Today’s Writing Tip

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Producing your first draft is a major milestone. Many authors,  myself included, compare it to having a baby, especially if you ever actually HAVE had a baby. At some point in your story, you may feel as if you’re 9 1/2 months pregnant and really want to be done with it.

firstdraftWhen you do, by all means celebrate! You deserve it! But don’t think for more than one glorious day that you’re finished. No matter how great your work seemed as you put it down on paper initially, chances are it can be improved. Probably a lot, depending on whether this is your first book or tenth or more.

If the first draft is comparable to a pregnancy, the second draft is comparable to potty training. If you’re a parent, I probably don’t need to say any more to complete the analogy.

When you get to what you think is your final draft, (probably comparable to raising teenagers) start tightening your story by trimming adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases. Many adverbs go away when you select the correct verb.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Here’s another booby trap for authors:  When rewording a sentence, make sure you take out any words that are no longer needed. Many of the editing faux pas examples I find involve extraneous words that weren’t deleted when a change was made.

Always reread a sentence after you revise it. This is one of the easiest mistakes to make when you’re editing. If you don’t catch it and clean it up, your reader will trip over it like an overly friendly cat rubbing against your legs.

Creating flawless copy isn’t easy or simple. There are all sorts of alligators hiding in the water, just waiting to jump out and startle your reader and make you look like an amateur. This is why you need a good editor.

Today’s Writing Tip

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One of the most difficult things to find when you’re editing your own work is missing words. Sometimes even editors fail to catch them, but not an alert reader. Once in a while a grammar checker might, but not always. These are usually not quite as bad as typos which stand out like the proverbial sore thumb, but close. They tend to jolt the reader out of the story, even for a nanosecond, or sometimes longer if it makes the sentence difficult to understand.

When reading over your manuscript during your final draft, do so slowly enough to note each word is indeed written as opposed to assumed. Reading it aloud can help. If you’re fast on the keyboard, you may be even more likely to leave words out because regardless of how fast your fingers are, you brain is moving faster.

If you’re ever beta reading for someone and find missing words, be sure to tell them. The author will be very appreciative!

Today’s Writing Tip

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Using astrology for character development is helpful and fun. If you’re not familiar with the characteristics of the various zodiac signs, my book “Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology” can help. You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

For those of you who may be new to the planet, astrology comprises twelve personality profiles with distinct characteristics. More than likely when you start your story, you have a general idea what the characters will be like. However, if they’re too basic, they can remain at the “cardboard” stage and never come to life.

For example, so you know how your character handles money? Is s/he quiet and shy? Emotion or logic driven? Slow, fast, or deep thinker? Courageous or cautious? Bossy or retiring? Providing your character with a Sun Sign and learning a little about its traits will provide these answers.

Another thing astrology comes in handy for is character conflict. As you undoubtedly know, some people get along better than others. Learning how Sun Signs interact can help develop their relationship. Find out how the different signs interact at the most basic level on my astrology website here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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If you’re a new author, you may not realize what a back story is. The best way to describe it is to think of the very first Star Wars movie. A few years later, what did it become? EPISODE 4!!! In other words, Episode 1, 2, and 3 were back stories, or how the characters became who they were and what transpired earlier.

Fully developing your backstories always pays off. Not only do they contribute to the quality of your characters and plot–they also make writing easier when you have a well-developed foundation.

You don’t have to define all this background before writing your story. Much of it may evolve along the way as you get to know your character better. Some of it will manifest as flashbacks. Some of it may constitute a short story in and of itself, yet wind up as no more than a sentence or two in your novel.

The main thing is that they constitute the detail that makes your characters and story come alive. They’re never wasted effort. They might even become full-length prequels that you eventually publish. If not, you can always offer them as freebies to potential readers.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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Describing your main character can be a challenge. However, having your protagonist assess himself in the mirror is one of the most unoriginal ways to describe his or her appearance. If you must use the mirror, at least throw some action in. For example, “She caught a glimpse of herself in the hallway mirror and realized her blond was in desperate need of [whatever].” Another common but generally effective way, at least for hair color, is “She tossed her chestnut hair over her shoulder.” In other words, this is another example of “show, don’t tell.”

Be more creative. Note how other authors do it and when you encounter a great description, study and emulate it. It’s a challenge, but important. If you absolutely can’t do so in an original way, that’s better than not having it at all. How many books have you read where at some point you realized you had absolutely no idea what the characters looked like? I like to be told, though some authors believe the reader wants to imagine them as they will.

They’re my characters, so I prefer to convey that to the reader.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another thing to watch for when you get to your second draft is showing as opposed to telling. Some narrative is always required, but often it can be said in a more interesting way that engages your reader.

For example, saying “He was angry” is telling. Saying “His eyes bore into his opponent like steel rods, fists clenched and trembling at his side” shows it. Note how the second version renders the emotion in a more relatable manner. It also contains imagery. In fact, of the IDEAS described in yesterday’s Tip, it includes imagery, emotion, action, and suspense. If it were included in the midst of dialog, it would cover that, too. See how much more effective that is?

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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I don’t know about you, but my first drafts tend to be unbalanced. This, of course, depends on your natural style. There may have too much or too little of certain elements. My first drafts tend to be heavy on action and dialog. I’ve often envied screenwriters, who can do just that and let producers and directors worry about the rest.

However, for your story to be the best it can be, it needs to incorporate more. Don’t interrupt the creative flow by worrying about it during your first draft. For your second draft, however, one way to assess what you have is by checking how your IDEAS are presented.

As you’ve probably guessed, that’s an acronym for: Imagery; Dialog; Emotion; Action; Suspense.

Read each scene and check to make sure it has some of each. Imagery could have been established earlier, which is fine. Not every scene will have dialog, and that is fine, too. However, too much description or exposition gets boring, so if that’s the case see if you can convert any of it into a conversation. Emotion is essential. If there’s no feeling behind it, is it even necessary? Action goes without saying, even if it’s mental action, and of course suspense, without which your reader may not bother to turn the page.

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.

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?