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Showing posts from July, 2009

Learning by Doing -- Second Installment

Here with the rest of her tips on what she learned by rewriting one of her books is romance author, Ginger Simpson: Some of the other things I noticed that weakened my book, White Heart, Lakota Spirit included: *Overdone words. Starting too many sentences with "Oh," and "Well." Honestly, what was I thinking? Was my editor snoozing? In rewriting and eliminating those it has improved the flow of the story immensely. *Having action and reaction out of sync. Action comes before reaction. Sometimes you have to stop and think about how to word a sentence so you show the reader what happened before you show the character's reaction. You can't have someone jump before the gun fires...well you can if you want, but it isn't correct. *Internal thoughts. This story was fraught with way too many. I've since learned that most publishers prefer having very few internal thoughts. Publishers would rather the writer use dialogue or simply pose questions for the reade

Learning by Doing

The Blood Red Pencil is pleased to welcome romance author, Ginger Simpson, for a couple of guest blogs. She originally wrote a version of this for her own blog, and we thought it would be helpful for other writers to read what she experienced in doing a rewrite of an older book. So, without any further comment, here is Ginger: I recently reclaimed the rights to one of my previously published books, White Heart, Lakota Spirit , which I wrote in 2005. During our last camping trip, it was so uncomfortably hot, I stayed in the camper and wanted something to read. I pulled out my copy of Lakota Spirit and read it -- this time as a reader. Wow. I couldn't believe how differently I would have written the book today, so rather than renew my contract, I asked to have the rights revert back to me. I wanted to redo the story and eliminate such mistakes as: *Describing a person's voice before they speak. We all know that tags should follow the dialogue, especially when you're writing

Using Contractions in Your Writing

When you’re editing your manuscript, make at least one read-through out loud. When you read silently, it’s easy to skim through the words. You wrote them. You’ve read them a gazillion times. For at least one read-through, though, slow down and read it aloud word by word and listen to yourself. Reading aloud helps you catch things like words that should be contractions but aren’t. You have a character who’s describing someone else. He says: “He is in his fifties, but you would guess him to be eighty by looks, ten by intelligence. Stairs do not go all the way to the top; know what I mean?” Problem is, this will come across to your readers as sounding almost robotic. It doesn’t flow. It doesn’t sound the way you and I actually talk. We use contractions in our conversations. So you instead change it to: “He’s in his fifties, but you’d guess him to be eighty by looks, ten by intelligence. Stairs don’t go all the way to the top; know what I mean?” A lot of the time, what we type is not wh

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: How to Identify Dragging Narrative

In an earlier post about charting the novel story arc, I advised the writer to watch out for sections where the story's tension level drops and stays low across several pages or, even worse, several chapters. How do you identify passages that slow down the story and perhaps cause an agent or editor to toss your manuscript aside? When viewing the novel as a whole, I use these visual clues to identify scenes or chapters that might need work: 1. Very little white space (not counting the margins) – This indicates that your paragraphs might be too long, or you have an opportunity to break up the narrative with dialogue, if appropriate for the scene. 2. Backstory or flashbacks that last more than one page – If you set these insertions apart from the rest of the book by putting text in italics, or using asterisks or hash marks as separators, they’re easy to spot. Without these clues, however, you’ll need to read carefully and mark the beginning and end of such passages. If too lo

Prime Time Interview With Hank Phillippi Ryan

Today we're visiting with Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha award-winning novelist of PRIME TIME, out this month from MIRA Books . I've just finished it, and it's a snappy and fast read! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Think that annoying spam clogging your computer is just so much cyber junk mail? Top notch TV reporter Charlotte McNally suspects it may be much more than that—in fact, she thinks some of it may be carrying secret big money messages to the group of insiders with the key to decode it. Problem is, the last outsider who deciphered the truth now resides in the local morgue. Is this the biggest story of Charlie's life? Or the one that will end it? Charlie's also facing another dilemma: what happens when a top-notch TV reporter is married to her job—but begins to worry that the camera doesn't love her anymore? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dani : Welcome to the BRP, Hank. (have a beer and feel free to belch... kidding.;) Hank : Oh, lovely, Dani. I didn’t know it would

Weekend Wisdom

At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable. ~ Raymond Chandler

The Romance of Mystery

I love a good cozy mystery, but not just for the intrigue of discovering the villain. The best ones have a bit of romance to spice things up. I mean a little tiny bit, not searing like so many of Nora Roberts' books. Writing romance is an art in itself, and melding it with mystery takes a really deft hand. But the end result is incomparable, the best of both worlds to me. In a cozy novel, the mystery and romance are just that - cozy - which is about all I can handle. A while back, Shelley Thrasher explained to us how to make things CLICK between characters and amidst the sheets, and you can read about that here . You can also check out Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant for everything a writer needs to make a book sizzle, "from spark to finish". Included is a CD with Excel template to track character history and timelines. I recommend the book to anyone thinking of trying out the romance genre. If that's more than you wanted to know, experience my ideal of the mystery/

More Tips from the PSWA Conference

At the Public Safety Writers Association Conference, we also had a panel with a publisher (one who posts here and os my publisher, Billie Johnson), along with a couple of free-lance editors. 1. One of the first tips given was a query letter must be free of typos. 2. Many publishers today expect the author to have a marketing plan that tells how the author is going to promote their book. 3. Having your book edited before you submit is a good idea. It was suggested that the author get recommendations for an editor from someone he/she knows and trusts. Beware of agents who take on a writer, then recommend an editor. 4. The author should be sure to follow the publishers' guidelines for submissions. Not doing that can be what kicks the author's manuscript out without even being considered. The panel on Developing Characters consisted of an editor and several published authors, here are the highlights from that panel: The main character should have flaws and reasons for not wanting t

Some Great Tips from Mystery Author Betty Webb

Recently, I attended the Public Safety Writers Association's conference where the most wonderful award winning mystery author, Betty Webb, was a keynote speaker and also gave us some marvelous mystery writing tips. Betty told us how not to begin a mystery novel as well as how to do it. A couple of the how not to begin were with the weather and a dream. The first page of the novel is a promise to the reader. It should have action, action, action--a crisis not of the main character's own making, and he or she should solve the problem him or herself. The first page better be the best possible. She said there are two elements to a story: style and structure. She suggested having a dead body on the first page and another in the middle. It is a good idea to have the detective or sleuth be the one to discover the body. Tension should build on every page. A strong arc of action is what sells a book. Only use one or two sentences for back story. Another tip was to circle all the "w

Some Tips for Mystery Writers

This week, we welcome novelist, Marilyn Meredith to our blogging team! For my first post, I decided to report on some of the things I learned at the Public Safety Writers Association’s conference. Most of the people who attend are either connected to law enforcement in some way or writing mysteries. The first panel consisted of police officers and a prosecuting attorney who talked about what bothered them with what was portrayed on TV, movies and in books. Several mentioned procedural problems such as using lights and sirens when going to the scene of an ongoing crime, like a bank robbery. Nothing like letting the bad guys know it’s time to scoot. Not knowing the difference between the police and sheriff's departments, parole and probation, and using the terms interchangeably drove another police person nuts. Though it happens often in movies and TV, lieutenants don't go to the crime scene or do the leg work, they take care of the paperwork and procedure. CSI people never walk

Book Review: Don't Murder Your Mystery

Don’t Murder Your Mystery By Chris Roerden Publisher: Bella Rosa Books ISBN-13: 978-1933523132 List Price: $17.95 One of the best books I’ve read on writing and self-editing is the Agatha Award Winner for Best Non-Fiction Book, Don’t Murder Your Mystery (24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up . . . D.O.A.). “Enthusiastically recommended” by Midwest Book Review and deemed “a valuable reference work” by mystery author Sara Paretsky, the book has also been expanded into an all-genre version called Don’t Sabotage Your Submission . Roerden begins her book with this prescription precaution: “For long-lasting relief, apply this remedy to drafts that have finished digesting. Attempting to revise while still writing can lead to double vision accompanied by intermittent paralysis of the hands.” By comparing the stages of revision and self-editing to clues during a crime investigation, Roerden uses humor and example to demonstrate why manuscripts are declared dead

Sunday Surplus

If you're not yet a fan of author, Susan Wittig Albert's blog , head over there today and read a couple of good posts about the use of pseudonyms in writing. She has some interesting stories to tell about her own choices over the years! (Note for later: July 18 & 19, 2009)

Weekend Wisdom

The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.~Agatha Christie

Those Pesky Adverbs Again

Honestly, you'd think I'd get over this obsession about adverbs, but I just can't help myself, especially when I keep seeing their misuse over and over in books. Like many beginning writers, I used adverbs liberally when first starting out. I thought they were needed to tell the reader how someone was speaking or how they were acting. Then the light bulb went off. "Geesh, Maryann, it's about showing, not telling." About the same time, I was taking a screenwriting class and learned that it was a huge no-no to use an adverb to indicate how a line was to be spoken. For instance: MIKE (loudly) Get the hell out of my room. My creative writing instructor told the class that it's not the writer's place to tell the actor how to speak - that's the director's job. And we can help the actor and director by writing a line of dialogue that conveys the urgency. The words should indicate how the line should be delivered. Once I got that through my thick skull

Look for the Silly Stuff: Exclamation Points

In her outstanding books on fiction-writing techniques, Don’t Murder Your Mystery and Don’t Sabotage Your Submission , editor Chris Roerden says, “Exclamation points in abundance produce the same effect as too much italicizing : after a while, readers wonder if the writer thinks we are deaf or dense .” According to Copyediting & Proofreading for Dummies by Suzanne Gilad (President of, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” Exclamation points are appropriate in dialogue commands and very occasionally in dialogue exclamations. If overuse of the exclamation point is a habit, you can use your software’s Find/Replace editing tool to quickly substitute periods where appropriate. However, if the reader will not be able to tell that a statement in narrative is emphatic, or dialogue is spoken forcefully or with surprise, then it’s best to rewrite the scene to “show, not tell,” thus eliminating the need for exclamati

Picky, Picky, Picky

Okay, maybe I’m too picky when I read. My husband keeps telling me to quit reading like an editor and just read to enjoy the book. And sometimes that works. Sometimes I do get so caught up in the plot or with the characters that I overlook little mistakes that would otherwise jerk me out of the story. But when I first start a book and haven’t yet connected to the character or the plot, those little mistakes keep prickling me like the thorns on my blackberry bushes. For instance, we really have to stop and think about the words we are using and what they mean or convey, especially the misuse of reflexive pronouns. “I smiled in spite of myself.” What exactly does that mean? Perhaps it would be better to write, “I smiled, despite my glum mood.” Inappropriate sensory descriptions can also be a problem. “My own voice sounded dank…” Dank is a smell. It can’t be heard. “Soft-smelling hair.” Soft is a touch, not an odor. A common dialogue attributive is also problematic. Authors often have a c

To Splice or Not to Splice

I recently edited a manuscript that was rife with sentences combined with the word “then.” Like this one: She pulled the lever, allowing the big steel blades to catch the wind. At first nothing came then finally a small trickle of water splashed into the trough . My red pencil itches to add a comma. It’s two separate actions. The “and” seems to be understood and to me is redundant. At first nothing came, and then finally a small trickle of water splashed into the trough . If you use “and,” do you even need “then?” But in this case, “and” just doesn’t say the same thing. According to grammar gurus, this is called a “comma splice” and is supposedly a no-no. As one grammarian put it, “It feels so right. It flows so well. It looks so pretty. But technically, it’s as wrong as wearing wooly socks with strappy summer sandals.” This same source reminds us of an acronym to remember what a coordinating conjunction is: FANBOYS : F or- A nd- N or- B ut- O r- Y et- S o. But, she says, be careful of

Words, Words, Words

You know what you need to write a good story? Yes, dialogue, characters, plot, conflict, etc. are important components, but without the WORDS to develop these things, you just have a really good idea. I want to touch on a few things that can hinder your words from being appreciated by your reader. OVERWRITING Overwriting is a redundancy issue. We see this in newspaper articles all the time. A writer will quote a source, and then he/she will paraphrase the quote. The paraphrase is repetitive, redundant. In stories, we can see this when an action occurs and then the characters talk about what just happened instead of moving the story forward. We see this when a writer uses dialogue to “tell” instead of to “reveal” – especially when what he/she is telling has already been shown. When we overwrite, we slow the reading for the readers because they want to know what happens NEXT – not what already happened. Outlining can help to combat some overwriting issues. If you h

Weekend Wisdom

Lifted from Susan Albert's interesting blog about writing and life: Practice is essential. If you’re going to learn to write, it has to be your practice. I’ve been fascinated with the job of learning to write, which is unending. And I enjoy writing. Dealing with the problems it presents gives me pleasure. Sometimes there’s frustration, but if I get frustrated or hit an impasse, I just stop and go back to it later. I don’t like to hear writers talk about how they suffer for their craft. If it’s that bad, they ought to quit. ~Wendell Berry

Training Our Inner Editor Part 2 - Writer's Voice

Unlike editors in large houses, who get only the best manuscripts from new writers or yet another story from an established author, we who work outside the traditional publishing system find our clients among writers of varying abilities and experience. They may not have a famous name or multitudes of fans waiting in line to purchase their book, but they want both. So we become teachers, mentors, mothers (or fathers), cheering sections, and shoulders to cry on. In fact, we wear a whole wardrobe of hats needed by our clients. Do we rewrite? On occasion we may choose to share an example of what is needed to clarify or improve a passage or scene. Yet, should our client decide to use our words rather than rework a weak area, we must make sure those words reflect the writer’s voice. That acquired skill of seamlessly imitating another’s voice separates the best of us from the crowd. What is writer’s voice? A combination of elements including sentence structure, dialogue, use of punctuation,

The Hesitation Waltz by Morgan Mandel

I hoof it to the commuter train station each workday. A few weeks ago, a driver pulled what I call the Hesitation Waltz. He slowed down a fraction, then waltzed straight through. He not only didn't stop at the sign, but he also denied me, a pedestrian, the right of way. I was prepared for this since it's happened before. When I see a car approach a stop sign, I don't assume it will stop for me. I don't step into the street. Now, let's relate this to the writing world. Do you waltz right through when you prepare or submit a manuscript? Can you get away with it? Usually not. Most editors are one step ahead of you. Let's see. If you submit a manuscript to a publishing house without checking which editor acquires your genre, by a strange stroke of luck it might reach the right destination. I wouldn't count on it. Chances are, instead of landing where you hoped, it will end up in the dreaded slush pile or, worse yet, get returned immediately. Another scenario - Y

What's in a name?

If you play the writing game long enough, you learn that giving your protagonist a memorable name is important. It sounds innocent and easy enough, but this can get complicated. You don't want a name that's too common and forgettable. Neither do you want a name that's too long, too unpronounceable, or just too twee. Your supporting cast is important as well. You shouldn't have too many names beginning with the same letter, and definitely keep away from rhyming names unless you have cutesie-tootsie twins in your story. Which begs the question: how do you dream up good names for your characters? We asked several of our editors how they do it. Helen : My favorite resource book for naming characters is A World of Baby Names by Teresa Norman. Each of the 31 chapters starts off with an introduction to that country's use of names. For example, the intro to "African Names" includes information like, "A person's name is considered to be his most valuable

Are Editors On a Power Trip?

Recently, a young man asked me, "If editors know something is wrong, why don't they just fix it? Are they on some sort of group power trip?" I'll give you a minute to recover from the question. My first thought was uncharitable. I assumed I was talking to a young man who had never actually written a book, or anything else he cared about. Luckily, my brain did engage before my mouth—a rare event, but it does happen. I carefully explained that most writers would not appreciate an editor who simply changed the author's manuscript/work of art/baby. I didn't want to scare the young man, so I refrained from references to specific emotional reactions or spilled blood. After giving the question a bit more thought, I came up with a three other reasons for an editor to note issues, rather than fixing them. First, the writing could be ambiguous. The editor may not know what the author is trying to say. If the author writes "The boy run through the woods," the e

Happy Birthday to Me.....

Crash! Bang! Kerpow! Either it's the Fourth of July again, or all the aerosol cans in my garage are exploding. The Fourth of July brings a multitude of fond memories to me, not only in a patriotic sense, but also because it happens to be my birthday as well. Even having to bear with such comments as, "You must be a real firecracker," I'm glad I share my day with such a prestigious holiday. At least I'm not easily forgotten. A birthday on January sixteenth can• slip by unnoticed, but who can forget the Fourth of July? (Besides my mother's maiden aunt who also forgets to send me Christmas cards). When I was a kid, I naturally assumed that all the fanfare from parades to fireworks was all done in my honor, and it was a big shock to me at about age eight to realize that 15 of us were celebrating my birthday and the rest of the world could care less. My sister, likewise, thought all the hullabaloo was in my honor and it really bugged her. After all, on her birthday

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Critique Groups Part II

Read Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Critique Groups Part I Part II: Critique groups often find it helpful to put guidelines and procedures for submissions and critiques in writing. These are the general rules my groups follow: 1. Set a page limit for submissions. Depending on the group, ten to fifteen double-spaced pages may be sufficient. 2. Establish a meeting schedule. Assign specific dates for each member to submit work on a rotating basis. 3. Set a submission deadline, which should be at least five days before the meeting date. Ask that everyone submit via Word attachments to an e-mail. Critiquing the manuscript of another writer is a big responsibility. The goal is to encourage, motivate, educate, and provide honest feedback in a helpful and respectful manner. Techniques I recommend: 1. Read each submission at least twice during the critiquing process. 2. Use Word’s Track Changes, if you know how, or print the submission and make notes on paper with a pen or pen