This post by Patricia Stoltey appeared on September 11, 2009. Why revisit it? Excessive wordiness draws a distinct line between ordinary writing and extraordinary writing. Of course, other factors contribute to taking a manuscript from mundane to magnificent, but this is so essential that it bears repeating. (Original post has been edited/condensed to respect time constraints this time of year.)
We often mention overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Why? We don't need to tell readers every detail. A minor male character, for example, may be described as 60ish with long black hair, bronze skin, and a leathery, weathered face. Or you can say he's an Arapahoe elder. The reader will form a similar mental picture.
Anything from a palace tower room to a battle scene may require description, but pay close attention to what is important. Unnecessary repetition—telling the reader the same thing in different ways—doesn’t move the story forward.
Adverbs, even more than adjectives, are candidates for elimination. Consider this sentence: “He silently crept across the room in his stocking feet.” “Silently” can be eliminated. “Crept” implies secrecy and quiet.
A quick word search may not locate all the adverbs and adjectives, so this self-editing step should be combined with others in your sentence-by-sentence read. Look for redundancies such as emerald green eyes, or huge, cavernous room. Watch for quantifiers or indicators of size— large, small, big, tall, short, huge, some, many, most—often too general to create a clear picture.
When used with discretion, adverbs and adjectives enhance good writing. Pertinent details may be clues in mysteries or thrillers. A character's appearance might explain his odd behavior. Descriptive words can create mood, but be precise. Using two or three is overkill when one will do the job.
The power of words lies in their effective use, not in their proliferation on the page. Thank you, Patricia!
Linda Lane chose this post by Patricia Stoltey because she encounters so much overuse of adjectives and adverbs in her editing work. She also writes novels and coaches writers. You may visit Linda at http://www.denvereditor.com/.
The day after Christmas was usually one of the best and one of the worst days of the year for our family. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'm not sure it does to me either. But let me try to explain. It was the best because:
There were now 364 more shopping days until Christmas.
It was the one day of the year when perhaps the kids were just as tired as we were, and they’d sleep off and on all day.
All the build up for the Big Day was finally over, and the noise level in the house had dropped about 20 decibels.
I didn’t have to cook since we had all those leftovers from Christmas dinner. (If we didn't have a big Christmas dinner, I was in trouble on that score.)
The kids would decide they liked each other after all, and we could go the whole day without a fight – maybe.
The kids would invite me to color with them, or play a game, and we could share some really good times together - as long as they let me win now and then.
But every coin has its flip side, and the other side of this day was:
After the glitter and tinsel of Christmas, after the giving and receiving, the celebrating, singing and eating, we could all sit back, unbutton the waistband of our pants and try to decide who would clean up the mess.
Who would get to spend the next four days sorting through the thousand-and-one little pieces of games, toys, and puzzles that in less than one day managed to get tossed together from one end of the house to another?
On Christmas day, nobody seemed to care, but the day after nobody was being nice anymore, and the house was filled with moaning and wailing and the sounds of blood-letting and bones breaking ...
"Find that Stratego piece or I'll break your arm off and beat you over the head with it!"
"I never touched your Stratego game! Mommeee!!"
I guess four days out of my life wasn't too much to ask.
Who would dig through the.22 bags of trash to find the instructions for assembling the model airplane, because, for once in his life, a kid cleaned up after himself and threw them away with the wrapping paper?
(Since that same kid would think nothing of digging through the neighbors' trash to see if they threw away anything he could put to good use, maybe I could pawn that job off on him. )
Who would accept the challenge of figuring out what to do with all the unidentifiable things we received as gifts, such as the strange looking thing from Aunt Mildred that could either be a doily or a dishrag.
The gadget from Uncle Willie that favors a Chinese puzzle, but could actually be his eccentric approach to the can opener.
The game that takes an IQ of at least 300 just to open the box.
The funny little knitted things from Aunt Lucy that are either thumb-less mittens or toe warmers.
I could have called them all personally to thank them for the gifts, and hope that somewhere in the conversation they will mention what they are. But that would have taken some of the fun out of lazy summer afternoons when we’d drag this stuff out again and play a new game called “What on Earth is It?”
Excerpted from Maryann Miller's humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and A Paycheck, which is still looking for a home.
Critique groups often find it helpful to put guidelines and procedures for submissions and critiques in writing. These are the general rules my groups follow:
1. Set a page limit for submissions. Depending on the group, ten to fifteen double-spaced pages may be sufficient.
2. Establish a meeting schedule. Assign specific dates for each member to submit work on a rotating basis.
3. Set a submission deadline, which should be at least five days before the meeting date. Ask that everyone submit via Word attachments to an e-mail.
Critiquing the manuscript of another writer is a big responsibility. The goal is to encourage, motivate, educate, and provide honest feedback in a helpful and respectful manner. Techniques I recommend:
1. Read each submission at least twice during the critiquing process.
2. Use Word’s Track Changes, if you know how, or print the submission and make notes on paper with a pen or pencil.
3. Focus first on what’s good about the submission. Take a look at plot, dialogue, narrative/descriptions. Does the author show, or does he tell?
4. Make notes on your observations and be ready to point out specific examples with page numbers.
5. Do not cross out or delete large passages of a member’s submission. Use margin comments or comments at the end of the piece to make suggestions for cuts.
6. Bring a copy of the critiqued submission to the meeting to give to the author.
7. After the submitting author reads two pages aloud, he listens and takes notes as the other members deliver their critiques verbally. At the end of the session, the submitting author may ask or answer questions.
8. During the verbal critique process, members should avoid copy editing issues such as typos and errors in punctuation, instead focusing on story and story arc as well as polishing the manuscript’s prose. These topics will be covered in upcoming posts.
By critiquing and listening to critiques, all members will gain proficiency in seeing their own work with the reader’s eye, the foundation of good self-editing.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revisions and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).
Another resurrected post that all writers should read... especially those who think they are beyond needing a critique of their finest writing. We all benefit from good critique, no matter how old or oft-published. (Last published July 3, 2009. See tomorrow for Part 2.)
Critique Groups: Gotta love 'em. Learn to see your writing with a reader’s eye, identify your bad habits, and polish your manuscript before you submit to agents and editors. It’s hard at first, often scary. It could even be akin to your first bungee jump. Getting your work critiqued probably won’t kill you, but it could turn you into a writer worthy of publication. Honest.
Alex Sokoloff said it here on June 10th in Top Ten Things I Know About Editing: “Find a great critique group.” In a discussion between author Sylvia Dickey Smith and editor Helen Ginger, Helen advises, “…join a critique group in your area or online – you’ll get help, you’ll help others, and you’ll learn how to edit and critique.” Author, reviewer, and blogger Charlotte Phillips wrote in February, “I recently joined a critique group for the first time ever and must admit, I am enjoying every bit of it. I wish I’d gotten up the nerve many years ago.”
One of the best ways to hone self-editing skills is to meet regularly with other writers and critique their work. Timid souls who might be overwhelmed by larger groups may do best with one critique partner. Unstructured clubs that meet once in a while are useful for hermit-writers who need occasional feedback. Online critique sessions, or meetings via Skype, are helpful if local groups are not available. For most beginning writers, a face-to-face group with established rules and guidelines boosts commitment and productivity.
To find an existing group, take a writing class, post notices at the library, attend a nearby writers’ conference, or contact local or regional writing organizations in your state. If that doesn’t work, start your own.
Based on my experiences with critique groups, I believe they function best when all of the members are writing the same kind of material: fiction and/or memoir, non-fiction books, or essays and magazine articles. Mixing fiction categories within a fiction group can be constructive if members are open to learning about genres they don’t often read on their own. The groups I’m organizing for Northern Colorado Writers follow these guidelines:
1. Critique groups contain six to eight members and meet every other week.
2. Meetings last approximately two hours.
3. Members commit to regular attendance, barring emergencies.
4. A member who cannot attend a meeting still critiques submissions and delivers or sends them to the critiqued members.
The purpose of a critique group is to help members improve their writing skills through revisions and competent self-editing, guide other members toward publication, and provide encouragement and motivation along the way. The critiques need to be honest, but must be respectful and supportive, whether written or verbal. Members understand that critiques are from/to their peers. Comments about story line, voice, and characterization are observations or suggestions. The decision whether or not to implement these suggestions belongs to the author.
In the next Self-Editing One Step at a Time post, I’ll recommend procedures for submitting materials for review and techniques for written and verbal critiques.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revisions and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).
I was re-working the outline and first few chapters of my fourth Detective Jackson novel and a few things were bothering me. So I went back to the basics and decided to share my eight-point checklist.
Story arc. Does the protagonist grow and evolve? Is the narrative smooth or does it have gaps in logic?
Plot. Is your plot logical? Do you have important scenes that would make a reader say “No one would ever do that”? Is your plot both linear and complex?
Point of view. Is your POV consistent for large chunks of text? Do you tell each scene from the point of view of the character who has the most to lose?
Dialogue. Does each character use distinctive word choices? Do you break up long conversations with body language and movement?
Info dumps. Do you have big chunks of exposition that slow the story down? Can they be broken up or shared as dialogue?
Characters. Are your characters both believable and unique? Is their behavior consistent within the story framework?
Language. Do you use of mix of long and short sentences? Are there overused words or phrases (of course, just, even, that)?
Unresolved issues. Is every plot line resolved and questions accounted for? If something is bothering you, it will bother your readers.
As a frequent user of dialogue to give the reader insight into my characters, impart vital information to the reader, and bring life and reality to my stories, I particularly like this post, originally published by Dani on June 22, 2009.
…That day she dined early, at six, and talked to William as he stood behind her chair, bidding him close the door to visitors in future.
“You see, William,” she said, “I came to Navron to avoid people, to be alone. My mood is to play the hermit, while I am here.”
“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I made a mistake about this afternoon. It shall not occur again. You shall enjoy your solitude, and make good your escape.”
“Escape?” she said.
“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I have rather gathered that is why you are here. You are a fugitive from your London self, and Navron is your sanctuary.”
She was silent a minute, astonished, a little dismayed, and then: “You have uncanny intuition, William,” she said, “where does it come from?”
“My late master talked to me long and often, my lady,” he said; “many of my ideas and much of my philosophy are borrowed from him. I have made a practice of observing people, even as he does. And I rather think that he would term your ladyship’s arrival here as an escape.”
“And why did you leave your master, William?”
“His life is such, at the moment, my lady, that my services are of little use to him. We decided I would do better elsewhere.”
“And so you came to Navron?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“And lived alone and hunted moths?”
“Your ladyship is correct.”
“So that Navron is also, possibly, an escape for you as well?”
“Possibly, my lady.”
“And your late master, what does he do with himself?”
“He travels, my lady.”
“He makes voyages from place to place?”
“Exactly, my lady.”
“Then he also, William, is a fugitive. People who travel are always fugitives.”
“My master has often made the same observation, my lady. In fact, I may say his life is one continual escape.”
“How pleasant for him,” said Dona, peeling her fruit; “the rest of us can only run away from time to time, and however much we pretend to be free, we know it is only for a little while – our hands and our feet are tied.”
“Just so, my lady.”
“I would like to meet your master, William.”
“I think you would have much in common, my lady.”
“Perhaps one day he will pass this way, on his travels?”
“Perhaps, my lady.”
“In fact, I will withdraw my command about visitors, William. Should your late master ever call, I will not feign illness or madness or any other disease, I will receive him.”
“Very good, my lady.”
One of my favorite bits of dialogue and a marvelous set-up for the rest of the story! From it, think about these questions:
What kind of relationship between the two speakers?
When does the story take place?
Who is William?
Who is Dona?
What can you discern about the female character’s place in society?
What can you extrapolate reading between the lines?
Do you recognize the novel this is taken from and the author?
Kathryn says: Originally published October 14, 2008, I wanted to give this BRP post by Helen Ginger another airing because its title alone contains such classic writing advice. Including irrelevant detail is one of the most common rookie mistakes in manuscripts I edit.
Some people may think an editor looks only for the commas, split infinitives, missing words, misspellings – all the mundane stuff. Yes, we read a manuscript and find those things. But we also look beyond the basics.
For example, we note the minutiae that need to be cut. And we note when the small details are not actually minutiae, but important stuff that has to be left in.
Even if you’re writing a memoir, a person’s everyday life does not make for an interesting book. Let’s face it, our daily lives are boring. Even when something different happens, it’s boring.
I got locked out of the house last week. So what? I unloaded the groceries, put the refrigerator and freezer stuff in the freezer, then headed to Starbucks for coffee. I talked to a friend of mine who recently went for a walk and got lost. Totally lost. Completely turned around. By the time she got back home, she’d been out trying to find her way for five and a half hours. I call that an adventure. But to put it in a book, there’d have to be more than just her walking, going in circles, for hours.
If a book character gets locked out of the house, something would need to happen, like she’d hear the phone ringing and someone leaving a threatening message, but she couldn’t see caller ID … or a wild-eyed woman would appear from the back of the house, gun in hand. If a book character goes for a walk and gets lost, she’d have to be stalked, or kidnapped, or fall off a cliff or lose her memory. Or perhaps encounter a handsome stranger. Or whatever.
Not only does every scene have to have purpose and move the story forward, you have to cut the mundane wherever possible as long as it’s not relevant. You could write:
Stephanie grabbed the keys from the bowl on the entry table, then took one last look around.
Her car shuddered as it pulled from the curb.
If we don’t really need to know what happened in-between those two things, then don’t tell us. Do we need to know she slung her purse over her right shoulder, swiveled and walked to the door? Closed the door behind her? Crossed the porch? Walked down the four steps to the sidewalk? Walked to the car? Opened the driver-side door? Inserted the key into the ignition? Adjusted the mirror?
I’m not saying cut all the minutiae. Sometimes details can be very telling. Sometimes you can hide important clues among a list of unimportant things. But everything is not always important.
If your character gets locked out of the house, have something interesting happen. If your character gets lost, make it worth reading.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir.
First published here in February 2009 - everything you could ever want to know about the ellipsis.
Someone queried the group at Writers Weekly for books dealing strictly with punctuation. Out of curiosity, I went on a search for recently published books on the topic, and found quite a large selection. Who knew all those little marks would one day become popular reading? I'll review a number of these new books here, starting with the one at left, which covers all the nit-picky things we need to know to look like adept writers and editors. Here's an example of a few novel points I learned from the book:
We all know an ellipsis represents writing that is supposed to be there, but isn’t.
Sometimes it’s a good use of punctuation, for example, to note a popular song without boring the reader with all three verses plus the chorus. Here’s an example:
For he’s a jolly good fellow … which nobody can deny.
According to Comma Sense: A Fundamental Guideto Punctuation by Richard Lederer and John Shore, there should always be a space inserted before and after the ellipsis, as well as between the periods within the ellipsis. I admit I have infrequently seen this rule practiced.
Furthermore, there is a four-dot ellipsis. Did you know that? I did not. This occurs when the omission ends a sentence or falls between sentences. In a four-dot ellipsis, there is no space before the first dot. The extra dot simply represents a period.
You now probably know more than most writers and editors, who when they are somewhat accomplished at their jobs, at least agree that the ellipsis should be sparingly used in any form of writing. If your book manuscript has more than a dozen, start slashing, because more will likely land you a special place in a slushpile. But, I digress...
The book's authors are hysterically funny with the examples they offer to demonstrate the use of any particular bit of punctuation, and that is probably what sets the book apart from other similar tomes. The demonstration given for the four-dot ellipsis was a tad too wicked to insert here (having to do with cod pieces and the development of architecture), but let me simply finish with the ending from their chapter to give you a sense of their humor and why this might be the most chuckle-filled punctuation guide you’ll ever read.
Hey, we don’t want to end by saying you’re now a genius with ellipsis, but. . . .
Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours group at Yahoo!, is a founding member of The Blood-Red Pencil, and is currently Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. Most days you'll find her in the virtual realms or with blood-red pencil in hand. You can read her Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever by clicking here.
This post was originally published on October 31, 2009, but we hope you'll agree that it will never outlive its usefulness.
Economy got you down? Try optimism. It can help you get published.
Doubt it? Read on: More than thirty years of research in high-rejection endeavors, from athletic competition to life insurance sales, suggests the statement is true. There is more to optimism, however, than The Little Engine’s “I think I can.” Optimism is the practice of framing what has already happened in a positive light.
To raise your optimism quotient, try the following ten affirmations. Meditate on them, speak them, and copy them down in your own hand until you are convinced of their truth. Once you own these concepts, your writing will be less about the absolutes of success and failure, and more about gleaning the benefits of every step on your path. And who knows—you may end up appreciating the process of getting published as much as you enjoy the writing.
1. Agents, editors, and authors all love to read and all have the same goal: to increase our country's wealth of good writing. Agents and editors need writers to keep them in business.
2. The book industry is super tough right now, but I am doing what I can to improve both my craft and my knowledge of the publishing industry.
3. I believe that being a published author is my destiny and I will start my journey down that road, but factors beyond my control will affect the timing of my arrival. I will get there when I get there.
4. While pride is the first of the seven deadly sins, optimism is a blessing for myself and for all of those around me. I love my work, so I will share my enthusiasm for it with others.
5. Rejection is the badge of honor I must sometimes wear to prove that I am boldly putting my work out into the world. No one ever got published by keeping her manuscript safely in her desk drawer.
6. Rejection may be a matter of personal preference—my work didn't connect with that reader—or it may simply mean "not yet." It is better to learn that I am not quite ready for publication by being rejected by an agent or editor than to get slammed publicly by critics, realize poor sales, and never be published again.
7. Every experience is a good experience for a writer. Victory, failure, acceptance, rejection—they are all part of the human experience, and stoke the creative fire within me.
8. If I am an optimistic fool, so be it. The real fool is the person who stops doing what he loves just because it is difficult.
9. Worst case scenario: it never happens for me. My epitaph: "She died pursuing her dream." What stronger, more beautiful statement could be made about my life, published or not?
10. I am committed to learning. Learning can be uncomfortable, but ignorance will not move me forward along my path. If writing is truly my passion, I must not give up. If we writers stop pursuing our dreams, who will write all the books?
Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, partnering her clients through project development to line editing to honing marketing materials. She prefers "Advocate for Writing Excellence" to "Nit-Picking Perfectionist," thank you. She hosts writing retreats for women and blogs at Healing Through Writing.
This popular post first published on February 18. We are sharing some of our past favorites this month so that all our contributors have time to enjoy the holiday season.
I’m fine-tuning the novel I just finished writing, and these are some of the edits I’m consistently making. They can help you as you write or edit your own novel.
1. Get rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases. When you read back through your manuscript, watch for phrases like on the table, toward the door, near the wall. These phrases bog down your writing and often add little to a description. Readers can make a lot of assumptions. If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car. You don’t have to say it.
This is especially true at the end of sentences. A good sentences ends on a strong beat. That sentence is a great of example of what I mean. If I had added usually at the end of that sentence, it would have weakened it. In my manuscript, I came across this sentence: Katie put her waffle down on the paper in her lap. Ick!
I took off the first unnecessary phrase, then the second. Then I moved the word down to where it belongs—after the verb directing it. Now it reads: Katie put down her waffle. Much better! Nobody cares where the waffle went. The sentence is meant to show that what Katie is about to say is so important she wants no distractions.
2. Get rid of unnecessary pronouns. Here’s how a sentence in this blog read until I edited it: If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one of them points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car. I took out of them. Readers know I meant the two guys, and the sentence reads better without the phrase. Other examples are phrases like himself or to me. Often you’ll discover they are unnecessary.
3. Be careful when using pronouns. I’ve gotten much better about this thanks to Stephen King’s On Writing, but I still see the problem in the fiction manuscripts I edit for others. In a confrontation scene with three guys, for example, the writer will use he and his repeatedly. It’s confusing. In these situations, be redundant, regardless of whose POV you’re writing from. Use each man’s name every time you refer to him. Readers will appreciate it.
Jake picked up the gun and aimed it at Seth. Seth ran for the door, while Carl yelled, “Don’t do this.” Jake lowered the gun. Carl lunged at a Jake. Seth kept running.
Even a single use of he in that paragraph could have made it hard to follow.
What are you catching in your writing as you go back and edit?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
This is a piece that appeared here on BRP on January 25, 2009. As an editor, I always ask potential clients to tell me about the books they've written, and many of them go into a long, detailed summary, but sometimes, we need to be able to tell our story's idea in short fashion. Enter this commentary.
You’ve written a novel – congratulations! Believe me, I know about the struggles that writers go through putting pen to pad or fingers to keys. There were probably a million times you wanted to give up and walk away from your words. There were bouts of writer’s block. There was doubt. There were those who just didn’t get why you wanted to write. And despite these and other issues, you rose above them and finished a story from beginning to end.
Stop. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself you are awesome. Call at least three people to tell them the good news. Treat yourself to something special. Take a few days to put some space between you and your glorious words.
Then come back to the manuscript because there is some major work to be done.
Many new writers make the error of finishing a story, running a spelling and grammar check on Word, and then submitting the novel to agents and publishing houses as if the work is perfect. Many take a better route and at least send their work to be edited by a professional before sending it into the universe. Even though it is important to have at least one set of eyes – other than your own – read/edit your work, it is just as important for you to become a "scholar" in the craft of writing so that the material you pass off to an editor or an agent isn't ridiculed instead of praised.
So, tell me – what’s your story about?
If you plan to submit this work, pitch this work, and talk about this work; you need to have a clear and quick description of your work.
You should know your work’s genre: is it a romance, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, literary, street, an urban, or erotic novel? Is it a combination of these genres?
In one clear sentence, state the following: (Title of Novel) is a (Genre of Novel).
Good – now you know the genre.
Now, you need to state what your story is about. Picture going to Borders – you’re rifling through books, reading back covers. Pretend your book is on the shelf. Pick it up. Flip it over. What does the back copy read?
Just flipping through ten books on my bookshelf, I noticed that back copy runs between 100 to 225 words.
The back copy contains the same information you’ll place in your query when it’s time to submit the work to agents and publishers: your main character, his or her want, the major conflict that prevents the main character from achieving the want, and a “twist” that arises and seems to forever keep the main character away from the want.
Here’s the book description of Victoria Christopher Murray’s Too Little, Too Late:
Jasmine Larson Bush returns to her devious ways in this tale of two marriages -- each threatened by lies and betrayal.
She took marriage vows to be honest and true, but Jasmine's still hiding secrets to keep her husband, Minister Hosea Bush, by her side. When Hosea's ex-fiancée, Natasia, suddenly appears in New York, Jasmine knows it's not a coincidence. A former manstealer herself, Jasmine is very aware of Natasia's motives -- even if Hosea is not.
Complicating Jasmine's life is the secret she's kept from her baby's daddy. Luckily for her, Brian Lewis has problems of his own. His wife, Alexis, is convinced he's cheating on her -- but Brian's real betrayal is much worse. Revealing the truth to his wife could lead him back to the biggest mistake of his life...Jasmine.
Two marriages are in desperate jeopardy. Will Jasmine be able to scheme to save her own? Or will she have to choose between protecting her past and compromising her future? Even if Jasmine and Brian find the courage to stop the lies, it may be too little, too late....
In less than 200 words, we know who the main characters are, we know what they want, we know what is keeping them from having that want, and we have a sense as to why they might never get what they want.
What is your book’s back copy? Write it. It might change after you begin the revision and editing stages, and that’s okay. On the other hand, having your story’s description can also help you tighten your novel by making sure everything in the story supports the “idea” behind your story.
-------------------------------------------------------- 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.
Author and Editor Jodie Renner shares some fresh advice on the mantra that most writers have heard at least once in their writing career -- "Show Don't Tell. "
A common mistake among aspiring fiction writers is to describe or narrate (tell) events as if they took place at some point in the past, instead of putting the reader right in the middle of the action and showing the events as they occur, in real time, along with the characters’ reactions, feelings, and actual words. Readers want to experience a character's fear, feel the sweat on his brow and his adrenaline racing, their pulse quickening right along with the character's, muscles tensed, ready to leap into action.
Think of the difference between showing and telling this way: Which would you rather do, go see a great movie in a theatre with a big screen and surround sound, or hear about the movie from someone else afterward?
According to Ingermanson and Economy, “Showing means presenting the story to the reader using sensory information. The reader wants to see the story, hear it, smell it, feel it, and taste it, all the while experiencing the thoughts and feelings of a living, breathing character. Telling means summarizing the story for the reader in a way that skips past the sensory information and goes straight to the facts.”
Janet Evanovich considers “show, don’t tell” to be one of the most important principles of fiction: “Instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showing brings your characters to life.”
As Jack Bickham says, “Not only does moment-by-moment development make the scene seem most lifelike, it’s in a scene [with dialogue and action and reaction] where your reader gets most of his excitement. If you summarize, your reader will feel cheated – short-changed of what he reads for – without quite knowing why.”
Shelly Thacker points out, “Readers of popular fiction don’t want to experience the events of your novel at a distance; they want to FEEL what’s happening. They want to laugh, cry, hope, worry.” Shelly advises, “Strive for more dialogue than narrative. … Narrative tends to slow things down and usually leads to telling instead of showing….Showing with action and dialogue creates vivid characters and a fast pace; telling only bogs down your story.”
Also, the bulk of the scene needs to be about a conflict of some kind between characters. No conflict = no scene. According to Jack Bickham, the conflict part of the scene “draws readers out through a moment-by-moment drama, extending the scene suspense with pleasurable agony.”
Of course, you can’t show everything, or your book would be way too long, and it would tire your readers out – or worse, bore them. According to James Scott Bell, “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.”
The rule, says Bell, is “the more intense the moment, the more showing you do.” That’s the difference between scene and summary. You don’t want to describe every move your characters make at down times, or when going from one place to the other. That’s where you summarize to get them to the next important scene quickly, without a lot of boring detail. Instead of describing your heroine getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast, brushing her teeth, going out the door, getting into the car, etc., just start with her rushing into the elevator at work, running late for an important meeting.
“Show, don’t tell,” like all rules, has exceptions. Scenes that are important to the story should be dramatized with showing, but often what happens between scenes (transitions) should just be told/ summarized/skipped past, so the story can progress. The objective is to find the right balance of telling versus showing, scene versus summary.
Jodie Renner is a former teacher and librarian with a master’s degree and a lifelong passion for reading, especially fiction. Jodie runs her own freelance manuscript editing business at http://www.JodieRennerEditing.com. She also runs a weekly BLOG with tips for writers.
This is a repeat of one of my favorite blogs, which I ran in 2009. I'd like to share it with followers who may not have seen it and are not acquainted with Rascal.
I often laugh at my dog, Rascal, because she does such silly things. One is to run around the house with a toy or bone, then drop it in a corner and scamper away. She acts like she's hid it in a great spot, but I can see exactly where it is.
When you write a novel, you have a choice of toys and bones to hide. They're also known as clues. How obvious you make them to the reader is up to you and your storyline. For example, if you want to show the goodness of a character, an easy way is to give that person a dog, cat or some other pet to love. Normally, you'd think the nice person would take in a stray animal. That clue seems easy to pick up.
Since people are complex and many have good as well as bad points, such a clue might be hidden in plain sight. The villain could be really sweet to an animal, making him seem good to a reader's eyes, yet that same person could hate people and be really mean to them. Or, to stick true to form, it's said that killers and sadists start early by torturing animals. You could describe a childhood incident where the villain hurts an animal.
You can also plant obvious clues in your novel, like making villains frown or suffer from facial ticks. For heroes or heroines, you can casually mention special skills or hobbies which will come into play later in the novel. In my romantic suspense, Killer Career, the villain almost trips over some hand weights in the heroine's home. Later in the story, the reference becomes more significant.
What about you? What toys or bones have you used in one of your novels? Or, maybe you remember an example in someone else's to share with us.
In the spirit of this holiday season, I thought I would share a memory of a special gift my husband got for me one year. He has always supported my writing habit, and this year was no exception.
They say - whoever "they" are - that when it comes to gift-giving, it's the thought that counts. While I don't always agree with everything "they" have to say, I have to give them this one.
My husband puts a great deal of thought into not only the present but the presentation. It isn't enough to merely hand over a package for some occasion, he has to somehow turn it into an event and over the years we've been together he's devised numerous, and often complicated, ways of surprising me.
Once he initiated his Christmas charade the week after Thanksgiving. It began with the announcement that this year he was going to be practical about my gift. Perhaps he'd build the bench in the kitchen I'd been wanting. Since I really liked the bench when he finished it, unlike the feelings I had toward the green stool I'd received a few years before that, I was delighted to accept the bench.
A week later, a friend told me that she knew what I was getting for Christmas. I tried to act nonchalant as I explained that I already had my present. She just grinned in response, and I started to wonder if my husband was up to something.
Then another friend mentioned that she, too, knew what I was getting for Christmas. I wondered some more but didn't know what to even anticipate as I'd not expressed a desire for anything specific. At least not anything within the realm of possibility. There had been a brief mention of emeralds, a new wardrobe, or a cruise, but I knew they were out of the question.
About a week before Christmas, my husband finally admitted that all the excitement was over an electric paint-brush. Knowing there was no such thing, I immediately dismissed his comment, but trying to figure out what he and my friends were so excited about was about to give me ulcers.
Finally, Christmas morning arrived. We opened our gifts and my present turned out to be an electric pencil sharpener. Still suspecting that there might be something else - a pencil sharpener just didn't measure up to the previous excitement - I waited for my husband to launch the big surprise. We continued with our usual holiday morning routine of breakfast, phone calls to out-of-town relatives, and playing with new toys. Part of me was still on alert for the "big surprise," but nothing happened.
About mid-afternoon when I'd about decided my friends were nuts to be so excited about an electric pencil sharpener, I went into my office to put the instrument away. There was a large box on my desk. I stood for a moment, stunned, then heard my husband behind me. "Merry Christmas," he said.
The top of the box had been set loosely over something and I lifted it to see a new typewriter. (Keep in mind that this was a long time ago and you will understand why I was thrilled. I wasn't too far removed from my old 1940's vintage manual and this new machine was electric. Plus it had a correction cartridge!)
I had that typewriter for a long time, keeping it even when I got my first computer and glad that I had it when the computer was down for repairs. When I finally accepted the fact that the old machine needed to go, the parting was wrenching. Not so much for what it was, an object that had served me well for so many years, but for what its presence reminded me of.
Yes, it really is the thought that counts.
Posted by Maryann Miller who loves to give and receive gifts, and thinks her new book, Open Season, would make a wonderful Holiday gift.
Self-published author: God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana (2009 Spur award for Best first Novel) Gold Under Ice (Sequel to God’s Thunderbolt)
Most writing coaches advise not to self-edit as you write because it stifles creativity. I don’t know what sort of editing they mean, because my reaction to that is “bunk.”
I've just gone through NaNoWriMo, and I’m finding it very uncomfortable because I want to stop and answer the little voice in my head that asks if this character would really say that, or if these men would sit down in the middle of the morning and tell stories about another man. Surely there’s a better way to convey his character to the reader than by these stilted conversations, I tell myself. I want to answer those questions as I write because that’s my usual method. (So I put in notes to myself to be answered in later.) After all, isn’t that what subsequent drafts are for?
When I write, I metaphorically turn a kaleidoscope. Remember them? Less common these days, they are tubes filled with bits of glass or plastic and a peephole at one end. What starts out as a jumble becomes more meaningful with every turn, until the last turn reveals a beautiful pattern of line and color. That’s what I’m after when I write: the final design and pattern of the novel in words and imagery.
I prefer not to write the book and then go back to turn the kaleidoscope. I turn it as I write. I stop and look for the right word. Not just a good word or a better word, but the right word. I look first to Word’s built-in Thesaurus, then to my elderly copy of Roget’s, and if I’m still doubtful, I dig into the Old English Dictionary, the one with such tiny print I need a magnifying glass. (So does everyone else.) The OED tells me if a word existed at the time of the Civil War, or if it was used in the sense I want. I take the closest word, put it in and go on, but that quest can sometimes take quite awhile.
If a sentence doesn’t ring right in my ear, I fuss with it until it does, until the rhythm is right and music of the words supports the meaning, the characterization, and the action. I try to vary the sentence length and rhythm and word usage to support the meaning, especially when different characters are speaking. We all have different voices and ways of speaking, and I want readers to know from hearing a character’s voice when he or she is telling the story.
Grammar and punctuation and spelling get their turn, too, because some errors can jar a reader out of the story into his or her reality. All of this I try to take care of as I write, sometimes four complete drafts, although some scenes may need 20 or more turns of the kaleidoscope before they come right.
Eventually, I shall have turned the kaleidoscope enough times so the final pattern comes clear: “That’s it!” I say. At that point, I stop self-editing and send the book to an editor because I have reached the point at which I can’t see it any more, and the next turn could ruin the design.
So far this way of writing works for me. It led to the 2009 Spur for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America, although the novel that won (God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana) is not a traditional Western, but historical fiction set in the West. Judging from readers’ email and the reviews on Amazon, it works for the sequel, Gold Under Ice.
I think I’ll continue with the kaleidoscope method.
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 been released. 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.
This was originally posted by Dani Greer on January 12, 2010. We repeat it because of its timeless content.
Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy. She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used:
she spoke up
Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flatly, proudly, and even jokingly.
That's just our female romantic lead - the hero was just as amazing as he supposed, surmised, rationalized, declared, sneered, sputtered, and grunted his way through the conversations. What really intrigued me about the dialogue though, is that the author, being a skillful enough writer, weaved the tags in such a way that they were often imperceptible. The only word that really jumped in my face was "quipped", and it wasn't used as often as in prior novels, having been replaced by emphasizing, noting, sighing, chuckling, countering, and exclaiming.
I wonder if the author has a contest going with the editor to see how infrequently the word "said" can be used? So far, the author is winning, and since there is another in the series due out this year, the editor hasn't yet been committed to an asylum. ;) We'll keep you apprised if that happens... she laughed (wickedly).
There's a lot to think about as you edit your work. We're covering them all here on The Blood-Red Pencil. In this case, we're re-covering them. Each of us get to choose a previous post to re-gift for the holidays. I've chosen one I posted over two years ago.
Here's something for you to consider -- your mood-establishing words.
Think of the words you use and how you string them together. Fast, choppy sentences tend to rev up the tension. Longer, complex sentences slow things down.
Is her dress blood red? Or rose red? Do the stars twinkle like 4th of July sparklers? Or blink like a million ogling eyes?
Use the senses to set the mood. Two characters on the beach begin to kiss. How do things smell, taste, feel, sound? Remember, you're establishing an atmosphere.
Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her lilac perfume, then kiss the salty sweat at her hairline? Does he feather his fingers along her arm, drawing goose bumps?
Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her bologna breath as she sighs, then spits hair and sand as he tries to kiss her earlobe? Does he go to caress her arm, but rams his elbow on her hair, yanking her head to one side and spilling the pitcher of ice tea across his sunburned back?
A woman has had a long, arduous day at work. She draws a bath, pours in foaming oil. She touches the bubbles as they build. They're soft, like whip cream. She steps into the tub and slides down until the bubbles tickle her chin. How does the bath smell? Cherry? What kind of cherry? Is it a cherry-Coke float? Cherry cough syrup? Cherry sour balls eaten in the darkness of the movie theater? Grandma's hot cherry pie?
Each one brings up a different image, sets a different mood.
Choose your words, your sentence construction, your details so that they set a mood. Each scene has an atmosphere.
This is not to say that if your book is meant to be humorous, then every scene must be funny. There will be an ebb and flow. You don't want your novel to be monochromatic. But all the scenes together establish the overall mood of the book. Use your words--you are a writer, after all--to create the atmosphere of your book's world.
This article is an updated remake of one I posted here in 2008, but one that applies at this time of year..
It happens often enough, but I still can't get used to it. I'm never ready when it comes. Dare I say that naughty, four letter word?
SNOW@!# - Yikes, I've said it.
My area of the Midwest gets hammered with that pesky stuff quite often, as evidenced by the photo to the left. Instead of looking on it as something evil, which is easy to do since it gets in my way when I want to drive or walk, I'm trying to think of it as an opportunity for better writing. Snow can be useful, that is, if it's included in a manuscript.
When doing this, it's best not to dwell on the obvious. Almost anyone can describe snow as pretty, white, or cold. The trick is to use snow as a vehicle of moving the plot forward.
Common Occurrence: During the winter my newspaper often gets buried in the snow and doesn't get discovered until later when the stoop is shoveled.
Opportunity: What if an important article about a rapist or mass killer were in the paper, but a victim wasn’t alerted because snow covered the paper?
Common Occurrence: Snow covers car windows, fogs up glasses, and makes it hard to see.
Opportunity: Your character is involved in a vehicle accident due to poor visibility. Take it a step further. The ambulance can't get there because of a traffic buildup. The hero performs CPR on an accident victim, or maybe a person stuck in the snow tries to walk and suffers from hypothermia and/or frostbite.
True example: One winter I slipped in the snow and banged my head on the sidewalk. For a moment I felt disoriented, but then was able to get up and walk away.
Opportunity: What if your character slipped, was knocked unconscious and suffered amnesia?
True example: Snowstorms often delay my mail.
Opportunity: What if your character is waiting for an important letter, but it slips from the mail carrier’s hands in the wind and gets buried in the snow a few doors down? Maybe the letter was an apology or love letter and turns up years later, after the people involved had moved on with their lives? Maybe even married someone else?
I love nothing more than getting lost in a good book.
That’s not so easy anymore, I fear. I’m a most willing subject; that’s not the problem. It’s my editorial brain.
Even though I beg that freakish overachiever to take a break, it stands ever ready to pounce on any hiccough in the prose. Shut up! I tell it, as it allows awkward wording or a clichéd image to bump me from the fictive dream. Take a hike!—but no, no, it’s already seen this author use two different spellings of the same name eighty pages apart and now I’m going back to check. Let me finish this book in peace, I beg of it, as it scans the climax for psychological insight or philosophical profundity or an emotional payoff when clearly this author was willing to settle for action alone.
I’m sure you can see what I mean. My brain is not always the most accommodating partner when I want to lose myself in a book.
It’s still a few weeks until the holidays, but December has me thinking about the gift of a really good read. How extraordinary it is when an author, through careful application of imagination and craft, offers up the kind of psychological tension that does not allow you to put the book down. What a rarity when an author can so engage a reader's over-stimulated mind that it will elbow aside its editorial bent and fully surrender to the gift of insight being offered.
When that happens I’m no longer a reader, sitting in a chair, appreciating words on a page. I am in the scene, hearing the rain tap against the windows, watching as the kidnapper “cracks open our new skylight like an oyster and slithers in,” feeling my breath catch as this stranger scoops up the protagonist’s child—no, my child! I am dropping to my knees “to utter the only fearless words I have ever spoken”: “Take me instead.”
That’s why, in this time of thanksgiving and gifting, I must bust Philadelphia area author Kelly Simmons. Once I crossed the threshold of her book, Standing Still, I was kidnapped—and held willingly captive until I closed the back cover a day-and-a-half later. It’s been several years since I had such a fully engrossing and rewarding reading experience, and I’ll happily spend several more years finding another.
This isn’t the kind of book you’ll read to escape from life; it’s the kind you’ll read to enter life more fully. Then you’ll want to read it again for all the gifts of example it offers up to writers in all genres.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Kathryn Craft more appropriately applies her "freakishly over-achieving" editorial brain to the development of her clients' works at Writing-Partner.com, 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."
We are having fun here at BRP revisiting some older, popular posts. This one was originally published in March of 2009, about the time we decided it would be fun to have a little humor now and then.
Years ago when I first started writing, my children were all young and the formidable task of "writing around them" was daunting.
I remember one time in particular when one of my two-year-old twins, Danielle, known lovingly as Chicky, had just settled down beside me to help or hinder my writing. That depended totally on one's viewpoint.
She contributed a few words of dialogue consisting mainly of a few well-placed “Mommys,” spiced with a few unintelligible words of praise or criticism. Also, dependent on POV.
When she left the room, I breathed a sigh of relief and raced to get a few thoughts on paper before she came back. But alas, she’d gone into the kitchen to get the box of cereal I left on the counter and was off sharing it with her brother.
Should I have been delighted she was sharing for a change? Or angry because she snitched the cereal and hid in the laundry room and was now pouring cereal into the washing machine? If I hadn’t beaten our dog with my child-psychology book years before that, I could have looked for the answer. (A note to all the dog-lovers who are about to call the Humane Society. Our dog was much larger and harder bound than the book, and he loved the extra attention.)
That’s the way my writing life went for years. The moment I thought I had the most subtle, cynically amusing thought, matching the excellence of an Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry mapped out in my head, I was interrupted.
I remember thinking that if it weren’t for my kids, I would’ve been famous years ago. I could’ve sat beside Johnny Carson when he was still doing the Tonight Show and chatted amicably about my latest thought-provoking novel or my charming little anecdotes on life, If it wasn’t for the endless “MOMMYS”.
“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
“Mom, what is…?”
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“Mom, would you tie my shoe?”
“Mother, if you don’t keep those twins out of my room…”
“Mom, why is it raining outside?”
“Mom, where is my homework…my lunch…my shoes…my coat?”
“Mom, if you’re not doing anything important, will you…?”
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten rave reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. 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 sometimes she wishes she had a kid bugging her, but only sometimes.