I’m Having A Love Affair With ‘Had’-Again!

resumewritingoverusedwordsYesterday I was proofreading a novel I’ve been working on for the last six years. Needless to say, it’s seen many revisions and read-throughs. To my dismay, I ran into a paragraph with one of my favorite words, ‘had’. I’m joking, ‘had’ is not my favorite word, but it is my favorite overused word. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been around this block before and thought the ‘hads’ were under control.

It reminded me of a post I wrote about a year or so ago on my love affair with ‘had’. I decided I needed to revisit the blog and thought I would share it once again as a reminder to those who have been following me for a while. I also hoped it would help those who have recently joined me on this journey.

On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case, that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dumping going on, because ‘had’ specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. A lot of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. It becomes a problem when the word is used so often your reader notices.

Recognizing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. Make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you review, check to see if the ‘word’ is really necessary. Read the sentence leaving the ‘word’ out. I think you’ll be surprised at the number of times it actually reads better without the ‘word’. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence and get rid of the overused word.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R

I’m Having A Love Affair With ‘Had’-Again!

The Title Of Your Novel Is What? (Revisited)

imagesFFT3CQY4I was looking at some of my older blog posts this past week when something jumped out at me.

A while back I wrote a blog titled, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” It didn’t get much attention, as a matter of fact, only 5 people viewed the blog and 2 of those liked it. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. It was a great blog.

Five months later I was busy and didn’t have time to research and write a quality blog. I decided to report, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” I made a few changes to some of the sentences, so they reflected the new time period, but other than that, the blog read word for word.

I also did one other thing; I changed the title. It was the same blog, only it’s new title was, “Edit, Edit, or Edit?” The blog did exceptionally well for someone who had been blogging less than a year. It had 99 views, 50 likes and 3 or 4 reblogs.

I shared this story to make a point. Your title really does make a difference. It’s the first thing your reader sees or hears about your book/blog/poem. Your title creates anticipation and expectation, or perhaps disinterest. Often your title determines whether or not someone reads your work.

A good title should have the following attributes:

  • Attention-grabbing
  • Memorable
  • Informative (gives an idea of what book is about)
  • Easy to say
  • Not embarrassing or problematic for a person to say aloud to their friends.

Also keep in mind, that the title you start with, may not be the title you end up with. Getting the title right may be the most important book marketing decision you make. Many well-known authors have had their titles changed by publishers and editors before print. Here are a few you may recognize:

F. Scott Fitzgerald/  The Great Gatsby – Trimalchio in West Egg, On the Road to West Egg, Among Ash-heaps and Millionaires, Under the Red, White, and Blue, Gold-hatted Gatsby, or The High Bouncing Lover. I think he made the right choice 🙂

George Orwell/ 1984 – The Last Man in Europe

Ayn Rand/ Atlas Shrugged – The Strike

Harper Lee/ To Kill a Mockingbird – Atticus

Jane Austin/ Pride and Prejudice – First Impressions.

Frances Hodgson Burnett/ The Secret Garden – Mistress Mary

The title matters!!! Get it right!!!

-Jan R

The Title Of Your Novel Is What? (Revisited)

Save Your Work-You Never Know When You Might Need It.

maybe-you-should-qr05qk.jpgThe last few blogs I wrote discussed a radical cutting job I performed about six months ago. I’m not planning on repeating those blogs, but did want to share with new writers the importance of saving deleted work, at least until you know, that you know, that you know, you want need it ever again, and I probably still wouldn’t delete it.

I didn’t just cut paragraphs, sections, or scenes, I cut chapters. As a matter of fact, I cut the first two chapters of my novel thinking I was making improvements by getting rid of the fluff.

I’m not pushing fluff.  I’ve written numerous blogs on keeping your work clear and concise, but I discovered after cutting those chapters, that I had overeacted.

Thank goodness I had the forethought to save them in the previous draft.  All I had to do was go back, highlight, copy, and paste the two chapters into my current working copy.

They still need to be revised, but they are salvageable, and I’m not starting with a blank sheet of paper in front of me 🙂

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Save Your Work-You Never Know When You Might Need It.

Don’t Cut When You Should Be Whittling!

editing-tips-300x230I opened up my novel in Word and began yet another revision at the start of the year. I tell myself this is it, and I certainly hope so, however, I have made some pretty significant changes. So I may have to go back and look at it one or two more times, to make sure I followed all of the rules 🙂

Why the changes, and especially this late in the game?  I went through my manuscript and cut about 20% the previous year. The sections cut were combersome and full of backstory at times. They were weighing the story down and bringing it to a stand still. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Well we all know writing that brings your reader to a screeching halt is a no-no, so I decided to get rid of those scenes/chapters rather than fix them. From my perspective, they were uneccessary and I didn’t want to mess with them anymore. I was done.

Following those changes, I found myself less enthusiastic and lacking the drive to complete my work. The passion was gone. The last months of 2018 were a struggle for me. I just couldn’t make myself pick up the manuscript.

I’m all for rules and understand they are important. I have read extensively on how to write a novel, took online courses, and talked to people who have published work.  I listened carefully and took notes when I heard the same thing over and over.  If everyone was saying it, it had to have merit.

One rule that I followed caused my standstill, and to be honest, it may not have been the rule, but my over zealous attempt to follow the rule. Let’s go back to the 20% I cut. I actually chopped the first two chapters of the novel. Why? They were filled with backstory. Something I felt my reader needed at the time to be able to follow a pretty complicated plot.

The rule that caused my dilemma was don’t load the front end of the story with unecessary narrative and exposition.  While the information may be necessary, you don’t want to put your reader to sleep before they get to the good stuff, and if that isn’t enough of a reason, literary agents only ask for the first five pages in most cases. You don’t want to send them five pages of narrative and exposition. You want some action. You want the good parts on display from the beginning.

I got to the good stuff right away, but at what cost. I lost my enthusiasm and I made it harder for my readers to follow what was actually going on. They were missing some key information.

I talked to a friend a couple weeks ago who had proofread the manuscript for me prior to the cuts. She isn’t an editor, but she is a professional who enjoys reading and a very bright lady. I asked her specifically about those first two chapters.

I told her about the cuts, and my concerns with those chapters weighing the story down. Her response,  “I loved those chapters. They developed the connection between myself and the characters before they were thrown into the conflict. They grounded me and made it easier to follow the story.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe confirmed what was missing, and why I was having a hard time connecting with a novel that I once loved. Instead of cleaning up the first few chapters by making them more clear and concise, instead of adding a minor conflict or looking at a way to make those chapters more interesting, I totally wiped them out, leaving the novel lacking.

My focus today and the previous week has been reworking those first few chapters and whittling instead of cutting. I still need to get to the heart of the story as soon as possible, but I can’t short change the set-up to get there.

Something to think about. Comments are always welcome. I love hearing other perspectives.

-Jan R

 

 

Don’t Cut When You Should Be Whittling!

Follow The Rules!

iStock_000013116314_Full-919x1030.jpgOne of my resolutions this year is to get Always and Forever published. It’s a beautiful story with a great premise, but it wasn’t quite ready for prime time 🙂 At least that’s what I was told by one of the agents I queried.

That was my first lesson learned. You can have a great story, but if it’s not written correctly, you can forget it. You have to follow the rules. No grammatical or structural errors, no head-hopping, no information dumps, watch the pacing, transition from scene to scene, and for goodness sake, make sure it’s clear and concise. Nobody wants to read a bunch of written-ese, it doesn’t matter how pretty the sentence sounds with all those extra adjectives. Remember you are writing a novel, not poetry.

I left out a lot of the rules that should be on your checklist when you go back and edit that book, but the previous paragraph was becoming too long and cumbersome, and I think you got the point. And no, the publishers and literary agents do not have editors on standby to do a complete makeover on your story, no matter how good it is. Let’s put that myth to rest.

You’re never too old to learn a new skill. So that’s what I set out to do. If I was going to make my dream a reality, I was going to have to learn the rules and apply them to my story. I have to admit, I thought often about throwing the first very rough draft out and starting over. I’m glad I didn’t.

Don’t give up!!! That was something else the literary agent that I queried told me. You can do this! Most people fail because they stop trying. You never know, you could be one query away from a literary agent excepting your work.

You want to go the e-book route? That’s okay too. I have considered it myself.  But you still have to produce high-quality work. You have to follow the rules. You can put anything you want on e-books if your only goal is to be called author, but if you want to actually sell your books and be successful, you’re going to have to take the time to get that story right.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Follow The Rules!

Looking Forward!

New-Year-2019-Unique-bg-pictureI can’t believe another year has come and gone. I have to admit, I didn’t meet my New Year’s resolutions from the previous year.

Why not? I had resolutions, but no plans in place to meet them. You can set goals, but with no plan, you will wonder aimlessly.

Oh well, the nice thing about a new year, is the opportunity to start over and get it right.

You didn’t meet your goals from the previous year? It’s okay. The past is over and can’t be changed. What can be changed is what you do moving forward.

Write down those resolutions/goals you have for the upcoming year and put a little thought into the steps you are going to take to acheive them.

Develop a plan! Don’t let this year go to waste!

Something to think about.

Happy New Year!

-Jan R

Looking Forward!