Keep It Simple

fewer-words.pngFive adjectives in one sentence are better than six; four adjectives are better than five; three are better than four; two are better than three…By using fewer words to obtain the effect you desire, you will force yourself to use more accurate and more powerful words-Dean Koontz, ‘How To Write Best Selling Fiction’.

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place-Strunk and White, ‘The Elements Of Style’.

These are two great sources with amazing advice. They are not alone in their philosophy. I have read this time and time again and I understand completely where they are coming from. I am a self-designated skipper. Some of you know exactly what I mean. I couldn’t care less how many yards of silk was used in the duchess evening gown. Unless it winds up in a murder scene, don’t go there.

I love Jerry Jenkins. He has written numerous blogs on the importance of simplicity and avoiding the urge to prettify your prose. He calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Whoa! How many times did you have to read that?

None of these authors disparage adjectives and adverbs. They see them as indispensable parts of speech. The problem is when, why, and how many times we use them. Rich ornate prose is hard to digest.

Anything that interferes with communication-excessive adjectives and adverbs, overly complicated phrasing, too elaborate metaphors and similes presented solely for the fact that the writer wants to show off his/her skills, should be omitted.

The best way to communicate with your reader is to keep your writing simple and direct.

-Jan R

Keep It Simple

Your First Draft Is Not Ready – I Repeat, It’s Not Ready!

Quote.jpgI read a quote a while back and thought I would share it on my blog. I don’t know who wrote it, as a name wasn’t provided. It reads as follows:

A lot of times that first manuscript needs to sashay out stage left in order for the real blockbuster to break into the spotlight.

If you’ve been working on your novel for a while, you know exactly what this writer was saying. My current manuscript is so different from the original, and while it’s not ready for submission, it is so much better than it was after the first very rough draft.

As a newbie, I had no idea the work involved in creating a masterpiece worthy of publishing. I wrote my book and sent it out. It wasn’t until I started receiving the rejections and the one response explaining why it wasn’t ready for prime time that the truth sunk in.

I did have a completed manuscript, a great story, but it was missing the bells and whistles, that something that would make it stand out. Of course, the fact that it was full of grammatical and structural errors didn’t help my case either.

I read another quote years ago that has remained with me and I’ve used in several of my blogs.

Get it done and then get it good.

Don’t expect your first draft to be the final, finished, ready to go version. It won’t be. Once it is completed, the fun begins. At least I hope you enjoy it since you will be working on that manuscript for quite some time.

If you are new to the writing scene, I would recommend a lot of reading. Not just books in your preferred genre, but also how to books from credible authors. I’ve found some excellent blogs, and of course, the internet is invaluable.

I would also recommend courses in creative writing and writing fiction. I’ve purchased classes through ‘Great Courses’  and ‘Udemy’ that were excellent and inexpensive. I’ve watched webinars and also signed up for a workshop through Holly Lisle on ‘How to revise your novel’.

You don’t know what you don’t know until it’s too late. Know this, your first draft is not ready, and it’s up to you to research, learn your craft, and get it done.

-Jan R

Your First Draft Is Not Ready – I Repeat, It’s Not Ready!

Choose Your Words Wisely-Revisited

ieo7_2015_mock3q13.jpgI have been accused and rightly so of on-the-nose-writing, overwriting, redundancies, and throat-clearing. I’ve also had a close relationship with the words “that” and “had”. I blame it on inexperience and just not knowing any better.

Novelist and editor Sol Stein says the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Less is more. Which would you choose?

When editing your draft, remember that every word counts. Every word should have a reason for being and not just added fluff. “It sounds good,” won’t cut it.

  • Avoid throat-clearing- This is a literary term used to describe a story or chapter that finally begins after two or three pages of scene setting or backstory. You may write beautifully but nobody wants to get bogged down in the description. I could care less the duchess wore a gown with six gold buttons encrusted with diamond dust running down the back unless it was found at a crime scene. Get on with the story.
  • Choose normal words– When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary, think reader-first. Get out of the way of your message.
  • Avoid subtle redundancies– “She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. When you nod, it’s your head and if you nod, you are agreeing. You don’t have to tell your reader this. “He clapped his hands.” What else would he clap? “She shrugged her shoulders.” What else would she shrug?
  • Avoid the words Up and Down-unless they are really needed.
  • Usually, delete the words ‘that’ and ‘had’. Read the sentence with them in it and then without. Are they really necessary? You will be amazed at how many times these words are used incorrectly.
  • Give the reader credit- Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to repeat it. Another one I’m guilty of 🙂
  • Avoid telling what’s not happening. “He didn’t respond.” “She didn’t say anything.” If you don’t say things happened, we’ll assume they didn’t.
  • Avoid being an adjectival maniac.- Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use them sparingly.
  • Avoid Hedging verbs-…smiled lightly, almost laughed.
  • Avoid the word literally-when you mean figuratively. I was literally climbing the walls, My eyes literally fell out of my head–really?
  • Avoid on-the-nose-writing.-You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.

I hope this information helps you to be more aware of the words you use. Choose your words wisely, they do matter.

I would like to end this blog by giving credit to Jerry Jenkins for the information I’ve shared. He has a great blog for writers and provides not only invaluable information but free tools to assist writers on their journey. If you haven’t visited his site, I would encourage you to do so 🙂

-Jan R

Choose Your Words Wisely-Revisited

Less Isn’t Always More!

editing-tips-300x230I think one of the best problems an author can have is overwriting. You shared more information than was necessary. It’s a lot easier to go back and cut than it is to add new content. At least it is for me.

The problem I struggle with is how much should I cut. I’ve been known to take a hatchet to a piece when a widdling tool would have worked much better. A quote I read recently stuck in my head and sums it up perfectly. “Less is more, unless it’s not enough.” David Corbett.

I understand and am living that quote right now. I have a project I’ve been working on for years. Yes, I said years, and before you get to critical, note that the average novel takes 7-10 years to get published. I wrote a blog on it one time to encourage my readers and myself.

At any rate, I took a hatchet to the project and lost interest in it. Every time I pick it up for editing and/or revision, I want to just put it down and be done with it. A story I once loved, has lost its appeal.

The past few days, before I even ran across this quote, I had begun to take a closer look at my work. Why wasn’t it appealing anymore? Well, for one thing, the opening wasn’t grabbing my attention and compelling me to move forward.

I deleted the prologue because I read somewhere that they were a no-no. In doing so, I lost the events that compelled the reader to move forward. I lost a thread that was interwoven into the fabric of the story and pulled everything together. I lost important details that were necessary for the reader to make sense of why certain things were happening the way they were.

The quote, “Less is more unless it’s not enough“, describes what I’ve been dealing with perfectly.  Thank goodness I don’t completely delete my work. It’s still there. My plan is to retrieve that prologue and make it my first chapter. The second chapter will be set 20 years later and the story will go from there.

And by the way, sometimes a prologue is necessary and works, but I’ll talk about that another day.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Less Isn’t Always More!

Your Work Is Invaluable!

Old-People.jpgI visited my mother this week and was once again reminded how important writers are to the wellbeing and quality of life of our aging population.

My mother and her sisters love to read. It’s a way for them to go to places they could only dream of. It’s their escape from bodies that no longer work the way they would like.

My mother is 80 years old. She is very alert, clear-minded, and in the know, but her body refuses to cooperate with her at times. She can get out and do some things, but physical limitations affect her mobility.

She loves books. When I visit, we always go to the book store. I know she looks forward to reading a great mystery, crime drama, or romance.

I hope you know just how important your work is, not only to the elderly but to everyone. Books provide information, adventure, and joy to so many.

Thank you!

-Jan R

 

Your Work Is Invaluable!

Antagonists Are People Too-Usually (Revisited)

untitledI spent the last month looking at the characters in my novel. How do they relate? Are they effectively carrying out the roles intended for them? Are they unique and easily identified, or do they all present the same?

My main focus for this particular blog is antagonists. I have two in my novel. One is amnesia, and the other is a young woman determined to marry the man of her dreams, even if he belongs to someone else. She uses his amnesia to her advantage, manipulating and deceiving him.

When you are creating antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act like they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonist’s head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. I write in third person – limited, which allows me to get into the head of any character I choose, as long as I limit myself to one per scene. If this doesn’t work for you, have your point of view characters mull over and try to understand the antagonist’s point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

Many professionals recommended that you not use abstractions, such as corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable.

If you must use an abstraction, it’s recommended that you put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion, you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type. One of my antagonists is a medical condition that a second antagonist exploits to get what she wants.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart, and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. The story could go in many different directions.

There is a lot of information on the internet about perfecting your antagonist. Hope this post provided a couple nuggets and got you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

Antagonists Are People Too-Usually (Revisited)

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

Mistakes-blog.jpgThis is one of my favorite blogs. I wish I could claim it, but the post was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his work. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends, so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps someone and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloging a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple until the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Also avoid beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully, he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here

-Jan R

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts