Posts Tagged editing

Six Ways To Self-Edit & Polish Your Prose

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Whether you are new to writing or an old pro, brushing up on the basics is always helpful. Because no matter how GOOD the story is? If the reader is busy stumbling over this stuff, it ruins the fictive dream and she will never GET to the story. So today we are going to cover six ways to self-edit your fiction. Though this stuff might seem like a no-brainer, I see these blunders ALL the time.

….unfortunately even in (legacy) published books.

When I worked as an editor, I found it frustrating when I couldn’t even GET to the story because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

There are many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really?O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

#4 Too Much Physiology…

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more.

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “snip” “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said becomes white noise. Readers don’t “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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96 Comments

The Single Best Way to FINISH Your Novel

Kristen's New Author Pic

Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.

#ThingsOnlyWritersAndPornStarsSay

So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

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Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

I….LIVE….AGAIN!

I….LIVE….AGAIN!

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later😉.

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee😉.

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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65 Comments

Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader

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Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends😀 .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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169 Comments

Franken-Novel, Perfectionism & The Dark Side of Critique Groups

After six years in critique her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups also have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at resonating with readers, thus being successful.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for commercial publication.

In a good traditional critique group we learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” We learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and why modifiers aren’t always extra-nifty. We will hopefully learn self-discipline in that we need to attend regularly and contribute. We can also forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

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Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see structural flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell us nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

***A beta reader is a regular person who likes to read our genre and will tell us about the story from a reader’s perspective.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

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As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Fifi end up in Costco wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

They’ve missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Our job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections our critique groups can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

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Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Hooked by Les Edgerton, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell are a great start. In fact, ANYTHING written by Edgerton or James Scott Bell, just buy it and read it. You can thank me later😉 .

That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers who have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query or publication.

Scrap it, part it, shop it or ship it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for four, five, even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many successfully published authors has the group produced?

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond that group for additional critique.

We must make sure our work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for this brutal career. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer us publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

If your goal is to write great novels, make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I spent way too many years in a critique group that produced all kinds of articles and NF, but no one had published a successful novel. Then I wondered why the critique was…eh.

When I left that group for the DFW Writers Workshop, my world tilted on its axis because DFWWW is AWESOME and is known for producing professionals in all genres. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without them. I also STRONGLY recommend joining RWA (Romance Writers of America) and find an RWA chapter nearby even if you don’t write romance.

RWA is by FAR the most professional group of authors any of us can connect with. They are at the leading edge of the industry and these folks will totally send in the flying monkeys if you don’t get back to writing. 

By the way, if you want to get more out of your critique group, I have a class this Saturday (details below) that can make sure your larger structure is sound. This class can do what your critique group can’t and it will help you spend your time more wisely.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Does your critique group seem to only run you in circles? Have you fallen for the perfectionism thing? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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76 Comments

Professional Authors Need H.E.A.R.T.—What It Takes to Make It In The Digital Age of Publishing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Sorry I’ve been lax about posting. The Attack of The Peanut cascaded into a splendid ER visit and a bad case of Shingles. Nothing to make a gal feel young like a case of Shingles. I now need denture paste and glitter. I am sure there is some mayhem I can create with that😉 . Oh, and I want an obnoxious pink cane with a tennis ball on the end so I can sit in my driveway and yell at people that they’re driving too fast.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, was going to chat some about writing (in this weird gap I get between waking up and pain meds kicking in). No precise time when THAT happens so should be FUN. Being laid up in bed doped on pain meds gives you LOTS of blog ideas…and seriously weird dreams. How does one translate competing in ice skating against Nancy Pelosi and she wins because she has the better Monster Truck?

I REALLY want a Monster Truck.

Anyway, WRITING.

Today we will use an acrostic because they’re cool and keep this ADD teacher/blogger on SQUIRREL! …um, task.

Writing takes H.E.A.R.T.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Hard Work—Yep, no magical program that can whip out a NYTBSA. But frankly, would we want one? Those in writing for the wrong reasons (make a quick buck) abound. Some succeed but they’re rare. Most of us do this writing thing because of LOVE. We love to write, to teach, to share, to tell stories. We are explorers who can venture into the human mind or into galaxies never before imagined. And no matter where we go, there is coffee.

That’s a perk *bada bump snare.*

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.38.15 AM

One thing that CAN feel weird though is often what we do doesn’t feel like work so it freaks us out that we’re being lazy. No, trust me. Reading books, watching movies, series, TV IS work. We’re studying the craft. And others can laugh at you, but who mocks the NFL player who watches the same football replays over and over? Or plays Tic-Tac-Toe and no one wins? I have yet to see them draw a line through any of the Xs or Os. *rolls eyes*

Ok. We laugh at them. But they don’t care and make millions for throwing a ball. Take a lesson.

We might be weak at something. Remember that our greatness is only limited by our strongest weakness. We can be a pro at dialogue, but if we have no clue how to plot effectively? We can limit how well we connect to the reader. Still focus on your strengths, but acknowledge and develop your weaknesses so your writing is balanced.

Allies—Again, this is why I started WANA. I knew what it was like to be completely alone trying to do this writing thing. I might as well have told friends and family I was pursuing a career in coloring books.

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

The world oddly devalues what we do, yet they spend most of their disposable income on what artists create—music, movies, books, video games, TV, TV series. Writing changes the world. It’s ended slavery, given hope to the hopeless, been the greatest catalyst for equality and often is the spark that lights the scientific innovation. *cough* Star Trek. Thank Gene Roddenberry for that smart phone the world is addicted to.

But you will need others to remind you that what you are doing is important. Also, learn to spot allies versus energy vampires. We all have them. People who have problems they want us to solve and then they do what they were going to do in the first place.

Use those words wasted on someone who won’t listen anyway and put them on a page. Also, learn to say NO to time-suckers and YES to allies. No is rarely popular, but I’ve learned I would rather be respected than popular.

Empathy—The mark of an excellent writer is how well she can get in a character’s skin/head. Study people. Listen. Pay attention. Get in another person’s head/heart for real. What would they think, say, feel? If we fail to do this authentically, readers will spot it.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 1.58.08 PM

Rhino Skin—I wrote an old post about critique groups someone stumbled across. I mentioned that we gutted each other’s work. This vexed the commenter, but why? I would rather someone be hard on me in private than get slayed in reviews that are for public view permanently. And even if the person is a total jerk? Great training for this thing called reality. There are some reviewers who will post venom for the sole purpose of being mean. I don’t know why. But bullying has always been around and likely not going away. Though I’ve been blessed with wonderful, thoughtful reviews on Amazon, there are people on Goodreads who clearly never read my book who gave me one star just because they could.

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

But, if you’ve been in a critique group of respectable peers who give tough love? @$$clowns are easier to write off (or write INTO a novel).

If you can possibly find and join and RWA group? DO IT, even if you don’t write romance. This is the greatest collection of pros you can hope to find.

We have to develop discernment (which comments are crap and what’s worthy of looking into), but even if it’s pure jealous hate B.S.? Still useful. Hey, we always need someone to shame/torture/kill in our next novel, right?

I won’t sugar-coat. If you write anything, especially anything worthwhile? The haters will flock to you. You are the light that reveals their fear and suckiness. Actually hate is proof we are doing something right. But it will still hurt. I’ve been in martial arts my whole life and getting hit in the face still hurts. I just no longer take it personally.

Same with writing. Feel the sting, then let it go….until you can create a plot involving a serial killing H.R. Manager with tragically small man parts or a former coworker with terminal cellulite.

Time—Rid THIS phrase from your lexicon. “I can’t find the time.” Time is not the remote control hiding in your couch cushions. Pros don’t find time, we make time. You are a priority and so is your writing. Again, it is better to be respected than popular. I’m not saying these can’t coexist. But, those close are NOT writers. They do NOT understand us and won’t. Most people have no clue why anyone would write anything unless there was a grade at the end or a boss expected it.

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 9.40.52 AM

We will have to say NO. Guard your gift because I can’t do it for you. No one can. As the late great Robin Williams said, “It’s like partial circumcision. Either go all the way or $#@%#@$ forget it.”

Before we go, I AM going to mention a series of classes I have coming up in early September. I call them the Going Pro Series. Back to School for AUTHORS. There’s Craft, Branding/Social Media, and Business (which publishing path might be the best fit for YOU/your work). Often we make stuff too complicated. Hey, we are writers. It’s our thing. I am here to help.

These classes are designed to streamline ALL you do. In craft, you will learn essentials, how to plot leaner and meaner and write better and faster than you might believe you can. Branding/Social Media? It’s simple and doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as some might tell you. Business? We writers are in the Entertainment BUSINESS. Which path is a good fit? Not all writers were meant to self-publish. Not all works are good for traditional. This series is a guide to help you accomplish much more with far less effort. Feel free to take one (use WANA 15 for $15 off), but if you take all three in the BUNDLE? The cost is a lot less (and notes and recordings are provided for free for all classes).

Anyway…

What are your thoughts? Which parts of the H.E.A.R.T. are hardest for you? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of writing? Are you feeling pressured and strapped for time? Need help going a thicker skin? Feel at war with family or friends over your desire to write?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

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52 Comments

The Tips to Maximize Conflict in Your Novel

Kirk

Whenever I blog about craft, I’m coming from the perspective of a long-time editor. I do understand that the creation process is vastly different from the editing process. I know this because I’ve been on both sides. But, if you want to minimize revisions and rewrites, it helps to have some basic editorial skills in your toolbox.

Since many of you might want to pursue self-publishing, you’re wise to hire an outside editor. The cleaner the text, the lower the bill. Even if you want an agent or to traditionally publish, the tighter the writing, the better the odds your work will earn positive attention.

Line-edit is important and no longer my area of expertise. I put commas everywhere and pay other editors the move them where they need to be. Typos happen even to the best of us. Right now, I’m editing my almost 100,000 word mystery-thriller and *head desk*. We all need a good editor. In the past 12 months, I’ve written well over 600,000 words. Yet, even with all this practice? I oops. You will oops. It happens.

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to up the tension and conflict. Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.

Tip #1—Perfect is Boring

Everyone has baggage and people who don’t aren’t the mettle of great fiction. Decisions are driven by life experiences good and bad (for fiction, bad experiences are more interesting). We don’t need to have a character who was beaten in foster care to have “issues.” We’ve all had our hearts broken, been betrayed, or even been around people who measure us against impossible standards.

A character can be impulsive because she came from a household that was far too structured. He can refuse to trust because his last job brought him in for a glowing quarterly review, only to fire him the next week. She can refuse to give in to love because she’s been self-sufficient so long she fears losing freedom.

Never underestimate the little things that can propel decisions (particularly bad ones). Many readers can’t relate to fifteen years of horrific sexual abuse, but they can easily relate to a parent, guardian or former love who was never pleased and withheld affection. They can connect to a character who’s deeply insecure because of being compared to a sibling.

I’m not saying we can’t have characters with nightmare backgrounds, but it isn’t mandatory. What is mandatory is that a character arc. If we begin with a fully actualized protagonist, then there is no way to grow, thus no crucible. The plot problem should be what fires away character flaws (refusing to be a team-player, unwillingness to trust, blind loyalty, etc.) and transforms a protagonist into a hero.

Tip #2—Some Personalities Naturally Clash

Every scene should have conflict. Conflict doesn’t need to be aggressive. Allies are often the best source of conflict in our arsenal. Think of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t the protagonist, but he creates a lot of tension because he’s utterly unpredictable. Allies never know if he’s going to sell them out to the bad guy, and often when he does, he comes to the rescue. He’s completely selfish, or is he?

If your protagonist is a paladin—embraces order and predictability, follows the rules, doesn’t like surprises—then a natural ally would be the maverick/loose cannon, the character who believes rules are “more guidelines.”

According to the Myers-Briggs, I score dead-even as an ENFP or INFP. While the MB jury is out as to whether I am an introvert or extrovert, I am off the charts on intuition. I make most of my decisions based off my gut. This gives my mom and brother—both ESTJs—a twitch. Why? We are polar opposites. I could care less about graphs, numbers and charts. My mantra?

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. ~Mark Twain

But? My mom, brother and yes, my husband, looooooove charts, Excel and bar graphs. Those closest to me process information and make decisions very differently than I do. This means, if I want them to be on the same page as I am? I have to write lists, show numbers, etc. Otherwise? We might as well be speaking two different languages. I speak the heart and they speak the head…and trust me when I say this has lead to a lot of conflict and misunderstandings.

Think Captain Kirk (all instincts) and Spock (all logic). We don’t need a ship of ticked off Klingons for all the tension. The dynamics between Kirk and Spock also propel the story and generate dramatic tension.

You're being highly illogical.

You’re being highly illogical.

If your character is a homebody? Pair her with a nomad. If he’s a rebel? Pair him with a rule-follower. You get the idea😀.

Tip #3—Nothing Worth Having Comes Easily

There is a difference between a “bad situation” and “conflict.” I recently beta read a book and part of my feedback was, “Everyone gets along too much.” Always run this simple litmus test:

“My character wants X, but then Y happens.”

It can be big stuff. Your character finds a key piece of evidence but then bad guys show and torch the place along with the proof of murder before a CSI team can get there. It can even be little stuff. Your protagonist needs to be able to unravel some problem and can’t think with noise, but one of her allies babbles like an idiot when nervous. Setbacks and roadblocks will intensify a story. Get your protagonist so close to what she wants she can taste it, then take it away.

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"

Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

Also, by mixing big problems with small problems, you will be able to better control the pacing of a story. If everything is a fight scene or car chase, it not only wears out a reader, it can quickly get boring. That is actually my complaint with the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Great stories, but another sword fight? I could only watch Sparrow swinging from ropes so long before it became tedious.

Whenever I do content edit, these are some of the areas I hunt for. A victim writer might get comments like “Too perfect” “Okay, I’m asleep” “Nothing happening” “Why does everyone get along so well?” Yet, whenever you do your own revisions, these are areas you can easily fix yourself. Even I am slashing through my novel looking for the Doldrums of Nothing Happening.

Do you have personalities that just hit you like industrial sandpaper? Maybe you are highly organized, but have a sibling couldn’t find her own butt with a flashlight and Google Maps? Can you think of people you know, but there is conflict because you process information differently? Is your partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) a person you like, if they didn’t drive you NUTS?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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100 Comments

Don’t Eat the Butt #3–Persistence Can Look a lot Like Stupid

Thank you Parks Australia for the image.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new series that I called Don’t Eat the Butt. Why? Because typing “butt” makes me giggle. No, I think there are some important lessons here, so let me explain. I have always found the puffer fish fascinating. For those who choose to eat the puffer fish, there is only ONE TINY PART of the puffer fish that is not deadly. Oh, and if you don’t know how to cut a puffer fish correctly, you can unwittingly unleash deadly poison into the non-poisonous part.

Take a bite! I dare ya!

Herb: Hey, this puffer fish kind of tastes like chick–…*grabs throat and falls over*

Fred: Note to self. Don’t eat the butt.

This idea of the puffer fish made me start thinking about our careers as artists. There are a lot of common misperceptions that can leak poison into our dreams if we aren’t careful. Thus, this series is designed to help you guys spot the toxic beliefs that can KILL a writing career. You might have heard the saying, Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Well, I am saying, Don’t Eat the Butt. 

Some of us have been there, done that and got the butt-tasting T-shirt. I am here to hand down what I have learned from being stupid enough to eat the Literary Puffer Butt and survive. Watch, listen and LEARN. The smart writer learns from her mistakes, but the wise writer learns from the mistakes of others.

Without further ado…

Don’t Eat the Butt Lesson #3–Persistence can look a lot like stupid.

The successful writer is the one who never gives up. Yeah, uh…no. This lesson is a bit tricky since, of course, the ability to stick to something is a major factor in success. But, as I like to say, “Persistence can look a lot like stupid.”

For those of you who follow this blog, I hope you took time to read Wednesday’s post The Future of Publishing–Bracing for Impact. Why do I mention this post? Because traditional publishing is certainly not giving up…on an old, wasteful, utterly uncompetitive paradigm. They are being persistent, all right. They are being persistent to the point of making dumb moves like “agency pricing” and clinging to the printed book in a digital world. The Big Six are doing what has worked for decades, oblivious to the changes all around that are about to spell their doom. What do you call the publisher who never gives up (on a flawed business model)?

Extinct.

Big Publishing is currently eating the butt. They saw the music industry eat the Music Puffer Butt and DIE, then the film industry dined on some Kodak Puffer Butt and DIED, and, in the midst of all these dead bodies industries, The Big Six are pulling up a chair and ordering the Literary Puffer Butt thinking they are the special exception. So let us at least be smart enough to learn from all this carnage.

Literary Puffer Butt KILLS.

Okay, moving on…

I believe in persistence, but we need to always make sure it is a smart persistence, an informed persistence, an honest persistence. I love Konrath’s quote, “What do you call the writer who never gives up? Published.” I totally agree, but this really great quote needs a little bit of clarification. Persistence alone (as we are seeing with Big Publishing) can be a disaster. It can make us get tunnel-vision and fail to see that we are on a dead-end road to destruction.

I teach at a lot of conferences, and every year I see the same people with the same books that have been rejected 624 times. They bring the same book to critique and redo the makeup on a corpse that they drag around even though it has started to stink up the place. Granted, some don’t keep querying the corpse, they self-publish it, and, even though it has only sold ten copies (all to their mother), they keep retooling the marketing plan, placing all their future hopes in one book. They remain loyal to a dead novel instead of taking it as the learning experience that it is and moving on to write more books and better books.

We all need to learn to be persistent. Persistence is a mark of maturity and character. Amateurs and infants drift from shiny thing to new shiny thing; professionals stay the course. But while persistence is noble, it must always be taken with a solid dose of reality. We need to stop, take an honest look at the situation, whatever that situation might be, and then be unafraid to ask the hard questions. We must invite real criticism even when we know it likely could sting like hell. And, after we’ve gotten a candid assessment of our novel or business plan or our dream to create the world’s largest Twister board? Then it is time to genuinely seek guidance from others to make a new plan, a better plan.

In the end? Friends don’t let friends eat Literary Puffer Butt.

So I have mentioned clinging to the same novel and reworking again and again as an instance of Literary Puffer Butt. What do you think? What other Literary Puffer Butt is lurking out there on the buffet that we might need to look out for? Have you eaten Literary Puffer Butt and lived to tell the tale? Share your story of survival. Have you saved a friend or family member from Literary Puffer Butt? And, yes, I am having way too much fun typing Literary Puffer Butt😀.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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75 Comments

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