Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shitty First Drafts

This post originally aired on 11-06-2008, and I thought a reminder that we can write garbage in our first drafts would be helpful. Getting it right the first time is rare indeed. Think about this as you head into the New Year.

Writing is a talent, a dream, an obsession, a release, a thrill, but it is also a craft. The words don't just magically appear on paper - all arranged at their finest. The words we love to read were painstakingly crafted by the author, paragraph by paragraph, line by line.

Anne Lamott, a wonderful writer describes the process in her book, Bird by Bird, this way: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts."

And further:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.”

What wonderful advice. No wonder her books are so good.

A book can go through as many drafts as necessary, and every author has his or her own method of getting to the finished manuscript. The following suggestions are not RULES. Do what works best for you.

The first draft - get the story down from beginning to end. Some people like to edit as they go, and if that works for you, great. Others, like Ms. Lamott, prefer to get the story down, then go back to edit, and I am in that camp, too. I may do a little editing of two or three pages, just to jump-start the writing the next day, but I don’t go to far back. Fine-tuning can sometimes be just an excuse to avoid going forward.

A hint I picked up a long time ago is to stop writing in the middle of a scene. That gives you something to work on right away the next time you sit down to write, and often the next scene will flow naturally out of the one you are working on.

More about the second draft when I post again. In the meantime, have fun playing with your characters.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hearing Voices

First published March 12, 2010.

Writers often discuss development of their own writing "voices" but there is more to the idea than just this one aspect. Let's discuss some other voices in the writing process.

I once reviewed a young adult manuscript that had many characters, all of whom had different voices. In this case, the reader was dealing with teen slang and regional dialect, foreign and biblical characters, as well as talking fantasy animals. Few of them at this point in the writing had really well-developed voices, easily distinguishable from each other, and they often left me confused as to who was saying what. It’s an issue that’s very important to the readability of a story, especially with an audience of young people who have shorter attention spans than adults. Each of your characters must sound distinct, and this is where revising plays a major role in honing a well-crafted story.

The above scenario illustrates various kinds of character voices a writer might have to manage. Beyond that, vernacular challenges us because as time passes our language changes. Think how difficult it is to read Mark Twain. Not only are we dealing with heavy dialect, but also with an entirely different society, complete with standards and practices vastly different from the modern day. The Zeitgeist always creates dialogue challenges, and every time period will have its own peculiarities. I’ll write a complete post on the issues of language and appropriate voice in history because nothing can pull a reader out of a story faster than a modern word or phrase carelessly plopped into the wrong century.

Then there is the issue of virtual voice and how it translates onto the printed page. Just how much of your blog can you put into a book without some serious editing? That's another post, and one that's particularly pertinent today. WTF and OMG might be okay online, but how much of that will your reader tolerate in a cookbook?

What about the challenge of keeping your character “in voice” throughout the story? This is especially difficult if an author is not familiar enough with a language or dialect to stay naturally in its mental frame. It’s very easy for characters to start sounding like the author, and that’s part of what a good editor “listens” for when reading a manuscript. Does that hillbilly twang in the early pages carry through until the very end? Or does your protagonist sound like a Harvard graduate by the last few pages of the novel? If so, is the transition logical to the story or an oversight on the part of the writer?

In the first installment of the Hearing Voices series, I’ll talk about the simplest yet probably most difficult voice in all writing – the one used in children’s books. That sparest of voices presents the greatest challenge to writers precisely because it is so minimal. But a good children’s story touches the heart and mind of an adult as easily as a child because of its clarity and the strong voice that is essential to a good read. Stay tuned for more about that, and a review of a new series I really like coming up next Saturday.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and lately has spent much of her time as special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press, a job that includes reading many children's book submissions. In her spare time, she critiques cozy and history mysteries for grown-ups, with particular attention to voice and detail. Contact her by email for manuscript critique costs. (Reduced rates for books with felines in the cast.) In 2012, she plans to spend many hours revising and preparing her own writing for publication.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar

First published Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recently, I had the less-than-stellar experience of editing a manuscript for a first-time writer who believed her every word, every comma, every sentence contributed to her perfect book and under no circumstances should be changed. Emotions ran high, and reason ran out the door. Resistance became the word of the day, every day.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar where we were told that our books are not our babies. However, books are birthed after months, sometimes years, of hard labor. That does suggest a kinship between the two b’s—babies and books.

What happens when our baby gets sick? Do we take it to the doctor? Yes. When the doctor writes out a prescription, do we fill it? Of course. We even get well-baby checks and follow a schedule of immunizations to prevent measles, mumps, chickenpox, tetanus, hepatitis, and other diseases. Why? We want our baby to be healthy, the best it can be.

What about our manuscripts? When they are less than healthy, do we take them to the doctor, a.k.a., editor? When the editor writes out a prescription (suggestion to make the book better), do we fill it? Suppose we don’t think the story’s ailing. Do we still get well-manuscript checks? Do we immunize our book against lack of continuity and flow, poor dialogue, plot and character weaknesses, redundancies, lagging story lines, absence of hooks, telling rather than showing, and a host of other disorders? Do we want our story to be the best it can be?

Most of us agree that the doctor’s ability to ascertain the true state of our baby’s health exceeds our own. Similarly, a competent editor’s ability to determine the well-being of our manuscript far surpasses ours. Yet, do we resist the editor’s efforts to make our book the best it can be?

We writers often love our words and are loath to part with a phrase that epitomizes our feelings or paints an extraordinary (in our opinion) word picture. We may need to be convinced that a few more strokes of the brush will enhance our emotions or add depth to our scene. But if we are resistant writers, we want to protect our words at any cost. Sometimes that cost is very high.
Take the writer mentioned above. Her book has great potential to become a bestseller. However, much of her unedited writing rambles and digresses from her topic. If polished, her incredible story and unique delivery will draw in many readers. But its present state falls far short of excellence and stifles the realization of that potential.

How do editors reach a writer with the needed prescription before the manuscript’s poor health becomes terminal? According to Mary Poppins, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” We editors—a.k.a., book doctors—prescribe cures for almost all literary ailments. How can we help resistant writers to swallow those cures? What is that "spoonful of sugar” that "helps the medicine go down”? What do you think?
Linda Lane loves to paint word pictures. For years she has worked as an editor (2 books she edited won national awards and a third on which she worked was accepted for nomination for a Pulitzer Prize) and writer (when she had time - which was seldom). In January 2012 she is changing her focus. Teaching writers to write through hands-on work with their own manuscripts, she will coach them in the skills that will save thousands of dollars in editing fees over the course of their writing careers. How? Well-written, polished manuscripts cost less to edit.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part Two

This post originally went live on BRP on January 14, 2010. It followed a part one. Having just finished a first major editing on a manuscript that challenged me on so many levels, I felt the need to bring this piece back for a look-see. I hope you enjoy it and get something from it.

In addition to examining the characters in your story to trim unnecessary material, you can also look at your scene development.

As I edited the VBB, I saw a major need for the client to edit scenes. Back in 2008, I wrote a short piece titled “Developing Scenes” that’s worth a check out. It’s important to remember that scenes don’t have to start at the beginning. Now, what does this mean? Let’s say you wanted to write a scene in which your main character’s conflict was revealed. You plan to do this by having the conflict blurted out during an argument between the main character and her boyfriend. In your scene, you start with allowing us to see the main character driving home, then she walks into her apartment, then she checks her mail and phone messages, then she takes off her clothes and puts on something comfortable, and then after all of that the boyfriend comes home, and there’s a lot of conversation about nothing before we even get to the argument. This would be considered a very slow-reading scene. As a reader, I would be waiting impatiently for something to happen. You would be amazed, if you went back and read through your manuscript paying close attention to scene development, at how many words go into revealing nothing important about the story and characters.

With this issue, it’s important to ask yourself, “Where’s the best place to start a scene and end a scene?” You don’t want to start too early and slow the read, and you don’t want to drag a scene on.

In my piece “Developing Scenes,” I write, “Typically, we are ‘placed’ somewhere (setting). People are revealed to us (characters). Some idea, point, purpose, situation is presented to us (beginning). There is interaction amongst the characters (middle), and the scene concludes in a way that propels the story forward and makes us want to know what happens next (ending).” As you edit through your manuscript, you want to make sure that these elements are in your scenes and that each scene does what it needs to do to make your story sing, not lag.

To those writers who tend to write epics when a particular book doesn’t necessarily call to be epic-size, place this word on a Post-it near your computer: SCOPE.

I know there are a lot of pantsers out there, those who just sit and let fingers fly across keys until a story is done. However, to help limit scope, it might be a good idea to actually outline books before writing them. An outline can give you a sense of how big a book will be. If it looks like your book will hit the scale at 125k or more, then you can work to revise an outline instead of revising a whole novel. And as you do so, you can ask yourself what is the overall purpose of this story, what characters are absolutely necessary to tell this specific story, and what tension, development is necessary in order to tell that specific story.
Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Christmas Fun

This poem first appeared here at The Blood Red Pencil in December 2009, but the very first publication was in 1980, when I was writing a weekly column for a suburban newspaper. Throughout the years I have dusted it off to share again with a new group of readers. Enjoy.

Tis the day before Christmas and all is not done,
Things on the “to do” list number a million and one.
There are cookies to cut while the oven is hot,
And a gift for Aunt Mildred. Egad! I forgot.

There are presents to measure, to balance and wrap,
If the stacks are not even the kids will know in a snap.
The turkey is snug in the freezer so cold,
Will anyone notice if I put dinner on hold?

Tis the day to test stamina, courage, and brawn,
The survivors are heroes at next morning’s dawn.
Just when I thought I was running out of time
A stranger appeared with a smile so sublime.

He was dressed all in silver from his head to his toe.
And I blinked my eyes twice to see if he would go.
He patted my shoulder and gave me a latte,
“Your’re almost there,” he said. “The rest will be easy.

“Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t get in a frazzle,
Together we’ll do it with narry a hassle.
I’ll hang the tinsel and check all the lights,
You bathe the children and kiss them goodnight.”

The kids were all tucked in their beds nice and warm.
(A threat to their presents always works like a charm.)
I’d finally decided, of course. It’s a dream.
That’s a mirage on my sofa eating toffee ice cream.

I was amazed at the picture that greeted my eyes,
My living room looked like Currier and Ives.
The stockings were stuffed, and so was the bird,
What magic he used was beyond any word.

He smacked his lips, gave a sly little wink,
“It’s time I was off to help others, I think.”
He twirled around once, then three times and more,
And in a twinkling was headed out my front door.

There’s no doubt about it; it was love at first sight,
For that stranger who saved me on Christmas Eve night.
No matter his name, he was really such a dear.
I wonder, will he return again in another year?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, Good Cheer!

Posted by Maryann Miller who is still baking cookies and wrapping gifts.
Maryann's Web site

Friday, December 23, 2011

To "Was" or Not to "Was"

This post originally aired on October 25, 2008, but since the debate continues in writing circles, I thought the refresher would be good.

There is a lot said about avoiding the use of was in narrative because it can sometimes be a sign of passive writing. The danger there is that some writers avoid using that simple verb entirely. They hear in a critique group or in a workshop at a conference that they should get rid of passive verbs and replace them with active verbs.

In many cases, that advice is right on, but there are times when using was is proper. That usage denotes an ongoing action or activity, something that started before the character arrived on scene and will continue when the character leaves.

For example, “By eight o’clock preparations were underway in St. Peter’s Square for the general audience. Vatican work crews were erecting folding chairs and temporary metal dividers in the esplanade in front of the Basilica, and security personnel were placing magnetometers along the Colonnade.” (Excerpt from The Messenger by Daniel Silva.)

In this same scene, the central character, Gabriel, stops at a café. “Gabriel drank two cups of coffee and read the morning newspapers.” Both action verbs because this is happening now, to this character, and will stop when he does something else.

Before the difference was explained to me, I would try very hard to eliminate all uses of that dreaded word and wondered why it seemed to make the narrative awkward. When it is used sparingly and properly, the narrative is smooth and one almost has to stop to realize the word is there.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dot Dot Dot to Death

This post last appeared 12/2/2008 and deals with one of my favorite (or should I say least favorite) subjects: the overused ellipsis.

A comment on the chat line citing the overuse of ellipses just sent me whirling! This is negative with me as well, and as I mentioned in a previous post, will contribute mightily to a submission going into the NO pile.

My Webster’s says an ellipsis “indicates an omission (as of words) or a pause.” Probably most writers insert the ellipsis to show a pause, but after seeing those little dots fifteen or twenty times on a single page, I begin to wonder what is missing. Perhaps the thing that is missing is effective writing.

Sure, in a dramatic scene one can see how the ellipsis adds tension, conveys a distraught person’s dialog or disjointed thoughts. In examples where one character’s speeches are laden with ellipses, but none of the other characters have such a halting style, the use seems forgivable, as it goes to shape character. But if most or (perish the thought) all the characters have the dots, it comes off jerky and uneven, and in my opinion indicates lazy writing.

Here’s a way to validate the idea that you really don’t need all these dots: thumb through a book by your favorite author. How many do you see? Just for grins, I fanned through several Robert B. Parker novels (one of my favs and a writer notable for his dialog). I spotted only a few ellipses per book.

Overall, I think ellipses do more to “tell” than to “show” and I certainly know what they tell me!
Billie Johnson, editor & publisher, Oak Tree Press
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

If You Can Read This, You Need An Editor

This post originally appeared April 4, 2011


if yuo can raed tihs, you hvae a sgtrane mnid, too.
Can you raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

I don’t know about you, but after I’ve worked on a manuscript for weeks, months, even years, I become so close to the work that I cannot look at it objectively anymore. As you witnessed with the above example, your eye will see a misspelled word or a typo and your brain registers the word that it’s supposed to be.

A Seattle newspaper reported a story about a new ramp at the ferry terminal that was operated by a "system of wenches." (Those serving girls moonlighting after handing out grog at Ye Olde English Tavern?) Oops!

A Michigan county had to spend $40,000 reprinting ballots after the "L" was left out of the word "public." A big Oops!

There are many more reasons to hire an independent editor, but these are good ones.

Even editors need editing! It’s invaluable to have another pair of eyes look at your work. It’s surprising what they’ll pick up. And you certainly don’t want your manuscript tossed because of a typo on the first page!

Do you have your favorite public typo story?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part One

This post originally went live on BRP on January 13, 2010. Having just finished a first major edit on a manuscript that challenged me on so many levels, I felt the need to bring this and part two back for a look-see. I hope you enjoy it and get something from it.

Every year, I edit a slew of manuscripts – short stories, flash fiction, novellas, novels, etc. The biggest book I had ever edited before this time was about 200,000 words, and that story was about 80,000 words too long. A lot of slash-and-burn occurred for that literary baby.

But in 2009, I met my biggest adversary: a book that was over 330,000 words. No, this was not a Twilight saga. No Harry Potter. No The Lord of the Rings. This was a contemporary novel, a blend of street, urban, and literary fiction.

It was, by far, one of the cleanest reads I have ever read. The writer is extraordinarily creative and talented.

Despite these glowing praises, the book was way too long. Typically, I would have helped the writer slash and burn the book down to a nice length, but it was difficult to do so with this project because everything in the book “seemed” to belong there. After reading the book once before editing, I realized that two problems hindered this VBB (very big book) from being a good size: characters and scenes.

In May 2009, I wrote a BRP piece titled “Eight Questions for Writers.” The very first question in the list is “Who is your main character?”

If you have a book that needs to be cut and cut BIG TIME, then you seriously should consider this question. In the book I edited, though the client told me who the main characters were, everyone was a main character. Every character had a backstory, nearly every character had a story arc, and there were so many characters that I needed to index them and take notes while I read so I could keep up with who did what when and how all the characters connected with one another. No reader will take that kind of time to read your book. They just won’t. We read, typically, to escape and to enjoy another place, another set of people. There’s nothing escapist or enjoyable with having a slew of main characters that we have to keep meticulous tabs on.

So, ask yourself, “Who is your main character?” Realize, there will be supporting, minor characters that help main characters, but all of these characters do not need full-blown stories of their own; that’s why they are minor and supporting. At least one read-through of your completed manuscript should be conducted to edit out any material that over-inflates a minor/supporting character’s role in a novel and to make sure your main characters are developed as necessary.

Part two will look at scenes and scope.

Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Loglines for Books

This article first appeared on The Blood-Red Pencil on January 26, 2010.

A logline is a very short description of a script. If you’re going to pitch a script, you have to have a logline. More and more, though, writers will include a version of a logline in their query letter. Writing a logline for your novel forces you to get to the core of your book, to the nugget that will excite an agent, lure a publisher, and sell a reader.

In general, a logline should be about 20 words long and should capture your storyline.

The problem is that you rarely see actually loglines that short. Here's one I saw as a sample on ScriptShark:
A college freshman girl's arrival to campus spawns mysterious killings revolving around the football team.
Okay, from that we know the protagonist, where it takes place, and that it's probably horror ("mysterious killings", "spawns"). But we don't know what the protag's goal is or who the antagonist is. It fits the word count, but, in my mind, it's not complete.

Here are a couple of more (and I'm sorry to say that I've forgotten where I gathered these):
A playboy manufacturer rescues 1,100 Jews from certain death. Appalled by atrocities in Nazi Germany, he hoodwinks the Nazi brass and converts his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on Oskar Schindler's true story.

A conscientious sheriff relinquishes his gun and job to marry a pacifist young woman, but on the way to the honeymoon they pass a band of outlaws riding toward their peaceful village to take it over.
Both of those are over 20 words and the second sample only implies the goal. Both, however, are compelling and would be hard for someone to pass up. (And they weren’t passed up, since they're both produced movies.)

Loglines are catchy and pitchable. All of them tell who the protagonist is, most tell the antagonist (which is not always a person) and what the goal or theme of the movie will be, and most of the time you can tell what kind of movie/book it will be just by the wording.

Once you have a logline, what do you do with it? You use it in your query letter - it can be your opening hook. You can use it in your pitch with an agent or editor. It’s a good conversation starter when you’re talking to someone about your book (the elevator speech that you need to prepare). Give it a try on your book. And remember, make it irresistible and complete.

If you have a logline for your latest book or book-in-progress, tell us in the Comments section. Here’s mine:
Angel Downe has a plan. After ten years on the streets, she’s going home to ask her mother why she loved her one day, then threw her out like garbage the next. To do that, she needs three things: her high school diploma, a car and a gun.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Busted! Mark L. Danielewski Caught Building on Cliché

This post originally ran on September 3, 2010. If we run it again, will it become cliché?

Stop in the name of love.

You can’t hurry love, no you’ll just have to wait.

Whenever you’re near I hear a symphony.

If the Supremes sang it in the sixties, chances are it’s a cliché today. And what are we writers told? Don’t use clichés. This makes sense from a business perspective. Why should a publisher pay a wordsmith to regurgitate combinations so recognizable that readers are numb to them? We need to do the work of writers and come up with new word combinations that will snag the reader’s interest and inspire new thought.

But don't throw the love child out with the bath water just yet. A known cliché could lay the groundwork upon which you could create a meaningful—even a Supreme—twist.

In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski did just that in the following exchange between the narrator and a woman he just met. Even out of context it is easy to see how he uses a lyric from the sixties to evoke character and voice.
“Thank you,” I said, thinking I should kneel.
“Thank you,” she insisted.
Those were the next two words she ever said to me, and wow, I don’t know why but her voice went off in my head like a symphony. A great symphony. A sweet symphony. A great-f***ing-sweet symphony. I don’t know what I’m saying. I know absolutely sh*t about symphonies.
Those of you wanting to fuel your inner flame may want to check out the images and techniques Danielewski offers up in his creatively dense experimental fiction. He continues this passage by elaborating on another cliché—about how this woman has left him "reeling."
And hard as this may be for you to believe, I really was reeling. Even after she left the Shop an hour or so later, I was still giving serious thought to petitioning all major religions in order to have her deified.
In fact I was so caught up in the thought of her, there was even a moment where I failed to recognize my boss. I had absolutely no clue who he was. I just stared at him thinking to myself, "Who's this dumb mutant and how the hell did he get up here?" which it turns out I didn't think at all but accidentally said out loud, causing all sorts of mayhem to ensue, not worth delving into now.

Don’t berate yourself if your first draft lacks sparkle due to an overuse of clichés. This simply proves their ubiquity: finding clichés conveniently lined up at the front of the shelf marked IMAGERY, your mind used them as shorthand for laying down your story.

Sensitize yourself to look for worn out phrases in subsequent drafts. Replace most of them with more evocative language. If you identify a cliché that works well for you, try refreshing it with a twist. Like any edited prose you will want your twisted cliché to create voice, deepen characterization, and further plot.

Here are a few examples where I turned first draft shorthand into second draft imagery.

They got along like cat and mouse:
The roles they slipped into were threadbare costumes: she the cat, bored and de-clawed; he a near-dead mouse.

He stuck his foot in his mouth:
He sat there with a size 12 Chuck Taylor hanging from his lips, the rubber sour against his tongue.

Anyone want to join in the fun? Twist one of these or sub in one of your own.

Between you and me and the bedpost
Been there, done that
From head to toe
Bring home the bacon

I know you'll come up with something admirable. After all, what is a river deep, or even a mountain high, between a writer and a word challenge?

Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Do You Show Feelings?

This post originally appeared October 15, 2009.

“Feelings…Nothing more than…feelings…”

The words of that old song haunt me as I struggle to polish my manuscript. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through study, reading, and feedback from critique groups is that emotions are critical in creating three-dimensional characters.

Have you heard the description, “The characters are flat?” That’s because the author is telling the reader what the character is doing and feeling, but the reader is not identifying with that character.

Reading a novel is like donning the skin of the main character, jumping into his head, and living the adventures vicariously right along with him. As a reader, I want to see, smell, hear, touch and taste exactly what the character is smelling, hearing, touching an tasting. For just a short time, I want to “be” that character.

Easier said than done.

Suppose Gertrude is mad at her boyfriend. “I hate you!” she cried angrily. Doesn’t this let us know her feelings?

Not necessarily. I don’t feel anything. I’m being told that Gertrude is angry. How do you fix it? Well, the words express the sentiment pretty clearly. But how about adding an action:

“I hate you.” Gertrude threw her grandmother’s bone china cup against the wall, where it shattered into a million pieces.

OK, that’s pretty graphic. I’m showing that she must be pretty angry to break that heirloom. Plus, the million pieces shattering is perhaps a metaphor for their relationship.

There are quite a few ways you can convey emotion in a scene like this. For example, the weather. Rain might be cascading down the window pane or beating against the glass. The wind could be shrieking or buffeting the trailer they’re in, etc. The temperature: it could be freezing in the room, or sweltering. Each brief scene description can add emotion when viewed through the character’s circumstances and feelings.

Perhaps Gertrude could be speaking in just above a whisper, but the words she says and the temperature can show the vehemence she’s experiencing. Sometimes a whisper can be more chilling and make a bigger impact that a shout. (And you don’t even need to “tell” by using an exclamation point.)

In my second novel, Follow the Dream, I struggled with a Christmas scene in the 1930s, where my main character and her eight-year-old son are boarding in a hotel room, while her husband stays in the country in an uninsulated shack to take care of their horses. Here’s what I wrote originally:

With Jake there, the cold emptiness inside her filled within minutes. They ate, popped corn, trimmed the “tree,” and then Neil played “Silent Night” on his violin. In the glow of candlelight, the little room was transformed into the cozy, warm togetherness of a home.

My intrepid critiquers said, “Yes, but what is she feeling?”

Hadn’t I conveyed that with the cold emptiness filling, the room transformed in the cozy, warm togetherness of a home? Apparently not. I was “telling” the reader what the feelings were.

Here’s what I’ve done with it. Maybe it’s still not enough, but you can see (and I hope, feel,) the difference:

After passing his plate for seconds, Jake raised his glass of wine. “This ham dinner tastes as wonderful as any high-falutin’ dish served to a king.”

Nettie clinked her glass with his, meeting his gaze with a smile. Warmth and love flooded the cold, empty void that had lived inside her since she saw him last.

Dinner finished, they took turns shaking the popcorn kettle over the hotplate burner. The hot smoky smell of the oil and popping corn filled Nettie’s senses with memories of noisy, laughing Christmases spent with her large family. While Jake propped the sagebrush in a bucket, she grabbed a needle and thread. Eating as much popcorn as they strung, she and Neil trimmed the “tree.”

Jake pointed at the festooned sage. “You missed a spot. If you hadn’t eaten so much—” He ducked, laughing as Nettie threw a pillow at him.

“It’s beautiful, and you know it,” she teased.

Nettie lit tiny candles on the sagebrush, and they opened their few packages—tobacco and rolling papers for Jake, a music book for Neil, and a halter Jake had braided for Nettie.

Then, Neil coaxed the sweet notes of “Silent Night” from his violin, and Nettie snuggled contentedly beside Jake. The melody filled her heart with the wonder and miracle of that night so long ago, and the soft glow of the candlelight transformed the little hotel room into the cozy, warm togetherness of a home.


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cleaning up your copy

This post originally appeared on Blood-Red Pencil in November 2008.
One of the best things you can do to make the most of your editor's time is to ensure that you proofread your manuscript as thoroughly as you can beforehand. Does this seem like a bizarre statement to you? After all, the job of the editor is to edit and/or proofread, isn't it?

But consider the issue more carefully. Many editors work on an hourly rate even if they charge per project. A good editor knows approximately how long it will take her to work on a manuscript of a certain length, and she factors this into her rates.

Is the manuscript you send to your editor filled with extra spaces where you hit the spacebar too hard, rogue punctuation that has been left over from odd sentences you deleted, inconsistent use of quotation marks, characters' names in lower case because you forgot to press "Shift", simple spelling and grammar errors, and typos that are due to your fingers accidentally hitting two keys at once? If so, you're wasting your money while your editor wades through all these unnecessary corrections before she can spend the rest of the allotted time on your actual story.

I've known some writers who feel they need to test their editor by deliberately including errors in their text. No editor is infallible, but many editors pride themselves on a very high catch rate. By all means, feel free to play games with your editor, but remember that it is your money that you are wasting. Or, if your publisher is footing the editorial bill, bear in mind that you could be setting yourself up to be labelled a high maintenance writer, in which case your book had better be worth the hassle.

The type of edit may also depend on the stage of the project you are working on - an editor checking the characterisation and plotting of a first draft may decide to note a particular typo or spelling error only once in order to focus on more important aspects of the edit. He may simply state that the text has, for example, "excessive use of participle clauses" and leave you to do your own search and rewrite. Different editors have different styles, and you may, or may not, be the type of writer who needs an editor to point out each participle clause. If you can choose your editor, bear this in mind when you're drawing up your criteria.

Clean copy is a pleasure for an editor to work with, and the writer who produces clean copy can easily win the editor's respect. A manuscript with limited errors is also less distracting to read, and the editor can focus more deeply on the narrative and construction elements.

Remember that your editor is there to help you create a better book. Meet him as far across the half-way mark as you can, for the sake of your story, and your wallet.

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. In her experience with reading and critiquing manuscripts, she's picked up the most common errors that many writers seem to make. Read her list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make at her website. Stay and browse through her resources for writers or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Insecurity - My Middle Name

This nonsense first appeared on 4-5-2009. I thought it might be time for a bit of fun again. Enjoy.

As we all know, writers are by nature very insecure people, especially in the early years when perhaps the only thing we get published is a letter to the editor and that's cut from four paragraphs to three lines. In fact, for years, basic insecurity was the only thing I had to affirm my credibility as a writer.

But even in my moment of greatest anxiety, I never reached the heights (or should I say the depths) of insecurity as did Glenda Gibberish. She wrote an entire book on squares of toilet tissue and hid each page in an empty roll. When her husband, Harry, asked about all the cardboard cylinders lining the dresser, Glenda told him she was making toys for the gerbils.

That worked well until he decided to take an interest in the welfare of the pets. She lost one whole chapter in a single afternoon.

Following that disaster, Glenda resorted to stuffing the rolls in her underwear drawer, in the empty cookie jar, and in the springs of the old sofa bed. She figured she was safe since she put her own clothes away and nobody ever bothered with the cookie jar since she never baked. But she forgot about her mother-in-law's visit. Oddly enough, the other woman said nothing when they unfolded the bed and toilet tissue rolls fell out, but Harry gave her one of those looks that we women enjoy so much. Then he surprised the gerbils with new toys.

This ruse went on for years, and she couldn't bring herself to tell a soul that she was writing. Then one day she was hit with this overwhelming urge to “out” herself. It was the same compulsion that drives a dieter to a banana split at Dairy Queen, and try as she might Glenda couldn't shake it. So she had lunch with her best friend.

“Oh, no. Is it serious?”

“Not right now, but it could be.”

“How long... I mean, have you been this way forever?”

“Since I was a little girl. But, you know. It isn't the kind of thing you just drop into casual conversation.”

“Good. Maybe we can keep it from getting around.”

“Don't worry. I have plenty of editors looking out for me on that count.”

“Have you told Harry yet?”

“No. But he did wonder about the sudden demise of Jake the gerbil. I think he choked on a particularly graphic sex scene.”


“No. The gerbil.”

“Hasn't Harry noticed you writing ?”

“Right now, I tell him I'm going into the closet to straighten up a few things. But that's not going to last long. Sooner or later he's going to remember that I don't like to straighten anything.”

“Don't worry. You can trust me with your secret.”

“Actually, I wouldn't mind if you told a few people. My book comes out next month and I need the publicity.”
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing as an Art: Marching to the Beat

Originally published July 9, 2010.

Do you ever read aloud from a favorite book? Or does a particularly poignant or empowering passage or poem inspire you to verbally articulate its content?

All good writing possesses a rhythm—a beat—that sets the tone for the action, the scene, the discussion. A competent writer “hears” it and uses it to reach out and touch the reader. He or she creates the rhythm, puts it in place, and marches to the beat. The reader follows along behind.

Have you ever listened—I mean really listened—to a great drummer? Drums do a lot more than make ear-splitting noise. Drum solos can express a variety of emotions from the gentleness of a summer breeze (using the brushes) to waves lapping on the shore or a jog through the park (the sticks) to the power of a thunderstorm (the deep resonance of the bass). Morse code messages can be tapped out on the rim and worked into an overall piece. The rhythm can inspire an entire dance without benefit of any other instrument. The snare, high hat, cymbals, and bass all communicate with the listener, creating different emotions, different moods, different mental pictures, depending on the drummer’s intent and the listener’s experience.

How does this relate to writing? The same freedom the drummer employs to express himself through percussion, the writer uses to create a word picture, first for himself and then for his readers. Why him- or herself first? Writing is an extension of self. What we cannot imagine, we cannot write. Who we are comes through in our characters—our dark sides as well as our brighter ones. Whatever our passions, our loves, our fears, our hatreds, our experiences, we reveal them in some fashion through our stories and our characters. Then the rhythm of our words creates a work—gentle, powerful, fierce, compelling. Our emotions determine the beat. Is it jazz? rock? rap? ballad? symphony? a combination of these or other forms? Is it harmonious or dissonant? Whatever it may be, we want our readers to listen to the rhythm and march to the beat. That’s what makes them want to buy our next book.

How do you use rhythm in your writing? When proofing a draft, do you know when you’ve missed a beat? when the story ceases to flow? when the rhythm is off? when the reader no longer marches to the beat? Please tell us how you handle these writing bumps in the road in your works.

Linda Lane is an editor and writing coach. Her team of award-winning consultants covers the gamut from fiction to nonfiction to screenwriting to memoirs to poetry. Learning to write well is an investment in your future that will save you thousands of dollars in editing fees over the lifetime of your career and earn you the respect of fellow writers, reviewers, and critics alike. Visit Linda at

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

6 Questions NOT to Ask a Writer

Originally posted on December 8, 2010 and the author's most commented-upon post to date!

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 still on hold."

4. What's your book about?
Here's a loaded question. Some writers will take this as an invitation to go on for hours while others will say "I'm not sure yet." Some will give the genre as an answer: "It's a murder mystery" or "It's about looking for love". I've never found the right answer to this.

5. Am I in it?
The obvious answer is "no". Are you going to tell someone you've based a character on them? Unless this character is flawless and enjoys superpowers, they're going to be disappointed. I try to explain that I invent my characters - they're not based on anyone I know.

And (in my opinion) the worst question:

6. But what do you really do?
The best answer I've ever given to this question is, "I kill people (and then add softly) fictionally, of course." It's best given at a dinner table, as you're putting down a plate full of food. It does give the questioner pause. Of course, remember, I write mysteries. You have to find joy somewhere.

Do you get questions that make you squirm?

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.
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Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Steps to Surviving an Edit

This post originally ran on January 6, 2010, but its advice is timeless.

You have decided to submit your manuscript to a freelance editor. On one level you are hoping that editor will identify any issues that might prevent a publishing house from purchasing your book so that you can fix them before you are rejected. But deep down inside—no matter how much you are paying for the service—you are also kind of hoping that editor will deem your work “brilliant as is” and return it with only a few typos changed.

I know. I may be an editor, but I am also a writer who has previously hired a freelance editor. And it’s amazing how your thumping heart can squeeze all common sense from your brain as you open up your evaluation and wonder…does she think I’m any good?

Ahem—wrong question. If submitting to a freelance editor is on your New Year's resolution list, please keep this post handy and read it through a few times before you read your edited pages.

1. Editors know how hard it is to communicate effectively on paper—it’s often harder than the author thinks—and respect anyone who gives it their best shot. Your editor wants you to succeed and will apply special evaluation skills to help you do so. To communicate these concepts she must put marks on your page.
Marks on the page ≠ “I am a bad writer.”
Marks on the page = your editor is doing what you paid her to do.

2. Ask any published author: each manuscript attempted offers up its own specific challenges. You submitted your work to be edited because you wanted to determine whether those problems have been adequately addressed, and whether others you haven’t yet identified lurk between the lines. While reading your editor’s evaluation of your work is not the time to pretend those problems never existed.

3. Identifying problems is helpful because problems have solutions. No doubt your editor will point you toward some possible solutions. Her suggestions might take the story in a direction you hadn’t hoped for—but read them anyway. You don’t have to use them, but they might help loosen your hold on your former way of thinking so you can move in a more productive direction.

4. Rather than brace yourself against your editor's comments, open yourself to their possibilities. Allow a week or two to digest them so whatever truth is there can sink in.

5. Even constructive criticism can be difficult to read. Try to accommodate your discomfort. “If I were an agent I would have stopped reading here” is not an easy thing for you to read or your editor to write—but its very honesty is a gift. Especially if the only feedback you’d received thus far was from family and friends who think your writing is “awesome.”

I’ll leave you with this related story. Determined to make the most of his talent, a friend of mine studied classical voice in New York City at a rate he could barely afford—$200 an hour. One day, during his lesson, he broke down. He had sacrificed so much to be there and could no longer take the constant criticism. “You only tell me the things I do wrong,” he told his instructor. The instructor seemed baffled. “That’s because you’re paying me to correct what isn’t working,” he said. “You have improved significantly since you started studying with me. The fact that we are working on new problems indicates this. Now. We have 15 minutes left. Do you want to spend that $50 on me attempting to help you feel better about yourself, or do you want to learn a little something more from me today?”

The moral of this anecdote, of course, is that creative endeavor is hard and taking criticism is even harder. Make sure you do what you need to do to bolster your spirits. Pray. Meditate. Go for a walk. Kiss your dog. Read inspirational literature. Just don’t expect your editor to provide coddling that is at odds with the honest feedback you are paying to receive.

Remember that your editor’s remarks have no bearing on her opinion of you or on her thoughts as to whether or not you are a good writer. A good writer is simply someone who continues to address the problems in the writing until no barriers remain between her story and the reader eager to enter it.

And never underestimate the transformative power of hard work. Once your diligent problem solving starts to shove those barriers out of the way in the revision process, that editor that seemed to be your harshest critic will become your greatest cheerleader.


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. At her blog, Healing through Writing, she is currently posting about the philosophical, logistical, and biological challenges of healing from a triple ankle fracture sustained during Hurricane Irene.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writing for Wikipedia – Creating the Article in Draft

Another substantive post about writing an author Wikipedia page. This was first published here on March 31, 2010 and is part of an excellent series by former blogger, Charlotte Phillips.
So far, we registered with Wikipedia, wrote our leads, learned about biographies, took the tutorial, and practiced making edits in Wikipedia. Yesterday we wrote the rest of our articles.

Today we put our creations into Wikipedia using the article wizard.

Follow these steps to get to the article wizard:

1. Go to the Wikipedia login page and login.

2. Go to the article wizard page and click the Create Article Now button:

3. Read the intro, then scroll down to the propose article topic area and click the I’m Writing About Someone Else button:

4. Read the definition of notable people, then scroll to the buttons and click My Proposed Article Is About a Notable Person:

5. Read the blurb about reliable and verifiable resources – including the lists in the sidebar. Note: online sources are not listed, but reliable websites are acceptable sources. Reliable websites include news sites, publisher sites, book review sites, writing award sites. The author’s own webpage is not a reliable source. We talked earlier about interviewing your author as a good first step, but information gathered must be verified by independent, reliable sources.

Click My Proposed Article Has Good Sources.

6. Read about copyrights, notability, and neutrality, then click the button labeled My Submission is Neutral.

7. Almost there! You have three options

  • Submitting your article to someone else to review (a good choice if this is your first ariticle and you are ready to create the entire article in one go,
  • Creating your article live in Wikipedia (not recommended for first timers, but a valid option if you are confident in your work), and
  • Creating a workspace for your draft.

Select the option that best fits your circumstances. I'm selecting the Draft option, so my next steps are:

  • follow the instructions to correctly enter your article name in the data entry field, then
  • click the Create New Userspace Draft button.

Your article name should be the name your author is known by – the name that appears on his/her most popular books.

The first view of the editing screen can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t viewed the tutorial or practiced editing other articles. The truth is, the process of creating articles using the wizard is extremely simple. We’re going to take it one line at a time.

If your monitor is small, like mine, you may not see the whole screen, which makes the information at the top even scarier. So scroll down to get a sense of the full window. The top half contains instructions and the bottom half is where we work.

In the top, the first instruction says

Don't change the text {{Userspace draftdate={{subst:CURRENTMONTHNAME}}
Don't worry if it makes no sense to you. This is needed!

That sounds simple – do nothing. Scroll down to the workspace. Does the first line in the big white block look familiar? Don’t Change it.

The next instruction says

Replace New article name with the name of the article, leaving the ' ' ' format
marks intact.

Doesn’t sound quite as simple, but it is. Scroll back down to the workspace. The second line in the big white block looks like this:

'''New article name''' is

Those single quote marks are code – the article wizard will read those marks and know
• The words between the marks are the title of your article
• The words between the marks should be displayed in bold in the lead sentence

I’m pretty sure you don’t want the title to be “New article name,” so we’ll change that to the name by which your author is best known. In my case, William G. Tapply.

In the workspace (big white block in bottom half of the window) place your cursor in front of the word New in '''New article name'''. Type the title of your article and delete the words New article name. Your result should look like this:
'''William G. Tapply''' is
Now we just need to add the rest of the lead. If your lead begins with your author’s name, just replace the word is with the rest of your lead. Mine looks like this:

'''William G. Tapply''' (1940 - July 28, 2009), an American author lso known as Bill Tapply, and best known for his Brady Coyne mystery novels, penned more than forty books during his twenty-five year novel writing career and nearly a thousand magazine articles during his lifetime. He was a Contributing Editor for Field & Stream and a columnist for American Angler. With his wife, author Vicki Stiefel, he ran The Writers Studio at Chickadee Farm from which they mentored young writers.

That’s it – you’ve completed your lead.

The next help provided by the wizard concerns reference tags and external links. What about the rest of the article? It appears, we are somewhat on our own. However, by completing the tutorial and peeking at the edit tabs of different articles, we have learned some things about formatting.

Next step is to create a heading for the first chunk of information.

You have a choice of four levels. Open the Quick Reference Cheat Sheet and scroll down to section headings. The format is defined in the center and off to the right, the result is displayed. I want my first heading to be at level one so it looks like this:

== Biography ==

After the heading, place the associated text.

So now my draft looks like this:

'''William G. Tapply''' (1940 - July 28, 2009), an American author also known as Bill Tapply, and best known for his Brady Coyne mystery novels, penned more than forty books during his twenty-five year novel writing career and nearly a thousand magazine articles during his lifetime. He was a Contributing Editor for Field & Stream and a columnist for American Angler. With his wife, author Vicki Stiefel, he ran The Writers Studio at Chickadee Farm from which they mentored young writers.

== Biography ==
William G. Tapley, born in Waltham, Massachusetts, grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts where he graduated from Lexington High School. He added a B.A. from Amherst College and an M.A.T. from Harvard to his arsenal before launching his first career as a teacher Lexington High School, where he worked for nearly twenty-five ears….

My next chunk of information is about my authors published work. I want a heading and two sub-headings. The format:

== Published Work ==
William G. Tapply’s work includes…rest of text goes here

=== Novels ===
List goes here

=== Non-fiction Works ===
List goes here

I could simply list everything under the heading of Published Work, but the cheat sheet says “A Table of Contents will automatically be generated when four headings are added to an article.” I want a table of contents, so I subdivided the information. This works for Mr. Tapply because he published so much work in multiple categories. This approach may not make sense for an author with one entry in each sub-group.

Let’s talk about those lists. If you’ve been studying the reference pages provided this week, you already know, there is no standard way to provide a list of published work. In the examples we’ve viewed,
  • Nevada Barr’s list is in a table,
  • Ernest Hemingway’s work is provided in sub-heading form, with paragraphs of information about each work,
  • Robert Crais’s list is really a compound list – a numbered list of novels and under each title, a bulleted list of awards
  • Linda Barnes’s books are presented in simple bullets.

We will focus on the numbered list and bulleted list. Both forms are presented on the Quick Reference Cheat Sheet. If you are interested in a different form, go to a page that uses that form and click on the edit tab to see how it was done.

I’m going to use Tapply’s Stoney Calhoun novels for my examples. To create a numbered list, I would type:

Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
# Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
# Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
# Dark Tiger, 2009

On the published page, this will look something like:

Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
1. Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
2. Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
3. Dark Tiger, 2009
To create a bulleted list, I would replace # with *.

To create a compound list, simply modify the list. For example:

# Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
## Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
## Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
## Dark Tiger, 2009

Will result in:

1. Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
1.1 Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
1.2 Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
1.3 Dark Tiger, 2009

In this last example, I could replace the ## symbols with a single asterisk:

# Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
* Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
* Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
* Dark Tiger, 2009

and the result would be something like:
1. Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
• Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
• Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
• Dark Tiger, 2009

My draft list looks like this:
== Published Work ==

William G. Tapply’s work includes…rest of text goes here

=== Novels ===
Stoney Calhoun Mystery Novels
* Bitch Creek, The Lyons Press, 2004.
* Gray Ghost, St. Martin's Press , 2007.
* Dark Tiger, 2009

Non-fiction Works ===
List goes here

Can you figure out what it will look like? To see how your page will display, scroll down below the big white box and click on the Show Preview button. When you finish oohing and ahhing over your masterpiece, scroll back to the work box. We need to complete our draft and save our work.

Before we save our drafts, let’s add one external link and one category so we have those for future reference.

Go to the external links area in the big white box. You’ll see:

== External links ==
* []

We will replace with the address of an external site and replace with the words we want to display on the page.

So, if I type:

* [ William G. Tapply home page],

The asterisk will display as a bullet.
The left “[“ and right “]“ brackets will tell Wikipedia this is an external link.
Because Wikipedia knows this is a link, will not display, but “William G. Tapply home page” will.
When readers click on William G. Tapply home page, the contents of will display.

Now scroll down until you can see the Edit summary field. Put your cursor in the white rectangle and type a note about what you’ve done – in my case, created the first draft.

Click the Save Page button.

Note: I hung out on this page too long, so first I received a prompt that said Wikipedia couldn’t save, but to try again. I clicked on Save a second time and was presented with one of those annoying fuzzy letter boxes. I managed to feed back the correct letters and my draft was saved.

Next time, we figure out how to find our saved work, how to add categories, how to shore up notability, and how to release to the Wikipedia world. For a sneak peak, check out

Helpful links:
New Contributors Help Page
Your First Article
Quick Reference Cheat Sheet

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