Tag Archive: Self-editing

7 Ways Underwriting Sabotages Your Story

underwritWhile you might think anything that tightens a story and trims the word count is good thing, it’s important to realized this does not apply to underwriting. Underwriting is the reverse of overwriting: it’s when the author is too economical with their words, and critical aspects of the story come off as foggy, lacking in logic and confusing to the reader.

You may recall I wrote about overwriting a few weeks back; if not you can read that post here. Since people could clearly relate to the overwriting problem, I thought we could finish out the subject with some tips for the underwriters in the group.

So here are 7 ways underwriting sabotages a great story.

1. Welcome to Any Town, USA:
We have all read this book. It’s the one that’s theoretically set in some exotic location, yet the setting is so underwritten it’s a generic cityscape. In some cases a writer wants to create a setting that mimics countless other places so the reader can fill in details with their own experiences. But usually underwriting a setting is detrimental to the story. The reader can’t immerse themselves in the story, see the setting clearly, and enjoy an armchair traveler experience. There is no point in setting a book in Cyprus, Madagascar or the moon if the setting is lackluster and misty.

2. How Did Waldo Get There?:
Underwriters often place characters in just the right location for something completely implausible to happen. And they don’t explain the logic behind the character’s actions. It can make events feel too convenient or forced. This type of underwriting happens all the time with spontaneous plot devices. A classic example is when characters suddenly “remember” they already own the all important save-the-day item.

3. Bobbleheads R Us:
The bobblehead effect happens when the underwriter confines all a character’s actions and physical description to the facial area. This character reads like an animated head stuck on top of a stiff and shrunken body. Worse of all, they are often standing in a field of more bobbleheaded characters. So much of a real person’s character comes from the great stuff they can do with the other 90% of their body. A character isn’t limited to a mouth in the center of a dome-like head.

4. Ping-Pong Conversations:
No one enjoys reading a spirited volley of single word sentences. For one thing it leads to an overuse of exclamation points. And it makes the reader count lines to keep track of which character delivered the last soul crushing “Whatever!” While overwritten dialogue can read too on-the-nose, so can underwritten dialogue. These are passage where every “Okay!” meets with a “Great!” response. If one character favors one word remarks that’s fine, but make sure the other parties in the conversation are picking up the slack.

5. Teleporting POV:
It’s called head-hopping and it’s a reader’s worst nightmare. Underwriters leave off all those helpful transition markers, the clues that help a reader keep track of who’s talking, thinking or doing something important in a third person POV novel. It’s nice to think every character is so perfectly written those transitions are unnecessary, but that’s not realistic.

6. Philosophy School Dropouts:
Underwriting a character’s emotions makes them seem too stoic. While we all have a stoic character we know and love, they can’t be underwritten characters. To create a great stoic takes skill! The writer must bring in a vast array of personality nuances to flesh out the character in other ways. Underwriters tend to create a cast of stoic characters all lacking the sparkle to make them lovable. Any book with more than one stoic character and not set in 300 BCE Greece (when stoics were all the rage) probably has too many stoics.

7. A Long, Long, Time Ago?:
Time advances, yet its passage is unaccounted for by underwriters. The reader has no clue how much time drifts by as they move between chapters. Hours, days and minutes don’t require a perfect reckoning (that would be overwriting), but the clock needs to move in some predictable way. By writing a basic calendar into the story, couples avoid looking like instalove rejects, and the evolution of characters and their problems feels more believable to the reader. It doesn’t take much to pass time — a remark about a deadline or the mention of the advancing seasons are options to consider. A single line starting with: “Two weeks later…” should even do the trick.

It’s hard to catch your own underwriting because you know every aspect of your story. I don’t know any hardcore underwriters, but I have read many authors who underwrite in one or more of these critical areas. I think head-hopping is the most common problem. However, I’m looking forward to seeing how many writers can identify with some of these points.

If you think of something I’ve missed, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/7-ways-underwriting-sabotages-your-story/

12 Tips to avoid Overwriting

Overwriting imageOverwriting is a common problem for new writers. Even experienced writers can fall victim to the issue. It’s something, as a reader, that drives me nuts. It’s also something I’m guilty of needing friendly reminders about in my own early drafts.

Overwriting is defined as: a tendency to write too much, or too ornately.

A classic sign of overwriting is passages that read heavy, or require rereading to understand. It’s not something you want in your writing because those extra words obstruct the meaning, and lead to readers giving up or skimming. Overwriting can also read as stale or forced, like the writer is trying too hard.

Here are things I consider when I’m editing for overwriting:

  1. Start Right: The beginning of a book is often the most overwritten part. Many writers draft the first chapter several times, and infodumps and too much backstory creep in during that process. Either these extra bits need to go or they can be reworked into other chapters as needed.

  2. Trust the Reader: Readers are smart and they can remember what they read. Cutting out repetitions and leaving some aspects of the story to their imaginations is something all great writers do.

  3. Dump the Drama Queens: When every emotional nuance of a character’s inner journey ends up on the page they can sound like melodramatic crazy people. Most real people have emotional filters, and so should characters.

  4. Pull the Purple Prose: A well-placed new word is fun, even a touch of flowery language (if the character and the scene call for it) might work, but no one enjoys reading thesaurus vomit.

  5. Watch the Jargon: When an unusual word is the only one that works, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s clear from the context, or it’s defined in simple language.

  6. Curb the Metaphors: Prose should enhance the plot, not detract from it. Writers don’t need an overload of symbolism, alliteration and other prose devices to tell important stories. Emotions, characters and plot are just as important as prose.  Well-placed metaphors are also more memorable.

  7. Show, Don’t Tell: Common items need no explanations. If the character took his handgun out of a drawer and set it on his bedside table, we know the bedside table is next to the bed. Duh! (Yes, I have seen this happen.) I’ve also seen dining room tables put in dining rooms, and jeans made of fully described blue denim.

  8. Use It or Lose It: I used a gun in the above example because of Anton Chekhov’s law: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, it must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there. The only exception to Chekhov’s rule is when you intended to mislead, for example to create a red herring. I slightly disagree with Chekhov, I think the gun can be there for setting, but shouldn’t get any major description unless it’s going to come into play.

  9. Keep the Dialogue Meaningful: If two characters shouted for five lines of dialogue, neither character needs to say “I’m upset.” Their actions tell us they’re upset. Much overwriting comes from unnecessary on-the-nose dialogue. This is also true of overly obvious dialogue tags.

  10. Don’t Accessorize the Ordinary: Extra adjectives often expose weak sentences. Save word embellishments for the places where they can add value to the story instead of clutter.

  11. Intrusive Narration:  A narrator should work with the character dialogue and action, not replace or override it. This is often problematic when the author is breaking the fourth wall.

  12. Remember the Reader: Think about the audience and genre and write with the ideal reader in mind. Some genres are more accepting of overwriting than others, but it still pays to keep the story tight.

To get rid of overwriting, cull ruthlessly. Never give the reader the opportunity to skim, or to wonder if they just read the same line written in a slightly different way. Overwritten stories are a clear symptom of a writer who can’t kill their darlings.

Do you ever overwrite? If so, please share your strategies in the comments.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/overwriting/

Tired Sentences? Put Your Prose To The Test

Exhausting reader CC 2.0  photosteve101

Exhausting reader CC 2.0 photosteve101

Every writer wants to create prose packed with energy and vitality. They know dull, lifeless writing disappoints the reader. Tired sentences are often the cornerstone of bad prose. They disrupt the flow and bore the reader.

Take these tests and find out if your sentences pass, or if you’re writing tired sentences.

  • Same Sentence Starts:

The Problem: This one shows up a lot first person point of view, too many sentences will begin with and my. Opening the bulk of your sentences with any single word (she, he, a character’s first name, or anything else) is tiresome for a reader. Also, it can take on an unpleasant listing quality.

The Test: Print out some pages of your writing and highlight the first word of every sentence. Now read just the highlighted words. Did you see a pattern? If every third word is the same word, you have a problem.

The Fix: Even if you’re writing in the first person there is no reason for every sentence to start the same way. Use items, emotions, colors, just about any word can start a sentence. Find respected authors working in first person and take note of the words they use. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you might like it.

  • Pesky Verb Preferences:

The Problem: New and experienced writers alike fall into the habit of using the same stale verbs. No writer needs to use the same verb 20 or 30 times in a single page, and yet some do. Yes, I have counted. Overuse of to be verbs is a pet peeve of mine.

The Test: Use the pickle trick we taught everyone last year.Take a copy of your work (never the original) and use the search and replace function to change every occurrence of an overused verb for the word pickle. If your manuscript looks like relish vomit, you have a problem.

The Fix: Rid your work of dull verbs by rewording and replacing them with a better verbs. If you are having trouble thinking of fresh verbs, I recommend reading Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing, by Constance Hale. Although written for nonfiction writers, Hale hammers home the senselessness of sticking to a small assortment of verbs when so many other verbs are hungry for your attention.

  • The Long and Short:

The Problem: Most writers know you slow down readers with longer sentences. That’s great for delivering emotionally packed prose. So super short sentences must make your manuscript read faster, right? Wrong! Lots of short sentences stacked up like dominoes, can make your work read as simplistic and monotonous.

The Test: Nothing beats reading aloud. I even wrote a post about it last year, Reading Aloud: Why Hearing your Book is Important. In an ideal situation short and  long sentences should work together to create pleasing tempos, almost like music. If you start sounding singsong, or like you’re droning, you have a problem.

The Fix: Length preference is influenced by personal style, and modern readers favor shorter sentences. The genre you write in can help you find the right balance. Thrillers favor shorter sentences, whereas literary writers favor longer ones. There are programs to help you count and chart each sentence length, but I think editing by ear is still best.

Special Note: Longer sentences will impact the readability index and give your novel a higher score. This is an important consideration for children’s writers.

  • Structure Sabotaging Pace:

The Problem: Related to sentence length is sentence structure and complexity. A writer needs to know when to keep it simple. Making good decisions about sentence style will help a writer control the pace and the tone.

The Test: Print some pages of your writing and using three different colored highlighters mark each type of sentence construction. I use yellow for simple, orange for compound and red for complex sentences. If your pages look like a pleasing mix of all three colors, leaning toward the yellow/orange range, the chances are good you’re on track. If you have too much yellow (and you don’t write for young children) or too much red, you might have a problem.

The Fix: Look at the type of sentence structure you overuse. If your dialogue is mostly red, you need to break those ups. Real people use back-and-forth bursts of conversation. Simple sentences (the ones marked in yellow) work great for dialogue and will lend extra punch to something shocking. Use complex sentences to slow the reader down and make them think.  Again, the exact mixture is influenced by style and genre.

Special Note: Compound sentences are fantastic, we all love them. But beware; don’t rely on and as your main conjunction. Any repeated pattern starts to get monotonous after a while.

Hopefully you took the tests and didn’t find a single area to improve. Congratulations! Or maybe you didn’t pass. Sorry about that. At least now you know which good sentence villains you need to vanquish!

I’d love to hear your good sentence tips in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/4-tips-for-revamping-tired-sentences/

Self-Editing Redux: Spot Checking

Oops!I’m in the final stages of polishing my latest manuscript and going through my checklist for those tiny little nits that always manage to slip through. Rather than doing a complete read-through for like the millionth time (which at some point becomes counter-productive because you know it too well), I pick random passages and scrutinize them for errors. I use the search function on Word (a total lifesaver) to see how many times I’ve walked on the dark side and which allows me to clean up blunders quickly. I’ve collected these little nits over many years, not like lice, which crawl across your skin surreptitiously and require toxic chemicals to banish. This is easy peasy, albeit a tad tedious.

Here’s my Quicky Checklist:

  • How many –ing and as phrases do you use.
  • How many –ly adverbs?
  • Too many short sentences? Trying linking them together.
  • Too many long sentences when you’re writing a dramatic scene? Break them up.
  • Are you using a lot of italics? Use them only when a character is speaking to him/ herself and when you really want to emphasize a word or phrase. If the writing is good you shouldn’t need italics for added impact very often.
  • Overuse of profanity? It loses its effect if used too frequently.
  • Overuse of: that, very, suddenly, really…you know your bad words… (check my list from the post below.)
  • Cliches? Use sparingly and in character dialogue only.
  • Too many passive verbs? Search for “was” “were” and phrases like “started to” “hoped to” “began to”. They’re the mark of weak writing.
  • Only one punctuation mark allowed when ending a sentence!!!
  • Overuse of dialogue tags. Abandon them when only two people are speaking and it’s obvious who it is. And make sure the name always comes first. Michael said, not, said Michael.
  • Make sure none of your dialogue tags use an action. He sighed, he laughed. They’re not dialogue tags.
  • Overuse of the ellipsis… Know the difference between hesitation, interruption and just drifting off. Look it up online if you don’t know.
  • Read aloud random dialogue sections to see how they sound. Or have a friend read with you. Wherever you stumble, revise. Did you use enough contractions? Because that’s how people speak. Is the dialogue indicative of that particular character? Assign certain expressions to individuals to set them apart which helps your reader easily identify them.
  • Flip through your manuscript looking for white space. Is there a lot? Hardly any? A paragraph that runs for a half page, or maybe even the entire page? Do you have pages where there are no paragraphs at all? Just dialogue? You’re looking to vary the beats and rhythm.
  • Are all your chapters approximately the same length?
  • Look for repeated words. Only one per page, please. Several pages is even better.
  • This final one is a biggy. Every writer learns this as the first rule of writing. SHOW DON’T TELL. And yet, I’m repeatedly reminded of this by my editor. It sneaks in, just like those pesky little lice. One of the best ways is to search out the word “felt” or “was” or variations of “to” as in: I was angry. I was sad. I felt morose. I wanted to cry. I tried to smile. None of these show us the emotion, they tell us. You’d be surprised how often this creeps into your writing. Frequently, I feel those are powerful statements, emphatic and simple. But they’re not. They’re never as powerful as showing the body language or inner monologue: the blood rushing, the pulse quickening, the sweat forming, the hands fisting, the teeth clenching, the jaw set; the glass crashing into the wall, splintering into tiny shards of angry light.

I’ve written on self-editing before, so for more detail check out these posts, one from October 4th and one from October 11th.

You probably won’t catch them all, but you’ll catch a lot. And then your editor will hit you with a hundred more. Just hope he doesn’t use a big stick. (That was only half a cliche, so it doesn’t count.)

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/self-editing-redux-spot-checking/

9 Tips for Various Stages of Your Novel

As writers we often find ourselves at various stages with our work. Here are three popular stages and three posts from us to help you find a way through the challenges each stage creates.

 

B6 Chart_FotorStage 1: Just getting started? It is the hardest part. Lucky for all of us Heather has three great ways to plot your story.

Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

 

 

ShortRound SidekicksStage 2: Fleshing out the cast of players? No problem, Robin has some ideas to help you invite some new friends to the party.

Casting Call: 3 Fictional Character Archetypes

Casting Call: 7 Sidekick Archetypes

Casting Call: 3 Villains, It’s Good to be Bad

 

 

annualbluegrassStage 3: The work is done, but it needs more polish. Caryn has ideas to help you save on those huge editing bills.

Self-Editing: How To Pull the Weeds From Your Manuscript

Avoid Rejections by Making Sure Your MS is Agent Worthy

To Be or Not to Be: Avoiding Passive Verbs  

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/3237/

The Yeti Inside My Brain!

YShe sneaks up on me. A snarl freezes me, my fingers dance between the send and delete keys. The caustic drip of saliva trickles over my shoulder, splashing down on my keyboard in icy pools. She perches next to me, urging me to backspace my wretched pages into oblivion.

It’s the yeti inside my brain!

You may have your own yeti, it’s better known as an internal editor, and it’s an evil monster.

Insecurity strikes everyone, but many writers battle the yeti everyday and it can be our biggest hurdle. Of course we also need that voice, the one that makes us work harder and strive for perfection. But perfection isn’t real, and sometimes the yeti takes over, turning every decision into an agonizing internal debate.

Here are a few things to try when you need to silence the inner yeti.

Do something else for a while:
Tension feeds my yeti, the more stress I’m under the more I tend to find fault with what I’ve written. Getting away from the keyboard helps. I go for a walk, read for a while or I brew some tea. When I come back to the computer the yeti has retreated, I’m in a better frame of mind and more in control of my emotions.

Set a timer:
Sometimes I need to allow myself time to write without the yeti attacking a single word. Freedom from that fault-finding inner voice often helps clear a block and gets me rolling again. I also find turning off the monitor helps. If I can’t see what I’ve written the analytical side of my brain shuts up and lets me write. Once the timer rings I’m willing to invite the Yeti back into the discussion, but not a minute sooner.

Listen to pink noise:
There are tons of program apps for generating background noises. The one I have plays about 150 soothing sounds, rain, wind chimes, reed flutes, crickets and the sound of a campfire’s crackle. Background sounds drown out the yeti’s growls, block out environmental distractions, increases focus and feeds creativity. It’s a scientific fact, not just my opinion that pink noise works wonders.

Call in a friend:
When I keep writing and rewriting the same page, the chances are I’m just feeding the yeti, and he will gobble up every word and demand more. Calling in fresh eyes gives me some much need perspective, not to mention someone to brainstorm with if I’m stuck. We all get too close to our own work and we may need an outsider to help us put the brakes on a destructive revision cycle.

Change perspective:
Sometimes I need to load the project into my Kindle, or print it out. Once I can experience the project like a real reader would, I see the work differently. It creates distance, helps me find mistakes and it’s exciting to see your work this way. It just might make you fall in love with your project all over again, it works for me.

Remove the backspace key:
An extreme solution, and one that you may need to consult an expert for. I am huge believer in removing keys. I never keep the shift lock key on my keyboard, I pop that sucker the moment I get a new computer. The act of backspacing is too easy! If I make myself cut and paste I have to think about what I’m doing in a different way. Again removing keys is not for everyone.  If you’re squeamish about defiling your lovely keyboard, try some double-sided tape as a reminder.

Do you have a yeti hanging around inside your head? If so please share your favorite tips for sending him packing.

Up next…. Z The last day of the Blogging A – Z Challenge

Click here for more posts by Robin.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/friday-inspiration-10-things-you-should-say-your-internal-editor/

He Said What? Direct vs. Indirect Speech

I have a new crit partner who just happens to be a line editor and might be a reincarnation of my dreaded high school English teacher, Mrs. Howard, although I’ve never actually met him in person.

Gypsy with lurid clothes while begging on the streetMrs. Howard resembled a bag lady and according to urban legend she apparently wound up as one. A ragged brown cardigan hung from her shoulders each day, her mousy brown hair looked like she cut it herself. Her face wore the lines of an unhappy woman who had a difficult life. She had a dry wit, often not appreciated by a gaggle of fourteen-year-olds. The only time I ever saw her really smile was the day we were doing improv in drama class, our paths crossing once more when I was a senior. I had to present as an older woman trying to pick up a young guy at a party. I entered the stage, stopping in front of a pretend mirror and primped myself, hiking up my boobs so they didn’t look saggy. (Of course they were still perky in those days). I glanced to the back of the room and caught a smile, one that reached her eyes, which she quickly smothered with her hand.

I’d breezed through middle school (we called it Junior High School in the olden days) getting As in English class with little effort and even served as the grade-level spelling bee contestant several times. I always lost because I was too terrified to spell in front of an assembly of 800 classmates and faculty. Upon entering high school, my first few days in ninth grade English class found me confident and engaged and I submitted my first assignment and awaited Mrs. Howard’s praise. I got it back with a giant red C- circled on top, which was an F in my book. There were so many corrective comments I could barely make out my own writing. Needless to say, I was devastated, but quickly set to work to improve. This went on for months until I finally earned an A. I had to admit that Mrs. Howard improved my writing skills tenfold that year and I left her class feeling like I’d accomplished something. Punk Girl Fails Test

Fast forward to tenth grade. Who do I meet in English class that first day? Madam Howard. Now I felt cocky. I knew what she wanted. This would be easy-peasy. My fellow classmates were going to get massacred on that first paper. Not me. I knew how to get an A in her class. Sporting a smug grin, I accepted my graded theme as she handed it to me. A giant bloody C+ glared back at me. WHAT? I think I stopped breathing. But, once more, she took me to new levels of expertise in writing.

And so here I am again. I thought myself a reasonably accomplished writer until I met- we’ll call him- E.T. Of course you always make mistakes, even though you know better and can always polish your skills, but the first time we swapped pages I got back a chapter with so many edits that the side bar was completely filled with red boxes. My pulse accelerated into the freak-out zone. Thankfully, some were positive comments, many were just suggestions, but plenty were corrections. I had only been looking for story edits and hadn’t truly polished the novel to that level of editing, but… I was still mortified.

Turns out he’s been incredibly helpful and I’ve learned some new stuff. One being the use of indirect speech to change up or even eliminate dialogue. I’d never heard the term before, nor did I understand the subtle distinction between indirect speech and direct speech. They get the same information across, yet in a more interesting way. I mentioned it in my last blog and promised to shed some light on it this week.

The definition is simple enough.

Direct speech reports speech or thought in original form as phrased by the original speaker. It is usually enclosed in quotes and the cited speaker is either mentioned or implied.

Indirect speech converts direct discourse into a statement that reports what someone else said without using that person’s exact words. It’s also sometimes called reported speech or indirect discourse. It often doesn’t use quotation marks, but may and may include the word that.

             Direct:    “I’m going to the store,” he said.

             Indirect: “He said he was going to the store.” or “He said that he was going to the store.”

             Direct:    Michael said, “I don’t want to bother you.”

             Indirect: (Alice says) “Michael said that he didn’t want to bother you.”

             Direct:   “I like chocolate.”

             Indirect:  Josh said, “She says she likes chocolate.”

 Using an example from last time, instead of Mary saying “Sorry I’m late.” How about this?

        Mary hurried into her office hoping her boss wouldn’t notice. He stood at his door, his dark gaze focused her   way. “Steve said there was an accident on the 304,” he said. “I figured you’d be late. I need you in a meeting right now.” Mary sighed in relief.

So, you’ve established that Mary was late without her opening her mouth.

What this boils down to is letting other characters say what you’d expect someone else to say. It switches things up a bit, just for a change of pace. When reporting speech the tense changes. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.

At first I thought this to be the complete opposite of good writing, making me a delinquent at the School of Lean and Mean (where E.T. is the Principal) because it takes too long to say what needs to be said. I wouldn’t use it all the time, just occasionally, for something different. It works well in inner monologue and can sometime erase the need for a conversation entirely. Take one of your scenes and give it a try. Let me know what you think.

Up Next from Caryn:  On becoming a word gatherer.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/he-said-what-direct-vs-indirect-speech/

To Be or Not to Be: Avoiding Passive Verbs

Robin, Heather and I had been crit partners for months and I found their comments incredibly insightful and helpful. Meanwhile, an editor friend of mine took a crack at a few of my chapters and leveled the comment: “too many passive verbs, kill as many forms of the verb to be as you can.” I’d never heard this before and pleaded my case to Robin. I was like, “Have you ever heard of this before?” She was like, “Oh yeah, didn’t I ever call you out on that?” I was like, “No!” And she was like. “Do a search and start with was. See how many times you use it and try to substitute a more active or descriptive word whenever possible.” And I was like, Oh. My. God. I couldn’t believe I’d been with crit partners for two years now and no one ever told me this before.to-be-or-not-to-be

I decided to spread the wealth. I had pages from another friend and I hit him with it. It was a five page short story and he used the word was 49 times. He rebutted with excerpts from famous authors where an overabundance of to be verbs dotted the pages. He reached out to some of his writer buddies and an argument ensued. In the end he relented and admitted he couldn’t deny that using more active verbs enhances the verbiage.

Now, it’s a problem for me. I start reading a new book and if the author suffers from this it’s like a bright red stop sign in my mind. I constantly ask, “What other word could she use here?” I’m slowly getting over it, but it’s a struggle. On the other hand, sometimes it’s the perfect word. Especially at the end of a paragraph or a chapter, when you want to end with a hard, quick sentence: like this from the first chapter of my novel, The Wives of Lucifer:

                                   And then I remembered. I was dead. Again.

Short, simple, powerful…it delivers a punch.

Here’s the guide I used to edit my writing. I found it at:  http://penningtonpublishing.com/ There are others on the Internet to use so search for one that you find helpful.

What’s So Wrong with “To-Be” Verbs?

  1. The “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been are state of being verbs, which means that they unduly claim a degree of permanence. For example, “I am hungry.” For most Americans, hunger is only a temporary condition.

  2. The “to-be” verbs claim absolute truth and exclude other views. “Classical music is very sophisticated.” Few would agree that all classical compositions are always sophisticated.

  3. The “to-be” verbs are general and lack specificity. A mother may tell her child, “Be good at school today.” The more specific “Don’t talk when the teacher talks today” would probably work better.

  4. The “to-be” verbs are vague. For example, “That school is great.” Clarify the sentence as “That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents.”

  5. The “to-be” verbs often confuse the reader about the subject of the sentence. For example, “It was nice of you to visit.” Who or what is the “It?”

Adapted from Ken Ward’s E-Prime article at http://www.trans4mind.com/personal_development/GeneralSemantics/KensEPrime.htm

Problem-Solving Strategies to Eliminate the “To-Be” Verb

  1. Substitute-Sometimes a good replacement just pops into your brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie sure is good,” substitute the “to-be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie sure tastes good.”

  2. Rearrange-Start the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to-be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”

  3. Change another word in the sentence into a verb-For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” change the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.”

  4. Combine sentences-Look at the sentences before and after the one with the “to-be” verb to see if one of them can combine with the “to-be” verb sentence and so eliminate the “to-be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive young person was feeling that way because of the news story about the death of the homeless man,” combine as “The news story about the death of the homeless man saddened the sensitive child.”

Challenge: Randomly select a few pages of your writing and hit the search button for the word was. For each, try to find another more active or descriptive verb. Then move on to the other forms as outlined above.

Up Next from Caryn? A two-parter: The Battle: Writing the Protagonist vs. the Antagonist.

 

 

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Self-Editing: How To Pull the Weeds From Your Manuscript.

Exhilarated that I received several requests for full reads on the manuscript of my first novel, I saw myself on the fast track to getting published. Most of my writer buds had sent out tons of queries and received “thanks, but no thanks” that’s if they received any response at all. I’d only sent out a few and received several requests, one from the agency for the Hunger Games. I sent and waited. Each responded identically. “It’s in serious need of editing.” Ouch.

It’s a struggle to hear the criticism. We refute and rebut. We learn. We accept. We improve. We learn to trust. It takes months and months to get there.

I decided to spring for a professional editor in the amount of $1100. I found him on Editors and Predators. He had a good rating and listed himself as having edited one of Stephen King’s books. I sent him the ms and he did it the old-fashioned way, long hand. I quickly understood that I’d made tons of rookie mistakes and was mortified. Some seemed picayune, but now I realize they smacked of lack of skill rather than being nit-picky.

annualbluegrassHeather told us how to “story edit” this week, but I’m talking about the stuff that you really hate to do. The proofreading for bad technique. The nitty-gritty of bad writing. I know this stuff by heart now, and yes some of it always seems to slip back in and I have to weed it out.

Here’s a checklist of absolute don’ts, as explained to me. I use the search and replace function in Word to expedite things. So when I’m happy with my story: I’ve layered in added setting, emotion and description, and I think I’m finally done, I dig in and do the technical editing. And I hate every single minute of it.

Quick Tips for Self-Editing:

Print this out and use it as a checklist to give the final shine to your work. Make it lean and mean!

  • Check contractions. Use them for dialogue and inner monologue. That’s the way people talk and think.
  • Use CAPS for yelling, italics for emphasis.
  • Numbers: spell out with fewer than two words; hyphenate two-digit numbers: Five, nineteen, 123, twenty-three. Always write out at the beginning of a sentence. May use number in hyphenated item: 12-gauge shotgun, 20-ounce drink.
  • Nor/or:  nor for negative (neither, not) or, for positive.
  • Avoid these bad words/phrases: up until, rose up, smile on his face, circled around, amongst (use among only), the ones, ever since, yelled out, off of, grabbed hold of vs. grabbed, nodded his head, little bit, the ones, more/most importantly (avoid but if used drop the -ly), in order to, seemed to, tried to, hoped to, appeared to, or pretty much anything before to,” followed after/behind, into vs. in to:  Into when subject is on outside going in, “He jumped into the pool.” vs. “He jumped in the pool.”
  • POV violations. Each scene should be one POV.  The character can’t know what someone is thinking, she can only guess.
  • Dangling modifiers: “Settling into the back seat, car exhaust blew in through the half-open windows. Sounds like the exhaust is settling into the back seat.
  • Overuse of fragments. They can be used for effect but be stingy with them.
  • Dialogue tags: Skip them whenever possible. If you need to use them, “said” is the one a reader most easily reads over. A better technique is to give an action instead: John handed her the fax. “Read this.” Don’t use these as tags: she sobbed, he gasped, he breathed. Those are actions, not dialogue tags. Instead. She sobbed. “I think I’m going to have to sit down.” Which means she’s crying and needs to sit down.
  • Avoid second person statements.  Use: To get to the second floor, I had to go up a steep flight of stairs. Not: “To get to the second floor, you had to go up a flight of stairs.”  Don’t bring the reader “you” into it.
  • Avoid Talking Heads: (Ping-Pong dialogue with no emotion or body language.) Give a sense of place or mood with selective detail to enhance the dialogue.
  • Avoid paragraphs that are too long.
  • Make sure you have tense and plural/singular agreement.
  • Watch for these easy errors: every day vs. everyday, it vs. it’s, brake vs. break, peak, peek, pique. I had an agent once tell me “You peeked my interest.” Seriously?
  • Blonde for women, blond for men. Who knew?
  • Use names and how characters look in the first 25% of the novel to imprint them on the reader’s mind.
  • Farther vs. further: farther is distance, further is to a greater extent.
  • Lie vs. lay: Lie means to recline yourself, past tense is lay. Lay is to place something down, you do it to something, past tense is laid.
  • Towards vs. towards: never add the “s”.
  • Then vs. than. Easy to transpose.
  • Use a single space after periods. (This isn’t what you’re taught in keyboarding class!)
  • Never put a scene change at the bottom of a page.
  • Ellipsis (…) I you use it for hesitation, space before and at the end. “Well … maybe I… If you’re drifting off, or plan to leave the sentence incomplete, then no space.
  • Only italicize profound inner thoughts, no quotes, never underline unspoken words. Use dashes to indicate a character being interrupted.
  • Here are words to eliminate at every possible opportunity: really, that, very, suddenly. And watch out for too many words ending in “ly”…adverbs.
  • And I just learned this one: Beware of the prepositional phrase! Say, “He handed her the water bottle.” rather than, “He handed her the bottle of water.”

I just saved you $1100. You’re welcome!

Up Next from Caryn? The “To Be” Edit. It’s a killer! And just in time for Halloween!

 

 

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