Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tag, you're it

I've been tagged by Lacresha Hayes to tell six random things about myself, so I'm taking the liberty of tweaking the comments to relate to books: 

  • When reading a novel, I can spot an error without trying, but refrain from marking in red especially when it's a library book. Hard though.
  • I like to munch on crunchy things like celery when reading. Drives my hubster crazy.
  • My least favorite modern expression is "gone missing". I wish it would forever disappear from writing, along with its sibling, "went missing".
  • I punctuate the British way because my 4th grade English teacher was... English. She was a taskmaster whose drills are permanently embedded. When I die, I'm sure the only thing remaining will be a grammar rule.
  • My library card usually shows at least 30 items checked out at any given point in time. Homeland Security would lock me up if they saw some of the titles, and my priest would fall into prayer.
And now I'm tagging these fellow editors who may either post six random things about anything at their own blogs, or post here and relate their comments to reading and writing.
You can follow these people on http://www.twitter.com/.
The rules to play are easy and you should copy them to your blog…
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag sixish people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know he or she has been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Dani Greer is a long-time publishing professional who is the founding member of this blog. She lives in the Colorado outback with her husband and too many cats. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Grammar: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors,

Okay, I've got a new question for you. I've always loved to write, and I like to think I have an 'ear' for grammar. However, I zoned out during those grade school lessons where they made you learn all the complex technical terms. Passive past participles? Double split infinitives? I have no idea what I'm talking about, can you tell?

This gets especially tricky when I'm participating in my critique groups. I'll say something like "you're using 'to be' verbs like 'was,' 'is,' and 'are' too much," or "you're using 'had' too much." I feel like I'd get more mileage if I could speak the language correctly. If you give me a basic grammar lesson, I promise I won't make paper airplanes or stare at the clock waiting for recess this time!

Signed, Not Partial to Participles

Lillie: I believe in keeping things simple and talk to clients the same way you talk to your critique group. You're getting the point across without intimidating other writers, who may have zoned out in grammar classes just as you did. The Guide to Grammar and Writing is an excellent grammar resource. One of the reasons it's among my favorites is that it is written in a simple, easy-to-understand style. Most of my editing clients are people who have a story to tell and who aren't necessarily interested in learning to write well. They prefer to get their ideas down and have someone like me correct the grammar. Your critique group may be more interested in improving their writing skills so they may be comfortable with more technical terminology.

Helen: Emma, here's the thing. No one in a critique group really wants to know the dangling past particle split infinitum tech-speak -- just like a client of mine would not want to get back a grammar lesson in the margin of her manuscript. If you have a friend who's using the "to be" verb too much, tell him he needs to use stronger verbs or she needs to use verbs with more action and color or this verb is too passive. Maybe you could even give a couple of examples of stronger verbiage. Don't worry about the correct grammar terminology. It sounds to me like what you want to do is target your comments so the writer knows what you're saying. So, I say, forget the terminology. Most critique group members don't care what to call something. They care about what they can do to improve their writing.

Dani: I'm going to throw my two bucks worth of promotion into the pot for GrammarGirl, who has a way of making it all seem much more understandable. Watch for a book review here sometime very soon. For now, check out her website by clicking here, but only after you leave a comment for Emma. We cannot leave her this distressed.


Emma Larkins has a dream: to make a living as a published author. Her publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine, In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects website. For more information, check out her blog and her website.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Talk Like That

Dialogue can make or break a novel. Unlike everyday speech, in a book every word, every phrase, every sentence counts. Don't waste precious dialogue words on phrases like How are you? unless there's a really good reason.

Use dialogue to move your story. If someone says something, make sure it means something. Dialogue can be a vehicle to express emotion, sneak in bits of backstory, reflect the speakers' background or upbringing.

So, if your character has not graduated from college, don't let that person spout fancy words with many syllables, and vice versa.

Lots of discussion goes on about the use of the "f" word and swearing in manuscripts. My take is to follow your comfort level and the dictates of your characters, but don't overdo it. In Two Wrongs, I allowed my villain to swear, but I was more circumspect about my hero's language.

A constant barrage of swearing de-sensitizes the reader, while swearing at opportune moments such as a reaction to a major disappointment or catastrophe is much more effective.

Colloquialisms, slang, special language patterns also have their place in novels, but once again, if you overdo them, the reader either gets annoyed or tunes it out.

So, go over your manuscript and make sure when a character says something it counts.

Morgan Mandel
Author of the Chicago mystery,

Two Wrongs, and the romantic

comedy, Girl of My Dreams.

Morgan's website is

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Friday, September 26, 2008


Your choice - Read one or both:
The Curse of Commas.
What Kind of Book is That?

The Curse of Commas

Commas are the single worst thing about being an editor. How can such a tiny little piece of punctuation cause so much time-sucking anguish? The rules are both inflexible and squishy at the same time. 

Rule One: Two independent clauses separated by a conjunction need a comma. So the following sentence (with two subjects: he and it) is punctuated correctly with a comma. 

He started the car, and it made a noise. 

This next sentence (with only one subject: he) is also punctuated correctly without a comma. 

He started the car and drove around town for a few hours but soon got bored and went home to clean out the garage and mow the lawn. 

This drives writers crazy because these examples make no visual or auditory sense. Nobody wants a comma in the first example, and everybody wants to put a comma between “hours” and “but” in the second example. 

Here’s the squishy part. Technically, the comma in the second example isn’t necessary, but many editors and publishers allow authors some discretion in using commas to direct the reader to pause. So you’ll see it both ways. 

 Here’s more squish. Nonfiction writing is more formal and requires closer adherence to the rules, while in fiction the style is to be more “open.” This means in novels, rule number one is frequently ignored. But every book publisher has its own in-house rules. And every newspaper and magazine has its own style. No wonder most writers have given up trying to get commas right. 

Then there are introductory clauses, which are completely discretionary. In an academic paper, you’ll see a comma after even the shortest introductory phrases/words: 

In time, the relationship between the two variables… 

In fiction, you’ll see no comma after long and complex introductory phrases: 

On the morning after the big explosion in the airport hanger he packed his suitcase and headed… 

Where is the logic? As an editor and writer, I try to follow the rules and consider the genre, but my first obligation is to the reader. If a comma makes the sentence easier to read, then I put it in. If a comma slows the reader down for no reason, I take it out. 

L.J. Sellers writes the award-winning Detective Jackson Mysteries, the adrenaline-charged Extractor Thrillers, and standalone suspense—27 high-rated novels, with more to come.  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bleed For Me

Jenny attached the manuscript to an email and breathed a sigh of relief. Her eyes felt heavy and her back ached, but she was used to the discomfort of working long hours. Usually she enjoyed her job, but every once in a while a writer came along who challenged and frustrated her. Rose Felman's writing was a nightmare of incorrect tense usage and bad punctuation, but her dialog was sharp, the plotting fast-paced and filled with tension and the characters were so real that it was hard not to get involved in the story.

Jenny was always tired when she finished editing a Rose Felman book. The excitement she felt after reading a Felman novel lingered, and she opened her instant messenger.

She was sure to get a reply soon. Rose Felman hated seeing her work marked by the "editor's pencil." She fought to keep her manuscripts intact and unedited, arguing over every little correction. Most of the publisher's editors hated working on a Felman manuscript; hated the shouting and the irate phone calls, the snarky little emails and the insincere thanks received on publication, but Jenny blew if off, enjoying the knowledge that she'd polished a good novel until it was perfect.

* * *
Rose downloaded the attatchment, ignoring the rustling of wings behind her. "She won't butcher it this time, Thantos," she said, turning to eye the restless crow.

"And if she does?" The crow's black eyes stared at his mistress, sitting in front of the desktop computer. Her long, red nails gleamed in the soft light of the lamp and he fluttered his wings, thinking of deep, rich blood. "Your words are your children. You've told me so many times. She slashes at them with her red ink. Cuts them. Disembowels the story and sends it to you, bleeding and disfigured."

"If she does it again, we'll fight. This time I won't give in."

"You should go to another publisher."

"They won't be any better," Rose snarled, her sharp nails scratching the desk's dark wooden surface."I can't get my point across to any of those fools." Her eyes narrowed, she touched the mouse, moving the pointer over the screen, clicking the "Save to Disc" option and choosing a file. "It makes me sick how the pompous idiot can destroy my work. Sick."

The crow flapped his wings and hopped over to sit on the corner of the desk. "They don't know how it feels. They carve into you with the color of death; slice into your soul, mistress. You should show them what it's like."

Rose opened the file and her eyes saw the red ink, like open wounds on her manuscript. Her thin body flinched and she sucked in a deep breath.

"Damn her!"

"Use that passion!" The crow's eyes gleamed. His beak snapped and he squawked. "Use it!"

Rose clenched her hand into a fist and drew blood, scoring her flesh with the wicked nails. "How?"

"Find something she has written. Change it."

Rose turned to look at the crow, then laughed. "I could do that. I know where her website is." She found the site easily, and followed a link to one of Jenny's short stories. "What now?" she asked.

The crow scratched at the wood with his beak. "You know this rune. Copy the story, then print it. On the paper, use your blood to sketch this rune."
Rose worked silently, her hands shaking, her throat tight. "Done."

"Now edit it," hissed the crow.

Laughing, Rose opened her desk and pulled out an editor's red pencil. She began slashing at the words on the paper. Jenny's words. Jenny's heart and soul.

Rose gutted the story, scratching out whole sentences, marking through paragraphs with bold, angry lines. Blood red lines.

* * *
Jenny waited by the computer, expecting a message tone. Her muscles tight, she leaned back in the chair and rubbed her stomach, frowning. A sudden stinging sensation took her breath away. She jumped and a long, angry red line appeared as the skin on her forearm opened and blood spurted out to splash on the monitor screen.

Jenny managed a gasp and sat forward but the pain in her stomach, sharp and deep, wouldn't let her rise. She groaned and reached for the mouse. Her hand scrabbled for it and she clicked a button.

The email she'd just sent came up on the monitor, then another site flashed on, bright and pulsing. Jenny tried to focus but her throat felt raw, as if someone was scratching at it. Blinking, she looked again. She felt confused, bewildered. Why was a story from her site coming up on her screen, and who was editing it?

She tried to lean over, gripping the edge of the desk. Burning, stinging pain, like acid, ripped across her stomach and a gout of blood poured out, drenching her. As she passed out, hateful laughter filled her ears, and the fluttering of wings carried her into a cold, silent place. Her body slid to the floor. Blood streaked down the seat of the chair to pool on the rug under her.


Written by Susie Hawes who can be found at:


Whispering Spirits Digital Magazine

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Punctuation Puzzlement

In the spirit of Punctuation Day I thought it would be fun to post this challenge for all you writers and editors. It's a puzzle I was given by my high school senior English Composition class teacher. And yes, I got it right (smile).

Here is the challenge. Punctuate this sentence. And remember, it is one sentence - you cannot use a period except for the very end.


Where John had had had Mary had had had had had had had had the teacher's approval


The correct answer is below - do not scroll down to see until you have punctuated it yourself or unless you give up.

Where John had had "had," Mary had had "had had;" "had had" had had the teacher's approval.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fraternal Twins & Triplets

Some words I like to call fraternal twins or triplets. They’re not identical. Although they sound the same, they don’t look or mean the same. Use these words with care. Mean the word you type and not its fraternal twin or triplet.

Here are some that come to mind:

Do........Perform an action

Its.......Possessive of it
It’s......Contraction for it is

Your......Possessive of you
You’re....Contraction for you are

To........Preposition - word placed before a noun or pronoun

Their.....Possessive for referring to more than one person or object
There.....A place
They’re...Contraction for they are

Your......Possessive of you
You’re....Contraction for you are
Yore......Referring to a time

If you think of more, please share them in the comment section.

Morgan Mandel


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Emerging Authors Want to Know!

Hello, my name is Emma Larkins and I'll be running a feature called Emerging Authors Want To Know! I'm just starting out on the path to publishdom (and, hopefully, to making a living as a professional writer someday) so you can imagine I have a lot of questions on my mind.

Dear Exalted Editors,

My first question is based on an event that heaped a whole lot of stress on me - my first story submission to a literary magazine. I had the usual worries about whether the editors would like the story or not, and whether there was anything I could have done to improve the flow or the character interactions. But the one thing that truly terrified me, that made my finger quake as I pressed the submit button, was this - what if I hadn't formatted my submission correctly?

I'd like to hear it straight from the experienced editors here - how important is correct formatting? I already know that spelling and grammar mistakes can easily get a story thrown on the slush pile, but what about the formatting requirements unique to this industry that aren't taught to us in grammar school? Am I supposed to use Courier New, Courier Old, Courier Ancient? Are there editors out there with magnifying glasses trying to deduce whether I've used 11 point font or 11.5? Will my story automatically be rejected if one of my quotation marks is not straight, but instead (gasp!) curved?

Dani: Well, first Emma, did the contest/magazine itself state specific requirements for your entry? Follow those to the letter, no ifs, ands, or buts. They gave you rules for one reason - to follow.

Maryann: Even though it can sometimes be a pain to find and follow all the formatting requirements for different places, it is worth the trouble. An editor once told me that because of the sheer volume of sumissions he receives, he looks for any excuse to pass on a manuscript and go on to the next. I also heard the same thing from a reader at a major film studio. So, yes, adhering to the format requirements is a must.

Helen: As Dani and Maryann have already said, follow the guidelines given by the magazine, contest, agent, newspaper or editor. If you can't find any and you've tried all avenues, call them. If that doesn't help, go with either Courier New or Times New Roman, 12 point, double spaced.

Elsa: Another minor point that many new writers love to do is plaster the word "Copyright" and/or the copyright symbol on their manuscripts - this marks the writer as an amateur. Agents and publishers work in the publishing industry; they know that your manuscript is copyrighted. If the person reading your ms is in a bad mood or looking for any excuse to get something off his slush pile, this can be an easy one to justify because a writer desperate to protect their copyright could prove to be hard work because he "doesn't understand the industry".

Having said that, take inspiration from the fact that JK Rowling broke all the rules and still got read and published. She submitted a dog-eared, ring-bound, single-spaced ms, typed on both sides of the page.

I'd like it if you could provide a simple set of guidelines to follow, or tell me where to find such a Holy Grail. Or, even better, tell me that formatting isn't as big of an issue in this digital age as it used to be! I know enough to check the publisher's website for submission details, but sometimes those details don't cover formatting. Help!

Dani: If the publisher's website doesn't give you specifics, a good guide is always The Writers Market which gives you that information in each and every annual edition. This book is money well-spent even if you never submit work to any one of the publishers listed. Just the basic information packed into one volume is worth the cost. Don't you all agree?

Maryann: I agree that Writers Market is a great resource, but I don't know how current it is for small publishers and e-publishers who have their own set of formatting requirements. The best best is still a publisher's Web site.

Dani: That's true. Everyone seems to be developing their own informal style books these days. It's difficult to know what to do, and that's not just a newbie issue.

Helen: Go with the publisher's website. Almost all of them will give you guidelines for submitting. It is a big issue, actually. Agents and editors have to read so many submissions that if your manuscript doesn't fit their rules, it gives them a reason to say no. Unless they instruct otherwise, always double-space. That's easier on their eyes.

Elsa: The publishing industry is notoriously slow to change, so no, formatting is just as important in the digital age as it has ever been. But that does mean that giving the agent or publisher the formatting that they expect is the easiest way to handle this issue. If they don't specify how they want the submission handled, go with the standard rules.


My dream is to make a living as a published author, and I'm doing everything in my power to make it happen. To that end, I'm blogging, tweeting, Facebook-friending, linking in and building Squidoo lenses to my heart's content. Oh, and I occasionally manage to type a few words on my novel or my short stories! My publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine , In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects

Emma Larkins' Blog

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Remove the Tags

After you’ve been married a while like I have, buying patterns emerge. If I find clothes I like on sale, I don’t wait for a special occasion. I just buy them. Sometimes, even when they’re not on sale.

It’s come to the point that so many new items travel into the house my husband can’t keep track of them any more.

However, there is one tip-off. If I leave the tags on, he almost always notices. Then I’m bound to hear a comment like, “Not another new whatever.” So I’ve learned it’s best to remove the tags to avoid notice. I need to do this very carefully, so as not to wreck the garment. Usually a scissors is the best instrument for this procedure. If I can’t find one, I’ve been known to use a set of nail clippers instead.

Good writers use the same approach. Whenever possible, they remove the tags.

What Is A Tag?

To remove one, you need to know what it is.
Tags are those little phrases that come after a quote, which read something like, he said, she said, he replied, she replied.

How Do I Get Rid of Them Without Wrecking the Manuscript?

If a reader can tell who is saying something without your using a tag, you can safely remove it by using the delete button or back spacing.

Better yet, don’t put a tag on in the first place. (This doesn’t work with clothes purchases, of course.)

One way to avoid the use of tags is to assign some action to the person who is speaking, either before or after the dialog, so it will make sense to the reader,

Such as:
Gary frowned at Missy. “Didn’t you just buy a new dress last week?”

I need to keep my tag, but is it the right one to use?

If you absolutely must keep your tag, another thing I wouldn’t recommend doing with clothes items, make sure it does not draw attention to itself. The best way to do this is by using common tag lines, such as he said, she said, not he shouted, she begged, etc.

Some authors can get by without using the common tag lines, but for the unsure, it’s best to follow the tried and true rules.

Okay, after writing this, I’m in the mood for buying more clothes.

Morgan Mandel, is the author of Two Wrongs, a Chicago area mystery, and Girl of My Dreams, a romantic comedy about a reality show contestant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Employing e-Tools Part 2

In my last post (Employing eTools), I talked about when not to trust electronic tools. In this post, I'd like to talk about some ways to use the tools effectively.

Since I picked on word processors last time, I'll start with them.

Find and Replace

Most modern word processors have a 'find' function which is used to find a specific series of characters and a 'replace' function that is used to replace one string of characters with another. I use these features to find all the places I typed the word "form" when I meant to type "from". I make this mistake (form for from) all the time. I know I do it, and I still don't see it when it happens. So I use find and replace.

I do not use "replace all".

Why not? Because "form" is a perfectly good word and sometimes I use it on purpose. Using 'replace all' would simply replace one error with another. Instead, I use "find next" to find each instance of "form" and make a decision one "form" at a time.

Passive Voice

My word processor also does a fairly good job of finding passive voice. What is passive voice? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a sentence is written in passive voice if something is being acted upon rather than acting. Clear as mud? Here is an example.


The gate was kicked by the red sneakered boy.

The gate is being acted upon. Readers are not fond of such prose. They prefer active voice. This is a simple example and can be easily corrected.


The red sneakered boy kicked the gate.

Now the boy is acting. Readers can see and enjoy the action.

Volumes have been written on passive versus active voice. I'm sure our fine editors here at The Blood Red Pencil will eventually add to that body of work.


In Employing e-Tools part 1, I showed you why you can't trust your word processor to find every spelling error you manage to type. I do use the spell checker, though.

When I'm not sure how to spell a word and when I want to use a foreign word, complete with accent marks, I simply type is incorrectly on purpose. I request a spell check on the word and am presented with a list of correct words from which to choose. For example, typing "resuma" generates this list:

Text to Speech Software

After three or four rounds of editing for the big picture - character voice, grammar, etc. - it becomes difficult to read the words that exist on the page instead of the words you expect to find. You know what you meant to write and that's what you read. Every writer must find a way to overcome this challenge. The writers and editors here at The Blood Red Pencil have talked about putting the work aside for a while, letting time work its magic. Others have suggested printing in a different color or font, reading the work out loud, asking others to read to you.

I find letting software read the words while I'm reading along works for me. I can hear when words are missing, when the wrong words are used, when sentences run on forever.

Many versions of text-to-speech software exist today, and many of those are free. Google "text to speech software free" for a list.

How do you use electronic tools to create and edit your masterpieces?

Look for additional posts about voice recognition software in future issues.


Charlotte Phillips
News, Views and Reviews blog
The Final Twist blog

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Not long ago, I picked out a book to take on a trip. I always take at least one book, sometimes more, depending on the length of the trip. The one that I planned to take, I had, in fact, already started. Then came the problem. When it came time to leave, I couldn't find it anywhere.

So, I picked one up at the airport. Well-known author. Mystery/suspense.

In a recent interview, I was asked if I can separate the editor in me from the reader. I said, yes. I probably should have said, most of the time. With this book, I couldn’t.

I had a little trouble getting into it, primarily because there were so many characters introduced in the first few chapters that I couldn't keep them straight. As the book went along, I realized that the majority of them were important to the book. They needed to be remembered. They also needed to be kept straight. Who was who. Who did what. Who was related to whom.

One character appeared briefly -- only a few sentences to introduce him -- then he gets killed. A throw-away character, right? Sort of. Except his name was important since he gets referred to throughout the book. Yet, since he was alive only briefly, and there were so many other characters, it wasn't easy to keep his name in mind.

And, speaking of names, a great many of them sounded similar. Two syllables. Generic. In fact, I finished the book on the flight home, and I'd have to go look in the book to tell you the protagonist's name.

But finish the book I did. And it wasn't bad – a rather interesting plot involving an unusual threat to the country. I would have preferred more explanation of the way the threat would have been carried out. That part was rather vague.

If I were reviewing the book, I probably would give it a thumbs-up. But it would have been a lot more enjoyable if I'd been able to keep the characters straight.

Clearly, my advice as an editor would be pointless to this author – the book is already in print. Besides, he didn’t ask me.

But if this had been a book a client had given to me for a consult, I would tell that author:
Introduce two to four characters and let your readers get to know them before you introduce more.

Distinguish the character names. You want the readers to remember your characters.

Don’t give a character a name in any way similar to the protagonist – unless there’s a purpose in doing that.

If a character is introduced, then not mentioned again for 50 pages, remind the readers who that character is, so they don’t have to thumb back trying to find him or her.

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keep Your Distance

It’s hard to be objective about my writing. I find it a lot easier to pick out errors when I critique someone else’s manuscript than my own. Sometimes I disregard what I know is right, thinking I can break a rule once. The trouble is, once leads to twice and more. It becomes a hard-to-break habit, which often I don’t realize I’m doing.

One example is using too many adjectives. The first edit of my recent release, the romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, turned up tons of adjectives which needed to be eliminated. I knew better.

I was also horrified to discover many instances of the word “that” which had crept into my manuscript. How mortifying!

The mind and the eyes can play tricks. Mine are adept at correcting the spelling of a word by inserting a missing letter or cutting one off. Such a gift is well and good when reading for pleasure, but a huge drawback when editing for publication.

I’ve found a few ways to combat these problems.

One is the dimension of time. By putting my manuscript aside for a month or if that’s not possible, even a week, helps me see my manuscript at a distance, almost as if it’s someone else’s.

Another is the dimension of space. I hand my manuscript over to someone else to edit, but make sure it’s someone whose opinion I trust. When I get it back, I need to objectively consider the problem points the other person has noticed. Doing so isn’t always easy, because my writing is a part of me and I hate to find anything wrong with it. I have to remind myself to keep my distance by leaving my emotions out of it.

You may want to consider a few of these techniques yourself. If you have any other methods of keeping your distance from your manuscript, I invite you to write a comment below.
Morgan Mandel, is the author of Two Wrongs, a Chicago area mystery, and Girl of My Dreams, a romantic comedy about a reality show contestant.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ten Favorite Research Sites


We all do it. Go look up one thing and get lost surfing. But don't despair, you're not wasting time, you're doing research.

In that vein, I decided to list some of the more interesting and fun places to do research (in no specific order). (Warning: don't look unless you have a couple hours of free time.)

1. Oracle of Bacon
Remember that 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? Well researchers at the University of Virginia actually did research on it. (Hey they get paid for that?)

2. Project Gutenberg
Free copies of the classics and other books that you never got around to reading in e-version.

3. Best actors and actresses
All kinds of awards, even Russian movies.

4. Silent Film Stars
I love this site! Who's who in pre-talkie films

5. Vintage Clothing History
Dress those characters right! All kinds of cool vintage clothing

6. How People Lived
Click the illustrations at Kraft Australia to see how people lived, ate and cooked in different

7. Hit Music
Hit songs from the forties to the present and get the Top 10 hits from now to the 1800s. Guess which song was a hit in 1893?

8. History of Toys
The favorite toys we played with and an interesting video. Find your favorite old toy at the National Toy Hall of Fame.

9. Unusual Feats
Maybe your character can eat the Most Ferrero Rocher chocolates in a minute? (Yes it's a category, if not the greatest feat.) Or give them some other odd pastime from the Guinness Book of World Records.

10. More weirdness
Or make your characters truly strange. A favorite for oddities always was Ripley's Believe it or Not.

** Your Turn: Share Your Favorite Time-Wasters, er, Research Sites!

(c) 2008 C. Verstraete http://candidcanine.blogspot.com

* Christine Verstraete is author of
Searching for A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Naming Your Characters

Many writers are uncomfortable about starting a book without having found the right name for at least their main character. It’s easier to work with a "working title" for the book than a "working name" for a character. Once the author gets to know their characters, their names can become almost as entrenched as the writer’s own, and having to change them can be very off putting.

It's worth keeping in mind, though, that any situation could force a change – from making new friends with the same name as your character, to new celebrities springing up to claim your protagonist's name and slap a stereotype on it forever. A few years ago, Paris was a boy's name, but using it for a male character now could confuse your readers completely.

Bear in mind, also, that some popular names date very quickly and the book writing and publishing business often takes a number of years. You could try to predict when your book will be on the shelves, add to that the age of your character, and work backwards to find a suitable name.

Popular with fantasy writers in particular is using exotic-sounding made-up names – the more unpronounceable, it seems sometimes, the better. However, this practice inevitably creates a distance between your work and your readers. It's difficult enough to convince readers to pick up your book. When a reader is confronted with a bunch of consonants and apostrophes the first problem they encounter is imagining what sex this character is, and, depending on the genre, whether the character is even human.

A writer runs a real risk by giving a character an opposite sex name, too. Women with men's names are more common than the other way around. Try to make it as easy as possible for your readers to understand your writing.

Ambiguity makes it too easy for the wrong assumption to jar your reader, and that weakens the magical hold your story has over them. If you must use something unusual, try to ensure you describe the character immediately so that the reader can reconcile and imagine the character. Try not to block a reader's ability to visualise or your character will remain flat and two dimensional to them. When the reader is unable to identify with your characters, they will not care what happens to them, and might close the book and pick up something they can identify with.

Finally, be aware of the pronunciation of your characters' names. It can be frustrating for a reader to have to try to wrap their tongue around a name that is unfamiliar. It's quite simple to email a group of your friends and ask them if they find your proposed name easy to read or if they trip over it and end up making up their own pronunciation. If you get too many negative responses, consider a different name, for the sake of your future readers.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language--so the argument runs--must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Read the rest of George Orwell's essay here. Then tell us what you think of his essay. After all, just because it's George, doesn't mean it's cast in stone. Right? Times change, and so do rules and opinions.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Seven Deadly (Writing) Sins

The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

Sin is a word that may be out of fashion in much of society, but looking at the darker places inside ourselves can be beneficial if we are willing to do something about them. Lest you think this is a sermon, the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins can be applied to your writing, as well.

1. Sloth
Clean up sloppy writing. Eliminate unneeded modifiers and words. Cut the number of adverbs, words ending in ly, which are usually unnecessary. For instance, tighten the description to show a character's anger instead of writing it as he said, angrily.

2. Gluttony
Use the right word. Write tight. Don't fill up space with two words if one will do. Don't use $10 words because you can. Write at a level that anyone can enjoy without running to the dictionary. If they can't understand it, they won't read it.

3. Greed
Don't cut corners in your work. Wanting more is good, but it shouldn't be all consuming.

4. Envy
Sometimes the little green-eyed monster can awaken when you see the success of other writers and authors. Wish them well and work hard. Maybe your turn is next.

5. Lust
The eyes are the windows to the soul. What you take in can affect who you are and what you write. A good question might be, is this something I'd show my mother, pastor or want God to read?

6. Pride
You should be proud of accomplishments, but there's some truth in the Biblical adage that "pride comes before the fall." Many of those CEO's now spending time behind bars still feel the world owes them a living and just don't get it. A little pride is good; a lot is dangerous and can turn you into the person no one wants to be around.

7 Anger/Wrath
Leave the anger to your characters. Let them simmer and stew on the page. Save your health.

** Your Turn: Have a few sins that you feel writers should never commit? Share them or feel free to confess your own if you dare.


(c) 2008 C. Verstraete http://candidcanine.blogspot.com/

* Christine Verstraete is the author of
Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ten Tips for Self-Editing

You’re faced with editing your first draft. Where do you start? What do you look for? Here’s an overview to get you started.
  1. Remember that writing comes before editing. On the first draft, don’t worry about making the prose perfect—just focus on getting your ideas on paper (or screen). You’ll have plenty of time to improve the work after you’ve written something to improve.
  2. Whenever possible, allow some time to pass between finishing your first draft and beginning to edit. You’ll see your work with fresh eyes if you haven’t been struggling with it for hours or days. Depending on the deadline and the length of the piece, I like to focus on other things for a week or more between writing and editing. Often, that isn’t possible, but even a few hours will help.
  3. First, read the entire document for the big picture. Look at the content, organization, and flow. Have you included everything you intended and nothing that isn’t needed? Does it make sense? Is it organized in a logical way? Does the text flow smoothly or is it jerky? Add or delete material, move things around, and insert transitions.
  4. Correct any grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors as you find them, but don’t spend time proofreading for these mistakes until you are satisfied with the content.
  5. As you edit, be aware of your pet problems. I’m notorious for leaving out words; some people tend to repeat certain words and phrases frequently; other writers have trouble with spelling or grammar or punctuation. You can improve your writing quickly by looking for and correcting these problems.
  6. On the next edit, look at your word choices. Could you have chosen a stronger verb or written a better description? Are there superfluous words that can be eliminated to strengthen the writing? Can you revise sentences or paragraphs to make them clearer or more interesting?
  7. Next, proofread for grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation.
  8. If time permits, put the document aside again—for a few hours, days, or weeks—to clear your mind and give you a fresh perspective. Then edit again—and again—and again if needed.
  9. Read the work aloud. I am always amazed at how many mistakes, awkward constructions, and overused words jump out when being read aloud. If you have a critique partner, fellow writer, or friend who will read the work aloud to you as you follow on a print copy, you will hear where they stumble and sometimes even read something different than what is written on the page, alerting you to areas that need to be changed.
  10. Get another qualified opinion. Ask someone else to read your manuscript and give you their advice. Find someone who can really help you—a professional editor, a published writer, an avid reader in the genre—someone who will give you an unbiased opinion. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful; your best friend who doesn’t read your genre will nod and smile; a jealous competitor may tell you it’s awful. When you receive feedback from unbiased, knowledgeable readers, consider their advice and use what you determine will make your manuscript your best work.

Now that you're off to a good start, keep reading this blog for great editing advice to help you along the way.

Lillie Ammann, A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dyslexic Authors, un.... ah, well, you've heard the joke

The British Dyslexia Association says that “Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy/language (skills).”

So, if you can’t see “right” and you can’t write “right”, then there’s no sense in trying to be a writer. Right?

Wrong. As anyone with a disability knows there are ways to do what you want to, if you’re willing to do a little examination and use creativity and currently available resources.

Like Terry Goodkind, Author of the Sword of Truth fantasy series. http://www.terrygoodkind.com/

Goodkind learned early in his life that he suffered from dyslexia, a cause of constant frustration while he was in high school.

Question: You have alluded to the fact that you have dyslexia. I have attention deficit disorder. Where would you come from in terms of professional writing, coming from having a learning difference, or disability, or whatever you want to call it? Presently I'm in a writer's group here.

Answer: This is the way I describe dyslexia: dyslexia is about as troublesome as the fact that I was supposed to have three arms, but I don't, and so I have to make do with two.

It's a matter of perception. I didn't go through life going "Oh, I have dyslexia, and I have to overcome it."

Read the rest of the interview by clicking Here.

Here are a few tips to remember:

1. Make an outline. Use a tape recorder, pen and ink, or just memorize it, but get an idea of what you are doing and where you are going.

2. Get feedback at every step of the writing process.

3. Try changing the font regularly in the text, then reading it again.

4. Read it out loud.

5. Change the lighting and the color of your font or background. Experiment.

6. Study grammar and spelling. Read, read, read.

7. When you send it in, insist on a fresh editing job by the publisher. Be sure to find an editor who will be a second set of eyes for you. Don’t rely on your word processor.

See http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2008/09/employing-e-tools.html
by Charlotte Phillips for additional e-Tools.

And, don’t give up. I’m sure you’ve heard it before; that many famous authors are/were dyslexic, from W. B. Yeats to Agatha Christie.

To read more about dyslexia, click Here.


Susie Hawes, disabled mom and author, has edited two anthologies and reads for Whispering Spirits Digital Magazine.

Her best-selling series, The Dragon Thing To Do, has been picked up by Daverana Enterprises.

Don't Kill Her, Chop Her Legs Off

You don’t always need to kill your darling, sometimes you need to chop off her legs. I chopped off the legs of mine—and lost 3000 words of manuscript. Now the plot can move forward. 

If you ever killed or seriously wounded your darling, you know the pain involved. I still mourn the loss of that beautiful chapter written in my darling’s point of view, knowing all along it fouled up the plot.

And if you are one of those who refuse to admit you have a darling, trust me, you do. We all have that character or scene in our manuscript that, in our most humble opinion, is the best writing on the planet—bar none. To cut it would cheat the world of its beauty, never mind that it contributes nothing to the story line. 

But our darlings can go farther than not adding to our story—they can take away, and they can take over. 

I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with my darling. Every critique partner that read of the old, countrified woman with this rich, marvelous voice and manner, fell in love with her, yet she grew stronger than my protagonist. As written, she became story interruptus. She enriched the story, yet the early scene in her point of view became another book. So I agonized for days, weeks even—spending hours trying to work around it, knowing all along I couldn’t kill her. I finally admitted to myself, with advice from a trusted mentor that I must figuratively chop off her legs. 

So, instead of killing my darling, I corralled her. I cut the two chapters in her point of view and revised the manuscript, letting my protagonist carry the plot, yet still maintained my darling’s personality and manner of speech, allowing her to remain the same strong character we had all fallen in love with. 

Sometimes you must kill your darling, and other times you can chop her legs off, and still let her live in all her glory.

Sylvia Dickey Smith

 Website | Blog 



Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Line Editing Tip

Most of us believe that what we read is what we wrote. That’s not always true.

Sometimes what we read is what's in our head.

We write a chapter or passage, we read it, we make changes, we polish it, we give it to our critique group. They read it and bleed red all over it or can't make sense of it. How is that possible?

I'm not talking about the big picture here -- the reader doesn't understand the motivation of a character or his or her arc, or maybe you've described a setting and the reader can't picture that setting or follow a sequence of events. I'm talking the actual words.

You get the piece back from your critique group or a reader and you're amazed to see that you left out complete words, small words like "the" and "of," big words, vital words like "eligible" or "most." Or perhaps you substituted words like "ever" for "every."

Words that you should have caught. But you didn't. Sometimes even after multiple readings.

That's because you're "reading" what you thought you wrote instead of what you actually wrote.

As the editor of your own work, how do you prevent that?

There are several things you can do. One is to put the work away for a while. That way, when you take it out to read, it's "new" to you and what you had in your head has had time to dissipate, so you're, in effect, reading it as a disconnected critiquer.

But, let's face it, not many of us have the time or desire to give each chapter or passage time to sit and simmer. We're on a roll, we're inspired, or we're taking advantage of the muse while it's visiting.

Another thing you can do that's faster than setting aside your work is to slow down.

You can still read what you wrote, getting wrapped up in the emotions and the eloquence of the words. But once you feel like it's done, it says exactly the emotions and shows the sensual experiences you intended, you're ready to really read it. Word by word, slowly, deliberately.

Sounds easy, but it may not be for you because it's not a natural way to read. Our brains insert words and letters that we know should be there, even when they're not. In order to see what we're missing, we have to slow down and read each word deliberately, preferably out loud.

May not be as much fun as when you actually wrote the words, but line editing is more about accuracy than fun. It's about perfection. Maybe you have a critique group or reader who will catch those things for you. But they can get as tired of bleeding red as you do in getting back the marked up pages. And if you don't have a reader to catch those things, you better catch them yourself. Most agents won't overlook these mistakes; they'll overlook the entire manuscript.

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What does an editor cost?

Our most popular and most commented on post. Not much has changed, including debate over fair and affordable editing costs.

It's all well and good to tell a writer they need a professional editor to peruse their manuscript before submitting to an agent or publisher. But, how much does that cost?

An informal industry perusal yields quite a range of costs. Let's take a look at some prices as well as methods of pricing. It depends in part on what you're buying. A line editor might charge $25 per hour and edit on average 10 pages an hour. Some editors simply charge $2.50 per page, which makes the math rather easy. A 300-page novel would cost you $750 for editing services.

But, what does that get you? Just a cleaning up of grammar, spelling, and typos as a rule. Some good editors will take a little longer and make deeper suggestions to improve the writing. But don't expect too much more than the basics for that price. It's still money well-spent, and it can mean the difference between being accepted or the story languishing in a drawer.

Can you get editing for cheaper? Sure. I've heard as low as $300 per manuscript. That's a steal, and the immediate reaction - you get what you pay for - isn't necessarily true. The editor might be great, but just starting out. Or the editor might be really fast and good, so can be highly competitive. Determine the price you can pay, and then look for referrals to get the job done. No matter how good your writing, it can always be better, and a keen eye can be just the tool to polish your manuscript to a gleaming shine.

Have you had your manuscript professionally edited? What did you pay? If you're an editor, what do you charge for what level of service? Interested writers want to know.

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog, and is a professional artist, writer, and editor. You can read more at her blog, or follow her on Twitter. Oh, and make friends on Facebook.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Point of View - Head Hopping By Morgan Mandel

Point of View - What is it?

It's the perspective from which a story is told. When writing a novel, an author must decide who is telling the story. Based on that decision, the author will write in either first, second or third person.

FIRST PERSON - Using "I" throughout the manuscript.
SECOND PERSON - Where "You" is the descriptive.
THIRD PERSON - When He or She is used to describe the main character.

Once you've decided which person you'd prefer to use, you'll need to clearly define what the person sees, feels and experiences. When that character takes the stage, everything should be from that character's point of view. He or she cannot see or hear or know about anything outside his or her realm.

Example: A character can't see what's happening in another room with some other character without actually being in that room.

The author should make it obvious to the reader whose point of view is being used in each instance or confusion and/or irritation will result. Switching back and forth is called Head Hopping and a sign of a novice writer.

Skillful writers can travel from one to another character's viewpoint in the same paragraph, but the general rule is to keep in one point of view for each scene or even an entire chapter. When a switch is made, it should blend in with transitions and not be abrupt.

The exception for employing various points of view is the choice of using omniscent point of view, where the author is almost like another character looking down at the main characters and describing everything that happens to each person. Very skilled or very popular writers can pull this off, but it's not the general path to follow.

Following the tried and true rules will show publishers and readers that you understand the basic concepts of writing, so remember to follow them when considering point of view in your manuscript.

Morgan Mandel

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Employing e-Tools

Over the weekend, I read a wonderful story written by a twelve-year-old student. I found two mistakes and attempted to point them out. But the young lady in question, being of the ripe old age of twelve, was ever so much smarter than any silly adult. "Oh no," says she. "I spell checked it."

Every year, more and more people, not all of them twelve, fall into this trap. As electronic tools become more powerful, we are lulled into a false sense of security. We believe the tools are looking out for us. My word processor doesn't even wait for me to request a spell check - it corrects words as I'm typing. And the editing doesn't stop with spell checking, it also boasts a grammar checker. If only.

I use many e-tools and am not aware of a single one, or any combination of tools that can replace the human brain. All electronic tools are not created equal, but I used one of the most popular word processors for the following example. The tool uses green underlines to indicate grammar issues and red underlines to indicate spelling issues. You can see the tool has identified three problems. How many errors can you find?

The passage contains at least five errors the software didn't detect. Each of the five involves a perfectly good English word that is spelled correctly, but misused. It gets worse. Both of the "grammar" issues caught by the software also involve incorrect words, but the software doesn't know that and so mislabels the errors.

For the first grammar issue, "form which", the software offers these suggestions:

The tool offers this sage advice for "Their was":

If we simply trust the tool, we will manage to spell "the" correctly, but will still have eight incorrect words and a passage that makes no sense. Have you found at least eight incorrect words?

This is an exaggerated example of one kind of error that typically goes undetected by electronic tools. There are others.

I'm not advocating banishment of these tools. They are wonderful time savers when used correctly. I'm suggesting that tools are more effective when we understand their limitations and use them appropriately. You wouldn't use a rolling pin instead of a steam roller would you?


Charlotte Phillips

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Word Filtering and Muscular Verbs

I first learned about word filtering when I sold one of my previously published books to a small press. My manuscript returned with the notation: "I found 27 'she knews,' 14 'he realized,' and 12 'they noticed.' You need to rewrite."

I looked through several bestselling novels and found quite a few 'she knews,' 'realizes' and 'notices.' Maybe not as many as in my book, but what's the big deal? The deal, my editor explained, is that those words weaken a sentence. Then how did the book get published in the first place? I wondered. And why couldn't I leave in a few 'she knews' or "he realized'?

Gritting my teeth I went to work replacing all the undesireable words, grudglingly admitting that my prose had improved. Instead of writing: She knew that Billy was lying, I replaced the sentence with: Billy's downcast eyes told her he was lying. Or, 'She noticed a large man entering her room' was rewritten: A wide shadow fell across her bed as someone entered the room.

Muscular verbs are necessary to strengthen a sentence and weak verbs need to be replaced. Pulitzer winner A. B. Gutrhie, Jr. once told me during an interview that: "The adjective is the enemy of the noun, and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. The guts of the language are nouns and verbs, and writers use too many descriptive words."


Jean Henry Mead
Jean Henry Mead's Web Page
Murderous Musings
Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel