Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Charting the Novel Story Arc

We are delighted to have our dear colleague Pat Stoltey returning to The Blood-Red Pencil in 2018. Pat has a new book coming out soon and we are helping her celebrate by re-running some of her excellent editing posts from past years.

This post was first published here on June 30, 2009 and it's become a tool I use regularly when editing manuscripts for authors. It's proven to be an enormously useful way to help determine if a story begins with enough of a bang, where the plot sags in the middle, and if the ending needs a bit more tension before the satisfying conclusion. Thanks to Pat for contributing one of our most popular posts! ~ Dani

Once I have a complete draft of a novel, and before I begin the detailed self-editing process, I want to evaluate the story arc to determine whether I need to add, delete, or revise sections of the manuscript. If this is done before the line-by-line edit, then I won’t waste time on sections that might be completely rewritten, or even eliminated.

The story arc is described by Shon Bacon as: “a set up, obstacles for the main character to overcome, and a resolution.” For additional information on what the story arc is and how to fix problems, read these posts from The Blood-Red Pencil: Prop Up Your Sagging Plot Middles by Heidi Thomas and Plumpers by Dani Greer. For an excellent description of the essential elements of the Three Act Structure, see Alex Sokoloff’s Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.

This is a painful part of the self-editing process for many writers, so I’d like to use the numerical ranking system to evaluate patient pain as a measure of tension and/or suspense in a novel. Zero will indicate no tension/excitement. Ten is the measure for “edge of your seat” suspense.

Mystery/thriller, fantasy/sci-fi, romance, or any other fictional form will have a story arc. There is no reader appeal unless the main characters want something, need to overcome obstacles to reach their goals, and eventually succeed or fail in their quests. The challenge is to maintain a pace in this obstacle/resolution process that keeps the reader engaged until the end of the story.

Ranking and charting can be done at a macro-level, where chapters or sections are evaluated. At a micro-level, the excitement of each page or scene may be measured. Whichever you choose, when you are finished, chart the results (you can even do a fancy bar graph, if you like). Does your story look something like this?


If so, better read that post on sagging middles and work on the over-long (and probably boring) resolution.

To complicate the process, if you have one or more sub-plots within the greater story, you might want to chart the sub-plots as a separate exercise. This is helpful, for instance, in novels of romantic suspense where you might have obstacles for the lovers that are separate from the intrigue in which one or both might be entangled.

Regardless of how general or how detailed you want to make this exercise, you’ll find it a useful tool in identifying problems with story and pacing. If you do this first, the rest of the self-editing tasks will be much easier.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stumbling Blocks

If you lose your momentum on a book project, is it possible to get it back? Most times, I would say yes.

Let’s say you’re writing along and things are going great. Then you hit a block. You don’t know where to go from there. You’re stuck. Here are some ideas. Run through the plot so far. If you’ve been keeping a Book Bible, refer to that. What has been the sequence? As you do that, envision the characters. (Get up and walk around, if that helps.) Now envision what your character would do next. Or perhaps envision what would be the absolute worst thing that could happen to your character at this point. Then either sit down and write it or make notes on the different scenarios you come up with.

Or if this kind of walking, talking and visualizing is not your thing, then get out paper or sit at your computer and type ideas. Doesn’t matter how wild or crazy, you’re not judging them at this time. Right now, you just type ideas as they come into your head. You can go back and filter them later.

Maybe your block is not on what should happen next with a character or situation. Maybe you’re at the editing stage and you’re just sick of it. Then put the manuscript away. Not for good, but for a time-out. How long of a rest you take from it depends on you. Work on some other project, be it writing or knitting or cooking or volunteer work. Maybe even go to a writing conference or workshop to re-energize yourself. But not only put the book out of sight, put it out of mind. When you feel you’re ready, you’ll come back to it with new eyes.

Sometimes you hit a stumbling block and you have to work your way around the block. Sometimes you have to turn away from the block and go some other direction until you’re ready to come back and tackle it.

Do you ever hit a stumbling block in your writing or editing? How do you handle it?
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write!, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its tenth year of publication. She is writing her third book for TSTC Publishing and plans to have it in before her August 1 deadline.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekend Wisdom

Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.
~ John Jakes

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Variations on a Theme of English : US and UK English

In years past, people would travel if they wanted to experience a different culture. These days we can simply click a mouse and go surfing. The Internet has become such a normal part of our day to day life that we no longer really consider the fact that we are interacting with people from all over the world.

If you keep a careful eye on vernacular English, you can really expand your markets for articles and short stories, in particular, or even pick up some out-sourced work. And, of course, it is a simple matter to edit your old articles to rework them for a foreign market.

Here are my top three favourite differences between North American English (NA) and UK English (UK):

Aluminum (NA)
Aluminium (UK)

American English has dropped the second “i” and changed the pronunciation to “al-oo-mi-num”; UK English pronunciation is “ala-min-ee-um”.

I could care less. (NA)
I couldn’t care less. (UK)

UK English speakers don’t consider “less” to be a negative, but a comparative - ie, the opposite of “more”. So “I couldn’t care more” means “This is the thing I care the most about” and “I couldn’t care less” is the opposite: “This is the thing I care the least about”. For many US speakers, “not” and “less” would cancel each other out, leaving “I could care”.

Potted plant (NA)
Pot plant (UK)

While UK English speakers do call the drug in question “pot”, and they might grow “pot” (I said “might”), a “pot plant” is any plant in a pot. Americans speak of a plant that has been “potted”.

I really enjoy coming across further variances in the way we communicate that remind me of the huge distances I cover each day. And I want others to experience this too, so I don't try to blend in and serve my readers the spelling they expect on my website. It broadens everyone's worldview when we come across unexpected differences and stop to savour them.

Look out for upcoming posts on English vernacular from some other countries around the world.

Do you have any favourite differences between US and UK English to share with us? Your comment might have made it into a follow-up post.

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website to download her free mini report on the Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules and How to Remember Them. Stay and browse through her resources for writers or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Writing a Synopsis Doesn't Have to Kill You

You pitched this really great story idea to an editor, and now she wants to see, gulp, a SYNOPSIS. For most authors, writing a synopsis is like being asked to kneel on tacks for a week. In fact, it's probably worse, but several years ago I discovered a technique that made it considerably less painful.

At the time, I’d been working primarily on film scripts and the style of writing had become second nature. I loved the techniques of quick cuts and sparse narratives. When I was asked for a rapid turn-around on a synopsis and sample chapters for my novel, ONE SMALL VICTORY, I was seized with a sudden panic. I didn’t even have a working outline for this book. How could I even begin to put this proposal together on a tight deadline?

That’s when I got the idea to use some of the scripting techniques I’d become so comfortable with. First, I started a rough outline of the story in the form of “story beats.” Some people use index cards for each beat, but I prefer to work on a legal pad making a numbered list. For example:


1. Mike is killed in a car accident
2. Jenny’s reaction
3. Jenny finds out drugs were involved

I usually put three to four beats on one page with room between for adding notes as the story develops.

Working on the rest of the plot I finished the initial list before going through it and deciding which elements needed to be included in the synopsis. When that was determined, I started putting meat on the story beats by answering a few basic questions. What happens in this scene and why? What purpose does it serve in the story? What is it saying about the characters?

Taking my first story beat, I added the layers; setting the scene, focusing the tension and conflict, and visualizing the interplay between the characters. This step in the process turned out something like: Mike Jasick, riding in a car driven by his friend who is taking drugs, is killed when the car careens off a country road, goes airborne, and crashes into an embankment.

Notice that I wasn’t concerned with the quality of the actual writing at this point, just the quality of the story development. After a little more thinking about the characters and visualizing how the first few scenes would play out, I decided that opening the synopsis with the reaction from Jenny – story beat two – would be better because of the emotional connection that makes with readers. So this is what I ended up with as the opening sentence with the other two story beats covered in the next two: Life can change in just an instant. That's the harsh reality that Jenny Jasick faces when her son, Michael, is killed in an automobile accident. Then, as if grief isn't enough, drugs are found in the car.

After I finished the synopsis, I decided to use some of the same techniques in writing the sample chapters. I was really struggling with the narrative transitions because film scripts don’t use them. They have this handy little tool called a “cut to” that I’d been using for several months. Instead of sitting here watching my cursor blink as I tried to come up with a transition, I thought why not use “cut to” then take it out in the final draft.

The initial writing of the chapters went incredibly faster this way. It kept the action flowing and helped me stay focused on the essential elements of each scene. In the second go-round I added character emotions and reactions to the action, keeping it focused so the motivation for later action was developed. As I mentally scrambled to find the transitions, I realized that I didn’t need to transition every scene. I could just drop down a couple of extra spaces and jump into the next one.

Some of these techniques obviously wouldn’t work for every novel, but they are good tools for stepping up the pacing for mysteries, thrillers, horror, and some contemporary mainstream. I think a modified form would even work well for romantic suspense and science fiction. And using the story beats is definitely an asset when outlining and writing a dynamite synopsis.

Maryann Miller is the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine, and a reviewer for Bloggernews.net and ForeWord Magazine. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gone With the Wind

Daily writing adds up in more ways than one. Not only does your word count increase, but so does your skill. All writing matters, and this includes blogging. Because blogging is instantly public, it might be more important in some aspects than our journals or more serious writing, like a novel-in-process. If you do it regularly, it eventually blossoms into a large body of work.

So what happens when your blog disappears? It happened to our fellow editor, Marvin Wilson, just last week. Blogger killed not one, but two of his blogs, sites in which he’d invested an enormous amount of time and energy. Gone with the wind. Just like that. Poof. No exclamation given.

There are no guarantees that platforms like Blogger or WordPress will guard the safety of your creative work. You have to take precautions yourself. I protect my writing by drafting in an MSWord file, and then copying and pasting to the HTML window of a new post in Blogger. This way, I have all my writing accumulated and saved on my computer, safe from the occasional lost post, or worse, the demise of the entire body of blogging work.

You can save a file of all your blog posts by name and month, like I do, or find another method that suits you better. Whatever you do, don’t leave it to chance that all the information stored on your blog is safe forever. Even gathering all your links could take considerable reconstruction time should they be lost. Always have some sort of back-up for the information. If you have other methods for saving your blog content, please share them with us, and tell us what blogging platform you’re using in the comments.

And be nice to Marv; he’s had a rough week. Take a peek at his new blog and leave him a sweet condolence. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy! Well, okay, it could have happened to me, but let's not tempt the fates.

Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil and has spent most of the last week blogging and confusing herself in feeble attempts to podcast.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Characters in a series

I belong to the Story Circle Network, a writing organization for memoirists. We have an active Yahoo!Group for members, and every weekend chat about books we're currently reading. Recently, we discussed long-time serial authors like Nevada Barr and Sue Grafton, and most of us had strong feelings that their evolving series had become too plot-driven, perhaps even too sensationalized, with a disappointing lack of deep character development. I'm really ready for Kinsey Milhone to have a serious love relationship, aren't you? Anna Pigeon could have spent a little time with her new husband after she got married, but didn't. Call me disappointed and a little unwilling to read the newest book unless I know she'll be spending some time with Paul.

One of the things I like most about L.j. Sellers' Detective Wade Jackson character, is that he does develop as a person from novel to novel. It's not just plot-driven writing although the current events issue in each book fuels the fast pace. But we care more about the stories and the series because we gradually care about Jackson. We get to know him as a father, a friend, a lover, and a medical patient. We learn to like him.

Susan Wittig Albert shares a few fantastic insights on her blog about just this subject and other challenges in keeping a series fresh. It's a must-read for writers.

What hints do all you series writers have for developing your characters over the long haul? Do you think things out a few books in advance, or do you just let the character evolve in a more organic manner from novel to novel? Leave us a comment.


Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, is finishing up with her last blog book tours class for authors, and is learning how to podcast for Story Circle Network. When she's not weeding through a manuscript, she's weeding her 2-acre garden.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Writing Tips From Elmore Leonard

Maybe we should all hang up our red pencils here and just keep a link to this great article by Elmore Leonard in the New York Times.

We've discussed many of the points he covers: dialogue attributives, adverbs (here they are again ) passive verbs, and many more, but he has a knack for restating them with a bit of a punch.

He starts his article with, "These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over."

What a polite way of encouraging us to improve our craft.

Elmore Leonard has been commended by critics for his gritty realism and strong dialogue. His writing style sometimes takes liberties with grammar in the interest of speeding along the story. In his essay, "Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing," he writes, "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

His advice to writers also includes the hint, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."


Maryann Miller is the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine, and a reviewer for Bloggernews.net and ForeWord Magazine. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Adverbs Revisited

Here at the Blood Red Pencil we have discussed the use of adverbs already, but this is a subject well worth another reminder.

First let me say emphatically that ADVERBS WEAKEN WRITING. Case in point is my use of an adverb here. My statement was very emphatic and I didn't need to point that out with the adverb. Any time we do that when it is not necessary is an insult to the reader. It's like were telling him or her that they aren't smart enough to figure out the subtle nuances of behavior or dialogue without a not so subtle hint.

For example, consider these few lines of dialogue from book I recently received to review:

"Hi Jesse," Evie waved back excitedly. --- How does one wave excitedly? Wouldn't it be better to show the excitement?

"My dad has to go," Jesse said sharply. --- This was in response to another character inviting Evie to visit later and meet Jesse's father. The terseness of Jesse's comment has the sharp edge and doesn't need the adverb.

"We know where we're going," Theresa said adamantly. --- Here again the dialogue is already adamant. She is responding to Jesse's father who said the young people couldn't leave without him.

And again later in the same scene....

"Then we'll take a bus," Jesse said defiantly. --- This is a contrary response to the previous line of dialogue and the defiance is clear in the words.

These are just a few examples out of a book that was overrun with adverbs. Not that adverbs are bad. Just the overuse of of them. There are times when we will want characters to speak softly, or touch someone gently, but we shouldn't qualify every line of dialogue and every action.


Maryann Miller is the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine, and a reviewer for Bloggernews.net and ForeWord Magazine. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stop Butting In

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Having a strong and unique voice is considered a good quality in an author. It is one of those intangibles that keeps readers coming back for more. But novice authors often have a rookie habit of "butting in" to the story to interject their own thoughts and/or information. It can be a jarring disruption to the story line. Here is an example:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the smell. Forsythias are what he was smelling; they are indigenous to Southeast Michigan. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time.”


See how the second sentence is just stuck in there? It stops the story's forward motion while the author tosses in a fact. It is better to deliver information by letting the characters do the talking - like this:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the familiar smell. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her, and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time. Mmm, what is that lovely scent in the air?”

"Forsythias. They grow all over this part of the state."


Here's another example, one right out of a manuscript I am currently editing-

Mark, the Attorney General Prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. This is what the Texas Local Code provides for if the case is against the District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.


The bold red sentence, and that's how it stuck out to me when I first read it, is this author spouting off his knowledge of Texan judicial procedure. Nice that he's doing his research, but no need to stop the story dead. The fix is easy. Read it rewritten like this:

Mark, the Attorney General prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. He cited the Texas Local Code which provides for such relocation if the case is against the local District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.


Now the information is seamlessly woven into the story, with the author nicely "butting out." With this minor adjustment, his character is able to deliver the information within the performance of the scene.

Posted by Marvin D Wilson, author of:
I Romanced the Stone, Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin blogs at Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.
He is an editor with All Things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Internal Dialogue: First Person or Not?

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Recently an editor at a small publishing house wanted me to rewrite all internal dialogue in be first person, present tense. My novel is written in third person, past tense. She said first person is standard for internal dialogue, and she also urged me in several places to change the text to internal dialogue. I didn’t do it.

As a reader, if I’m reading a third-person, past-tense story and suddenly the author switches to first person, present for internal dialogue, I find it jarring.

So I don’t write internal thoughts that way. I try to keep the internal dialogue to a minimum, because the formatting requires italics, and so many readers hate italics. (“Distracting, annoying, and hard to read,” they say.) So my internal dialogue is often quite brief, a word or phrase. Even when it’s longer, it stays in third person.

Examples: The first example is how I wrote it. The second example is how the editor wanted to change it.

Conner hit the floor and did forty push-ups, muscles responding as they were trained to. The effort calmed him enough to sit down and continue his search of the paperwork. He willed himself to be cool and logical. First, find the address, then go get Bodehammer.

Conner hit the floor and did forty push-ups, muscles responding as they were trained to. The effort calmed him enough to sit down and continue his search of the paperwork. He willed himself to be cool and logical. First, I’ll find the address. Next I’ll go get Bodehammer.

The style and level of internal dialogue may vary between genres, but in the crime stories I read, I couldn’t find any examples of first person internal dialogue in third person narratives. In fact, there was hardly any internal dialogue or italics at all.

What do you think? Is there an industry standard? How do you write internal dialogue?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the highly praised mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, and has a second Detective Jackson story, Secrets to Die For, coming out in September. Her third Jackson story, Thrilled to Death, has just been completed, and she's writing a fourth. When not plotting murders, Sellers enjoys cycling, hanging out with her family, and editing fiction manuscripts. Contact her at: Write First, Clean Later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mom, Dad, and the Government

If I write your name in all capital letters do I love you more? If I start a word with a capital letter does it make it more important? Does it show my adoration more explicitly? These seem to be questions people inexplicably have begun to ask themselves to determine when certain words need a capital or small case letter.

Mother, father, mom, dad, and government seem to be words that drive normal, grammatically correct people over the edge. The emotion around these words seems to mix people up. They start throwing capital letters around as if they are darts with suction cups on the end- but can I warn you- all darts can put an eye out. Did your mother teach you nothing?

Some people (including my child’s English teacher- unfortunately) have attempted to impose a false structure with bizarre rules like -all of them are always capitalized. (What? Have you gone mad?) I think part of that is misappropriated love. Yes, I love my mother. Yes, I love my father. Yes, I love my government. BUT capitalizing does not equal love. You CAN love in small case letters. You can be important in small case letters. Look- death. Small case. Important. Okay?

Our local newspaper, for example, has developed a love affair with the government to such an extent that they can’t bear to see it in lower case letters.

Let’s look at some examples:

The Government of Botswana issued a press statement. (Correct)

The tender was late because of typical Government bureaucracy. (Incorrect)

The Government’s spokesperson, Rre Madibela, said the Government had no comment. (Correct- in this case it is referring to the Government of Botswana)

They said that all Government workers will need to abide by the new dress code. (Incorrect)

It’s not difficult. It has nothing to do with love or importance. If it is a proper noun, the name of a government, for example - you capitalize it, if not- you don’t. The same goes for your parents, if the word is their name, you capitalize it, if it is not a name you don’t.

Here are examples:

Dineo’s Mother always sweeps the yard first thing in the morning. (Incorrect)

If anyone could liven up this party I knew Mom could. (Correct)

If Father wants to talk about it, I’m more than happy to come over. (Correct)

His Father likes cooking sorghum porridge for breakfast. (Incorrect)

So, feel the love- but let’s do it grammatically, shall we?

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana. She blogs at Thoughts from Botswana.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

It’s All in the Details

Think about your descriptions. Sometimes it's the little things that say the most. As an example, read this sentence by V.S. Naipaul in Guerrillas:
"A triangle of white light was advancing from the porch into the sitting room, over the curling edge of the electric-blue carpet, which lay untacked on the terrazzo floor."
"Porch" and "sitting room" evoke almost genteel images. "Electric-blue" seems rather modern. But the words that really get to the core are "curling edge" and "untacked." Without those minuscule details, the sentence would have a whole different meaning.

What could you say about an object or a scene or a character that would be so right-on it would be unforgettable or would bring that image into sharp focus? Look at this from Rumer Godden in Black Narcissus:
"The woman's face was Chinese, brown and withered like a ginger root; she wore dark blue clothes, a necklace of turquoises and sharp little silver knives, and her hair in pigtails like two grey wires."
I don't think I'm going to forget a face withered like ginger root and pigtails that look like two grey wires.

What you're describing may not require eloquent words. The mood may need starkness. Here's Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale:
"When I'm naked I lie down on the examining table, on the sheet of chilly crackling disposable paper. I pull the second sheet, the cloth one, up over my body. At neck level there's another sheet, suspended from the ceiling. It intersects me so that the doctor will never see my face. He deals with a torso only."
Look for just the right words that evoke the emotion, the image, the soul of what you want to say or describe. It's not necessarily easy. It may take many rewrites and a lot of searching for the telling aspects and perfect words. But when you get it right, it can be an epiphany.

It can also be the difference between a so-so book and a great book.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write!, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its tenth year of publication.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

The Azure Blue Sky

A streak of white light cut across the azure blue sky --

Okay, stop right there. What's wrong with this sentence?

The thing that stands out to me is "azure blue sky." Why? Because it's wasteful. You only get so many words per book. Don't waste even one. You don't need to say, "azure *blue* sky" since azure means "pale blue." That's like saying, "the pale blue blue sky."

Yeah, I know we all tend to zip through the first draft, waxing poetic, as they say, and don't take time to edit our lyrical voices. And the second draft focuses on dialogue (or continuity or chapter hooks or ...), but what about the fifteenth draft? Somewhere along the weary staircase of drafts, we have to stop, catch our breath, and take a close look at the actual words we've used.

Examine your writing. Have you used two words when one would do? On the other hand, did you use one word when two or ten would have been better?

Your characters are stranded on a boat, in the middle of a seemingly endless sea. You write, "Dark clouds approached."

Look at what George R. Stewart wrote in Storm:
"Hour by hour the cloud-deck grew lower and thicker and darker; swift-blown scud sped beneath the low stratus, seeming to skim the wave-crests."
Wow, much tenser than "Dark clouds approached."

Whether you're trying to chisel down your words or use the exact words to evoke an emotion, go through your manuscript and look for the opportunities to make use of the language. No need to say a character's ears were large and projected outward from his head when you could say he was jug-eared.

Next time, we talk about descriptions and how, sometimes, it’s the little things that say the most.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write!, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its tenth year of publication.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Send in the Stunt Double

Not long ago I went to see my hair stylist. As she usually does some time over the summer, she said, “Your hair’s too dark. Let’s brighten it up with some blonde highlights.” If this were a movie, I’d probably say, “Cut to two-and-a-half hours later.” I left the salon looking like the double for the albino in The Da Vinci Code. My hair is so blonde it’s practically white. Which got me to thinking, what do I do now? Do I let it grow for a month or so then get it cut really short and have brown highlights put in?

It also got me thinking about the albino in The Da Vinci Code. (If you’re a writer, you should know that’s how the mind of a editor works.) For me, that character is more memorable than any other. Why is that?

The key word there is “memorable.” He’s not bland like the protagonist. Despite his appearance, he has color. He has motivation, purpose, and perseverance. This is true whether you’re talking about the movie or the book. He doesn’t get the screen or page time as much as the protagonist, yet he comes close to over-shadowing him.

That’s one thing (among many) you have to be aware of when you’re writing. Don’t let your secondary characters or your antagonist take over. The antagonist has to be strong, has to be a worthy adversary, for the main character, but if he takes over the spotlight, then the book becomes his.

When you have your readers read your whole manuscript, it’s a good idea to ask, “Which character was most memorable to you?” and “Why?” If the answer is the antagonist or a secondary character, then you need to work on your protagonist.

He should be at least as memorable, if not more.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Copy Editor and the Four Cs

Have you ever wondered what all those different kinds of editors do?

Recently I picked up a book titled The Copy editor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications and learned that copy editors look after the four Cs. Being a red-blooded American girl, I immediately thought, "What do cut, color, clarity and carat have to do with editing?"

I could make an argument for clarity, but not the rest, so I read further and learned the copy editor has a different for Cs: clarity (of course), coherency, consistency, and correctness.

That's nice, but what does it mean? Does the copy editor care if you kill off Uncle Joe in chapter three and resurrect him in chapter twenty?

Probably, but the copy editor's main goal is to guide the author to an error-free product with respect to editorial style and language. Editing for language primarily consists of ensuring proper grammar is employed throughout, but also includes other language concerns such as eliminating cliches. Do your verbs meander through the tenses without rhyme or reason? Are your participles dangling? Do your characters lay down for a nap and lie items on the table? If so, then you can appreciate and benefit from the copy editor's expertise.

But what is editorial style?

Editorial style covers consistency in areas where more than one correct option exists. For example, 30 percent, 30%, and thirty percent all mean the same thing. No matter which way you write it, readers will understand. Your copy editor will not only ensure that your treatment of language around percentages is consistent throughout your book, but also that it matches the publisher's stated editorial style.

Most publishers have a stated editorial style covering such topics as hyphenation (and ellipses, em and en dashes), capitalization (copy or Xerox, tissue or Kleenex), abbreviations (USA or U.S.A.?), numbers (500 or five hundred), money ($5 or five dollars), time (six AM, six a.m., 6:00 A.M., or six in the morning). The editorial style ensures all books from a given publisher share a particular style, ensures consistency across products.

Is there a repeated error in this article? Which is correct - copyeditor, copy-editor or copy editor? And, which editor cares about Uncle Joe's demise?

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:


News, Views and Reviews Blog

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Master Your Genre

GENRE: A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. (American Heritage Dictionary, link)

Pretend for a moment you're not a writer; you are just a reader. You're a fan of romance novels. Think about the hero and heroine in those novels. Think about how the hero and heroine meet in those novels. Think about the major events that happen in those novels. Think about the settings of those novels. Find any similarities? You should. The romance genre has a distinct style, form, and content. Heroes are usually strong, willful, and determined. Heroines are strong, too, but usually have that feminine softness that makes it so easy to swoon at the mere touch of the hero. The two always meet in an exciting way. Despite the obstacles that threaten their relationship, they get together. These distinctive genre conventions are not only obvious in romance, but also they are in crime novels, thrillers, romantic comedy, horror, etc.

As a reader you know this. If you are a fan of a specific genre, these conventions are a big reason why you keep coming back to the genre.

Come back to reality. You are a writer, and it's important for you to know that readers know all the conventions. They know all the parts of a genre, like the cute-meet in a romantic comedy, so as a writer, it's your goal to become a master of your genre.

What does this mean?

1-- KNOW the conventions because those are the things that draw a reader, that invoke a comfortable familiarity. How do we learn the conventions? We read books that are like ours, both good and bad. We study the works, looking at the style, form, and content of these works in order to understand the similarities that underline these works within the genre.

2-- AVOID hack writing and cliches...keep it FRESH. The cute-meet is a tried and true convention of romantic comedies and in many romances, too. As readers of these books, we expect to see this moment; we demand it. The good writer, having studied these conventions through examining others' works, already knows what's been done and will look for a fresh, new way of having the main characters meet.

Every day, more and more people wake up, ready to try their hand at writing, so competition for recognition is fierce. Move your writing to the top of the crop by studying your genre for its conventions and finding fresh ways to illustrate those conventions.
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

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