Tag Archives: editing

More Questions To Ask After That First Draft Is Done

Your first draft is done!

And trust me when I say this, it is not ready to be published! 

How do you know this? No one writes a perfect first draft. You don’t either. Before you let your mom, your best buddy or the pizza guy read this draft, make sure it’s the best you can make it.

15 More Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

Here are questions you can ask about this draft.

Go on! Take your time to think about it! Make notes!  Each change you make will probably be for the better. And if you are serious about getting this published, then you’ll be far more marketable and competitive in this saturated markets. Your pizza guy? He probably won’t notice the changes precisely, but he probably will enjoy the pacing, characterization, and conflict. Make sure you tip him well.

Are there believable surprises in your story?

Your reader needs to be surprised, so think of ways to put the unexpected in. What if the sidekick decides to betray our main character? Or what if the getaway is interrupted by a car crash? What if the protagonist is recognized by the guard? Or what if the love interest is really that bully from her childhood? What if his food allergies give away his identity? It’s hard when you’ve read your work a million times to see a surprise (that’s where a beta reader could come in) but keep thinking! Surprises keep your readers turning pages long after they should be in bed!

 

Do the supporting characters contrast the main character enough in what they do or say?

When creating your cast of characters, think of the supporting cast as an ensemble. They should have different personality types, different life experiences, different points of view. And they should never get along perfectly. The main character could take turns listening to each one and yet changing his loyalties. What do you have in this draft? Consider each one carefully and make necessary changes.

Is every supporting character necessary?

Can you cut any out? When creating characters, think about variety and roles that each character plays. Just like our main character, each of the supporting cast should have desires and objectives. To make good conflict, you don’t want them to perfectly align with your protagonists. But if they are too similar, you may have a problem.  If you have characters that are too much the same either make one an extreme exaggeration or eliminate one altogether.

Do you have a subplot or two that can divert the reader from the main story, just for a moment?

A good subplot harmonizes with the main plot, it doesn’t compete with it. If you don’t have one in this draft, now’s the time to add one.  That’s why a romantic subplot often works in books that aren’t necessarily romances. Cutting away to the subplot, right when the tension in the main plot is high, is a good strategic move for story telling. Your readers will be invested in both if you do this right, and they’ll keep reading.

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Is your antagonist too much of a cartoon?

It’s really easy to take a villain and put a mustache, beard and black hat on him. You can do that in the first draft. But the more you make him like a cartoon the less serious he will be to your reader. Have you taken the worst of your antagonist and exaggerated it to the point of caricature? It may be better to work with their nuances, their personalities, and their worldview rather than their quest for “one meelion” dollars.

Is your antagonist’s objective clear?

Does it oppose your protagonist enough? Do you want to have your antagonist monolog to reveal all of their intentions to your good guy? Or would it come up some other way? Antagonist development is really important. The richer you make this conflict between him and the protagonist, the more interesting your story.

Is your dialogue distinctive between characters?

The voice between the characters should be so distinctive that you could remove the dialog tags and still know what’s going on. If you don’t see any distinction, this could mean that you have too many characters or too many that are alike. Consider merging a couple together or killing a few darlings.

What do all of the characters learn by the end?

Every character needs to have some sort of arc. This means that by the end of the story everyone has had a change for the better or for the worse. The change could be a physical change, or it could be financial, spiritual, emotional, academic or professional. The point is that growth is evident to the reader.

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Do you add in touches of sensory description in each scene?

Sensory descriptions can make the scene come alive. Consider using three descriptors, but not too many more. A scene that’s too heavy handed with description can be boring, so take care that you don’t get carried away.

Is the mood and tone of the story consistent with the theme and the genre?

Tone is the emotional weight of the narration. For example, thrillers are mostly serious. Romances are more light-hearted. Comedies, regardless of their setting, are the lightest of all. If you’re writing genre fiction, you want to sound like all of the other books in your genre. If your tone is too different from what is expected, you may turn off some readers.

Do your scenes feel like they build with excitement like the tension is increasing as the story plays out?

Each scene requires a push or a pull, toward the main character’s objective or away from it. There should be a sense of more gained than lost, and each scene is more treacherous than the last.

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Do your protagonist and antagonist have a final conflict where something unexpected happens?

This should happen late in the second act. There should be a point when all hell breaks loose and your protagonist and your antagonist are at each other’s throats. You’ve seen this scene in countless movies — the final showdown. Now, if you do this well, you don’t make it last too short or too long, you give the villain the upper hand for just a second and then BAM! Something unexpected helps the protagonist out and your bad guy gets the Disney accidental-death-by-falling-which-technically-doesn’t-make-your-good-guy-a-murderer. Okay, maybe that’s a big much for your romance, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Does your protagonist make a choice between two mutually exclusive desires?

This conflict is one of my very favorite things to create for my characters. They’ve have wanted to get to A for a long, long time — say 250 pages — and here they are, just about to touch it and have what they want but then, THEN, they realize they’ll lose B if they do! B?? B?? Oh, not B! This is good conflict. Set your characters up to make them choose!

Is your ending predictable?

This is the funny thing about endings: the need to be believable and probable, but not completely predictable. Before you write that conclusion, make sure you’ve considered all of the options. Make a list, if you have to, of what could happen and then choose the most ridiculous, most mind-boggling or most odd. Your reader would prefer a good surprise rather than an “oh, I saw that coming!”

Does your third act bring all the characters to a new, permanent place that makes sense?

Your third act is where everyone cleans up the mess of the climax and goes on about their lives. If you’ve done your job well, then each character has a new, permanent change in their life. Third acts should be much shorter than the second act, and maybe even shorter than the third. Don’t over do it. Just sum it all up in a tidy bow and write The End.

Your first draft is certainly something to be proud of, but a well-crafted novel is even moreso. Use these questions to make your draft the best it can be.


Did you like this post? You may also like:

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done and 16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

How The “There Are No Rules” Rule Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

I’m not sure who started the “there are no rules in writing” rule.

It certainly wasn’t an English teacher.

There ARE rules.

Rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation bring order and dignity to our language. There are also rules for storytelling, rules for submissions, rules of common sense, rules of general communication that YOU MUST follow if you want to be taken seriously.

How The "There Are No Rules" Rule Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

 If you are a writer then your job is to communicate to your reader.

If you are deliberately being sloppy, apathetic or lazy then the message you’re sending to your reader is “I’m above the rules” or “You’re too stupid” or “Conventions aren’t for geniuses like me.”

In my humble opinion, I'd like to earn credibility, communicate well and set myself up for…

I also think that if you ignore the rules, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, obscurity and it’s very likely other writers will make fun of you.

This is why:

Rules restrict the chaos.

Have you ever been in a car accident because someone ran a red light? Traffic rules are there to keep everybody safe. Now, it’s is unlikely that a lack of grammar and spelling rules could send you to the emergency room, but nonetheless, if we didn’t have rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation, we’d have a mess on our hands.

 

Rules are like personal hygiene for the written word.

You know that guy, that guy, who thinks showering is optional, who believes that toothpaste and deodorant were invented by capitalists who have conspired to convince America about the necessity of their “products.” That guy is not the guy you want to share an elevator with, right?  If you’re a writer, then if you avoid “the rules” it’s like you’re walking around with body odor. Do us all a favor — check your spelling before you leave the house. We will take you far more seriously if you keep your words tidy.

Rules separate the hacks from the professionals.

If you are serious about your writing and have aspirations to be published, then you should take care to follow not only grammar, punctuation and spelling rules but also rules in story structure, characterization, plots, and genre. Then, if you do that and expect to be noticed by agents, publisher, and editors, then follow their rules too!  Pay attention to submission guidelines, write a decent query letter, act professional!  If you really think that your talent is so brilliant that you don’t have to play the game, then you won’t mind the cobwebs in your inbox. Rule followers get in the door. Rule breakers don’t.

Rules are the first gatekeepers.

With all of the millions of books for sale, a reader is far more likely to pick up a polished one than one that thinks “rules are for losers”. You are not e.e.cummings. Yet. Until you earn notoriety and readers, don’t even think about breaking the rules because that’s what you think the cool kids do. The cool kids shine and polish their work because they respect the time and money the readers will invest.

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Rules are your friends: without rules, you can’t be a good communicator.

The rules are not put there by “the man” to “bring you down”. Whether they are GSP (grammar, spelling, punctuation), storytelling or submissions rules, they are there to enhance your talent, to be your tools in your artistry, and to put your readers at ease. Imagine this blog post without nouns or commas or nice and tidy paragraphs: it would be a hot mess. I chose to follow the rules because I want to engage my readers and make this blog enjoyable.

Rules are not meant to be broken.

I’m all for imaginative writing. I love reading a story that’s innovative and creative. There aren’t enough fresh stories around!  But the very best of these new, exciting works are successful not because they broke rules, there are excellent because they used the rules to their advantage. Rule-breaking in the name of creativity or passion is often rebellion and anarchy with a better agent.

 

Deliberate rule breakers will not go far in this business.

Show me a new writer who says idiotic things like, “there are no rules!” and I’ll show you someone who is going to have a hard time receiving the fact that his thriller is a hot mess, that his characters are not deep enough and his endings are predictable.

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Writing is an art.

Just like any art, there are conventions and disciplines set up for a reason. Fresh, innovative, creative works are always welcome. Anyone can break a rule and call it “genius”, but true genius comes from those who see rules and works with them.

My suggestion for all you rebels out there who want to be that romantic, passionate, non-conforming writer that shows the world you’ve got what it takes?

 Sit down. Be quiet. Put in your 10,000 hours. Read every craft book you can get your hands on. Write regularly.

And more importantly?

Be Teachable!

Your talent, your art, and your readers deserve excellence.


If you liked this post, you’d probably also like:

Never Say Never: Writing “Rules” That Beg to Be Broken or,

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue In Your Novel


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

 

Your story should be jammed packed with conflicts.

You should have conflicts about the setting, like the tropical storm that’s been seen down south is heading north and could turn into a hurricane. Or, you could have conflicts about every day life, like maybe the cat is missing and he has a history of getting caught in small spaces. Also, you could have conflicts involving sickness, like a character with Crohn’s disease can’t stop eating animal crackers. Or maybe a conflict regarding money: the bank may foreclose on the family homestead any minute now.

A great story has many kinds of conflicts all layered on each other, each eating away at the main objectives of the main character.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

But the best conflict -- the one that will keep your reader turning pages is on that pits two…

Mutually exclusive desires are when our character, let’s say, Steve, wants to do one thing, but he also wants to do something else.

He wants to provide his family with a good home and oboe lessons for his daughter but he also wants to play the ponies at the track. Another example could be that Steve wants more power and responsibility in his neighborhood gang, but he also wants not to whack his best friend for ratting out.

Good mutually exclusive goals can work side by side for a while, but then, somewhere about 2/3 of the way into the story, Steve has to choose.

He realizes that if he takes what he wants all along, then he’ll have to sacrifice something that he wants even more. This is the hinge on which the entire second act sits. It’s this moment that sets up the climactic ending. The reader understands that he can achieve only one of these goals. This is the type of stuff that your reader will eat with a spoon. This is the type of story telling that keeps those pages turning. WHAT WILL HE DO?

But let’s back up a minute. How did you get to this point in your story telling? How have you set Steve up so that he can get into this great climactic situation?

You start with Abraham Maslow.

Maslow was this scientist in the 1930s who came up with this hierarchy of needs for individuals in society. He was not a novelist. I’m not even sure he knew how to create a character. But what he did do was articulate how people get their needs met.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Most of this is going to make a lot of sense to you.

You’ve been in those places where you yourself had mutually exclusive needs and it caused conflict. Conflicts are not so much fun when they happen to us in real life — but they are great fun in stories. If your character, say, Steve, wanted to have this one thing in his life. But then it threatened another equally important desire. He would have to make a choice on what to do about it.

While you are plotting, consider all the needs that Steve has:

Are they at the bottom of the pyramid? He needs to maintain his immediate food, clothing and shelter needs. If your story is a wilderness adventure story, this will be obvious. Steve has to find a place away from the elements to sleep tonight. He’s not sure he has enough jerky for one more day. He also thinks he’s being followed by a bear.  If he stays here, he’ll certainly die from exposure. If he travels on, there is no guarantee of shelter. What will he do?

Or are they on the next level up? If your story is a thriller, Steve wants to keep the Soviets from destroying the military installation in his hometown. Steve is worried not just about his family, but also his neighborhood and maybe if he’ll lose his job at the bank to the communists. If he confronts the Soviets, then they could kill him. But if he doesn’t they’ll destroy capitalism anyway and he won’t have a job, but he’ll be alive. What will he do?

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Or do things get a bit complex with Steve’s relationships? If your story is a family saga, Steve’s issues may be harder to find. He may want to pursue his lifelong goal of touring with a traveling bassoon ensemble. But he’s worried what his father will say. He could lose this opportunity to play or he could lose the family fortune. His band adores him. They can’t function without him. But a cool ten million could buy him friends. What will he do?

Or Is it really all about Steve’s inner life? In the next level, Steve’s quest for significance could come from his life’s work: A book Amish Zombie Princesses. His manuscript has been stolen. The low life who stole it is really his loyal writing coach. These aren’t life and death stakes, but they are gripping nonetheless. He could fight for his book, after all it took him a whole week to write! But then he loses a friend and a mentor. What will he do?

And as for the upper level? To be honest, few books are written with those kinds of needs– the need for self-actualization. Les Miserables is one of the few novels I can think of that touch on those needs. You may find that your readers identify more with the needs on the lower levels.

And that fine, the lower the level, the more likely you have hand-to-hand combat and that’s always fun to read.

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All of this is well and good but unless you put your character in a position, about 2/3 of the way through the story, in which he has to choose between two needs.

He can also choose between two needs that are on two separate levels. Many of the great books you’ve read or films you’ve watched have this kind of choice. A great storyteller will bring his reader along for the ride. But then, a choice must be made, and to the reader it is excruciating.

What does Steve choose?

Steve makes a choice that is not necessarily predictable, but the one that makes the most sense. He can choose a third option that satisfies neither needs. He can come up with an option that satisfied both. The final choice he makes is the climactic moment. After that choice is made, the results should be final and permanent. Hopefully the reader will say, “Of course! That’s the only real choice after all.”

In your story, make sure you have many layers of conflict, but for your main character, develop his needs intentionally.

He’s going to have to make a choice. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it does have to be the best way to end a story.


Did you like this post? Want to read more like it?

Try this:

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

Or,

Top 10 Things You Can Do When You Are Stuck, Either Literally or Figuratively


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Your Spell Checker Is A Shifty-Eyed Hack

You can’t trust your spell checker.

Generally speaking, a spell checking feature on a word processing program will do a fair job in finding words that are misspelled.

That’s all it’s capable of doing. If you think that an automatic spell check will do enough work to make you a good writer, then you are mistaken. Your spell check is a hack — in that, it only does what it is programmed to do. And I’d even go as far to say that it’s shifty-eyed (if it had eyes) because good writers know not to trust automatic editing tools completely.

You’re going to need a bigger and better self-editing tools, or a human helper if you want to really get all the mistakes.

Why Your Spell Check Is A Shifty-Eyed Hack by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Editing is far more than spellchecking.

Written communication doesn’t just need excellent spelling. It needs consistent grammar, active voice, clear nouns and adverbs, logical thought and your unique voice. If you are only using your built-in checkers to guide you in your writing, it’s like you’ve asked the cashier at Walgreen’s to diagnose your aquagenic urticaria.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”…

Your spell checker knows nothing about purple prose.

The words, they come, they dance along the barre of your mind, pirouetting here and there, leaping and landing in a performance of grace and goodness in which every reader watches in amazement. There’s not a spell checker in the world that can keep you from over-writing, over-comparing, or over-describing. This is a shame. The world could stand a bit less nonsense and more straight talk. Does your self-important work get a little carried away with it its own verbosity? Find a good, honest friend and have them sit down with you and have a little intervention. You may want some of this. 

Your spell checker knows nothing about verb tenses.

You may have a verb tense problem when some sentences have past tense and some have present. It happens to the best of us. The solution? Read your piece out loud. You’ll probably hear where you messed up and can fix it easily. Or, if you’re a little nervous about someone overhearing you, read through the entire composition and circle the verbs.  From there change the passive ones to active one, the weak to strong and the vague to clear. And if you can, avoid the “be” verbs. They really aren’t your friends. Also check out Grammarly’s help here. I know that when I start thinking Grammar is like math, I feel a lot better about tenses.

Your spell checker knows nothing about punctuation.

Few of us have trouble with periods, question marks and exclamation marks. Our trouble comes with commas, colons, semi-colons, and possessives. A way to beat these issues it just to review the rules about them on great websites like this one. Or you could invest in Grammarly, which points out your errors for everything web-based that you write, like blog posts about punctuation. Or you could keep your sentences so short and boring that you have no need for commas. And really, people who use semicolons are just pretentious, aren’t they?

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Your spell checker nose nothing about homophones.

Do you see what I did there? Homophones are the wurst. If we get all excited about putting our thoughts down, we may go so fast that we put down one word when we really mean another. A spellcheck won’t help you here, because it’s not a spelling error you made, it’s a usage one. One way to combat this is to read your work aloud, but even then that’s iffy because your mistake may sound right. Get another set of eyes to review your work. And if you’re really diligent about this, do a little find/replace of common homophones. This is time-consuming, but anything that helps you correct mistakes before your readers laugh at you is worth doing.

Your spell checker knows nothing about filter words.

Filter words are sneaky little devils. They are the words that you may use habitually even though they add little value to your prose. In fiction, the worst filter words are those that do more telling than showing. Your characters may think, realize, feel, decide, look, start doing something, or believe. While all of these can be grammatically correct, spelled correctly and used correctly, they make your story weak and flabby. Your spellcheck can do nothing for you here. How to get rid of them? Do a find/replace. Or read you manuscript for the ten millionth time. Determine how necessary they are. Omit if you can. Substitute in vibrant verbs. Your story will be more interesting, I promise.

Passive voice is also one thing that your spell checker knows nothing about.

Do you see what I did there? Passive voice means that you have designed a sentence in such a way that the subject is not active. Rather, the subject is having something done to it. Simplified, the cat chased the mouse is active. The mouse was chased by the cat is passive. But I’ve learned with great apps like Hemingway, that I can write some might fancy-schmancy passive sentences. How do you get rid of them? Hire a pro editor to help you spot them, use apps like Hemingway to highlight them. And practice writing. I’m so much better than I used to be at avoiding passivity.

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Your spell checker knows nothing about your personal quirks and foibles.

These are the little writing habits that only you do. And as confident as you’d like to be, they probably shouldn’t be categorized as “personal style.” Instead, hunt down those repeated words or phrases — I often said my characters “sighed” — and get rid of them. Your spellcheck can’t find these, of course. The best way to minimize your personal quirks and foibles is to read your work out loud. You may be surprised what you discover. And paying a good, reputable editor is always recommended.

In my WordPress app that I use for blogging I downloaded Yoast and found it to be very helpful in making my prose better. You get a little dot at the top of your draft — red, yellow, or green — and if you get green, you’re good!

Now I’d like to think that I was a strong writer anyway, but with these tools, reading aloud, and my editing buddies, I’m far more likely to spot my mistakes and learn from them.

That spellchecker of mine is a shifty-eyed hack.

I don’t need him and neither do you.

 


Did you like this article? You may also like:
Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud
Or, Top 10 Signs You’ve Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

 

Have you ever read your work out loud?

Long before you submit your work to your beta readers, before you assume that you’re done, before you start thinking about renting that billboard to advertise your latest literary genius, you should read your manuscript out loud.

Start at page one. Finish at “The End.” And listen. And keep a red pen handy to make notes.

I’m completely convinced that you’ll make a lot of notes. I’m convinced that you’ll hear far more errors than you’ll ever see. Reading aloud reveals everything.

Seven Reasons Why You Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

This is why you should read your manuscript out loud:

You’ll hear words repeated. We all have writing habits that need to be broken. We may use “just”  or “some” too many times. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to see patterns of filter words that need to be eliminated. Make a note in the margin, or highlight your offensive word so you can do a “find” and “replace” later.

You’ll have a better sense of the story’s pacing. When we are writing, we have everything going on in our heads. It may never occur to us that the interior monolog is too long or that exposition needs a trimming. By reading aloud, you may catch these things.

You’ll catch bad blocking. If you are reading aloud, you may be better in tune with what is happening in the scene. This new, fresher, multi-sensory experience may reveal some errors or inconsistencies that need correcting. Fix them now. They can embarrass you later.

Need help? As a fan to sit and listen to you. Record your reading. Put on a play.

You’ll hear the clunkiness of poorly written sentences. Passive voice, for example, is more offensive to the ear than to the eye. If you’re reading aloud, you may come across a sentence that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it needs a rearranging. Or cut them out entirely.

You may notice unnecessary character ticks. Do your characters “sigh” or “smile” or “roll their eyes?”  If you read your manuscript aloud, you may see how often they do this. These aren’t necessary. If it is so important that your character reacts, come up with a less predictable way to express it.

You may find spelling mistakes that spellcheck won’t notice. There is a magical process going on in our brains when we read aloud. We experience a cognitive hey day when our brain, mouth, and eyes are all stimulated at once. I think, and I say this without being a neurosurgeon, that this makes us more alert.  This is helpful with those pesky homophones. Have a red pencil ready and mark all you see.

You may hear inconsistencies in the dialogue. In your novel, you want each of your characters to have a distinct sound. You won’t know if you’ve really pulled this off until you hear your characters come to life. Act your characters, don’t just read their lines, and see if you need to strengthen dialogue.

This is going to take time. So get comfortable, get a big glass of tea (or whiskey if the book is really bad) and start talking to yourself.

Your manuscript will be all the better for it.


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings

You need not worry about your browser history; this post is about killing figuratively.  In the world of writers, killing your darlings means getting rid of those story bits that need to die, even though the author may have fallen in love with them.

But in the world of writers, the author who wants to write well, should be ruthless when it comes to removing the unwanted or unsightly from our manuscripts.

A Writer's Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings

Here’s how:

Obliterate your Prologue.

In one swift move, hit select all and delete. It’s gone. You probably didn’t feel a thing. Why? Most prologues are unnecessary. Prologues often assume your reader needs to be spoon fed every little detail. They don’t! Prologues should only be there if they shed vitally important information to the plot or characters and it can’t be inserted in any other way. So take your prologue out. But leave the cannoli.

Bring all your weak characters to the guillotine.

18th Century French Revolutionaries believed that that the guillotine was the most humane way to execute. So line up all those mamby-pamby personalities, those random guys in the background, that grocery store clerk that you thought might have a purpose and pull the cord. There shouldn’t be room in your manuscript for people who have no purpose other than to pad your word count. Kill them all!

Entrap those plot bunny trails.

This may be really hard for you since plot bunny trails are so cute and fun. But with them, you must be as ruthless as a hungry eagle with long, pointy talons. Reach down and clutch each one of those bunny trails with great force! Eliminate their uselessness! Take hold of their tangential fuzziness and stick them somewhere far away, like, say, another story. Perhaps there, they could multiply like rabbits and create a new story all their own.

Hack away at your cliches.

And really, really hack, like with a dull machete. Back in the first draft, you may have thrown a trite phrase in as a marker for a point you wanted to work in later. Or you really may have been typing really fast. Or maybe, just maybe, you think that having an old, worn-out phrase is a good idea. Honey, it’s not. We’ve got a nice flat cutting surface for you. Go for it. Cliches must die. If they’ve served its purpose, they go on the cutting room floor.

Assault your unnecessary and weak scenes.

Hit ’em! Kick ’em! Knock ’em down! Don’t let them up! You’ll know if a scene needs it’s butt kicked if it doesn’t move the story forward in any way. If a scene doesn’t give the reader new information, bring the main character closer or farther away from the main goal, but does nothing but add to the word count, it needs a can of whup-ass. If you take it out, then you’ll keep your pacing in tact, you’ll keep the reader interested and you’ll feel like a tough guy.

Firebomb your backstory.

It’s going to take a lot of firepower to blast all that exposition out, but you gotta do it. When you were drafting, you created all this crazy structure of your character’s life. You built fact upon fact. This house of cards is now sky high in your notes and brain. But it’s an eyesore for your reader. And you don’t have time to take it out piece by piece. Meh, just light a bomb under the sucker. The debris will fall in all the right places and you’ll know what bits to put in in the right places.

Plug your purple prose.

I know, I know, you get carried away sometimes at the lingering sunset that sunk on the horizon like a hunk of playdough on fire, blazing in glory. Sentences like this may have sounded gorgeous at the time, but what they do, really, is point to the idiot who wrote them. You don’t want your purple prose to make you look bad, right? Then pull out that red-inked pistol and shoot it between the eyes. If there is a mercy killing in this list, the death of the purple prose would be it.

Strangle your first chapter.

Most first chapters in most first drafts need the wind taken out of them. Do this especially if your first chapter has your main character waking up from a dream, looking out the window contemplating the universe, or starting off their day with the buzz of an alarm. Your first chapter, really, was just there to get you started in the beginning draft. It’s served its purpose and you need to put a lot of thought into how you open your book. That early first chapter just isn’t going to cut it. Kill this darling and do it quickly. No one is looking.

Now I’ve seen my share of gangster movies, so I know a heartless murderer when I see one (at least when I’m safely on one side of a screen). I think that writers should have the same brutality of  Tony Soprano when it comes to killing off the weak parts of their manuscripts.

But that’s just in the writing. Writing only. Really.

Want to go for a ride? I have to stop someplace for a cannoli first.

You don’t mind, do you?


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community. 

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue In Your Novel

 

“I’m not bungling my dialogue,” you say to yourself.

But you’ve had a few complaints from your beta readers about how they don’t like the characters. You’ve been told the story feels dead. While your plot is tight and your pacing is perfect, the characters themselves feel off. The trouble could be your dialogue. Dialogue is the soul of the characters. Dialogue is what brings the story to life for your reader. Are you bungling it?

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

You may be bungling you dialogue if . . .

 You’ve forgotten about the influence of setting.

Your story’s setting may play a role in the way that your characters speak. But too much dialect, slang or exaggerated speech can distract the reader. Dialogue brings action to the scene. You want your reader to focus on the words and actions of the character and allow the scene to flow smoothly. Anything that weakens the meaning, slows the pacing down or confuses the reader is working against you. How to fix this? Read the dialogue out loud. If you stumble over it, then you’ve put in too much regional nuance. If you can’t detect any hint of setting, consider adding a “Ya’ll” or a “Fo-gettabout-it”.

You’ve put in way too much exposition.

In some writing circles, they call this the “As you know, Bob,” mistake. This is when an author uses dialogue to pour out the background information in the conversation. While you do need some sort of exposition, it’s better to err on the side of not enough than too much. How to fix this? Highlight everything that is exposition and then read the draft out loud, skipping the highlighted parts. If you can tell what is going on without info, leave it out. Only put the least amount back in.

“[A]lways get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.”
P.G. Wodehouse

You use dialogue tags too much.

He yelled loudly. She whispered. He stuttered nervously. Now, there’s a lot of opinion about this. Some would say that the only tag you should ever use is said. And I can see that the simplicity of said allows it to be almost invisible to the reader. That’s a good thing. You don’t want to cause attention to anything except the story. But I would also argue that a well placed dialogue tag can create a visual image for the reader, as long as the verb was strong and possible adverb behind it was omitted. I’m also a fan of using a character body language to reveal the emotion. Like this: “I wish I knew more about Chad,” Cora bit her lip and twisted her hair. I’m hoping that Cora’s actions revealed her anxiety about a matter.

You’re just a little too formal.

Dialogue is where we can throw grammar rules out the window. A character wouldn’t always have their subjects and verbs agree. They may speak in sentence fragment. They probably use contractions. The best dialogue is loose and indicative of the complex person that it represents. And people are really emotional! Make sure that their true feelings are coming through somehow — even if they have something to hide! How to fix this? Read your dialogue aloud. Does it feel wooden or stiff? Rewrite it so that the true personality of the character is shining through.

You write the exact way that people speak.

This may seem contradictory to the previous advice, but one is about regional influence and the other is about unnecessary words. People speak poorly. Their conversations are full of empty words, stops, starts, repetitions and omissions. When we listen to a speaker, we take in the information of dialogue as a whole. We never focus on one word at at a time. We gather information from the tone and the body language. Good listeners can glean an immense amount of meaning from subtle cues. Few of these cues can be translated to the written page. How to fix this? Cut out everything that’s unnecessary.

“Dialogue concentrates meaning; conversation dilutes it.”
Robert McKee

You have no distinction between the characters.

Ideally, you want your characters to be so distinctive that you could take away the tags and have a clue on who was speaking. But that’s not always possible. The key to having distinctive dialogue is developing all characters well. The more you know your characters, the more their voice will come through. How to fix this? Spend time writing a perspective of the story from that character’s point of view. You’ll be acting as if you are that character. After a few hundred words, you may sense what they sense. As you craft their dialogue, try to slip back into that character. You’ll probably see a difference.

You ramble on and on without a break.

It is so true that there are people out there who do not know how to shut up. If rambling is boring to listen to, then it’s doubly boring to read. If your character really does have a long speech to give, figure out a way to break it up for the sake of the reader. How to fix this? Have someone interrupt and ask question. The speakers should cough and need water. Have the listener notice something and reflect for just a moment. Describe what they are doing with their hands. Or maybe describe their appearance while they speak. Describe their sweaty forehead, their great haircut, their wrinkled clothes or the way they are standing.

You forget about subtext.

Subtext is what is really being said between the lines. The couple might be speaking in hushed tones, nose to nose, about how much they like cheese, but they’re really flirting and are seconds away from a kiss. Then six scenes later, the same cheese issue comes up, but they are on opposite sides of the room, not facing each other and she’s whimpering. What is really going on? How to fix this? Make a note at the top of each scene describing what you want to accomplish in each scene. Also note the emotional temperature of each character. Use their body language to communicate one thing even if their words say something else.

Every word that you write must be carefully scrutinized.

The challenge (and the fun) of writing dialogue is that it’s not just your words that you’re writing, but you’re also giving your character words to say. With thoughtfulness and deliberate choices, your dialogue will not be bungled. And your story will come to life for your reader.


Want more articles about great dialogue?

Check out Top 20 Things You Can Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid

and

Top 10 Questions You Could Ask About Your Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict!

Thanks for stopping by today!


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Does Your Backstory Make Your Readers Stabby?

Backstory?

Oh yes, you’ve been working on that character’s backstory for months!

You’ve written thousands of words of backstory! You know how his parents met, how he got that scar on his pasty white tuckus, and why he gets all shaky and whiny when he’s served enchiladas. This is all important stuff you told yourself as you dumped it out into the first chapter of your work-in-progress. It sets the stage! The readers can really know him! This will make the story richer!

Your character’s backstory may have bored your reader to tears.

They left after the second or third page. They want a story: they don’t want genealogical report or long-winded childhood account. (Although that bit about the enchiladas was creepy.)

Does Your Backstory Make Your Reader Stabby? By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Best case scenario, your readers just thought that they would put your book aside and wait for when they needs a good relaxant before bed. Worst case? All of your details and exposition made them want to take a sharp knife and stab their Kindle with the force of Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t make your readers stabby.

Here’s how to avoid it.

Ask a beta reader or critique partner to highlight only the most important of information. Go through your manuscript and evaluate every sentence that is not action or dialogue and ask, “is this information critical to the story?” If it isn’t, cut it out. It’s going to hurt. You’ve grown very attached to this character’s past. I don’t recommend mixing alcohol and editing, but if it will help, pour yourself a drink while you hack away.

Make a note of any point of view problems. You must stay in the head of the narrative character. It could be that you’ve had your main character pondering his childhood trauma with enchiladas, but let’s be realistic here, how often should he wax nostalgic? Eliminate all interior monologue rabbit trails. If the thoughts aren’t consistent with the main character and don’t add to the story, you’ll need to cut it out.

Track how much action is in the story. Action is when any character does something physically to meet his objectives. A character that moves purposefully is a character that is progressing the story. You want lots of this. You want your main character to DO STUFF that is unrelated to that tuckus scar. (Unless, of course, you write erotica. And if you do, I don’t want details.)

“Backstory is actually at its most powerful when we don’t tell it—or rather when we don’t show it. The strength of backstory is its looming shadow. Readers know it’s there, they see it’s having an effect upon the characters, but they don’t always need to know the nitty-gritty details.”
— K.M. Weiland

Give your reader credit. Your reader is very familiar with the art of storytelling. They can piece bit together without you explaining every little thing. Readers can make conclusions on their own. They can connect dots on their own. If you give them too much exposition or backstory, it’s kind of like you’re insulting their intelligence. Nothing makes me stabbier than people thinking I’m stupid.

Make a list of the absolutely most important details and then drop them in like breadcrumbs. With exposition, less is more. Your reader may want the information you’re withholding if you’ve spread it far apart enough. The little bits you do give will make them curious. That’s a good thing. Curious readers turn pages. Curious readers finish books.

Use dialogue as a place to share information. But do it well. Someone needs to not know what’s going on. Have them ask questions. Then use your main character to only give them a little big of information. Here’s an example:

Main character's date: "Why aren't you eating those enchiladas?"

Main character: "These? These?" He catches his breath, swallows, downs a glass of water and pushed the plate away. "I haven't liked them since I was six. Can you take them away? Can you take them away, NOW?"

The problem with the enchiladas isn’t fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. The reader’s curiosity is piqued and they’ll keep reading to find out what’s going on with specific Mexican foods and this poor loser’s childhood.

Review story structure rules. My friend K.M. Weiland often says that if there’s a problem with a story, it’s almost always a structural one. I firmly believe that the best way to make ourselves better story tellers is to really understand structure inside and out. Once you do, you’ll see that too much backstory and exposition can kill a story’s pacing. Not to mention make your readers stabby. Need help with story structure? Look here. 

You CAN make your story lively, fast-paced, and gripping.

To do so, you’ll need to look at that backstory and exposition with a brutal eye. I know, I know, you worked so hard on this. The backstory creation is for you. The elimination of unnecessary details is for your reader.

If your readers are stabby, then they’re not going to enjoy your book.

They could get bored, skip over parts, put your book down and forget about it. They could not leave a review for you, nor recommend it to your friends.

By controlling your backstory and exposition, your making the whole story a richer experience.

And you’ll probably save someone a fortune in damages.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
Henry James

Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.

There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves, for delicacy, for images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety for reasons, but no one can deny how beautiful art serves a purpose.

Beautiful art points us to the good in humanity.

As we write, we can organize our words  in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together.   Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Beautiful sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. Beautiful words can enflame anger.  Beautiful words can render jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. Beautiful words are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Beautiful words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.

Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents.

Beautiful words play dress up when they are metaphor,simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on disguise, like a fake moustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.

“I don’t know what it means and I don’t care because it’s Shakespeare and it’s like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.”
― Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

Beautiful art exalts mankind’s creativity.

Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.

Beautiful art echoes ancient truths.

Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and entymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.

Beautiful art feeds our souls.

Beautiful words are parts of a whole, the vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent e can’t object. Poor insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Poor Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up. The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.

“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.”
― Dorothy Parker

The beautiful words are our medium.

They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. They are precise like a fine pen. They are bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. They are rich with facets and carats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.

How can we make words more beautiful?

How can we sculpt our sentences in such a way that the true essence of our meaning shines through? How can we enhance truth through a well-crafted sentence?

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

 

Try these suggestions:

 

 

1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun. Need inspiration? The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor. 

2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion. Need inspiration? Try reading Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.

3. Don’t let it start with “There was” or “There were.” Look at these quotes for the structure or how they begin the sentence. This may give you a good idea how to improve. The website calls it, “These 33 One-Sentence Quotes Will Blow Your Mind Every Time. Especially The 8th One.” That’s a bit of an overstatement, but they are nice and noble and short! (That can’t be said about the ads!)

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence, but don’t make it passive. Poets and songwriters have to tinker with word arrangement to make sentences work better rhythmically. Need examples? This fascinating article from The Guardian admires the beauty of the lyrics in Stephen Sondheim musicals. I loved this!

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make. Here’s a list of 317 “power words” that you can sprinkle in your prose. The context of this article is blogging, but any of these words will do for your fiction too!

6. Use Anglo Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference! 

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.”
Edgar Allan Poe

7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening. You can be more expressive with a little work and imagination. Need inspiration?  This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated! 

8. Substitute every word for a synonym just to see what you can come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi syllable words may muddy your meaning. Just for fun, check out these multi-syllable words that can add a bit of flavor. 

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. In a similar vein, this is a  fascinating article from NPR about loving sentences. I want to sit and read this forever.

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”
James Joyce

10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether.  In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See?  My friend Jude Knight has a list of “filter words” that are dull, uninteresting and serve little purpose. Use this list to weed out the ugly and make room for the beautiful.

Beautiful words are our powerful medium.

We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.

I am thankful that I have such a glorious, magnificent, illogical, sometimes unwieldy medium in which to practice my art.

Sometimes I make the words more beautiful.

Sometimes they make me.

Top 10 Signs You’ve Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

You are not Charles Dickens.

As much as you may want  to be Victorian, champion for the London’s most needy, and father 10 children, that doesn’t give you the right to overwrite your novels.

That is, if you intention is to sell them in today’s market, you may want to reconsider how much backstory you have and how you may want to cut it.

In today’s market, there are general guidelines for genres. Writer’s Digest has a nice article that breaks it down for your use. But these are general guidelines. Anyone who self-publishes can basically do whatever they want. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find exceptions to nearly ever rule. Harry Potter, anyone?

I’d like to suggest that as you are sculpting your novel, you do take into consideration its length. Look specifically at all the backstory you may have included. Then cut it.

Top 10 Signs You've Given TMI & Need To Cut the Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

You May Have Too Much Backstory If . . .

1. You have told your reader how everyone is related to everyone else in the first two paragraphs. Save all familial connections for your own notes. Then only give the reader the information in organic ways, slowly, across several points in the first act. There’s  a big difference between these connections being interesting and being relevant. If any cut makes a difference to the story when it’s gone, put it back in. 

Top 10 Signs You've Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

2. You’ve listed three items on your main character’s resume early in the book. Where they went to high school, what kinds of grades they earned and where they worked the summer of 1988 is all critical character development and needs to be kept in a back room. This is like the family information — needed only in your notes. 

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

3. You’ve mentioned you protagonist’s high school experiences and your main character is 27. We’re all shaped by our experiences as youth. But only mention them if they are pivotal to the events that are currently happening between the covers of this book. If something happened in Miss Simmon’s English class that was that significant, either mold the plot around it or write a prequel. 

4. An old boyfriend makes an appearance and your MC flashbacks to the break up scene. This is a lot like the high school trauma. For your own notes, you may want to know that your main character got dumped by the academic team captain the night before the big match, but unless it’s part of the current story it shouldn’t be mentioned. Everyone has a heartbreak.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

5. It’s in the first chapter. You should never, ever have backstory in the first chapter. No. Don’t do it. First act? Yes. Your first chapter’s purpose is to set the tone, identify the setting, introduce your main characters to your readers, touch on the big objective and themes of the book and hook your readers so they want to hear more. Your first chapter should be full of action in that it thrusts the story forward. Backstory is usually passive. It can’t thrust anything, except my eyelids to lower. Think about moving it to chapter three after you’ve cut it down. Way, way down. For the reader this can be as ill-fitting as the Artful Dodger’s found wardrobe.

6. You defend yourself by saying that Dickens  did it so you’re doing it too. No! A thousand times no! We don’t read the great authors of the past so that we can create dictums for current discipline in our writing. We read great authors of the past because their work has lasted a long time, because they are a part of our literary culture and because it’s good for us. The demands of today’s market has nothing to do with past books. If you want to sell to modern audiences, you need to be approachable, sophisticated, and savvy, not dated or old-fashioned. Unless you don’t want to sell books at all.

“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

7. When you get carried away. You’ve stopped the big action between the dragon and the knight  to tell the reader how the sword the knight is using was forged by the elf who was once engaged to the driad, who died of a curse from a witch, who lives in the hut in the enchanted forest, that is full of fairies who sing in a full moon, which only comes out once a year because this story takes place on another planet in another galaxy that was formed billions of years ago. What I’m trying to say here is that backstory kills action. If you have an important action scene, you need to complete the scene before you throw in the backstory. Backstory is passive. Backstory drags down pacing. Whenever you put it in, put it between big action scenes so your reader can catch their breath. But even then, make sure it’s not that long because you don’t want to calm your reader down so much that they go to sleep.

8. When you’re overly proud of your research. You catch yourself saying, “but I RESEARCHED the slums of 1840 London! My reader needs to see how hard I worked!” This is a hard truth in writing, especially if you write historical fiction: your research work shouldn’t be too obvious to the reader. Your research is for your artistic and integrity and accuracy. Historical fiction fans will love that about you. It’s not though, for showing off in the story. Save your most interesting finds for the author’s notes. That way readers who are really into it can appreciate your hard work. Better idea? Create a blog about your research topic! You’ll find new fans for your work!

“You are in every line I have ever read.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

9. When you believe that every work that comes out of your keyboard is golden and precious and can’t be omitted. Now this may be true during Nanowrimo when you just need to pad that word count. But in a novel, you need to be brutal with excessive words.  Brutal like Bill Sikes’ attack on Nancy. Your objective as a writer is to communicate clearly and excellently. That will require you to cut out what is irrelevant, unnecessary, tangential, dull, passive, overwritten or inconsistent.

10.  You’re so into telling, rather than showing, that you named your main character William Tell. He lives in Tell City, Indiana, he has a job as a teller, and for vacation he goes to Telluride. My point? Show. Instead of telling us that Mr. Tell is angry, show us that he threw the mug across the room. How do you know if you’re telling? If your words create a visual image of action, then you’re showing. If your words feel like a list, or your reader’s mind has a mental gray space where the action should be, or you are imprecise in what is happening in the story right now, or your verbs are weak, then you may be telling. Get a good beta reader or critique partner and let them mark up places that need to be written more interestingly. You can find one in this group on Tuesday’s Buddy Day. 

“It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

 Not convinced? Here’s more Signs You’ve Given TMI, Need to Find A Sharp Instrument, & Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Story

You may have too much when you feel like there’s a pause button because you need to explain something.

You may have too much when you think that detailing people’s opinions of other characters is an excuse for head hopping.

You may have too much when the details that you have to share reveal a secret, which, would be best suited saved until much later.

You may have too much when you’ve decided that a little backstory is easier to write than action or dialogue.

You may have too much when you have referred to childhood trauma way too early.

Backstory does have its purpose.

As a writer, you need to spend time developing the pasts of all your characters so that you can define their desires and goals. Each character should make decisions based on the composite of their past experiences. But these experiences aren’t always welcome in a narrative. You also need to be thorough and diligent in your research. This adds credibility to your story and integrity to you as a writer. But just because you thought it, doesn’t mean it needs to be written.

Editing all those words is more painful than Scrooge following around the Ghost of Christmas Past, but if he can be honest with the mistakes that he made (and make big changes) so you can you!

Top 10 Writers Conference Substitutes For The Poor & Xenophobic

If you’re a writer of any artistic credibility at all, then you have no money and you’re kind of afraid of people.

But don’t let either of those things stop you from becoming the best writer you can be.

The internet is full of free (and many not-so-free) writers resources that can help you become really awesome. Most of them have  the added bonus of not actually having to create small talk, bathe or find clothing that isn’t a moth-eaten sweater. For us financially strapped xenophobes out there, this is a win-win.

Top 10 Writers Conference Substitutes For The Poor and Xenophobic by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

1. The Actual Conference 

A conference is an event, usually at a hotel, where a bunch of strangers meet in stuffy or inexplicably cold rooms, listen to a monotonous, overrated speaker read Power Point slides verbatim while the attendees struggle to stay awake. Are you sure you don’t want to scrape up enough money to go? How about these options instead? If you want to feel at home, mess with your home’s thermostat to make it as uncomfortable as possible.

What’s free:  The Muse Online Writer’s Conference  or the San Francisco Writers Conference

What’s not so free: The Backspace Writers Conference

2. Celebrity Authors Who Talk About Writing

Sometimes conferences have big name writers come and talk about their experiences. And then at the back table, when you’re standing in line to get their book signed, you get all tongue tied and forget how to spell your name for the inscription. Never fear, you can see these writers online and you lower the risk of fangirling significantly.

What’s free:  Anne Rice on YouTube, Susan Conley at TedTalks, Rick Riordan,  And all of these Ted Talk videos that are really cool. Need more? Do a search on YouTube for “Authors Talk About Writing” and you will be amazed at what you find.

What’s not so free: James Patterson Teaches Writing

3. General Fiction Writing Tips and Strategies

At a writer’s conference, often they have instructive sessions that go over the ins and outs of writing. If you’re lucky, they aren’t immediately after lunch, because then you’re fighting to stay awake. How about this? Go to these links for similar instruction and if you get sleepy, just put your head down on your desk. No one will know!

What’s free: Start here: Inside Creative Writing, episode one from Florida State University, Then, you can YouTube search: fiction writing.  You will find DOZENS of videos to watch. Watch them all!

What’s not so free: Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes

4. Ideas For Marketing

Sometimes at conferences, they have marketing experts come in and help authors with their platform and sales ideas. Who doesn’t want to sell more books? The more books we sell, the more conferences we can go to! Try these if you’re not going to conferences this year.

What’s Free:  Eighty-nine book marketing ideas that will change your life. And Five Easy Ways To Publicize and Promote Your Book or, my friend Rachel Thompson has created a list of sources for you! 

What’s Not So Free: This list from Publishing Review will give you some links to book promoting sites that can help you out. 

5. Writing Courses

So if you went to a conference, your speaker would cram a lot of information in a 55 minute session.  If you want something a little more thorough, you could take a course instead! And these courses don’t require you to get dressed or shake the cat hair off that holey sweater.

What’s Free:  Here’s a link to 10 Universities that offer free writing courses! FREE EDUCATION!  All you poor impoverished xenophobes out there don’t even have to get dressed!

What’s Not So Free:  Writer’s Digest has a lot of courses! These look really good!

6. Podcasts

It’s time to rest your eyes and use your ears! If you leave your earbuds in, all the time, no one will talk to you. Make the most of this alone time by listening to these writing podcasts. The Write Life has found the 10 Best for you! 

7.  Resources on Twitter

It’s all free! Here are 52 tweetchats and hashtags that can help you in your writing pursuits. And my favorite is the #10MinNovelists chat every Thursday at 9PM EDT. This is the great thing about Twitter. You can follow along and you don’t have to talk to anyone! (That is, unless you’re the host. Like me. Yikes.)

8. Agents’ blogs

Because you are true xenophobe, you can glean all the wisdom of some great agents through their blogs. Rachelle Gardner’s is a great place to hang out. Janet Reid has a lot of good stuff to say. Laura Crockett’s blog is not just informative, but it’s also so pretty! And Chip MacGregor is the only literary agent in this list that has bought me nachos. This is his blog.  Most of them don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, so if you want to get their attention for your work, read their submissions guidelines carefully.

9. Editors’ blogs

And maybe the reason that you are xenophobic is because you’ve been stabbed with a red pen too many times. Never fear. These editors can’t reach you through your computer screen. But they do have a lot to say about writing and what not to do. This is Evil Editor, Query Shark, and Subversive Copy Editor. You know, they do seem a teensy bit scary. If they’re too much for you, go over to Robin Patchen’s Red Pen Editing Services and ask for a virtual hug, she’ll be happy to oblige.

10. Wrapping it all up on Pinterest

10 Minute Novelists have over fifty writing related boards on Pinterest that link you to hundreds of resources on craft, marketing, social media, writing prompts, structure, character, everything! And no one will bother you there. They’re free and when you’re done clicking all the pins, you’ll know everything and that’s our point here, isn’t it?

This list is NOT exhaustive. But it will certainly get you started if you can’t afford to go out to learn how to be a great writer. And DON’T forget your local library (although you should put clothes on to go there, and you may have to actually speak to someone. You can do it, though, most librarians don’t bite and if they do, they probably have all their shots.)

I have to stand next to the financially strapped and xenophobic writers this year, but that’s not an excuse for not learning all I can about how to write well. If I can do it, you can too! 

 

 

Do you have any other suggestions? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Are you poor or xenophobic or both? 

I DID IT! I’M A NANO WINNER! (Now, What My Project Is, And What It Is Not!)

I did it! Despite going away for a week, having no plan, no outline and no idea what I was doing, I put in the necessary 50,000 words required for National Novel Writing Month. So, I won! I’m a winner! WOO-HOO!

Now before I get too excited, I need to realize that word count alone doth not a novel make. Oh my. No. So this little blog entry is to explain what my particular messy 50K word work-in-progress is and is not.

What It is: A long brain spew. This isn’t a bad thing. I really believe that the best books resemble icebergs. What is read in the published form is only the tip. This is a critical part of the story creating process, but not really worth keeping. To use another metaphor and to borrow from Hemingway: first drafts are a load of ca-ca, but I think that there’s a pony underneath it all.

What it is not: Readable.

What it is: Illuminating. One morning, about 35K into it, I was thinking about snails. (I am a homeschooling mother of five, so this topic of conversation comes up far more often than you would think) and a specific kind of snail from Indonesia stuck in my mind. This snail became a metaphor for me personally, then I realized how awesome it would be if my point-of-view character had a fascination with this kind of snail and what that would mean for her personal objectives. How could I use this for a symbol?  I was delighted and wrote hundreds, if not thousands of words about her, snails and what it means in her life. From there I got more ideas for scenes and plot points. I struck gold.

What it is not: Concise. It takes more than a bunch of symbols to make a story. But I’m getting there.

What the characters are: Fuzzy. I’m not too big on physical descriptions. Instead I’m far more interested in motivations and obsessions that drive a person to make the choices that they make. It does help if I have a mental image to go on, but I don’t want my readers to be bogged down on whether or not my romantic lead has a dimple in his chin. The fine-tuning of hair color can come later.

What are the characters are not: Shallow. I never really care what flavor of ice cream they like and I’ll probably never bother with details like that.

What the plot is: Low-concept. I prefer character driven plots, where people change rather than plot-driven stories where something is stolen or something blows up. I do see an accidental shooting of a prize-winning show dog in this story. But overall, my work in progress is far more about people changing for the better or worse.

What the plot is not: Easily organized into scenes. Oh well. Someday.

What the setting is: Very clear. This story is set in the town that my husband grew up, Leominster, Massachusetts. I’m going to have my point-of-view character work in the same family business that my husband’s family worked in. I can get first hand knowledge of the goings-on, the potential for conflict and culture. I’m really excited about it.

What the setting is not: Done to death in other books. I hope.

What the next step is: To wait. I’m planning on letting this little 50K project simmer in a drawer for a while. I’ve got other projects to attend to. I’m moving house. I’m celebrating Advent and Christmas. Life is getting in the way. If this is really a good story, then it can wait until I can give it my full attention. I’m not worried.

What the next step is not (and never, ever should be after Nanowrimo): Sending it in an attachment to every agent on the planet.

So, what about you? Did you write 50K in November? What is it? What is it not?

 

Editing. Is It More Important Than The Writing? Hell, Yes! A Guest Post by Jennifer Senhaji

Writers, like all artists, are a creative bunch.

There are some that are meticulous about structure and form. There are some that fly by the seat of their pants on the winds of inspiration. Both make good writers. Editing, proper and professional editing, make great writers.

Editing: Is it more important than the writing? Hell, yes!   by Jennifer Senhaji

You may be thinking you’ve heard this before. You know you have to edit. You know not to rush to publish. You’ve read enough poorly or unedited books by now to know the value of editing. But I’m here to tell you that’s just the tip of the publishing iceberg. You can have the most fantastic, most original, next Pulitzer Prize winning novel sitting right now on your hard drive, but unless it’s edited, and edited properly, no one will ever know it.

Before I go into details about my editing process, which grows and changes with each book I write, I’d like to share some of the benefits of the editing process that you may not be aware of. 

  • Working with a professional editor makes you a better writer. (Not all editors are the same or have the same qualifications. Make sure to do your research, ask for a sample edit, and read other books edited by the person you are thinking of hiring.)
    • Editors will not only point out specific errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but will also tell you which ones you seem to repeat over and over again, thereby curing you of those bad habits.
    • Your editor will advise if your language needs varying or is too repetitive. 
    • Weak plot points or filler chapters in a soggy center—your editor will find and point those out as well. 
    • Need examples of show don’t tell or how to use body language to express emotions? Your editor can and will give you many.
    • Have a tendency to use passive words instead of active words? Guess who will show you how to convert those lazy sentences into engaging prose.
    • Editors who have your best interests at heart will push you to new heights. The best editors will push you past your comfort zones and give you the confidence you need to make it to the next level.
  • there’s still a ton of work to be done. by Jennifer Senhaji
  • Editing gives you time between writing and publishing to let your eyes and mind adjust. Everyone is in such a rush to publish. When we write, we are so excited to finally type “The End” that we don’t realize in that moment, there’s still a ton of work to be done.
    • Lack of tension in your novel that is impossible to see today, will be glaringly obvious a few weeks from now. Breaks are needed between writing and editing in order to avoid the holes in the story road. Without them, you’ll fall right in.
    • You’ve probably learned a lot since finishing your first draft, which is sometimes evidenced by a weak beginning, but stronger finish. A few months from now, your writing could be leaps and bounds from where it was. Give yourself the opportunity to put out the best book when you publish, incorporating everything you’ve learned recently into your edits. 

I’m in the middle of final edits on my next novel, Choosing to Dream. I don’t remember when I finished the first draft. I think it was at the beginning of the year. In between the first draft and final draft I took time to write Sea Breeze, a romantic standalone novella that released May 27th. Doing that gave me the opportunity to edit and publish another work while taking a break from my novel to let it rest. Also gave me the added benefit of going through another edit to add to my experience before tackling this one. My process below has evolved from my experience, and I’m sure will continue to evolve as I continue to grow.

  • Final Draft Completed- Set aside for a month.
  • First Self Edit Pass- Use a comprehensive list of all my notes from previously edited works to cut out all my crutch words, frequently used phrases, spell check, etc.
  • Beta Readers- Three or four betas to read and provide comments on plot, flow, character development, and storyline. Also creates another month of book rest.
  • Incorporate Suggested and Accepted Comments- Read through of story from beginning to end, incorporating suggestions I agree with from beta readers.
  • Send to Editor- It’s now in your editor’s hands. Take another month-long break. Read. Work on another project. 
  • Review Editor’s comments- When I first receive back my work, I review all the comments in her editing letter and the actual comment bubbles in the doc first before I start making any changes. That gives me an idea of exactly where I need to focus. I also ask questions and get clarification on comments if I’m not sure how to proceed.
  • Make Overall Edits- I go through my word doc and accept the basic typo and grammar corrections.
  • Chapter by Chapter Line Edits- This is where I go deeper. Are there ways I can strengthen this chapter, this scene? My editor shows me where I have a good chapter, but adding a bit more tension or feeling will make it great. She also shows me where scenes are unnecessary and can be completely cut out and not change a thing.
  • Send Back to Editor for Second Pass- Your WIP should be almost ready at this point, but you want your editor to review again, to make sure your edits didn’t foul up the original work. Or at least, I do.
  • Review Second Pass Edits- Review and approve any final edits
  • Send to Proofreader- Even the most skilled eyes can miss errors. Get it proofed and proof read it yourself. The best way, which takes longer, is to read out loud. Every line, out loud.
  • Send out ARCs-Send out to your trusted readers first, asking them to notify you if they find any typos in the document. Then send out to the rest of your ARC readers. 

There you have it.

There’s still formatting to be done, marketing to prepare, pre-orders to set up and blogs and reviewers to submit to, but the above should get you where you need to be to either self-publish or submit to a big publisher. For submitting to a big publisher, you can probably skip the ARC process, but that would be it. Many of you will disagree and say that none of the above is necessary if submitting to a publisher. You’re wrong.

Why in the name of all that is holy would you not want the absolute best version of your book to be the one you submit?

Yes, they have editors on staff. Yes, if you are lucky enough to be accepted, you will still need to go through their editing process. But you need to be accepted first.

I love self-publishing, but if I ever do decide to submit to one of the big five, you can be damned sure it will be the very best version of that book I can possibly provide. 


 

Jennifer SenhajiJennifer Senhaji was born and raised in San Francisco, CA, and has a husband and two children. Music is her addiction. She can often be found in the car, singing along at the top of her lungs to whatever is playing. She works full time, and she splits her spare time between family, reading, blogging, and writing. She’s a habitual quoter. Lines from films and TV shows constantly pop into her head—her kids are the only ones that really get it.  She’s an only child, and so of course she married a man who is one of ten children. Other than English, she speaks Spanish, Moroccan, and a little French. She loves to travel, but don’t do enough of it. Reading has been a passion for most of her life and she now loves writing. She’s a klutz, and in her own mind, she’s hilarious.Find her at www.jennifersenhajiauthor.com. Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jsenhaji13. Find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jsenhaji13 Her Blog: http://jennifersenhaji.blogspot.comGoodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/jennifersenhaji Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JsenhajiAmazon https://www.amazon.com/author/jennifersenhajiWordPress https://jsenhaji13.wordpress.com/

 

Pushing Your Own Boundaries: A Guest Post By Patricia D. Eddy

 May has been a pretty terrible month for me. April too, for that matter. You see, I sent my latest book, A Shift in the Air, off to my new editor, and she…well…she ripped it apart.

Now, let me be clear. She was incredibly supportive and not at all mean about said ripping, but I’m still finding little shredded pieces of manuscript all over the virtual floor. I wrote about the struggle several times in an author’s reality, I did it, Breaking up is hard to do, and Editing: the good, the bad, and the ugly, approached the whole thing with a “suck it up, Buttercup” attitude. I could do this.

So I rewrote the whole book in two weeks. Yep. A whole, 65,000 word book in two weeks.

I did nothing but write, sleep, work, write, sleep, work…I’m pretty sure my husband thrust plates of food at me at regular intervals, but I can’t honestly remember. I sent it off again to my editor.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

And again…confetti from the shredded pages landed all over the place. ARGH!

At this point, while I loved my editor dearly, I did start to contemplate a voodoo doll.
I’m now on the third full rewrite, and this one, finally, is getting hearts and flowers and WHY DIDN’T YOU SEND ME WORDS LIKE THESE BEFORE? YOU’VE BEEN HOLDING OUT ON ME! THIS IS WHAT I KNEW YOU WERE CAPABLE OF messages from her at regular intervals. And yes, they’re all in caps.

My friends outside the writing world don’t understand.

Why in the world would I put myself through such a terrible time? Why not just do a line edit and be done with it? A Shift in the Water, the first book in the series, is successful. Wildly so. Fans will probably gobble up the book even if it’s rubbish (and even the first version wasn’t rubbish, it just wasn’t what it needed to be).

Well, because part of being a writer, of trying to make a career out of this craziness, is wanting to constantly improve.

I’ve always struggled with confidence. I think we all do. That struggle drives us to do better, to work harder, and to bust through those blocks and walls and ceilings that keep us down.
That’s what I’ve tried to do this month. I’ve pushed myself harder than ever before. I’ve given up sleep, movies, gardening, and running. I’ve done all of this because I need to be better.

I’m the Six-Million-Dollar-Man. Better, stronger, faster. Okay, not faster.

This last rewrite is taking forever, because I’m building so much lore into this paranormal romance that I can now tell you the origin story of every mythical creature, every single werewolf, and can explain away half of recorded history in supernatural terms. It’s epic. But better nonetheless. This process has shown me just what I’m capable of. And while I can’t say I want to repeat it, I also don’t think I’ll have to. I’ve learned so much. I’m a better outliner. I have detailed character development sheets that give me the hows and whys of each and every character, back to childhood. I know why the hero loves the heroine, and it isn’t just because of physical attraction. I know why the bad guy is a sympathetic antagonist, and what his undoing will be in the end. And I’ve learned how to recognize sticking points in my own story. Hint: If you’re struggling with a scene, it’s probably because your tension is lacking. Or you’re in the wrong character’s head.

I started to write because I loved creating stories. Worlds came alive in my head, characters fought, died, fell in love, and redeemed themselves. But I keep writing because I want to be better. I want to be the kind of writer who inspires others Patricia Eddy
I started to write because I loved creating stories. Worlds came alive in my head, characters fought, died, fell in love, and redeemed themselves. But I keep writing because I want to be better. I want to be the kind of writer who inspires others. And I want to know that I’ve done something I never thought possible. I want to push myself beyond my normal limits, fly farther, faster, and higher than ever before.

I can do this. There will be blood, sweat, tears, and possibly that voodoo doll.

There will be cursing and railing and probably sobbing from time to time. When you bleed your words out onto the page, you leave scars behind. But those scars can heal you. They’re a testament to your strength, your dedication, and your love for your craft.
I write for those scars. Because Liam and Caitlin deserve my very best. When A Shift in the Air comes out, I hope they’ll be pleased. I hope I’ve done them justice.

But I also hope when I tell the next story, that perhaps I won’t end up with mountains of shredded manuscript towering over me. My vacuum cleaner just can’t keep up with the mess.


 

Love shifters? Grab your copy of A Shift in the Water or pre-order A Shift in the Air today!

Patricia Eddy author of A Shift In The Air
Patricia Eddy author of A Shift In The Air

About author Patricia D. Eddy:
Patricia D. Eddy can’t stop writing. Not that she’s tried. Her characters won’t let her. 

She fuels her writing with copious amounts of caffeine-she lives in Seattle, after all-and rewards herself with good Scotch and red wine. 

In between writing, editing, and mentoring other authors, she runs around lakes, reads late into the night, and is terribly addicted to Doctor Who and Sherlock. She has a thing for quirky British men and isn’t ashamed to admit it. 

Her quirky-but-not-British husband never gives her grief for working long hours or occasionally talking to herself when she has disagreements with her characters, for which she is very thankful. You can find more about Patricia and her books by visiting www.pdeddy.com.