Today’s Writing Tip

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Economy of words makes your message stronger. Using too many that are extraneous distract and dilute it. This is why adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases often add extra bulk that should be trimmed. Being too wordy indicates lack of skill and trouble expressing what you want to say. When you’re talking aloud you can get away with fumbling around a bit, but not in print.

On the other hand, people who talk too much are usually annoying. Thus, by extension, it can be pretty grating when an author takes too long to say something. Readers are not the most patient people out there. Everyone these days is pretty busy and doesn’t want to waste their time with someone beating around the bush.

If you can say the same thing with less words, do so. Start by zapping adverbs by using a better verb, then see if those prepositional phrases really add anything to the story other than word count. Some writers have a tendency to add a prepositional phrase on the end of a sentence that is totally redundant. Make sure you’re not one of them.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Never underestimate the importance of moving your reader emotionally. This is an important element if you want your readers to remember your work.  Think about it. Which books, or more specifically novels, do you remember the best? Most likely the ones where you really got into the characters and vicariously felt what they were going through. For nonfiction, you’re most likely to remember the ones where you learned something and were thus stimulated intellectually.

I typically judge a story’s impact by whether it makes me laugh or cry. However, having strong imagery or a very original premise also grab my attention. However, my very favorite stories always go back to the “laugh or cry” criteria.

Did you know that there are neurons in your heart? You store memories there as well. Wouldn’t you like your readers to have your work in their heart as well as their head?

Today’s Writing Tip

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Typos are an integral part of using a keyboard. I remember when I was at the peak of my typing performance and managed to do 96 wpm (words per minutes) with 3 errors on an IBM Selectric typewriter a long, long time ago. Correcting mistakes back then was a real pain, requiring in the REALLY old day, erasing them and hoping not to create a hole in the paper in the process, or white-out, which looked pretty tacky. Thank heaven those days are over! I remember having to retype pages and pages of manuscript due to some minor edits that changed the pagination. Yuck!

Since the advent of word processors, correcting errors has become a piece of cake. That makes it even more inexcusable not to do so. Typos really annoy readers, but they’re even more inevitable than they were in the old days because now there is less incentive to be precise than that funny, pink, circular eraser with the brush on one end or that little bottle.

Be aware of the ones you repeat most often. Transposing letters is tough to catch, but everyone probably has words they repeatedly misspell. I wish I have $1 for every time I typed “you” instead of “your”. I also tend to type “the” instead of “that” or “then”. When you’re aware of which ones you tend to mess up, you can usually make a quick check as you write or finish a given sentence to make sure it’s correct. These type of typos that a spellchecker won’t catch can really be a challenge, but trust me when I say your readers will indeed catch them. Hopefully your proofreader or editor will.

Today’s Writing Tip

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A good grammar checker should pick up various mistakes a spellchecker doesn’t, including subject-verb agreement and using the wrong homonym. However, this is no guarantee, especially if you tend to write complex sentences.

Homonyms are seldom if ever picked up otherwise, so it’s best if you memorize them. The following meme is handy for their, there, and they’re.

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One homonym I’ve seen used incorrectly numerous times by different authors is shutter instead of shudder. A shutter is a panel to cover a window; shudder is what you do when you’re scared and can be either a noun or a verb. There are various lists of the most common ones available if you google “homonyms.”

Today’s Writing Tip

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Always spellcheck your work before sending it to beta readers or especially before uploading it to publish. Be sure to do so after completing each edit as well.  It’s really easy to get distracted and either not eliminate words or perhaps delete too many as you reword, streamline, and refine your sentences.

I don’t know about you, but my fingers have a mind of their own on the keyboard and don’t always do what my brain thinks. I will even catch myself from time to time typing a word phonetically for some reason.

In most cases, a grammar checker should find missing or misused words. But nothing beats a good proofreader or editor to make sure nothing was missed. And, believe me, it always is, no matter how many times you’ve been through it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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It’s as important to know when to end a story as it is to known where to begin it. Sometimes there are important ramifications that don’t show up in “story time” for a considerable length of time, such as years or even generations. However, it presents the final closure that makes it complete.

One way to wrap things up is with an epilogue. They well to cover “the rest of the story”, i.e, that which relates to the plot, but occurs a long time after the story officially ends. They can even involve minor characters, or in some cases, someone who wasn’t in the story at all.

Of course if you think you have enough story material to fill the gap, then you may have a potential series on your hands. Otherwise, epilogues offer an easy way out to tie up any loose ends.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Here are a few more notes on prologues. In some cases, even if it involves your main character, but it occurred a long time ago, then you might want to use a prologue.  Another way to handle past events is through flashbacks. A flashback can vary in length, but if it’s too long, the reader may get lost in space and time. Then again, some background information may be too comprehensive to cover in snippets.

If you’re unclear on such a situation, this is where your beta readers and author friends with whom you share your work can be of tremendous help. It may even send you back to the drawing board as far as your story is concerned. Are you starting it too late? Or is it something that could be covered later as a prequel?

The good news is that any plot with that much context or character with that much history is probably a great one. It may even become a series instead of a single book. I know first hand how that goes. My Star Trails Tetralogy didn’t start out as a four book series with a prequel and full-length side story, but that’s how it wound up. My current WIP was supposed to be a cozy mystery, but it quickly evolved into a not-so-cozy conspiracy thriller that will be long enough upon completion to split into a trilogy.

Once your characters come to life and start writing the story for you, there’s no telling where you might wind up.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Sometimes your story may begin years or even centuries before Chapter One. In other words, if it reflects the ramifications or aftereffects of some previous event, it may require some background information to put it into context.

More than likely, this won’t involve the main character. If it does, then it’s really not a problem to start with Chapter One then skip ahead. Another way to handle it is by using a prologue. I’m sure you’ve read prologues before that made no sense. In some cases it may remain a mystery even when you finish the story. In other words, they should tie into the story, even if it takes a while before the reader makes the connection.

The main thing is that you should start Chapter 1 with your protagonist. Essential background information can be easily included as a prologue.

Today’s Writing Tip

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I’ve harped on this numerous times, but I believe it’s important enough to bear repeating. Know the different types of editing, especially if you hire an editor. Otherwise, you may be disappointed or not get your money’s worth. Here’s an outstanding blog on the subject.

If you think that one person is going to entirely rewrite your story into Best Seller material think again. Maybe some will, but that’s something you need to have a clear understanding of from the start. Otherwise, they may do no more than correct your typos and misspellings. If you’re really lucky, maybe they’ll fix those misused homonyms as well.

Rewording sentences may not be part of the deal, much less paragraph designation, or any number of other things.

There are too many people out there who think they’re editors when all they are is someone who knows how to read and, if you’re lucky, spell. It’s best to only hire an editor who has been recommended by someone you trust. It isn’t a guarantee to ask an author of a well-written book who their editor was, either. Perhaps the author is so skillful that their editor had little if anything to do!

As so many parts of being an author, choosing a competent editor is not simple. Make sure you know what you’re getting and that the person knows what they’re doing. Furthermore, some editors may entirely rewrite your story when that is not what you wanted, either! I’ve had editors completely change the meaning of a sentence with their supposed “editing” when I was a technical writer at NASA.

I’m afraid this turned into a bit of a rant. LOL! Obviously it’s something about which I have strong feelings. It’s all about communications, folks. As a writer, that should be your forte. Comprendez-vous?

Today’s Writing Tip

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I’ve posted blogs here before about the many different ways you can say “he said.” There are literally dozens of them, many of which help convey emotion and imagery that avoids dreaded adverbs. This is all well and good, but today I’m going in an entirely different direction and that is a way to avoid it entirely.

There are many ways to indicate who’s speaking without saying “he said” or one of its many synonyms. Describing a facial expression or gesture clearly associated with the speaker is often effective. This can integrate action with the conversation and make it come alive as opposed to sounding like your reading a screenplay.

Here’s a short example from my WIP:

When the echoes of his booming baritone faded, a tense silence remained. Someone rang the doorbell, all of them jumping in startled response. Sara exhaled hard through her nose, turned on her heel, and opened the door, finding herself face to face with Gretchen.

“Excuse me,” she muttered, and stomped down the steps to the driveway where she stared helplessly at Liz’s car. She rolled her eyes, wishing she’d listened to that prompting to drive her own.

Moments later, Liz was beside her, arm around her shoulders. “Are you alright, honey?” Sara nodded. “My goodness, you sure hit a nerve! Angela had mentioned that Bob can have an ugly temper, but I’ve never seen anything like that before!”

“Yeah. Sure wasn’t what I’d call Texas friendly, was it?”

Liz laughed. “I’ll say not! C’mon, I’ll take you home.”

See what I mean? In that entire scene I only used a “said” synonym (muttered) once.