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Showing posts from March, 2011

Book Quality

I was having lunch with an old friend of mine yesterday, and the conversation turned to writing, editing and publishing. This was hardly surprising, since she's a professor of English at a nearby university, and I'm returning to contract teaching after a long stint as a book editor and designer. (I'm not quitting; in my life jobs tend to accrete rather than change. Now I'll be a book designer and editor who also writes books and teaches College Writing.) I had taken along a book published on CreateSpace, and as we talked she flipped through it. "Beautiful pictures," she said. And they were. Furthermore, the type was clean and crisp, the production values of the book (things like overall print quality, straightness of crops, color balancing, and so forth) were excellent. "I have a friend who might be interested in self-publishing," she said. "But it's just text. How does that compare?" I picked up one of the mid-grade paperback b

Cut the Boring

Ever wonder why you don't see characters paying their bills? Because it's boring! I know that because I do that. I pay the bills. And it's boring. Unless paying the bills has something to do with the plot, it's probably best to leave it out. Don't put in boring, mundane tasks just to increase the word count. When you’re editing, stop and ask yourself if what the character is doing is interesting, moves the plot forward, establishes the character, or in some way greatly contributes to the manuscript. If it doesn't meet one of those criteria, seriously think about cutting it. Or try to think of some way the character could pay the bills that would make it more interesting or show his/her character in a unique way. If your goal is to demonstrate that the character is in reality boring, then come up with a way to show it so that while the task may be mundane, your way of telling it is not. Part of your editing process should be to cut the boring stuff. If

Deep Point of View - Part Two

As I discussed in Part 1 of this topic, Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping, in order to draw the reader in and grab her emotionally, every story needs to have a clearly dominant viewpoint character. We should meet that character right away, preferably in the first paragraph, and the first scene or chapter should be entirely from that character's point of view so the reader can start bonding with him or her. But how do we as authors go about this? Suppose you’re writing a story about a macho  guy named Kurt, who defeats the villain, restores justice, and even gets the girl. It’s Kurt’s story so he’s your main viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be? The first thing to do is imagine the setting, people, and events as they would be perceived by Kurt, and only by him. As you write the story, you the writer must become Kurt. You see what he sees and nothing more. You know what he knows and noth

What Does It Take to Become an Editor?

Because I am a passionate book reader, my hope is to one day become an editor. I think that that it is a good career choice for me because I know that my love for reading will give me a love for this career, as well. I remember that I started reading at a pretty young age, and I haven’t stopped since then. I read everything from romance to mystery to horror to science fiction and everything in-between. When I was asked what I want to do when I grow up, my first thought was that I want to do something that I love, but I wasn’t sure what. Then a light bulb went off in my head, and I realized I can make a career out of my love for books. Ever since I came to that realization, I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the job. But there are many things I would still like to know about becoming and being an editor. For example, which would an editor prefer—to work freelance or to work for a company and why? What kind of skills does one need to become an editor? Is there a need for

Question from a Young Writer: How Writing Has Changed Your Life

Question from a Young Writer: Has writing changed your life in any way? YES . That's the short answer. Here's a longer one. Remember the saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me ? Yeah, I never bought that statement. Words can hurt. But they can also help. And the biggest way writing has changed my life is in providing me a tool to help myself and to help others. Sometimes, that help comes in the form of stories--whether they are stories I use to entertain (books, short stories, etc.) or stories I use to illustrate a point (in essays, articles, letters). In 2005, I had to evacuate from my home in SW Louisiana when Hurricane Rita struck. During my time away with some family and friends in a shelter in Northern Louisiana, I found myself dealing with a lot of racial, geographical, and at time religious conflicts and suffered a lot of inner turmoil because of them. I knew I had to place that turmoil somewhere else so that I could be

Semi-Colon Savvy

I have to admit I’m a little bit addicted to the semi-colon. Ever since I learned how to use it properly it's seemed the perfect punctuation; it's stronger than a comma but not the full stop of a period. I even use semi-colons when I’m texting; I just can’t help myself. When one begins using semi-colons one seems to write more formally; it’s like donning a ball gown or tuxedo that makes one stand a little straighter and enunciate more clearly. Someone once said that the colon is an obnoxious punctuation mark; it orders the reader to infer exactly this from what follows: what the colon precedes is the only possible explanation. The semi-colon, on the other hand, is more polite; it merely indicates that what follows relates to that which precedes. (See what I mean about writing more formally?) The guidelines for semi-colon use are fairly simple. In a list, a semi-colon can be used instead of a comma, especially where the use of a comma might be confusing. In a sentence a se

Avoid the Empty Phrase Trap

As writers we are told to avoid clichés, to come up with a new and better way to describe and characterize. Here are some of my pet peeves: • Irregardless. It’s just plain regardless. • We’ll meet at 9 a.m. in the morning. As opposed to 9 a.m. in the evening? • The good doctor. Maybe he’s a bad doctor. • Very unique. Unique is a word unto itself. It doesn’t need any qualifiers. What is fairly unique? What's next: Uniquely unique? • At this point in time. Where else would it be? • At the end of the day. Probably a good phrase the first 5 times it was used, but now…sick of it! • Think outside the box. Again a good one the first 10 times, but… • I personally believe. As opposed to I impersonally believe? • It is what it is. Huh? • To be honest. That makes me think you might NOT be! BBC's Magazine has posted a funny list of its readers' most hated cliché phrases. To be honest and fair, going forward, this is basically something that, at the end of the day , w

The Pros and Cons of First-Person Viewpoint

Most novels are written in third-person past tense: “He raced through the dark alley, the footsteps getting louder behind him.” First-person is another option: “As I put down the phone, I heard the doorbell ring.” Some new fiction writers opt to write their novel in first-person, as they think this will be easier. But writing a novel effectively and compellingly in first-person is a lot more difficult than it first appears. Some of the advantages to writing your novel in first-person are: 1. More like real life – we experience life around us only from our own point of view. 2. A direct connection from the narrator to the reader, so can create an immediate sense of intimacy and believability. 3. The narrator-character’s voice comes through more clearly, as it is expressed directly. 4. Can portray the POV character’s personality and world-view more easily. Some of the disadvantages of using first-person point of view and narration are: 1. Difficulty dramatizing scenes where

Writing for Young Adults – The Real Issue

With Harry Potter’s coming of age series and the advent of Twilight , et al., we are witnessing a resurgence of reading among young people. Add to that the novelty, convenience, and technology of Kindle, Nook, etc., and authors of young adult fiction are finding new readers in an otherwise challenging market. Yes, opportunity knocks, but with opportunity comes responsibility. And that is the real issue. Too many children have little guidance beyond the classroom, friends, television . . . Are we, as YA writers, responsible for providing that guidance? An old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And that raises an interesting point—particularly since youngsters are often predictable products of their environments. Are we the keepers of the village’s children? Through our stories, can we offer something positive that inspires them to reach beyond the confines of that environment to be more than they ever thought they could be? Great YA books result from dee

The Voices in Your Head

We all have internal editors or critics. Writers seem to be prone to critics whose voices are especially loud – and good with words, of course. When you are writing, this critic often shows up, leans over your shoulder, and whispers mean things in your ears. One of my voices I named Ed. He used to tie my fingers up in knots and breathe dry ice into my brain. He doesn't do this so much any more, because I found out that I could diminish Ed's power by simply writing – about him. Here is one paragraph I wrote about Ed: Ed is a middle-aged man with a sunken chest and a long thin nose through which he sniffs and snorts. He squints his beady eyes whenever he looks at me, suspicious that I will again try to write something. If I do, he’ll tell me I have nothing original to say, so why waste my time? His voice is usually sharp and piercing but he is capable of hissing his words, especially when he spots a mistake – any mistake, even a misplaced comma or a typo such as “teh.” He no

The Art of Chaptering

In a recent Ask the Editor post, Kathy Stemke as ked how a writer decides where to place chapter breaks. In fiction, chaptering is often intuitive. The practice isn't even as old as long-form fiction—it began in Great Britain so parts of books could be published in serial form. Chaptering may feel arbitrary at first, but here's what you can gain from the exercise. 1. Chapter breaks remind you that story structure is important. Unless you plan to create numbered "books" or other multi-chapter sections within your novel, the chapter will probably be its largest building block. Building blocks make you think of structural elements like scene goals and conflict relevant to those goals, which is a good thing. 2. Chapter breaks remind you to think in terms of scenes. Chapters may have been revolutionary in Dickens' day but the modern reader is well adapted to sound bytes and jump cuts. We are busy. We want you to get to the good part. Whether your chapter in

As It Was in the Days of Kindle...

We live in the days of Kindle. There's no denying that e-book readers have much to offer; users can carry thousands of books around with them. Cost of production is virtually eradicated. And the trees saved…well, as I said, there are many good reasons to invest in an e-book reader, and use it regularly. But here's another thing. The most popular e-book readers--like Kindle--don't support graphics. Users are offered a few simple type options, and a range of sizes, and that's pretty much it. The thinking is that this reduces file size, I think, and is supposed to enhance reading efficiency. It also strips books of their visual elements--their illustrations, their page layouts, and their font stylings. Does this matter? Well, yes. Quick now, which of these words is the "holiest?" Which of these was written by someone in tie-dye and a medallion, which by someone wearing barrettes, and which by men laying the foundations of a nation? A book's design--

Question from a Young Writer: Dealing with Fear of Criticism & Rejection

I love when I get questions from young writers--and you can take "young" to mean in age or in reference to writing journey. Sometimes, after much experience, we tend to forget that every day there are writers who come behind us as wet behind the ears as we were when we first started. So, I went to a special young writer friend of mine and posed the question, "As a young writer, what are some questions you'd like answers to in regards to writing (the life, the practice, etc.)?" What I got was a nice list of questions, and I'd like to answer one now: What would you tell an aspiring writer whose fear of criticism and failure keeps her from jumping in and writing? There are three important things a young writer needs to know; well, there are a lot of things a young writer needs to know, but to answer this question, I'll tackle three things. ONE Every writer will face criticism. It's just going to happen. As long as people have a right to th

Cues from the Coach: Taming Your Characters

Taming your characters? This is not to be confused with making your characters tame. If your story is set in the wild, wild West, on an African safari, or on the trail of a serial killer, you can’t think “tame.” Besides, in the minds of your readers, “tame” is likely to mean boring. “Boring” does not sell books—or manuscripts. So what does “tame” signify in this context? Suppose you want to tame a wild animal or even a dog or wolf hybrid that has been running free and fending for itself. How would you begin? Some basic rules about safety and training play into the picture, but a less tangible element weighs heavily into the success of any such undertaking. What’s that? Observation. That makes sense, but we’re talking about “taming,” not “observing.” True, but animals, like people, have unique personalities. By watching their behavior, noting their likes and dislikes, and considering their habits and their heritage, you can often learn more about the critters than you’ll ever find

A Writer’s Path

To be a happy, successful author, you have to be passionate. To be a selling, successful author, you have to be organized. There was a time long ago … okay, not so long ago … when writers could sit in their office or coffee shop and write. Then after months of writing, they would compose a query letter and send it to their top pick of agents, then another agent and another until someone agreed to take them on. Today, hooking an agent is getting quite difficult. More writers are turning to independent presses or going it on their own - self-pubbing their own print books or e-pubbing. They’re also figuring out that taking this route is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they can make as much if not more by going solo on the e-pub route. A curse because to be successful you have to do all the promoting on your own while you write the next book. Plus, you may have to pay people to edit your book, design the book cover , and help with formatting before it’s uploaded and each pl

Name That Tune

"We've Only Just Begun" It's the beginning of a new manuscript. Your head is bursting with ideas and you simply can't type fast enough. Anything is possible. You're filled with energy and purpose. And're smiling. "I Will Always Love You" You've discovered your characters and you love them all. They're all clean and shiny and even the bad ones have a special place in your heart. "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" What happened to those cherished characters that but a few days ago had won your heart? Now they're quarreling and refusing to do what you're wanting them to do. "Stuck in the Middle with You" You're in the middle of your plot. Time isn't really standing still, it just feels like it. You're convinced your characters are dull and flat and your plot is tired. This is not a smiley time. "The Long and Winding Road"   Yes, you're still in the middle. Middles are lon

Leave A Tip on the Blood Red Pencil

March Madness is here. Tip one in for your fellow writers and everyone will win! Today, as in every second Tuesday of the month, we invite you to Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil. It may seem like a small contribution, but your tip could be enough to make someone achieve the goal of a lifetime - a winning manuscript! Freshman or senior writer, it doesn't matter. Any tidbit you pass over to us is welcome. Also, don't be afraid to applaud another player's contribution. Stop by more than once, think over the tips, and decide if one or more can be added to your writing game strategy. I'm tipping this one in: Your story will move faster if you substitute action verbs instead of adverbs ending in ly . Okay, now, it's your turn. Our basket i.e., comment section, is available for you to throw in your tips. While you're at it, don't forget to leave your name, along with one website or blog link. It's not necessary, but always appreciated, if you

How do I Procrastinate?

I hereby dub myself “Queen of the Procrastinators.” How do I procrastinate? Let me count the ways. Instead of working on my WIP : • Yesterday I baked bread. • Today I cleaned my keyboard. • And I'm writing this article. • Once I even cleaned my stove! • I go grocery shopping. • I check e-mail. • I have lunch. • I do dishes. And on and on… I even took a class on procrastination once. No, not how to, but how to avoid doing it. I think I need to re-read my notes! One thing the instructor recommended was to make an appointment with yourself. Every day from 9 to 10 a.m. (or whatever time you designate), I will write. Period. Nothing should interfere with this appointment. This is creating a habit, and most likely you will end up working longer, because you’ll find you’re on a roll. Reward yourself for doing this. Even something that seems as silly as putting a sticker on your calendar each day that you write is a huge thing. I did this a few years ago and I found that

Busted: A.S. King caught giving voice to a building

Young adult author A.S. King is fearless. Her first novel, Dust of 100 Dogs , begins with dead 17th century pirate Emer Morrisey returning to a human body after living out a pirate’s curse that had doomed her to a hundred lifetimes as a dog. She has retained her original human memories as well as her memories of lapping at water and fighting with litter mates, and all of this accumulated experience contributes to Emer's long-interrupted pursuit of love and riches. And yep (or should I say, “yap”)—we buy all of this, hook, line, and sinker. In her new book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz , King continues to exert an almost defiant creativity. Rather than rely upon prose alone, King employs flow charts, for example, to exemplify the decision making of her 18-year-old protagonist, Vera. The big decision: Vera must decide whether she wants to clear the name of a dead friend—a boy she loved, who she feels betrayed her, yet whose memory won’t stop hounding her. King has Vera use her school vo