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?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

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.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1This week’s Tuesday Tip is about something essential, something crucial that you MUST have in your writing. Without it, the scenes between your action sequences will fall flat, and readers will get bored and take a break from reading your book or–gasp–stop reading it altogether!

Are you sweating yet? Nervous? You should be. Keep reading.

This Tuesday’s Tip is about–

Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!! Tension and Suspense.

Do you see what I did there? That’s what you should be doing in your writing. Tension and suspense go hand in hand with conflict. To read that Tuesday Tip, click here. Suspense keeps the readers turning the page, asking questions, and wondering what will happen next.

When do you add Suspense and Tension?

You may think suspense and tension belong in your action scenes, and you would be correct, but mainly they belong in the scenes between the action scenes. Suspense creates build-up, anticipation, the promise that something will happen–usually something bad. Think of it as the foreboding dark clouds before the storm.

How to add Tension and Suspense

Foreshadow

Tease the reader with future events. Let the reader see the problem before the protagonist does.The reader will fear for the characters, knowing that they are in danger.

One way of doing this is to change perspective. The reader will learn information the protagonist does not through the eyes of another character. This is a great way to show information the protagonist might not be aware of or understand clearly.

Reveal the Plan

You might be tempted to conceal what your character plans to do to add suspense, but contradictory to belief, revealing their plans and motives adds suspense.

But you just gave it all away! Now all that’s left to do is stop the villain and save the day, and the protagonist just said how he’s going to do it, so I might as well stop reading this book now. Wrong. All you gave away was the plan, not future events. This is where you add a dilemma, a twist, something your character didn’t consider or can’t predict. Let them make the plans. Make sure they feel good about them too, and then sweep the rug out from under them. The characters–and your readers–will be surprised.

Don’t forget the Antagonist’s plan. Knowing their plan when the protagonist doesn’t will add suspense.

And what better way to reveal a plan than in song!

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In The Lion King, Scar’s plan (plot might be a more accurate word) is told in the song “Be Prepared.” Really, considering how dumb hyenas are, this was a rather catchy way to help them remember their part in it, don’t you think? Before Mufasa dies, we know he’s toast. We totally see it coming. This does not ruin the moment for us when he actually does. If anything, the viewer is rewarded with the feeling of foreboding doom while we watch Scar’s plan unfold, unhindered before our eyes. We shout at Simba to stop meowing at a lizard and to get the Hell out of the ravine. Run, you idiot! Watch out Mufasa! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mufasa__s_Death_GIF_animation_by_SuperVocaloidfan4eva

Deadlines

You feel the pressure when you have a task to complete by a deadline. Your character and your reader can feel it too. Add a sense of urgency by creating a deadline for your character to complete their mission.

Example: The Hobbit 

The dwarves have to get to the Misty Mountain by Durin’s Day before the last light fades in order to locate the hidden keyhole. If they don’t, they won’t be able to enter the Misty Mountain and reclaim their home.

Add a Dilemma

When the protagonist isn’t battling the antagonist, they should be battling their mind. Give the character something to sweat about between action scenes. Create a dilemma, a choice, a conundrum that they have to resolve.

Example: The protagonist must choose for one person to die in order for another to live.

Example: They must do something they swore never to do again.

Tip: Let the reader be privy to your character’s thoughts during these scenes. Their doubt, dread, and anxiety will fuel suspense and keep the reader hooked.

Apply Murphy’s Law Generously

If something can go wrong in life, it usually does. In literature, it SHOULD. Give your protagonist a full-proof plan and then foil it. Don’t let your character’s plan succeed without a hitch.

Cliff Hangers

Cliffhanger_gif

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT end your chapters on a peaceful note. This is a great place for a reader to rest their bookmark … and stop reading for good. End your scenes, chapters, and series with a shocking revelation, a precarious predicament, or other suspenseful event.

George R.R. Martin does this well in his Game of Thrones series. But I’m tired of using A Game of Thrones as an example, so I’m going to reference The Walking Dead.

Example: In season two, when the farmhouse is overrun by walkers,the season ends with the characters getting separated and running for their lives. Who lives? Who dies? Who is that cool, badass character with the zombies on leashes. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!

It happens again in a later season when the prison is overrun by the Governor. Once again we are left with unanswered questions. Cliffhangers almost caused me to purchase cable; they will sell books. Trust me.

That’s all I have to say about suspense . . . for now. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!

Hope you enjoyed. Please comment below. I love hearing from you. Praise is nice. I get a lot of it from my Tuesday Tips, but how about some praise for authors who use suspense well. Who is an author that left you hanging?

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Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

We have no control over the delineation of time in real life. An hour-long meeting on a Monday morning can feel like an entire day; however, an entire day can seem like only an hour when we’re having fun. The only time we can control how fast or slow time goes is in our novels. This is called pacing.

How to Pick up the Pace

For some scenes, you’ll want to step on the gas: cliffhangers, action scenes, fight scenes, arguments, climaxes. To make sure your reader keeps turning the page, eliminate all but the following

  • immediate action
  • exposition
  • descriptions
  • immediate dialogue
  • internal dialogue
  • sensory details

You’ll want to keep description brief. Likewise, only describe sensory details your character would notice at that moment. Perhaps he taste blood in his mouth during a fight or hears a gun shot.

Summarizing

Some scenes just drag. Travel scenes are infamous for this. Describing every detail of every day of a long journey can be exhausting and pace-killing. Summarize slower scenes so you can get back to the action. Think of it as the literary version of a montage. Tolkien does this quite a bit in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” For instance, the dwarves stay in Rivendell for 14 days. During this time they rested, studied their map, and learned the origins of their weapons. What could have taken several chapters is condensed into one paragraph.

Eliminate Unnecessary Dialogue

Dialogue can be used to hasten or slow the pace of your writing. To speed things up, cut out all boring or unnecessary dialogue.

Example: “Hi, Bob. How’re you doing?”

“I’m good, Ted. How about yourself?”

“Fine.”

“Did you hear about Jim?”

“Yeah, his wife told me he died Saturday.”

“Well, she should know; she killed him.”

Instead

Example: They exchanged greetings.

“Did you here about Jim?”

Shorten Sentence Length

Long, detailed sentences take longer to read than short, choppy sentences. To quicken the pace, use short sentences or sentence fragments–that’s right, you can get away with these, but don’t overdo it.

You can also eliminate adjectives and adverbs.

There’s a lot of hate for adjectives and adverbs. I never understood why until I read Karen Miller’s “The Falcon Throne.”

Let’s look at Chapter one.

“Brassy-sweet, a single wavering trumpet blast rent the cold air. The destiers reared, ears flattened, nostrils flaring, then charged each other with the ferocity of war.

“Huzzah!” the joust’s excite onlookers shouted, throwing handfuls of barley and rye into the pale blue sky. The dry seeds fell to strike their heads and shoulders and the trampled, snow-burned grass beneath their feet,. Blackbirds bold as pirates, shrieked and squabled over the feast as children released from the working day’s drudgery shook rattles, clanged handbells, blew whistles and laughed.

Karen Miller does to her books with adjectives what my sister once did to my soup with paprika–ruined it!

These sentences are heavy and cumbersome. She uses description in excess during the joust as well: every noise, every sound, the light shining off of armor, exposition, the character’s thoughts,etc. All this description makes the scene drag. Even though these are very pretty sentences, they make you tired reading them. The excess of adjectives and adverbs can blur a sentences’ meaning, while tripping the readers eyes. I know I had to go back and re-read several of them.

Describe only what Your Character would Notice

When writing an action sequence, like a battle, fight, or chase scene, don’t use as much detail, inner dialogue, or description.

Describe only what your character would see. For instance, in a chase scene, everything blurs as you run. Are they looking for a place to hide? They won’t notice the trees are beautiful, only that they are too skinny to hide behind. This is not the time to stop and describe the roses.

I read a book that began with a chase scene. The main character is running for her life when suddenly she falls. As the character is laying exhausted on her back, the narrator went into a detailed description of her clothes, hair, the scenery, and exposition.

So many problems with this scene. Where to start.

Firstly, she would not notice anything serene or pretty, like how the light shines through the trees. She is running for her life. She is focusing on survival, not the scenery.

Secondly, the exposition in this scene slows the action. The reader might want to know why she is running, but this is a horrible time to bring up all the events and politics that lead to her escape. It also kills the suspense. If the character had this much time to reflect, she didn’t need to run now did she? What probably was only supposed to be a brief moment in the story felt like an hour.

Lastly, the description of her clothes was pace-killing, and jarring. Description needs to fit into the narrative smoothly without disrupting the flow.

For example:

She ran, not caring that her new boots were ruined.

Her velvet dress hindered her in the brier patch.

She could hide, but her red hair made it impossible to blend in with her surroundings.

Create Rapid-Fire Dialogue 

Minimize dialogue tags, reactions, and attributions so your dialogue is short and snappy. This will give the impression that your characters are talking quickly in rapid-fire succession. This is great for arguments. Some authors believe readers rely heavily on dialogue tags to know who is talking, but as long as you make it clear who is speaking to start with, and as long as there aren’t too many characters in one scene, it will be understood.

How to Slow Pacing

Have you ever heard the expression, don’t rush the good things. Maybe it’s a Tina Turner song and not an expression at all. Anyway, sometimes it’s better to slow the pace. This is good for slower scenes, character development, or romantic scenes.

There is a difference between slowing the pace and killing it. Let’s look at some tricks for slowing pace. You might assume you can take the tips from above and flip them. You’d be correct. It really is as simple as that.

To slow pacing include:

  • descriptions
  • inner dialogue
  • exposition
  • all those things we crossed out from the list above

Avoid

  • info dumps
  • redundancies
  • being over descriptive
  • too much inner dialogue or dialogue that rambles

Be Descriptive

Just like the fast scenes, focus on what your character would notice. In a slower scene they might have more time to reflect on their past, focus on setting, or stop and smell the roses.

Dialogue

In a slower scene, you can use more dialogue tags, actions, reactions, and inner thoughts than you could in an action scene. This does not mean you should have wasted dialogue. Whether the pacing is fast or slow, dialogue should start with the introduction of the important information and end when the characters conclude the main point. Don’t let them meander too long. Leave out lengthy introductions, greetings, and small talk. Let’s return to that first example. For starters, you would still leave out the “Hi, Bob.”

They exchanged greetings.

“Did you hear about Jim?” Bob spoke into his coffee cup as he took a drink, his voice suddenly lower as if there was someone else in the break room who might overhear.

Ted rubbed the back of his neck. He almost wished someone would interrupt. “Yeah, his wife told me he died Saturday.”

Bob slammed his mug down. “Well, she should know; she killed him.”

So there you have it, just a little advice on pacing your narrative. Hope you found that helpful!

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I was so conflicted about what to write about today. Well, would you look at that, conflict just happens to be the next item on the editing checklist. To see the full editing checklist, feel free to check it out here.

We all face conflicts in our daily lives. Small conflicts like what to eat or wear. Major conflicts like getting a divorce, having surgery, or moving for a job.

water-cooler-gossipPeople enjoy conflict–not in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Ever notice how engaged your friends and coworkers are when you tell them about your divorce from hell, but for some reason they glaze over when you recap your relaxing weekend. People feed off of drama like plants feed off of light. Maybe it distracts them from their own lives; maybe they relate; maybe they are addicted to the chemicals released from experiencing negative emotions. Whatever it is, harness its power to engage readers. If conflict keeps people at the water cooler, it will also keep readers turning the page.

Types of Conflict

Conflict is the most important part of your novel. After you introduce your main character, you introduce the conflict. The story doesn’t truly begin on page one, but when the protagonist sets out to resolve the conflict. When we think conflict, we often think of something exciting, like a plane crash or a car chase, but a conflict can be something invisible and small-scale like an emotion. To help understand conflict, let’s break it up into categories.

External: Any force outside of the protagonist: fire, tornado, shark, sharknado, etc

Internal: Internal conflict adds meaning to the external conflict. Consider the Battle of Blackwater in a Game of Thrones. Since this event happened in season two, I hardly feel the need to announce a spoiler alert, considering there are five seasons now. You’ve had your chance to catch up.

There are a lot of external conflicts in this scene: Stannis’ fleet, under-protected walls, fire, etc. However, the true drama comes from the characters’ inner conflicts. There are a lot of characters we could choose to focus on: King Joffrey, Tyrion, or Stannis, but let’s look at The Hound (I don’t remember what his real name is). The character is a great fighter, so why does he freak out and leave in the middle of battle? It’s not the ships, it’s not the men with swords, it’s the fire. Because he was burned as a child, The Hound fears fire, which is everywhere at King’s Landing. This is a great example of inner conflict layered underneath external conflict. His fear, and inability to overcome it, makes this scene more dramatic. Kudos goes to George for playing on a character’s weakness, but before I hand out too much praise, let’s just see how this character arc ends. George typically fails at character conflict resolution. No, this is not just my opinion. There are a lot of arcs that are never closed off and conflicts unresolved because Martin kills off a character instead of developing a more satisfactory conclusion (e.g., most of the Starks). Lazy, just lazy. For the Hound’s conflict to be resolved successfully, he will have to overcome his fear of fire in order to achieve his goal, but George will probably just kill him off–which is ok as long as it’s with fire.

hound

Person vs.

  • Self: inner conflict: flaws, doubts, prejudices
  • Person: an antagonist e.g., a villain
  • Society: tradition, laws, culture e.g., Hunger Games
  • Nature: weather, elements e.g., Robinson Crusoe
  • Technology: tech takes over
  • Supernatural: something superficial: Gods, demons, fate, destiny
office-space-printer

Man vs. Technology: Take that, stupid printer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to create conflict

To add conflict, you don’t have to plan a ton of major events, like explosions, war, etc. If you’ve ever read The Teahouse Fire, you’ll notice there was only one catastrophic event in the entire story: the fire. Other than that, not a lot happened, but every page was saturated with conflict. To create conflict, simply ask yourself, what does your character want? Once you know what they want, take it away and make it difficult to achieve.

  • family
  • money
  • power
  • job
  • justice
  • a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Give your character a goal that your audience can relate with. The more they can relate, the more they’ll root for your protagonist. Create situations that prevent your character from getting what they want, and show their struggle to achieve it.

How to increase conflict

1. Give a Deadline

Think of a ticking clock. Imagine the story of Cinderella without the midnight curfew. Not as exciting, is it? A race against the clock adds suspense and drama.

2. Make your Character Choose

Decisions, decisions. Giving your characters choices will keep your readers on the edge of their seats. What will they choose? Will they complete their goal if it means ruining the lives of others? What will they sacrifice to get what they want?

3. Conflicting Goals

Like real people, your main character can have more than one goal. Make those goals compete.

Example: He wants to get a promotion and save his marriage. To get the promotion, he has to spend more time at work. To save his marriage, he needs to spend more time with his wife. He obviously can’t do both.

Also, group your protagonist with side characters who have conflicting goals or who have personality traits that conflict with your character.

Returning to the prior example. He has a mother-in-law who hates him, persuading his wife to leave.

4. Include Conflict in Every Scene

To iterate, this does not mean you have to have an explosion in every scene. Just make sure your character is struggling with something. Are they conflicting with their morals, another character, nature?

5. Inability to take Action

Render your character helpless to act. What always comes to my mind is a villain hand-rubbing and cackling while the main character, usually tied up, declares that they won’t get away with it . . . to which the villain always replies:

I already have

I already have

Main Conflict. 

Let’s look at Star Wars (The good ones). You might think the main conflict is about the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance; however, the main conflict is actually Luke’s inner struggle between choosing the honorable way of the Jedi or getting revenge. The war complements Luke’s struggle because it is a battle between good and evil.

Side Conflicts

One conflict is not enough. On the road to your character achieving his or her goal are smaller conflicts. Think of these like bumps in the road. A good story has layers of conflict. Multiple conflicts add realism, depth, and interest. Interweave them so they are related. Let’s return to A Game of Thrones, however, we’ll take a look at Daenerys this time. Her main conflict is her desire to rule the iron throne. The battle hasn’t begun, but already she’s had many side conflicts: choosing between her family and her rule, hunger, obtaining an army, her brother, etc.

Note: Don’t forget to give side characters conflict as well. Make their wants compete with the main character. Just make sure their conflicts complement, not compete.

Raising the Stakes

Every conflict should be worse than the one before.

Conflict one:They mess up your order at McDonald’s

Conflict two: You’re late for work.

Conflict three: Your boss gives you a write up.

Conflict four: You’re girlfriend calls you during lunch to breakup with you.

Conflict five: You get pulled over on your way home and receive a ticket.

Conflict six: You get home to find all of your stuff is on the lawn.

Conflict seven: You have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep, so you spend the night in your car while your stuff gets rained on.

Compare the first and last conflict. I bet you’d happily eat that Mcmessed up egg muffin now.

What happens if your stakes decrease?

One of several things. Your readers will lose interest or the conflict will get resolved too fast.

How to make sure your stakes are rising.

It’s easier if you plan your conflict while you’re planning your novel. Map the conflicts on your outline in the order they occur. You’ll obviously put the major conflict last.

What if it’s too late? You’ve already written your first draft. It’s never too late to rearrange or cut scenes. Keep a list of the conflicts that arise in your novel and compare them to make sure they appear in the correct order. I did this while editing my sister’s novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Rather. Kay and Pig’s conflicts include a bear, a salesperson, and a kidnapping. Obviously the salesperson came first, followed by the bear, and lastly the kidnapping.

Don’t Raise the Stakes too High

Sometimes writers raise the stakes so high the protagonist cannot resolve the conflict realistically, resulting in a deus ex machina. I love her, but Karen Miller is infamously guilty of this. Do not let a God step in or bull-shit a magic ability at the last minute.This robs the reader of a satisfactory conclusion.

Rules of Conflict

  • Conflict must always be resolved (That goes for you too, George R.R. Martin)
  • Conflict must always be resolved by the main character or as the result of their actions
  • No deus ex machina
  • Have conflict in every scene
  • Have multiple conflicts

There you have it. When it comes to writing, don’t save the drama for your mama.

 

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1When you start writing, you begin with an outline. When you start editing, you begin with a checklist.

Writers are often warned about the many mistakes they can and will make in their first drafts, but what about the mistakes they can make editing? During this stage, you can miss errors or introduce entirely new ones. You won’t catch all your mistakes in one pass and you shouldn’t try. Like painting a wall, editing requires several layers.

Layers. You know, like an onion–or ogres. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it, they both have layers. The editing process is less overwhelming when broken into layers or steps. As a former copy editor, I was taught to make three passes. The first pass was for content and structure alone (except for any glaring, obvious punctuation), saving the final two passes for grammar and punctuation.

There are several types of editing. I’ve broken it down into two.

Substantive: Also called content editing or developmental editing. This is where you edit your manuscript for organization, content, and presentation to tighten and polish the writing. This includes reorganizing and restructuring so that everything fits into the big picture.

Mechanical: This is where you edit for accuracy, consistency, and conformity to style, grammar, and punctuation.

With so much to look for, how can you be sure you leave no stones unturned? This is where creating an editing checklist comes into play.

First Stage: Readability and Content

The biggest  mistake I think self-editors make is trying to fix everything at once, especially grammar. This is the LAST thing you should tackle, because you will waste so much time fixing the punctuation of a sentence only to change it or even cut it later. You don’t sew the buttons on a shirt before you’ve attached the sleeves. Think of your commas as buttons, and put them in last

If you think about it, we’re going to scrutinize your manuscript as you would admire a painting. Start with the big picture and then look for the minute details.

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What to Look For

  • Plot
    • structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement 
    • call to action/adventure
    • scenes in a cohesive order
    • themes support the plot
    • test, allies, enemies
    • plot holes
    • do subplots aid or detract from main plot
  • Setting:
    • when
    • where
  •  Style
    • sentence variety
    • clear, concise words
    • remove vague or overused words
    • replace passive voice for active voice
    • Remove unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs
    • remove redundant words, sentences, scenes, characters
    • link beginnings of chapters to the ends of preceding chapters. likewise, link the end of the book to the beginning.
  •  Conflict
    • main conflict
    • are there too many, not enough
    • is each conflict worse than the one before
  • Pacing
  • Tension/Suspense
  •  POV
    • are the POV’s distinct?
    • consistent
    • is each scene told in the right POV?
    • too many?
  •  Characters
    • consistency of physical appearance, personality, attributes
    • motivation
    • name spelled consistently
    • too many/not enough side characters
    • side characters enhance or distract from main protagonist
  •  Dialogue
    • purposeful
    • natural or contrived?

Second Stage: Mechanics and Grammar

After your first pass, you’re probably pretty tired–but you’re not done. To be honest, the first stage of editing might take two or more passes. Now that your ducks are in a row, it’s time for everyone’s favorite editing stage: grammar and punctuation.

What to Look For

  • Capital letters
    • first word in the sentence
    • proper nouns
    • names
  • Spelling
    • names of places, characters, things
    • check commonly confused words it’s/its, effect/affect, etc
  • Grammar
    • punctuation
      • commas
      • semi colons
      • colons
      • periods
  • Sentence fragments
  • Subject verb agreement
  • Verb tense
  • Hyphenation
  • Numbers
  • Quotations

The editing checklist might seem longer than your manuscript, but think of it as your polishing guide. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Beta readers can help spot plot holes and other content issues. Likewise, you can relieve the burden of editing altogether with an editor, though I highly recommend going through once yourself to remove obvious errors. This will save your editor time, which will save you money.

How many of you use an editing checklist? Did you find this helpful?

While I’m editing my sister’s manuscript, most of my Tuesday Tips will be about editing. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working my way down the list to discuss each part in more detail. Join me next week when I discuss plot.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1There are a lot of things to consider when you start writing a book: Who will be your agent? Who will design your cover? Who will publish it? But before all of those things, you must decide who will read it.

The decision is yours whether or not to let anyone read your book before it is released, but I believe the best books are those that have had an extra pair of eyes on them, or two or three. I believe the rule of thumb is to have 3 or 4 people read your book (at least one of those should be an editor). You may ask, why not make them wait until it’s finished? Because other people can alert you to problems with your writing such as grammar, spelling, plot, characters, etc. They can identify your strengths as well.

When do you let people read your work

I know a lot of writers who don’t let others read their book until it’s considered “done.” To be honest, I think it’s more beneficial to send a rough draft to them so they can spot plot holes and major character issues before you’ve wasted hours on grammar and re-writes.

How rough is too rough? The term “rough draft” is relative–like the word “pretty.” A lot of people call the first draft the rough draft. I prefer the term “throw away draft” that someone coined on their blog.

This is what many call the first draft. This is your writing when it first crawls out of the primordial ooze, before it gets fully-developed legs and loses its gills. I think this is too rough to send to readers. My suggestion is to revise it once or twice so that you can give them an accurate representation of your writing style, voice, the story, and the plot.

If a draft is too rough, your reader will get so hung up and slowed down by sentence fragments and unfinished thoughts and scenes, they won’t even be able to tackle your big picture. On the flip side, don’t wait until it’s too far along, or you might not be able to make the suggested revisions because you’ve spent so much time on each scene, you won’t be willing to change them. It’s easier to make changes while something is still being developed.

Example: The Lord of the Rings

In early drafts Aragorn was a hobbit and his name was something stupid like Trotter or Fosco. After it was read by another pair of eyes (the editor, or whoever he was), Tolkien agreed that there were too many hobbits in the story. Aragorn was eventually changed to a man and the rest is history.

Characteristics of a good reader

Now that you’ve agreed to let people read it, you must decide who those people should be. Beta readers, critique partners, and experienced writers and editors make the best readers, but what about friends, co-workers, and family? It might be tempting to let everyone you know read it, but you don’t want just anyone and everyone reading your writing. Choose wisely. It’s less of a time waste to find good and bad readers than to sift through good and bad suggestions.

Your readers should possess these traits

  • They should be your target audience
  • Their goal should be to help your writing
  • They should be objective
  • They can criticize constructively
  • They are regular readers
  • They are honest
  • They have good communication skills

Family failures

So looking at this list, it may surprise you that you are more likely to find a good, reliable reader in a complete stranger than your own family. If you think your loved ones don’t lie to you, wait until you hand them a snippet of your writing. Their best and worst qualities will come out. Here’s how:

  • They take it personally
  • They are not constructive
  • They are biased
  • They sugar coat
  • They make it about them and not about your writing
  • They are either upset because they think you wrote about them or because you left them out
  • They are not your target audience
  • They will look for hidden context

Really the list goes on. The only relative I let read my writing is my sister, and I often make the mistake of giving her too much context before reading. Because she is familiar with the plot and characters, she is not technically a fresh pair of eyes. But she is as objective as family can be, and her goal is to improve my story and my writing, not to spare my feelings or make me feel good. Believe me, I don’t come away unscathed by her criticism. I have a bag I put over my head that I drew a meme face on to hide my expression when she critiques. The faces I make behind the bag are much worse.

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Where can you find good readers

  • writing groups
  • twitter and other social media sites
  • seminars
  • referrals from other writers you know
  • Google (when all else fails)

Some will be happy to read for free, but be prepared to pay a little for good readers, or you can offer a free download of your book upon release. Gift cards are also nice. Sometimes the only payment expected is for you to return the favor.

So before you design your fancy cover, before you send out queries to agents, put your feelers out for readers. When you are ready for feedback, keep the qualifications in mind. Don’t waste your time with bad readers who will do nothing but offer bad advice. Find people you know will help you polish your work.

Free Fuel Day!

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No, not that kind of fuel–writing fuel. You know, coffee!!! You’ll still have to pay today to fill up your car’s tank, but you’ll pay little or nothing to fill up your writer’s tank, because it’s National Coffee Day!

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For an entire week, in honor of National Coffee Day, McDonald’s has been giving away free coffee. Today is the last day. Anyone who has had McDonald’s coffee knows it’s not the best. Hell, it might even be the worst. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad, but hey, it’s free. I’m sure Starbucks will be giving out samples as well, so I’ll be bouncing all over town to get specials–not to mention bouncing off the walls.

Why celebrate coffee? Same reason we celebrate Mother’s day or Administrative Professionals’ Day, to thank this awesome beverage for all it does 365 days a year. It keeps us awake, alert, and ready to write. Thank you, coffee for giving me that kick in the brain I need every morning and every evening.

Right now, I’m enjoying a dollar latte from Coffee Junkeez. Check out your local businesses to see if they are offering free or discounted coffee.

Tuesday Tip

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Last Tuesday, I talked about major time gaps in your story. This week, let’s talk about shorter ones: scene transitions. Between your novel’s beginning and end, there are dozens or hundreds of beginnings and ends. These could be new paragraphs or new chapters. How they begin and end is just as important as how your story begins or ends.

In the movies, it’s easy to show the transition from one place or event to another: Cue the montage music or fade out. But in books, we don’t have musical or visual cues, only our words to convey the passage of place and time.

Transitions should clearly connect one scene to another. Think of it like building a bridge. You want a good sturdy bridge, not one of those rickety wooden things that hangs over a 500 foot drop.

Why you need scene transitions

  • change viewpoint
  • change location
  • change mood
  • change place
  • to move the narrative forward
  • skip unimportant events
  • advance time

How to Transition: Ending a scene

 Before you move on to the next scene, make sure you finish the prior scene. Don’t leave your readers standing in the middle of your bridge–get them across. By finish, that doesn’t mean you have to wrap up all the action, it just means the scene needs to have accomplished something. What needs to happen in this scene? Why were you writing it to begin with? New scenes aren’t only used to establish a new place or time. Sometimes, they establish a character’s new frame of mind. Perhaps in order to end the scene, your character needs to have a change of heart or a realization.

Beginning the next scene

Usually a new scene occurs in a new time, place, or point of view. It can even have a new tone. These are clear ways of letting the reader know you’ve moved on. Establish the time, place, tone, and POV early so your reader is oriented. 

At the beginning of the new scene, there are several ways to let the reader know what has changed.

  1. Type out the date (if a major time gap) or the name of a city or place.
  2. Use the narration to establish the new setting or time, e.g., “that morning,” One sentence might be all it takes, or you can use the first paragraph to describe the new time, place, character, etc. Be quick and concise. Anything over a paragraph or two could result in info dumping. 
  3. Starting a new chapter is the easiest way to establish a scene change. The reader expects a transition at the beginning of a new chapter. Don’t think you can get away with a new Chapter every time you change your setting.
  4. Use symbols between scenes. I’ve seen this done several ways. How you do it may be based on your preference or your publisher. The most common symbol is the asterisk though scrivener uses the pound symbol.
  5. Use an extra space to divide scenes. This is how it commonly looks in published manuscripts. I’ve noticed in some books the first word is indented. In others it’s not. In some, the first words are even capitalized to make the transition clear.

Cliff hangers

As writers, we’re tempted to wrap everything up neatly at the end of a scene or chapter. This gives the reader a break, a place to put the bookmark. I’m not a fan of soft, neatly packaged scene endings. Will the reader return, or is this the final resting place of the bookmark?  Don’t wrap everything up. End on a beat. Keep the suspense. Leave your chapters at a cliff hanger. Think of Game of Thrones. I haven’t finished reading the books, but every episode ends at a cliff hanger, especially the last episode of each season. This compels viewers to buy the next DVD or keep paying their cable bill in order to find out what happens next. Do this in your book. They’ll have to keep turning the page to find out what happens. This ensures your reader will finish your book and purchase your next one.

HInt: Don’t take this too far. Don’t add suspense for the heck of it. This is what is commonly called false suspense. Don’t have your character be presumed dead only to wake up in the next chapter. Your reader will feel cheated and lied to.

Things to avoid

  1. Lazy transitions
    1. My least favorite transition is where a character goes unconscious and wakes up somewhere new (often in bed away from the danger). People don’t usually black out that long, maybe several minutes tops. I will forgive this type of transition, however, if the character wakes up in the same place. Remember that episode of The Walking Dead when Darryl goes unconscious. When he wakes up, it’s still the same time of day, no one has rescued him, and his boot is being gnawed on by a zombie. That is a great way to keep the suspense instead of derailing the scene from the action.
    2. Character goes to bed or wakes up. Similar to the above only instead of false suspense, you get no suspense.
    3. Using “then” at the end of the scene, e.g., “I pressed my ear against the door. I did not hear the intruder walk away, but the absence of sound was reassuring. Then the doorknob turned.” Not the worst example, but imagine how this could have been  more suspenseful and less jarring had the narrator taken the time to flesh this out. 
  2. Back-to-back scenes in the same location. You may need to break up one scene into several transitions, but don’t overdo it. The problem with this is it may not be clear how much time has passed.
  3. Info dumping. If you change to a new time and place, you might be tempted to go into a long-winded description about the new location. Work it naturally into narrative and dialogue. Only tell the reader what they have to know.
  4. Waiting too long to introduce the new POV. I don’t know why writers withhold character names. I’ve read novels where it takes a page or more to establish the name of a new character. Unless their hidden identity is crucial to the plot, don’t create false suspense by withholding information about a character.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback. How do you show scene changes? What are the worst, the best transitions you’ve ever read?

Tuesday Tip

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Contractions are common place in speech. If you say “can’t” or “wouldn’t” in conversation, you aren’t likely to be called out for being “too informal.” However, contractions are still a little controversial in writing. So, how should you use contractions in writing? There isn’t one correct answer, because it all depends on your personal style, your publisher’s house style, and your audience. You’ll get a lot of contradictory advice from editors and writers. After all, you can’t say contradiction without contraction. Some claim that if you use contractions in the narrative, you have to use it in dialogue and vise versa. Others say you can’t use contractions at all. So what is a writer to do? Here is some advice on using contractions correctly.

Examples of common contractions:

  • I’m: I am
  • Isn’t: is not
  • Can’t: can not
  • They’d: they would
  • Won’t: will not
  • Wasn’t: was not
  • Shouldn’t: should not
  • Wouldn’t: would not

An apostrophe is used to replace all omitted letters.

Example: Do not = Don’t

The apostrophe replaces the extra “o” which is the only sound you don’t hear.

Example: Can not = Can’t

The apostrophe replaces the “n” and the “o” because an apostrophe can replace multiple letters.

Using contractions in dialogue

Most editors and writers will agree, contractions can (and often should) be used in dialogue. They make dialogue sound more natural by mimicking how people actually talk. They can also be used for accents and dialects.

Using contractions in narrative

This is where the controversy starts. There are a lot of people who say you can never, never use them in narrative, but that simply isn’t true. Many authoritative sources have used, or suggest using, contractions in narrative. Famous authors, like Ray Bradberry, have used them. Writer’s Digest uses them. Even the Chicago Manual recommends using them to enhance flow. You just have to consider your audience. If your audience is a college professor, do not use contractions if you want a good grade.The more formal the writing, the less you should use contractions.  If you use them in narrative, make sure you are consistent. Never use them where the meaning could be unclear.

Example: “I’d” could be “I never” or “I would never”

Unless the context is clear, don’t use I’d.

Hint: If you use contractions in narrative, make sure you use respected, legit contractions. The list of acceptable contractions is long, so I’ll just give you an example of one that is not. That contraction is “ain’t.”

Rules for Ain’t

I recommend avoiding “ain’t” except for dialogue, because its usage is generally disrespected. It’s a fairly new contraction, but that isn’t the reason it’s so controversial. Using “ain’t” is confusing, because it has a variety of meanings depending on context. Originally created to replace am not, it is now also used to replace are not, is not, has not, and have not. It just causes more confusing than it’s worth. Personally, I don’t like it. I don’t think it even follows the rules. Shouldn’t it be an’t? Where did that “i” come from?

Common mistakes

Its and It’s

Its is possessive

Example: The cat ate its food.

It’s means “it has” or “it is”

Example: It’s going to rain, It’s been awhile

They’re, Their, and There

There is an adverb that shows a place or position

Example: He went over there

Their is possessive

Example: Their car is in the shop.

They’re is the contraction for they are

Example: They’re a cute couple.

Placement of contractions

Another common mistake writers make is where they place contractions in a sentence, especially when they place them at the end of sentences. They look terrible and are confusing at the end of sentences.

Example: That is what it’s.

Correction: That is what it is.

Example: He is not, but they’re.

Correction: He is not, but they are.

These tips should help you decide if you will use contractions in your own writing and how to use them correctly. Do you use them in your narrative? How about dialogue? I’d love to hear from you.