Day. I’m lucky that I’m able to be disciplined about that, though. I’m not married and I don’t have kids, so I don’t have a lot of distractions. It’s a blessing. And my method must be working, because so far I’ve published 12 books!

My biggest motivation for writing prolifically is that I love—and I mean LOVE—to write, and I have more story ideas bumping around in my head than I could hope to write in a lifetime. Last time I actually counted them, I had 25 books waiting to be written that I could give you a title and a blurb for. If I don’t write fast, I won’t have time to get everything written, even if I live to be a hundred!

Kathryn: What do you hope to bring to the Blood-Red Pencil?

Merry: I’d love to bring the knowledge that I’ve gained through my experiences with writing and self-publishing, both the things that have worked and the mistakes I’ve made and learned from.

Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of novels The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy (May 2015, both by Sourcebooks). Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter. turning over her BRP spot to the competent pen of:

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remember the Reader

Today we have a guest post from Roy Faubion, a Texas writer who does a newspaper column Ponderations From the Back Porch that is published in a couple of small town newspapers. Roy has been a journalist for many years, and finally settled into this once-in-a-while offering that he shares occasionally with readers at my blog, It's Not All Gravy. I thought this piece was particularly interesting and had a message for writers as well as entertainers. Enjoy....

“I am the star; therefore I am the most important person here tonight," declared the diva as she expressed her feelings of herself, the Grand Lady of the opera.  Standing in the wings, listening to the orations of the presenter and his magnificent introduction of her, she smiled with the confidence developed over the years by the pampering of her managers and the adoration of music lovers of several continents.

Responding to her remarks, the stage manager gritted his teeth and said, "No one is more important than I as there would be no curtain opening, no lights, no stage decoration should I not be here to see to things so you high and mighty can get all the credit.  Just look at the stage.  What do you see?  I see an artist's pallet.  It is where I put everything together to make the things you do possible.  Forgive me if I boast, but I have reason to do so."

"Bosh!  Neither of you know anything!  I give you everything," said the orchestra leader, waving his baton in a sweeping gesture.  "Surely, there is no music unless I say so.  Certainly, there is no crashing of the cymbals without my pointing to the percussionist.  Drama will never appear on it’s own.  It must have the rise and fall of the symphony, and I make it so.  How dare you suggest otherwise."

"My, my, how totally self absorbed are we!  I am completely immersed with awe as I listen to the gushing of over inflated self admiration coming forth from each of you.  Surely you jest.  I laugh at you.  I pity you. All you can see is the face in the mirror, the face you feel the whole world loves and admires.  Well, my friends, I suggest you get real.  Get a grip on reality.  Without me you would be nowhere.  Who am I?  I am the owner of the building you are standing in.  Now who is the big shot around here?"

All heads turned and glared at the owner.  Not one of them said anything.  Each was set back a little.  The owner smiled victoriously.

It was about at that moment when a soft small voice spoke up from somewhere nearby and asked, "What about me?"

"Who are you?" They all demanded.  And the little voice said, "I am the audience."

Roy Faubion has written columns for small-town newspapers for most of  his adult life. The first column was entitled Around The Sagebrush. Second was The Clodkicker. Finally, he arrived at a title and concept with which he is most comfortable, Ponderations from the Back Porch. Through the years of being a radio announcer (preceding the term Disc Jockey) and years of news reporting, and doing all the other jobs in the industry, he racked up enough experiences to shape a column of thoughts, remembrances, and often, true stories.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prologue and Epilogue

I’ve seen a lot of questions about using prologue and epilogue lately in forums. I’ve heard many an agent or panelist at a conference say: cut them, period! There is some truth to that. However, I’ve seen both done well. This rule is often broken to effect, particularly in Literary, Fantasy, and Thriller and Suspense genres.

The prologue gives background information to the story that would give the reader insight that helps the story move along that is not found within the story itself. An author might add a prologue to help the story flow more smoothly by getting in information that would be clumsily delivered otherwise.

The epilogue is the opposite. It helps tie up loose ends or possibly hint about a sequel or continuation of the series. An author could add an epilogue to entice the reader into buying the next book in a series or provide resolution by telling us how the characters end up further down the timeline.

There are multiple ways to use prologue and epilogue.

1. In Thrillers, the story can begin with a scene from the antagonist's point of view. This is good if you are following a serial killer, not so good if you are listening to an angry spouse rant. It shouldn’t attempt to tell the reader every little detail about your story world or the history of a situation before the action begins. Some readers will flip past the prologue anyway, especially if it is long. If it is used to set up the villain as really, really bad, it could be a turn off. Your villain is supposed to be bad. The first chapter should include the inciting event. If your prologue does that job with the antagonist or secondary characters, it is weaker than meeting the protagonist and making the reader care about how the inciting event affects the hero.

2. In Literary stories, we often first hear from the protagonist long after the events are over. The entire story is one long memoir with an epilogue that reinforces the wisdom gained. The entire story can be told in flashback between the prologue and epilogue “bookends.” It irritates, rather than delights, if not done well. Many readers don't mind this method if it is intriguing or poignant.

3. In a Fantasy, the prologue sometimes sets up the time, place, and story world. If it is kept short, the reader might actually read it. Otherwise, they flip to chapter one. If necessary, they reference the prologue later. You should be able to fit in the crucial setup and history without using this device. Done badly, it is received as melodrama. Too long and the reader feels overburdened before the story begins, and they may not purchase the book at all.

4. In a Suspense story, the prologue can set up the story problem in advance or hint at the ending before the beginning to set up suspense. You should be able to write suspense without this device, but it is certainly used.

5. In a Mystery, the author often writes the prologue from the villain’s POV or sets up the finding of the body by secondary or tertiary characters. This can be a weak start and the reader might flip past it. If the mystery has multiple scenes from the killer’s POV, then the prologue should really be chapter one or two. If this is the only scene from his POV, you have to ask if it is really needed and if it is a way of introducing false suspense. It is much stronger to pull the reader in with the sleuth being made aware of the crime.

6. A prologue may introduce a past mystery relating to a present day story. If the book alternates past story and present story scenes, the prologue could easily be converted to chapter one. Since a reader picks up the book and opens it to read the first few pages, you might lose them with the past story if the setting or situation bores them. These prologues tend to add color and set the stage with no real action or interaction for the reader to care about. If you use it, make it count. Consider starting with the contemporary story in chapter one, then weaving in the past story as chapter two. Give the reader a reason to care.

Revising Tips:

1. Do you really need a prologue or are you just in love with it?

2. Is it crafted with intention or lazy writing?

3. Is it riveting in its own right?

4. Is it too long?

5. Does it regurgitate information or try to stuff an entire world history in before the story starts? If so, cut it.

6. Does the story work without it? If not, are you in trouble if the editor says “Delete?”

For more information on prologue and epilogue, check out:

Backstory, How Much Do You Use?

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Similar, But Not the Same

Camilla Franks at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, photo by Eva Rinaldi, via Flickr
The other day when I was at church I couldn't help noticing that two women sitting apart from each other wore the same floral patterned top.

After a second look, I realized that actually one of them wore a pull-over blouse, while the other had on a short-sleeved cardigan.

What could this discovery have to do with writing?

Well, some authors get the notion that others steal their ideas. In some cases, that might be true. However, in many, it's not.

According to British journalist and author, Christopher Booker, in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are only seven basic storylines.

Wikipedia lists them along with examples, of which I've provided one for each.

1. Overcoming the Monster - James Bond
2. Rags to Riches -  Cinderella
3. The Quest -  The Wizard of Oz
4. Voyage and Return - Odyssey
5. Comedy - A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Tragedy - The Picture of Dorian Gray
7. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty

For every example here, there are many others which also follow the same basic plot, yet are unique in their own right.

In other words, there may be seven plots, but it's what authors do with them that set their stories apart.

Can you think of an example from one of your books, or another's, using one of these plots?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its new sequelA Perfect Angelor try the standalone reality show romance, Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com & Morgan Does Chick Lit

Monday, July 21, 2014

32 Reasons to Read a Good Book

From John Kremer's blog, Tips on Marketing Books and E-books, here are 32 great reasons to read more books. Please share.
  • To escape your normal life.
  • To travel to real destinations.
  • To explore new worlds.
  • To imagine more than you could on your own.
  • To understand something new.
  • To understand something old.
  • To connect with the author.
  • To connect with other readers.
  • To dream a new life.
  • To compare dreams, realities, and in-between.
  • To laugh and enjoy.
  • To deepen your understanding and insight.
  • To know more than you could learn on your own.
  • To learn what you don’t know.
  • To learn what you do know.
  • To discover something extraordinary.
  • To meet incredible characters.
  • To build a larger vocabulary.
  • To cry after a great read.
  • To be entertained by a great story.
  • To relax with a great storyteller.
  • To stimulate thought.
  • To grow your spirit.
  • To find motivation to do more.
  • To go on a great adventure.
  • To learn how others live or have lived.
  • To expand your horizons.
  • To explore inner dimensions.
  • To educate yourself.
  • To inspire your own writing.
  • To learn how to change the world.
  • To discuss in a reading group.
  • To share a good book with your friends.
What are your reasons for reading?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released, and her non-fiction book Cowgirl Up: History of Women's Rodeo will be out in September. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Narrative Voices - Part Two: Third Person Limited

Photo by Ryan Wick, via Flickr
As noted in my previous post, in First Person narration, the angle of vision is “single-track”. The central character is also the story-teller who addresses the reader directly, uses first person pronouns for self-reference, and recounts events in his/her own words.

In Third Person limited narration, the angle of vision is similarly “single-track”. There is only one focal character, and our access to plot developments in channeled through his/her personal perceptions, experiences, and discoveries. But there the similarity ends. In Third Person Limited narration, the focal character is being viewed through a telescope wielded by the author. And this makes a Critical Difference.

In Third Person Ltd. Narration, the character is oblivious to the fact that he/she is under observation. Meanwhile, the author plays the role of an on-the-scenes reporter operating under cover. Like a Nato observer, he/she uses third person pronouns when reporting narrative developments to the reader - ostensibly without bias.

But by inserting himself/herself between the focal character and the reader, the author asserts his/her mastery over the writer’s craft, via diction and selective detailing, to influence our assessment of the focal character’s actions. The designedly ironic effect is that we see the character, not as he sees himself, but as he really is.

A stellar example of Third Person Limited narrative technique can be found in the Carnegie-Prize-winning Y/A novel The Scarecrows, by Robert Westall (Puffin Books, 1981).

Our focal character, teenaged Simon Wood, is the son of a soldier killed in action. At the point our story begins, Simon’s widowed mother has begun seeing a new man, who turns out to be a famous political cartoonist. Simon’s Oedipal tensions are evident in the first chapter of the novel, at a public school event at which his pretty mother is invited to play a tennis match on Parents’ Day:
Summer Parents’ Day. Started all right. Mum had done nothing to shame him. Red hair short and clean, her make-up slight, her skirt a decent length…Nothing for Bowden to get his rotten little teeth into.
  It was Montgomery’s father who spoiled it. Montgomery’s father, who used to play tennis for Gloucestershire…with his lanky legs and bounding stride and crinkly black hair. Montgomery’s father had buttonholed Mum. Somebody’s [parents had cried off from playing] tennis against the staff; would Mum step into the breach? Mum had fallen for it, like a sucker. Even though Simon begged her not to; with his eyes. Begged and begged…
  Mum coming onto court, beside Mr. Montgomery. In borrowed shorts. Showing her legs. Not that Mum’s legs weren’t all right…But when she bent over to pick up a ball, you could see her bottom…
From this short passage, we can tell Simon has serious proprietary issues when it comes to his mother. Even before we’ve seen the full extent to which he idolizes his dead father (whom Westall, using Simon’s memories, reveals to us in his true guise as a self-involved macho prig), we know that Simon’s views of his family situation are pathologically unsound. The dramatic tension thus created, as we wait to see how this toxic situation unfolds, renders this novel a riveting page-turner.

Third Person Limited narration demands a lot from the writer, but if you can pull it off like Westall, the effect is stunning!

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.


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