Tag Archives: revision

FIVE WRITING RULES AND HOW/WHEN TO BREAK THEM

I found a statement in an old copy of Writer’s Market on line by Jessica Strawser (Feb. 13, 2012 issue) that made me laugh out loud, and I quote: “As wordsmiths, many of us rejoice in a single fact every day: “Writing is not math.”

The reason it hit my funny bone is that I know a number of writers who would agree. I, on the other hand, loved math when I was a kid in school — probably from early junior high school on — Oh, not even! I remember maybe in upper elementary (?) whenever we hit fractions, both dividing and multiplying. I got an old steno-notebook and filled a page, top to bottom, with a straggly column of fractions. I moved over an inch or two and made a second column. Between the two I placed a “multiply” or “divide sign”; then moved over another inch or two, and I’d see how fast I could write the answers. My form of playing “Angry Birds” or some other “game” on an android, or even a phone, before those were invented.

What does all that math have to do with writing? Actually, it has to do with the “rules” imposed on us. Math has rules. So does writing. And every conceivable language, whether written or spoken, has rules. In math, formulae and protocols must be strictly adhered to . . . I wonder if anyone told Einstein that? Or Newton?

We writers “know” our rules too, and sometimes understand how and when to break them:

  1. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.
    But does that yield “bland protagonists? “Sleepy settings?” “Mild plots?” Instead, think “Write What You Know means Write What You See Differently, Feel Profoundly, Know is Important, Where You Find the Extraordinary in What is Universal.” Don’t limit yourself to what you know: use your imagination, exercise your human potential, stretch beyond your “borders.” And “The Rules.” Go ahead: Natalie Goldberg has advised writers to “lose control,” say what they want to say, break structure, and sometimes assigns them to write “what they’re not thinking of” or “what they don’t remember.” It’s the writer’s job, Goldman maintains, “to give the reader a larger vision of the world.” She claims everything — every person in Portugal or darkest Africa, the grass, bees, a horse, even a rock — all have different languages. And Donald Maass adds “. . . you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”
  2. HOOK YOUR READERS ON PAGE 1.
    “Most experts advise starting with or quickly getting to an ‘inciting incident,’ or at least something that implies a main character’s status quo has been interrupted,” says Jerry B. Jenkins. Above all, he says, “it’s not gunfire, murder or mayhem,” but something wherein you want to know what’s going on — and you’ll stick with it until you find out. But, can we break even this rule? Steve Almond says most “student authors” refuse to orient the reader by providing “basic dramatic circumstances, such as where we are and what’s happening, and to whom. Instead we’re plunged into “[an] ectoplasm of vivid descriptions and incisive observations. I refer to this style of writing as hysterical lyricism.” All because they’ve been told over and over that they have to “hook readers on Page 1.” What the reader seeks to learn above all is “whom she should care about, and what those characters want or fear. Readers deserve clearly told stories, not high-watt histrionics.”
  3. SHOW, DON’T TELL.
    What, exactly, does that mean? Your job as the writer is to “transmit experience so the reader also experiences it. Details. We need details to let us envision. Back to Goldberg, “Writing is a visual art — and a visceral, sensory art. The world is not abstract, it is full of particulars.” Later, she says to “Lay out all the jewels for us to behold. To only tell about them is to hide the emeralds from view.” Donald Maass argues that, generally speaking, this rule is sound, but asks that we “make it concrete. Externalize . . . [what] is internal. Use a slap instead of a slow boil. A single four- letter word in dialogue can do the work of a whole paragraph.” But, he argues further, sometimes, “what you want to capture on the page is intangible. You can’t see it, weigh it, smack it or lick it. You have to trap a wisp in words. Trying to turn it concrete only causes it to evaporate.” He compares it to the change of mood in a stadium when fans know “with bitter certainty, that their team is about to lose.” There’s “the buoyancy of . . . new spring fashions . . . or the intuition . . . for no solid reason that she’s going to leave me.” So how do we break this rule? Maas says “Realize there can be tension in the invisible. . . found inside he who’s experiencing that which is vapor.” So the trick to telling is to base your passage “in emotions. Less obvious emotions are good. Contrasting emotions are better. Conflicting emotions are best. If moving beneath the surface, then you’re cooking. Fold into these feelings whatever outward details are at hand in the moment . . . Telling doesn’t ignore tension, it just snatches it from the air.”
  4. WRITE “SH*TTY FIRST DRAFTS.” (REALLY, DO YOU HAVE A CHOICE?)
    Nope. No choice in the matter. So “let it rip. You have nothing to lose as long as you make a deal with yourself: NO ONE will ever see it,” says John Smolens. “Here’s the thing about writing fiction : You’re alone. You work on your sentences, again and again. You have a chance to seem smarter in your final draft than you were in your first. Your character may not have the right rejoinder today, but by next Thursday she may come up with something . . . witty, urbane and wise and, despite your hours of labor, it may even appear to be spontaneous.” Musicians can jam — it’s not solitary, and what you hear is what you get — goofs and all. For writers, the first draft is a Solo Improvisation, “littered with sour notes and botched chords.” You’re just trying things out, what works, what fits. It’s the reason you write that “sh*tty” first draft: to see what you can’t/shouldn’t do before you discover what you CAN do. And with revision, patience, no one will ever know your first draft existed.
  5. WRITE EVERY DAY.
    John Dufresne believes in writing every day: says that writers want to write, but there’s the world beyond the writing room, intruding. And all those books to read! But “the doing, the intense activity of the mind . . . fascinates the writer . . . allows her to shape order from chaos. Writers write. Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” He goes on to say “if you’ve tried to quit and catch yourself back at the desk — well, then don’t give up. Give in.” Good news: all the writing doesn’t go on at your desk. It goes on while you’re out in the world. So he advises carrying a pen, notebook; (today it’s more likely to be an Android or your phone). Whatever works. Gather evidence. With pen in hand (or other recording devise, perhaps), you think differently, observe more keenly, learn to pay attention, keep your senses alert. The note is repository, source of material, and refuge. “Go there when you need to think. Writing . . . engenders more writing. “And everything you write today informs everything you will ever write. James Scott Bell, on the other hand, is a big believer in word quotas. He claims the best advice he ever got was to set a quota and stick to it. He started doing a daily count, but life would intrude, and he’d miss a day (who hasn’t done that?), but when life intruded and he missed it, he became “surly and hard to live with.” He switched to a weekly quota, and has used it ever since: doesn’t have to beat himself up if he misses a day. He just writes a little extra on other days, uses a spread sheet (I, personally, let 750words.com keep track of my daily writing, and my total. Long ago, I passed a million words, and I’m almost 200K beyond that one now. And I can go look at any specific day since I started at ANY time!) Bell also intentionally takes one day off each week, his “writing Sabbath”. That seems to recharge his batteries. Meanwhile his projects are cooking away in his subconscious (like Stephen King’s ‘boys in the basement’ hard at work while King takes a day off). Bell also suggests taking a week-long break from writing each year. Use the time to assess your career, set goals, make plans — because “if you aim at nothing, there’s a very good chance you’ll hit it.”

Next week, Five More Writing “RULES” and How/When to Avoid/Circumvent Them.

“What Scares You Most: Writing? Or NOT Writing?”*

I’m told fear itself is not good and it’s not bad. No more than a weather vane: it just lets us know if we’re ready to meet or anticipate the challenge before us. Fear is only problematic if we do — or sometimes, don’t do — something to avoid feeling what’s bothering us.

Scared to pitch to an editor in that crowded elevator? Watching floor numbers overhead won’t help. What’s the worst that can happen? The editor might say, “I’m thinking of my up‑coming speech to the group. Could we talk about this after the next meeting?” Or, “Sorry, I’m not looking to pick up any new clients just now.” So, what were you so afraid of? And why? Both answers are civil, straightforward, easily understood. And one of them contained an invitation for further congress.

So we need to swallow some lessons about fear. How do you know when fear’s got you by the throat? You pass out in the elevator? Run, screaming, from the confines of the sliding door. Some real signs of fear:

A. You consider giving up writing.

  1. You keep revising. And never finish.
  2. You write in a frenzy, for hours . . . and its still not “good enough”

B. You’re afraid . . . so what?

  1. Admit (even just to yourself) what you’re afraid of. Out loud. Then let it go if it sounds silly.
  2. It’s OK to let the fears have their say inside your head. In fact, if that’s where they are, learn to ignore them while they’re talking.
  3. Find a way to prevent that fear from taking over; stopping you from moving forward.

C. Change your focus from the doing to the results.

  1. You think your book isn’t going to be good enough? And you’re only on chapter 2? Start working on chapter 3, and forget about “The End” result.
  2. Check out what your intentions are with this book, all the commitment you’ve put into the first chapters, the love you’ve had for any part of the process, your ultimate goal. Your intent could become to follow through, whether the ending is what you wanted or not at the beginning.

D. Are you a Perfectionist?

  1. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Neither was J.K. Rowling when she started. I suppose she really isn’t now either. What she is, is dedicated to finishing what she starts.
  2. Acknowledge what, in the process, you are dedicated to — and keep that in mind.
  3. Study the genre or type of writing you’re attempting. What can you do which will bend your story to the will of that genre or type?
  4. Aim for “finished” rather than “perfection”.

E. It’s not that hard . . . so don’t make it harder!

  1. It’s not time to panic about how to self‑publish; or what to do for a “selling” cover, or where to find an agent.
  2. None of those things, and a myriad of others, matter until you type “The End”.
  3. Staying up all night to write chapter 4 probably won’t help. Pace yourself. Set achievable goals that are in reach from the way that you write — is being “driven” your style? Or a sign of your fear?

F. Examine your writing habits, and decide what they mean.

  1. Avoidance? You keep putting off getting back to chapter 7? Is it because you’re stuck? Or scared?
  2. Rewrites? Maybe you got to “The End” once. And now you’re on your 10th complete rewrite? You won’t reach ultimate perfection. If it’s good — and your critique friends say so — consider, that might be fear talking to you. Set limits. “3 times per scene, then move on.”
  3. Substituting housework for writing? Haven’t written for days because you had to sweep the back porch? Do last week’s laundry? Walk around the block, so you can “think”? Fix dinner for your sick hubby? Well, OK. Some of those things probably do need to happen. Can you give a “chore” 15 minutes, then give your writing 15? If you alternate, maybe you’ll be surprised at how much gets done, of each.
  4. Whatever you do should be done in the spirit of re‑training your bad habits, glorying in your good ones!

G. Does writing scare you? Good! Let it !

  1. Is the “scare” going to harm you? Scared of starting? Writing slowly? Going too fast? Letting anyone, even your trusted writing friends see it? If it won’t harm you, do as much of it as possible until the fear goes away.
  2. You’ve finished a book. Now someone in your women’s club has asked you to speak to them about writing. Just Do It.

H. Focus on the feat, not the fear.

  1. You write a column that’s accepted for a gardening tract in your town.
  2. Focus on the gardening you love and how to express the how to’s and the where and wherefore’s.
  3. Don’t focus on the fact that you’ll have to face this group, and talk. With coherence. You can do it!

I. Worst‑case scenarios should be faced.

  1. What’s wrong with my story? I’m a terrible writer. According to whom? My non‑writing neighbor. Or the magazine which turned it down.
  2. Why can’t I finish my story? Because it’s hopeless, it’s bad. If I never finish, I’ll never have to send it. I’ll never know — but I’ll be safer then.
  3. But if I finished, and got some feedback, I might improve. Wouldn’t that put me one step closer to reaching my goals?

J. Free your Fear

  1. Realize, fear isn’t the problem. “Fearing the fear” is the problem because it stops us in our tracks.
  2. Will getting rid of the fear mean that all my dreams will come true? No. But they may come one step closer to being realized.
  3. Your writing is important. Important to friends and family. Important to you! Your life is important, to all those same folks, including you!

Step it up. Identify the fear. Face the fear. It’s your fantasy. It’s your need to write things down. And it’s your Life. Make the most of them all.


*These 10 general ideas about challenging fears were garnered from The Writer’s Digest online from an article by Sage Cohen, entitled “10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing,” Jan. 3, 2012. If the above wasn’t enough, look it up and read his take on these ten challenges.

Before and After

I just finished reading a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien that discussed the sort of problems Tolkien encountered while writing The Lord of the Rings. I found it interesting and a little amusing to find that the first draft of the novel was quite different from the final version we’ve come to know.

For example, Frodo was initially named Bingo, and Aragorn was also a Hobbit. The Ring was hardly even part of the plot. And Gandalf was held captive by Treebeard instead of Saruman because Saruman wasn’t even part of the story. Neither were Lothlorien or Rohan.

It’s odd to think of such a classic has having been anything but the novels we have today, but clearly they went through a long road to become what they are.

There are two main points of encouragement we can take from this:

  1. Even Tolkien didn’t get it “right” right away. At one point he stopped writing for over a year because the story had become a muddled mess that he couldn’t find a way out of. We often think that our favorite novels sprang fully-formed from the author’s mind like Athena from the head of Zeus. In reality even the best works require rework, and often a lot more than we realize.
  2. Tolkien did get it right–or at least right enough–through hard work. He was notorious with his publisher as a perfectionist, but there’s no denying now that the finished product was one heck of a story. If you’re willing to put work into it, your story can be improved. Editing may not be fun, but it’s a useful discipline to develop.

Tolkien had to spend time developing his craft, too. Before The Hobbit was even published he had spent years writing stories for his family and colleagues to enjoy. And The Lord of the Rings took over a decade to complete–and then another five years to get published. And even then it was not before it had gone through significant revision. In short, even Tolkien wasn’t Tolkien right away.  There is always hope.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Thinkin’ Lean and Mean: The Art of UNwriting

Two or three years ago I expanded on some ideas from an old issue of Writers Digest by Nancy Kress called “Wielding the Scalpel”. Sometimes, we need to write less, not more. But what if we already wrote the “more”? Then it’s time to think about what I call UNwriting some parts of what I’ve already written.

I suppose plenty of writers have first drafts so lean they could be called “skimpy”. They go back and pad the work — in college my friends and I called this “pad it and fake it.” I am not one of those writers. What I need to do is stop over‑writing: saying everything two or three times to be sure I’ve been “understood.”

Even the best of writers can get caught up in that trap. Years ago, Irving Stone (th The Agony and the Ecstasy, Lust for Life, and SO many more!) had a stop‑over in SLC, and was kind enough to speak to the League of Utah Writers just after his book, The Greek Treasure, had come out. He told us the story of publishing The Agony and the Ecstasy. He’d offered it around many times, but it was always a “no” from editors. He took it to a secretary he knew, asking her to take a look and tell him what was wrong. She said she knew nothing about writing, but he insisted her fresh eyes might be a help.

After reading the manuscript (can you imagine how long it was? It’s a huge book still!), she said to him, “You’ve said everything three times.” She went through again trying to see which time he’d said it best. He (they?) slashed it mercilessly and sent it out again. It sold right away. He took the advance and used it to marry her, and she edited all his books after that! Gotta love a love story about Unwriting!

But how to go about it on your own?

I know I love every golden word I put down. But maybe if I look at small bits at a time . . . ? I’m talking sentences, phrases, words . . . maybe even syllables.

Cut redundancy. Redundancy is irritating because it contains no new information. It might also make the reader lose trust in your story. Trust your reader. And trust yourself to be able to write with clarity. Don’t lose the readers’ trust in your authority.

Deliberate repetition for a specific effect can be good. Just be sure it adds impact to the plot on an important point. Repetition for the sake of repetition is . . . redundancy.

Get rid of over‑explanation. If you feel you have to explain or excuse something, it’s probably not on the page. In what ways do you “defend” your choices in the midst of a critique group? Instead, assume that the reader is at least as smart as you are and can figure things out. It can be tough figuring out what most people know or don’t know, but consider your target audience: if you’re writing historical romance, is the word “farthingale” going to throw them off without explanation? Probably not. In any case, they’ll probably figure it out through the context in which it was used.

Pick up the pace. “Pace” can be thought of as how much new information a reader can absorb per page or per 100 words. Fat‑free paragraphs should be clean, crisp, quick. Getting them slimmed down may even cut your verbiage by half, or more. Think of that as taking a novel from almost 170,000 words to 90,000. Look carefully at your mss. and cut every word you can — it will teach you what makes “good” writing.

Get over yourself, when it comes to “literary effect”. Finally, cut for literary effect (I often think I’m writing for literary effect, when I’m probably over‑writing and obliterating the “effect” part!). Instead of cutting the fat, this means omitting connections where you’ve pointed the way, so the reader can puzzle those connections out for himself. Get readers involved, and they’ll likely keep reading. This takes careful analysis on the writer’s part: focus on the most climactic incident, or the moment of realization. How can you cut the actions down which lead to that result in order to force the reader’s deduction of what those actions were? Is that a stronger, more enhanced version of your story?

A caveat or two: these guidelines for cutting don’t apply in the same way to dialogue. Your dialogue characterizes, not only by content, but by form. Your character may be a repetitious person, someone who over‑explains. S/he may be pompous, insecure, lonely — and such dialogue will help to show his/her real nature.

Remember, too, that some very successful books are heavily padded. If they were or are truly successful, they obviously have something else to offer: exciting action, thrilling characters, intriguing ideas, etc. Yet it never hurts to offer the reader clean, crisp prose, which can make the difference between sales and rejections — especially important for as‑yet unpublished authors.

So go ahead: get ready and Unwrite something today!

“Caring” for Our Goals

A dear friend, and former writing student of mine, Barbara Wilson, momprofilepicruns a marvelous blog called “Uniting Caregivers”. She and her husband were in a horrific auto accident over 20 years ago. She felt a necessity to bring caregivers together in some way to learn from (and lean on) each other during the challenging times of being a caregiver.

Last Tuesday, the post was written by her grown daughter, Katie Wilson Ferguson, who was very young when her parents were in that crash. She talked about the “Power in the Positive.” She was talking, of course, about caregiving. But I think it all applied beautifully to writing as well.

Her five main points were:

  1. Only set goals you truly desire.
  2. Write your goals down
  3. Focus on the positive outcome.
  4. Attach emotions to the goals.
  5. Reward yourself.

A. What do you REALLY want out of your writing? To be published? That’s not always within the control of the author — unless you’re willing to do the incredible work of self‑publishing. Maybe what you REALLY want is to leave something to your family. Or you want to explore answers to problems you’ve experienced in your life and how you handled them. Or you want the “fame” and the “money”. Are these realistic expectations for your writing? They are if you’re willing to put in the work to make them so.

B. While writing your goals down, Katie suggests that you do so in the present tense. What do you know about present tense from your writing? It is more immediate. It brings the “reader” (you, once you finish writing it down; possibly family or friends who will help you stay on target) closer to the action. Therefore it’s a powerful way of stating what you wish, hope and strive to bring about.

C. Be sure you are focusing on what you do want, not those things you don’t want. Focus and think about your feelings once those goals have been accomplished. Is that a wonderful “warm‑fuzzy” or what? This focus will help you to concentrate on the good outcome, rather than the pain, trouble, travail — and the occasional disappointments — which assail all of us.

D. Think about how the emotions felt the first time you finished a piece of writing. Maybe it was a poem in 2nd grade. An essay for your high school English class. The first time you read something aloud to a writing critique group — and they liked it! Keep that emotion close to your heart. One of my favorite experiences was when my English teacher got a kick out of an essay I’d written about the fear of going down into the dark, isolated basement in my grandmother’s house. Of course, I’d exaggerated everything — the cobwebs through the back enclosed porch, the steep stairs, the dark of the furnace room, all just to grab a bottle of my grandma’s peaches to take to her upstairs — “Oh, No! She wanted apricots”. How I ran back through that path to get out of the scary basement. My teacher, a well‑known local writing teacher and poet, asked if she could use my essay to share “what can come out of an ordinary English class assignment.” My mother was so proud — made me read it aloud to the whole family! (But my grandmother was mortified: “Our basement isn’t that dirty!”) I didn’t make much headway trying to explain “poetic license.”) I still get a kick out of thinking about that incident, and remembering my poor grandmother’s worry about “what people would think.” I can still feel all the emotions I felt then. So add emotion.

E. Rewards: when you finish that set of three poems, give yourself time to read another chapter of a book you love. When your critique group thinks “Now it’s ready to send out” to that contest, or agent, or editor, celebrate with your critiquers. Include them in your joy, your reward. When you finally write THE END on p. 317, go out to dinner with the whole family ‑‑‑ they had a lot to do with your making that goal as well.

F. And now step SIX: write down your NEXT goal, remembering all the above steps.

Some of you may be caregivers as well as writers ‑‑‑ I’d like to encourage you to take a look at the Uniting Caregivers blog. It a wonderful source of information and encouragement about this difficult but rewarding service. Especially take a look at Barbara’s “About Author” section to see what she’s about.

 

 

Keeping Writing Research Fun

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Wasted Words

By Lu Ann Brobst Staheli

Writers are wordsmiths. Writing words is what they do.

But sometimes, writers write too many words!

During the initial drafting process, writers often shoot for a word count target. This is especially true if we are participating in a challenge such as NaNoWriMo or Word Wars with our Twitter friends. The higher the number of words we write in a given time frame, the better. We do everything we can to win the battle, collecting lots of wasted words along the way, all in the effort to have the largest word count when the match is done.   

But by the time we are ready to revise and edit, we realize that many of those precious words we wrote in the struggle to reach our goals need to go away if we want our manuscript to be worthy of publication.

I’m as guilty of wasting words as anyone. It’s easy to fall into the trap of a favorite phrase that clutters my writing. I lost track of how many times I had to remove the phrase “a bit” from one of my manuscripts, but that’s not the only phrase I’ve been guilty of using. I’ve learned to keep a “watch list” during my own editing process, and the search function has helped me get rid of the over-use of certain words.

But overuse is not the only way an author can waste words. Sometimes we use words to “warm up” to what we really want to say, as fillers when we aren’t sure what we want to say, or because of habits we have picked up as we speak, which we let stray into our writing. Here are a few examples:

“And with that” –Writers add this phrase while drafting when they want to move a character from place to place, instead of just moving them. Almost every time it draws the reader out of the point of view character and into the thoughts of a narrator using the author’s voice. Remove this phrase and show us the action to strengthen your scene.

“Up” –It’s amazing how many times this little word can be added when it’s not necessary. Rose up, sat up, and stood up are just a few examples. Search for “up” and read the sentence without it. If the sentence makes sense, omit the word, or better yet, find a way to strengthen the verb.

“Thought to himself” —Everyone is guilty of this one, but if you stop to think about it, the phrase is sort of silly. Who else would you think to? Unless you’re a backwards mind reader, there is no way you can think to anyone other than yourself. Delete “to himself.”

“Small / Large” —We often add these words, thinking they help a reader determine size, but unless you specifically give something to compare the item to these qualifiers don’t add anything to the description. “A small man” could describe any man without another man to compare him to. Is he under 5’ tall? Or is he simply a couple of inches shorter than Michael Jordan? If you want to see how meaningless these words become, pick up a copy of Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen and read, looking especially for the word “small.” I love the story, but it becomes laughable when you hit the section where he uses small something like ten times in a half a page.

“Well / Um” –These words are wasted in conversation, and they are even more wasted in written text. Find another, better way to show hesitancy in a character’s speech.

Look over your own work in progress this week and make note of wasted words. Do a search and see how many you can delete. Do you notice an improvement in the quality of your writing? Continue to build your list, make every word count, and you will see improvement as you write.

One word of warning—you’ll also start to see other people’s wasted words as you read. This can be good if you add their words to your editing list to avoid in your own writing, but it may also drive you crazy as you realize some of your favorite authors could have been so much better if they’d only learned not to waste words.

 ——–

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli is the award-winning author of Just Like Elizabeth Taylor, When Hearts Conjoin, and Psychic Madman. Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith will be available in March from Walnut Springs Press. Staheli can be found at www.LuAnnsLibrary.blogspot.com.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn wrote her first book, about a talking grandfather clock, when she was six – and hasn’t stopped writing since. In fact, she can’t “not write,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t missed a day of writing in her journal for the past four years!

As a winner in this year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge, Bonnie produced her latest dystopian novel, "Escaping Safety," and is now working on its sequel. She is also close to completing a fantasy romance series, "The Legends of Elldamorae," whose characters have captured her heart and can’t wait to have their stories revealed.

Bonnie’s mantra is, “I write because I believe every story deserves to be told.”

You can learn more about Bonnie, and read her inspirational blog posts, on Where Legends Begin at http://www.bonniegwyn.blogspot.com/

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.

Seven Edits Part 7: Visual Balance

Last, but not least! Well, okay, maybe least, but at least last!

Photo by Krypto on Flickr

Once you’ve combed through your work and fixed all the broken parts, and it’s pretty dang awesome, I think it’s good to go through and do an edit to make sure it looks awesome. If you’re submitting your work, the editor and layout designer will do most of this, but it’s good to get it as ready as possible.

Make it look nice on every page. You want a first time flip of the book to catch the reader’s attention and get them interested in the book no matter the page. Specifically:

  1. Make sure you have plenty of paragraph breaks. Make sure the dialogue looks good, and that there aren’t any blocks of text that take up 3/4 of a page. Those just look boring, even in an exciting scene. If there are some ugly pages, try breaking them up.
  2. Make sure there are chapter and section headings (depending on the genre).
  3. Make sure there are enough chapters to give a sense of forward movement without diluting that effect by having a new chapter on every page. A good chapter rule of thumb is to have a chapter per scene.
  4. You can also use a white-space between paragraphs to provide further balance and interest, or if you need more than one scene in one chapter. Just don’t do it regularly, such as every other paragraph, or it will look terribly unprofessional.

If you’re planning on self publishing this book, you’ll want to do a ton more work to get the book ready. Get a fantastic font, give it some flair with little graphics, etc. Remember, you’re giving your readers an experience, not just a story. Think of your book like a restaurant. Sure, the food is what it is regardless of the building, but can you imagine going into a restaurant and it looks like a back warehouse or college classroom? You want to walk into a place and feel the setting. Cool decorations on the wall, just the right color tones, and even subtle background music to set the right mood. Your book is the restaurant for your story. Make it awesome!

See all 7 Edits

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Seven Edits part 6: Line Edit

Photo by sethoscope on Flickr

Some writers use the line edit for their first revision. I highly recommend saving it until late in the game. If you’re doing it right, there will be so many changes that will take place in the first five revisions that you will have quite a different story by the time you’re ready to do the sixth. With all the work you’ve put into it up to this point, it’s probably pretty smooth, and the worst of the line edit problems will have already taken care of themselves.

Word searches are your best friend on this edit (ctrl-f in Windows and Linux or cmnd-f in Mac).

  1. Do a word search for all your overused, underused, misused, clichéd, and pet words. Do a full spellcheck. Look for qualifier words, like “very,” “so,” and “slightly.” Look for exclamation points. Look for “ly” words. Look for words like, “big,” “little,” “small,” “fast,” “quick,” and any other super common adjectives to see if there are opportunities for metaphor, description, or unique phrasing.
  2. Clean up passive voice (doing some of these word searches will help with that a lot). Look for examples of telling and change most to showing. Find terms like, “I saw,” “He thought,” and “She noticed,” and replace them with the thing seen, thought, or noticed. These are almost always telling.
  3. Do another check for your most common their, there, they’res and too, to, twos. Make a note of the ones most common in your writing. Just be careful with ctrl-f searches to not make “change all”s unless you’re sure it won’t turn all “the queen bees” into “Queen Elizabeth bees” (true story). If you have the slightest question about anything, Google the question. Someone out there has answered it, and they’ve posted it online. If what they say doesn’t sound quite right, check more of the search results to get a consensus. Just bare in mind that “yahoo answers” and such sites aren’t authorities on the subject.
  4. Make sure paragraphs are indented properly.
  5. Make sure chapters have proper page-breaks rather than a bunch of “enters.”
  6. Make sure you have names of places and people capitalized, and species names lowercase.
  7. Run the official spell-checker. Put your place and character’s names in the dictionary to make it less painful—or at least click “skip all,” when it gets to those names.
  8. More often than not, the shorter way to say it is better. Tighten the wording so it doesn’t break flow.
  9. Look for things that pull a reader out of the story. Remember that you want your writing to be invisible. You want the readers to read the whole thing without noticing they’re reading it, because they’re so wrapped up in the story. A wordy sentence, a weird explanation, glitchy dialogue—anything that makes a reader have to read twice to get it (other than flipping back to look for clues they may have ignored) should be ironed out to make it invisible.
  10. Send your book to beta readers. This is the edit they’ll most likely focus on. Still, ask them to tell you if there is anything boring, unbelievable, or confusing—and ask for their favorite parts so you don’t edit those scenes out.

See all 7 Edits

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Seven Edits part 5: Structure Revision

It may seem counterintuitive to do the structure revision this late in the game, but I’m laboring under the assumption that when you started the story, you had at least a rudimentary idea of the structure you’d be working with. If you need to move large chunks around, you’ll usually be able to do it without terribly destroying your story. Plus, doing those other revisions first makes it easier to identify the chief elements of your story.

Also, the structure revision involves a lot of polishing work of individual chapters and scenes.

  1. Hold your book up to the three act Hollywood structure. You can get a lot of detail about the three act structure on Wikipedia. Basically, divide your story into three major parts and make sure the first part (act 1) introduces the characters, major plot elements, and much conflict. In the second act, there should be rising tension and complications to the conflicts introduced in the first act. The third act should contain the climax, where the tension and conflict are the highest, and then resolve the plot and major subplots.
  2. Check your story against the seven point story structure, as Dan Wells’ playlist will teach below. Don’t worry if it doesn’t match up perfectly, just see if there are improvements that can be made without crushing the story. The idea is not to amputate and dismantle your book, but to help you refine elements that could be strengthened and trim parts that don’t fit into the overall structure. Remember, these are guidelines, not rules.
  3. Check each scene: make sure each has a purpose. A scene is a situation in a particular point of view and place at a specific time. When any of those things change (POV, place, or time), it’s probably a new scene. Make each scene it’s own short story, if possible, with it’s own small arc.

If there is a major problem with the structure of your story, you may have to go back and deeply rework it. This kind of discovery is painful, but it doesn’t imply that your story is a lost cause. Go with your gut, and realize that even after all edits, your story won’t be perfect. Often, structure problems can be fixed with a rewrite of the climax or opening scene. If you do have to rewrite a huge chunk, don’t worry, with the character revision you’ve already done, it will go much better this time around.

If bad gets to worse, get a second opinion. Show a trusted writer friend your book and ask what it most needs to become workable. Sometimes a different set of eyes can see things that could make your story work with only a few minor adjustments.

Chances are, this edit will not be as brutal as the previous two edits, and if you make it through this one, you’re story has passed all the “Can this work?” filters, and has already proven that with just a little more work, it will be awesome.

See all 7 Edits

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.