Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writer Credibility

I went to a spirituality conference many years ago, where the guest speaker told a story to illustrate his point. It went something like this:

An artist painted a picture of Jesus Christ knocking at a door. When the painting was unveiled to the public for the first time, the audience broke into jeers and the critics ridiculed it because the artist had forgotten to paint a handle on the door. In his own defense, the artist explained that the door represented the human heart and could only be opened from the inside.

Charming story, no? I cocked an eyebrow listening along with the rest of the audience, knowing fully well who the artist in question was – William Holman Hunt - the painting, his " Light of the World". The allegory as explained by the speaker was relatively close, but he erred in saying the painting was ridiculed. In fact, it was a raging success from its first showing and was highly successful in print immediately after, as well as into the modern day. It inspired other works including poems and plays, and is to this day widely copied. (Read more about it here.)

If the speaker had relayed the story in all its accurate glory, it would not have diminished his point one little bit. However, with the skewing of the story, his credibility could (and should) be called into question.

Therein lies the importance of checking your facts and making sure they are accurate. Today, with computers and the Internet, it's so easy to run a quick check even for your blog postings. Do a quick search at http://www.snopes.com/ to make sure you're not dealing with some urban legend. Then search at Wikipedia and read any articles related. Either one will most likely warn that you're either about to make a fool of yourself, or that your information is right on target. If you're a writer of worth, and want to build respect and gain a following, a few seconds to verify your facts will make a huge difference in your public ratings.

What about you? What sources do you use to check out stories and other facts you use in your writing? Or do you? Leave us a comment.
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Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. She does occasionally find time to edit a manuscript or two for her favorite authors.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ask The Editor-- Does Age Matter?

QUESTION: Are publishers shy of taking on unknown older writers in case they don't get enough future novels out of them to make it worth their while? If so, is it better not to state your age when submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher?

Gladys, haven’t you heard? A lady never tells her age.

Seriously, age should not be a huge factor in whether an editor would consider your work, and I certainly would not disclose that in a query to a potential publisher. Of course, publishers do look for a long-term relationship with a new author, and that has more potential with a young author. But none of us knows how much time we have, so I would advise you not to be too concerned about your age and just keep writing.

QUESTION: Although size of manuscript submissions may not be stated, are agents and publishers put off by manuscripts over 100,000 words - or even 80,000? They do take longer to edit (even if edited/proofread already) and cost more to print.

The guidelines for word counts in manuscripts really vary, depending on the genre and the form of publication. Fantasy novels tend to be longer; some even over 100,000 words, but most other genres tend to be smaller books. Romances, mysteries, westerns, and horror novels for print are usually between a range of 65,000 words and 80,000, with only a few going up to 100,000. In electronic publishing word counts are much more flexible. There are categories for short stories – 5,000 to 10,000 words – novellas – up to 30,000 words – and novels up to 70,000 or 80,000 words. Here again there will be some books that go longer, but these are just the averages.

Most publishers post their guidelines on their Web sites, and you can easily determine what length of manuscript they would consider.

Thank you for sending us your questions, Gladys, and I hope you have many more years of writing.

Gladys Hobson
http://www.myspace.com/gladyswrites
http://www.magpiesnestpublishing.co.uk

When Angels Lie by Gladys Hobson
ISBN : 978-1-907108-02-0
Publisher : Mythica Publishing Ltd

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Titles

I've lately noticed that authors have started typing their book titles in capital letters on many social forums. I suppose this trend began on sites that didn't allow for formatting. Properly, book titles should be typed in italics like this: My Best Book

Italics are also used for the titles of:

Plays
Movies
TV shows
Newspapers
Magazines
Ships
Spacecraft

Another curious and recent practice comes from news services which have decided to blare their headlines in all caps. This, too, is incorrect. Quotation marks are correctly used to enclose headlines. Quotations are also used for other shorter works like the titles of:

Short stories
Poems
Songs
Chapters
Articles

So there you have the rules as they stand today, subject to public abuse and change, of course. Do any items on either list surprise you?

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Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. Occasionally, she may edit.


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Monday, April 27, 2009

Line Editing -- Part Two

As promised, here is the second installment of line editing.

As you go through your manuscript to make the prose sparkle, here are some more things to look for:

Vague words – something, anything, unspecific nouns.

EXAMPLE: A noise from the direction of the basement scared her.

BETTER: Hearing the faint scraping of metal against concrete, Becky backed away from the basement door.

Weak verbs – was, is, are, to be, ‘ing’ words, starts to, begins to, etc.

WEAK: Sam is not a very open person.

STRONG: Sam protects his feelings like an emotional miser.

Any phrase or word that is not needed.

EXAMPLE: laughed (to herself), shrugged (his shoulders), nodded (his head)

Be especially conscious of reflexive pronouns: herself, himself, themselves. They are often not needed and a sign of weak writing.

Something that is commonly used is having a character "find" himself or herself. Perhaps that is not grammatically incorrect, but I'm not sure it reflects the best we can do with the craft of writing. If you think about what the word means – locate, see, discover – it is clear that it is poor usage to have characters ‘finding’ themselves.

Check for "ly" words. A well-placed adverb can add to a story, but if your prose is filled with them, it diminishes the writing. And often replacing the adverb with something specific makes the writing more vivid.

EXAMPLE: He crossed the room quietly.

BETTER: He crossed the room, footsteps landing like feathers on the tile.

I'm sure there are other things that people find in their work to change for the better. If you have some examples, please share them in the comments.
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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Line Editing :One

Writing can be so much fun. We have the thrill of creating something out of nothing, and when our muse is friendly the words just flow.

After that, comes the tedium of editing and line editing. In the first edit, we look for major writing issues: characterization, plot, pacing, and structure. In line editing we focus more on details of the prose.

Here are some things to look for:

Repetition of words - in a scene with a car, how many times did you use the word car? Circle the word every time you see it, then go back and change some, take others out.

Circle the character's name. Can you substitute a pronoun for some of them, a noun for others?

Circle the word "said" - can the dialogue stand without it? Can a character action take the place of an attributive? "Sit down," Mary said, motioning to a chair. "Sit down." Mary motioned to a chair.

Clauses used in the wrong place – WRONG: He saw a vase of flowers on the counter that was right in the center. RIGHT: He saw a vase of flowers in the center of the counter.

Subject/verb agreement - words between a subject and verb do not change the number of the verb. EXAMPLE: The beauty of the garden - the roses, irises, petunias- is a sight to behold.

Action/motivation not in the right places. WRONG: He jumped, startled by a loud bang on the door. RIGHT: Startled by a loud bang on the door, he jumped.

Qualifiers - rather, very, little, almost, pretty. EXAMPLE: At the sound of the door opening, she almost lost it. BETTER: Hearing the creak of the opening door, she forced herself not to whirl in panic.

Weak words - as, while, since, somewhat. WEAK: As Fran raised the cup, she... BETTER: Fran raised the cup and...

Next week we’ll talk about more things to look for in line editing. Keep in mind that this is not proof reading. That’s another process, and one that is my least favorite thing to do. In the meantime, have fun going through your manuscript and line editing.

Wait. Did I really say that? That’s like saying have fun cleaning the cabinets.

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.



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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spelling test answers

Here are the correct spellings for yesterday's quiz words:

Two words in red
Hyphenated in green

task force
oversized
time frame
online
earpiece
sleazebag
mix-up
callback
rear view
book cover
spell-check
download
snowdrift
sock yarn

I use two online sources to check spellings and etymology of words: Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster. In hand, Webster's Unabridged and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. To make the game more interesting and challenging, you'll often notice different answers from various sources, so I like to find 2-3 dictionaries with the same results.

What are your favorite dictionaries? On your desk? Online? What about the dictionary in your word processing program? Do you tweak that to suit your writing? Leave us a comment. Can a writer ever have enough dictionaries?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. Occasionally, she may edit.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is a test, just a test

One of my habits while reading or editing manuscripts is to make a list of compound words to check later, just to make sure the spellings are correct. One word, or two? Or should it be hyphenated? I do this even if the word "looks" correct to me.

Here is a recent list from a beta-read I just finished for a pal. Can you tell which should be two words and not one? Take a guess and leave a comment - answers will be posted tomorrow!

taskforce
oversized
timeframe
online
earpiece
sleazebag
mixup
callback
rearview
bookcover
spellcheck
download
snowdrift
sockyarn
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. Occasionally, she may edit.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Conflict

Every story needs conflict, not just mysteries or thrillers. Romances need conflict, so do Sci-Fi novels, even Humor pieces and Mainstream. Not all of it, in any genre, is physical. Conflict can be psychological, the tug and pull of opposing ideologies, man versus nature, man versus woman, man versus animal, man ... man is contrary, isn't he?

As you write, and especially as you re-write, you need to be aware of the conflict in your story. Rarely do authors have to lessen the conflict. Usually, the problem is revving it up.

As you work on your story, here are some things to keep in mind:

As much as possible, keep the action on stage. As readers, we don't want to be told what happened. We want to see it occur. Whether that conflict is a physical fight, an argument, a debate, sexual tension, or whatever, let us live it along with the characters. Maybe it's hard for you to write about the subject or maybe it's difficult to get the dialogue right ... all the more reason for you to put it on stage.

As the story progresses, the problems facing the characters, especially the protagonist, should get tougher and tougher to solve. The tension should wind tighter. The conflict should become more important. Obviously, some problems will be resolved along the way, but don't be too quick to get your protagonist out of trouble. Just when he or she gets out of one situation, put them in another.

To do this, look at each scene and ask yourself, what could go wrong here? What is the worst thing that could happen? What would this character NOT want to happen? Then do it. Put your character in an even worse situation. Give him a conflict that he didn't expect. And when he maneuvers his way out of it, do it again, each time upping the stakes.

Go through your novel. Make sure every scene has conflict. One way to manage this is to look at each character as an individual, with his or her own story. No matter what the situation, no two people want the same thing. Whether the conflict is overt or hidden, it's there. Conflict doesn’t mean a fight or argument. Each character has an agenda, a backstory that affects the way they talk and think and react.

Your novel will also contain more conflict than just what is going on between the protagonist and antagonist. Layer the conflict. Doing that will make your secondary characters more interesting. It will enrich your story, give it depth.

Make your story more of a "big" book than just a one-dimensional plot. Build up, spread out, intensify the conflict. Just because your book is Mainstream, don't think it doesn't need or have conflict. Life would be pretty dull without conflict. And life is what you're writing about.
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Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that has gone out to subscribers around the globe for ten years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Dramatic Punch Lines

It’s amazing what a good editor can do to improve a manuscript, and every writer can benefit from an objective eye and a discerning red pencil.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few changes that can make a good book better, and I discovered how valuable that can be when an editor, Paula Stallings-Yost, offered to look at the first few chapters of One Small Victory before I submitted it to a publisher. Paula and I are good friends, and we have periodically done some editing for each other, and that input from fresh eyes has been much appreciated.

One of the things Paula pointed out to me was the importance of using a dramatic punch line. I knew about comedic punch lines and how the timing of delivery can make or break a joke, but I had never thought about dramatic punch lines until Paula pointed it out in a passage of my first chapter.

Here is what I had originally written:

Sometime soon she'd have to clean out the closet. Isn't that what usually happens? Tears burned her eyes and she turned abruptly away. She didn't know. No one had ever told her. And there wasn't even a book to answer the myriad of questions swimming in her mind. There were books on choosing a college. Books on how to plan a wedding or how to help your child find a job. But no one had ever written one on what to do when your son was dead.

That was okay writing, but Paula suggested taking the reference to the book out of the third paragraph and saving it for the punch-line:

Sometime soon she’d have to clean out the closet. Isn’t that what usually happens? Tears burned her eyes and she turned away. She didn’t know what was supposed to happen. No one had ever told her. And a multitude of questions swam through her mind like restless minnows in a pond. There were books on choosing a college. Books on how to plan a wedding or how to help your child find a job. But no one had ever written one on what to do when your son dies.

See how much more power that passage has with the rewrite?

I am so grateful to Paula for her expertise, and thankful that I kept an open mind and listened to her instead of putting my defenses up because she dared to mess with my style.

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.



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Friday, April 17, 2009

Sense of Place: Setting as Character

Setting is as important to your writing as plot, character and emotion—it is a part of all those things. The world is sensory—one of green grass and white houses…purring kittens and thundering trucks…Chanel #5 and curling wood smoke…fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon…silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash.

Though some writers provide only the barest details about the setting of their stories or novels, most writers have a tendency to describe it too much in depth. We’ve all skimmed over long paragraphs of detailed description that doesn’t really mean much to us, right?

As a reader, I like to have enough details about the setting to know where the characters are, in what time period the story takes place, and what the place looks like. If it takes place in a barber shop, I'd like to know that. But unless the barber shop has some unusual decorations or is in an unusual location, I really don't need the author to describe it. We’ve all seen barber shops, and they basically look the same.

Reader Involvement. This is one of the key secrets to making setting a character: physical, sensory descriptions of the story world allow the reader to experience those surroundings through his own imagination, as if he were “really there,” seeing, hearing, breathing, tasting and feeling. Use the five senses: Sight, Smell, Sounds, Taste & Touch.

Context has an impact on setting. A beautiful sunny day by itself will seem unordinary; but after leaving a haunted house, a beautiful day will seem like paradise and a character will revel in it. To give a setting the greatest impact, consider preceding or following it with one that starkly contrasts it. Character goes from light into blackness; from a small prison cell to an opulent mansion; from shark-infested waters to the dry safety of a boat.

In Ray Bradbury’s story “The Long Rain,” a group of men are stranded on a planet where it rains incessantly. There is no shelter, and the rain drives the men mad as they desperately search for a “solarium,” a building that would provide shelter. At the end of the story, the sole survivor finds it. After 30 pages of rain pounding on his head, he enters a building, which is quiet, dry, warm and bright. The feeling of satisfaction this setting brings—for the character and the reader—is exquisite. This is because of its context in the work, because of the miserable setting that preceded it.

Character is significantly linked to setting. Place can reveal personality and mood. Another KEY: Show the setting from your character's point-of-view. Everything you write should be colored by your point-of-view character's mood and feelings. For instance, a character who is having a bad day probably wouldn't notice the flower starting to bloom on the plant beside her desk. But she probably would notice the smudge on the computer screen, the annoying smudge that always seems to be where she needs to look.

Story unity: If your story line is complex with multiple subplots, and you have a wide variety of characters, setting can provide a consistent backdrop for what may seem to be unrelated story developments. Example: A clock tower on Main Street—characters can meet under the old clock; someone could hear it striking the hour as time runs out in a tense situation; description of the tower dark against the rainy sky can set a mood; traffic could be backed up from some point, all the way to the clock tower corner.

Suspense or plot can be advanced by setting. In the Bradbury example, the incessant rain heightens the suspense by threatening the men’s very survival & actually acts as a character in killing most of them.

Emotion: The obvious or cliché is the classic murder mystery set in an old mansion on a stormy night or the dark, gloomy setting of the English moors in Gothic romance.


Excerpt from The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“… I woke up ... I sat up. I was trembling all over and drenched in sweat. Long shadows, nightmare light. I could see some kids playing outside in the snow, silhouetted in black against the dreadful, salmon-colored sky. Their shouts and laughter had, at that distance, an insane quality.”


From Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer:

“The moon was high now, and smaller, and she felt her grief shrinking with it. Or not shrinking, never really changing, but ceding some of its dominance over the landscape, exactly like the moon. She wondered why that was, what trick of physics made the moon appear huge when it first came up, but then return to normal size after it disentangled itself from the tree branches.”

Theme: Setting can become a central symbol or metaphor. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the river setting becomes more than a river, it is the symbol for Huck’s journey into manhood.

Sometimes a setting can be so overwhelmingly important in development of the plot and the characters’ lives that it seems to take on a life of its own. In stories of the sea, the sea often becomes the central antagonist. In my books, the weather and climate plays a big part in the plot, affecting the characters’ lives and emotions.

Remember: Whenever you stop to describe something in fiction, the progress of the story stops. Readers want movement, so every pause to describe or present a lot of factual background can weaken or kill the reader’s interest. The key is to sprinkle sensory descriptions throughout the story, rather than “dumping” them in great gobs.

Think about:

How do you want the reader to feel while experiencing the story?

What is the general mood you hope to convey from the setting?

How do your character’s emotions color what he sees?

What setting details impact both the character’s feelings & general mood of story?

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A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. 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, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Waiting for the Train

Morgan Mandel

As I join the band of commuters waiting for the commuter train to pull into the station, my senses go into full alert. I hear a roar from overhead and glance up to see a silver plane fly over the clear blue sky. An aroma of what might be donuts baking wafts from the grocery store nearby. Two commuters talk to each other. I feel the weight of my computer case on my right shoulder and my purse on my left.

As the train draws closer, the brakes hiss. I wrinkle my nose at the not-so-pleasant odor of what smells like burning rubber.

On the train, I hear the motor running, the thumping of wheels over tracks, newspapers rattling, voices in conversation. I look out the window to see cars on the expressway. Today they're moving briskly, but that's not always the case. Sometimes they crawl or even stop. I see a building which looks like a cathedral, some condos with signs on the side advertising lofts available, also signs on the expressway indicating exits and street names.

An automatic message comes on the speaker announcing the next stop will be Ogilvie Transportation Centre. I'm getting off soon.

Now it's your turn. Take a moment to be observant. Use your senses. What do notice? Or, tell us about another time when all your senses became engaged. If you've done the same thing in one of your books, please describe.
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Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://blogtalkradio.com/booksandblogs

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Show vs. Tell

Show me, don't tell me. Replace narrative with action. Don't rattle on about your character's traits. Put you character in a situation where you can show those traits.

If you've been writing for more than fifteen seconds, you've heard some version of the "show, don't tell" mantra. The first time the phrase was hurled at me, I was sitting in a freshman year English class. The instructor held up my essay as a shining example of "acceptable" writing, then read the paragraph in which I'd used the forbidden word "felt."

The instructor was not pleased. She said we obviously didn't hear her previous three lectures. We must be deaf. So she'd speak up. She proceeded to shout. "Don't tell me your character is happy or sad. Show me! Don't tell me your hero is brave or cowardly. Show me!" The instructor continued with her list of offenses while hurling our papers at us and demanding we try again.

I thought she was nuts. How do you show feelings? In the mood she was in, I wasn't about to ask in public, so I stayed after class and asked in private. I needn't have bothered. She answered in a voice loud enough for everyone on the quad to hear. She declared me an unimaginative idiot. Of course you can show feelings. Couldn't I tell how people felt by simply observing them? When she stopped her tirade long enough to take a breath, I whispered a quick thank you and ran, red-faced, from the classroom.

That instructor didn't have great people skills, but I never forgot the lesson.

What brought on this lovely memory? Chapter one of Self-Editing for for Fiction Writers is called "Show and Tell." The chapter thoroughly covers the topic with information and examples, but I wanted to gather everything I had on the topic before attacking the exercises at the end of the chapter.

I'm an excellent procrastinator!

I searched in vain for my college notes. (Yes, I did keep them. I just don't know where I stored them on my last move.) I found several other texts that address the topic, but without examples, and I found previous articles here at The Blood-Red Pencil with good examples - including:

Little Things Mean A Lot by Morgan Mandel – demonstrates how to show character traits

Feelings… by Maryann Miller - provides examples on how to show feelings

Show me your story; don’t just tell it to me by Marvin Wilson (the master of short titles) provides a fine example of the difference between showing and telling.

Even great procrastinators need to eventually perform some useful task. So after reviewing the handy checklist at the end of chapter one, "Show and Tell", I went to work on my latest mystery novel. Here's an abbreviated version of the checklist:
  • Are there long passages where nothing happens in real time?

  • Do you have too much narrative summary?

  • Are you missing narrative summary between scenes to give the reader a break?

  • Are you describing your characters feelings?

For my story, I had to introduce two new characters, establish one as a homophobic banker and the other as a bouncer (in a gay bar) who isn't fond of women. I also needed to educate the reader on some weapons my protagonist will use in the near future. How would you accomplish this? I'll post my solution in the comments. I hope you'll give it a shot as well.
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Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

MarkandCharlottePhillips.com

News, Views and Reviews Blog

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cat In the Window

Morgan Mandel
When you live in a neighborhood for a while, you learn the habits of your neighbors, also of their pets. At the house kitty-corner from us, the woman's dog would always sit on the couch by the window and bark ferociously when I and my dog, Rascal, walked pass.

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For the past few days, something strange has occurred. Instead of the dog going crazy and barking, a cat sits on the edge of the couch and stares quietly at us. The dog is nowhere in sight.

This leads me to wonder. Where's the dog? All sorts of possibilities present themselves. Perhaps the woman isn't living there any more and someone else is staying at her house. Maybe she is there, but someone with a cat is staying with her. This cat could be so dominant the dog doesn't want to be near it. Or, maybe something happened to the dog and the woman replaced it with a cat. Or, maybe she always had a cat and I never noticed it before. Or, the dog could be sick.

When you write a novel, be sure to include everyday habits of characters, pets, even area weather. Then, to show something's not right, make them behave differently. If you lay your groundwork right, your readers will pick up on the nuances. They'll wonder what's going on and keep reading to find out.

What are some of the everyday habits of your neighbors? Maybe some are diligent about mowing their lawns or shoveling snow. Would you wonder if all of a sudden they turned sloppy? Or, perhaps a neighbor's lights turn on at certain times, then suddenly don't.

Or, have you already incorporated a neighbor's habits in one of your books? Please share with us.
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Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com/
http://blogtalkradio.com/booksandblogs

Monday, April 13, 2009

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

When I joined the fine editors here at The Blood-Red Pencil, Dani asked me to review editing books. Since then, I've been wading through different books, looking for one I could both recommend and use for my own editing. After many months of disappointing starts, I found one: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Renni Browne and Dave King
Quill Publishing
copyright 1993
ISBN: 0-06-272046-5
paperback
non-fiction

This book has everything I've been looking for: descriptions and examples of non-grammar editing, followed by suggested writing/editing exercises (with sample results). Who could ask for more?

The short introduction describes the changes in the publishing industry and the resulting burden placed on writers to present edited manuscripts to agents and publishers. The authors do not believe self-editing can replace professional editing. In fact, the authors make a point of thanking their editors and suggest that authors are too close to their own work to fully polish it and need the support of experienced editors.

So why self-edit? From my own experiences and conversations with editors and publishers, I can offer two reasons.

1) If your manuscript looks like a first draft, or the work of an amateur, it will be rejected. Agents and publishers do not have time to work with unpolished manuscripts.

2) If you intend to submit your work to a professional editor who charges a fee, you may find that submitting sloppy work will result in either rejection (if the editor feels like her fee will not cover the work needed to get your manuscript up to speed) or an invitation to pay a higher fee to cover the additional work.

In other words, learning about editing, and using that information to improve your writing, increases your chances of success.

Another reason for polishing your work to the best of your ability before submitting for publication is because there is a chance that no other editing efforts will be expended on your work. Do you really want an unedited work going to print with your name on the cover?

I recommend reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and using the information to perfect your manuscript.

As I worked through each chapter, I looked for other sources of information on the same topic and worked out a personal editing plan. In the coming weeks, I'll discuss, here at The Blood-Red Pencil, some of what I learned.

----------------------------------------
Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

MarkandCharlottePhillips.com

News, Views and Reviews Blog


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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Meet The Editor

A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. 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, and is working on the next books in her Dare to Dream series.

1. When did you first notice you were hung up on typos?

Probably when I took my first typing class. LOL. Seriously, I had the world’s best copyeditor when I worked at my newspaper job. He gave me the foundation for careful editing.


2. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor?

Know the rules. Study the publications and know which manual of style to use for newspapers, magazine or fiction.


3. What's the best advice you have ever received from a writer?

To give myself permission to set aside the “true” story and write an engaging, compelling story.

4. What's the best advice you've given a writer?

Number One: READ. Learn your craft, practice it, and persevere.

5. In your opinion, what makes an editor great?

Not only spotting typos, punctuation and grammatical problems, but also being able to see “the big picture,” how the story flows, how the action and conflict progresses, how the character develops.


6. What's the one misperception about editors you want to clear up?

That we can guarantee our clients will get published.


7. Why should a writer choose to work with you?

I’m very conscientious, I’m thorough, I’m not expensive, and I give 110 percent.

8. What genres do you focus on? Why?

Mostly fiction, because that’s what I enjoy writing right now. But I also have journalism degree and background so I do non-fiction as well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Where Is Your Creative Effort?

Recently, I bought acclaimed author and teacher Robert McKee's book STORY. If you don't know about it or don't own a copy, get it QUICK here: [link]. Every person who is serious about writing should own it. Though McKee is focused on screenwriting, the book holds truths for ALL forms of writing.

Something I read a few nights ago made me think about the Writers Boot Camp course I offer online.

McKee states, “Of the total creative effort represented in a finished work, 75 percent or more of a writer’s labor goes into designing a story. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences? Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into story is our overwhelming creative task.

“Designing story tests the maturity and insight of the writer, his knowledge of society, nature, and the human heart. Story demands both vivid imagination and powerful analytic thought.”

In my Writers Boot Camp, I instruct and coach writers on the questions mentioned by McKee because like McKee, I believe that for a story to live and breathe and connect with readers it has to be designed in a way that all storytelling engines run perfectly together.

Many new writers spin stories that lack full development of these vital questions. We read way too much description of a character's appearance. We read way too much backstory. We read way too much thoughts and feelings that are not integral to the story's purpose. We read flowery prose that is meant to heighten our reading experience but is too "fluffy" to hold any real literary weight. We read way too much telling and not nearly enough showing. We read way too much "real life" that is not examined to show us a "real" life.

To grow as a writer, to develop your storytelling abilities, you need to study and put forth most of your creative effort in examining the vital components of a story: character, desire, motivation, conflict, obstacles, resolution, etc. By taking the time to understand what these components are and how to develop them for your story, you will be surprised at how deep, how complex, and how real your book will feel to you...and to your reader.


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Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and 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 and online programs at CLG Entertainment.




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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who? That which!

No, this is not going to be a post about dialogue in soap operas, so if that’s what you were looking for you better move along. This is a post about when to use who, that, and which.

According to The Macmillan Good English Handbook, we use who with people.

An example: Creek, who married Fern’s ex-husband and then poisoned him, cried into her third glass of Merlot and wondered if she was becoming an alcoholic.

We use which, on the other hand, for things.

An example: The poison, which Creek used to kill Cliff, was not found during the autopsy, but Detective Smith still had his suspicions.

Okay that’s the easy part. So what about which and that? Those are the tricky ones right? Grammar Girl makes it very simple. If the phrase must remain in the sentence or the sentence will no longer mean the same thing, you must use that. (This is a restrictive clause, if you must. I try to avoid grammatical terms. They give me a rash)

If the phrase can be taken out of the sentence and the sentence still keeps its meaning then you should use which. (A non-restrictive clause for all you grammar devotees who insist on having your way)

Examples: Cliff’s death, which caused havoc in the fashion industry, made Fern a wealthy woman thanks to a legal technicality he had included in his will

Cliff’s will that he wrote only days before his death was the one with the critical change that left Creek destitute.

In the first example, if you remove –which caused havoc in the fashion industry- the sentence will not lose its meaning because the sentence is really about Fern getting rich thanks to Creek’s handiwork.

Whereas in the second example, removing- that he wrote only days before his death - would change the meaning of the sentence completely and wouldn’t let us in on the fact that Cliff had a feeling his days might be numbered and that his darling Creek might be the one numbering them.

Another small thing about that- watch it! Thats are very tricky and, frankly, pushy. They have a tendency to push their way into sentences when there is no job for them there at all.

For example:
That poison on the shelf was the poison that Creek used to kill Cliff.

The second that is just sitting there serving no purpose except to needlessly increase the word count. Get rid of it. Remove all thats with no job. Unemployed thats must go. I’m sorry; that’s the way it is.
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Lauri Kubuitsile is an award-winning writer living in Botswana. She blogs about the writing life as well as many other things at Thoughts from Botswana.


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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ask The Editor: Pitches

What is considered a great pitch?

Recently I took part in the Amazon Breakthrough competition, but unfortunately was not selected to go through to the second round. The initial selection was based on the pitch submitted. Since my story didn't go through to the second round, I'm fairly sure there is something wrong with my pitch. I've attached the pitch for your convenience and I was wondering if you could tell me where I went wrong. This might help me with future submission to literary agents.

Thank you,
Conny Manero
Author of:
Waiting for Silverbird
Kitten Diaries

http://www.helium.%20com/users/380634/show_%20articles

http://connymanero.%20blogspot.%20com/

Dear Connie, while your story sounds interesting, the material you submitted as a pitch reads more like the back cover promo blurb. There is a difference and for many of us getting them right is a bigger challenge than writing the book.

You wrote: Voice of An Angel will touch the hearts and reach the souls of women readers everywhere. The story of young Jessie Green, who struggles to create a better life for herself, will resonate with readers of all ages.

Working as a press operator in a small Laundromat, she becomes friends with another high school drop-out, Betty McGill. As both of their lives take a turn for the better, and they move up in the world, you will cheer them on as they face each new challenge.


The pitch should tell what the story is about, not how great the story is and how readers are going to love it, and it is often started with a one or two sentence “logline”.

For example: Embroiled in a serial murder case, Dallas homicide detectives Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson must come to terms with public and personal racial unrest as they track a serial killer who has his own race card to play.

That is the logline for my novel, Open Season and it is followed by a brief synopsis that tells how the detectives deal with the racial unrest, what caused it, and introduces the mystery.

So, to turn your promo blurb into a pitch, you would need to introduce Jessie and her situation, then be specific about what she faces from there. How does her life and her new friend’s life change for the better and what challenges do they face.

I hope this helps, and good luck with the rewrite of the pitch. I’m sure a root canal has more appeal right now.

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shhhh! I’m doing research!

I was recently at a brainstorming meeting for a new television drama series my writing partner and I will be starting. Throughout the meeting, she and I and another woman who is part of the production team on this project, but is also a scriptwriter, kept referring to TV shows we watched, saying things like, “Did you see that on The Lab?” or “Something like the episode of Rhythm City the other night”. After some time one of the men at the meeting asked, “Gosh when do you have time to watch TV? I never have time to watch TV.” My writing partner and I looked at each other and said, “It’s research!”

I’ve never met a good novelist who wasn’t a lover of novels or a film director who didn’t watch movies. Why should television scriptwriters be any different? If you want to understand television you must watch TV. The key is to watch it from a learning angle.

Here are some pointers:

1. Keep notes about what works and what doesn’t.

If it’s a comedy, where did you laugh, where did the joke fall flat? If it is a soapie, what story lines are you most interested in seeing resolved? Why? Which characters interest you most? Do they use any interesting scene linkages?

2. Watch what works and what doesn’t work

Who won the Emmy for best drama series? That’s what you should be watching. You can also learn from bad TV. Why is is so terrible? How could you improve it?

3. Watch across genres

Make sure you watch all types of television shows so that you begin to understand the convention in different genres. Also watch 30 minute shows and hour long shows.

4. Pay attention to breaks and endings

Writers often put hooks at commercial breaks. Note these down. In continuing series and soap operas the hooks will be placed at the end of the show and will be even more obvious.

The best way to learn about writing television scripts is to watch television. So shift over and give me the popcorn!
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Lauri Kubuitsile is an award-winning writer living in Botswana. She blogs about the writing life as well as many other things at Thoughts from Botswana.



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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Insecurity

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.”

“Harry?”

“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.”

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas. And, no, her middle name is not Glenda.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Meet the Editor: Jesaka Long


A full-time freelance editor-writer and owner of a.k.a writer in Denver, Jesaka Long works her word magic for small publishing houses and authors, especially non-fiction writers and memoirists.

Let’s see how Jesaka answers the same questions she’s used for everyone in the “Meet the Editor” series. Afterward, you can ask some of your own in the Comments section.


When did you first notice you were hung-up on typos?
My first love was a typewriter – I loved it so much that I would do anything to type. My grandfather even let me type up his reports for work. It was when I started working for my high school newspaper that I realized that I had a thing for typos. I loved scrutinizing the waxed layouts, marking the last of the errors with a blue pencil that wouldn’t show up at the printer.

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor?
Practice! I had the privilege of mentoring a few aspiring editors. It was so much fun to help them learn things like the in-house style and AP Style, then give them assignments. From there, it wasn’t long before the new editors were cursing me – telling me I’d ruined reading and even eating at restaurants for them. They were spotting typos and grammar mistakes everywhere. Of course, they always complained while wearing big grins.

What’s the best advice you have ever received from a writer?
To refrain from editing yourself, at least in the first draft. Many of the most productive writers I know are really good about just writing – getting the words on paper and then revising.

What’s the best advice you’ve given a writer?
Trust your editor. Since I work with mostly nonfiction writers, I really stress that writers should just get it all on paper. When a writer knows what he/she wants to say, but is struggling with how best to say it, that’s when a good editor can make a huge difference.

In your opinion, what makes an editor great?
Connecting with an author’s voice – and helping to preserve it or develop it or, sometimes, both. To achieve that, an editor must really listen and know when to prompt a writer versus spelling it out. (Of course, the final proofread is not the best time for that!)

What’s the one misperception about editors you want to clear up?
That editors are people who always have to be right. Now, there are times when there is a simple right/wrong situation with grammar. I’ve been in situations where I strongly recommended a revision, certain that it would improve an article, essay or chapter. But when the writer stated her case for why it didn’t work, I knew she was right and I was flexible.

Why should a writer choose to work with you?
I’ve written and edited with many people across a variety of fields and subjects. The one thing that almost every client says about me is that I have a talent for helping writers find their voices – and truly articulate what they want to say to the world. I also help writers craft all types of content as well, including their bios and website copy.

What genres do you focus on? Why?
Both of my grandfathers were storytellers – one documented his stories while the other focused on his audience sitting at the kitchen table. I love learning about people’s lives, so I am a huge fan of creative nonfiction and memoirs. It’s storytelling. I also like working with nonfiction because I love to learn and am curious about a wide range of topics, although I’m not looking for fact-checking work. I love the words.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

RWA, MWA, LIM, EPIC, NY - What These Initials Mean To Me

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I seriously wrote fiction after a presentation by Chicago-North RWA at our local library in which the members told everyone how they got their start. Listening to them made me realize that authors are real people. If I tried hard enough, maybe I could be like them and get published.

I joined the chapter, made some wonderful friends, and learned a lot about writing from critiques and conversations. I served as secretary, manuscript chairperson, president, then chapter advisor.

Chicago-North RWA is one big reason I finally got my first publishing contract in 2006. So, Romance Writers of America, RWA, does mean a lot to me - yet, again, it's a source of disappointment. Not my local chapter, but the national organization which goes out of its way to protect NY publishers and snubs many small presses who valiantly struggle to make a decent livelihood and support their authors.

MWA - When I first started writing, the first conference I attended was Of Dark and Stormy Night held by MWA, Mystery Writers of America. There I learned that mystery authors were a different breed than romance authors, yet just as viable. Then I went to LIM, Love Is Murder, another great mystery conference, where I met Janice Strand, my Senior Editor at Hard Shell Word Factory. That meeting resulted in a contract for Two Wrongs and later for Girl of My Dreams .

MWMWA, the Midwest Chapter of MWA is very dynamic, with wonderful and sharing members. I'm glad to serve as Library Liaison for them, gathering up photos and info into a bulletin and e-mailing it quarterly to the libraries. Still, I'm disappointed in the national MWA organization, which leans toward elitism instead of accepting all published authors as equal.

EPIC - Electronically Published Internet Connection - I can't say enough good things about this organization which recognizes all authors published electronically. No discrimination there, just acceptance into the fold.

NY - New York - What can I say. On the one hand, I'd love to get a book published with a NY publisher, get a great advance and better distribution. On the other hand, I like being with an independent publisher and getting more say in my finished product.

One thing I've noticed. If you're also an author, you may have noticed this as well. Readers don't ask what publishing house you're with. They just want to know how to get your books. So, make it as easy as possible for them to find out. One way is by including buy links when you mention your books, as I did above.

What other ways do you use to get your books known? What's your take on writing organizations? Please share.

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Morgan Mandel
http://www.morganmandel.com/
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com/

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