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Showing posts from November, 2008

Conflicting Advice: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors, So, the author-editor combination seems like a pretty good one. Now I'm wondering about a different type of author-editor connection. I know that when you editors get a look at my rough manuscript, you're going to have a whole lot to say. You will definitely come across some spelling that needs fixing. I know that I slip up from time to time - it took me years just to figure out which vowels went where in "calendar." (That's right, isn't it?) And, as mentioned in the formatting post, I'm not a whiz with grammar, so I might have made some mistakes there. I won't argue with that. But, I'm afraid of what will happen when you start digging deeper. What will I do when you start switching sentence order? When you're concerned about the motives of a particular character? When you want the character's hair to be blue instead of brown? I've written my story a certain way, and I'm kind of attached to it. I know I'


Holidays are a great opportunity to enrich your manuscript. The trick is not to just mention a holiday in passing, but to add vivid descriptions of how one is celebrated in your character's life. You can draw on this by your own experience. Think of a holiday, such as Thanksgiving. What's the weather like outside? That will depend on where you live and/or the climate vagaries of the fictional year you create. Who is invited to your character's house to celebrate the holiday? Who prepares the meal? The mother, the wife, the son, the daughter, one, some, or all? Who helps? How is the table set? That may depend on the station in life of your characters, whether they're well-off or perhaps just-married college students. What is on the menu? Does it reflect the main character's ethnicity, or perhaps some quirk? Many people eat turkey for Thanksgiving, but maybe your character is alone and eating spam. What about guilt? There are lots of possibilities for that, such

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Everyone is wordy. Some people’s prose is underdeveloped, yes, but still wordy. Others’ is definitely long-winded and definitely wordy. Most beginners use more words than necessary to express what they mean, but so do many accomplished authors. All writers need to check themselves carefully in order to produce tight prose because filler words, the extra calories of sentences, can too easily creep in. Public enemy number one: “The reason is because Stacia wanted to kiss Reese.” Drop the first four words in this sentence and you haven’t lost a thing. In fact, you’ve probably gained a few readers. Another troublemaker is “there were/was.” For example, “There were several reasons that Stacia wanted to date Reese.” “There were/was” is often unnecessary. “Stacia wanted to date Reese for several reasons” reads more smoothly, is more direct, and is clearer. The next instances of wordiness are more subtle. “Stacia reached out a hand and touched Reese.” Usually if you touch someone,

Third Draft Editing

As promised when I started this series on editing I have more tips to offer. What I have been posting is taken from an editing workshop that I have given at writers' conferences. I didn't realize I had so much material until I started breaking it down for this blog and realized there are literally pages of tips. Hope you are finding them helpful. In the second draft I suggested you look at characterization, plotting and story continuity. In the third draft you will want to pay attention to pacing, voice, and style. Is the story going fast enough? Too fast? Is the dialogue natural? Concise? Is the rhythm of the words unique to your writing or does it read like every other book out there in your genre? Some editing techniques to use: FISH CLEANING - chop off the head and tail of scenes. It is not necessary to have characters walk into and out of every scene. In dialogue it is not necessary to have all the courtesy talk, “thank you.” “hello.” “goodbye” You don’t have to set up

Listen to the Voices

Not long ago, I wrote about Hearing Voices . Today, we talk about listening to the voices of your characters. My husband, who is 6'6" often gets asked how tall he is. He usually answers that he's average, everyone else is taller or shorter. (Don't even ask what my 6'10" son gets asked!) If you were writing about a man who is 6'6", you might describe him as tall. But that's not necessarily how he would describe himself if he were a character in your book. That character might answer as my husband does. Or if an even taller person were describing that character, he might say the character is short. It's not just a matter of what is said by a character, although that's certainly a big part of voice. A character who is poverty stricken would see things and focus on areas of his life that are different than a character who has plenty of money and support in his life. It's also a matter of how the character speaks. Listen to the broad

Writing for Radio; Familiar but Slightly Different

Writing for the radio, in some ways, is very similar to writing for the page, but there are also integral ways that writing a radio script is very different. Let’s start with the way that a good radio play, for example, is similar to a good short story. 1. Short stories and radio plays need strong, compelling characters that the audience cares about. 2. Active verbs make the writing more interesting in both short stories and radio plays. 3. A good short story, like a radio play, starts right in the action. There is no meandering around, going on about back story or the setting in too much detail. The writer must hook the audience straight away; in radio even more so since one turn of the dial and the story is gone. 4. Telling the audience what to think and feel will kill a radio script just as quickly as it kills a short story. Let the audience be active in the story. 5. A good radio drama like a good short story is ‘lean and mean’. Get to the conflict quickly; introduce the protagonis

WWW Resources for Writers

Have you noticed how many bloggers have lists of links to other blogs? Often, the links are labeled "favorites." Ever wonder why they are favorites? On my blog, many are in the list because they provide great advice and tips to authors. Some, like Velda Brotherton offer great tips on the process of writing and tips to improve writing such as this one on including the senses in your scenes. Teagan Oliver offers other views on writing. Recently she took us on a tour of the hero's journey. LJ Sellers , who is a tallented writer and editor, offers tips on both writing and editing. In this linked example, she shares some simple edits that make for stronger, clearer storytelling. Over at BlogBookTours , Dani Greer works hard to help us create and maintain effective blogs and to use those blogs to market our books. Helen Ginger provides all sorts of tips from writing to marketing. She often hosts guest bloggers with expertise in specific areas. Some sites are a mixed bag.

Second Drafts

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Shitty First Drafts . Today I continue this series, which will include one or two more posts. The information I shared last time and will share for the rest of the series is taken from a workshop that I give at writers' conferences focusing on editing. The second draft of a novel is when a writer should look at plot, structure, characters, and story elements. Is the book saying what you want it to say? Have you surprised the reader, or is the plot predictable? Is the ending a satisfactory conclusion to the story, or is it contrived? Have you taken the reader up to mountain peaks and down to valleys, or is the writing flat? The essence of story is drama, and drama naturally flows out of action and reaction. Is that happening in your story? Is your cast of characters appropriate? Are they interesting? Do they all add something to the story? Are they balanced throughout, or have you given secondary characters too much time? Some writers, like Ei

Dos & Don'ts of Synopsis Writing

A strong synopsis showcases your characters and plot, and demonstrates your ability to structure a story. It shows a cohesive plot worthy of an agent or editor’s attention and time, and allows your agent, publisher, marketing department or overseas acquisitions editor to sell your story.  DO:   1. If possible, write your synopsis before you start first draft. 2. Give an overview of the plot and primary characters. 3. Include brief description of each. 4. If you include subplots, make sure they relate to main plot, and show resolution. 5. Relate characters to goal of protagonist and how their goal supports or thwarts such. 6. Include major plot points that lead up to the "darkest hour." 7. Keep it short. (1-5 pages) You will need several lengths for various uses, so write 1,3, and 5-page versions. 8. Unless otherwise indicated, double space. 9. Times New Roman, or Courier New 12pt. with one-inch margins.  DON’T:   1. Have too many proper names to keep up with. 2

Adjectives - Love 'em and Leave 'em

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain "Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." - William Strunk, Jr. Still not convinced that all your carefully selected adjectives weaken the story? I dare you to dig up that paragraph you slaved over - the one with all the beautiful, flowery, descriptive words. You know the one. Make a copy and remove all the adjectives. Read both - the original and the new. Read them again. Which is stronger? I don't know what you found, but I usually find the words are stronger when there are fewer of them. If I'm unhappy with the shorter version, I try to figure out what is wrong - and that generally turns out to be an incorrect verb, not a missing adjective. ---------------------

How many editors does it take? Part 2

Today we welcome Karen Syed of Echelon Press for a publisher’s view of the editing process. Welcome, Karen! Dani: How many of the various types of edits does each of your books go through from start to finish? Karen: When the book is submitted I make general notes as I read. Then, upon acceptance, it goes to the Sr. Editor who makes a general read and makes general comments. At that point it is assigned to an editor who goes back and forth with the author until they are both certain it is as clean as it can be. Then it goes back to Sr. Editor, who goes through and offers any further notes. Goes back to editor and author until they are again certain it is clean. Once it gets the approval of the Sr. Editor, it comes to me. I do final formatting and word by word read-through and make any further edits or comments. At that time, a last PDF proof is sent back to the author so they can make a final read-through and make any revision requests required. I go back and forth wi

The Comma According to Trask

There are only four specific uses for a comma according to R.L. Trask in his Guide to Punctuation : Listing, Joining, Gapping, and Bracketing. If the comma you want to use doesn't fit into any of those categories then the comma is the wrong choice of punctuation. This is my interpretation and summary of Trask's section on commas. Listing Commas These are the commas we're most familiar with. Apples, oranges, grapes, and pears The serial (or "Oxford") comma (the comma before "and") is not compulsory, but it does help to avoid ambiguity, such as in the infamous example: I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God. It is only important to be consistent in your choice to use, or not use, the serial comma. If one of your sentences contains an ambiguity that requires a serial comma, you must edit every other sentence that contains a list where the serial comma has been omitted. Joining Commas A joining comma joins two sentences together w

Watch Your Posture

How many times did your Mom say, "Sit Up Straight" or "Don't Slouch?" How many times did you ignore that advice, or maybe still do? Listen to your mother. Posture is important to everyone, including writers. You may ask, how could sitting in one spot and not doing physical exertion possibly be harmful for your body? Believe it or not, how you hold yourself while using a computer can mean the difference between feeling fine or developing unpleasant body aches or worse. A league of problems can arise from bad posture at the computer -- to name a few: a stiff neck, pinched nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome, sore arms. Some don'ts I've heard are: Don't lean forward Don't hold your elbows and arms in the air while typing Don't reach up to type. Don't get too close to the computer. Watch out for glare. Recommendations I've heard: Sit at a 90 degree angle. Do stretching exercises before, during and/or after you come up for air from writing

Let It Snow

It's going to happen soon enough, so you may as well be ready for it when it arrives. Dare I say that naughty, four letter word? SNOW@!# My area of the Midwest was hammered with that pesky stuff last year, as evidenced by the photo to the left. Instead of looking on it as something evil, which is easy to do since it gets in the way when you want to drive or walk, think of it as an opportunity for better writing. Use snow in your manuscript. When you do this, don't dwell on the obvious. Instead of describing snow as pretty, white, or cold, use it as a vehicle to move your plot forward. Common Occurrence: During the winter my newspaper often gets buried in the snow and I discover it later when shoveling the stoop. Opportunity: What if an important article about a rapist or mass killer were in the paper, but a victim wasn’t alerted because she didn’t uncover her paper from the snow in time? Common Occurrence: Snow covers car windows, fogs up glasses, and makes it hard to see. Oppo

Hearing Voices

Today, part one on the voices of your book characters: There's an assumption that if you're hearing voices in your head, then you must be crazy. To that, I reply ... maybe not. You could be a writer. Yes, yes, I hear some of you out there muttering, "Aren't they the same thing?" I encourage all of you to listen to those voices, even cultivate them. Those are characters speaking to you, telling you their stories, their lives. Let's say you're writing a book. That novel has many characters in it. Each one speaks in a different voice. Each person has to have his or her own voice. If they sound alike then the reader will get them confused or wonder if this is a town of clones. Even siblings who grow up in the same house with the same parents and go to the same schools don't say things the same way. Those of you who have kids, try an experiment. Ask each one to tell about an event, perhaps shooting fireworks at the last Fourth of July. Have someone

Shitty First Drafts

Writing is a talent, a dream, an obsession, a release, a thrill, but it is also a craft. The words don't just magically appear on paper - all arranged at their finest. The words we love to read were painstakingly crafted by the author, paragraph by paragraph, line by line. Anne Lamott, a wonderful writer describes the process in her book, Bird by Bird , this way: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts." And further: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” What wonderful advice. No wonder her books are so good. A book can go through as many drafts as necessary, and every author has his or her own method of getting to the finished manuscript. The following suggestions are not RULES. Do what works best for

Author Editors: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors, I recently went to a science fiction literary convention, and I had the chance to mingle with established authors and emerging authors from all walks of life. It really drove home the fact that not all emerging authors are like me. Specifically, it made me think about the different experiences some of these writers were bringing to their writing careers. The author/editor combination is one that I'm seeing more and more frequently. In this case, either a published author decides to become an editor, or an editor decides to give publication a shot. I can see the benefits to both of these transformations. Authors who have worked for years on perfecting their own writing should have a fairly good eye for making corrections in other people's work. Editors who have slaved over manuscripts in various stages of polish should be ahead of the game when it comes to polishing their own. Have the author/editors here found this to be so? What other benefits are t

Why Don't You Make Sense?

When you write a novel, make sure it makes sense, not just to you, but also the readers. How do you do this? Look for inconsistencies in your character’s thinking or actions. What image do you wish to project for that character? Does everything that character says or does reflect that image? Example: A shy girl would not swear out loud or wear a bikini, unless a metamorphosis is taking place. Make sure the timeline follows easily . Handle flashbacks with care. Don’t confuse readers by flitting back and forth in time or seasons without good reason. Also, when time periods change, give hints as to how many days or months or seasons or years have passed. Wrong: Graduation was over, yet Larry had no clue what to do with his life. Right: Larry couldn’t believe it was already a year since graduation. He still had no clue what to do with his life. Make sure actions are not confusing. Explain in detail if necessary. Example: When I went through my first edit of Two Wrongs with m

Editors edit commas...and more

Nowadays commas are on the decline in contemporary prose. Almost an endangered species. And there are many differing opinions about the use of them. This will not be an “official” essay on the correct use of commas. Dear lord, I would dare not presume to be of such authority to instruct you as to where, when, and in what order to include, place, and feel correct in your use of the useful, often necessary, but more often than ever before in literature shunned punctuation, the comma. I just intend to lay out some thoughts of my own on the subject and share some experiences I’ve had dealing with the ponderous and mighty question, “to comma or not to comma?” over the past several years. From Maryann - I was going to edit your opening paragraph, then I realized it is a joke. I hope everyone gets it. When I was writing my first manuscript intended for publication, I ROMANCED THE STONE (Memoirs of a Recovering Hippie), I was living in the same house with a young man, a recent college grad

Far Out

Ideally an author and an editor cooperate to create an even better manuscript. The author offers the product of her imagination and experience. The editor reminds her of her audience and the standard rules that will help readers understand her book. My finest and most memorable editing usually occurs when I dialogue with an author. Several years ago I was honored to copyedit Lee Lynch’s novel Sweet Creek and among my suggestions told her that, according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , 11th edition (the standard for our book company), the word “far-out” needs a hyphen. Lee had accepted all my suggested revisions but balked on this one. She insisted that the word was “far out.” I put on my English-professor hat and loftily explained that it has been around since 1954 and that compound words evolve from two separate words (far out), to a hyphenated word (far-out), and eventually to one word (farout). I concluded my mini-lecture but stating, “We’re now in the word’s second stage