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Showing posts from December, 2009

Goals for The New Year

A number of years ago I belonged to a writers' group that was a wonderful source of good critiques and strong support. It was a mix of published and unpublished writers, but no matter what side of the fence any one stood on, the dedication to writing was the same. One of the things we always did at our annual Holiday party was to write down three writing-related goals for the coming year. The goals had to be specific and significant, like finishing a work in progress, acquiring an agent, or selling a book. We would all write down our goals, then put the papers in an envelope that was sealed to be opened the following year. Then we would open the envelope from the year before. It was always interesting and enlightening to read what we had written and report on how well we had achieved those goals. Some of us did much better than others, but I found that writing the goals down, knowing they would be shared in 12 months, made me work harder toward achieving them. I haven't d

Ancient Perils of Writing

I recently came across some old columns I’d written for a suburban newspaper. Here is one that any writer over fifty may be able to relate to. Younger folks will have to do a Google search to find a picture of a typewriter so they can know what it is that I wrote about oh those many years ago….. What is it that a writer dreads more than rejection slips or writer's block? The death of a typewriter. Without his typewriter, a writer is like a salesman without his pitch, or Tolstoy without his inkwell. Handwritten manuscripts were acceptable in his day, but modern editors frown on them. Especially such handwriting as mine that falls somewhere between chicken scratchings and hieroglyphics. So you will imagine my dismay as my trusty old Smith Corona started her demise. (Or should that be his demise?) It began with one or two minor problems. The key that would occasionally stick. I could live with that minor inconvenience. After all, how many times do you use the x key? Then the shift bu

Dialogue Interruptus

Interruption can add needed conflict to a scene; many authors have an intuitive sense of this. Your character is in a cozy restaurant booth with her beloved, wrapped up in the moment, leaning forward to hear words he can only manage to whisper. Tension is building toward that question that will change her life forever— —when the waiter comes to take her order. He’s a chatty friend from her high school days who dredges up old conflict. Try as they might, once the waiter leaves the couple cannot re-establish the mood. The question will have to be delayed for another time, and the reader can’t wait for it to happen. A few technical problems can ruin the reader’s experience, however, so authors take note. A common mistake is to use an ellipsis (…) interchangeably with an em-dash (—). These punctuation marks have different functions. Use an ellipsis if you want your character to drift off in thought. Interruption is better suited to the em-dash, as its slash rips your character from h

A Holiday Wish

HAPPY HOLIDAYS Happy Holidays to all our faithful readers from the members of The Blood Red Pencil blog. We appreciate your loyal following and the great comments that have led to some beneficial discussions. We all truly learn from each other and you have proven that point through your responses. Whatever holiday you celebrate, may it be filled with good times, good friends, good food, and special moments. ------ Posted by Maryann Miller on behalf of all the contributors.

Some Christmas Fun

Tis the day before Christmas and all is not done, Things on the “to do” list number a million and one. There are cookies to cut while the oven is hot, And a gift for Aunt Mildred. Egad! I forgot. There are presents to measure, to balance and wrap, If the stacks are not even the kids will know in a snap. The turkey is snug in the freezer so cold, Will anyone notice if I put dinner on hold? Tis the day to test stamina, courage, and brawn, The survivors are heroes at next morning’s dawn. Just when I thought I was running out of time A stranger appeared with a smile so sublime. He was dressed all in silver from his head to his toe. And I blinked my eyes twice to see if he would go. He patted my shoulder and gave me a latte, “Your’re almost there,” he said. “The rest will be easy. “Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t get in a frazzle, Together we’ll do it with narry a hassle. I’ll hang the tinsel and check all the lights, You bathe the children

Spoiled Milk by Morgan Mandel

Not long ago, as I swallowed a swig of milk at lunch, I realized it was sour. Since I was almost through with my meal, I didn't request an exchange. What I did was go to the cashier and ask for a refund. She recognized me as a regular customer, so I had no problem. Still, the experience left me unsettled and wondering if I'd get sick. To make an analogy, it's kind of like picking up a book written by a favorite author, starting to read it, then discovering it's not what you expected. In fact, it's so bad, you don't want to finish reading. That kind of experience can make you swear off an author for good. Maybe you've learned more about writing since you became a fan of that author. Perhaps the author became careless, riding the tide and pumping out books just for the bucks, instead of the craft. There are lots of ways to make readers disappointed in books. What about you? Have you ever been disappointed by a favorite author? Or, a book that looked good, but

More Plotting Tips From Down at the Mule Barn

Slim Randles is a syndicated columnist and author, and his work is featured on the online community magazine where I am Managing Editor. Back in November he introduced us to the unique plotting techniques of a country boy, Dud. Here is a follow up, just in case you were wondering how the story of the duchess and the truck driver is coming along ... Anita Campbell watched as her husband, Dud, quietly built a fire in the fireplace. She was still a fairly new bride, but she had learned at least this much of his body language by now, and fixed two cups of coffee. Fire, coffee, evening equals serious talk. “It was us getting married that did it,” he said, finally. “I want you to know I’m really happy being married to you.” “Well thank you, sir,” she said, smiling, “but our marriage did what, exactly?” “Got me thinking about the book.” Oh, the book. “Murder in the Soggy Bottoms,” which Doc said sounded like a young mother with too many diapers. The rest of the local worl

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: One Final Chore

For those writers who will be sending manuscripts electronically at any time during the submission or publication process, there is one more little housekeeping chore to be done: eliminate extra spaces and other formatting errors inadvertently added to the manuscript. On your Microsoft Word toolbar there is an icon that looks like the editing symbol for new paragraphs. If you click on that icon, your text will indicate spaces in your work as dots. You may have a perfectly formatted manuscript, but if you are an old-style typist like me, you’ll probably find a lot of extra spaces at the end of paragraphs and sometimes at the end of sentences within paragraphs. Since many manuscripts are now submitted electronically, and publishers/editors often require print-ready formatting from the authors at some point in the process, it’s wise to add this step to your self-editing procedures. If your publisher wants one space after a period instead of two (common when using fonts other than Co

Hopelessly Devoted to Grammar

In yesterday's post, Patricia mentioned Grammar Girl who is also known to us as Mignon Fogarty. Let me get straight to the point: I worship at this woman's feet. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but not much. Since I first discovered the site and the book, Grammar Girl's Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing, I've become a loyal fan. This book sits on my bookshelf along with my favorite dictionaries, thesaurus, and other reference books I use to edit. I've signed up to get a tip in my mailbox every day (and read them, too, unlike so many other bits of email that end up in the virtual trash can), and if ever I have a question that truly stumps me, Mignon is the person who springs to mind - she of the final and absolutely correct answers. If that isn't enough to convince, you can listen to the podcasts, buy a cool mug or tee shirt, even holiday greeting cards. Add to that iPhone apps, tips on Twitter and Facebook , free book chapter downloads, and you&#

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Searching for More Silly Stuff

Sometimes we’re so focused on the big picture—our plot and characters—that we miss obvious clues that more editing is required. My July 16th, 2009 post, Look for the Silly Stuff: Exclamation Points , discussed the overuse of that popular punctuation mark. Here are a few other things you need to consider. 1. Bad grammar and lousy punctuation . If you don’t know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, you need to take a class, buy a good book and study it, or choose one of many excellent online resources to hone your writing skills. I like Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips™ for Better Writing and her website by the same name. Guide to Grammar and Writing is a website sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation. I’ve found it to be very useful. 2. When Microsoft Word underlines a word in red , it means the software thinks you have misspelled the word. The error might be a typo. The word might really be misspelled. Or you may have used a correct wor

Rules or Artistic License

Must writers follow all the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation or do the rules stifle the writer’s creativity? Some writers consider themselves artists who can’t be restricted by rules, while others consider themselves craftsmen bound by conventions. I fall in the middle. One publisher has called me the pickiest person she knows. As an editor, I have to know and follow grammar rules or I wouldn’t have any customers. On the other hand, my writing style is informal and simple, and I usually don’t worry about all the rules that may be used in formal writing. For example, I don’t mind ending a sentence with preposition. Often it sounds more natural and understandable to do so. In my view, there are several critical elements to good writing: The reader must understand it. Using the right word is essential. Using it’s when you mean its or using their or they’re when you mean there can confuse your meaning. Punctuation to show when sentences start and end is critical. Write

Tired or Fresh?

Clichés can make a narrative sound tired and unimaginative. They bombard us everyday, so they leak easily from our fingertips, like ink from an old-fashioned pen. When I point out clichés to the authors I edit, they come up with some very inventive alternatives that enliven their prose. Here’s a string of some of my most hated clichés. I’m sure every editor has such a list. “Cindy’s eyes widened, her mouth dropped open, and her knuckles whitened as she gripped the back of the chair after the good-looking blonde shot her a look and gave her a lop-sided grin, then rolled her eyes.” I immediately highlight such phrases in yellow. Not all clichés get this treatment. Some are okay in dialogue, if they’re appropriate to the character speaking. For example, “My dad pretended to read him the riot act, but I think he was secretly proud of him. The other kid’s mother went ballistic.” Real people use clichés, so why shouldn’t characters? Another example: “‘You know what they say.’ Gil

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Read Your Manuscript Aloud

Authors and editors will tell you that reading your manuscript aloud is one of the best ways to identify any remaining problems with awkward sentence structure, sentences that are too long, word repetitions, bad dialogue, and silly goofs. Maryann Miller posted two excellent articles on line editing in April, 2009. Line Editing: One and Line Editing – Part Two will give you great results if you go over your manuscript visually. However, if you follow that effort with another read, this time out loud, you will improve your manuscript. Why is that? When the writer reads to himself, his eye ignores and visually corrects the problems noted at the beginning of this post as well as typos, words or lines accidentally deleted during the revision process, and spacing and formatting errors. Reading aloud, however, forces the reader to look at words individually instead of seeing phrases and whole sentences at once. We often hear what we don’t see. Dialogue might look great on paper, bu

Word processing shortcuts for character names

If you use word processing software, such as MS Word or Writer for Open Office, you may want to make use of some features that are excellent resources for writers. No matter which software you use, you should be able to use your Help file to find the following features, or something similar. Automatically typing your characters' names One of my favourite features is AutoText. AutoText matches the first three or four letters of common words, phrases, or paragraphs contained in its databank, and suggests them as you type. Pressing Enter when the word you require flashes above your insertion point will fill in the rest of that word for you. You can add to or edit the words and phrases in the AutoText databank. In Word 2003, the AutoText feature is found under the Insert menu on your Menu Bar. To turn AutoText on or off, check or uncheck the box next to "Show AutoComplete suggestions". To add words or phrases to AutoText, type them into the available box. You can a

Getting in the Mood to Edit

Whenever I start a new editing project, I have to prepare myself. In between projects, I'm doing a multitude of things - teaching, reading (students' work, books for review, etc.), grading, prepping lectures, being a sister, a best friend...and the list goes on. The last thing I want is for these things to distract me - especially on the first day of editing. I usually take an hour to prepare. I grab the first chapter of the manuscript and a cup of coffee, and I go into a quiet corner and read - purely for pleasure. The dreaded blood-red pencil is far away on a desk somewhere. I do this to unwind. I do this to discard all the goings on of the day and to focus on the task at hand. I do this to acquaint myself with the style, flow, characters, ideas behind the story. That first chapter needs to do a LOT for the reader, and I know that if I can sit and read it without being "the editor", then I can commit myself to the project. Once I read the chapter for plea

Don't Make These Common Mistakes

Another one of our favorite previously-published posts. *** When you work with the same group of editors for a long time, it becomes a training ground in which you all learn to accommodate each other's styles—especially those of the editor-in-chief. If the big boss hates the word impact (except when talking about car accidents), then everyone learns to edit that word out of their own writing and out of the articles they’re editing. I worked on the same magazine for seven years, and both my bosses were very fond of The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein. So I learned not to misuse certain common words, and now I consistently make these edits in the documents of my main corporate client. In turn, the writers at this company are now self-correcting these mistakes. Here are few of the most common word usage errors: Since is a time reference and should not be used to imply cause. Many people had it drilled into their heads that they can’t start a sentence with because, so

Umbrellas and Motorcycles by Morgan Mandel

A few weeks ago I was in a hurry to catch my train. I had my umbrella all set in my tote bag, but at the last minute took it out to grab my cap. The umbrella disappeared. With no moments to spare, I did without. Wouldn't you know, it started raining. Fortunately, my hood was enough to protect me. That was an unusual circumstance. I own at least six umbrellas scattered in various locations in my house, plus another in my work desk drawer. When the forecast calls for rain, I'm not one to leave the house empty-handed. From this description of my behavior, you might guess I'm a cautious person, not one to take chances. On the whole, I am. Then again, I absolutely love playing slots. I have to tear myself away from a machine, whether or not I'm winning or losing. Since I'm aware of this weakness, I practice some restraint by limiting my slot playing to vacation. Another example of risk taking is the fact I self-published Killer Career . Many authors would be loath to tak

Ask the Editor: Tips for self-editing burnout

Nicole Langan asks: "What are some helpful tips on how an author can train their own editing eye even when they've read their own work a million times?" Kathryn Craft replies: When looking at my own work for the umpteenth time, here’s the problem I run into: no matter how steely my intentions for self-editing, I am immediately caught up, once again, in my protagonist’s plight. I may have started out looking for continuity issues ( Continuity issues! Continuity issues! ), but by page four or five I am seduced once again by the story’s central drama. Sound familiar? The way to counter this is to engage your inner critic while simultaneously disrupting your reading response. To do this I find it imperative that I not read my story through in order. Your word processor’s “find” function can help you by targeting select issues while keeping you out of the intention-bending mire of your own prose. When the word processor plunks you down on a new page, address the issue

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

During this part of the self-editing process you will look at the structure of your individual sentences and then compare that structure to the surrounding paragraphs and pages. The purpose of this exercise is to: 1. Look for sentences which are too long. Bad: The day I walked down the hill from my apartment to the town center was the day I began my adventure in Tourettes-sur-Loup, a village in the South of France which is famous for its spring festival of violets and perches on the edge of a cliff as though hanging on for its very life. Better: The day I walked down the hill from my apartment to the town center was the day I began my adventure in the South of France. I was in Tourettes-sur-Loup, a village famous for its spring festival of violets. It perches on the edge of a cliff as though hanging on for its very life. 2. Find awkward sentences that might require a second reading to be clear. This may require correctly punctuating the sentence, or the sentence may need to b

What Makes a Book Marketable? #3

Our manuscript has been polished to a brilliant shine by our editor and is ready to go. Do we need anything else before it races off the press and onto bookstore shelves? Our words may paint an artistic masterpiece, but if our cover doesn’t beckon readers, we will have a problem marketing our book. While it has often been said that you can’t tell a book by its cover, the reality is that the cover had better be worthy of our gripping, well-crafted story. It’s the first thing the potential reader sees—our invitation to pick up our work and peruse the content. How important is this? A grand piano graced the original cover of my first novel. Several readers told me they expected a tale about music—which it isn’t. I revised the cover, which now features a framed picture of a yellow rose. This has some relevance to the story . . . except that the book isn’t about flowers (roses or otherwise). And it lacks the vitality that inspires sales. I know I need a striking design, but I’m still lo


Yes, do a little dance. Celebrate. You have finished your book. And of course, you know this means a new phase begins. A phase of editing and research and submitting your book to editors and agents. But before even that, you need to format your manuscript. Of course, as you are researching editors and agents to submit your literary baby to, you want to pay attention to their specific format rules and adjust your manuscript accordingly; however, what I provide for you in this article is a checklist of the most standard rules of manuscript formatting. Many of the formatting rules will no doubt make you go, “Duh, thanks, Shōn,” but you’d be surprised at how many people forget one thing or decide not to do something a specific way because they like the way they do it better. This isn’t about what you like; it’s about getting your foot in the door of PublishDom that is currently closed. GENERICS Use letter-sized white paper – 20 lb. 1″ margins all around. These days, most use Tim