Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1 Seven days a week just aren’t enough days to get everything done. I think we need a day between Saturday and Sunday so we can all have an extra day. It could be called Sundurday or Satday. Oh, the things I could accomplish with an extra day, but since I don’t, I’ll have to make due with the seven I’ve got.

For those of you who read my last blog post, you know what my to-do list looks like. To-do list help me create daily structure. Daily structure is great, but I can’t live day to day. I need to visualize my entire week. Being a single mother, with a mother battling an illness, living with a busy sister, working 5-6 days a week, and writing on top of that, I can’t just plan my weeks day by day.

Make a Weekly Schedule

Making a schedule won’t give you more hours in the day, but it will help you make the most of the time you already have.

Making schedules might be painful, but consider the alternatives. Going on a whim. Relying on memory. Schedules not only give you peace of mind, they help you balance life and increase productivity.

My sister and I share a joint Google calendar so we can coordinate our lives, but you can use a good old-fashioned wall calendar or weekly planner.

Plan What you Need and Want to get Done

Start with your obligations. Record the days you work, appointments, etc. After that, record the things you want to do. Other than work, doctor appointments, and my son’s visitations with grandparents, I also need to schedule when I will write, edit, go to the gym, and visit my mom. It might sound cold and calculated to schedule family time, but I’ve found that by scheduling time with friends and relatives I actually see them more and have more quality time. This gives them the full attention they deserve.

Make a List of Priorities

Writing is a priority, and if you don’t treat it like one, you won’t find time to write or justify the time you dedicate to it. My priorities are as follows

Main Priorities

  • writing
  • family
  • work
  • editing
  • grocery shopping
  • chores

Secondary Priorities

  • gym
  • Netflix
  • friends

Tips to Remember

  • Be realistic with your time frame
  • Make a new schedule once a week–before your week starts
  • Make the schedule of the week you want to have
  • Adhere to the schedule, but be flexible. If it rains on a day you were supposed to plant your garden, you might want to rearrange.(check the weather if weather is a factor)

I hope that helps you add a little structure to your busy life. Do you keep a calendar? What are some ways you balance writing with family and life?

Do dishes, go to the gym, pick up child from school, write the next best-selling fantasy novel: You know, just your typical to-do list.

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The life of a working adult is busy, and writers are no exception. If anything, we’re busier than the average adult.

My to-do list today literally looks like this:

  • buy drano
  • get gas
  • blog
  • wash dishes
  • fill out forms for summer camp
  • clean car
  • put clothes away
  • finish outlining book one
  • edit chapter 9-10 of sister’s fantasy parody
  • pick up child from school
  • go to gym

Yup, just your typical to-do list . . . if you’re a writer, anyway.

A non-writer’s list stops at put clothes away, freeing them to watch Netflix or pursue some other pleasure in their–what’s that word again? . . . oh yeah, free time.

A list certainly helps categorize, order, even prioritize chores that need done, but a calendar is so much better. Join me Tuesday for my next Tuesday Tip which will be all about making a writing/life calendar. Guaranteed to help you turn your to-do’s into already done.

What does your to-do list look like? How many writing vs non-writing items are on your list? How many can you check off in a day?

Tuesday Tip

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You finished your first draft; now you’re done, right? WRONG. Not even close. Theoretically, you’re at the beginning yet again. After all, a great book isn’t written–it’s rewritten.

I’ve heard people say they don’t revise or rewrite. Shame on you. A good book, I mean one worth paying money for, has three things.

  • A well-constructed plot
  • Fully-developed characters
  • Smooth prose

Trust me, you can’t achieve those three things in one draft.

Writing requires imagination, creativity, and long hours of time. Rewriting requires less imagination and a whole lot more courage. It’s not for the weak or timid. You’ll be making big decisions. Most of us struggle to make small ones like what to order in drive-thru.

You have to decide if your protagonist is the best voice for your story; if entire scenes should be revised, removed, or added; whether characters be removed or added: whether or not your beginning works; or if the end provides any payoff.

These are the choices you have to make before you even decide does this sentence sound good?

What is rewriting?

There’s a big misconception about what rewriting is. It’s not perfecting a sentence here or there, or correcting typos, it’s gutting, hacking, and dismembering your first draft.

This might sound daunting. You’re playing doctor–God even! I’m talking total reconstructive surgery, not a botox injection.

Difference between revising and rewriting

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing although you’ll probably do a combination of both.

To summarize: Revision is adding and deleting a few words or adding more character motivation or adding or removing description. Rewriting is deleting or adding whole scenes, deleting characters, or changing a POV.

For some straightforward and hilarious examples, see here.

How many rewrites?

There isn’t a certain number. It depends on the MS. My current MS is on rewrite number two. Planning helps cut down on rewrites.

So what’s the first step?

Back away from the manuscript and nobody gets hurt. It might be easier to make objective opinions once you’ve separated yourself from your writing. When you come back to it (say in a week or month or so), that glittering sentence might not shine anymore, or you might unearth some hidden gems.

Look at the big picture

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Ask yourself with an objective eye: What does my protagonist want? Is it clear?

What is the plot? The theme? The conflict?

Did you select the best character to be your protagonist?

Could some characters be cut or blended? Do multiple characters serve the same purpose?

Is your plot well structured? Do any side plots deviate from the main plot?

Be objective or find an objective eye

Looking at the big picture can be challenging when you’re nearsighted, and all authors are–we’re way too close to our WIP to see it clearly. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to be objective. I usually read through and make an often very long list of questions that arise, changes I want to make, plot holes (often gaping and cavernous), side plots or character arcs that are unfulfilled, and other areas of concern.

If you know something is wrong but can’t put your finger on it, consider enlisting help.

Step two: outline

Did you outline before you wrote? Even if you did, once isn’t enough. Rewrite your outline before you rewrite your MS.

You’re not mistaken. Not only am I telling you to rewrite your novel, I’m telling you to rewrite your outline. That’s a lot of rewriting–but the more prepared you are, the less you’ll have to rewrite. Planning can make the difference between two and ten rewrites.

I look back at my first outline and realize I either deviated from it for better or for worse, or I decided to change it. Don’t work off of an old outline. An outline can be your typical diagram or a detailed description of each scene and chapter. If you don’t know how to create an outline, check out this prior Tuesday Tip.

Example of a detailed outline:

Chapter one: Introduce main character, best trait, fatal flaw, ordinary world, goal, and conflict.

Scene one: Start with attention grabbing sentence. Main character is doing this . . . then this happens . . . and so on.

I’m shy about sharing my work but to give you an example of how much my beginning has changed since I started rewriting, this is how my WIP used to start.

Character (side character) discovers that a city has been destroyed and all the inhabitants killed after a very long inner monologue. Next scene takes place years later and introduces main character with major supporting side character.

Notes that I made before revision:

  • No clear main character
  • POV character doesn’t appear again for a couple of chapters
  • Info dump: Might be more interesting to slowly reveal the back story leading up to current events
  • Might be better to start with the destruction of the city from the POV of main character
  • Next scene is too jarring. Too much relies on understanding the characters and their relationship, culture, etc that can’t be summarized in a paragraph

Revised Outline: This is how it starts now (still in progress).

Main character is introduced. Reader is introduced to his world and culture. Exposition is interwoven throughout text instead of being dumped. Character goes to city and destroys it. Conflict is introduced with inciting incident and call to action. Character refuses the call. Character then answers the call to action.

It’s still in the works but what I like is that the main character starts the story. You see how the events that the other character stumbles upon unfold. You see how the main protagonist and main supporting character meet. You get to know him and his goals before the action starts.

What’s still needed. I still need a clearer definition of my character’s goals. I have a basic idea of what he wants, but I need to make sure his goals are strong enough to always be his driving force.

Step three: should it stay or should it go

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Get rid of the clutter and your manuscript is going to be fabulous

I love those home remodeling shows where they make the homeowner choose what to keep, toss, or sell from their clutter. I adopted a similar strategy for revising my MS. I read through from beginning to end, highlighting every word and sentence I want to keep. In a different color I highlight what I want to delete. In a third color what I want to keep for a different project. After I do this I can delete this version so I don’t end up with five or seven word files.

Try this. Chances are, even if an entire scene has to go, you might find a good snippet of dialogue or a wonderful description. If you can still use it, don’t lose it.

Step four: Rewrite or revise

If the scene is good, you may only need to revise: correct syntax, cut and add sentences, etc. But if you are making major changes, you might just want to rewrite. I usually rewrite the entire scene without looking at the old version, or else you just end up with a version that is only slightly different. Then combine the elements that you are keeping from the previous written scene.

Essentially how you rewrite or revise will depend on what kind of writer you are. Do you overwrite? underwrite? Based on that, you may need to cut scenes or write new ones to fill in the gaps. Do you go into too much description or need to add? Do your characters talk too much or not enough?

This is my method. There are others out there. Find the one that works for you. What are some methods that work for you? What are some tricks or tips that you use to make the process easier. Please share.

Tuesday Tip

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This Tuesday’s tip is about something we all, not just writers, struggle with: How to be positive.

It’s hard to be positive; after all, our brains are innately hardwired to be negative. That doesn’t mean we can’t be optimistic, it just means it requires some effort.

I’ve always considered myself to be a positive person, but the last couple years (weeks even) have really proven it.

For those of you are negatively inclined, Here’s a quick course in optimism.

Tell yourself it will be OK

This sounds like a placating lie you tell to children, but consider repeating this to yourself when you feel down. Remember the last time you felt this way. Everything probably worked itself out or wasn’t as bad as you thought it was.

Rate your problem

On a scale of mole hill to mountain, how big really is your problem? Did you spill your coffee? Break a shoelace? Smear some lipstick on your face? I’d file these in the mole hill category.

Start your day in a positive way

How you start your day sets the tone. Repeat positive affirmations, set your alarm to play your favorite song, call your favorite person on your way to work.

Like a good story, the end is just as important as the beginning. Think of only the good things that happened that day. Don’t dwell on worries before going to sleep.

Fine something positive in any negative situation

This can be difficult. How do you find a silver lining in a bad situation?

Here are some examples from my personal life.

Mom has cancer: Our family spends more time together. She is responding to treatment. We have more time than we were told initially. We don’t take things for granted.

Office closed: Found a job that pays more and has benefits.

Ended a relationship: I live with my sister (it’s like a sleepover every night). I see my son more. I have more money and time. I have more freedom and control over my life.

Remove negative influences

Who is the most negative person in your life?

Divorce them, block their number, break up with them, remove them from social media, avoid them like the plague.

What are you doing when you feel the most negative?

Facebook? Watching TV? Stop doing those things or limit your time doing them.

Don’t stress the small stuff

I cannot stress this enough. Pun intended. Going back to the rating scale, if your problem is a molehill, don’t make a mountain of it. If you lost a five dollar bill. Move on. You dropped some food on your shirt. Deal with it. Some toilet paper followed you out of the bathroom on your shoe. Carry on.

Make a list

If negative thoughts are swimming around in your head, get them out of your mind and put them on paper. Listing your problems helps you sort them.

Be a positive influence

Negativity spreads like the flu. Luckily so does optimism. I’ve had customers enter my store with a frown and leave with a smile because of my sunny disposition.

Have a laugh

Laugh until you sound and look like a seal.

Watch a comedy, go to I waste so much time.com or ifunny. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Heck, my mom makes me laugh about cancer.

Enjoy this funny video that sums it up the message of this post.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever killed someone? Why did you do it? How did you do it? Did you do it again?

By now I hope you know I’m talking about fictional people. If not, go turn yourself in, you sociopath.

Writers are a disturbing group of people, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine if you will what murder looks like from the viewpoint of a non-writer. The writer stares deadpan at the screen as the keys clack to a rhythm coinciding with the thoughts in their head. With the same face one might write a casual email, the writer is gruesomely disemboweling her character. She pauses, not in remorse, but to take a sip of coffee. Not that some authors don’t cry all the tears as they kill off a character. Others laugh even.

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Almost every book has a death scene. I can’t think of the last book I’ve read where no one died, unless you count the books I read to my kid.

So while you’re planning how you’re going to do it, you should probably decide if you should. For those of you sharpening your proverbial knives, here’s Murder 101.

To Kill or Not to Kill?

The death of a character should be premeditated and not a random decision. I believe it should be the result of the character’s actions or because of their fatal flaw or greatest attribute, not because you think it would be cool to kill them.

Consider Ned Stark. His death is one of the least random and best planned deaths in A Game of Thrones. I’m not finished with the series yet, but sometimes I think people just die to be dead. He just offs them because they became inconvenient to the plot or because he doesn’t know how to finish their arcs or because he just wants to prove to his readers he’s a stone-hearted bad-ass. I don’t know.

So how do you know whether or not to kill your character?

Do it for the epicness. OK, that’s not a word, but that is the word that comes to my mind when I read a story where a character has a well-planned death.

How do you achieve epicness? Consider the why and why nots of Murder 101.

To Advance the Plot: Does the death serve the plot. Did a character grow from it? Did events occur as a result of it? Did it affect the other characters? e.g., Ned Stark. Yes, characters were affected. Yes, plot happened as a result. Yes, characters grew from it. Look at Arya. Look at Robb? (speaking of a death that may or may not have a purpose)

Not for Shock Value: This is never a good reason to kill a character. I mean NEVER. Any desired emotional effect will wear off once the reader realizes what you’ve done. Picking on George again, I believe the Red Wedding was all for shock value. I could think of a hundred ways to kill Robb better than that. And did he need to die? Was he just becoming too powerful? Too boring? Why, George? I’ll give him credit for this much, Robb’s death was the result of his own actions, not random. But that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

To Fulfill a Character’s Goal or Purpose: The character performs a function in the story. Sometimes closing off the character’s arc with death invalidates his or her purpose. Ask yourself, did they exact their purpose because of or in despite of their death? e.g., Shane from The Walking Dead. While the love triangle served little purpose other than for drama sake, Shane’s death was pivitol to the plot. The character Shane had to have a purpose other than to create rifts and tension in the group. His purpose was to test Rick. Note his character always disagreed with Rick. If Rick said fly, he’d say swim. In season two, Rick is facing a moral dilemma: Kill or not kill a living person. Naturally Shane is for it, while Rick has some reservations. The decision is made for him when Shane ambushes Rick in the woods, forcing Rick to make the decision, not on the gang member, but on Shane.

Probably the greatest example of this, however, has to be from “A Tale of Two Cities.” What was the purpose of Syndey Carton, the man who dies for Charles Darnay? Why, to find purpose of course. The character detest and sacrifices himself for Charles because Charles has the life he could have had and a purpose. He realizes he has no purpose other than to save a man who does. As a result, Sydney has a purpose. Still my fav literary death.

Not for Sadistic Pleasure: I’m pretty sure some writers get a disturbing pleasure from killing their characters. I’ve heard the term pain perve used in fanfiction before. Probably not a good reason to kill your character.

To Create Realism: I’ve read so many books where a trio or small group goes on an adventure where they fight against insurmountable odds . . . and no one dies. This kills suspense. At what point do you worry about the characters? You might want to invent some redshirts.

Not Because you Don’t Know What to Do Next: Filling in the gaps between your plot wth senseless death will be just that: senseless. Likewise, if you have a character you don’t know what to do with, chances are they should not be in your story

For Symbolism: This works best when the death is an animal. Animal deaths often symbolize something. The death of a bird can symbolize hopelessness, loss of freedom, or loss of innocence. In one semester of college, I read three books in a row where the authors killed cats. Killing cats seems to be a popular tool with writers (sadistic bastards). The plot device was always lost on me. The result: My class rebelled against our teacher, refusing to read any more books containing cat death. I also threw “Kafka on the Shore” against a wall,and refused to read one more page.

When to Kill

I’m not referring to the time of day. Night or day, it doesn’t matter. I’m referring to the beginning, middle, or end of your book.

Beginning: this usually works best if the character who dies is NOT a main character but a character whose death motivates the protagonist (therefore moving the plot). e.g., Uncle Ben in Spiderman.

Middle: This works best with a side character. Perhaps their death is the consequence of the protagonist’s actions or their own. Maybe they die just as the character was losing hope and refuel their will to carry out their purpose.

End: Main character death. I caution against killing off a main character unless you have to. This can also be a side character. e.g., Boromir in The Lord of the RIngs. His death proves the power and the danger of the one ring.

How

I don’t mean whips or chains, I mean how. Don’t be sadistic. be realistic. Has your character survived everything just to be taken down by a fly, a stumble, or a tiny net?

Some of you might point out, Drogo died of an infection. Does this cheat the reader? Arguably no, it’s payoff for foreshadowing. He has a long braid because he has never been defeated by any warrior. Technically he is and isn’t killed in a fight. He defeats his opponent, only to die of infection.

You want your character’s death to be a result of their actions, not a random flu. Using Ned Stark again. He is brought down by his greatest flaw/greatest attribute: his honor. It doesn’t matter that he was beheaded. He could have been poisoned and the result would be the same.

How Many?

rmx-it-039-s-hard-killing-off-so-many-characters_o_1424057What’s your body count? in my current WIP, I’m up to about 11 if you don’t count the nameless background characters. George R.R. Martin puts me to shame, but I’m not competing.

There really isn’t a set number. Just ask yourself the why/why not questions. Does the death help/hurt the plot?

George R.R. Martin is obviously building quite the body pile, but can he beat Shakespeare?

How to Create the Feels

The best death scene in the world won’t elicit a tear unless you do several things leading up to the death. I’ve read so many books where a character dies and all the characters make such a stink, but I don’t care. I wasn’t invested. Readers want to feel. They even want to feel sad. We like our heart-strings pulled. So how do you make sure your readers cry, full-bodied, blubbery tears?

Make sure you let your readers get to know them.

Build suspense leading up to their deaths. Think of the dramatic, foreboding music before a death scene in a movie. Oh no, something bad is going to happen.

Follow through. Once the character is dead, do your characters move on right away. How can your reader react if they don’t?

Beware False Deaths

princessbride11Sometimes characters die and don’t stay dead, e.g.,Gandalf, Harry Potter, Kenny Mckormick. These characters legit die and come back to life. This is not an uncommon thing in fantasy; however, It’s not my favorite gimmick, and it can leave readers feeling cheated. After all, it’s a major cop-out. My advice is make sure your character is returning for a purpose, not because you missed them or felt bad about killing them. If it serves the plot, kill them and let them stay dead.

The biggest cop-out is the false death. No, I’m not talking about when a character is only mostly dead. I mean they never died. They were just perceived to be dead. This is a gimmick not to be overused.

At best your reader will be surprised and relieved when their favorite character or the villain returns after everyone thought they were defeated. At worst, they will feel lied to and cheated.

Never try to trick your readers into thinking a main character had died by making them black out. Your reader will be ticked when they wake up in the next chapter.

Never have your character die only to reveal it was a dream.

I think false deaths work best for villains. Let the character celebrate their victory only to realize the fight is not won. Again, don’t overuse.

I hope you enjoyed Murder 101. If you remember nothing else, just don’t forget it’s about your reader. They have invested emotionally in a character. Make sure it’s worth it. I got punched in the rib for killing a character once. True story. That either means I did something wrong or right.

Let’s here from you. What’s your body count? Do you cry when your characters die? Did your readers cry?

Tuesday Tip

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Its vary important to spell write.

See what I did there?

I bet you can tell what today’s tip is about just from that example. You might think spell check has you covered, but it’s not full proof. Word processors can miss–even introduce–errors.

Identifying Airers Errors

The best way to identify spelling errors is the standard read-aloud method. That’s right, nothing fancy. Just read your manuscript very slowly and  highlight every word you aren’t sure of. It also helps to read backwards. Why? Because when you read, your brain will auto correct many errors. But if you read backwards, the sentence loses meaning, allowing you to notice mistakes.

Share your writing with others. If you’re afraid of the shame and humiliation that comes with sharing your writing, imagine how much more humiliating it will be when readers, not beta readers, find errors after purchasing your book. If you think they’ll be understanding, read some reviews where readers have caught misspelled words. A simple human error can be jarring to a reader, causing them to question you as a writer or even leave a scathing review.

If you think I’m being dramatic, go check out some reviews. Some reviewers even list the page numbers where they found the mistakes. That’s just pretentious if you ask me.

Like spell check, people can introduce errors into your work as well. So why let others read it? It’s not that other people are necessarily better spellers than you. However, they aren’t as close to the work and therefore won’t be as likely to correct words in their heads. Trust me, they will do a better job than your handy-dandy spell check.

Online Spell Checkers

There are a lot of free spell checkers online. I’d include some links, but all you have to do is perform a Google search. Some of these even check for grammar.

Though not free, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Grammarly. Not only does it check for spelling errors, but it checks for plagiarism as well. To be honest, if you’re going to spend the money for an online grammar checker, you might as well hire an editor.

Spelling Names

Another reason not to rely solely on spell check: spell check will assume every name in your book is a misspelled word. If you write fantasy, you know what I’m talking about. Here are a list of names my spell checker flags: Bronwyn, Ashby, Gailodyn, Thaolas, and Thanduryn. Instead of clicking ignore over and over again while running spell check, add your names to your spell checker dictionary.

Before you do that you need to make sure you choose one spelling to adhere to. My sister is bad about this. She’ll dabble with the spelling of a name, changing it midway through her rough draft. Once you choose a name, you can use the search replace feature to correct the spelling.

Create a Style Guide

The easiest way to keep names straight is to keep a list. When I was a copy editor, I recorded every name that appeared in the story in an alphabetized list. Whenever the name appeared again, I checked it against the list to make sure it was spelled the same. If not, I asked the author which spelling they preferred.

Commonly Confused Words

Some spelling problems you’ll encounter in your WIP aren’t so much misspelled as misused. Has your character ever walked threw something he should have walked through or spoken allowd when he should have spoken aloud? Below are some commonly confused words.

  • accept/except
  • aloud/allowed
  • affect/effect
  • allusion/illusion
  • all ready/already
  • altogether/all together
  • capital/capitol
  • cite/sight/site
  • elicit/illicit
  • complement/compliment
  • lose/loose
  • past/passed
  • principal/principle
  • council/counsel
  • then/than
  • they’re/there/their
  • to/too/two
  • through/thorough/threw

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and happy editing.

Ask An Author

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It’s the first Friday of February (alliteration not intended), which means it’s time for another Ask an Author: the guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.


whit-mcclendon-95-1410798997This month’s author is Whit McClendon, author of “Mage’s Burden,” owner and instructor of a martial arts school, writer, husband, and father.

I first learned about Whit from a blog. I then found him on Facebook where I learned he is a multifaceted man whose interests include training, teaching, lacrosse, running, and reading in addition to writing. Between family, writing, and a martial arts career, Whit has to keep a lot of plates spinning at once. So I asked him to share some advice about the nefarious balancing act: writing and life. Here’s what he had to say.


Balancing Writing with the Rest of Your Life

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I own and run my own martial arts school, so I have a very tight and busy schedule. I get up at 6 a.m. to feed my son and drop him off at school; then I head to my own school. I generally get home around 8:45 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I have classes off and on all day, so I generally have less time to write while Tuesdays and Thursdays are easier since my classes don’t start until the evening.


Balancing Writing with Work

Running a martial arts school involves not only personally teaching up to 7 classes a day, but there are also a thousand little daily administrative tasks that are always screaming for attention. I also need to squeeze in my own training time, so time is a precious commodity. No matter what day it is, I seem to write more effectively when I can block out an hour at least with little distraction. Sometimes, I may only get an hour in a week, but other weeks I manage far more than that. I occasionally get some impromptu writing time at odd moments when the opportunity presents itself, and it seems that I often get into a decent groove only moments before one of my classes is supposed to start. This is frustrating because I have to suddenly stop writing (something I thoroughly enjoy) to teach (which I also thoroughly enjoy)!

 Balancing Writing with Family

 My family has been extremely supportive of my writing. I have pretty long work hours during the week, so I don’t often write at home because I prefer to be more present when I’m there. With a wife, son, and two pugs, there’s generally something going on, and I like to be in on it, whatever it is. I occasionally dig into my writing on the weekends, when things are more relaxed.
Whether at work or at home, I block off as much time as I can, when I can, even if it’s a small amount. It’s hard to be consistent on a daily basis, but at the end of the week, I’ve usually found a few opportunities to write, and that works for me.

Tips and Techniques for the Time Challenged

I really disappear into my writing when I get going, so I do my best to avoid distractions. When I’m at my school, I occasionally put on some quiet Celtic/New Age music to set the mood.  I have a basic outline of the overall story on which I’m currently working, though my characters often run off into unforeseen adventures.
One of my favorite editing tools is to simply read everything aloud at some point to see if it flows properly. Dennis L. McKiernan (favorite fantasy author) suggested that technique to me many years ago, and I’ve used it to what I hope is good effect.
I occasionally write my chapters out of order, depending on what I ‘see.’  I may write up to a point in one chapter and then something from another chapter occurs to me, so I switch over to work on that for a bit. I often write notes directly on my document in red, green, or blue as I need to, then delete them when I integrate those elements into the story. My approach may seem a bit scattered, but it makes perfect sense to me.

915iXUbRrsL__SL1500_No matter how busy Whit gets, he always has time to connect with readers, fans, and fellow writers.

Join him on Facebook

or Twitter @whitmcc or @whitmccauthor

Check out his blog here.

You can find his book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And don’t forget to be on the lookout for the sequel, “Gart’s Road” projected for release this May.

Tuesday Tip

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Sometimes the simple things are the ones we overlook, especially when we’re editing. Capitalization seems elementary probably because we learned the rules in elementary school. Until I became a copy editor I didn’t realize there were so many rules. I’m here to tell you there’s more to it than capitalizing the first letter of a sentence.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

Hopefully, you saved grammar edits for last. It really is a waste of time to edit for grammar errors until the last pass. One of the things you’ll want to check during this final pass are your capitals. Is it Mother or mother? Captain or captain? It can be either depending on context. If you’re not sure, circle or highlight the word so you can be sure to go back and check.

For the record, I’m not going to go over every rule. The rules could fill an entire book on their own. I’m going to touch on a few basics, ones I think you’re likely to encounter.

The purpose of capitalization: To emphasize important words, people, places, things, etc.

If only it were that simple. Wait for it, it gets more complicated.

First Word of a Sentence

This is the easiest rule. If a word follows a period, it should probably be capitalized. I’m really not going to go into any more depth than that.

You’re rolling your eyes at me. This isn’t hard.

Names

Rule number one: don’t forget your characters’ names. Forgetting to capitalize your characters’ names is like forgetting to put your  name on your final exam. This an easy point, people!

Capitalize the following names:

  • brand names; Coca-Cola
  • company names; Walmart
  • nicknames and epithets; The Kingslayer
  • names of races and nationalities; French Canadian
  • names of religions and the deities: God
  • names of streets, roads, cities, countries, oceans (if it’s labeled on a map, it’s probably capitalized. e.g., the Mediterranean Sea)

Names NOT to Capitalize

  • names of animals; DO capitalize their names (e.g., Mr. Fluffy); however, do not capitalize cat, dog, etc. Except Alaskan huskey and German shepherd.
  • food; the exception being brand names and so forth (e.g., tuna, chips, Ranch dressing)
  • sun and moon. Even though we capitalize Mars, Jupiter, and Earth, for whatever reason, we don’t view the sun and moon to be important enough to capitalize–though we would die if either of them implodes. This is why it’s important to check the rules. Just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be capitalized.
  • seasons; spring summer, fall, winter
  • names that don’t actually affiliate with the word they are derived from (e.g., swiss cheese and American cheese are both made in America)

Proper Nouns

Think of a proper noun as being a more specific version of a noun–or the fancy version.

Mnemonic device: a proper noun is a noun with a fancy top hat.

Examples noun; proper noun

the canyon; the Grand Canyon

the ship; the Titanic

lake; Lake Michigan

Rule of Thumb: With time, sometimes words from a proper noun no longer require capitalization.

Example: draconian (you probably don’t know what this is referring to. Me neither. Probably why it is no longer capitalized)

Rule of Thumb: Don’t capitalize “the” when it comes before a proper noun; however, because rules are not consistent, sometimes it is in special cases.

Titles

I think this is one of the trickiest rules. For instance, you capitalize titles when they are used before names, but not after a name, or instead of a name, or if a comma comes after the title. See what I mean. How’s that for a brain twister.That might be a little bit of an exaggeration . . . maybe a tad.

Example

The president; President Clinton; Clinton, president of the United States

I called Mom; I called my mom; I called, Mom

General Grant; the general

King Arthur; king of the Britains

Exception: When used in direct address: Thank you, Mr. President; I will obey your orders, General

Other

  • days of the week
  • months of the year
  • holidays; Halloween (the best holiday ever)
  • historical events and periods; the Ice Age; the Boston Tea Party
  • terms of respect; (e.g., Your Excellency, His Majesty, Madam, Your Honor

Capitalization with Punctuation

Punctuation: everyone’s favorite thing. Did you know capitalization is sometimes dependent on punctuation.

Colon

It is a common misconception that the word after a colon is always capitalized. The first word after a colon is not always capitalized. It isn’t if the colon is used within the sentence. It is when it is a proper noun or if the colon introduces two or more sentences or a speech or dialogue.

Hyphen

This is one a lot of people forget. Generally capitalize all elements the hyphens connect unless a coordinating conjunction, preposition, or article (e.g., Sugar-and-Spice).

Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. As you edit, keep a handy style guide nearby. I use the one and only Chicago Manual of Style. Do you know how many times I referenced it just for this post? There are also a lot of helpful resources online like Grammar Girl.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday Tip

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Finally, after more than a month, we’ve come to the last item on the editing checklist (for substantive editing anyway) before we move on to mechanics and grammar–everyone’s favorite topic.

Today we’re talking about talking–more commonly known in the literary world as dialogue.

Dialogue hasn’t always been–and still isn’t–one of my strong areas, but it has improved significantly with study and practice. Here’s some of the most useful tips I’ve learned.

How to Edit Dialogue

You won’t find all of the flaws reading your words silently in your head. Read your dialogue out loud to see if it flows. You can even role play with someone else. If you’re old school, you can use a tape recorder so you can record and listen to your words out loud. I use the recorder on my phone. This has helped a lot. Of course, I look really crazy when I do it because I tend to gesture and make weird faces while I do it.

While you read through your book, highlight the dialogue that you want to fix whether it’s a word or the entire sentence. If it sounds off, it probably is. Now that you know it sounds bad, you need to figure out why it’s bad.

 Dialogue needs to be two things: Purposeful and Natural

1. Purposeful

Dialogue, like your characters and events, has to move the plot forward. This doesn’t mean that  your characters have to talk about the conflict all the time, but it means there should be a reason they are talking.

  • reveals information for the reader
  • reveals information about the character
  • creates suspense, foreshadowing, or conflict
  • creates white space (White space is very appealing to the reader. Readers put down books with too many blocks of narrative)

Cut Unnecessary Dialogue

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Do you characters ramble, chitty chat, banter, shoot the breeze?

If it can be described as one of the latter or anything synonymous, you should probably cut it.

Remove Greetings, Pleasantries, and Small Talk

Get to the point. Skip the “hellos” and “how do you dos” and go straight to the meat of the conversation. See my example of this from Tuesday Tip #20, where I explain how dialogue effects pace.

Remove Repetition

A typical example of repetition in dialogue is name dropping. Listen to yourself talk. How often do you use someone’s name? You know who you’re talking to, so does your character. If you created unique characters with their own traits, mannerisms, and verbiage, your reader will know who is talking without the name cue.

Another form of repetition is when dialogue repeats what a character just thought or did.

Example: Jack tossed his shoe.

“Why did you toss your shoe, Jack?” Anne asked.

Not only did Anne repeat Jack’s name, but she also repeated the action. The reader knows what Jack did. She could have just said, “Why did you do that?”


2. Natural

Dialogue should sound like real conversation–minus the frequent topic changes, the stuttering, and meandering, of course.

Dialogue often sounds unnatural or contrived when writers try to force a theme or information.

Exposition in Dialogue

To avoid info dumps in narrative, writers often use dialogue to give away information the reader needs to know; however, beware giving away too much exposition using dialogue. It sounds unnatural and forced.

Example: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (movie adaptation)

Arwen: Do you remember when we first met?
Aragorn: I thought I had wandered into a dream.
Arwen: Long years have passed. You did not have the cares you carry now. Do you remember what I told you?
Aragorn: You said you’d bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people.
Arwen: And to that I hold. I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone. I choose a mortal life.
Aragorn: You cannot give me this.
Arwen: It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart.

This is an example of two characters giving away too much detail about a shared memory. This might make more sense if one of them had amnesia or something. Really, a simple yes, would have sufficed as an answer to these questions. They know how they met–they aren’t talking to each other; they’re talking to the viewer.

Stilted Dialogue

When you read your character’s words, do they just fall flat. Does it lack emotion? It might be the tone. If your dialogue is too formal, use contractions. There are still those who believe that contractions are not allowed in dialogue, even narrative. See my Tuesday Tip about contractions here.

Example of stilted dialogue that lacks emotion or flow. Re-read it with contractions and see how much better it sounds.

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Inappropriate

I don’t mean offensive. I mean the words don’t fit their age, education level, social background, etc. If your character is a teenager, make her sound like a teenager. If your character is a doctor, she probably shouldn’t sound like a teenager.


Editing Dialogue Tags

Sometimes it’s not what your characters say, it’s how they say it. Did they ask, whisper, grunt, shout, bark?

There’s a lot going around the internet about removing almost all dialogue tags. Really, I think some of this advice is going too far. Just stick to said and asked for the most part and use other tags sparingly. Use variances from time to time to spice up your writing, but make sure they make sense.

Example: “Quiet, you idiot,” Sam hissed.

Hissing is a sibilant sound. Do you see an “s” in the above example. Exactly.

Cut Overused or Silly dialogue Tags

  • panted
  • huffed
  • moaned, groaned, etc
  • growl, bark, or anything else that suggest your character is turning into a werewolf–unless they are
  • tags that are actions*

*Example: smirk and sneer

Wrong: “Yes,” Bob smirked. (smirked being used in place as said)

Instead: Yes,” Bob said, smirking.or “Yes.” Bob smirked. (difference in punctuation)


Cut Unnecessary Adverbs

Example: He said happily

If you chose the right words, the reader will know how he said it. Adverbs can make dialogue redundant and kill subtlety.

Example: “I need to go now!” Ellen said urgently.

The word need and now (and the exclamation mark) shows the urgency.


Use Gestures and Actions

Accompany dialogue with gestures and actions to help readers know who is talking as well as make the scene less static. Again don’t go too far with this either. Actions should be meaningful. Maybe an action is used to show a character feels something contradictory from what he says.

Example: “That’s fine,” Bob said, clenching his fist under the table.


Now that you’ve fixed your verbiage, you need to make sure it is formatted correctly. Once you’ve decided on your tags, it’s very important to put periods, commas, and capitals in the right places. Even though we haven’t gotten to grammar yet, here is a website that talks about dialogue punctuation.


Too Much or Not Enough

There is no set percentage or rule stating how much of a book should be dialogue.

Rule of Thumb: A good book has a balance of narrative, action, and dialogue.

Doc9_000Too much dialogue can give the same impact as two floating heads talking back and forth with no background, no setting, and no actions like those two people on PBS that spell words back and forth.

It’s important to strike a balance between narrative, action, and dialogue. You probably aren’t if:

  • Your character gives a long speech (too much dialogue)
  • Your pace is too slow (too little dialogue)
  • Your character is alone in their head too much (too little dialogue)
  • Your character divulges too much to other characters(too much dialogue)
  • You don’t know where your characters are or what they are doing (too much dialogue)

Dialogue is probably one of the biggest challenges for writers. I know it is for me. What do you think about dialogue. What are some tricks you’ve used?