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Showing posts from December, 2012

Presidential Prose

On the final day of the year that saw the re-election of U.S. President Obama, we thought it would be nice to revisit a post inspired by his election first time round. This post ran on November 19, 2008. ~~~~~~~~ Days after the election, President-elect Barack Obama is busy assembling a cabinet, tying up odds and ends, and getting ready for the big move to Washington from Chicago . Writers also have to do an equal amount of planning to get their prose into Presidential form. Some of these tips are basic or old hat, but it never hurts to go back to the beginning and review things that might be overlooked in the excitement of hammering out a new story. Before you know it, that story will be ready to run in the publication of your choice. 1. Make your writing strong . Editors, like voters, want a story that shows character, has strong word choices and is ready to jump to the head of the pack. Bypass weak (passive) words for strong (active) words. 2. Pick the right running p

Beyond Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

This post was first published here on September 12, 2008. ~~~~~~~ 1. Mark repetitive words and phrases for rewrites or substitutions. As is a particularly overused phrase beginning. 2. Mark all lazy verbs such as were, was, had, and substitute active verbs or restructure sentence. In most cases take out just, now, very, only. There is no now in the past tense except within the dialogue or thoughts of the character. An editor once told me that tiny is the most overused word in manuscripts. 3. Once those basic mistakes are corrected, read aloud and listen for: A. Hard to read passages that make you stumble. Fix them. B. If you stop to breathe in the middle of a sentence, it’s probably too long. C. Unpleasant cadence, too many sentences with the same rhythm, too many long or too many short sentences within a scene. As a general rule, short sentences are used for fast paced action, longer are to calm down a scene. D. Sibilance (repetition of S or SH sounds) or iteration (r

Basic Proofreading Tips

This post first ran here on November 29, 2009. ~~~~~~~~~ Whatever you write – whether it is a manuscript, an article, a business letter, or advertising copy – will require some level of checking for accuracy before it is ready to be sent out. Different types of documents often have different requirements, for example a manuscript often needs editing in addition to proofreading, while an informal letter may only require a read-through for spelling and grammar errors, and advertisements may even break grammar rules for effect. Read the original article here.

Worst of Being an Editor

This post was first published here on January 5, 2009. ~~~~~~~~~ Surrounded by all the best of/worst of lists monopolizing magazines and news programs, I couldn’t resist compiling a short list of the best and worst things about being an editor. To start, here are the five “worst” things about being editor, with input from fellow Blood-Red Pencil members, including Dani Greer . Family members won't send email because they are afraid all you’ll see is their grammar mistakes Reading the same novel for the third time in the same week It’s hard to decide what you want to eat when you’re distracted by misspelled words on the menu The urge to pick up a red pencil when you spot a typo in the book you’re reading for pleasure When clients consider corrections in grammar as “optional” or as “your opinion” What about you? Share your “worst” in the comments. ------------------------------------- A born storyteller with a gift for engaging audiences, Jesaka Long has helped

10 Things Not to Do When Submitting Your Short Story

This post first ran here on November 8, 2008. ~~~~~~~~ I was asked to help compile an anthology of short stories for a South African publisher. I’d never done anything like it before so was very excited. As the process got underway, I realized quite quickly that I was about to learn a lot more than I expected I would, and I thought now that the process is over I might share some of my insights with you in a list of the 10 Things Not To Do When Submitting Your Short Story. 1. Leave all contact details off of your story. In the occasional blind contest the guidelines might instruct you to do this, but otherwise don’t. I downloaded all the stories from the gmail account we used so that I could read them off line. I was shocked when I realized some stories had no name or contact details. When it came time to get back to the writer it was a serious slog to find the information. 2. Go with the first thing in your head Our anthology had a theme. Themes are good and bad. It’s bad if

Show me your story; don't just tell it to me.

This post first ran here on September 4, 2008. ~~~~~~~~ Something I’ve learned about good, impactful writing in fiction is knowing when you are “telling” the readers your story and when you are “showing” it to them. There is a place in a good book for both methods, but the “shown” passages are always more dramatic and dynamic. They create two entirely different effects. Instead of telling you the difference, I will show you. Here is a short paragraph, an example of a story being told to the reader. Bob walked over to the door. He turned the door knob, opened the door and started to walk outside. It was an icy cold winter day so he went back inside in a hurry and put on his coat. Well, if I’m the reader I haven’t missed anything, I know what’s happening, but the passage doesn’t draw me into Bob’s world, doesn’t let me feel or sense much of anything. Now I’ll rewrite the same passage showing you the story. Floor boards creaked underfoot. Step by step, across the room. The chill

Story Logic—Spell It Out

This post first ran here on January 1, 2009. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For the last two days, I’ve been filling in the details of my outline, working out the timeline, and crafting a sizzling ending that brings it all together. I’m already 50 pages into writing Thrilled to Death , and it felt like to time to solidify some plot points. I know many writers don’t do this; they prefer to wing it and see where the story takes them. ( Stephen King , for example) I rather envy that style. But I write complex mystery/suspense novels, and the outline/timeline has become more critical with each novel. In a police procedural, so much happens in the first few days of a murder investigation that a timeline is essential. For complex, parallel plots with multiple points of view, mapping the story in detail is the best way to avoid writing yourself into a dead end or writing 48 hours worth of activity into a 10-hour time frame. I speak from experience. Then yesterday for the first time, I put in writing

Believe in Yourself

This post was first published here on April 18, 2009. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Are there any among us who haven't had self-doubts? Is there anyone who is elated to get rejection after rejection? Haven't most of us, at one time or another, questioned this career of writing? Self-doubt and even depression are normal. Some of us get down after finishing a novel. It may take a while to get started on the next one. We may have periods when we think, "Why in the world am I doing this?" And, certainly, we can have ambivalent feelings about querying. If you're querying agents or editors, it means you've accomplished something and you're ready to move onto the next step. You anticipate replies as you walk to the mail box. And you feel that knot in your stomach as you read the rejection. (And sometimes the elation of the acceptance or check.) Writers have to handle more than just rejection, though. We have critique partners who disassemble our work, readers who complai

Empty Fillers

This post first published here on December 14, 2008. ~~~~~~~~~   A novel crammed with empty fillers turns me off, especially when I’m editing it and am forced to watch characters endlessly smile, grin, and nod. Here are five sentences filled with examples of what I mean. See how many you can spot: 1. When Rachel stared at her, Lina blinked and cocked her head, then groaned. 2. Lara smirked at Betty, then shook her head and grinned. 3. Sarah swallowed hard and stretched her lips into a huge smile. 4. Sandy squared her shoulders, narrowed her eyes, and raised her eyebrows. 5. As Maureen approached, Connie nodded her head, blushed, and smiled. The author usually has a good motive. She seems to know that she needs to break the dialogue with some type of action or gesture, but she chooses a tired word or phrase and inserts it without much thought. I’m always thrilled to read passages such as the following: “Then, like a dog hearing a sound on some inaudible fre

Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent

One year ago I sat writing at my computer when Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe popped into my inbox. Under the heading “People, etc.” I saw that a new agent, Katie Shea, had moved from the Johnson Literary Agency to Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her interests included my main areas: women’s fiction, commercial-scale literary fiction, memoir, and young adult. She had listed several of her favorite titles and, of the ones I had read, I liked them all. Because I had pitched to an editor from Penguin at the 2010 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (where I was also a board member), and because she had requested my first three chapters, and liked them enough to then request the full manuscript, I was able to add a tantalizing line to my query that my full manuscript was currently under consideration at a Big Six publisher. Further, I was at the time revising the manuscript yet again per ideas gleaned from Donald Maass’s workshop at the 2011 Write Stuff conference. Within five minutes of this anno

Crowd Control

This post first published here on September 11, 2008 and we're happy to share it with you again. ~~~~~ Crowds can be a problem. Sometimes they're exciting, other times deadly. That's why professionals experienced in crowd control are hired to guard sporting events and concerts. Crowded restaurants mean long waits. Crowded sidewalks force you to slow down, which is aggravating when you're in a hurry. Crowded streets are a nightmare and can cause accidents. Likewise, when I walk into a crowded room, I find it more difficult to connect with any of the individuals. It takes me a while to single out someone and carry on a meaningful conversation. It's not much different in a manuscript. Especially in the first few chapters, a crowd gets in the way. Making the reader try to remember each character slows down the pace and makes the novel confusing and a bother to read. Readers forget who the people are and what their roles are. It's so much easier to put down

Developing Scenes

This post first ran on October 11, 2008. ~~~~~~~~~~ When I pursued my MFA degree a few years ago, my fiction professor/mentor discussed the concept of Camping and Marching. He began by stating that many writers, for fear of losing readers or of leaving readers “in the dark”, will overwrite, overstate, and overdevelop every scene so that readers are in on EVERYTHING. That's how you will definitely lose a reader! When you're in a scene, you have to ask yourself, "Is this scene vital to the understanding of the story?" This, in essence, is the camping and marching question. If a scene is important to your story and readers will be lost if you do not put it in, then you want to "camp" in that scene for a while and show the reader what he or she needs to continue with the story. If the scene is not vital, then you want to "march" right through it, giving the reader exactly what he or she needs and then moving on to the next scene of your story.

When Should I Start Editing?

This article first appeared here on October 9, 2008. We're happy to repeat it for all the NaNoWriMo participants last month. ~~~~~~~~ The answer to the question “When should I start editing” is the same answer to many writing and editing questions: It depends . Writers fall into two distinct camps when it comes to editing. Some like to edit as they write. They finish a scene or a chapter and go back and edit it before moving on to the next scene or chapter. I know a few successful and prolific writers who do a good job of editing as they write. Perhaps that has always been the way they write best or maybe they developed the skill through years of experience and the pressure of deadlines. Editing as you write requires: An organized and well-planned outline: If you don’t know exactly what plot point will occur in every chapter or the how you will structure your how-to book, you will end up editing material that you later decide to delete or change. The discipline to edit,

Sorting the Slush Pile

This post first published on October 16, 2008 and will resonate with every editor who has ever processed book manuscript submissions. ~~~~~ Reviewing manuscripts and looking for ones that seem to say “pick me, pick me” is a time-consuming, but necessary task for any publisher. In a small house such as mine, it can be overwhelming. And, boy, do we have to live with our mistakes. After reviewing countless manuscripts over the past ten-plus years, I have developed some trigger points to make this process more efficient. Not all concern editing, but many, such as these, do. 1. Before I actually read a novel manuscript, I just look at it: the first page, then, by flipping through, the next 20-30 pages. The amount of white space will give me an idea of when dialog kicks in. Readers today are accustomed to stories that engage fast. Dialogue isn’t the only way to accomplish a launch, but it’s a good indicator. Think about how movies often set up under the opening credits. 2. Next, I ta