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!

Rewrite-itis

images559M9THLI got tickled when I first saw this word. I have to admit, I have dealt with rewrite-itis. What is it? It’s a severe condition that effects both published and unpublished writers according to The Everything Guide To Writing A Romance Novel. It means your are unable to call a book, chapter, or even a scene finished. So what causes the condition? A fear of failure or success. For me it is definitely failure.

What are the symptoms?

  • Rewriting the same scene, chapter, or book more than ten times
  • Never finishing a book, because you keep going back to polish the first chapter
  • Constantly having others read your book with the hopes they will give you some revisions to do
  • Taking your finished manuscript to the post office to mail, only to return home with it in hand for further revision

So what do you think? Do you have a case of rewrite-itis?

Rewrite-itis has a close cousin – Research-itis. Maybe you have that one too. True research is crucial to any novel, but an author needs to know when to say “Enough is enough.”

So what is the cure? Set goals and deadlines and stick to them. Remember your manuscript is your baby, but sooner or later you have to turn it loose.

Just something to think about.

-Jan R

Rewrite-itis

Be Consistent!

120822_consistency-is-key_500_youanew1-300x300Have you ever heard someone refer to writing as elegant. It’s orderly and graceful. It flows.

By adding elegance to your writing, you can turn clear, precise, but clunky prose into a musical composition.

Elegance gives your writing a tangible feeling of beauty. It makes people say wow. Elegance isn’t just the wording, but the way it is presented.

Is your style disciplined and orderly, or is it inconsistent? Presentation elegance requires consistency from the beginning of your novel to the end.

When you use dashes, do you leave spaces between the words or not?

  •  second-handed
  • second – handed

When you write titles of books, do you italicize or enclose using quotation marks?

  • Little Women
  • “Little Women”
  • ‘Little Women’

Do you use the oxford comma to separate the last item in a list?

  • She brought apples, bananas, and grapes to the picnic.
  • She brought apples, bananas and grapes to the picnic.

When you use numbers, do you spell them out using letters or simply write them out?

  • twenty-seven
  • 27

When you abbreviate countries, do you use periods following the letters or leave them out?

  • U.K. vs UK
  • U.S. vs US

I think you’re getting the picture. None of the above examples are wrong. Just remember, however you decide to express yourself in writing, be consistent.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Be Consistent!

Edit, Edit, or Edit?

 edit-icon-hi

I know I’ve posted this before, but it’s been a while, and I thought it was worth being revisited. When you’re a newbie like I was, you don’t even think you have to edit-much. The publishing company has people that will go through and correct your work, making you look like a pro, right?
About a year ago, I ran into an article in Writers Digest that talked about the different types of editing. Yes, there are different types, and as a novelist, you need to know what they are.

Developmental Edit – better known as the content editing, story editing, structural editing, or substantive editing. This edit looks at the big picture of your novel and focuses on:

  • character arcs/development
  • pacing
  • story structure
  • pot holes or inconsistencies
  • strong beginning, middle and end
  • plausibility/believability
  • clear transitions
  • point of view
  • showing vs. telling
  • dialogue

Copy Edit – is the one most of us think of when we hear edit. It is completed after the developmental edit and cleans things up. This edit is the line by line with a focus on:

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • redundant words
  • inconsistencies/continuity errors
  • awkward sentence structure

The proofread- I never thought of a proofreader as an editor, but in all reality he is. The proofreader checks your manuscript for lingering errors, missed commas, and typos. It may be tempting to skip this step or do it yourself. Keep in mind, you’ve read the book so many times you will be blind to many lingering errors. You need an unfamiliar eye.

I’m not sure where you are in the writing process, but you do need to know the proper steps to take before submitting your work. Remember as stated above, you don’t see the errors. You are so familiar with your work the errors become invisible. Your brain actually fills in the holes as you read.

I didn’t have this information and submitted my work to several different agencies after I ‘edited’ it and had a few friends read through it. Needless to say I got nothing but rejections. I followed up on suggestions, and that’s when I realized just how bad the manuscript was. I couldn’t believe I sent such shoddy work to an agent. I was embarrassed and glad I hadn’t met the agents in person.

Hope this helped!

-Jan R

Edit, Edit, or Edit?

Active Voice Vs. Passive Voice

active-passive.jpgWhen you write, you want to use the active voice. It’s clean, concise, and simple. The active voice is easy to read and understand.

Subject + Verb

  • Susie sang.
  • Michael ate.
  • Jeffery kicked.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object

  • Susie sang songs.
  • Michael ate soup.
  • Jeffery kicked cans.

These examples are basic, and can be embellished with adjectives, adverbs, modifiers, etc. to dress them up, but the Subject/Verb order should remain the same.

95% of your sentences should be written in the active voice. You want the doer/subject at the beginning of the sentence.

When you use the passive voice in writing, you have to introduce new parts of speech just to make the sentence mean the same as it would in active voice. The result is a wordy sentence that makes you wait to find out who the subject is.

Direct Object + Dead Verb + Participle form of Verb + optional Preposition + optional Subject.

The winner was written on the community board by Carol. (Passive)

Carol wrote the winner on the community board. (Active)

As you can see, passive voice is not simply a reversal of active voice. It has additions, and I haven’t discussed the fact that many passive sentences are incomplete.

The message was sent.

So the above sentence is grammatically correct, but it’s missing information. Who sent the message, and to whom was it sent?

Why would anybody use the passive voice? Well it comes in handy if you’re a businessman or politician. It allows you to avoid responsibility.

  • Your position has been eliminated. vs. I eliminated your position.
  • Your taxes will be raised. vs. I will raise your taxes.

When you’re writing a novel, you’re not trying to avoid responsibility. You’re trying to draw your reader into an exciting adventure that keeps them turning pages until the very end.

Keep your sentences active. Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Active Voice Vs. Passive Voice

Dead Verbs Don’t Move

imagesWhen you are writing a novel, you want to use concrete, everyday verbs. Examples of these are jump, smile, run, look, show, and eat. You can picture the actions in your head and there is no ambiguity.

He ran down the street and jumped over the fence.

Replace weak or dead verbs with concrete verbs as often as possible. I say as often as possible, because there will be rare occasions when the weak or dead verbs are necessary.

Weak verbs usually end in ‘ate’ or ‘ize’. You know the ones. Some examples are finalize, incorporate, anticipate, categorize. They leave a vague sense of action without spelling it out. As a reader you have to reach for it, and these verbs can really way down your sentence.

The bookkeeper utilized her expertise to manipulate the numbers.

Dead verbs don’t evoke movement or images. They stop the action. They allow us to generalize instead of provide the details necessary to picture what is going on. They tell us what’s happening when we want to see. Examples of dead verbs are was, is, were, are, could, had. I think you get the picture.

Cassandra was angry.

Cassandra picked up the flower vase and threw it into the wall. She stomped across the room, slamming the door as she left.

Something to think about. I hope this helped.

-Jan R

 

Dead Verbs Don’t Move

The Hemingway Editor App-What do you think?

hemingwayappHave you heard of the Hemingway Editor App? If you’ve been writing for a while, you know about  grammarly and autocrit.  Both of these Apps focus on grammar and spelling. Hemingway takes it a step further. The App highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red.
You can utilize a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over them for hints.
Adverbs and weakening phrases are helpfully shown in blue. Get rid of them and pick words with force, perhaps.
Phrases in green have been marked to show passive voice.
The Hemingway Editor App is like having your own personal editor on call.
Many of you may be familiar with this App, and if you are, I apologize, but I get excited when I run into something new that actually helps me with my writing, and I like to share tips that could be helpful to my readers.
The App isn’t free. It costs $19.99, but I think it’s worth it.
I’ve written numerous blogs on writing clear, concise sentences, and making every word count, but this is the first tool I’ve found that helps identify problem sentences.
When using Hemingway, don’t check your brain in at the door. The program will help improve your writing, but you are ultimately responsible for how your work turns out.
So what do you think? Have you tried the App?
-Jan R
The Hemingway Editor App-What do you think?