Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leave a Tip on the Blood-Red Pencil - What Do You Know?

Well, what do you know? Really. I bet you know more than you think you do. You don't have to be a bestselling author to have picked up some tricks of the trade.

Today, as on most second Tuesdays of the month, we're inviting you to share your writing tip on our
Leave a Tip Day at The Blood-Red Pencil.

Make it simple, or complex. Maybe you've heard an addage many times and have followed it by rote. That doesn't mean everyone else here has heard of it. Or, maybe you've thought up a helpful hint all by yourself and it's worked for you.

Your tip can be about any aspect of writing, publishing, or editing, and can be about any format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing.

Whatever the case, our readers are eager to soak in your knowledge. You can make them happy by leaving your tip in our comment section. You may also wish to include your website or blogspot URL, in the event someone reading your idea wants to learn more about you.
Also, we'd appreciate your telling us where you've heard of us, but it's not a requirement.

Here's my tip:

If you've risked using the same verb ad infinitum in your manuscript, yet still feel compelled to portray the same sort of action, consider using the Thesaurus in your word processing program for a new way to say the same thing. Or, if you're old fashioned, you may even own a print Thesaurus you can consult.

This is basic, yet many times I sit and rack my brain for a new word, before giving in and hitting the Thesaurus button, and finding just what I've been looking for.

Your turn now. What do you know?


Morgan Mandel

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,
romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.
Her personal blog is at:
and website is: http://www/morganmandel.com.
See her new senior blog at http://spunkyseniors.blogspot.com/
Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords, and is also in print. Her thriller,
Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release
soon on Kindle and at Smashwords before going into print.
Bookmark and Share


  1. Once published and considering sending your work out to reviewers, know your reviewer. In addition to making sure the reviewer reviews the type of material you write, look at the body of work the reviewer does.

    Are the reviews well written, contain no spoilers, factually correct, etc.?

    Run a search on the reviewer name and see if others are paying attention to his or her review work?

    If, after spending a little time doing the above and you can't answer in the affirmative, it might be wise to strike that person off your list. Your book will be judged, at least by some not just by the story itself, but also who reviews it.


  2. Morgan asked for a tip and she mentioned making a better word choice for a verb. That's something I try to do as much as possible, though it's important to not use a $5 word when a $1 one will do. Another thing I do when editing is ruthlessly stamp out "was xx-ing" from my story. In the first draft I often use was going, was doing, and so on, which weakens your prose if you do it too much. I try to excise that verb tense as much as possible. Another phrase to stamp out is "to be able to" - you don't need it. If you think you use this one, use "find" to locate the usage and delete the phrase - you won't even miss it.

    Maggie writes blended romantic suspense and mystery, with 6 published books out now. Her themes are family togetherness and redemption. Two of her books are bargain priced: SEEING RED at $0.99, and award winning House of Lies at $2.99. Check out her other titles as well at www.maggietoussaint.com. The first chapters of her books and reviews are posted there as well.
    Maggie Toussaint
    the sassy magnolia

  3. Hi, I found your blog by accient and it's really great. This isn't really a tip but a side comment: the theasurus is a good idea, but I sometimes find the theasurus can be a double edged sword. What if your work ends up with all these crazy wordy synonyms that dont match your style or your characters?

    Stephen King said somthing like "Use the words you know" in his book On Writing which I think is good base point. But then the theasurus is great for word power, learn more words and you can use more words confidently :)


  4. For the new writer: Writing is as simple as falling off a log. The only probhlem is--when you fall off, you are in shark-infested waters. Writing is easy. Writing for publication isn't. It takes skill to write in a manner that gets the attention of an editor who is going to invest time and money in your work.

    I wrote a good mid-list book in six weeks -- while working eighty hour weeks at my day job. However, that was just the beginning. After "writing it" in an almost endless stream, I then spent the better part of six months editing and revising it just to get to a point where I could call it a good draft. Once it was contracted for publication, there was another year of edits in co-operation with a great professional editor, to bring it to market-readiness.

    So, forget the dreams of blasting out a best seller if you have never been published. A typical first work, when accepted for publication, and subject to all I listed above, sells an average of 500 copies.

    And, write what you know and understand, not what you dream about. The best way to end up with 85 pages abruptly ending in the middle of a sentence is to pick a topic you have no command of but have read in other's works and enjoy.

    I would say, "Good luck," but it really isn't luck unless you define luck as the residue of design.

  5. April's point about the thesaurus is spot on.

    It is always obvious when somebody do the old find and replace deal because the word will jump out because it does not fit the style, tone or flow of the story.

  6. I ran across the same problem in my last edit where I'd injected some words that made sense, but sounded way to pompous for that character. Fortunately, I knew some words that sounded just right and I could make easy fixes.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Kevin has a good point about knowing your reviewer. He should know since he's done tons of reviews.He tells it like it is, but in a polite way when he reviews.

    That's how an author learns.


  8. Geez ... what do I know? Guess that depends on who you ask ... some might say, 'Not a gall-darn thang,' others might say, 'Nuttin.' But I say, 'You gotta go with your heart ... if it tells you to write, then, by gingo, you outta write ... if, on the other hand, it says you gotta eat, well, you might want to consider a more reputable profession ... but if writing is your thing, hang out at the BRP, you'll pick up lots of good tips on the technical aspects of the craft from the good people who run it ... oh, and if you want to share your thoughts with a dude who is always trying to find a reason to smile ... check out http://essenceofperformance.blogspot.com/.

  9. Yes, one can get too pompous trying to be correct. Example: yesterday I mentioned on FB that I had "inherited" a table from someone. They responded, "we died??". Well, technically no... but I think most people understood the intent and the communication even though the word was incorrect. Another example is saying "I'm jealous" which is a term specifically associated with god(s). We are envious, but who says "I'm so envious and correct regarding your new outfit." It's more natural to say "I'm so jealous of how great you look."

  10. My tip for the day is a reminder that dialogue tags most often just need to be "said." I'm editing a book right now and the author has used every other word for said, perhaps thinking variety is better. That is common with new writers until they become comfortable with the idea that eventually the dialogue tag "said" will fade into the background and the reader will focus on the words the character is saying.

  11. I just recently read a book where nobody "said" anything. It was every other word in the book but "said."

    And everybody had problems with their eyes because nearly all the characters frequently "rolled" their eyes.

    But, I have been told that in my own fiction, eyebrows move too much. Maybe because I wiggle mine a lot.lol


  12. If you find yourself feeling embarrassed about something in your writing, stop hiding it. Pull it out of the shadows and express it fully, revel in it.

    If you do this one of two things will happen:

    1.) If it's truly worthy of embarrassment, you'll get control of it and get it out of your system.

    2.) More likely: it will turn out to be something close to your heart that you were protecting - and by bringing it out you'll raise your writing to a higher level.

  13. I can tweak words around all day long, but I have a hard time making substantial changes to something I've already written, even when it doesn't work.

    When I get stuck trying to revise a lifeless scene that seems cast in concrete, I get out a pair of dice and roll a number. I count that many sentences into the scene and write a new version starting with that sentence (in a separate document).

    The new version isn't always better, but I learn more about what's important and what's not. It forces me to revisit the linear flow of cause and effect, to consider a different emphasis or point of view, and to delete the "weather report" openings. If the new version is truly awful, I roll again.

    The revised scene usually ends up being a hybrid of the original and a dice-roll rewrite.

  14. What a fabulous group of tips!

    Here's one: Make sure every scene, every paragraph, every sentence advances the story in some way. If it doesn't, get rid of it.

  15. I try to avoid using "he noticed" or "he recalled" when in a character's POV. Example:

    Rodney shuffled down the road. He noticed circles of dust swirling around his feet.

    Rodney shuffled down the road. Circles of dust swirled around his feet.


  16. Don't give up. Whether you long for a traditional contract with a big NY house, or the control and relative speed of being an indie author, anything is possible so long as you do three things:

    1) Keep writing and improving
    2) Meet other people in the industry, from readers to booksellers to writers to authors to agents to editors to teachers
    3) Read the kind of book you hope to write

    And good luck to everyone who shares our dream!

  17. Journal writing has saved my writing life...and it can save yours! I once wondered why classic Southern writers kept journals, as did writers from the UK. Even Colonial America, many women, and some men, kept diaries. Keeping logs, jotting down an instant thought, making word lists, it adds flavor to your writing. It is often a remedy when you sit in front of a blank page or blank screen. Even when you are troubled by the dreaded Block, that journal, filled with lazy, stray thoughts will work for you in your time of need. A diary is a comfort to those who testify to its power. A journal, a log book can do the same for us as writers.

  18. For the proper word selection issue...I often 'know' the word I want to use but just can't remember it. There are such wonderful things on the Internet called Reverse Dictionaries. You type in the meaning and are rewarded with a long list of words that might work. Another tip, if using a word found in said reverse dictionary or thesaurus and you are not familiar with the way the word is used, look for examples of proper usage for the word before incorporating it into your story.

    I agree with the others who posted about using 'was' and it's variations too frequently as well as controlling facial expressions. Too much eye movement makes me roll my own. But as far as the whole "said" issue goes...have you ever read a story aloud where ever tag was "said"? It does get quite annoying. My tip for this is DO mix it up some, but most importantly, realize not every piece of dialog needs a speech tag. The speaker of dialog often is understood.

    Last, make sure you revise and edit the heck out of your story before offering it to the world. The surest way to lose readers is to offer them something with grammatical errors and typos.

  19. As an editor, I am obsessive about technical issues such as the correct use of past participle. If you don't know what that is, look it up.
    However, probably my greatest current gripe is quoted thoughts in the past tense and/or third person.
    To illustrate:
    Mary thought that Jim was a very unpleasant person.
    This is correct: it is the narrator telling the reader something. But...
    Jim was such an unpleasant person, Mary thought.
    Correct is:
    Jim is such an unpleasant person Mary thought.
    Well, a quoted thought is just words in a person's mind, right now. They haven't been spoken, but a quoted thought is dialogue, and should be reported in the same way.

  20. Question for Dr. Bob Rich: If you're writing a novel in the past tense, and all the action is in the past tense--despite the fact that it is occurring in the present--why would thoughts be written in the present tense? Action = Past. Thoughts = Present. Why?

    My writing tip: If you can't see it; you can't say it.


  21. Look for, and delete words that you tend to overuse (like, that, just, whatever).

  22. Interesting! information! thanks a for sharing!

  23. As well as an author, I'm a ghostwriter for business articles and am always looking for synonyms.

    Along with Word's online Thesaurus, I have a print Thesaurus and Dictionary that I use.

    If I'm really stuck for finding a synonym, I do an 'original' word search and usually the definition helps me come up with a word.

    I also have "Your Secret Shortcut to Power Writing: The Analogy Book of Related Words."

  24. Another note after reading the other comments, I agree, it's important to use synonyms carefully - they do have to fit smoothly into the content.

    And, Samantha, I never heard of a Reverse Dictionary - thanks for the tip.

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  25. Two things:
    I agree so much with The Daring Novelist's comment about bringing out the most difficult subject and would only add that it does get easier every time once you expose it.
    A second tip comes from one of my editors who told me "you realize you've used the character's name five times in two paragraphs." Don't overuse character names!

  26. Great batch of tips, as usual!

    Morgan Mandel


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