Revisions are Murder

Revisions on your novel can get as intense as writing the book. You still need to get into the zone, live inside your character’s head, and breathe in the scene. But you also need to step back to view the pacing and structure objectively.

Revisions are Murder

I’m involved in this process now for Styled for Murder, book #17 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. All I want to do is sit here glued to my chair to work on my book, but life keeps intruding. It’s hard to remember what I wrote from one chapter to the next with so many disruptions.

Nonetheless, my critique partners were right when they said my sleuth repeats information. She tells various people about the murder case. It’s okay to have a periodic review of suspects with a sidekick or friend, but I’ve been repeating too much material. I’ve hit the delete key many times by now, and I’m only on Chapter Eight. There’s also the issue of suspects who reveal too much information. They should either question Marla’s interest or clam up on her. She has to work more to get answers.

It took me a whole week to get past Chapter Seven. Why was this? Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, can get brusque when interviewing potential suspects. My critique partners pointed this out to me. So in my first revision, I am smoothing out these scenes to make her more sympathetic. She must coax or cajole or flatter people into talking, not fire questions at them like the cops. This means nearly rewriting entire scenes. That’s okay. I expect my first draft to be rough. I’m writing down my stream of consciousness and telling the story as it comes.

I’m also cutting out the unnecessary repetitions. Instead of telling each person she knows all about the case, I’ll insert a line like this: Marla updated her friend on recent events.

Another problem is that I’ve forgotten certain aspects of Marla’s personal life. When she’s at home, she cares for her baby and has discussions with her husband. Oops. What happened to her teenage stepdaughter who lives with them and their two dogs? Each scene at home, I have to go back and make sure I’ve included these elements.

It’s a juggling act inside my head. By the time I get to the last chapter, I’ll forget again what I wrote. That’s when the revision process will start in for the second round. This goes on until I am satisfied that I caught everything and polished every sentence. The work will never be perfect, but it’s time for me to step away at this point and hand it off to someone else with a critical eye.

Editorial and beta reader comments lead to a new round of revisions. Each change can lead to other changes. And so on, until I’m nearly cross-eyed from looking at the pages. Then I call a halt and get set for publication. Thereafter, the book stands up to your scrutiny.

Without a doubt, there’s always something a fan will find that needs fixing. I am grateful for these tips, especially when the mistake is significant. Things do get past my multiple readings, the editor, and the beta readers. We’re only human.

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Here is a sample from the first page of Chapter Eight (Spoiler Alert):

Old Chapter Eight

“We’re thinking of renovating our bathroom, and that’s how we met Lenny,” Marla explained, thinking she’d offer the same excuse to the granite guy that she’d given to the tile man. “We had considered Amaze Design Center, but I don’t want to deal with them if jobs are being delayed due to the foreman’s death.”

“That’s a wise decision.”

“What kind of problems did you have with him, if you don’t mind my asking? I’d like to know what to watch out for in the future. I heard customers got annoyed when he scheduled appointments and nobody showed up.”

George lifted a hand to shade his face from the sun, making Marla wonder why he didn’t wear a hat if he was outdoors so often.

“My problems stem from the fact that the louse hadn’t paid me for the last two loads. I refused to extend them any further credit. Jack was upset and chewed me out in front of another contractor. He hollered that a customer blamed him for the delay in obtaining the granite to complete his job. This client wrote a nasty note to Brad.”

He snorted. “A lot of good that did. Brad would never fire Jack. They knew too much about each other.”

Oh yeah? Like what?

“You couldn’t have been happy about Jack taking out his frustration on you,” Marla said in a sympathetic tone.

“I could have punched him in the face. It wasn’t my fault that his company was behind in their payments.” George curled his fist for emphasis as his lips thinned and his eyes squinted.

New Chapter Eight

“I understand Jack riled lots of people,” Marla told the granite guy. “I’m not sure I want to do business with his company.”

George glowered at her. “What does it matter now that Jack is dead?”

“His death has shut things down, meaning projects will be delayed more than usual. If you don’t mind my asking, did your problems with Jack relate to his job?”

George lifted a hand to shade his face from the sun. “Their firm hadn’t paid me for the last two orders. I refused to extend them anymore credit. Jack burst in here one day and chewed me out in public. Apparently, a customer had blamed him for the delay in installing their granite countertops. This client wrote a nasty note to the company president.”

“I’ve met Brad. How did he respond?”

The granite dealer snorted. “Jack didn’t say, but I knew Brad wouldn’t care. He could never fire Jack. They knew too much about each other.”

“Is that right? Like what?”

“Things from the past,” George said, hunching his shoulders.

His stance indicated an unwillingness to elaborate, so Marla tried a more sympathetic approach. “It must have been upsetting when Jack came here and railed into you. He shouldn’t have blamed you for his aggravation. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t fill another order until the company’s debts were paid.”

“You said it. I could have punched him in the face for yelling at me in front of customers.” George curled his fists for emphasis.

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Revisions are a never-ending process. But eventually the book is done, and it’s time to begin another work of creation. Personally, I’d rather fix what’s written than face the blank page. How about you? If you’re a reader, do you notify writers about typos or mistakes you discover?

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The Editing Process

Editing a manuscript is a critical stage in the writing process. In an earlier post, I discussed the Five Stages of Writing. Currently, I’m in the editing or revisions phase with one book and the production phase of another. This often happens, because finishing the first draft of a book doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s only the start of more work.

The Editing Process

After my draft is complete, I begin an intense round of line editing. This means reading the printed pages word-by-word through the manuscript to tighten sentence structure, catch repetitions, fill in emotional reactions, add dialogue tags and more. Here is an example of what one page looks like from Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

I scribble changes on the printed page, then go back to the computer and make the fixes. Like this:

Easter Edits

Then I read through it again. Note one paragraph here has the same word, “staff”, three times. In the second round, I changed the middle one to “employee” entrance. This means another session at the computer and another printout.

Easter Page

I read it again and keep doing this process until each page is as perfect as I can make it. For revision tips, see my previous post here.

The next step is to send it to my freelance editor. She’ll return the file with remarks using Track Changes in Word. Here comes another round of corrections and one more read-through to make sure all is smooth and I didn’t miss anything. For traditionally published authors, they’ll get edits from their developmental editor and their copy editor.

Next round? For indie authors, that’s beta readers. These are ordinary readers like you who read the book the way they would any story. But they’re looking for flaws, misspellings, info dumps, inconsistencies, or anything that would give them pause. Their input is invaluable, and they always find new things for me to modify.

Is the book done yet? Nope. From here it goes to my formatter. Once she converts the file, I have to read through it again to look for conversion errors. This is akin to the advance reading copy that traditionally published authors receive. It’s the last chance for a final proofread.

This is why the editing process can take so long. I set myself a goal of 10 pages a day. For a 300 page manuscript, that’s 30 days with no time off. Sometimes after several rounds and numerous changes during one day, I still can’t finish those ten pages. I get too close to the material and have to put it aside until the next morning.

So please be patient, dear readers, if it takes longer for me to produce a book. I want it to be as perfect as possible by the time it reaches your hands. Or at least, the hands of my early reviewers. That’s a whole other topic.

Unfortunately, no matter how many passes we make through a book, including our editors and beta readers, some errors will slip by. It’s only diligent readers who can point them out to us. If you see them, please communicate in a kindly manner directly to the author via private email. Depending on our publishing status, we may or may not be able to fix these mistakes. Your eye for detail will be appreciated as long as you understand that most of us really do try our best.

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Do you get annoyed by occasional typos in the books you read, or do you accept them as inevitable and keep reading? Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Revisiting Earlier Books

I’m revising my very first published novel, Circle of Light. This title won the 1995 HOLT Medallion Award and blends my love of science fiction with romance. When I was a fledgling writer, it gave me great joy to let my imagination go wild and create this soaring fantasy. This story began a trilogy and was one of four books I did with Dorchester writing as Nancy Cane.
coverCL
The story follows the hero’s journey in that first we see attorney Sarina Bretton in her natural habitat. She is kidnapped from Earth by Captain Teir Reylock of the Coalition Defense League. His mission is to deliver her to the alliance for her marriage to Lord Cam’brii, a stiff politician. Through this union, Sarina will become the Great Healer and save the galaxy from a devastating plague. Sarina, unhappy about being forced from her home, refuses to cooperate. But after an encounter with one of Teir’s enemies, she crosses the threshold and accepts the challenge. Along the way, she falls in love with Teir instead of the councilman she’s destined to wed.
Oh, what fun I had creating this tale! It brings me great pleasure to reread this story and make it even better. It’s amazing how much a writer’s skill advances over the years. Revising may be a tedious job, but it’s necessary to polish a book to perfection. I might be writing mysteries now, but these stories were my first love. They’ll be available to you again with new covers and bonus materials in my revised Author’s Editions.
Tropes: abduction by a hot alien, space travel, starship captain, political intrigue, betrayal, psychic ability, strong female lead, royalty, star-crossed romance, legends & prophecy, secret identity.
What are your favorite elements in the books you read?
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Fine Tuning Your Novel

You’ve read through your novel for the umpteenth time and can barely look at it anymore. Then your advance reading copy or final pdf file arrives, and it’s time for a last glance before sending your baby into the world. Will you still find changes to make? Undoubtedly. Sometimes these are conversion errors. Or you may notice typos or word choices that need a tweak.

Fine Tuning

Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, is set to debut on Sept. 25. Check out the latest changes I’ve made and you’ll gain some insight into the mind of a writer. Caution – There may be spoilers.

p. 74 – bustled … bustle.

A few minutes later, Janet bustled down the stairs along with her housekeeper. After giving the woman an order and watching her bustle off toward another part of the house, Janet turned to Marla.

Change “bustle” to “scurry” so it reads …watching her scurry off…

p. 78 – “get involved” x 2

Janet clapped her hands. “It sounds wonderful. I’d love to get involved. Tony, you could ask Tristan to donate some of his desserts. You cross paths on occasion.” She turned to Marla. “His restaurant buys vegetables from our farm. They like to advertise how their dishes contain ingredients from sustainable food sources.”

“That would be amazing if his restaurant would get involved in our charity event. They’d benefit from the publicity as well.”

Change “I’d love to get involved” to “be included.” So it should say, I’d love to be included.

p. 103 –Marla winced. “I know what you mean. I’m wondering if you knew Francine Dodger, publisher of Eat Well Now magazine.

Delete “Marla winced” on this line. I use “wince” too many times.

p. 125 – “It says, ‘Meet me at midnight by the Living Tree. All hail Osiris.’ “

Last quote mark is reversed.

p. 148 – “You can tell, huh? Your dad called with bad news. Another woman is his case was found dead.” Change “is” to “in”

p. 154 – “Why are you so afraid, Janet?

Add quote mark at end of sentence

p. 161 – “Actually, I came to order lunch. Can get you get me a turkey delight to go?”

Can get you get me. Delete first “get”

p. 165 – “Lynette theorized that Francine would have made an effort to buy the magazine from the conglomerate that owns it.

Made an offer, not made an effort. Change effort to offer.

p. 170 – “I’ll give you a taste of our olive oil varieties after we return.”

Marla’s jaw dropped as she noticed the variety of goods for sale.

Varieties … variety. Change “variety” of goods to “range” of goods

p. 178 – Used “message” x 3.

Chills ran up Marla’s spine as she scanned the message. Mind your own business or you’ll be next.

[Chapter Break]

“It looks as though the message was printed on a sheet of white computer paper.” Marla snapped a photo and messaged it to Dalton.

Change “messaged” to “sent” in this last sentence.

p. 180 – The word “property” is used too many times.

“Without color of title means we’ve been paying property taxes and any liens on the property, as well as meeting the other conditions. Besides occupying the property for a minimum of seven years, we have to be in open use of the property, essentially acting as the sole owner.”

Change “occupying the property” to “occupying the place”

p. 199 – Used “man” x 3.

“If his column is losing readers, it’s because the man has lost his edge.”

“Could he have wanted to get her out of the way?” Dalton studied the other man’s face.

“Are you kidding? Man, that guy couldn’t hurt a fly. He doesn’t have it in him.”

Remove this “Man” and just say, “That guy couldn’t hurt a fly.

p. 204 – She could have quite a list of personal indiscretions hidden away. Change to: She could have had quite a … Add “had” in this sentence. This refers to the victim.

p. 231 – Used “took” x 2

The camera wasn’t in Francine’s purse and hasn’t been turned in by anyone.”

“Do you believe the killer took it?”

“It’s possible. The pictures Francine took could be useful to the case.”

Change to, Do you believe the killer kept it?

p. 249 – Referencing Marla’s stepdaughter in this paragraph:

Meanwhile, it promised to be a bumpy ride. Dalton likely wouldn’t approve of any guy she brought home for them to meet until he’d done a thorough background check and conducted a personal interview. She couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Change “she” to “Marla” in the beginning of this sentence to clarify: Marla couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Recipes:

p. 274: spice cake mix is not capitalized

p. 275: Yellow Cake Mix is capitalized

Choose one or the other for consistency

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It is not easy to scrutinize your work line-by-line and word-for-word, but this is part of the writing process. You want your book to be the best it can be, and this is the way. Positive feedback from readers makes it all worthwhile.   CLICK TO TWEET

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Inconsistent Characters

Revisions for our novels should include a complete read-through for repetitions and inconsistencies. What do we mean by the latter? You’ll want to take a look at your characters to see if they are behaving in a manner consistent with their personality. As a writer, this should be an essential part of your self-editing process. Below are some examples.

Inconsistent Characters

What’s wrong with this passage?

Dalton went for his gun, but Marla slapped his hand away. “Don’t risk it. You don’t know what we’re up against yet. And they won’t know you’re armed.”

Marla would never slap Dalton’s hand away. He’s a police officer. He knows his business. He’s allowed her to come along on a night mission, which she shouldn’t jeopardize this way.

Often it’s my critique group that catches these kinds of mistakes. In this case, I read those sentences and frowned. Wait a minute. Marla would never do this. I went back and changed it.

Ditto for Marla acting dumb. My editor has caught me on this one more than a few times. “Marla is too smart not to figure this out when everyone else knows what’s going on.” She isn’t acting in character when she’s too dense. Same goes for Dalton. Should he let Marla accompany him to interview suspects without protesting or finding an important reason for her to come along?

This also goes for mannerisms of speech. Your rough-around-the-edges hero isn’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, good heavens.” His dialogue should be consistent with his personality.

Here are more examples from my current work-in-progress. Marla and Dalton are talking about the victim.

“That would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away,” Dalton said.

“Do you truly believe another person did this to her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

My editor said, It’s obvious another person did this to her. Could the woman whack herself on the back of her head?

“This injury is indicative of a blow to the back of the head,” Dalton replied. “The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, though.”

Would he say this to Marla when the gash is evident? Not according to my editor, who wrote, “This is another dumb remark. Of course matted blood to the back of the head is “indicative” of a blow to the back of the head!!!”

I’m lucky my editor isn’t afraid to call the shots as she sees them. She’s always right. Here is my rewrite. See what you think:

“So that would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away.”

“Are you certain the blow is what killed her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

“That’s not for me to say, but it would be my best guess. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.”

We hope to catch these errors during the revision process. What we write during the heat of the story-making process doesn’t always pass muster when examined under the editorial microscope.

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12 Steps for Revising Your Novel

Revisions on your novel can seem like a never-ending task. This seems especially true when you get a letter from a reader years later to tell you about a misspelled word. We’re never going to get it absolutely perfect, but we can do our best.

revision steps for your novel

In an earlier post, I’d mentioned the Five Stages of Writing. I’ve also talked in other posts about line editing and other techniques for improving your work. What comes next after you’ve sent the book in to your editor? Here’s a list of suggestions:

1. Make the corrections advised by your editor when she sends your story back with comments.

2. Check your formatting throughout the manuscript after making a series of changes. Be sure all chapter headings are consistent. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for misplaced sentences or extra spaces. Do a search for [space]^p and replace with ^p. Then do a search for ^p[space] and replace with ^p. This gets rid of extra spaces before and after a paragraph.

3. Review your editor’s comments to make sure you haven’t skipped anything.

4. Revise the synopsis and chapter outlines to reflect any changes to the story or the timeline.

5. Do a thorough read-through to make sure everything reads smoothly and to see if you caught all the changes. One change may lead to another, and you might miss some if they’re one or two lines here and there.

6. Do another read-through if these second round of changes were significant.

7. Consider using a software program like Smart-Edit to check for redundancies, repetitions, or clichés that your editor might have missed. (Or do this step before you turn in your manuscript for the first time.)

8. Send the book to beta readers for another round of critiques from the readers’ viewpoint and for proofreading. If you are traditionally published, this is when you send the book in for copy edits.

9. Follow-up with another round of revisions and a complete read-through again.

10. Send in the finalized book to your editorial house or to your formatter for production.

11. Read through the entire ARC (advance reading copy) for conversion errors and final tweaks.

12. Approve the final version.

What else do you do during the Revisions Stage?

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Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Revisions

Reviving Your Backlist Titles Part 3

In addition to reformatting and updating the earlier titles to which you’ve received reversion of rights, will you do a full revision of the work? How long ago did you write it? If you decide to tighten the writing, here is a reminder of what to fix.

Grammar

Remove those amateurish exclamation marks from your early writing days.

Motivate your characters with clear goals. Why is this goal important to him? What is he doing to make it happen? What’s stopping him? If he fails, what’s at stake? If your hero behaves a certain way, tell us what happened to influence this action. Don’t just have him lash out without rationalizing his attitude.

Keep description within the viewpoint of your character. Similes and metaphors should be within the protagonist’s frame of reference. Hairdresser: as limp as a strand of shampooed hair. Or: as tight as a newly permed curl.

When you’re in deep viewpoint, use pronouns rather than the character’s name. Keep viewpoints distinctive. Use a space break when you switch heads.

Avoid flashbacks and backstory. Leave the past in the past unless it’s important for your current story. Keep the action moving forward. Drop backstory into dialogue or relate it in brief thoughts during action scenes. Less is better.

Show, don’t tell. Show your character’s emotions. Don’t tell the reader about them. NO: She felt afraid. YES: Ice gripped her heart. NO: He was angry. YES: He slammed his fist on the table. Physical reactions and nonverbal clues indicate emotions. Without these, you’ve written a cardboard character.

Dialogue should have a purpose. All conversations should have direction. What’s the point you’re trying to make? Who needs to be in this scene? How will it propel the action forward?

Eliminate most substitutes for said along with adverbs that describes speech. NO: “I love it,” he chortled merrily. YES: “I love it,” he said with a chuckle.

Replace he/she said with character tags, but don’t overuse them. Make sure it’s clear who is speaking if there are several lines of dialogue without tags. Eliminate unnecessary tags altogether, like in this example:

His mouth curved in a suggestive smile that made heat rise to her face. “This potato-crusted grouper sounds good,” he said with a wink. “It comes with a salad and herb bread. Why don’t you order for me?”

In my revision, I removed “he said with a wink.” We already know who is speaking and he’d given a suggestive smile. No more is needed.

Avoid long paragraphs of exposition or description. Do these passages really need to be there? Or will readers skip over them? Make the reader feel what your hero feels. Don’t just tell us what’s going on. Also, if paragraphs get too long, split them up. White space is a good thing.

Replace passive verbs with active tense. NO: The slaves were slain by lions. YES: Lions mauled the slaves. NO: His forehead was heated by the sun baking overhead. YES: The baking sun heated his brow.

Replace walked and went with a more visual word. She shuffled toward the door. He raced down the street. He sprinted across the yard.

Watch those “ing” phrases. Make sure your subjects match: NO: Glancing into the rearview mirror, her breath released upon noticing the coast was clear. YES: Glancing into the rearview mirror, she released a breath upon noticing the coast was clear.

Beware of ing phrases that are illogical. NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior. YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior (i.e. you can’t do both actions at once in the first sentence).

Avoid weak phrases like seemed to, tried to, began to. NO: He seemed to want her input. YES: His smile encouraged her to speak. NO: She tried to tie the knot, but it slipped through her fingers. YES: As she fumbled with the knot, the rope slipped from her fingers. Avoid unnecessary phrases such as she realized, she figured, he decided, he watched.

Avoid weak verbs: is, was, are, were, there was. NO: There was water on the window. YES: Water droplets beaded the window. NO: His pulse was racing. YES: His pulse raced.

Delete redundancies. NO: sat down YES: sat. NO: He thought to himself. YES: He thought. NO: Climbed up YES: Climbed

Check for repetitions: Most of us subconsciously overuse a favorite word. Be alert for these when you read through your manuscript. Avoid the same phrases or words in consecutive pages. Watch out for repeats of the same information in conversations or in a person’s thoughts. As an example, note the word “hoping” used three times in this same paragraph. Oops. This excerpt is from my current Work in Progress.

Hoping to learn more, she focused on what she already knew. “Mr. Ripari was hoping to sell the property. Did you know it had been a pioneer theme park back in its earlier days? He was hoping to turn the house into a living museum. I understand there’s some controversy involved.”
Needless to say, I’ve revised this paragraph.

Remove qualifiers such as: very, rather, quite, really, just, awfully. NO: I remembered that she was really nice. YES: I remembered how her smile lit the room. NO: It was very hot. YES: The heat made my skin itch. One of my favorites is “only.” Vary this one by using “merely” or “simply” or eliminate it altogether.

Beware of flying body parts.NO: Her eyes flew across the room. YES: Her gaze flew across the room. NO: She threw her hands in the air. YES: She raised her arms. NO: Her eyes floated above the crowd. YES: She surveyed the crowd.

Be specific: NO: She passed a clump of flowers. YES: She passed a clump of red tulips sprouting from the ground like supplicating hands. NO: It had been a hard day. YES: Her body sagged as though she’d run a marathon (cliché alert?).

Learn correct spelling: their or they’re; it’s or its; lay or lie; you’re or your. They’re means they are. It’s means it is. You’re means you are.

Be consistent: If you’ve written a series, make sure you are consistent with particular words. Moustache or mustache? Chardonnay or chardonnay? Duffle or duffel? Nightstand or night stand? Think about creating a style sheet so you can have a handy reference for these types of words.

Avoid clichés like the plague. If you spot one during revisions, go back and replace it with something more original. NO: He wore a scowl like a cloak. YES: He wore a scowl like a seasoned samurai.

Go for strong endings at ends of sentences. Don’t end sentences on a preposition. NO: I didn’t know what he was waiting for. YES: I didn’t understand why he waited. NO: He stared in horrified dismay at her. YES: He stared at her in horrified dismay.

Be aware of series continuity. Now that you know where your series is going, you can correct any inconsistencies along the way, plant a hint for something to come, or add/verify the ages and dates when things occur in your characters’ lives.

In conclusion, reword sentences so they’re stronger. Eliminate needless drivel. And make your book the best it can be out of respect for your readers. You want your work to shine so you can be proud of it all over again.

Read earlier post on Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Updating the Work

Read earlier post on Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Manuscript Preparation

Word Repetitions

When I’m editing my next novel, one of the things I look for are word repetitions. Here is a perfect example of what I mean:

Marla took the printout from Keri. They’d better head over to Liam’s house while the day was still young. Later, he’d be busy getting ready for his charity event. She fumbled inside her purse and took out her checkbook.

“I appreciate your getting this information for us,” she told Keri. “How much do I owe you?”

Keri gave her a warm smile. “My rate is discounted to twenty dollars an hour for new clients. This didn’t take me much time at all, even though Liam keeps his home address private. So let’s call this a complimentary visit. Any referrals you can make my way would be appreciated.”

“Are you sure? You gave up your free time to meet with us today.”

“No problem. I had a few things to catch up on this afternoon anyway.”

“I appreciate it. If you ever come to Palm Haven, stop by my salon. I’ll return the favor.” Marla put away her checkbook and rose.

What word did I repeat? I used “appreciate” three times. Here is the revised version:

“I appreciate your getting this information for us,” she told Keri. “How much do I owe you?”

Keri gave her a warm smile. “My discounted rate for new clients is twenty dollars an hour. This didn’t take me much time at all, even though Liam keeps his home address private. So let’s consider it a complimentary visit. Any future referrals you can send my way would be welcome.”

“Are you sure? You gave up your free time to meet with us today.”

“No problem. I had a few things to catch up on this afternoon anyway.”

“That’s generous of you. If you’re ever in Palm Haven, stop by my salon and I’ll return the favor.” Marla put away her checkbook and rose.

Look for these types of word repetitions when revising your work. This is separate from a read-through where you try to pick up snatches of dialogue that repeat conversations between your characters. Often when you’re writing chapter-to-chapter, you lose track of what’s been revealed. Your editing sweeps should help you cut through the clutter and expose these faults. So be diligent and comb through your work as a detective might comb through his list of suspects.

 

10 Mistakes for Beginning Writers to Avoid

It’s annoying, when I’m judging a writing contest or reading a self-published book, to find common mistakes that could be avoided with editorial help. Unfortunately, many beginning writers don’t even realize they need assistance. They’ll ask a friend or an inexperienced critique partner or a local English teacher to proofread their work, and the result is considered ready for publication. Think again. If you write fiction, you want an expert in the genre to edit your work and not the local journalist who has published nonfiction or the lit professor mired in academia.This post doesn’t apply to indie authors who know the ropes and have an expert eye screen their story.

editing

Revise and polish your work as best you can before submission, whether to a writers contest or a publishing house or even to an editor you might hire. Here are ten common mistakes to avoid.

1. Create an Identifiable Main Character

Get us into the action right away with a sympathetic viewpoint character. Put us in her head and show us the world from her unique viewpoint. Make sure we can identify with this character throughout the story, so stay in her head as much as possible. Even when you use multiple viewpoints, we want to root for the hero.

2. Make Your Characters Likeable

Remember to address your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict. What does your character want? If she wanders aimlessly through life with no particular goals, that makes me as a reader less interested in her. Give me a reason why she behaves that way. Maybe she lacks confidence because of a past event. Maybe she’s afraid of failure. Knowing this will make the reader become more engaged with her. Give her redeemable qualities so we’ll like certain aspects of this person. If not, the reader won’t care, and that’s the death knell to your story. This also applies to the anti-hero. What makes him redeemable? Why should I, the reader, care about him? By balancing action with reaction, you’ll motivate your characters and make them more believable. For every action, you need a reaction. Don’t focus on plot to the exclusion of emotion. Make me care about your characters’ lives.

3. Avoid Bouncing Heads

Don’t switch viewpoints in mid-scene. If you must switch viewpoints, use a space break. Don’t leap into the head of every minor character. We cannot know a person’s thoughts unless we’re in their mind. You have to infer what the other person is thinking through non-verbal cues or dialogue. It becomes very disconcerting when every character we meet has an internal dialogue. Then the story loses focus. Stay in one character’s head. When you switch, indicate it with a space break.

4. Establish the Setting Up Front

As soon as possible into the story, establish the place, season, and time of day. Remember your five senses of Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Try to work these into the opening pages. Examples: Crickets chirped their nightly summer chorus, or late afternoon sunlight glinted off an icicle hanging from the roof. Also, don’t mention a street name or landmark and assume the reader knows where this place is. Be specific and give a location. Use the five senses to bring your settings alive, but remember to describe them from your viewpoint character’s perspective.

5. Watch Your Use of Bad Language

The occasional curse word may be acceptable for a hero who’s a hardass or for a heroine in the urban fantasy genre, but elsewhere it may raise a reader’s hackles. It can also turn off some readers completely, so this language should be sprinkled in judiciously, if at all. Add it only if it helps to define a character, not because you believe it makes your protagonist seem tough. Ask yourself: Is this necessary? If not, leave it out. Or deploy a substitute, like “frak” on Battlestar Galactica. Remember the old adage: Less is better, especially if you want to expand your readership.

6. Show, Don’t Tell

To keep the pace flowing, use dialogue and action and minimal exposition. If you have long passages where nothing happens except the protagonist thinks to herself or explains what happened in the past, the story comes to a dead halt. You want to imbue a sense of immediacy to your story, and that won’t happen unless you involve the reader. Long meandering passages of narration may have been acceptable centuries ago, but that doesn’t work today. Show us what’s happening; don’t tell us.

7. Avoid Flashbacks Like the Plague (and don’t use clichés, either)

The first chapter is your only chance to grab the reader so she’ll continue your story. If you segue into a flashback, the forward momentum is lost. Who cares what happened in the past? Throw in a line or two of dialogue or introspection to show us how the past is relevant to the current action, and then move on. Or make it part of the story action, such as a confrontation with a friend or a hesitation on the part of the main character to perform some act. Work backstory into your chapter with minimal intrusion. Flashbacks, too, will kill pacing, so remove those long passages that reflect past scenes and not the present. Only retain what is necessary to explain the current action.

8. Every Conversation Should Have a Purpose

When I suggest you use dialogue generously, I don’t mean that two friends should get together and chat meaninglessly on matters that don’t move the story forward. Dialogue must serve a purpose: to reveal information, define character, move the plot ahead, offer reaction and reflection on what’s just occurred. So ask yourself as you approach a conversation, what do you want to get across in this segment? If you don’t have a point to make, delete the scene.

9. Use Character Tags Sparingly

Try to replace “he said” or “she said” with actions. Avoid adverbs and show the tone of the conversation in dialogue instead. Don’t use “he thought” or “he wondered” if you are in the character’s head. Do use italics for inner thoughts.

Bad Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” he said in an angry voice.

You’re telling me to mind my business? she thought. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer,” she replied. “You’re the one who should watch your back.”

“Oh, yeah?” he sneered nastily. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Better Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” He towered over me, as though his superior height could intimidate me into behaving.

You’re telling me to mind my own business? You’re the one who should watch your back. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer.”

“Oh, yeah?” He jabbed his finger in the air. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

10. Proofread Your Work

Would you enjoy reading a book riddled with spelling errors or misplaced commas? No? Then why send one to a contest where mechanics are judged? Proofread your work for typos, dropped quotation marks, missing periods, and misspellings. Same goes for your work before you indie publish it. Get beta readers to help if you can, and definitely hire both a developmental and a copy editor. You want your work to appear professional, not only out of respect for your readers but also for your future career as an author. If the goal is to increase your readership, you’ll strive to publish a polished product so readers will want more.

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Avoiding Info Dumps

An info dump is when you drop a chunk of information on the hapless reader. This can take various forms. Here are some examples:

Overzealous Research

You love your research, and you can’t help sharing it with readers. These excerpts are from Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13). The first paragraph is the original. The second one is the revised version.

Original

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men would have shared a place together, eight to twelve of them in one dwelling. The homes were shotgun style. You could see in through the front door straight back to the rear. Since the miners worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time. The rent was taken out of their paychecks.”

Revised

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men often shared a place together. Since they worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time.”

P1030065 (800x600)

Original

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the waters of the Colorado River between seven states and Mexico. Getting it to the farther regions of our state proved difficult. Thus was born the Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it. This required pipelines and tunnels to move the water. That can be costly, which is why our cities obtain most of their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Revised

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the resource between several states. The Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it, uses pipelines to move the water to the far reaches of our state. That can be costly, which is why many of our cities obtain their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Laundry List

Any kind of list runs the risk of being tedious. Here’s a litany of symptoms you might get after being bitten by a rattlesnake. This passage is from Peril by Ponytail (Bad Hair Day Mystery #12):

Western rattlesnake strike ready

“You’d have intense burning pain at the site followed by swelling, discoloration of the skin, and hemorrhage. Your blood pressure would drop, accompanied by an increased heart rate as well as nausea and vomiting.”

As this passage wasn’t necessary to my plot, I took it out. Be wary of any list that goes on too long. Here’s another example:

He counted on his fingers all the things he’d have to do: get a haircut, buy a new dress shirt, make a reservation, call for the limo and be sure to stop by a flower shop on the way to Angie’s house.

Do we really need to know all this, or could we say, He ran down his mental to-do list and glanced at his watch with a wince. Could he accomplish everything in one hour flat?

Dialogue

Here’s a snatch of conversation between my sleuth, Marla the hairdresser, and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail:

conversation

“I’m going to talk to our next-door neighbor, who happens to be the Homeowners’ Association president,” Dalton told her. “Wait here with Brianna. Since my daughter is a teenager, she won’t understand the argument you and I had yesterday with the guy.”

“Yes, isn’t it something how he made a racist remark?” Marla replied.

“I thought it was kind of Cherry, our association treasurer, to defend you.”

This dialogue could have come from Hanging by a Hair (Bad Hair Day Mystery #11). But why would I have Marla and Dalton talking about something they both already know? This is a fault of new writers who want to get information across. It’s not the way to go, folks. Show, don’t tell. In other words, show us the scene and let it unfold in front of us. Don’t have two characters hack it to death later when they both know what happened. Now if one of these participants were to tell a friend what went down, that would be acceptable.

No doubt you’ve run across info dumps in your readings. Can you think of any further examples or other forms this problem might take?

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