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Showing posts from April, 2009

Writer Credibility

I went to a spirituality conference many years ago, where the guest speaker told a story to illustrate his point. It went something like this: An artist painted a picture of Jesus Christ knocking at a door. When the painting was unveiled to the public for the first time, the audience broke into jeers and the critics ridiculed it because the artist had forgotten to paint a handle on the door. In his own defense, the artist explained that the door represented the human heart and could only be opened from the inside. Charming story, no? I cocked an eyebrow listening along with the rest of the audience, knowing fully well who the artist in question was – William Holman Hunt - the painting, his " Light of the World". The allegory as explained by the speaker was relatively close, but he erred in saying the painting was ridiculed. In fact, it was a raging success from its first showing and was highly successful in print immediately after, as well as into the modern day. It inspi

Ask The Editor-- Does Age Matter?

QUESTION: Are publishers shy of taking on unknown older writers in case they don't get enough future novels out of them to make it worth their while? If so, is it better not to state your age when submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher? Gladys, haven’t you heard? A lady never tells her age. Seriously, age should not be a huge factor in whether an editor would consider your work, and I certainly would not disclose that in a query to a potential publisher. Of course, publishers do look for a long-term relationship with a new author, and that has more potential with a young author. But none of us knows how much time we have, so I would advise you not to be too concerned about your age and just keep writing. QUESTION: Although size of manuscript submissions may not be stated, are agents and publishers put off by manuscripts over 100,000 words - or even 80,000? They do take longer to edit (even if edited/proofread already) and cost more to print. The guidelines for word counts


I've lately noticed that authors have started typing their book titles in capital letters on many social forums. I suppose this trend began on sites that didn't allow for formatting. Properly, book titles should be typed in italics like this: My Best Book Italics are also used for the titles of: Plays Movies TV shows Newspapers Magazines Ships Spacecraft Another curious and recent practice comes from news services which have decided to blare their headlines in all caps. This, too, is incorrect. Quotation marks are correctly used to enclose headlines. Quotations are also used for other shorter works like the titles of: Short stories Poems Songs Chapters Articles So there you have the rules as they stand today, subject to public abuse and change, of course. Do any items on either list surprise you? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding mem

Line Editing -- Part Two

As promised, here is the second installment of line editing. As you go through your manuscript to make the prose sparkle, here are some more things to look for: Vague words – something, anything, unspecific nouns. EXAMPLE: A noise from the direction of the basement scared her. BETTER: Hearing the faint scraping of metal against concrete, Becky backed away from the basement door. Weak verbs – was, is, are, to be, ‘ing’ words, starts to, begins to, etc. WEAK: Sam is not a very open person. STRONG: Sam protects his feelings like an emotional miser. Any phrase or word that is not needed. EXAMPLE: laughed (to herself), shrugged (his shoulders), nodded (his head) Be especially conscious of reflexive pronouns: herself, himself, themselves. They are often not needed and a sign of weak writing. Something that is commonly used is having a character "find" himself or herself. Perhaps that is not grammatically incorrect, but I'm not sure it reflects the best we can do with the craft

Line Editing :One

Writing can be so much fun. We have the thrill of creating something out of nothing, and when our muse is friendly the words just flow. After that, comes the tedium of editing and line editing. In the first edit, we look for major writing issues: characterization, plot, pacing, and structure. In line editing we focus more on details of the prose. Here are some things to look for: Repetition of words - in a scene with a car, how many times did you use the word car? Circle the word every time you see it, then go back and change some, take others out. Circle the character's name. Can you substitute a pronoun for some of them, a noun for others? Circle the word "said" - can the dialogue stand without it? Can a character action take the place of an attributive? "Sit down," Mary said, motioning to a chair. "Sit down." Mary motioned to a chair. Clauses used in the wrong place – WRONG: He saw a vase of flowers on the counter that was right in the center. RIGHT

Spelling test answers

Here are the correct spellings for yesterday's quiz words: Two words in red Hyphenated in green task force oversized time frame online earpiece sleazebag mix-up callback rear view book cover spell-check download snowdrift sock yarn I use two online sources to check spellings and etymology of words: and Merriam-Webster . In hand, Webster's Unabridged and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. To make the game more interesting and challenging, you'll often notice different answers from various sources, so I like to find 2-3 dictionaries with the same results. What are your favorite dictionaries? On your desk? Online? What about the dictionary in your word processing program? Do you tweak that to suit your writing? Leave us a comment. Can a writer ever have enough dictionaries? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding memb

This is a test, just a test

One of my habits while reading or editing manuscripts is to make a list of compound words to check later, just to make sure the spellings are correct. One word, or two? Or should it be hyphenated? I do this even if the word "looks" correct to me. Here is a recent list from a beta-read I just finished for a pal. Can you tell which should be two words and not one? Take a guess and leave a comment - answers will be posted tomorrow! taskforce oversized timeframe online earpiece sleazebag mixup callback rearview bookcover spellcheck download snowdrift sockyarn ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. Occasionally, she may edit.


Every story needs conflict, not just mysteries or thrillers. Romances need conflict, so do Sci-Fi novels, even Humor pieces and Mainstream. Not all of it, in any genre, is physical. Conflict can be psychological, the tug and pull of opposing ideologies, man versus nature, man versus woman, man versus animal, man ... man is contrary, isn't he? As you write, and especially as you re-write, you need to be aware of the conflict in your story. Rarely do authors have to lessen the conflict. Usually, the problem is revving it up. As you work on your story, here are some things to keep in mind: As much as possible, keep the action on stage. As readers, we don't want to be told what happened. We want to see it occur. Whether that conflict is a physical fight, an argument, a debate, sexual tension, or whatever, let us live it along with the characters. Maybe it's hard for you to write about the subject or maybe it's difficult to get the dialogue right ... all the more reason f

Dramatic Punch Lines

It’s amazing what a good editor can do to improve a manuscript, and every writer can benefit from an objective eye and a discerning red pencil. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few changes that can make a good book better, and I discovered how valuable that can be when an editor, Paula Stallings-Yost, offered to look at the first few chapters of One Small Victory before I submitted it to a publisher. Paula and I are good friends, and we have periodically done some editing for each other, and that input from fresh eyes has been much appreciated. One of the things Paula pointed out to me was the importance of using a dramatic punch line. I knew about comedic punch lines and how the timing of delivery can make or break a joke, but I had never thought about dramatic punch lines until Paula pointed it out in a passage of my first chapter. Here is what I had originally written: Sometime soon she'd have to clean out the closet. Isn't that what usually happens? Tears burned her eye

Sense of Place: Setting as Character

Setting is as important to your writing as plot, character and emotion—it is a part of all those things. The world is sensory—one of green grass and white houses…purring kittens and thundering trucks…Chanel #5 and curling wood smoke…fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon…silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash. Though some writers provide only the barest details about the setting of their stories or novels, most writers have a tendency to describe it too much in depth. We’ve all skimmed over long paragraphs of detailed description that doesn’t really mean much to us, right? As a reader, I like to have enough details about the setting to know where the characters are, in what time period the story takes place, and what the place looks like. If it takes place in a barber shop, I'd like to know that. But unless the barber shop has some unusual decorations or is in an unusual location, I really don't need the author to describe it. We’ve all seen barber shops

Waiting for the Train

Morgan Mandel As I join the band of commuters waiting for the commuter train to pull into the station, my senses go into full alert. I hear a roar from overhead and glance up to see a silver plane fly over the clear blue sky. An aroma of what might be donuts baking wafts from the grocery store nearby. Two commuters talk to each other. I feel the weight of my computer case on my right shoulder and my purse on my left. As the train draws closer, the brakes hiss. I wrinkle my nose at the not-so-pleasant odor of what smells like burning rubber. On the train, I hear the motor running, the thumping of wheels over tracks, newspapers rattling, voices in conversation. I look out the window to see cars on the expressway. Today they're moving briskly, but that's not always the case. Sometimes they crawl or even stop. I see a building which looks like a cathedral, some condos with signs on the side advertising lofts available, also signs on the expressway indicating exits and street names.

Show vs. Tell

Show me, don't tell me. Replace narrative with action. Don't rattle on about your character's traits. Put you character in a situation where you can show those traits. If you've been writing for more than fifteen seconds, you've heard some version of the "show, don't tell" mantra. The first time the phrase was hurled at me, I was sitting in a freshman year English class. The instructor held up my essay as a shining example of "acceptable" writing, then read the paragraph in which I'd used the forbidden word "felt." The instructor was not pleased. She said we obviously didn't hear her previous three lectures. We must be deaf. So she'd speak up. She proceeded to shout. "Don't tell me your character is happy or sad. Show me! Don't tell me your hero is brave or cowardly. Show me!" The instructor continued with her list of offenses while hurling our papers at us and demanding we try again. I thought she was

Cat In the Window

Morgan Mandel When you live in a neighborhood for a while, you learn the habits of your neighbors, also of their pets. At the house kitty-corner from us, the woman's dog would always sit on the couch by the window and bark ferociously when I and my dog, Rascal, walked pass. For the past few days, something strange has occurred. Instead of the dog going crazy and barking, a cat sits on the edge of the couch and stares quietly at us. The dog is nowhere in sight. This leads me to wonder. Where's the dog? All sorts of possibilities present themselves. Perhaps the woman isn't living there any more and someone else is staying at her house. Maybe she is there, but someone with a cat is staying with her. This cat could be so dominant the dog doesn't want to be near it. Or, maybe something happened to the dog and the woman replaced it with a cat. Or, maybe she always had a cat and I never noticed it before. Or, the dog could be sick. When you write a novel, be sure to include ev

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

When I joined the fine editors here at The Blood-Red Pencil, Dani asked me to review editing books. Since then, I've been wading through different books, looking for one I could both recommend and use for my own editing. After many months of disappointing starts, I found one: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Renni Browne and Dave King Quill Publishing copyright 1993 ISBN: 0-06-272046-5 paperback non-fiction This book has everything I've been looking for: descriptions and examples of non-grammar editing, followed by suggested writing/editing exercises (with sample results). Who could ask for more? The short introduction describes the changes in the publishing industry and the resulting burden placed on writers to present edited manuscripts to agents and publishers. The authors do not believe self-editing can replace professional editing. In fact, the authors make a point of thanking their editors and suggest that

Meet The Editor

A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams , based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her Dare to Dream series. 1. When did you first notice you were hung up on typos? Probably when I took my first typing class. LOL. Seriously, I had the world’s best copyeditor when I worked at my newspaper job. He gave me the foundation for careful editing. 2. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor? Know the rules. Study the publications and know which manual of style to use for newspapers, magazine or fiction. 3. What's the best advice you have ever received from a writer? To give myself permission to set aside the “true” story and write an engaging, compelling story. 4 . What's the best advice you've gi

Where Is Your Creative Effort?

Recently, I bought acclaimed author and teacher Robert McKee's book STORY . If you don't know about it or don't own a copy, get it QUICK here: [ link ]. Every person who is serious about writing should own it. Though McKee is focused on screenwriting, the book holds truths for ALL forms of writing. Something I read a few nights ago made me think about the Writers Boot Camp course I offer online. McKee states, “Of the total creative effort represented in a finished work, 75 percent or more of a writer’s labor goes into designing a story. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences? Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into story is our overwhelming creative task. “Designing story tests the maturity and insight of the writer, his knowledge of society, nature, and the human heart. Story demands both vivid imagination and powerful analytic thought.” In my

Who? That which!

No, this is not going to be a post about dialogue in soap operas, so if that’s what you were looking for you better move along. This is a post about when to use who , that , and which . According to The Macmillan Good English Handbook , we use who with people. An example: Creek, who married Fern’s ex-husband and then poisoned him, cried into her third glass of Merlot and wondered if she was becoming an alcoholic. We use which, on the other hand, for things. An example: The poison, which Creek used to kill Cliff, was not found during the autopsy, but Detective Smith still had his suspicions. Okay that’s the easy part. So what about which and that ? Those are the tricky ones right? Grammar Girl makes it very simple. If the phrase must remain in the sentence or the sentence will no longer mean the same thing, you must use that . (This is a restrictive clause, if you must. I try to avoid grammatical terms. They give me a rash) If the phrase can be taken out of the sentence and the se

Ask The Editor: Pitches

What is considered a great pitch? Recently I took part in the Amazon Breakthrough competition, but unfortunately was not selected to go through to the second round. The initial selection was based on the pitch submitted. Since my story didn't go through to the second round, I'm fairly sure there is something wrong with my pitch. I've attached the pitch for your convenience and I was wondering if you could tell me where I went wrong. This might help me with future submission to literary agents. Thank you, Conny Manero Author of: Waiting for Silverbird Kitten Diaries http://www.helium.%20com/users/380634/show_%20articles http://connymanero.%20blogspot.%20com/ Dear Connie, while your story sounds interesting, the material you submitted as a pitch reads more like the back cover promo blurb. There is a difference and for many of us getting them right is a bigger challenge than writing the book. You wrote: Voice of An Angel will touch the hearts and reach the souls of women reade

Shhhh! I’m doing research!

I was recently at a brainstorming meeting for a new television drama series my writing partner and I will be starting. Throughout the meeting, she and I and another woman who is part of the production team on this project, but is also a scriptwriter, kept referring to TV shows we watched, saying things like, “Did you see that on The Lab?” or “Something like the episode of Rhythm City the other night”. After some time one of the men at the meeting asked, “Gosh when do you have time to watch TV? I never have time to watch TV.” My writing partner and I looked at each other and said, “It’s research!” I’ve never met a good novelist who wasn’t a lover of novels or a film director who didn’t watch movies. Why should television scriptwriters be any different? If you want to understand television you must watch TV. The key is to watch it from a learning angle. Here are some pointers: 1. Keep notes about what works and what doesn’t. If it’s a comedy, where did you laugh, where did the joke fall


As we all know, writers are by nature very insecure people, especially in the early years when perhaps the only thing we get published is a letter to the editor and that's cut from four paragraphs to three lines. In fact, for years, basic insecurity was the only thing I had to affirm my credibility as a writer. But even in my moment of greatest anxiety, I never reached the heights (or should I say the depths) of insecurity as did Glenda Gibberish. She wrote an entire book on squares of toilet tissue and hid each page in an empty roll. When her husband, Harry, asked about all the cardboard cylinders lining the dresser, Glenda told him she was making toys for the gerbils. That worked well until he decided to take an interest in the welfare of the pets. She lost one whole chapter in a single afternoon. Following that disaster, Glenda resorted to stuffing the rolls in her underwear drawer, in the empty cookie jar, and in the springs of the old sofa bed. She figured she was safe si

Meet the Editor: Jesaka Long

A full-time freelance editor-writer and owner of a.k.a writer in Denver, Jesaka Long works her word magic for small publishing houses and authors, especially non-fiction writers and memoirists. Let’s see how Jesaka answers the same questions she’s used for everyone in the “Meet the Editor” series. Afterward, you can ask some of your own in the Comments section. When did you first notice you were hung-up on typos? My first love was a typewriter – I loved it so much that I would do anything to type. My grandfather even let me type up his reports for work. It was when I started working for my high school newspaper that I realized that I had a thing for typos. I loved scrutinizing the waxed layouts, marking the last of the errors with a blue pencil that wouldn’t show up at the printer. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor? Practice! I had the privilege of mentoring a few aspiring editors. It was so much fun to help them learn things like the in-house style

RWA, MWA, LIM, EPIC, NY - What These Initials Mean To Me

I seriously wrote fiction after a presentation by Chicago-North RWA at our local library in which the members told everyone how they got their start. Listening to them made me realize that authors are real people. If I tried hard enough, maybe I could be like them and get published. I joined the chapter, made some wonderful friends, and learned a lot about writing from critiques and conversations. I served as secretary, manuscript chairperson, president, then chapter advisor. Chicago-North RWA is one big reason I finally got my first publishing contract in 2006. So, Romance Writers of America , RWA , does mean a lot to me - yet, again, it's a source of disappointment. Not my local chapter, but the national organization which goes out of its way to protect NY publishers and snubs many small presses who valiantly struggle to make a decent livelihood and support their authors. MWA - When I first started writing, the first conference I attended was Of Dark and Stormy Night