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Ask The Editor Free For All - Every First Tuesday

The Blood-Red Pencil is famous for its abundance of editor-members. Somehow they allowed me, Morgan Mandel, to sneak into their midst.

Getting back to our editors - Not only do they write informative blogs, but now they’ve agreed to share their expertise in a more practical way. Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil is instituting what we call Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I’ll be scouring e-groups beforehand, putting out a cry for likely guinea pigs; no, seriously, I mean candidates. Even if you don't see the call in one of my e-groups, you’re more than welcome to join the fray.

I’m sure many of you have questions you’d like to ask editors. Maybe you’re submitting a manuscript or thinking of submitting one, but are afraid to ask for an explanation of a fine point that really bothers you. You don’t want to sound like you don’t know the business, yet you’d really appreciate knowing what to do before you submit. Doing the wrong thing could mean rejection. Here’s your chance to get an answer before it’s too late.

Even if you haven’t reached the submission stage, a question or two might be hindering you from getting down to writing, or perhaps producing your best work.

We’re offering a chance to spill the beans. Just think of us as your Online Editors' Radio Shack and fire away. We have answers for your questions.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment in the comment section below. Make sure you include your name and blogspot or website not only for promo, but so we know you’re legit.

One or more of our editors will hop over during the day and answer your question in the comment section. If an Editor feels your question needs a more lengthy explanation, you'll get a comment to the effect that an entire post will be devoted to the subject at a later date. If that's the case, you'll receive even more promotion. You'll be told where to send a jpeg of your book cover and/or yourself and a buy link.

If you wish to leave your e-mail address with your comment, you may, but it's not required. Because your question may require a follow-up, it wouldn't hurt if you mention somewhere in your comment where you heard about Ask the Editor-Free- For-All. That way we can contact you through your group so you don't miss the answer.

Our editors will strive to provide answers in a timely fashion, but sometimes life intrusions may intrude. If your answer doesn't show up the same day, that doesn't mean you won't get it, so look again the next day.  We're here to help.

By the way, No question is too silly to ask, as long as it relates to writing. Everyone starts somewhere. That’s how we learn.

Okay, fire away!

Morgan Mandel


  1. I've written a couple of novels and I'm concerned about realism. On the one hand I think that, because they are works of fiction, I shouldn't worry too much about making them entirely true to life. On the other hand, I don't want readers to be put off if they think what I've written is completely crazy. Is it a matter of genre?

    I'd really appreciate a professional opinion on this one!

  2. I'd like clarification on the flashback in terms of verb tense and what it can contain. An editor recently insisted that it had to be in present tense and could only contain the character's immediate actions and perceptions. My experience has been much wider, with flashbacks presenting mini-stories of the past.
    Peg Herring, whose most recent release is a Tudor mystery, HER HIGHNESS' FIRST MURDER. My website is

  3. I'm anxious to see an editor's response to Rachel's question about realism. I receive mountains of emails from frustrated writers who take the time to conduct quality research only to have an editor tell them their facts are incorrect because "it didn't happen like that on last night's episode of CSI." What the editors don't seem to understand is that readers (especially readers of mystery/suspense) are often put off by unbelievable procedure, etc. They just have to tolerate it because editors don't seem to be willing to stop watching TV as a source for their fact-checking. Now, this doesn't mean writers should fact-dump every few lines. That's just as off-putting as reading bad information.

    Writers spend a lot of time and money to get things right. I think it's time editors shared a little of that responsibility.

  4. If no question is silly, here is mine:

    What qualifies as being an editor?

    How does one "become" an editor?

    Yes, I know, some have worked at newspaper offices for 25 years, or have written ten zillion books, etc.

    But I've come across some of those who wore the title of "editor", but made an absolute mess of a manuscript, and couldn't tell when it was proper to use its or it's, and how to spell lead as opposed to led!

    So, I wonder...can ANYONE be an editor (especially when maybe they shouldn't)???



  5. Hi Lee - thanks for supporting my question!

    Nice website too.

  6. Rachel: Thanks for your questions about realism. I'm sure more than one editor will weight in on this, as we'll each have a different take. My guiding light as concerns realism in general is: "Just because is happens in real life doesn't mean it's interesting to read about." As writers learn their way through their story world they tend to insert everything: what time the character got up, what they ate for breakfast, what they wore (I've watched so many women twirl before mirrors as they pick out their outfits!), etc. Go ahead and do that, if it helps you. But in a later draft, please, take out everything except interesting plot points and internal dialogue that move the story along.

    Now: what's interesting? This may be moving us into the murky "crazy" category. Our character's external reactions reveal their inner personalities, so if every time a character is angry she slams a door the action turns into a cliche. Now if a guy is ticked off, goes outside, and seeing his elderly neighbor's dog "watering" his prize roses for the umpteenth time and he kicks the little dog halfway across the yard, that might be interesting! Although not realistic. We are better socialized! We know not to do these things! But we all know the cute little creatures of the world get a free pass in life (my sister is one!). Hasn't that ever made you angry? And after he kicks it--well surely someone saw that, and would report him, resulting in a civil suit--that realistic, isn't it? You don't have to veer off-course from the central lot line just to pursue realism.

    Sometimes absurd plot points are just the ticket to get you thinking about something (think John Irving). If you build the world well and motivate your characters properly, anything is believable. And that's your concern--believability--not reality. You are an artist with a higher point to make. Leave realism to the journalists!

  7. Rachel - Your question is one that's asked by many, many writers. If realism isn't important to readers and writers then I've certainly been imagining the millions of hits my blog (The Graveyard Shift) receives each year, the high number of sales for my book on police procedure, and the tons of emails I find in my inbox each day. Somehow, I think realism matters to everyone except editors. Actually, I think all editors should charter a bus and head down to our Writers' Police Academy in September. They'll learn everything they need to know there in a single weekend.

    You know, we have writers registered for that event from nearly all genres - mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, romantic suspense, erotica, horror, childrens, YA, and even poetry. All are writers searching for that realism factor. How many editors do you think are registered? Yep...0

  8. Lee: If you anticipate flack from something like a well-reserached police procedure, I always think it's effective to have a character raise that question so you can quash it. In your example: "That's not how they do it on CSI." "You know, Willows was up for this job, too. Luckily she got sick. You're stuck with a real cop."

  9. Hello, what a wonderful ooportunity you are providing for us, your readers, thank you. My question is about genre within the romance genre.
    When does a suspense contemporary romance become a stand-alone-womens' fiction story? How thin is the line, or is it not thin at all :-)?
    My Blog is:
    my website is:
    Thank you :-)

  10. Katheryn used a much better term than realism - believability. I wholeheartedly agree. We're reading fiction, not a news feed. Still, what we read needs to be believable.

  11. Thanks Kathryn! You've made some interesting points about realism, believability and the role of the author. I'm feeling very encouraged now.

  12. I have a question about setting. Currently, my novel is set in a ficticious college town in Pennsylvania. It is modeled after an upscale section of Pittsburgh located near several universities. However, I'm reluctant to use that as the actual setting due to two nagging questions I have:

    1. Do real universities object to an affiliation with murder and corruption of faculty members like my villain, an evil professor?

    2. Is the world interested in reading a novel set in Pittsburgh, especially when I won't, at all, be featuring the steeltown smog which has long disapated here but still clouds the city's image?

    I prefer to read about actual settings (I love books set in New York and Atlanta, for example) but don't want to drive readers away by choosing a setting they don't think they'd be interested in!

    Thanks, in advance, for your help and guidance!


    Judy Schneider

  13. Like I mentioned, I'm not an editor. I hang out with this great crowd over here and present for you my writing experience as an author. That said, I have to agree that believability is something all writers need to strive for. Unless we're writing non-fiction, what we present isn't true in the first place. Readers are willing to go along for the ride if we insert reasons and variables that make it seem true.

    Morgan Mandel

  14. Peg: Thanks for your question. My wide-ranging reply: "It depends." The old adage that you can do anything if you do it well applies. Flashback can literally "flash" to another time, another place, where similar emotions were at play. This is a common way for authors to create historical dimension in their characters, and to insert a bit of backstory: "She was no longer on the windswept shore of Ireland, waving to a husband growing ever smaller on his ship's deck. She was standing at her father's grave, about to turn from him for the last time." This help us to understand her sense of finality about this goodbye at the same time we are learning about her history with her father--and it's over in a flash.

    But flashbacks can also be much more substantial--entire scenes. The relevance of their inclusion depends on your story's structure. I'm writing a book whose inciting incident raises dual questions: how did the character get into this predicament, and how does she find her way out? These story lines come together in the climax to address the book's core dilemma. In this case, my right to entwine the forward-moving story with a series of flashback scenes that brought my character to the inciting incident was well-earned. Another adage: keep driving the story forward until the reader is begging you to fill in a few blanks. That's usually longer than you think it is.

    As to style, that first example could also be written: "She was no longer on the windswept shore of Ireland, waving goodbye. She is standing at her father's grave, about to turn from him for the last time." The use of present tense in flashbacks can make them seem more immediate. Consistency is key here, though, to avoid confusion. Use what works for you.

  15. I'll weigh in on the question about setting. I would suggest not using a real university. They might object to you using their place and associating it with murder. Or, you would need to get permission to use it. A simpler approach would be to just make up a university. You can keep everything else in the setting real so the story is anchored, and it would be interesting to find something about Pittsburg to feature besides the smog. As you said, that is what most people associate with the city, but why not show the reader something fresh about the city?

  16. I want to adress two issues here.

    First, let's touch on Rachel's question about realism, which has already received good responses. As fiction writers, we are asking our readers to suspend disbelief. However, realism and reality aren't necessarily the same. So Kathryn and Lee are right on when they promote, instead, the term "believability." Whatever you're saying doesn't need to be probable, but it must be possible. Otherwise, you may lose your readers.

    Now let's talk about what makes an editor. This is an excellent question, Miss Mae, and one that we're addressing right now in a group to which I belong. Writers who are published by large traditional houses typically have their work edited inhouse. While this doesn't guarantee a great edit, it more likely than not exposes a manuscript to people who know what they're doing.

    On the other hand, anybody can claim to be a freelance editor and take a writer's money for a job that doesn't even qualify as editing, good or bad. At the present time, we have no effective way of which I'm aware to qualify freelance editors as competent. (As I mentioned, however, this is in the works because it's a very serious need.)

    I suggest asking fellow writers or members of a critique group what editors they have used and whether they have been satisfied with the results. Also, you might ask to see portions of their "before" and "after" manuscripts to judge the editing for yourself.

    Also, ask an editor for a sample edit. I always offer a free sample (1 to 3 pages) to a prospective client. And I will give them references if they ask. They're welcome to talk to writers with whom I've worked.

    Interview any editor with whom you hope to work. If he/she provides you with a sample edit and you're satisfied with that, ask to do the first chapter (for an agreed upon fee). Do you get regular feedback? If the editor makes suggestions, does he/she explain why and help you implement those suggestions? Does the editor respect your perspective and preserve your voice? If serious flaws exist in your manuscript, does he/she criticize your work and tell you to fix it or (as mentioned above) help you find ways to improve it?

    I guess the bottom line at this point is to go with your gut instinct (and others' recommendations). If you have reservations about the person you're considering to edit your work, move on to another. There are lots of us out here, and many of us are very good at what we do. But there are also bad apples in our barrel. So, writer, be cautious. Just don't allow that caution keep you from finding the right editor that will make your work shine. An unedited book hurts everyone who is striving to make a (positive) mark in the literary world through nontraditional publishing.

  17. Thanks, Maryann, for your excellent suggestion!


  18. First of all, I want to thank everyone at The Blood-Red Pencil for doing this. I can imagine it will be very popular, and if you're ever looking for a bit of promotion for your blog, please let me know, as I'll feature you at my blog The Book Connection.

    I co-wrote a novel, whose first draft was finished in 2006. After going through re-writes, we're still not happy with it, but honestly, I'm not sure what to do with it. I really like the story, but the flow is all wrong. We went from having too much going on at the end to wrap it up, to beginning chapters that are a bit longer than I would like.

    We put it aside and haven't looked at it in over a year, but want to get back into it.

    What do you suggest we do? Should we send it to an independent editor for suggestions on how to improve it? Should we try to tackle it first since it has been so long since we've worked on it?

    I just don't want to keep running in the same circles.




    P.S. Thanks to Morgan for letting me know about Ask the Editor!

  19. This question is regarding how to use the past perfect tense. In a novel which is written in past tense, when one describes a flashback, or any past moment, one generally uses the words "had" or "had been," etc. For example, "He had been going to his girlfriend's house when he had gotten into the car accident. Here's my question:

    When describing a long flashback, it seems clumsily to use past perfect throughout the entire scene. I've read authors who seem to set up the scene with past perfect, but then just switch to past tense, not using "had," or "had been," etc. for the remainder of the flashback. Other authors use perfect past tense all the way through the long flashback. I'd rather not have to always use perfect past tense. What's the correct thing to do?

  20. Dear Editors:I tend to write with no contractions, whether in dialogue or narrative. Yes, the writing reads like a textbook. When I re-read, I begin to add contractions, but I am never sure, where, or how many. Does any rule cover this topic? I realize people speak in contractions, so that seems acceptable. But in-between, during internal thoughts or narrative. Yes, no, or depends? Celia

  21. Here's a question for you before I head to the big city: what's the difference between an editor at a publishing house and an independent editor? How do their responsibilities to the writer differ?


  22. Wow, I just dropped in for a minute before heading for the dentist and found this great dialogue already in progress.

    Celia, I'll start with your question about contractions. A lot of writers, including me, overlook contractions in early drafts. It's easy to spot where they're needed when you read your work out loud during the revision and self-editing phase. One place I might not use the contraction in dialogue is when my character is speaking a language that is not his own (a Frenchman speaking English, for example) and tends to translate literally as he speaks.

    Whether to use contractions in the narrative portion of a novel depends a lot on style and voice...and whether the narrative is a tight third person limited point of view where the narrative almost seems to reflect the character's thoughts.

    One good place to avoid the contraction is in dialogue (or thought) when a character wants to emphasize a point. "I did not have..." well, you know the rest.

  23. How important is it to be specific about setting? In some novels it seems vague--a small town "somewhere." In other books, the setting is in a real city, or a fictional one that is in a particular state. Does it just depend on the story, the genre, an editor's tastes or ...?

  24. Dani -- The editor at a big publishing house is going to look at your work based on the publisher's business model. She is paid by the publisher, and her advice is intended to make your work fit that organization's vision. The savvy author who wants to be with that big publishing house will work to establish a great relationship with the editor and will usually make whatever changes the editor asks for.

    The freelance book editor you hire on your own, if she knows what she's doing, will help you make your manuscript better (story arc and character development) as well as make your manuscript look more professional (grammar, formatting). She can help you prepare your work for submission to agents and publishers. She can't guarantee you won't go through another round (or two) of changes once you have a contract and a publisher's editor is involved in your novel.

    There are also copy editors in this process. They tend to deal only with grammar and punctuation, typos, maybe fact-checking. Publishers have them (sometimes separate from the general editor), or you can hire one on your own.

  25. As much as I hate to, I'm heading for the dentist now. I'll be back this afternoon.

  26. Celia, I often write without contractions then go back and add them in, like you. It's probably a left-over habit from my college days as an English major.

    Writing "is not" instead of "isn't" is not the kiss of death to a manuscript. One thing to keep in mind is that we all, in our everyday lives, more often than not use contractions when we're speaking. We rarely ask someone, "Are you not going to the store?" We say, "Aren't you going to the store?" We might ask, "What's up?" We probably wouldn't ask, "What is up?"

    Unless the character is very formal, she's going to use contractions when she speaks. I sometimes will have a character speak without contractions, though, as a way of showing English is a second language to him.

    You can still use contractions in the narrative, although we tend to use less of them. Think of conversation/dialogue in a book as being heavier on contractions, while the narrative is most often heavier on non-contractions. It sets the two apart. Internal dialogue would fall under the category of dialogue, since those thoughts are the character speaking to himself.

    Of course, there are always exceptions. Nonfiction has little dialogue or direct quotes, so there is little contractions. A fantasy, for example, may be laden with contractions, if it fits the voice.

    Hope this helps.

    Helen Ginger

  27. Oh, Dani, great question about the differences between inhouse and freelance editors.

    Inhouse editors, generally speaking, get the cream of the manuscript crop from discerning agents that supposedly send out only the best of the best. While occasional exceptions to this no doubt occur -- including works from the existing stable of writers whose names still sell books -- the quality of the manuscripts they edit are typically a cut above the ones encountered by freelance editors. In addition, the large houses may employ specialized editors: acquisitions editors, content editors, copy editors, proof readers, etc.

    We freelancers, many of whom work alone, get the hopes and dreams of myriad writers in varying degrees of quality and marketability. We hold our authors' hands, wipe their tears, patch up their manuscripts, and spit-shine their words. We take sometimes great (and sometimes not so great) storylines and help the writer mold them into highly readable books. We change hats often. For the same writer, we may be developmental editor (or ghostwriter), content editor, copy editor, proofreader, and mentor.

    So the difference probably boils down to the manuscripts we get and the degree of work required of us to turn them into good books.

    But there's another difference. We may develop a closer relationship with writers than do many editors in the big houses. (A number of my writers have become my friends.) We can be brother, sister, parent, teacher, and friend to those with whom we work. We rejoice with them when their well-written and well-edited books go to press because their sense of accomplishment is also ours, albeit anonymously. And we wish them the very best, not because it was a paycheck, but because it's more than just a job. We care.

  28. Thank you for this opportunity. My first book The Dream House Visions and Nightmares is a paranormal romance (ghost story). My third book is another ghost story without romance. My question is when does a story cross from paranormal to horror?

    Thank you,
    Victoria Roder

  29. I would like to know what the aproximate percentage is of male authors to female authors getting published today. I belong to one of the largest writing groups on the web, and I see a disproportionate numbers of gals (especially younger women) getting published with the major houses v.s. the sucess of male authors.

    Could this be because we have more females writing in the most popular genres? I know they purchase more books and read more than the male audience.

    Nat Sobel took a very bleak outlook on where male authors stand today, not too long ago in an article. I've noticed this trend myself. It almost amounts to a formula

    Female Author + female MC + female agent + female editor = publication

    Thanks, from a very worried male author, who has just learned how to write paranormal romance.

    Gate Walker, just released on Amazon.

  30. Dear Anonymous,
    Are you talking about fiction or non-fiction?
    Regarding fiction. . .
    Perhaps more women authors are published today, but I think more men have best sellers. If you look at the best selling novels of recent months and years, there seems to be more men.

    I often find writers are quick to find facts that suggest why they might not get published. Personally, I wouldn't worry whether men or women get published more. There's always room for great stories, no matter what sex the author is:-)

  31. Anonymous:
    Maybe this jives with the adage "Write what you know": according to an NPR story, women read 9 books a year to a man's five. Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market. So get your buddies reading!

  32. Cheryl:
    Your novel may suffer from structural problems--with the symptoms you report, that's the first place I'd look.

    Some clues:
    "we're still not happy with it, but honestly, I'm not sure what to do with it": Storytelling structure is a weakness not only for many authors, but also for their critique partners. When a critiquer has a vague sense of dis-ease about a story but can't peg the issue, she will resort to correcting grammar. This is often of little help, leaving the writer still clueless as to what to fix.

    " I really like the story, but the flow is all wrong": "Flow" is an over-rated concept. Well-structured stories depend on building blocks with a logic of their own: an inciting incident raises a story goal, and in pursuit of this the protagonist must mount increasing obstacles, until that moment at the climax when relevant circumstances in the protagonist's life are irrevocably changed. Sound structure drives a story through impulsion; it does not rely upon drift and "flow."

    "We went from having too much going on at the end to wrap it up, to beginning chapters that are a bit longer than I would like": This balance will be struck when you meet the objectives of the story structure. Subplots not integral to the climax can usually be wrapped up earlier--or sometimes, even deleted. The beginning needs to set up the inciting incident--that moment where things changed, the event that provides the protagonist his story goal, that provides dramatic imperative (a reason for the story to be told NOW.)

    "We put it aside and haven't looked at it in over a year, but want to get back into it": A well-structured story with properly motivated characters is as difficult to stop writing as it is to stop reading.

    If you use an independent editor, make sure s/he has a rock-solid foundation in storytelling structure. I, for one, love that sort of analysis. If you choose to tackle it yourself, a couple of great resources are Debra Dixon's GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT (available online from Gryphon Books) and Robert McKee's STORY. Good luck!

  33. Looking forward to an answer to Peg's question about flashback tense.

  34. Let me echo Lee who echoed Kathryn - believability, and say expand it to dialog as well.

    I find listening to people helps that.

    Now if only I can get the real life grammar past the editor...


  35. Cheryl -- to your question about rewrite versus hire an editor -- has anyone else read your manuscript (critique group; a read and critique reader)? If you're relying only on your author feelings, you might want a second opinion. Sometimes we authors don't see what everyone else sees in our work, and that can apply to the good as well as the bad.

  36. Peg -- on flashbacks -- I'm one of the author contributors to this blog and don't work as an official editor, so this response is from a writer's point of view. PERSONAL OPINION: I hate books written in present tense. I would hate a flashback written in present tense. If my editor tried to make me change my flashback to present tense, I would debate the issue with her (and I don't question my editor on very much because she's terrific). In the end, I might even (gently) overrule her and decline to make the change.

    I'd be surprised if the editor you mentioned is associated with a big publisher, since this seems much more a matter of style and voice than a matter of good writing. An experienced editor would know that.

  37. Jim -- on past perfect tense. "I've read authors who seem to set up the scene with past perfect, but then just switch to past tense, not using "had," or "had been," etc. for the remainder of the flashback."

    This is the recommended method. For some great tips on technique, check out Chris Roerden's books (Don't Murder Your Mystery and Don't Sabotage Your Submission). Chris thinks one use of the past perfect is sufficient.

  38. Victoria and Sherry: Have either of you noted that we are swinging wide of your questions? ;) That's because genre has much more to do with market considerations than editorial concerns, which creates a link to Dani's question as well: a publishing house editor is all about the genre, since that will help the book find its target audience through book store shelf placement as well as blurbs from like authors and other marketing considerations that affect the bottom line. Independent editors are simply helping you make your book the best it can be.

    That said, I have been organizing writers conferences for ten years now, and am happy to pass on what I know. #1: I have worried way too much about genre. It took me many years to figure out that I write "literary women's fiction." Only to have the agent I boldly declared this to tell me, "If I were you, I'd simply say I've written a novel. We'll figure out where to put it."

    If you are pitching to editors yourselves, without input from an agent knowledgeable in such categories, you'll have to take on this research yourself. Read books like yours and see where they are shelved.

    In short, a paranormal story is romance if its story question concerns the romance ("Will the guy get the girl despite these horrific obstacles?") and horror if the question involves the horror ("Will Jack and Jane survive these horrors so they can age together in peace?--or in one piece?).

    The line between romance and women's fiction is similar: it's a romance if the central issue is will guy-get-girl, it's women's fiction if the romance is a subplot ("Will Jane conquer her self-doubt and pursue her dream so that John can be the stay-at-home dad he wants to be?").

    These differences may seem subtle, but they will play out into completely different plots. If you aren't sure yourself which you'd rather write, draft a synopsis each way and see which strikes your fancy!

  39. Thanks for your insights, Kathryn and Patricia. Yes, we did hand it off to a reader, a reliable person, who said that most of the story moved along nicely until the end where everything seemed rushed to be tied up. We read it again and agreed, so we began trying to make more happen througout the book, but when I read it again, too much was happening in the beginning, so it looks like all we did is reverse our problem.

    What I think is a large issue is that we are trying to handle this story from multiple POV's, namely, the three sisters. I've considered changing it to the youngest sister's POV only, since it is her diagnosis that puts everything into chaos for these ladies at the onset, but the other two sisters are dealing with issues of their own, which I can't see being easily addressed if only told by one POV.

    Thanks again. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.


  40. In answer to Celia, people talk in contractions. Most of them anyway, unless your character is a stiff upper lip English Professor or something, so in dialog passages, you use contractions. When writing in 3rd (or whatever) person narrative, then you have a choice of using contractions or not, depending on what your author "voice" is like.

    Author/Editor, Marvin D Wilson

  41. Can you get a paranormal published today if it doesn't have vampires or zombies? I've been polishing (for some time now) _Miranda's Rights_, about a woman whose mother and friends are white-witches, but who isn't on the path herself . . . until she finds herself shoved onto it by circumstances brought by her estranged husband. It's got too much romance to be straight fantasy ("too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby"), but I think it would appeal to readers of all the "witch" books and lovers of "Bewitched," "Bell, Book, and Candle," and "Charmed." Still, I get rejections saying "I wouldn't know what to do with this." Is it just a lull in witchery? Must I wait until the next Macbeth phase?

  42. What about what some editors call "head-hopping"? I write contemporary romance with spicy scenes...I like to give the reactions of both participants to their growing relationship, and to their "naughty moments". I've read that authors are told that only "experts" like Stephen King can do that. But if the writing is good, and the story is engaging, do you really have to sell a gazillion books before you can write the way you want to?

  43. Sherry, this is for you.

    The main difference between women's fiction and romance is the ending.

    If it doesn't end with a HEA (happy ever after), then it's not romance. All romance stories must have a HEA. It doesn't matter who the publisher is, that's the rule in romance.

    It is doesn't have a HEA, then it will be classified as women's fiction.

    Of course there are other elements of the story that will make a book romance, but the ending will be the deciding factor.

    FYI, I'm published in romance, plus I was romance equisitions editor for two different publishers for two years.

    If you would like more information about writing romance, check out my site:


  44. Sorry, just noticed the spelling errors - hit send too soon!!!


  45. Cheryl, there's nothing wrong with multiple POVs . . . unless they're in the same scene, and then it becomes omniscient POV. That saps the power right out of the scene and holds the reader at arm's length. For the reader to be drawn into the story, he/she must relate to one character at a time, hence, the value of a singular point of view per scene.

    If it's essential to the story that more than one POV be presented, you can use a double space to let the reader know a change has occurred. This works well when you want to
    show what two or more characters are doing on the same day, at the same hour, whatever.

    My latest novel has three protagonists (all attorneys) and a number of secondary characters. From time to time, they all take center stage, but never in the same scene. And my readers have no problem following the action.

    Another thing that keeps the reader engaged is showing rather than telling. Show the reader what's happening through your characters' actions, reactions, and dialogue. Let the reader inside the head of the scene's POV character and allow them to bond. That reader will stick with the story till the end and may even buy your next book.

  46. Wow - what a great discussion! I learned a ton today :) Thanks to all who contributed!

  47. What is the balance of subplots vs. plot for a novel?

    I always wanted to write a novel, but well meaning people encouraged me to write short stories. I tried to write my first novel like a long short story. I find now, on book #4, that they do not even occur naturally in the story. Not only that, if I try to insert one as I'm revising, I'll get stuck for months. I ended up having to wait until I was nearly in final revision, and then I searched for hints of subplots so I could put one into the story (please note that I also have a problem with being long enough, too; I always have to revise up and add). I have a finished book but I haven't started submitting it yet because those subplots are still causing structure problems. Because I really dislike subplots in general (as a reader, I have run into too many that feel like page filler), I'm having a hard time telling what's an appropriate balance. I'm guessing I'm subplot lite compared to other writers, but I can't tell.

    It's an 80K book that I'm hoping to get to 90K. What percentage should be for subplots?

  48. From one Linda to another, let's talk subplots. But before we talk that, let's talk life. Do you have subplots in your life? I have them in mine. Ah, if only one problem (plot) surfaced at a time, I'd be so happy. Unfortunatly, reality dictates otherwise, and they come in waves -- the plots and subplots of my life.

    Considering that plots and subplots are the realities of everyday living, think about the believability that has been discussed in this blog. For a story to be believable, it will have naturally occurring subplots because that's what happens to all of us, and readers relate to realism.

    Now, what should be the proportion of subplots to plot? Personally, I dislike formulas. When I edit a book, I look for what "feels" right, for what develops the characters and plot and moves the story forward to a logical and satisfying conclusion, not for a percentage of plot to subplots. How do you make that happen? Know your characters inside out. Make them three-dimensional. Let them live as we live, and let them tell their stories (as opposed to your telling them). If you do this, and give your characters depth, the subplots will be there

  49. Thank you for your comments about POV, Linda. That's what we've done is either had chapters dedicated to different POVs or a chapter break.

    We're going to conference on this manuscript in a couple of weeks, so hopefully by them we have some idea where we want to go.

    Thanks so much for your help everyone!


  50. Jim:

    To add to what Patricia said: lengthy flashbacks don't need to remain in past perfect tense when you're writing your narrative in past tense. This is especially relevant if dialogue is quoted in the flashback scene, as it's jarring for the reader to see "had said" too often. The opening sentence or two indicate the reference to the past; once this is established the narrator can move into that "past" scene, making the action current, as long as the start and end points are clear to avoid confusion.

    Great question. I'll expand on the choice of tenses in one of my upcoming posts.

    --Elle Neal, HearWriteNow

  51. For Linda Adams' question on "stretching" or extending a nove by 10,000 words. Frist it's hard but it can be done well if you stop thinking in terms of sub...subitle, subservienet, subplot (parenthetical stuff that gets jammed in or piled on just for the sake of extending the page count). That kind of thinking will get you apparent "padding" that no one wants to see. However, if you are doing third person multiple viewpoint each of your characters can be explored in more depth and you can "pull more threads" and by threads I mean both character development and theme. Think in terms of several "rivers" run through your story - rivers of theme. In fact a real river might be symbolic of a theme as in Mark Twain's obvious but great use of the Mississippin in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- a 3rd Person renditon of a Single Point of View.

    I would first urge you to concentrate of embellishing and imbuing every POV character's scenes and chapters with more focus on what is going on around them--as in what they see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and what touches each by way of the sixth or spiritual sense. Demonsttate how they each relate to their surroundings and the main setting be it city or country, modern day or historical. Feed the reader more of each character and his or her storyline and do not think of any character as a sub-plot character but rather a character in need of more fleshing out to be fully realized, so each has his/her own worldview and psychology - layers. You'd be surprised how a change in your attitude and terminology can rock the book. So cook up more odors, more sounds, more special effects so to speak.

    I see each character has having his own gestalt and each has a character web and at the center of the story web is tha answer to whose story is it anyway, and all the other character satellite around this character -- or in some cases the shared lead of two characters.

    Hope this helps, Linda et al. I am sorry I came to this party so late, but must agree some terrific advice here. As I am both author and English prof. and freelance editor who does whole book autopsies, I have had some experience with "extensions" and "deep cuts" as well. My last novel I had to cut 40.000 words from! My latest ebook is 160,000 but I get to keep it intact since I am the publisher!


  52. PS -- I am having more and more difficulty typing into these little boxes with small script and so apologize for any and all typos in my reply earlier; however,in my defense, when I edit I am looking at at least 12 pt. type and often work in 14 pt. type so I can see what the 'ell I'm doing. The old eye ain't what it used to be but niether is anything else on me these days...


  53. * Sigh * The standard advice doesn't work for me. Believe me, I've tried. I've researched everything and tried everything. I kept stalling out on subplots because I tried twenty different character development ones. They made the character look weak; like he didn't know what he was doing; an idiot; or had to go to a secondary character. There, they added more and more characters who weren't elsewhere in the story (I have a large cast, and the book is in omni). Worse, they felt like clutter to me and unimportant.

    Problem #1: I'm very plot-driven. While I'm great at certain aspects of characterization, doing a traditional character development one is not going to work. Not only that, the main character does not have a personal life (it's part of the story). The only way I've been able to get any into the story at all is to make the tightly connected to the plot and plot-driven.

    Problem #2: The story has a very tight timeline. The other problem was that I couldn't make them fit in the timeline, and I didn't have any place to resolve them. The result is that there is no subplot that goes past the middle of the book.

    I'm less worried about word count than I am about how the existing issue with structure. When I did the synopsis, it was obvious there are structural issues at the point of where each subplot comes in. And I also cannot tell whether I don't have enough of subplots or not (bear in mind you are talking to someone who has written entire books without subplots).

  54. Thanks to everyone who participated in our Ask the Editor Free For All. If you're on Digest or didn't read your email before, I invite you to still leave a question in the comment area. Editors will still be checking for questions and you'll get your answer.

    We received many great questions on Tuesday and answers that are worth reading. You may realize you needed the answer to a question someone else posted.

    The next scheduled Ask the Editor Free For All Will take place on the first Tuesday of next month, which is April 6. Mark your calendars now. I'll also send out email blasts on that day.

    Morgan Mandel

  55. Linda, let's talk about character sketches because I'm not sure you understand how they enhance your story and lend themselves to its development. First off, even though a character doesn't have a personal life, he/she has a past unless it's a robot built in a lab or a clone that was incubated in an artificial womb until it could survive in the outside world. The character has parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, foster parents, siblings, school teachers, friends, enemies, past experiences, favorite foods, fears, all kinds of details that create an individual. (The reader doesn't need to know any of these unless it's relevant to the story, but the writer needs to know them all.) Any one of these details can naturally develop into a subplot without the writer's conscious planning for that. This is the value of letting characters tell their own stories rather than forcing our stories upon them (more on that in my post the end of next week).

    Taking this last point a step further, I'd like to suggest that overplanning and overplotting can cause a writer to shoot him- or herself in the foot, so to speak. A strong plot can still have room for deviation and flexibility. But if you "force" the story, you can lose the believability and the connection that are so vital to hooking and keeping your readers

    Timeframes can be very short and the book can still be intriguing, beguiling, engaging, compelling. A whole novel (or nonfiction book) can be filled with incidents that take place in an hour's time.

    One of the more difficult lessons I learned as a writer (before I became an editor) was to listen to the advice of others. This doesn't mean they're right and I should take and apply it verbatim. Nor does it mean they're wrong. So all suggestions should be considered, even though they don't seem to apply . . . because sometimes, by extension or with our own personal twist, they're exactly what we need to make our stories work.

    So maybe allowing yourself a little latitude and stepping back to look at your story will help. If you have further questions, feel free to ask.

  56. I'd like to know what constitutes a Fantasy Novel? Does it have to be as incredulous as possible in all respects, e.g. a place which doesn't exist, people with two heads and a language only they can understand etc. I would also like to know why they are so popular? Am I missing something? Are they what I would call a fairy story? Thanks in anticipation of your replies.
    My website:
    Blessings, Star

  57. To Kathryn Craft and Cheryl Wright, many thanks for taking time out to answer my question about the difference between romance and womens' fiction. Your answers are very helpful.
    Like others I've learned loads from this discussion. Thanks again.

  58. Shalanna -- thanks for your question -- sorry we didn't address this issue yesterday, but it relates to predicting the next popular trend in any genre. The truth is, nobody knows what the next hot character will be. I think it was agent Nathan Bransford who asked the question on his blog and received a long list of wild guesses.

    There are already agents saying they don't want to see anything with vampires, zombies, or werewolves. And the recently published YA novel, Hush! Hush! by Becca Fitzpatrick was about fallen angels. Hopefully, there are some agents who'll like the idea of white witches.

    Your book sounds as though it fits in the paranormal romance category. If you have written your best possible work, and you have a killer query letter (or agent pitch for a conference), then you need to keep trying. Make sure you check out the online guideline submissions before you query. Don't rule out smaller publishers that accept unagented submissions.

  59. Star:
    I won't pretend I can give you here the full definition of fantasy and all its sub-genres, but I had to laugh at your question: "Am I missing something?" That's how i feel about horror!

    While I am not a steady reader of fantasy and other "far-fetched" genres, I have a deep respect for them. One reason people are so drawn to fantasy is that it frees the writer to explore topics that are taboo, or too close to us to see well in the real world. Dinosaurs and mages and the creatures of Middle Earth may look different, but their emotions and the situations they find themselves in are most relatable.

    The same holds true for science fiction and historical fiction: issues too tender to broach in the here and now can achieve fresh perspective when set in the distant past or future. I think here of a powerful episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Ryker falls in love with a hermaphrodite; on her planet the beings self-reproduce. But she loves Ryker and feels she deserves the choice to live as a woman. Those in power in her home planet won't have this, she must be "treated" into submission to perpetuate the species as is. Wow. It was the most powerful gay/trans-gender rights story I'd ever heard, all under the guise of seeking out new life and new civilizations and boldly going where no man--or hermaphrodite--had gone before.

  60. I'm in a manuscript full of colons, and I can't remember if it's still 2 spaces after a colon before a list, or if it has changed to 1.

    Can you help?


  61. Lisa, the question you asked about the punctuation -- colon - one space after it is the most common usage now.

  62. In talking about sub plots, Linda Adams said she was having trouble getting them into her story. My suggestion is to not force subplots because they are expected. I have read a number of plot-driven stories that have little or no sub-plot. Anything you force is going to read as forced. If it is not organic to the story it is like trying to put whipped cream on something that is so hot the cream just melts and disappears.

  63. >>Any one of these details can naturally develop into a subplot without the writer's conscious planning for that. >>

    This is the one thing that I keep saying that seems to keep getting missed. Subplots DO NOT naturally occur in my writing. Not at all.

    I have all the elements of the characters that you mentioned in the story--the character's mother, long dead, figures prominently in the story; the character's historical house figures prominently in the story; I even mention his favorite food. But they don't naturally turn into a subplot. Most of them are a few paragraphs here and there; the longest might be three pages. I also have character development--a lot of humor, in fact, but it doesn't naturally segue into subplots. The only way they get into the story is if I manually decide "subplot goes here."--and then it often doesn't really fit in the story structure.

    If I could figure out why subplots don't evolve naturally for me in the first place, I can probably solve the problem. In the meantime, I'll have to go back to workarounds.

  64. Linda, Maryann's excellent advice might just set you free from your sub-plot dilemma. If the story's working and sub-plots refuse to materialize, go with the flow. Maybe your story doesn't need them. As Maryann said, forcing them doesn't create a better book.

    I wish you the very best in completing your novel. If we can be of any further assistance, please let us know.

  65. I'm sorry I missed the first day, but I'll be tuned in next week. What a great idea...although someone did ask a valid question about what makes an editor. I've discovered through experience that with some houses, anyone who breaths, reads and volunteers can become one these days. Therefore, don't always believe what your editor says is gospel. Don't be afraid to ask questions or stand up for what you believe to be right. You just might know more than your editor.


  66. Lisa: There are no more double spaces. That's a holdover from the monospaced fonts in typewriting days. Most of today's computer fonts (like the industry standard, Times New roman) are relational and will add the correct amount of space automatically.

    CAVEAT: This is not true for Courier (which is why I don't use it!) or most fonts named after cities (which you shouldn't be using anyway). If you put the spaces in, someone else is going to have to take them out. In the final product, extra spaces after periods and colons indicate a poorly typeset book, self-published or not.

    Hint: Did you know you can search for double spaces in Word's "search" function? Next to "find," type in two spaces. You won't see anything, but when you hit the "find" tab, Word will look for double spaces. Since this isn't fool-proof, it isn't a great solution for deleting constant double-space use, but it sure is handy for looking for those double spaces that often linger after deletions!

  67. Subplot update--I did figure out why they weren't developing naturally. Nothing at all to do with character development or the story.

    It's been how I organize. If I don't see something, it doesn't exist.

    So, after the subplot started to develop in Chapter 4, I'd move onto the ensuing chapters and I'd literally forget that subplot exists. Need to pull in a subplot later on, and I'd just toss another one in, and it would suffer the same fate. The result was all these little pieces of subplots everywhere, all undeveloped--which I could see in the revisions.

    Not sure how to fix it yet, but figuring out the problem was is half the battle. Posting it here since it's such an unusual problem--might help someone else.

  68. Thank you Kathryn Craft for answering my question on Fantasy Novels. I remember reading one once, which was about dinosaurs. I was quite enjoying it, learning about the terrain they lived in and the problems they were having with relationships. So far so good. Then, one of them found a TV set on the hillside., it wouldn't, couldn't happen. To me - rubbish!


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