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Showing posts from December, 2010

Happy New Year

We wish you a safe and festive holiday and look forward to seeing you all in the New Year! Thank you for your daily visits and comments. We truly appreciate your friendship and support.  ~ The Blood-Red Pencils 

Weeding Out Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs Revisited

This post by Patricia Stoltey appeared on September 11, 2009. Why revisit it? Excessive wordiness draws a distinct line between ordinary writing and extraordinary writing. Of course, other factors contribute to taking a manuscript from mundane to magnificent, but this is so essential that it bears repeating. (Original post has been edited/condensed to respect time constraints this time of year.) We often mention overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Why? We don't need to tell readers every detail. A minor male character, for example, may be described as 60ish with long black hair, bronze skin, and a leathery, weathered face. Or you can say he's an Arapahoe elder. The reader will form a similar mental picture. Anything from a palace tower room to a battle scene may require description, but pay close attention to what is important. Unnecessary repetition—telling the reader the same thing in different ways—doesn’t move the story forward. Adverbs, even more than adjectives, ar

A Little Post-Holiday Fun

This post originally ran here at The Blood-Red Pencil on December 29, 2010.  It first ran as a column in the Plano Star-Courier when I was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano, then I incorporated it into my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant & A Paycheck. Enjoy... The day after Christmas was usually one of the best and one of the worst days of the year for our family. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'm not sure it does to me either. But let me try to explain. It was the best because: There were now 364 more shopping days until Christmas. It was the one day of the year when perhaps the kids were just as tired as we were, and they’d sleep off and on all day. All the build up for the Big Day was finally over, and the noise level in the house had dropped about 20 decibels. I didn’t have to cook since we had all those leftovers from Christmas dinner. (If we didn't have a big Christmas dinner, I was in trouble on that score.) The kids would dec

A Novel Checklist Revisited

Here's one of my favorite posts from last year: I was re-working the outline and first few chapters of my fourth Detective Jackson novel and a few things were bothering me. So I went back to the basics and decided to share my eight-point checklist. Story arc. Does the protagonist grow and evolve? Is the narrative smooth or does it have gaps in logic? Plot. Is your plot logical? Do you have important scenes that would make a reader say “No one would ever do that”? Is your plot both linear and complex? Point of view. Is your POV consistent for large chunks of text? Do you tell each scene from the point of view of the character who has the most to lose? Dialogue. Does each character use distinctive word choices? Do you break up long conversations with body language and movement? Info dumps. Do you have big chunks of exposition that slow the story down? Can they be broken up or shared as dialogue? Characters. Are your characters both believable and unique? Is their

Moving the Story With Dialogue

As a frequent user of dialogue to give the reader insight into my characters, impart vital information to the reader, and bring life and reality to my stories, I particularly like this post, originally published by Dani on June 22, 2009. Excerpt: …That day she dined early, at six, and talked to William as he stood behind her chair, bidding him close the door to visitors in future. “You see, William,” she said, “I came to Navron to avoid people, to be alone. My mood is to play the hermit, while I am here.” “Yes, my lady,” he said, “I made a mistake about this afternoon. It shall not occur again. You shall enjoy your solitude, and make good your escape.” “Escape?” she said. “Yes, my lady,” he said, “I have rather gathered that is why you are here. You are a fugitive from your London self, and Navron is your sanctuary.” She was silent a minute, astonished, a little dismayed, and then: “You have uncanny intuition, William,” she said, “where does it come from?” “My late

Keep it real, only more interesting

Kathryn says: O riginally published October 14, 2008, I wanted to give this BRP post by Helen Ginger another airing because its title alone contains such classic writing advice. Including irrelevant detail is one of the most common rookie mistakes in manuscripts I edit. Some people may think an editor looks only for the commas, split infinitives, missing words, misspellings – all the mundane stuff. Yes, we read a manuscript and find those things. But we also look beyond the basics. For example, we note the minutiae that need to be cut. And we note when the small details are not actually minutiae, but important stuff that has to be left in. Even if you’re writing a memoir, a person’s everyday life does not make for an interesting book. Let’s face it, our daily lives are boring. Even when something different happens, it’s boring. I got locked out of the house last week. So what? I unloaded the groceries, put the refrigerator and freezer stuff in the freezer, then headed to Starbuc

Book Review - Comma Sense

First published here in February 2009 - everything you could ever want to know about the ellipsis. Someone queried the group at Writers Weekly for books dealing strictly with punctuation. Out of curiosity, I went on a search for recently published books on the topic, and found quite a large selection. Who knew all those little marks would one day become popular reading? I'll review a number of these new books here, starting with the one at left, which covers all the nit-picky things we need to know to look like adept writers and editors. Here's an example of a few novel points I learned from the book: We all know an ellipsis represents writing that is supposed to be there, but isn’t. Sometimes it’s a good use of punctuation, for example, to note a popular song without boring the reader with all three verses plus the chorus. Here’s an example: For he’s a jolly good fellow … which nobody can deny. According to Comma Sense: A Fundamental Guide to Punctuation by Rich

Ten Affirmations to Bolster Optimism

This post was originally published on October 31, 2009, but we hope you'll agree that it will never outlive its usefulness. Economy got you down? Try optimism. It can help you get published. Doubt it? Read on: More than thirty years of research in high-rejection endeavors, from athletic competition to life insurance sales, suggests the statement is true. There is more to optimism, however, than The Little Engine’s “I think I can.” Optimism is the practice of framing what has already happened in a positive light. To raise your optimism quotient, try the following ten affirmations. Meditate on them, speak them, and copy them down in your own hand until you are convinced of their truth. Once you own these concepts, your writing will be less about the absolutes of success and failure, and more about gleaning the benefits of every step on your path. And who knows—you may end up appreciating the process of getting published as much as you enjoy the writing. 1. Agents, editors, and

Easy Self-Edits

This popular post first published on February 18. We are sharing some of our past favorites this month so that all our contributors have time to enjoy the holiday season. I’m fine-tuning the novel I just finished writing, and these are some of the edits I’m consistently making. They can help you as you write or edit your own novel. 1. Get rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases. When you read back through your manuscript, watch for phrases like on the table, toward the door, near the wall . These phrases bog down your writing and often add little to a description. Readers can make a lot of assumptions. If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car . You don’t have to say it. This is especially true at the end of sentences. A good sentences ends on a strong beat. That sentence is a great of example of what I mean. If I had added usually at the end of that sentence, it would have weakened it. In my manus

What's Your Story About?

This is a piece that appeared here on BRP on January 25, 2009. As an editor, I always ask potential clients to tell me about the books they've written, and many of them go into a long, detailed summary, but sometimes, we need to be able to tell our story's idea in short fashion. Enter this commentary. You’ve written a novel – congratulations! Believe me, I know about the struggles that writers go through putting pen to pad or fingers to keys. There were probably a million times you wanted to give up and walk away from your words. There were bouts of writer’s block. There was doubt. There were those who just didn’t get why you wanted to write. And despite these and other issues, you rose above them and finished a story from beginning to end. Stop. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself you are awesome. Call at least three people to tell them the good news. Treat yourself to something special. Take a few days to put some space between you and your glorio

Show Don't Tell

Author and Editor Jodie Renner shares some fresh advice on the mantra that most writers have heard at least once in their writing career -- "Show Don't Tell. "  A common mistake among aspiring fiction writers is to describe or narrate (tell) events as if they took place at some point in the past, instead of putting the reader right in the middle of the action and showing the events as they occur, in real time, along with the characters’ reactions, feelings, and actual words. Readers want to experience a character's fear, feel the sweat on his brow and his adrenaline racing, their pulse quickening right along with the character's,  muscles tensed, ready to leap into action. Think of the difference between showing and telling this way: Which would you rather do, go see a great movie in a theatre with a big screen and surround sound, or hear about the movie from someone else afterward? According to Ingermanson and Economy, “Showing means presenting the story t

Hiding Bones Again

This is a repeat of one of my favorite blogs, which I ran in 2009. I'd like to share it with followers who may not have seen it and are not acquainted with Rascal. I often laugh at my dog, Rascal, because she does such silly things. One is to run around the house with a toy or bone, then drop it in a corner and scamper away. She acts like she's hid it in a great spot, but I can see exactly where it is. When you write a novel, you have a choice of toys and bones to hide. They're also known as clues. How obvious you make them to the reader is up to you and your storyline. For example, if you want to show the goodness of a character, an easy way is to give that person a dog, cat or some other pet to love. Normally, you'd think the nice person would take in a stray animal. That clue seems easy to pick up. Since people are complex and many have good as well as bad points, such a clue might be hidden in plain sight. The villain could be really sweet to an animal, making hi

Holiday Gifts

In the spirit of this holiday season, I thought I would share a memory of a special gift my husband got for me one year.  He has always supported my writing habit, and this year was no exception. They say - whoever "they" are - that when it comes to gift-giving, it's the thought that counts. While I don't always agree with everything "they" have to say, I have to give them this one. My husband puts a great deal of thought into not only the present but the presentation. It isn't enough to merely hand over a package for some occasion, he has to somehow turn it into an event and over the years we've been together he's devised numerous, and often complicated, ways of surprising me. Once he initiated his Christmas charade the week after Thanksgiving. It began with the announcement that this year he was going to be practical about my gift. Perhaps he'd build the bench in the kitchen I'd been wanting. Since I really liked the bench when he

Self-Editing: Another turn of the Kaleidoscope

I asked my friend, and fellow Montana author to write a column about the value of editing when you self-publish. by Carol Buchanan Self-published author: God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana (2009 Spur award for Best first Novel) Gold Under Ice (Sequel to God’s Thunderbolt) Most writing coaches advise not to self-edit as you write because it stifles creativity. I don’t know what sort of editing they mean, because my reaction to that is “bunk.” I've just gone through NaNoWriMo, and I’m finding it very uncomfortable because I want to stop and answer the little voice in my head that asks if this character would really say that, or if these men would sit down in the middle of the morning and tell stories about another man. Surely there’s a better way to convey his character to the reader than by these stilted conversations, I tell myself. I want to answer those questions as I write because that’s my usual method. (So I put in notes to myself to be answered in later.)

Things That Drive an Editor Crazy Revisited

This was originally posted by Dani Greer on January 12, 2010. We repeat it because of its timeless content. Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy. She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used: she answered she explained she asked she read she questioned she stated she quizzed she requested she inquired she exclaimed she replied she interjected she rallied she spoke up she frowned she added she stated she commented she shuddered she inferred she mused she purred she advised she argued she wailed she pouted she shrugged she shouted she implored she clarified she rallied she begged Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flat

Using Words to Establish Mood

There's a lot to think about as you edit your work. We're covering them all here on The Blood-Red Pencil. In this case, we're re-covering them. Each of us get to choose a previous post to re-gift for the holidays. I've chosen one I posted over two years ago. Here's something for you to consider -- your mood-establishing words. Think of the words you use and how you string them together. Fast, choppy sentences tend to rev up the tension. Longer, complex sentences slow things down. Is her dress blood red? Or rose red? Do the stars twinkle like 4th of July sparklers? Or blink like a million ogling eyes? Use the senses to set the mood. Two characters on the beach begin to kiss. How do things smell, taste, feel, sound? Remember, you're establishing an atmosphere. Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her lilac perfume, then kiss the salty sweat at her hairline? Does he feather his fingers along her arm, drawing goose bumps? Does John nuzzle All

6 Questions NOT to ask a Writer

People mean well. They do. But I believe there are certain questions you should never ask a writer - or never ask many of us. 1. Are you still writing that novel? A 'no' answer will elicit more questions - like "When is it being published?" or even worse, "Why?". A 'yes' answer will usually result in the questioner giving you a puzzled look while they respond (with astonishment) "Really? Still ?" Of course, you could be marvelously successful and have no problem answering this question. If this is true, you need to go soak your head. 2. Are you famous? Obviously, since you've just been asked this question, the answer is no. How on earth could anyone answer yes? 3. How much money do you make? This question never ceases to astound me. I thought it was impolite to ask about someone else's earnings. What kind of answer would satisfy the questioner? My usual response is to smile and say, "the yacht is stil

Let It Snow?

This article is an updated remake of one I posted here in 2008, but one that applies at this time of year.. It happens often enough, but I still can't get used to it. I'm never ready when it comes. Dare I say that naughty, four letter word? SNOW@!#  - Yikes, I've said it. My area of the Midwest gets hammered with that pesky stuff quite often, as evidenced by the photo to the left. Instead of looking on it as something evil, which is easy to do since it gets in my way when I want to drive or walk, I'm trying to think of it as an opportunity for better writing. Snow can be useful, that is, if it's included in a manuscript. When doing this, it's best not to dwell on the obvious. Almost anyone can describe snow as pretty, white, or cold. The trick is to use snow as a vehicle of moving the plot forward. Common Occurrence: During the winter my newspaper often gets buried in the snow and doesn't get discovered until later when the stoop is shoveled. Opport

Reader Requests

I recently asked readers in a Kindle forum what they would like to see more of in novels. Here are their answers, verbatim. Mysteries in which you are given sufficient clues to figure it out before the detective does. Humor applied like seasoning throughout the book, in narration and dialog, and of a dry or tongue-in-cheek nature. Underdogs. Romances that develop unpredictably, with all the illogical surprises real ones have. Rivals who develop respect for each other and possibly even become friends. Themes of brotherhood. A devil-may-care protagonist who doesn't get depressed (like I do) when life dumps tons of manure on them. An author who knows what s/he is writing about, and can effortlessly, comfortably “speak the language” of people from the subculture they depict. Fantasy authors who keep made-up, foreign-sounding words to a minimum. Breaking of current conventions (but not just for the sake of breaking conventions). Climaxes that live up to the hype/buildup. Science fiction

Busted!—Kelly Simmons caught kidnapping my inner editor

I love nothing more than getting lost in a good book. That’s not so easy anymore, I fear. I’m a most willing subject; that’s not the problem. It’s my editorial brain. Even though I beg that freakish overachiever to take a break, it stands ever ready to pounce on any hiccough in the prose. Shut up! I tell it, as it allows awkward wording or a clichéd image to bump me from the fictive dream. Take a hike! —but no, no, it’s already seen this author use two different spellings of the same name eighty pages apart and now I’m going back to check. Let me finish this book in peace, I beg of it, as it scans the climax for psychological insight or philosophical profundity or an emotional payoff when clearly this author was willing to settle for action alone. I’m sure you can see what I mean. My brain is not always the most accommodating partner when I want to lose myself in a book. It’s still a few weeks until the holidays, but December has me thinking about the gift of a really good rea

Why We Aren't Famous

We are having fun here at BRP revisiting some older, popular posts. This one was originally published in March of 2009, about the time we decided it would be fun to have a little humor now and then. ----- Years ago when I first started writing, my children were all young and the formidable task of "writing around them" was daunting. I remember one time in particular when one of my two-year-old twins, Danielle, known lovingly as Chicky, had just settled down beside me to help or hinder my writing. That depended totally on one's viewpoint. She contributed a few words of dialogue consisting mainly of a few well-placed “Mommys,” spiced with a few unintelligible words of praise or criticism. Also, dependent on POV. When she left the room, I breathed a sigh of relief and raced to get a few thoughts on paper before she came back. But alas, she’d gone into the kitchen to get the box of cereal I left on the counter and was off sharing it with her brother. Should I have