Today’s Writing Tip

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I may have mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. It’s always difficult to edit your own work. Getting distance between you and your story so that you can see it through your readers’s’ eyes is not easy. Of course, letting it sit for a while usually helps. If you tend to work on more than one book at a time, this is easier to do. Otherwise, you’re likely to be impatient to finish it up and get it out there.

Even if you have an editor, you really need to go through it again on your own. I have seen too many books that were supposedly “edited” but in some cases I suspect the editor was their dog. Seriously. Partly, this is because there are numerous types of editors. If you’re not paying attention and know the difference, perhaps you’re not getting what you’re paying for. For example, there are simple proofreaders, copy editors, content editors, and line editors. Not every editor will provide all three. Some who are not professional, simply someone with a good eye, may not even notice them.

So, bottom line, if you want your book to be a high quality product, you should go through that final version yourself. The way I prefer to do this is with a proof copy. Yes, a print copy I can hold in my hands and turn the pages. The physical feel of the book in your hands facilitates seeing your story through a reader’s eyes. It’s a different “dimension”, if you will, from an electronic device. For me, it’s also less distracting to underline, highlight, or dog-ear pages that require corrections without losing the flow.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another way to avoid too many he’s and she’s, at least when you’re in their point of view, is to not say he saw, he heard, he thought, etc. Instead of “He heard the crow of a rooster in the distance, reminding him of his childhood” say “The crow of a rooster in the distance reminded him of his childhood.”

The viewpoint character is the one experiencing the story. Specifying how he perceived something is somewhat redundant. It also nudges the reader out of the story rather than assimilating the character and seeing the story through his or her eyes.

This is another thing to watch for in your final edit. With enough practice, you may be able to shift to this technique in your early drafts, but don’t worry about anything that might interrupt or inhibit your creative flow.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are ways to avoid starting so many sentences with he or she followed by a verb. For example, instead of saying, “He looked out the window to the traffic at a standstill below”, you can simply say, “Beyond the window, the traffic below was at a standstill.”

Too much “he this” or “she that” gets choppy, which distracts the reader. However, don’t worry about this when you’re writing your first draft because it will interrupt your creative flow. This is something to look for when you’re doing your final edits. If you have too many “he’s” or “she’s” in a given paragraph, look for ways to say it differently.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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When doing your final edit, it may be helpful to do so on a print copy. If you’re an indie author who uses POD (print on demand), this is easily done. I’ve found it’s much easier to spot typos and other issues in a print book than on the computer. It places me more firmly in the position of a reader than going over it on the computer screen. I don’t know why, it just registers in a different way.

This is probably because I’m old-fashioned and spent most of my life reading physical books. It may be just as effective on an ereader, which I’ll have to try, though marking anything you want to change isn’t quite as easy or satisfying as using a red pen. I do a lot of reading on my exercise bike, which obviously gets complicated with regard to reading anything on the computer screen, especially if you have a desktop. When I’m reading a physical copy of my own book on that exercise bike, however, it’s much easier to see it through a reader’s eyes.

A print copy is also a lot easier to flip through or go back and forth to check for continuity. Then again, this could just be me and my propensity for a tangible book with real pages. Nonetheless, you might want to try it and see how it works for you.

Various reviewers always want a print copy. I can understand why.

 

It’s that Time Again: The Cosmic Season for Editing and Revising

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If you’re a writer it would be to your advantage to know a little astrology. Not only can it help you develop your characters as noted in a previous blog but there are actually three times a year when the cosmic climate is particularly conducive to editing and revising. If you don’t believe in astrology, that’s fine, I didn’t used to either. But you might want to give it a try because most writers, myself included, can use all the help we can get. So what exactly is this spell and why is it helpful? Stay tuned, I’m about to tell you.

It starts with the planet Mercury. In mythology Mercury a.k.a. Hermes was the messenger and the only one who could come and go to the Underworld. In astrology he rules communications or all varieties including your thoughts, ideas, writing and paperwork in general. In this day and age he also rules electronic communication devices such as cells phones, computers, television and the internet to name a few, plus anything mechanical, i.e. with moving parts, such as your lawnmower, small appliances, automobile and so forth.

If you’re already familiar with some astrology you’ve probably heard of Mercury Retrograde. While it’s intuitively obvious (or should be) that the planet Mercury does not reverse the direction of its orbit, as a rule three times a years he appears to move backwards in the sky compared to his usual direction. The reason for this is easily explained as similar to when you pass a car on the highway. You’re going faster so it appears the other is moving backwards, even though it’s not. Thus, when the Earth passes Mercury in its orbit you get the same effect.

So what? Hang on, I’m getting to that.

As I write, Mercury is currently in this state which started on 5 January 2016 and will last until 25 January. Astrologically when a planet is retrograde (yes, they all do the backstroke from time to time) it internalizes its energy. During this spell you may notice more computer problems than usual, things may break down more often, traffic is often worse and so forth. Anything ruled by Mercury bogs down during this time. If you buy something ruled by Mercury during a retrograde period it’s likely to be a lemon. Furthermore, anything initiated during Mercury retrograde seldom comes to pass. For example if you interview for a job you’re less likely to get it with one possible caveat, that being if it’s a second interview with the same person. It’s also not a favorable time to sign a contract or lease.

Why? Because during Mercury retrograde it’s a time to rethink, redo, reconsider, revise, refine, repair and so forth. This is a time to slow down, stop, and look over past work, thoughts and decisions. For a writer this is an awesome time for editing and revising. This is when you go back and see your work through different eyes, giving you the ability to make positive changes. It’s not uncommon for writers to dislike this phase because you may feel stuck, your brain may not work as efficiently and your computer may be on strike. Any new endeavors started at this time are likely to bomb out and relate to yet another “re” word, i.e. regret. This is because you’re resisting the cosmic flow. Reviewing, revising and editing your work from time to time is essential if you want to produce professional quality work.

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If you’re suffering from writer’s block, this is the ideal time to look over what you have and see if it’s on the right track. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll be able to improve it, perhaps even make some critical changes you didn’t think of before. Don’t expect to make much progress with new endeavors which are likely to be an exercise in futility. Submitting work at this time is not likely to bring results or, if it does, they’ll be delayed. Rather, use this time to rework and refine.

Will you be out of the woods for new projects come 25 January? Possibly not. Until Mercury gets back to the zodiacal position where he stationed retrograde he’s in his “shadow period” when things are still stalled. This lasts until February 15, at which time once again it will be “all systems go.”

Even if you think that astrology is a bunch of myth and superstition, give this some thought. Observing the world around you and how people behave is part of your job as a writer. See how many events and situations you can find which reflect this internalized energy, the cosmic climate designed to rethink, reconsider and revise. Few of us get it exactly right the first time and the Universe is well aware of our human frailties. Use these spells as they’re intended by the Universe and you’ll find they can become some of your favorite times when you can polish your work to perfection. Use this one to your advantage.

As previously noted, Mercury does this approximately three times each year. Here are the other times he’ll be doing the backstroke. Mark your calendar now!

28 April – 22 May 2016 (Shadow until 8 June 2016)

30 August – 22 September 2016 (Shadow until 8 October 2016)

19 December 2016 – 8 January 2017 (Shadow until 28 January 2017)

If you’d like to learn more about such things you’d probably enjoy my astrology website www.valkyrieastrology.com.  Which reminds me I have some updating to do on the retrograde planets page, perfect for Mercury RX.  Timing is everything.

INDIE WRITING TIPS: The Final Edit – How are your IDEAS presented?

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Most writers have a propensity toward one particular element of fiction writing more than others. Some can spew action and dialog effortlessly, others render amazing descriptions which create vivid, memorable mental pictures, while others possess a narrative style as smooth as silk. What comes naturally and easily, however, is not necessarily enough to round out your story. What you want to achieve for the best possible impact and reader satisfaction is balance.
I’m one of those who finds action and dialog the easiest to write. If I can get my characters talking they will often take over the story and leave me as the observer, essentially taking dictation. Piece of cake. But talk alone does not a novel make. While I don’t want to interrupt the flow when I’m on a roll (or perhaps in this case, role) at some point I need to go back and fill in the blanks, sometimes multiple times, as I review each chapter for the proper balance. What do I look for? I remember them with the acronym IDEAS.

I = Imagery
D = Dialog
E = Emotion
A = Action
S = Suspense

IMAGERY

Stories don’t take place in a vacuum. They need to be grounded with a sense of place whether it’s the distant past, present, faraway future or any geographical location you can think of. Furthermore, modern culture is visually oriented, making this a critical element. Drawing in your readers so they can see the story in their mind is essential.

Descriptions don’t need to be long; you don’t want to run the risk of being verbose and, heaven forbid, boring. If your story is set in a familiar place like a well-known city, mentioning specific landmarks is an easy way to create a sense of place. Historical novels require enough description to take the reader back in time. Include plenty of reminders to differentiate life then to now. For example, your character from 1840 can’t text via i-phone, it will need to go via Pony Express or private messenger which could take weeks or months to arrive. Emphasizing challenges we no longer face in modern times helps convey the reader to that time and place.

Remember that imagery includes all the senses, not just vision. Sounds, scents, touch and taste all bring strong impressions as well. Think of things which are familiar to most readers such as the sound or smell of rain, colors and smell of autumn leaves, the crisp chill of the first frost, the sounds of summer whether kids playing in a pool or cicadas, or even the din of city traffic. The more senses you can call upon the more memorable and vivid your description will be.

DIALOG

Dialog moves a story along quickly as long as the conversation is relevant. This applies to not only the story’s plot but character development as well. You can often fit other descriptions into your dialog such as the character’s expression, body language and so forth, even things like the color of their hair or eyes.

Straight dialog with no break can get tedious as well unless it’s an extremely intense conversation and even then some description can make it even stronger. Tone of voice, e.g. angry, sad, cheerful, etc., or how you would describe the actual sound of their voice contribute to your means of character development. A simple statement like “his voice cracked with emotion” sends auditory as well as emotional input.

EMOTION

If you don’t grab your readers emotionally they are less likely to remember your story. Like they say, people won’t remember what you say but they’ll remember how you make them feel. Without it your story is essentially lifeless. Life is all about emotions and if there aren’t any in your story then you may not have a story, at least not one that anyone will connect to and remember. You may have felt it when you wrote it but will your reader?

Of course you don’t want to get all sappy, sticky and sentimental, either. This is where showing as opposed to telling comes in. “She felt sad” is pretty shallow compared to “her heart ached with loneliness.” Think of the physical symptoms typical of the feeling you want to describe and start there. The heart is the center of emotion and is a good place to start. Memories are stored in the heart as well as your brain which has been proven through the experience of heart transplant patients who suddenly acquire habits and other characteristics of the donor, such as their favorite food. This further shows why making your readers feel something is important. Laughing and crying represent two reactions which will make you and your story memorable. As a reader myself if a book can make me do both it’s a definite winner. I remember books I read years ago because they made me laugh or cry, even if I can’t remember exactly why.

This can be something that’s not as easy to include as action and dialog. As you’re writing you’re no doubt thinking of the relevant emotion but don’t take it for granted your readers will feel it unless it’s pointed out, preferably in a smooth, integrated way that is informative but not distracting. Clearly if someone is yelling and saying harsh words then anger is obvious but throwing in a few physical effects drives it home.

If this is difficult for you I suggest you take each of your characters and list the emotions that he or she will experience during the course of your story. Then, one by one, make a few notes of how you can bring them to life.

ACTION

Action can occur on various levels. It can be physical, mental, psychological, or emotional. It’s what moves your story along its intended plot line(s) and keeps your readers engaged and turning the pages. What are your characters doing? What is going on around them causing them to make decisions and take action? Something needs to be happening. Similar to emotion, the more types of action you include the better. Some genres will emphasize one more than others but including the entire spectrum gives your story more layers and complexity. What are they doing, thinking and feeling?

Physical action sequences shouldn’t be interrupted with long periods of internal dialog. If your hero is in the middle of fighting the antagonist or a dragon the description of the battle itself is of prime importance but this includes what your character is experiencing such as straining muscles, the impact of a punch, fatigue, fury, fear, etc. Don’t forget to throw in the other senses as well for added emphasis, e.g. the smell of blood and sweat.

SUSPENSE

Some authors have a natural flair for suspense which is often the single most important factor in writing a real page-turner. If your readers don’t wonder much less care what’s going to happen next then they’ll probably never finish your story. You want to keep them wondering how your character is going to get out of his current dilemma.

Even stories which aren’t technically in the suspense genre need it. The type simply differs depending on whether it’s a romance novel, a psychological thriller, murder mystery or any other fiction genre you care to name. There needs to be some sort of danger hanging over your character’s head which could drop at any time.

Don’t keep your readers in the dark and spring something on them out of the blue. You can actually build more suspense by telling them more about the looming threat versus not enough. Sprinkle a generous portion of clues and red herrings throughout to keep them guessing, regardless of genre. Your goal should be to master the art of writing a book your readers can’t stand to put down.

CONCLUSION

The purpose of this blog is not to tell you how but rather provide a simple checklist for when you do that dreaded final edit. While every chapter may not include all of these elements, the more you can fit in the better. Improving your craft requires stretching beyond what comes naturally and polishing it to perfection.

[NOTE:– If you have a favorite author who does a particularly outstanding job in any of these categories feel free to mention them as well as their books as examples for us all to learn from.]