Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Leave A Tip on the Blood Red Pencil

March Madness is here. Tip one in for your fellow writers and everyone will win!

Today, as in every second Tuesday of the month, we invite you to Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil. It may seem like a small contribution, but your tip could be enough to make someone achieve the goal of a lifetime - a winning manuscript!

Freshman or senior writer, it doesn't matter. Any tidbit you pass over to us is welcome.

Also, don't be afraid to applaud another player's contribution.

Stop by more than once, think over the tips, and decide if one or more can be added to your writing game strategy.

I'm tipping this one in:

Your story will move faster if you substitute action verbs instead of adverbs ending in ly.

Okay, now, it's your turn. Our basket i.e., comment section, is available for you to throw in your tips. While you're at it, don't forget to leave your name, along with one website or blog link. It's not necessary, but always appreciated, if you mention where you've heard of us.

Morgan Mandel

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  1. Remember that a book has the power to engage and immerse people like no other medium. When writing, it's easy to get bogged down thinking about your story in cinematic terms and to start applying unneccesary screenplay-like restrictions to your writing. Above all else, try and achieve things in a novel that could not be done in any other medium.

  2. When you're doing your final edit, reformat your manuscript to single spacing and make the line length as long as possible. This will (one hopes) make each line it's own paragraph.

    Now you can look at the first word of each paragraph very closely together and make certain you don't start paragraphs over and over with the same words.

  3. Love this idea of passing on a tip!

    Here's mine: Rewrite the beginning at the end.

    Once you've reached the end of your manuscript, especially the first completed manuscript, the narrative voice and your authorial voice will both be stronger and more fluid. The style will likely be stronger too. To capture the full benefits of that and bring it to the start of your manuscript, create a new document, keep the old one side by side in a separate window, and start rewriting the material. Keep the action, keep what you love, but let yourself write it fresh and see where it takes you. You'll likely be wonderfully surprised.


  4. Here is a surefire tip to prevent writer's block:

    When you believe you are unable to write on any given day, take out your checkbook and write a check to your favorite tax-deductable charity. That guarantees you will have a conscience-free day because you made it a good "writing" day even if you couldn't write a word of fiction.

  5. Find and replace overused words and phrases. In a ms I'm editing for a client I discovered an abundant use of "at this moment." Didn't even realize it until I was doing a search for mom, to make sure it was capitalized when it needed to be.

  6. One of my husband's English teachers required the class to write a 500 word essay every week without using the verb "to be." Try it sometime; it forces creativity and helps the writing flow.

  7. We know adverbs are bad, especially in speech tags. We know that with an almost religious fervor.

    But do we know why they're bad?

    I had an epiphany recently and discussed the few cases where you might actually need an adverb in a recent post on my blog, The Laws of Making

    In brief: adverbs modify or qualify verbs; they should be used only if there's no suitable direct verb.

    The particular problem with adverbs in speech tags is that we often use them to qualify not the act of speaking (e.g., "said quietly" because the speaker lowered the volume of their voice but didn't whisper), but rather the intention of the speaker (e.g., "said viciously").

    Put another way, using adverbs to qualify the intention of the actor is both lazy storytelling and a grammar error.

  8. To reach deep POV, I start typing with my eyes closed, visualizing the scene through my characters' eyes. At some point I open them again, but I'm ready in the zone so it doesn't matter. I don't really see the computer screen.

  9. Keena that's a great idea!

    My tip
    We all know show don't tell, but no one writes all show, there's always some tell. Just make sure all crucial scenes are show.

  10. Here's my suggestion: If you get stuck part way through a chapter or story, try to hear the characters talking to one another. If you can hear them it means you're in tune with them again. You should be able to jot down what they're saying and get going again.

  11. Do your writing in the font and size that's most comfortable for you. When you're ready to do some serious editing, change both of them drastically. I usually write in Arial 16, then change to Times 24. You can see punctuation more clearly, and all sorts of typos and goofs of various sorts will leap out at you.

  12. "Write Neeckeed". I am new at this so have a grain of salt handy. I try to peel away the layers of my own confining personality and let the characters be themselves. (go beyond the restraints that are wrapped around the writer). "What would ____ do?"

  13. Two things:
    1. Use "he/she said." When reading, you just edit those out automatically and the writing and reading flows. If you use "he opined" and "she whispered" and "he growled" and that sort of nonsense, it drops you out of the book. And it sounds really dumb. Unless you're writing a romance, in which there is a lot of growling and whispering, I suppose.
    2. Writing is a business. Treat it as such. Do your homework. Before submitting, read the guidelines of publishers or magazines and FOLLOW THEM.

  14. If you get a writers' block, walk away from the laptop. Spend some time doing something that allows your brain to wander, like going for a walk, a bike-ride, sewing, crocheting, baking, etc. While you are doing something "useful", nudge the characters in your mind and ask them what happens next. I've found they present the next scene to me and the next time I can sit at the laptop, it's there.

  15. Oh, and Fiona, hi, I'm Fiona. I've met only 3 in my life, and 2 were of Phillipino descent and had no idea it was a Gaelic name. I just noticed we gave similar advice. Must be in the name.

    My other tip for writing is to keep a notepad next to your bed, because many of my books started out with a dream so vivid that when I woke up I could remember entire scenes and plot lines. I let them germinate in my mind for as long as it took for the characters to begin to talk.

  16. Never leave home without a pen and a pad of paper. Even at writing workshops I see attendees borrowing pens and ripping out sheets of paper to lend—you're writers! How could you not have a pen?!

    That reminds me of another tip--never use two forms of punctuation at the end of a sentence. ;)

  17. Use the 'find' option in Word to search for the words you know you overuse, then try to replace them with another word or words.
    If you don't know the words you overuse, try pasting a chapter at wordle.net - it'll show up those words in larger print.

  18. All great tips. I am so guilty of using the same words over and again.

    Here's mine: Make sure your characters walk and talk. We practice this in a dialogue workshop I take each year. People multi-task, and so should your characters.



  19. Many writers delve deep for their protagonist but pay little attention to their villians. You must develop a forbiddable opponent for your mc or your story will not have enough conflict. My blog http://dawnbrazil.blogspot.com/has tips on villians.

  20. I'm especially intrigued by that tip about wordle.net. I'll have to try it some time.

    Morgan Mandel

  21. Prepare to be shocked, Morgan! I know I was the first time I used wordle. Did I REALLY use 'then' 23 times in one chapter? Eek!
    When you've created your word picture, if you click on Language and go to the bottom of the menu, you can find the actual word count.

  22. The Find option is also good to use for frequently misused words. Also, accidental sound-alikes. For example, if you are writing about oat cakes and accidentally keep typing oak cakes, spell-check won't catch that, and your eye might even overlook it in a copy edit. But Find will locate both words and you can look at just these in context. Makes it a bit easier. After the 4th read-through, we all tend to go a bit blind.

  23. Two suggestions about using good grammar:

    1. The prefix "re" means "to go back"; therefore, one doesn't write, "He retreated back down the hall."

    2. If you wouldn't say, "He took I to the store," you wouldn't say, "He took John and I to the store."

    Grammar matters. And I've now had my rant for the day. Thanks.

  24. I know it's usually better to tell, but there are places where showing works, too.

    Also, I use two tools I haven't seen mentioned here. http://wordcounter.net/ will find those pesky repeated words. \
    Read Please, downloadable from http://www.readplease.com/ will read your text while you follow on the screen. It helps me catch errors I don't think I could otherwise see.

  25. Start when the action begins. You may want to drop the first chapter.

  26. I agree with Dawn that people typically underdevelop the villains and focus primarily on the hero. But I have the opposite problem! As soon as the villain begins to take shape in my head, I find it VERY hard to concentrate on developing the hero. The villain seems so much more interesting to me. My solution to that, though, is to make my hero flawed. How do others keep their heroes interesting?

    my blog - http://dverted.blogspot.com/

  27. LOVE some of the tips, especially Keena and Fiona G's suggestions on how to get deeper into POV.

    My tip: As early as you can in the writing process, whether it's during initial writing or early revision, write a single sentence for each scene. Then look at the sentences without thinking of the rest of the scene and ask, "How can I make this bigger?" For me, bigger may mean more dramatic, more emotional, deeper, more interesting, etc.

    It can surprise you. Scenes you think are filled with interesting things can boil down to a very boring notecard and makes you realize the scene isn't as dynamic as you thought. Putting it on the level of storytelling also helps me think outside of the box. When you're imagining reading the notecard, "The hero learns more about his enemy" to your audience, it's super easy to toss that one and write something more interesting with action. All the important stuff you had planned for the old scene can fit into one with an active verb at its core.

  28. During editing or even just doing a search, go look at all your "that"s and make sure you actually need them. This word is a total filler 90% of the time. Just read the sentence without the word and you'll be able to tell if you really need it.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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