Hello everyone, I do hope all have had a great writing experience since my last blog. Today I am going to give you advice by Monte Schultz who taught at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference a few years ago. So here goes:
1. Use the English Language? Earnest Hemmingway’s relative minimalism is not the last word on style. Some writers may preach that less is more, but that’s simply personal preference. Elmore Leonard is not a better writer or stylist than James Lee Burke, nor is Hemingway better than Faulkner. There just different.
2. If you’re writing literary fiction, make something happen. Interior conflict only goes so far in carrying a story forward. On the other hand, genre writers ought to avoid characters that behave like robots. Plot-driven fiction does not preclude interior reflection or character development.
3. Avoid characters who converse in a white space with nothing but their voices on the page. Setting matters. Don’t go overboard, but let your reader see where your characters are interacting.
4. Find first readers who care about your work and understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Fewer readers are better than many. If possible, have people read for different reasons. For instance, I’ve always tried to find readers specifically interested in story, style, grammar or pacing. Workshops can be helpful if you trust the readers, but beware of “art by committee.” The blizzard of comments and suggestions can be confusing and counterproductive, so trust in your own opinion best of all.
5. make writing your life, not just a passing fancy. Don’t imagine that publishing a novel will make you rich and famous. Maybe it will, but probably it won’t. Don’t see writing as a career change. Don’t give yourself six months, a year or two years to make it as a writer. Think instead that once you put words on a page, you are a writer, and this is something that will fascinate, frustrate and fulfill you for the rest of your life.
Hello, everyone. I hope all of you experienced a great week. Today I’m giving you a blog that discusses how you can broaden your story and your readership from an article by Bharti Kirchner. This was originally published in the Writer magazine.
Why venture into unaccustomed territory when it comes to characters? In a globalized world, re regularly meet people.e very different from us in race, class, ethnicity, religion, politics or ideology. Modern novels and memoirs, as mirrors of a society, increasingly depict this heterogeneity.
In addition to expanding our readership, a diverse character, whether the protagonist or a secondary character brings a broader voice to a story. In the case of the novel Tulip Season, protagonist Mitra meets a mysterious German man, and the contrast between the two adds an element of tension. With dissimilar actions, attitudes and world views, backgrounds and upbringings, their interactions spark a great exploration of Mitra’s world.
Creating Authenticity: How do you get started writing about a person foreign to you? By immersing yourself in that particular culture of community through direct contact and by building relationships. Armchair travel can also help, as can books, videos, movies, art, and the Web. Remember, in the end, it’s your story and it’s fiction. You’re facing challenges no matter what. “If you’re going to write fiction, you’re going to write about people who aren’t you,” says David Guterson, author of 10 books, including Snow Falling on Cedars. “You should feel some healthy trepidation about that.”
Respect, openness, and empathy are keys to depicting an unfamiliar culture or perspective. Here are additional tips and techniques.
First Impressions: What a reader first notices is how the character looks, dresses, sounds and behaves. Bring the character alive with physical descriptions, but not too much and not all at once. Allow readers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Pay special attention to the rhythm of the spoken language. A foreign born person might speak with an accent and fall back on native words as necessary.
A Character from Inside Out: You’re writing about individuals, and the methods you usually employ to develop a character of any kind still applies. Remember that all cultures have hopes, fears, and dreams, and it’s your job to portray that.
Does a diverse character have to be sympathetic? Peter Mountford, the author of two novels, including A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, says no. “Actually, I’m not sure he is very sympathetic because of the choices he makes,” Mountford says of Gabriel do Boys, the 26-year-old, biracial protagonist in his novel. “He builds a lucrative career instead of abandoning it for love. I feel for him, definitely, but a lot of readers struggle with him, and I suppose that is the key to writing “the other,” for me.”
Beliefs and Conflicts: Every culture or community holds common beliefs about marriage, family, money, status and friendship. A character is likely to suffer moth internal and external conflicts when going against these beliefs and sometimes even when conforming to them.
Showing Universality: By wrestling with choices and obstacles, a diverse character, like any other, grows and changes. In the process, he or she displays common human characteristics as fear, anger, joy and love. Although I’m different, I’d feel much the same in the same situation, the reader realizes, and perhaps gets more involved in the book.
You can make a character accessible in other ways. Show how he or she relates to friends. Let him or her grapple with everyday issues like traffic. An element of humor can also help. We gravitate toward people who lighten our days with a joke or a funny situation. It is in those moments that we let go of our differences and embrace our common humanity.
I hope this article helps to make your writing this week easier. The more knowledge we have the better writers we are. Blessings to all.
Hello everyone, I have been away from my blog for what seems like forever and I have missed it and my online friends. Today I want to share with you an article I read by Pete Croatto, on how to get noticed by the editors. If you want an editor it will take some work to get noticed.
Take Initiative: In an ideal world, our talent would be a siren song for editors far and wide. In a world of tight budgets and staff meetings, editors need story ideas and good ones. That means writing a pitch letter that shows you know the publication and what it wants. “What gets me to notice someone is I can notice immediately if they have a familiarity with the magazine,” says Mark Rotella, senior editor at Publishers Weekly. “They might have mentioned an article they had read or a review that they read. Usually, people are pretty specific about what section of the magazine they want to write for. Basically, if they’re pitching me about the magazine, I want to see that they’ve read it.”
Make the job Easier: Sara Benincasa, author of Real Artists Have Day Jobs ( And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School), says it’s key to do as much work for the editor as possible without overstepping. “Don’t expect that your editor has a comprehensive knowledge of the television show or trend or book or political issue that you would like to discuss in your writing,” she says. “Provide links, easy explanations. Provide assistance without the legwork to show your editor that your pitch is for a story that will bring in views, and readers attention in a positive way.”
Follow Up: This isn’t tennis. The ball keeps moving only if you keep hitting it. If you haven’t heard back after a week or two, politely inquire so you can either start writing or send your idea elsewhere. Rotella, who has written for the New York Times and American Heritage, says the delay worked or the pitch came at the wrong time.
Try, Try Again: An editor’s disinterest or silence should not be taken as an affront. That even applies to repeat clients. “I follow up and pitch more stuff without being annoying and contacting the editor too much,” Benincasa says. “If they liked my work the first time, they will respond. If they did not like my work they will not respond. I do a pitch, I follow up once and if I don’t hear anything, I move on.” In other words, our confidence in your idea should drive you.
Look Beyond Big Names: Chances are you’re not going to make it into The New Yorker and not every profile will land in GQ. (But don’t be afraid to try.) Get published, get paid and use the clips as a down payment for more desirable venues. Write Always. That’s the only way you get better and pay your bills.
Proofread A Lot: Once you get an assignment, it’s easy to get noticed for the wrong reasons. Rotella has an aversion to writers who can’t meet deadlines or follow directions, but says, “Nothing is worse, for me than if I have to spend too much time editing because of sloppiness. That is a real discouragement.” Be professional. Proofread, fact-check and make yourself available to address any concerns your editor has.
Play Nice with Others: Veteran freelance journalist Jen A. Miller got a big assignment from a new publication when a fact-checker there remembered Miller’s work at another publication. “Sometimes that can be an incredibly tedious process,” she says. “You’re already done with a story, you don’t want to deal with it anymore, you don’t want to deal with the fact-checker, but you don’t know where that fact-checker is going to end up.”
Finally, Be Easy to Find: That comes courtesy Miller, author of Running: A Love Story and a regular contributor to The New York times and Runner’s World. She believes every writer must have a website. “It sets you up as a professional,” she says.
I do hope this article was helpful and it gave you some incite on what you need to do to snag that elusive editor. Have a blessed week.
I’ve been told you must know your characters. Your main characters desires should be known. If you want your character to gather the sympathy from your readers, then give the character a strong desire. What is being strived for, a new job, romance, riches, and knowledge? If your character doesn’t have a need, do you think your readers will find excitement in your book? How do you say “boring?”You have to make your character multidimensional, and not leave him flat. What creates the most vivid picture, 3D or regular television? It is a matter of contrast in your characters. As humans, we are very complicated, and you have to show that complication in your characters also. That way your reader can get interested in your character.
Your contrasts should be worked into your story, so they do not become roadblocks for the reader. You want your story to keep moving forward. You can have your character step out from the usual character portrayed as long as the tendency has been shown before. That way it is not a stopping point.
Gotham’s “Writing Fiction” states,” your characters should have the ability to change, and the reader should know it. Change is particularly important for a story’s main character. Just as the desire of the main character drives the story, the character’s change is often the story’s culmination.”
This doesn’t mean your main character has to change, but the reader should always know change is possible. Predictability is created if you do not give the character the potential to change.
I have covered a few ways to help you create a character that your reader can get to know. The video today on creating characters.
PS this video gives lots of good information, but there is cafe noise in the background.
Hello everyone and happy Sunday. I’ve been busy this morning trying to write my Amazon description for Princess Adele’s Dragon. It’s not the easiest thing to do.
I also made a decision today. I’m going to rewrite and retitle The Tower. That was the first book I wrote back in 2010. I can’t believe what a terrible job I did. It’s a great story but it’s poorly written. The nice thing is I can actually go back and read it and pick out all the mistakes.
I’m not kicking myself around because I like to. It’s nice some people can put out their first book and it be wonderful from the start. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people. When I first wrote the book I made the statement about what a learning experience it was from beginning to end. The nice thing is I can now look back on it and continue to say it was/is a learning experience.
When I was writing The Tower, I think I fell into every pit other others said to be careful about. I was one of those people that I knew what they said but apparently I didn’t know what I was looking at. With practice, the writing skill grows and I’m happy to say mine did.
I’ve learned over time that people are not always honest with you about your work. It does great things for your ego when someone says they read your story and it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s what they think you want to hear and apparently it is.
I can’t tell a soul bought the book from Amazon or if they did they kept it a big secret. Now you know why I made the decision. I want to put out a better product and I would like to sell some copies. Am I making the right decision?
Pacing is a crucial component of fiction writing. After all, it’s important to keep your readers “hooked” throughout your story. Whether you are just getting started in writing or looking to break into fiction writing, you’ll need to know the basics of how to pace a novel. Read today’s tip of the day from Crafting Novels & Short Stories. In this excerpt written by Jessica Page Morrell, she explains what pacing is and seven ways to keep your story moving at the right pace.
What is Pacing in Fiction?
Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told, and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story. Pacing can also be used to show characters aging and the effects of time on story events.
Pacing differs with the specific needs of a story. A far-reaching epic will often be told at a leisurely pace though it will speed up from time to time during the most intense events. A short story or adventure novel might quickly jump into action and deliver drama.
Pacing is part structural choices and part word choices and uses a variety of devices to control how fast the story unfolds. When driving a manual transmission car, you choose the most effective gear needed for driving uphill, maneuvering city streets, or cruising down a freeway. Similarly, when pacing your story, you need to choose the devices that move each scene along at the right speed.
Seven Literary Devices for Pacing Your Story
You need speed in the opening, middle, and climax of your story. Sure, you’ll slowdown from time to time, especially to pause for significance and to express characters’ emotions, but those times will usually appear just before or after a joyride of skin-tightening speed.
There are lots of tools to hasten your story. Some are better suited for micropacing—that is, line by line—and some are better suited for macropacing—pacing the story as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at each device.
ACTION. Action scenes are where you “show” what happens in a story, and, when written in short- and medium-length sentences, they move the story along. Action scenes contain few distractions, little description, and limited transitions. Omit or limit character thoughts, especially in the midst of danger or crisis, since during a crisis people focus solely on survival. To create poignancy, forgo long, descriptive passages and choose a few details that serve as emotionally charged props instead.
CLIFF HANGERS. When the outcome of a scene or chapter is left hanging, the pace naturally picks up because the reader will turn the page to find out what happens next. Readers both love and hate uncertainty, and your job is to deliver plenty of unfinished actions, unfilled needs, and interruptions. Remember, cliffhangers don’t necessarily mean that you’re literally dangling your character from a rooftop as the scene ends. If your characters are in the midst of a conversation, end the scene with a revelation, threat, or challenge.
DIALOGUE. Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating, and will invigorate any scene. The best dialogue for velocity is pared down, an abbreviated copy of a real-life conversation that snaps and crackles with tension. It is more like the volleying of Ping-Pong or tennis than a long-winded discussion. Reactions, descriptions, and attributions are minimal. Don’t create dialogue exchanges where your characters discuss or ponder. Instead, allow them to argue, confront, or engage in a power struggle.
PROLONGED OUTCOMES. Suspense and, by extension, forward movement are created when you prolong outcomes. While it may seem that prolonging an event would slow down a story, this technique actually increases the speed, because the reader wants to know if your character is rescued from the mountainside, if the vaccine will arrive before the outbreak decimates the village, or if the detective will solve the case before the killer strikes again.
SCENE CUTS. Also called a jump cut, a scene cut moves the story to a new location and assumes the reader can follow without an explanation of the location change. The purpose is to accelerate the story, and the characters in the new scene don’t necessarily need to be the characters in the previous scene.
A SERIES OF INCIDENTS IN RAPID SUCCESSION. Another means of speeding up your story is to create events that happen immediately one after another. Such events are presented with minimal or no transitions, leaping via scene cuts from scene to scene and place to place.
SHORT CHAPTERS AND SCENES. Short segments are easily digested and end quickly. Since they portray a complete action, the reader passes through them quickly, as opposed to being bogged down by complex actions and descriptions.
SUMMARY. Instead of a play-by-play approach, tell readers what has already happened. Because scenes are immediate and sensory, they require many words to depict. Summary is a way of trimming your word count and reserving scenes for the major events. You can also summarize whole eras, descriptions, and backstory. Summaries work well when time passes, but there is little to report, when an action is repeated or when a significant amount of time has passed.
WORD CHOICE AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE. The language itself is the subtlest means of pacing. Think concrete words (like Prodigy and iceberg), active voice (with potent verbs like zigzag and plunder), and sensory information that’s artfully embedded. If you write long, involved paragraphs, try breaking them up.
Fragments, spare sentences, and short paragraphs quicken the pace. Crisp, punchy verbs, especially those with onomatopoeia (crash, lunge, sweep, scatter, ram, scavenge) also add to a quick pace. Invest in suggestive verbs to enliven descriptions, build action scenes and milk suspense.
Harsh consonant sounds such as those in words like claws, crash, kill, quake, and nag can push the reader ahead. Words with unpleasant associations can also ratchet up the speed: hiss, grunt, slither, smarmy, venomous, slaver, and wince. Energetic, active language is especially appropriate for building action scenes and suspense, and for setting up drama and conflict.
A fast pace means trimming every sentence of unnecessary words. Eliminate prepositional phrases where you don’t need them: For example, “the walls of the cathedral” can be written as “the cathedral’s walls.” Finally, search your story for passive linking verbs and trade them in for active ones.
The following blog is from BubbleCow which I received this morning. Because of my editing on Princess Adele’s Dragon, I seem to be paying a lot more attention when I see these helpful tips. I wanted to share it. Have a blessed day. Shirley
I’m talking about that dirty word: grammar.
But more than that, I’m also talking about formatting, which is kind of like grammar for the computer-age. Bold statements aside, if you want to be taken seriously by publishers, editors, and readers, then you’ve got to get your head around formatting conventions on word processors. I often joke that you wouldn’t start playing a sport without first reading the rules. It is the same for writing. You need to be getting the basics correct; there’s no excuse. As a writer, you simply need to know this stuff.
I’m a big fan of writing software in general and favour a whole host of different word processors. However, Microsoft Word is still the industry standard, so I’ll be using that as a reference point. These rules will still apply whether you’re using Scrivener, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or whatever your software of choice is.
OK, so with all that said, here’s the six grammar/formatting issues that drive us mad:
Ellipses – yep. They showed up last week and they’re back again. A few of you seemed unclear as to the nature of an ellipsis. Well, an ellipsis is the three dots writers use to denote an omission or to show a pause in speech. Here at BubbleCow, we often receive manuscripts where the writer has thrown in a few ellipses but with variable numbers of dots. In fact, some writers seem to think that the more dots they add, the more mysterious and tantalising their cliff-hanger becomes. “I was never there…………………… OR WAS I?” Oh dear. Ellipses only ever have three dots. No more, no fewer.
Two other things to say about ellipses. The correct way to write an ellipsis is . . . – that’s dot space dot space dot. The problem is that this plays havoc with some eBook conversion tools. Therefore, our house style is to alter them to … (three dots with no spaces). This will be picked up in the conversion process and handled correctly.
What about when an ellipsis is used at the end of the sentence? What happens to that extra full stop? Should it be three dots (…) or three and a full stop (… .). The answer is a little confusing. There’s no set rule on this, with different style guides opting for different options. At BubbleCow, our house style ignores that last full stop. Just the three dots for us, please.
Writing numbers – this, confusingly, is not another case of consistency. Now, we get hundreds of manuscripts where the writers rather sensibly choose to either use either purely numeric or purely written numbers for the entirety of their manuscripts. Then we get those who arbitrarily use a mixture of the two. Strangely, both parties are wrong in this case. Our house style (based on the Chicago Manual of Style) is as follows: numbers up to 100 must be written in words – so: one, seventeen, ninety-four. After that this becomes a little time consuming, so we allow these larger numbers to be written in digits: 1003, 784, 100,000. All you have to remember is that 100 is the magic number.
Spaces – now I know what you’re thinking. How can anyone mess up a space? Do we receive manuscripts that are just spaceless walls of interlinked words? The answer is no.
I’m talking about making sure that you’re only using one space between words. Now I know how it is – you’re writing passages, deleting them later on, shuffling around paragraphs – things get messy. But I recently ran a find-and-replace on a manuscript and it found 384 instances where two spaces had snuck in instead of one.
We’ve talked about single and double spacing before and it kicked up a bit of a storm. You see back in the olden days of typewriters and typesetting, double-spacing was standard. Those days are over! Double spaces are a nightmare for those unlucky publishers who’re in charge of creating eBooks. They mess up the formatting, resulting in unattractive, oddly-spaced electronic books that inevitably have to scrapped and redone. Our advice? Stick to one space.
Page breaks – this one is easy. The reason I’ve listed it here is because eBook conversions rely on page breaks between chapters. They will see the page break and understand that they need to do something special. If you’ve just pressed Enter a load of time to move the text to the next page you are in trouble. Not only will the conversion process potentially miss the chapter break but you’ll also lose the positioning if you then add or remove text in the chapter.
The bottom line is that you should always use a page break to go to the next page before starting a new chapter. This makes for a clean and presentable eBook, and will also help the printers if you’re going to print copies.
Paragraph breaks versus line breaks – these two phenomena might need explaining as they’re both pretty similar. Indeed, Microsoft Word didn’t start distinguishing between them until about 2003 (don’t quote me on this), but in modern word processing, the difference is very important.
OK, if you open up Word, type “BubbleCow is great,” and then press Enter, you’ll notice that the cursor jumps down to the line below, leaving some space between the previous line and the new one. This is a paragraph break. This is the one you want.
If, however, you were to hold Shift and then press Enter, the resulting new line would be right up beneath “BubbleCow is great,” with no space between them.
A great way of checking this is to use the Show/Hide Nonprinting Characters button, found on the Home tab in Word (it’s the odd black backwards P symbol). A paragraph break will show up as one of these backward-Ps, whereas a line break will be a cornering arrow. You want the P.
Line breaks are a nightmare for those in charge of formatting your masterwork – it groups all the text together, which means that text becomes harder to arrange on the page and stubborn in its disobedience. Using line breaks to create space (at the end of a chapter, for example, so you can get that page break in) can create nightmares for eBook conversions. Paragraph breaks all the way. One of the first things I do with a new manuscript is to find and replace all line breaks with paragraph breaks.
Indentation – those pesky line breaks also have a habit of messing up any system of indentation you might (should) have going. Indents only trigger on paragraph breaks, so there’s an extra reason always to paragraph break! But indents are important in their right.
Here at BubbleCow, we want the first paragraph of each chapter to be a straight flush, with the first sentence in line with the following sentences. After that, though, every paragraph needs its first line to be indented using the Tab key (not spaces! These tend to be messier and can disappear during the eBook conversion process). Again, this is one of the first things we add when we receive a new manuscript, as it helps your manuscript appear clean, streamlined, and readable. It also makes eBook versions far more attractive and is necessary for the conversion process.
This is a piece previously posted by Robbie Blair that contains useful information that I want to share with you. Since I’m in the process of doing my final edit on Princess Adele’s Dragon I found this article helped me. Maybe it can help you also. Have a blessed week. Shirley
Creating powerful prose requires killing off the words, phrases, and sentences that gum up your text. While a critical eye and good judgment are key in this process, some terms almost always get in the way. Here are eight words or phrases that should be hunted down in your story and deleted with extreme prejudice.
“Sudden” means quickly and without warning, but using the word “suddenly” both slows down the action and warns your reader. Do you know what’s more effective for creating the sense of the sudden? Just saying what happens.
I pay attention to every motion, every movement, my eyes locked on them. Suddenly, The gun goes off.
When using “suddenly,” you communicate through the narrator that the action seemed sudden. By jumping directly into the action, you allow the reader to experience that suddenness first hand. “Suddenly” also suffers from being nondescript, failing to communicate the nature of the action itself; providing no sensory experience or concrete fact to hold on to. Just … suddenly.
Feel free to employ “suddenly” in situations where the suddenness is not apparent in the action itself. For example, in “Suddenly, I don’t hate you anymore,” the “suddenly” substantially changes the way we think about the shift in emotional calibration.
“Then” points vaguely to the existing timeline and says, “It was after that last thing I talked about.” But the new action taking place in a subsequent sentence or sentence part implies that much already. You can almost always eliminate your thens without disrupting meaning or flow.
I woke up. Then I, brushed my teeth. Then I, combed my hair. Then I , and went to work.
“Then” should be used as a clarifying agent, to communicate that two seemingly concurrent actions are happening in sequence. For example, “I drove to the supermarket. Then I realized I didn’t need to buy anything.” Without the “then,” it would be easy to mistake this as pre-existing knowledge or as a realization that happened during the drive itself. “Then” can occasionally be useful for sentence flow, but keep the use of the word to a minimum.
“In order to”
You almost never need the phrase “in order to” to express a point. The only situation where it’s appropriate to use this phrase is when using “to” alone would create ambiguity or confusion.
I’m giving you the antidote in order to save you.
And after ten minutes of brainstorming for an example of a proper time to use “in order to,” I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Legitimate uses of “in order to” are just that few and far between.
“Very” and “Really”
Words are self-contained descriptors, and saying, “Think of tasty. Now think of more tasty” doesn’t help readers develop a better sense of the meal or person you’re describing.
Her breath was very coldchill as ice against my neck .
Mark Twain suggested that writers could “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Another strategy is to find a more powerful version of the same idea or give concrete details. To say “It was very/really/damn hot” does little, but saying “It was scorching” helps. Even better?: “The air rippled like desert sky as my body crisped into a reddened, dried-out husk.”
Is, am, are, was, or were—whatever form your “is” takes, it’s likely useless. When’s the last time you and your friends just “was’d” for a while? Have you ever said, “Hey, guys, I can’t—I’m busy am-ing”?
The “is” verbs are connecting terms that stand between your readers and the actual description. This is especially true when it comes to the “is” + “ing” verb pair. Any time you use “is,” you’re telling the reader that the subject is in a state of being. Using an “ing” verb tells the audience the verb is in process. By using “is verbing,” you’re telling your audience that the subject is in the state of being of being in the process of doing something.
Take this example:
I was sprintingsprinted toward the doorway.
If the description is actually about a state of being—”they are angry,” “are evil,” or “are dead”—then is it up. But don’t gunk up your verbs with unnecessary is, am, or was-ing.
Any action a person takes is started, continued, and finished. All three of these can be expressed by the root form of the verb. For example, “I jumped.” The reader who stops in frustration, saying, “But when did the jump start? When did it finish?” has problems well beyond the scope of the content they’re reading.
If you’ve been doing yoga for six years, you could reasonably say, “I started doing yoga six years ago.” For you, yoga is an ongoing action with a concrete starting point. But when describing action in a story, there are few circumstances where “start” is effective.
Let’s take this case and look at the potential fixes:
He started screaming.
Is it a single scream? Use “He screamed.” Are you telling us his screams will be background noise for a while? Rather than clueing us in unnecessarily, show us the series of screams first-hand. Do you want to introduce a changed state, such as escalating from loud speaking into screaming? Show us the decibels, the gruffness of voice, the way the air feels to the person he’s screaming at, and the hot dryness in the screamer’s throat as his volume crescendos.
“That” is a useful word for adding clarity, but like Bibles on the bedstands of seedy motel rooms, the word’s presence is often out of place.
When “that” is employed to add a description, you can almost always move the description to before the term and make a more powerful image.
Ireland was nothing but flowing green hills that flowed green.
In many other cases, “that” can simply be dropped or replaced with a more descriptive term.
I was drunk the night that your father and I met.
Many other uses of “that,” such as “I wish I wasn’t that ugly”, can be enhanced with more descriptive language.
I’m not just saying that, like, you shouldn’t, like, talk like a valley girl (though that too). Here’s the problem: “Like” is used to show uncertainty. And you. Should. Not. Be. Uncertain.
Be bold. When making a comparison, use force. Use metaphor over simile. Don’t let yourself cop out by coming up with a halfway description.
My eyes rested on the gun for a sliver of a moment. I snapped forward, grabbed it, and it was like the chill metal flowed from the gun into my veins.
One of the 36 articles by the infamously fantastic Chuck Palahniuk dives into the issue of like in great detail. It’s well worth checking out.
As always, Orwell’s final rule applies: “Break any of these rules before saying anything barbarous.” There are instances where each of these words fills a valuable role. However, especially among inexperienced writers, these words are frequently molested and almost always gum up the works.
Apply these lessons immediately and consistently to empower your words. Then, with practice, you will suddenly realize that you are starting to naturally trim the text in order to create prose that is very powerful.
We all made mistakes as beginner writers and I still do even though I’ve been writing a number of years now. It’s always nice to get reminders of what type of mistakes top writers and editors find consistently. It’s even better to find out how to fix them. The craft of writing is a continual learning process. When you stop learning. lay down your pen. Have a blessed day. Shirley
Today, one of our most experienced editors on Reedsy shares some invaluable advice for first-time authors! Lourdes Venard specializes in crime fiction, science fiction, Young Adult, memoirs, and other nonfiction. She also teaches for the University of California, San Diego’s copyediting certificate program.
When it comes to writing, every writer is unique. But mistakes made by first-time authors are not as unique. In a very unscientific poll, I asked fiction editors which errors they come across the most often. Not surprisingly, the culprits were the same.
Below are the six most common writing mistakes identified by fiction editors, with simple fixes that can be done in the revision stage.
Wordiness can come from overdescription, overexplanation, and redundant language. Those of us who are editors see this all the time in descriptions, especially in the use of adjectives and adverbs. Many first-time writers believe they need to bolster their nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs, but this often marks the writer as an amateur. Instead, writers should focus on using strong nouns and verbs. Take the simple phrase “a small river rushing by quickly.” A river that is rushing will naturally be doing so quickly, so eliminate the adverb.
The fix: When revising your manuscript, look through your descriptions—are there unnecessary words? Are you relying on adjectives and adverbs, rather than strong nouns and verbs? Look to cut as you revise.
“Telling”, rather than “showing”
“Telling,” rather than “showing.” This comes from explaining too much and not trusting the reader to understand—or not giving the reader the opportunity to fill in the spaces with his own imagination. A subset of this, as one editor said, is having characters discuss things in dialogue that no rational person would: “Did you know, Ian, that the agricultural sector in England was transformed by the Black Death, which arrived in England in 1348 and killed many laborers, and by the Hundred Years’ War, which was actually a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453, as well as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381?” If this sounds like a Wikipedia entry, it’s because it was indeed cobbled from Wikipedia—not from an actual conversation.
The fix: Dialogue can be used to effectively impart information, but is it believable and natural? Use dialogue to move the story ahead, to add tension between characters, and to impart—but not dump—information. Break up the information in conversation-sized tidbits.
Laundry list of description
A character is introduced and immediately a description, head to toe, is given; hair color, eye color, glasses, what the character is wearing are all covered in depth. The author may repeatedly mention those “liquid brown eyes.”
The fix: It’s much more effective to describe a character through their behaviors, actions, body language, and dialogue. Here, crime fiction author Ian Rankin gives a description that skims over a character’s looks, but manages to give us plenty (because our mind’s eyes fill in the rest): “He was twenty years younger than Rebus, and a stone and half lighter. A bit less gray in his hair. Most cops looked like cops, but Fox could have been middle management in a plastics company or Inland Revenue.”
You want to keep your point of view to one protagonist (maybe two, if the story lends itself, as in a romance or a story with two strong characters whose paths cross, as in the award-winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr).To have more POVs dilutes the bond that a reader forms with the protagonist. Even worse is to have a point of view bounce from character to character in the same scene (we start out in the head of one character, only to hop into another character’s head).
Many new writers have a fear of reusing the same dialogue tags—“said” or “asked”—and so editors see an abundance of incorrect dialogue tags: he yawned, she growled, he laughed. These dialogue tags mark the writer as inexperienced. Someone doesn’t “yawn,” “growl,” or “laugh” dialogue and, besides, they are clichéd ways of marking speech. Dialogue itself should show the reader whether a character is angry, happy, or sleepy.
The fix: Stick to “said” or “asked,” which become invisible to the reader, or avoid dialogue tags when it’s clear who is speaking. If you must indicate that a character has missed his naptime, then write, “he said, yawning.” Or even better, use a dialogue beat: “He stretched and yawned, putting down his coffee cup.”
This is one of the most common grammatical errors. These are phrases or clauses that are not clearly related to what follows. This not only makes for awkward sentences, but often unintentionally funny ones. For example: “After making some repairs, the pigs soon found their way to the fixed trough.” If pigs could fly—or repair their own troughs!
The Fix: Locate the modifier and relocate it to the appropriate place, or rewrite the sentence with the missing information. “After the farmer made some repairs, the pigs soon found their way to the fixed trough.”
Finally, there’s one other “fix” that may catch these and other errors. Read your manuscript aloud (some writers even go as far as reading it into a recorder, then playing it back). You’ll be surprised at what you find—portions that are dull, dialogue that goes on for too long, and awkward constructions that trip up the tongue. Simply delete or rewrite these!