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!

Are Your Scenes Dead?

Rip-clipart-rip-gravestone-mdAre your scenes dead, or do they just need a little get up and go? If you want to turn off an agent, front load your work with backstory and boring narrative.

I know from personal experience. That’s what I did. I thought the reader needed ‘a little’ back story before jumping in, so they would better understand what was happening later in my story. The prose was so boring they just chucked it to the side. They never got to the good stuff.

My scenes weren’t working as I intended, they were all but dead. One of the things I’m doing with my current revision is taking a closer look at those scenes. Are they really needed? How can I get them moving?

In order to correct a problem, you have to be able to identify it. What are the characteristics of dead and sluggish scenes?

Dead Scene

  • Contains repeated information. Give your reader a break. They don’t need to hear the same thing over and over.
  • There’s no conflict. What’s the purpose of this scene? It’s only adding word count but no meat.
  • A scene whose sole purpose is to set something up. This is the one I fell into. I wasn’t giving my readers the credit they deserved. I thought I had to spell everything out for them.
  • A scene lacking a goal. Why is it there? Where is it going?
  • A scene that doesn’t encourage your reader to turn the page. Words are your weapon. Leave the reader wanting.

 Sluggish Scene

  • Too much casual chit chat. Remember dialogue isn’t conversation as we know it. It has to move your story forward.
  • Too much description and narrative. Provide the reader with what they need, and don’t bog them down in what you consider interesting facts and details that aren’t necessary. The story should not stop to allow you the opportunity to show off  what you learned during research. Who cares how many gold buttons ran down the back of the heroine’s gown. Unless it’s involved in a crime scene, don’t do it.
  • Not enough emphasis on the scenes goal. Each scene should have a purpose. Don’t wonder off on tangents unrelated to what you are trying to convey. Keep your eye on the target.
  • Not enough conflict. The reader needs a reason to pick up your book. They are looking for action. Even Cinderella had an evil stepmother determined to keep her from the prince.
  • A scene written from the wrong point of view. This is another one I’ve struggled with. Maybe the scene should be from the heroine’s point of view versus the hero. She may be able to provide more insight into what’s going on in that particular situation.

Some things to look for and think about. Hope this helped.

-Jan R

Are Your Scenes Dead?

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

More on Keeping It Simple

keep-it-simple-1I thought I would continue with the blog I wrote on Tuesday, Keep It Simple. You don’t want your reader to have to stop and think about what you are trying to say. You don’t want to slow them down or break up the pace.

You want your reader to continue through your novel without thinking about the fact  they are reading a book. You want them to become part of your story, walking through the scenes with your cast of characters.

If they have to stop and reread a section for clarification, you’re in trouble. I recommend that you read your prose aloud before making it public. If you stop or hesitate on any sentence, go back, something isn’t right.

Additional things we do to over complicate our writing. And I did say we. I’m guilty too 🙂

Double negatives

He was not certain that he would not make a mess of it.

My head just exploded. What did that sentence just say. You’re going to have to slow down and reread that sentence a couple of times. A better way to write it-

He worried he might make a mess of it.

Over explaining/illustrating

You did a lot of research to make your story sound authentic. That’s great, and the right thing to do, but your reader doesn’t want or need to know all of the information you collected. They aren’t interested in the intricacies of a process, give them an overview. Unless there is an important reason they need to know an intricate detail, keep it out.

Adding unnecessary descriptors in titles

He became the leader of the Commonwealth of Australia in 2012.

He became the leader of Australia in 2012.

She was a reporter in the United Stated of America during the Clinton administration.

She was a reporter in America during the Clinton administration.

If your reader already knows the setting is the USA-

She was a reporter during the Clinton administration.

Careless repetition

It makes you look clumsy, like you haven’t thought things through. You’re unorganized. Why are you telling me something you told me in chapters 3,4 and 6? I know already! Give me a break! Don’t force me to relive a situation over and over again. I don’t like it.

With this being said, there are times when repetition is appropriate, but not usually in novels. Repetition can add clarity, emphasis, and eloquence- when used this way, I wouldn’t consider it careless.

A perfect example, would be the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr.  Check it out.

Hope this gave you something to think about and didn’t add to the confusion 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on Keeping It Simple

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

imagesGTB2JOL3I’m a little over half way through the revision process of the book I’m working on and dreading the next few weeks.

The first half of my novel flows. I love what’s happening and I love my characters. They all work together to accomplish what I need them to, but then it starts to get ugly.

I’m sure you have heard that once you start writing, your story can take on a life of it’s own. Well that happened to me with the introduction of  a new character. She took on a life of her own, stole the plot, and didn’t stop until almost the end of the story.

She did help in one area. She filled in the middle and carried me to the end, but I’ve never really liked the character, and I question where she went. She was nice, smart, and likeable, but  she totally disrupted the flow, and I allowed her to.  I had lost sight of the ending I had planned.

I have read through my manuscript many times. I hesitate and play with this character and the events perpetuated by her existence, every single pass through.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that she needs to go. If I’m not comfortable with the character and her role in my story, It’s bound to come across to my readers. It’s time to cut my losses and move on.

This of course means a lot of work for me. I can salvage some of scenes she is involved in by replacing her with existing characters that can fill the role, but I am still cutting about 25,000 words and reworking the latter part of my book to follow the path that I originally outlined.

I’m sure I’ve made a million novice mistakes that brought me to this point, one of the major ones was to give an unplanned character free reign over my manuscript. I allowed her to walk in the door and take my story to places it should have never gone.

I was amazed and thought, how great is this, my story is writing itself. Well in some instances that might have been a good thing, but in my story, it definitely was not. Some may consider it a great exercise in creativity to let a rogue character take off with your story. I would say as long as it’s controlled and she/he isn’t in a free fall. You have to maintain control.

What do you think?

 

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

What’s In Your Toolbox II

11510921-toolbox-with-tools-skrewdriver-hammer-handsaw-and-wrench-3d-stock-photoAbout a week ago I wrote a blog on tools I use to help with writing. I included the usual suspects-dictionary and thesaurus, but also included a few that I thought  many of my readers probably did not know existed. These included the ’emotion thesaurus’ -yes there is such a thing and it is great to help you get the creative juices flowing when describing your character’s reaction to what is going on in a particular scene.

After I posted the blog, I thought of a few more that have been instrumental in helping me to become a better writer and wanted to add those to the list. So, I decided to write What’s in you toolbox II.

Autocrit-is an online editing site that offers invaluable information about your prose. Being a beginner, I never thought about my word use or over word use is probably more accurate. I never thought about clichĂ©s, or passive writing, or the length of my sentences and how it affected the pacing.  One of my catch phrases is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

So you can subscribe to Autocrit for free and it will review a segment of your writing(about 250 words at a time). After doing an analysis, it will provide you with the most used words in the segment and approximately how many you should have used, clichés, passive verbs, sentence length, and so much more.

The way Autocrit makes it’s money is you discover how great a tool it is and you pay for the upgrade. I purchased the upgrade for one year and used it frequently to help me become more aware of my writing and the common mistakes I was guilty of making. I am now more aware of my shortcomings and hopefully avoiding many of the mistakes I made in the past.

Grammarly – I’ve never used this site, but it’s my understanding that it is similar to Autocrit. I know many of my critique partners like it, so I thought I would throw it in the mix as a site to check out.

Scribophile- Who doesn’t need a critique partner who knows what they are looking for while reviewing your work and will offer an objective critique on what they are reading. If you are like me, you didn’t want to approach family and friends. They’re not writers and don’t understand the mechanics, plus they don’t want to hurt your feelings so they sugarcoat their critiques of your book. Besides that, what if they don’t like it. Nobody wants to be rejected especially by people they care about.

Scribophile is an online critique group that will critique up to about 3000 words of your novel at a time. It is free. Once again you can upgrade, but this is totally unnecessary, unless you are using it like Facebook to communicate with other aspiring authors. The way it works is you critique other peoples work and earn points. Once you have accumulated enough you can post your work. I had an 82,000 word novel critiqued in about 3 months.

You will find some of your critiques are performed by novices but many others by very good writers. The recommendations and assistance I got to correct grammar, POV issues and plot holes was invaluable.

They also have a book swap group if you would like to have someone read your work through completely without going the critique route. Before I had anyone look at my work, I wanted to go the critique route, so I could iron out as many mistakes as possible.

There are other online critique groups, but I haven’t used any of them, so I can’t comment on their effectiveness in helping with your writing. I know Scribophile and give them 5 stars 🙂

So many resources available at little to no cost. You just need to know where to look.

So what’s in your toolbox? Would love to hear from you.

-Jan R

 

What’s In Your Toolbox II

Edit, Edit or Edit?

Well that is true, but it’s only one type of editing, and there are three different types listed in the article. The article also noted that a novel length manuscript needed to go through all three types before it was submission ready.

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 – copy editing is the one most of us think of when we hear editor. He comes on the scene after the developmental editor and cleans things up. He is the one who does 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 thought this was an interesting article. 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 them in person.

Hope this helped!

-Jan R

Edit, Edit or Edit?