Tag Archives: revising

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 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. 

The Diary of A Beta Reader: A Guest Post by Sara Marschand

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Guest blogger Sara Marschand explains her thought processes while she beta reads. A beta reader is often the first or second set of eyes a manuscript gets. Their purpose is to spot holes in a manuscript and communicate to a writer, who maybe a little myopic, that changes need to be made. 

For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of beta reading for many authors.

Much of my feedback highlights awkward sentence flags and unclear story parts. Sometimes it’s a setting that can’t be visualized, other times it may be a whole scene that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Logical errors are the easiest to spot. One author described a tiny cabin that two inhabitants lived tightly in. The next scene featured and armed militia crowding in for a sword fight. Plus, the heroine escaped everyone’s notice as she snuck out a secret back exit. Not likely!

Another author switched back and forth between night and day a couple times in a scene. The author had missed a couple words in editing that changed the clarity of the entire section.

But what goes on in the mind of your beta reader?

This is a snapshot of a year in the life of me, a beta reader. I tackled two works. The authors at different points in their careers.

Diary of a Beta Reader by Sara Marschand

Need questions to ask of your beta readers? Click here!

March

A new paranormal romance arrived. I love urban fantasy mixed with romance, so I can’t wait to dive in! It’s the author’s first book.

Prologue

Action at the beginning. Good start. I’m a huge fan of destruction. The author is overly fond of exclamation points, though. I will gently suggest she doesn’t need quite so many. I’ll have to wait and see if the prologue is relevant to the story.

Chapter 1

And now, I have whiplash. What the heidi-ho did the action- packed prologue have to do with this vapid girl’s POV?

Some of the actions are hard to envision, but I can help with that.

The cool fairy names totally fit the genre. I like them, and I’ll let the author know.

The writing style feels like YA, but why are they all wearing spiked heels?

Chapter 2

Hmm. This author makes a lot of grammatical errors. I’m not an editor, but there are so many, I can’t help but to comment on a few. After all, these could be typos.

Based on the language and simplicity of the sentences this must be YA or mid grade. I thought I was getting a book for adults, but moving on!

Chapter 3

Nope. These errors are definitely not typos. I know I got this pre-editor, but did the author even try to make it readable? Maybe I’ll send her a link to a good grammar book. For grins, I ran this chapter through the Hemingway app— second grade reading level. No wonder my intelligence feels insulted. This is beyond my ability as a beta reader to suggest fixes for, but I really, really, hope she has an editor.

Chapter 4

The characters roll their eyes too much. Another easy fix.

That paragraph was the best yet. If I highlight the excellent passages, she’ll know what works. I’m glad I found something redeeming amongst the choppy sentences.

This is clearly a novice author, but hopefully I can give her something to build her craft. I see a lot of thesis “telling” statements followed with the “showing” sentences. If she can delete those tells, the quality of writing will be improved.

Chapter 6

Holy exclamation points, Batman !!!!!!

These characters all walk and talk the same. I can’t figure out the hierarchy of the fantasy creatures. It seems like age and wisdom mean nothing, but it goes against norms of the genre.

Chapter 13

A pornographic content warning would have been appreciated. Adult audience confirmed. Erotica is not my typical genre. I would not have agreed to read this because of my inability to judge the content properly. Ironically, this is the highest quality writing in the book, except for the choice of words. I’m fairly sure the romance community never describes body parts in the terms used here.

Chapter Who Cares. Lost count.

The agony!  I quit !!! With lots of exclamation points and missing apostrophes!!!  I will never beta read again. Why did I sacrifice a weekend for twenty bucks? I regret my life choices. I read 80k of something the author should have said was an Alpha read and full of shocking content. I spent another four 4 hours summarizing my feedback where I gently wrote a paragraph on why this author should seek an editor.

The paranormal romance beta left me shell-shocked. A content warning flag should have been applied, and if I hadn’t been paid, I would have sent it back after chapter one due to sloppy writing. I could not, would not, take another beta for several months after that grueling read. I even quit the beta reading service I belonged to. I read only published and polished works until an author I’d worked with before asked for me to give feedback on her sequel. The first book was epic in length for the rates I charged, but I loved the story, so I agreed to the second installment.

“Beta reading perk: finding out what happens before anyone else.”

— Sara Marschand

August

The Word document arrived!

It’s been a while since book one. The author made significant changes after the book one beta. I’m really glad she gave me the final version, otherwise I’d be lost. Still, I have both versions swirling around in my head so I’ll review my notes and the changes. I want to get to the new book—stat!   

I don’t expect any nasty surprises. A book refined this far allows me to look at the broad strokes of the story. I’ll provide comments on little things that cause bumps in the read, but I’m looking forward to digging into the overarching plot and character development.

Prologue:

Symmetrical with book one. It’s a teaser for sure, but I like it. The tie-in to the climax works perfectly.

Characters:

There is so much good with this story, but my job is to find the holes. The major characters are just as I remember them, but one minor character bugs me. The male protagonist goes out of his way to keep the minor player alive, and ends up out of character as a result. The protagonist would never behave this way, and it’s too early in the book to have a major character development. The minor character needs to die. He’s got too much dangling plot potential to keep alive if those ideas won’t be pursued.

Two awesome second tier characters deserve a spin off or at least a short story. I’d love to see them on a caper together.

Romance:

This book has less romance than the first, but the opportunities exist. Where’s all the love?

Pace:

Four chapters in the space dock go on FOREVER. I started skimming when I got really bored. It’s basically four chapters of a character complaining about his aches and pains and wallowing in self-pity. Most of this material is repetitive, and it’s a departure from the feel of the rest of the book. Nix this. Please. A paragraph of this would be plenty. This could be a great place to insert a few hints about the end, though.

Dialogue:

Too much cursing. I enjoy a good swear, but not when it detracts from characterization. Multiple characters are using the exact same verbiage, and I’d like to see more differentiation.

Conclusion:

I fixed a few typos because I couldn’t help myself. There are still a number of junk words, which could be removed for conciseness, but I love this book. I’m so happy the author lets me read her works.

The harshest of my direct thoughts never made it into my feedback verbatim, but I did find polite ways to share them and encourage the author as best I could. Author 1 needed to work on her craft more before the story could be addressed. It was a hard read that made me much more selective in the works I’ve taken since. Author 2 and I had an established relationship. Other than a few typos, the copy was clean. I was able to focus on her overall story and plot twists that didn’t work. The author took my feedback graciously and even discussed potential changes afterward. A character died, thanks to me. So many authors take your feedback and you never hear from them again, but this author values my input.

The moral of the story: Give your beta reader the most highly edited work you can and let them be part of the process. The feedback you get will be deeper when their time is time spent reading the story and not fighting fixable errors. I beta read because I love helping authors shape the best story they can.


 

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!

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.

Top 10 Easy Ways To Make Your Sentences More Beautiful

 For the month of April, this blog is celebrating Beautiful Words! Today I have a list! Top 10 Easy Ways To Make Your Sentences More Beautiful

April's theme is BEAUTIFUL WORDS!
April’s theme is BEAUTIFUL WORDS!
  • 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.

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.

3. Don’t let it start with “There was” or “There were.”

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence, but don’t make it passive.

Top Ten Easy Things To Do To Your Sentences To Make Them More Beautiful
Top Ten Easy Things To Do To Your Sentences To Make Them More Beautiful

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make.

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

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. THAT’S WHAT’S HAPPENING!

 

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.

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. This is a bit hard to read, but you can get the point.

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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?

You CAN make your words more beautiful! Does this help? Do have any other tips? 

 

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

It’s really too bad that we don’t have a Quality Control Department for the written word. And Amazon Reviews, sadly, aren’t enough. 

Writing is cheap — anyone can type out a sentence — and because of this cheapness, many people may not think that it’s worth much. Anyone and their dog can publish a book,  so the general public can easily accept shoddy workmanship. Perhaps because I can, with a click of button,  download hundreds of free books, I may have lost my respect for the carefully crafted story.

Easy accessibility does not encourage the practice of good craftsmanship.

 

Craftsmanship is never helped when stupid phrases like “there are no rules to writing” get thrown around like last night’s empty pizza boxes.  This tells new writers that discipline and skill and craftsmanship are not necessary to succeed.  Show me a writer who quotes that repeatedly, and I’ll show you a lazy writer. Craftsmanship is also never helped when badly written tripe will have made it to a best seller list somewhere. Any motivation for new writers to be excellent goes the way of the dinosaur and the diagrammed sentence.

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 I’d like to suggest that those of you who want to be serious novelists, put away (at least for a while) all aspirations of being published immediately. Instead focus solely on your craft. 

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

You need to grow in confidence. Your brain, your imagination and your fingers need to have obtained that muscle memory that comes with constant creative work. You will see that in some ways writing will be much easier and you will be confident in your work as you keep at it.  Writing will always be hard at times, but through practice, you will have faith in yourself to keep going when the crafting of your novel is difficult.

You need to grow in the rules. Yes, there ARE rules, and if you’re using that as an excuse not to follow them, then you need to go back and practice them inside and out. Don’t even think about breaking them until you can generally master grammar, punctuation, and spelling. After you’ve conquered those big three, then move on the elements of good storytelling, like plot, characterization and structure. These are your tools and blueprint. Only a foolish writer neglects mastery of these. Do you want to look like an idiot, then forget the rules.

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You need to train your mind to think like  a writer.  You need to think logically, looking for causes and effects. You need to be comfortable with language and communication. You need to feel at ease with words. You need to know how to organize thoughts. Writing begins in the mind and your mind needs practice to think like a writer.

You need to train your mind to think like a story teller (this is not the same thing). A story is more than the logical progression of parts. It is soulful, artistic and passionate. If you are to be a writer and a story teller, then you need to know all of the elements of story inside and out. You need to understand plots. You should be able to recognize the three act structure in the movie you watched last night on Netflix. How do you do this? You read books on writing and great works of literature. Show me a successful writer and I’ll show you someone who has at least one book that they’re in the middle of.

 

You need to train your mind to observe. You need to watch people. You need to be able to describe things. You need to take in details of a setting. Details matter in your stories and if you are trained to observe details and put them in your prose, your writing will be strengthened.

You need to read more. Did I mention that you need to read? Read! Have a balanced reading diet. That means read books from your genre, but also read the greats of the last century, read current best sellers and read non-fiction books on writing or subjects that will show up in your writing. You will never read too much. But if you read too little, your writing will show.

 

You need to write regularly. This may mean finding ten minutes here or there. It may mean having a specific daily word count. It may mean having someone hold you accountable. Whatever it means, you must do it!  There isn’t a professional musician alive who hasn’t spent hours every day of their life practicing. There isn’t an artist in any museum or gallery who hasn’t gone through painstaking exercises. And don’t even get me started on world class athletes. If you want to succeed like the big names, you start by putting your butt in your chair and your hands on your keyboard daily or it is never, ever, ever going to happen.

You need to familiar yourself with greatness. Every week or so, pull out a book you read in high school The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter or Great Expectations and write out a few random paragraphs. See if you can continue in that voice or style. Look at the way that the sentences are structured. Pay attention to the noun and verb choice.  You can learn from the greats if you take the time to pay attention. And then read them. Again.

 

You need to know specifically how to improve. Without question, a good community is vital for the success of any writer for many reasons. If you want to be better, ask your community for help and then brace yourself. You don’t have to agree with every suggestion they make, you do have to be teachable and humble. A good community will gently encourage you to be better. Take their advice. Rewrite your stuff. Take the time to learn from writers around you.

You may need to take a class. You may have local resources at adult educations centers, community colleges, local libraries. You can also find writing courses online. This link has 19 free online writing instruction opportunities. If you are serious about your writing, then invest in yourself and sign up for a class, in a class situation, you can everything I listed above and see your writing improve.

It takes almost no effort to write a functional story. It takes a little more effort to write a decent story. It takes even more effort, more time, more BST (blood, sweat & tears), more passion, more determination and more character to write an excellent story.  

Love Your Art. Do it right.

 

The Nine Things You Say To Yourself That Could Change Everything

What does it mean to Love Ourselves?

I have  a very wise friend that I meet with on a regular basis. This friend, Melissa, has caught me being very hard on myself and saying aloud things like, I’m not very good at that. Or, I got it wrong again. Or, this means that I’m not good enough. 

The 9 Things You Could Say To Yourself That Could Change Everything

She’s challenged me to pay attention to those negative thoughts. She even asked me what the ratio was, the good, encouraging things compared to the negative things. I didn’t know what she meant. I was going to say, “Ratio? Is that math?  I’m not very good at math!” But then she explained. For every single negative thought I say to myself, I should say nine positive ones back. 

#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14
Forget the dates — if you are to be successful in this field you need to do only these three things!

Nine? Nine? A nine-to-one ratio, for good to bad? It seems excessive to me, but then I realized that if I were in the constant habit of negative, self-disparaging thoughts, then perhaps nine would go far to heal current wounds and perhaps wounds from the past too.

 

Today, I paid attention. My first negative thought against myself was formatting and proofreading this book is so hard! I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m never going to get it done right! I keep finding mistakes! What kind of a writer am I going to be if I keep finding mistakes? 

Oops. That’s a lot of negativity. If I really said all of that to myself, then I would have to come up with thirty-six self affirmations. Remember, I was in the middle of proofreading and formatting my manuscript, my mind was full as it was. I thought I’d stick to nine and see how it went from there. It was not what Melissa wanted me to do, but it was something. Nine affirmations were 900% more than I had given myself the day before. 

This is what I thought:

1. I wrote a book!

2. I conquered a LOT of fears and self doubt to write this book!

3. I wrote this book in ten minute increments around my very busy home life!

4. This book has a great message about being loved and accepted despite the mistakes that we make. (Hello, Irony Police? Yes, I’d like to report an incident  . . . )

5. This book is really funny and my readers are going to love it!

6. This book is one more step in my life long pursuit of becoming a successful writer. 

7. I’m a better writer now than I was when I started writing back in 2006. 

8. I have learned so very much about writing and publishing since I started this project. I had to teach myself. I’ve worked very, very hard. I have a lot to be proud of. 

9. 2014 was the best year I ever had as a writer!  I’m on my way!

10. Every writer in the world has to fix grammar, spelling and punctuation (especially those who drink and write at the same time) I’m not a bad writer because of these mistakes. I’m a normal one. 

11. Everybody finds formatting hard. Isn’t it great my online platforms like Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing make it so easy. 

I have to admit that these nine (which I went to eleven because it felt so good) made all the difference in how I viewed the last stages of this project and how I viewed myself as a writer. The negative thoughts were dragging me into a rip tide of despair. The nine positive things were the steady arms and the lifesaver that made me secure.

What is my definition of success?
Oh, Steven Wright! You’re speaking to me!

I can see that in this very subjective, heartbreaking world of writing and publishing, the attraction of negativity is often too strong to fight against. We writers are often sensitive souls and perhaps we all drink, smoke, wear black and talk to cats because we don’t know how to say positive things to ourselves. 

I’d like to challenge all of you dark souls out there to try saying nine positive things to every negative one. I’d like to know if you feel better about yourselves as a result of it. I’d like to know if you see a difference in how you handle your responsibilities, face formatting issues and plow through the next chapter.

I’m sold on the nine things idea. Now I’m planning on making it a habit in every area of my life.