Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leave a Tip on the Blood-Red Pencil - It's Okay to Show Off

Last Tuesday The Blood-Red Pencil encouraged writers to be humble, ask questions, and admit they didn't know everything.

Today, as on every second Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil invites you to be a show off. Let everyone know you've learned something. It's so wonderful that you'd like to tell the world about it.

Or, maybe you're a beginner, and you think your tip is so simple, everyone else knows it already. Share it anyway, because writers from every level come here to get tips.

It can be anything about writing, publishing, or editing, in whichever format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing. Once you figure out what you want to share, leave it here in our comment section, along with your website or blog URL. If you'd like to share where you've heard of this blog, that would also be great.

Since I've been in the midst of editing my thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse, my tip is:

After you've edited your manuscript on the computer, print it out and go through it again, with a pen handy. You'd be amazed at how many more errors you'll find. At least I was!

Now it's your turn to leave a tip.

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,

romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.

Her personal blog is at:
and website is http://www/morganmandel.com.

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is 99 cents on Kindle and Smashwords.

Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release this summer in Kindle and at Smashwords.

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  1. My writing tip is to take the time to find the more interesting choice when your characters have a decision to make. It will definitely take you in directions you never thought you'd go.

    My latest release reflects this: "Jack's Ex" included in the Ravenous Romance collection "I Kissed A Girl II." One line, which Leigh said, struck a chord, and caused a different reaction than I expected in Kelly. So now I'm working on a longer novel based on the two characters.

  2. What I like to do after I think my mss is done is to go through and word search was, then go back through and look for the telling words: realized, thought, wondered, hoped and remembered.

  3. I have to agree with editing on hard copy; I miss too much editing on computer screens. My tip is nothing new but still relevant: Write for yourself, not what you think readers want, not what you think is commercial and will sell. Write a great story that comes from the heart. That's it, write a great story which sounds easy and is anything but. If it was easy, everybody would do it.

  4. Be a story teller. Set a conversational tone. Since we were little tots at bedtime, we wanted to hear and later on read a good story.

    Remember Elmore Leonard’s golden rule: ‘If it sounds like writing, re-write it.’

    Dennis Leppanen

  5. I'm going to add on to what The Warbler said. Set a conversational tone, but then go back and remove all the filler words you thought you needed to establish that tone (just, even, well, really, um, etc.). You didn't need them after all.

  6. I like Kathy's suggestion about the alternate words. I'll see if I can use any of them.

    Also, in this edit I'm finding lots of words I thought I needed, but don't.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Getting published is more than writing a perfect manuscript. You can write what could become the book of the week choice but be rejected by choosing the wrong publisher.

    Research your publishers the old fashioned way. Go to a major bookstore; peruse the section in which the type of book you are writing is sold. Look at the shelves to determine not only what is featured, but who published it. Look also for holes in the publisher's collection that match what you are selling. Taking a work to a publisher who is trying to sell a work almost identical in content to yours is a losing proposition, but their competition may be looking to get on that bandwagon.

    For e-publishing, this is more difficult but still you can learn a lot by using Kindle and Nook sites to see what is topping their lists and who is the publisher promoting it.

    I still wanted a publisher who swings both ways -- E and traditional and found one. Anyone who can tell me they get the same satisfaction over seeing their title on a computer or gadget as they do by holding a hard copy of their work in their hand is someone who will probably prefer cybersex and cyber-adoption to the real things too!

    I ended up with contracts from the first publisher I contacted -- three times -- by ascertaining what they DID publish but lacked in the current market. And yes, the manuscript was as polished as six months of editing and revising could make it and I knew my subject matter better than any competition because I did my research at that end of the writing as well.

    In the end, it isn't about getting published. In these times, that is becoming easier because of the relative small cost of e-publication compared to hardcopy. The issue is SALES and only a solid publisher with a promotion budget will help you effectuate that end result.

  8. This may be a no-brainer, but this is my challenge right now: No matter how difficult it is to write, give your characters conflict.

  9. I've been writing an article on “Show Don’t Tell.” Here's a quote: Showing uses sense data, something perceivable by one of the five senses. Telling interprets or explains that data. If a character sees or hears “something frightening,” the author is explaining that the character should be frightened. To show, draw on the five senses—what the character can see, hear, smell, feel, or taste—so that we sense the fear too.

    Here’s an example from my book Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs (Aladdin, 2009) when the narrator suspects a ghost is nearby:

    “My eyes strained in the darkness but saw only shadows. My heart pounded so loudly I couldn’t hear anything else. I waited for a blow, or that unbearable coldness.”

    That uses sight, sound, and physical sensation. It also puts us in the character’s head, letting us know what he’s anticipating.

    Chris Eboch, children't book author
    The Eyes of Pharaoh: a mystery in ancient Egypt
    The Well of Sacrifice: a Mayan adventure

    Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop: http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/

  10. My writing tip is read. Not just in your genre. Throw in some non-fiction too. It expands your imagination and feeds your creativity.

  11. I actually just posted a tip on self-editing on my blog and I'd love the opportunity to share it here as well.

    As a writer it’s important to realize that you won’t be able to pick out every typo, make sure you always used the correct antonym or homonym, and never simply left out a word here and there. Why? Well simply put, because you wrote it and because of that fact your brain knows what is supposed to be there. So as your eyes glide across any given sentence your mind will have its own auto-correct working. So it’s very important that someone else proofreads your work, preferably someone detail oriented with an excellent grasp on grammar.

    Even that being the case, self-editing is a crucial tool for writers to learn and there are a few ‘tricks’ to help disable your brain’s auto-correct. I’d like to share the one’s I’ve learned and that work well for me. So try a few of them out, see what works for you. Also remember to break your editing up into digestible chunks. Once you get fatigued you’ll be far more likely to gloss over mistakes and this is something worth taking the time to do right.

    · Read through your manuscript on a different format, correcting errors as you go. A different format could be a different view in your word processor or a printed paper copy and trusty red pen.

    · Read it out loud. As you speak you’ll notice awkward passages, overlong sentences and possibly catch some spelling errors.

    · While I’m not overly fond of editing programs they do have their uses too. Putting your manuscript through a program like EditMinion or autocrit chapter by chapter will highlight a lot of different points for you to take a second look at it. Just remember that just because a program highlights it, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change it. Use your own judgment.

    · Finally use text to speech (most word processors have them built in) to have your manuscript read to you. You’ll notice all kinds of inconsistencies, misused or missing words as well as grammatically awkward phrasing. Plus as a bonus it feels like your manuscript has been turned into an audiobook by Stephen Hawking and come on, how awesome would that be?

  12. There are so many great tips here. Mine is don't be afraid to use your imagination to write a scene that takes you into unfamiliar territory. My new release "Teed Up for Love" has a golf scene. I've never golfed! Since I write romantic comedy, I stayed on the fringes and had a golf expert check the scene for authenticity. As stated earlier, write from the heart and the story will work.


  13. Here is a tip that has improved my editing so much. Save your ms on adobe in pdf, then click on VIEW, and click on READ OUR LOUD. The computer will read it to you. You can't believe how many typos, repetitive words and other unwanted errors you'll catch.

  14. Apologies for not having time to read all the comments so this might be a dupe. These are really 2 related hints.

    1) Print out your daily output and read it last thing at night. You'll find those weak words, repeats, and things that made perfect sense while you were writing. They're still fresh in your mind. Highlight, circle, or whatever to flag things. Then, the next morning, you have a running start.

    2) When you're ready to read the whole MS, print it IN A DIFFERENT FONT. You'll be fooling your brain into thinking it's new. Also, I print in 2 columns, which also changes the "scan length" of the lines and all sorts of new things appear.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  15. The tip I took to heart this year and now pass on is: Get out of your house and go meet other writers. Class, cafe, library, etc...face to face, no keyboards, chat rooms, or twitter feeds. There is nothing like real people to fuel your writing life. I'm not *fantastic* at this yet. But I'm learning.

  16. Terry, I like the two-column idea! Hadn't thought of that before. I'm doing a final re-read now after rewriting a dark moment whose roots are in some dozen chapters. I think I'll try it!

  17. My tip being the Nazi environmentalist I am - if you're going to print out reams of paper, at least use the backsides and recycle it when you're finished. ;) My other tip deals with submissions. Follow the proper format for your genre, whether kidlit, non-fiction, or novel. That information is readily available online and in books like the Writers Market. Don't try to stand out by doing something weird like adding decorative goo-gaws to dress up your submission. You would not believe what lands in the slush-pile... for the dumbest reasons.

  18. As a memoirist, I love to write and read about food choices! Here's my tip: what are your characters' favorite foods and meals? What does this tell the reader about them? Make us taste and smell the food along with the characters and you'll have a good time writing as well!

  19. Nice post, Chris. Using the senses to "show" the reader what's happening is a great suggestion.

    Lots of other wonderful comments here, too! Keep 'em coming!

  20. "Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader - not the fact that it's raining, but the feel of being rained upon." E.L. Doctorow

    I've always like this one, and always pass it along to my students.

    To elaborate:

    Guide the reader into your story through her/his senses:

    Let the reader see what you see -- zoom in - let her see the sunlight laying a warm path on the square maple table. Maybe that sunlight on the kitchen table is filtered through a lacy, moving yellow curtain. Can you see it? If you describe no more than that, the reader will fill in the rest of that room. The frig, the chairs...come up with other ideas for describing your room. How about...he crossed the long, rectangular room in four strides. Well, we know something about the room, and we know your character is tall and in a hurry. There are many ways to weave description into your novel, without having it overwhelm the reader, and interfere with the flow of the story.

    Open up a favorite book, and find a descriptive passage YOU like. The best ones don't stand out there on their own, drawing attention to themselves, they are woven into the story. They don't interrupt the 'flow.'

    Smells are important; Let your reader smell the enticing aroma of coffee perking. Or lead him down an alleyway. Instead of saying 'the alley smelled horrible, be specific. Write: the alley reeked of urine and rotting meat. Let your reader hear the chimes above the door, the click of cat claws on the hardwood floor. Use all 5 senses in your writing- sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. But use them selectively. Again, weave them into your prose - don't let them take center stage. Unless that's your purpose. For example, if you are writing about a man who can transform himself into a panther, the click of the cat claws (in the darkness) would take on a whole new meaning. And create the desired tension.

    And, to paraphrase Hemingway, Don't forget to put in the weather.

  21. Beginner here:

    Agree with JMCOOPER - turn off that internet and get outside.

    Also, it's all very well having pencil and paper on your bedside table but without glasses and torch you just end up with 3am notes like this:
    "She's an actress we find out later what sort of olgtmmj". That is of no use to anyone! LOL

  22. Hi, I'm Sheryl and I write for kids & young adults. My tip is to make a list and description of the characters in your novel and leave a copy of it on your computer desk top so you have a handy reference.

    The other thing I like to do is put together a chapter chart which lists which chapters each character appears and what their role is. That way I can ensure I'm not dropping a character along the way.

  23. Right now I'm paying attention to the time line as I edit. When a few months go by, I need to know which ones they are so I can include something about them in the book.

    Morgan Mandel

  24. Wow, I am loving the tips. So many good ones. I especially like the one from Elmore Leonard that The Warbler posted: ‘If it sounds like writing, re-write it.’

    In my acting classes I tell my students that if it feels like acting, it isn't real. Same difference. That means we have to dig deeper to find the character and the drama of the story.

  25. These are all wonderful tips, and good reminders of things we learn and then sometimes forget. One of the things I try to do is pick a character who is completely unfamiliar to me and write a few paragraphs from that character's point of view. It stretches my imagination and sometimes I come up with something that really works and fits right into whatever larger piece of fiction I'm working on.

  26. Beginning novelist here; the tip that's made the most difference to me is simply a reminder of the need to keep writing. It doesn't matter if the last sentence was weak, or if you suddenly realized that your characters nod or raise an eyebrow on every page. That's what editing is for. First just get the story out and on the page.

  27. Same difference, Maryann? ;) Now I'M raising my eyebrows. LOL.

  28. Any time things are going too smoothly for your characters, kill something. It will get the readers attention really fast.

    On hard copies for editing. I go a step further than printing my ms out. I format it and upload it to Lulu (there are others that do the same thing) then I have a copy sent to me. I've found I like the spiral bound books since you can lie them flat. You will be amazed what this technique will show. Printed books are also an excellent thing to give beta readers.

    If you have an ereader, format it for that and read it there as well. I've been doing that with my Kindle and it's another great editing technique.

  29. I feel like a broken record because I'm always saying this. But the single most useful piece of advice I ever heard was "Write what scares you."

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. My tip is to listen to advise, then follow your own heart in telling your story. I spent years trying to break into traditional publishing. Was told(through my agent) to alter this or that by editors at the big publishing houses. I did what they asked and they still passed.
    A few months ago I decided to self publish. Spent time changing my books back the way I'd wanted them. I've put them out and I’m happier because readers seem to like exactly what I’d hoped, for the reasons I'd hoped. Should've followed my instincts from the start.
    We should all listen to advise, especially from editors(which is why we’re all on this site). But it’s a delicate balance. One should not compromise on the important things, in my humble opinion.
    S Alini
    The Strange Journal of the Boy Henry

  32. As an editor for a computer user group newsletter, I find that I get a lot of great material to choose from.

    The problem is that most of what I get usually does not have headings and/or lengthy paragraphs, requiring extensive editing to make easily readable.

    My tip for writers is to utilize titles, headings, and short sentences.

  33. Great post and great comments! My tip is to read your material aloud, forcing you to focus on every word.

  34. Wow, there are some really great comments here. I just finished my first draft, and I'm excited about editing. This will be a lot of help!

    I guess the one thing I can offer, as an unpublished newbie, is to read up on the craft, whether it's via blogs or books, and then choose what best suits you. There are hard and fast rules, but every expert has a different approach, and if you get boggled down in trying to match everything, you'll stop writing. So figure out what works for you.

    My blog is Turning the Page. Thanks for the tips!

  35. Two tips- at the final editing stage, when you think you're ready to submit, read a hard copy backwards. I catch many small errors this way, enough that it makes it worth the time to do.

    My second tip is never be afraid to embarrass your character. My favorite part of some books have been the moment I almost couldn't stand to read. For example, the moment the protag accuses the wrong person, someone important or who has power over her, like the mayro or her boss, and it gives her even more drive to solve the murder. or in a romance, where the heroine shows up for a secret meeting with the man she's in love with and discovers the love note he sent was actually meant for her sister. To me, how characters survive these painful moments and move forward to complete their goals is just as interesting as the plot itself.

    Holli Castillo
    Jambalaya Justice coming 2011

  36. My tip concerns blogs and web sites generally, plus postal communication. It is not a good idea to have important information using a similar tone of colour for text and background. As people get older eyesight usually deteriorates (can happen with younger folk too). Colour on colour can be very bad if the difference is slight. I can easily miss places to click on simply because of lack of visibility. Pale grey on white or another grey is bad. Purple on black or a dark colour (eg brown) is bad. Or even something like white on a floral 'wallpaper'. The list could go on but I expect you get the picture. Personally I no longer visit some blogs or web sites — too much of a strain.

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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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