Revising Your Manuscript

I’m in the midst of edits for Facials Can Be Fatal, #13 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. A couple of the problems I’m fixing are things you should be looking for in your work, also. These include too many mentions of previous stories, info dumps, and extraneous material that doesn’t add to a scene. My own read-through has revealed inconsistencies that I didn’t catch during my prior rounds. Here are some examples.

editing

Excerpt One—Original Scene

“Was the other ship ever found?” Dalton’s rapt expression showed his fascination.

As a history buff, he must be soaking this in, Marla thought with fond affection.

Sam’s face folded into a frown. “The problem with that wreck site, unlike the deeper water where the Atocha sank, is that undercurrents cause shifting sand dunes. The Santa Margarita broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people discovered a trail of artifacts, from gold chalices to silver coins, jewelry, and swords. Then in 1980, Mel Fisher’s company located a section of the ship’s wooden hull, along with items valued at forty million dollars. However, other portions of the ship remained elusive. Records showed eight hundred ounces of registered gold, one hundred and forty-five silver bars, more than eighty thousand silver coins, and millions of dollars in smuggled contraband still missing.” He ticked off each listing on his fingers.

“So that treasure remains unfound?” Dalton scratched his head as though the magnitude of value astounded him.

Sam got up to pace the room. “Another salvage firm from Key West discovered more relics. They contacted Mel Fisher’s company, since his group had the federal permit to explore those waters, and the two companies formed a partnership. Since then, they’ve recovered many more items. I like this one: sixteen thousand natural pearls in an oval leaden box. The largest weighs in at over fifty-two carats, one of the biggest known natural pearls in the world.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all those coins and ingots aboard. No wonder they sank.” Gold jewelry and pearls, emeralds from Columbia, silver from Mexico . . . who wouldn’t kill to obtain such bounty? “How many more ships like those two remain undiscovered?”

“Quite a few.” Sam went on, his words rushing together in his enthusiasm. “In 1733, the Nuestra Espana fleet left Havana for home with three armed galleons and eighteen merchant ships. They encountered a hurricane off Marathon. The San Jose alone was carrying almost seven million pesos in gold when it sank. Many of these wreck sites are charted on maps and have been studied by archaeologists as part of the state’s historical preserves.”

“And yet, not all of the ships that sank have been found?” Marla imagined there must be records of missing cargo dating back in history.

He nodded. “As I said, some thirty to forty known ships have sunk in our coastal waters. There could be hundreds more.”

“What are the laws pertaining to these wrecks? Who owns them if found?”

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

Excerpt One–Revised Scene

“Was the other ship ever found?” Dalton’s rapt expression showed his fascination.

Sam’s face folded into a frown. “The problem with that wreck site, unlike the deeper water where the Atocha sank, is that undercurrents cause shifting sand dunes. The Santa Margarita broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people have discovered many of its relics, including a lead box filled with sixteen thousand pearls.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all the gold coins, silver bars and jewels aboard. No wonder they sank. How many more ships like those two remain undiscovered?”

“Quite a few.” Sam got up to pace the room. “Most of the known wreck sites are charted on maps. They’re part of the state’s historical preserves.”

“Who owns the salvage rights to a sunken ship?” Marla asked, wondering about laws regarding lost treasure.

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

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Excerpt Two—Original Scene

They’d requested a table outside at the rear but under the covered portion, not the lounge part that was just for drinks. Their table, covered with a white cloth, was already set with wine glasses, bread plates, and a glass-enclosed candle when they took their seats. Further out on the wooden deck, the drinkers had bare wood tables open to the sea breeze with some shade provided by green umbrellas. The tables and chairs had been bleached by the sun and looked more ashen in color.

They faced east and the Atlantic Ocean. A tree grew from under the deck, dropping the occasional debris when the wind blew. The view to the side enchanted her with its sandy beach and graceful coconut palms, but she couldn’t see the water stretching out to sea. The sky had darkened and there wasn’t enough illumination from the moon.

After the waitress uncorked their bottle of Chardonnay and they had sampled their first glass, Marla ordered the Boston lettuce salad with watercress, blue cheese, apples, and spiced pecans, while Dalton couldn’t pass up the conch chowder. They both had fish for their entrées; he got the soy glazed grilled tuna steak and she ordered pan-roasted salmon. Dalton, sitting next to a potted red croton plant, reached for a slice of crusty bread.

Excerpt Two– Revised Scene

They’d requested a table in the outside dining area at the rear of the house. Their white-clothed table held wine glasses, bread plates, and a glass-enclosed candle. They faced east and the Atlantic Ocean. The view to the side enchanted Marla with its sandy beach and graceful coconut palms, but she couldn’t see the water stretching out to sea. The sky had darkened, and the moon didn’t provide enough illumination.

After they had sampled their first glass of Chardonnay, they placed their orders. Dalton chose the soy-glazed grilled tuna steak and Marla ordered pan-roasted salmon. Dalton, sitting next to a potted red croton plant, reached for a slice of crusty bread.

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Excerpt Three—Original Scene

Howard lived in Mangrove Isles, a community of pricey homes bordered by canals in east Fort Lauderdale. Since they were already on A1A, it didn’t take them long to get there. His two-story house was well-maintained with iron grillwork on a second-story balcony, ceiling fans on a covered porch, and white outdoor wicker furniture. Majestic palms and other tropical greenery graced the front lawn. The driveway’s red pavers led to a detached three-car garage.

As Dalton parked along the curb, Marla looked up the house via a real estate site on her cell phone. “It’s worth over two million,” she said with a sense of awe, wondering if Howard had a yacht docked out back like many of his neighbors. “Would you believe he has five full bathrooms? The place is listed at nearly forty-three hundred square feet.”

“It must cost a lot of money to maintain.”

“Does he live alone, or is he married?” She didn’t recall his family status.

“He got divorced eight years ago. His kids live with the ex-wife.”

Excerpt Three–Revised Scene

Howard Cohn lived in Mangrove Isles, a community of pricey homes bordered by canals in east Fort Lauderdale. His Mediterranean-style villa had iron grillwork on a second-story balcony, ceiling fans on a covered porch, and hurricane impact windows facing the front lawn. Tropical greenery bordered a paved walkway to the door.

“Does Howard have a family?” Marla asked, unable to recall his marital status.

“He got divorced eight years ago. His kids live with the ex-wife.”

So what do you think? Are these revised versions better? What are your main weaknesses that you look for in revisions?

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Visit my discussion at Booklover’s Bench to see why I started out in a nursing career but I don’t write about a nurse sleuth. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Body Wave. http://bookloversbench.com/lets-talk-with-nancy-j-cohen-2/

Smart Edit Software Revisited

Recently I downloaded the updated version of the Smart-Edit software I’d described below at http://bit.ly/12iU9nZ. I ran my work-in-progress through it even though I’d already made corrections based on the last analysis. Guess what? The program still found problems for me to fix.

self editing

Redundancies caught me this time. Here are some examples:

I started off

I flung myself backward from whence I’d come

Hurry up

Under Punctuation, the program pointed out I had two straight apostrophes. These were easy fixes.

Under Acronyms, I discovered I’d shortened medical examiner three different ways—M.E., ME, and M.E missing the final period. I changed them all to the first one. It’s great having a second set of eyes like this to find mistakes.

The program counts curly and straight apostrophes and quote marks. It found two straight apostrophes instead of curly ones. Under punctuation problems, it alerted me that I hadn’t eliminated all the extra spaces.

proofread

More new findings:

Overused phrases: “gave me a”, “hands on”, “thank goodness”

Repeated words –“when” 204 times

Possible misused words: Different from or different than, eager or anxious, less than or fewer than. (I’m not sure I understand which one to use. Do you know?)

The new edition also lets you work in word processing software, but I didn’t use this feature.

I repeat my recommendation to try one of these programs after your last round of polishing. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve missed.

Here’s a list of programs, some suggested by readers of my earlier column. I’ve only tried the first two and they’re similar in tasks. They don’t replace the read-throughs you need to do for yourself. Rather, they help you pick up errors, repetitive phrasing, redundancies and such that you might have missed.

SELF-EDITING SOFTWARE PROGRAMS

http://www.smart-edit.com

http://prowritingaid.com/Free-Editing-Software.aspx

http://www.myWriterTools.com

http://www.wordcounter.com

http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.php

What are Copyedits?

What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing? After your work gets accepted by a publishing house, your story editor will comb through it line by line looking for problems in structure, pacing, continuity, and logic. She’ll ask questions in the margins, make deletions, add lines where appropriate, and suggest improvements to some scenes.

So what does a copyeditor do that is different? This skilled editor focuses on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as providing another set of eyes to detect omissions and errors. A word of advice—don’t use colons or semicolons as they may translate into peculiar characters during digital conversion. Consider an emdash instead. The same warning applies for the ampersand sign. Type out the word “and”.

After you polish your work umpteen times, you’ll have to suffer through three more reads for your story editor, copyeditor, and page proofs. And believe me, you will need each pass-through. I always find things to correct, no matter how many times I polish my stories.

Having just finished the latest set of copyedits for Hanging by a Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I’d like to share what I learned. This time, I wrote the changes in a file I’m calling Style Sheet for this particular publisher. Keep in mind that each publishing house will differ in how they like things done. I’m not talking about fonts and line spacing. You can find that info in their submission guidelines. So what do I mean? Let’s take a look at my notes.

Remember when you used to please your teacher back in your school days? Each editor has his or her pet peeves. Learn them.

woman computer

Here are some preferences for my story editor:

Use he said/she said instead of too many action character tags. [Note: my other publisher prefers just the reverse.]

Don’t use “her eyes rounded/bulged/widened” unless your character is looking at someone else. Or say, she felt her eyes widen. [I don’t particularly agree with this, but hey, I aim to please.]

Be wary of making the amateur sleuth appear too nosy.

Avoid phrases like sounds “infiltrated her ears.” Use “she heard.”

Watch “his eyes glittered, blazed, darkened,” and let the dialogue speak for itself instead.

Don’t use Publix or Home Depot. Use supermarket or hardware store.

writer pencil

Now along comes the copyeditor. What sorts of things does she point out?

Capitalize wine types, i.e. Chardonnay [Again, another publisher might not do this.]
It’s a to-do list, not a To-Do list.
Sink into her bed, not onto her bed.
Seasons are not capitalized, i.e. fresh scent of spring, not Spring.
It’s caller I.D., not Caller I.D.
Uh-oh, not Uh, oh. [Again, my other publisher would do it the second way.]

These should be one word rather than two words or hyphenated:
Babysit, Checkout time, Coffeemaker, Doorbell, Doorknob, Fairyland, Hairbrush, Kindhearted, Lampposts, Midair, Peephole, Semisweet, Signposts, Timepiece, Townhouse, Windowsill, Workhorse, Wristwatch.

This should be hyphenated:
Bang-up job, Blow-dried her customer’s hair, Blow-out (as in, cut and blow-out), Boarded-up opening, Bottled-up rage, Cobalt-blue, Community-minded, Cross-referencing, Crime-solving skills, Class-action lawsuit, Crowd-buster, Deep-set eyes, First-timer, Freeze-dried foods, Going-away party, Good-quality wood, Hang-ups, Hard-boiled eggs, Heavy-duty belt, Heavy-set guy, High-rise, Higher-paying, Hurricane-force life, Hurricane-impact windows, Kettle-shaped clock, King-size bed, Last-minute problems, Late-afternoon air, Less-traveled, Lesser-known, Loose-fitting, Miles-long trail, Much-needed break, Next-door neighbor, Non-profit, Older-era movie star, Open-air entertainment, Orange-colored sport coat, Pet-grooming service, Plus-size lady, Put-down (as in, giving a put-down), Ranch-style house, Red-painted fingernails, Second-degree misdemeanor, Second-floor balcony, Short-staffed, Shoulder-length, Somber-faced, Stick-straight hair, Strike-out (as in, another strike-out), Thank-you notes, Three-tiered confection, Wheat-colored hair, Work-related, Wood-planked dance floor.

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I’ve printed these out so I can keep them by my side during subsequent drafts or revisions. It helps to know how your publishing house likes things done. You can disagree with suggested changes if they would alter your voice. Plus sometimes copy editors make mistakes. When this happens, point out that the original way stands and perhaps include evidence. For example, one copy editor once changed I-95 to Interstate Ninety-Five. I pointed out that no one here refers to it that way. I-95 stood its ground. In another case, the editor misspelled the name of a car model. I sent back a copy of an ad with the correct spelling. For the most part, though, by making many of these desired word or phrase choices early on, you’ll both be happier.

Self-Editing Software

Recently I did a second read-through of Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series. I’d already done a pass for line editing, so I hoped this one would be my last in a sweep for smoothness and repetitions I might have missed. I ended up knocking off 17 pages worth of prose. Oh, no. Did this mean I’d have to read all 460 pages again? I’m too close to the story. It’ll have to be put aside for a month or more, and I’d lose valuable time when I could be submitting it.

While I pondered whether to consider submission now or not, I decided I’d better check for overusage of the word “just”, one of my favorite modifiers.

Uh, oh. I used the word “just” 135 times. This included such words as “adjusted” and “justice of the peace” so I ignored those instances. But on more than one page, I had used “just” twice.

Maybe there were more words like that one. I remembered bookmarking a site online that other authors recommended. It concerned a self-editing program for writers that would pick out problem areas like this, so I downloaded the free trial at http://www.smart-edit.com.

Whoa, my eyes popped at the results. The word “just” wasn’t my only debacle. I used “when” 256 times, “while” 182 times, “like” 235 times, “down” 210 times. Really? Even the word “forward” came up 82 times.

Clearly, more polishing was in order. The program analyzed my sentence starters. I begin sentences with “A” 227 times, “And” 110 times, and “But” 111 times. We all know lots of sentences start with “The”. Mine did so for 545 times. Oh, dear. I’d better pay more attention to varying my sentence structure. How did my earlier novels get by without this amazing software?

Then the program listed all the proper nouns used in the story. I discovered two different spellings for my hero’s homeworld: Agoora and Agora. I made that correction and moved on.

The software also listed all the curse words used in my story. Okay, I didn’t have very many and they weren’t that bad. They can stand, but if you want your work to be a PG rating, this task can be helpful.

It also points out clichés that you use. I didn’t realize I’d said “hands on” 11 times throughout the story. That might not seem like much for a 101,763 word novel, but I hadn’t realized I favored the phrase—as in the heroine puts her “hands on” her hips too many times. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many clichés and some I’d written on purpose so those other ones were okay to leave in.

Next up in the program comes misused words, such as accept/except, anxious/eager, any more/anymore. Hmm, would she be anxious for his approval, or eager for it?

Your dialogue tags don’t escape scrutiny, either. I used “said” 150 times and “asked” 54 times. There are occasions where a character bellows or shouts, but a singular usage in this instance might be acceptable. I’ll take another look to see if the dialogue can stand by itself.

Finally, suspect punctuation like exclamation marks are pointed out along with the story locations where you use them.

Amazed by the value of this program, I decided to sweep it by the non-Marla mystery I’ve been working on. Oh, my. Did I realize I’d used the phrase “my cell phone” 23 times in this 67,000 word manuscript? Yes, the program checks for repeated phrases along with repeated words. Speaking of the latter, favored words in this story were “could”, “like”, “didn’t”, and “time,” among others.

“Hands on” is another favorite cliché of mine is this story, too. I’d better watch out for that phrase hereafter.

Regarding punctuation, I had an extra space before an emdash. Imagine that?

I only ran the free trial for this program. The fully realized version allows you to set customized parameters. For $49.95, you can buy a license to use the program on your desktop and laptop computers running Windows. I don’t have any writing or story construction software, but this program seems essential. You might want to give it a try for yourself. http://www.smart-edit.com

Now I have more work to do. The book I thought was finished is not done. I had not polished it to perfection as I’d thought. My editor will have to wait weeks more for me to turn in this manuscript, but it’s a service to readers to make it the best it can be.

What writing tools do you use that may be helpful to other writers?

Polishing to Perfection

What’s wrong with this passage? When I am doing a final read-through of a manuscript prior to submission, I am looking for inconsistencies and repetitions. Can you detect what needs to be changed here:

“Good work.” Zohar slapped his shoulder. “Let’s get our gear and move out, people, before anything else surprises us.”

As his team hustled to obey, Zohar conferred with their allies. Magnor overheard him telling them to return home and assess the results. [Sentence removed due to series spoiler]

“What about the souls turned by those creatures?” asked a colonel from a foreign nation’s army.

Yaron stepped forward. “We’re working on a solution. Once our new cruiser arrives, I can synthesize and test the compound I’ve been refining as an antidote. In the meantime, help us spread the word that a pandemic virus is affecting people. This will explain any strange behavior.”

Zohar grasped his shoulder. “You have discovered a cure for the confounding spell?”

“I believe so, rageesh.”

Nira bustled toward them, her face covered in sweat and grime. Tear tracks ran down her cheeks. “The earthquakes are getting worse. We need to reach the mountain, or Loki might still win.”

“How’s Edith?” At Nira’s sad shake of the head, Zohar patted her shoulder. “I am sorry. She was a loyal friend.” He turned to the assembled crowd and raised his arms. “Listen, people, we thank you for your assistance this day. You’ve kept your word to join us in this battle, and we’ve been triumphant because of you. We’ll carry on from here, but know that you have our everlasting gratitude.”

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So what needs fixing this time? The first thing that jumped out at me is that I use the word “shoulder” three times:

Zohar slapped his shoulder
Zohar grasped his shoulder
Zohar patted her shoulder.

Oops! I kept the first one, and changed the second one to “Zohar’s eyebrows raised”. In the third one, Zohar pats her arm instead of her shoulder.

Whoops again. In the last paragraph, Zohar raises his arms. Too much repetition with “arm” and “raise”. This phrase gets deleted.

Then I note he says “people” twice. The second one becomes “everyone.” But now I have “everlasting gratitude”. Too many words start with “ever”. The second term becomes “eternal.” Here is the revised passage with these changes.

“Good work.” Zohar slapped his shoulder. “Let’s get our gear and move out, people, before anything else surprises us.”

As his team hustled to obey, Zohar conferred with their allies. Magnor overheard him telling them to return home and assess the results. [Sentence removed due to series spoiler]

“What about the souls turned by those creatures?” asked a colonel from a foreign nation’s army.

Yaron stepped forward. “We’re working on a solution. Once our new cruiser arrives, I can synthesize and test the compound I’ve been refining as an antidote. In the meantime, help us spread the word that a pandemic virus is affecting people. This will explain any strange behavior.”

Zohar’s eyebrows raised. “You have discovered a cure for the confounding spell?”

“I believe so, rageesh.”

Nira bustled toward them, her face covered in sweat and grime. Tear tracks ran down her cheeks. “The earthquakes are getting worse. We need to reach the mountain, or Loki might still win.”

“How’s Edith?” At Nira’s sad shake of the head, Zohar patted her arm. “I am sorry. She was a loyal friend.” He turned to the assembled crowd. “Listen, everyone, we thank you for your assistance this day. You’ve kept your word to join us in this battle, and we’ve been triumphant because of you. We’ll carry on from here, but know that you have our eternal gratitude.”

What else would you do?

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers by Nancy J. Cohen

Periodically, I’ll post these self-editing tips after updating them. I am involved in my own revisions at the moment for Warrior Lord, book #3 in my Drift Lords series. This means two read-throughs. The first round is for line editing and catching repetitions. The second round is to read for smoothness, final word tweaks, and consistency. Then I’ll send it in.
woman computer
When I get the marked up version from my editor back, I am always appalled at the number of things I still want to change. This proves revisions are never done. You have to call a halt when you feel you’ve done your best. So what should you do during your self-edits? Use these rules as a guideline.

Have an identifiable main character. With multiple viewpoints, you run the risk of detaching your reader unless you go into deep viewpoint with each switch. Have one main character with whom we can identify and cheer on, otherwise why should we care what happens?

Make your protagonist likeable. Have you watched TV shows where none of the people appeal to you? Would you continue watching it? Even if you employ an anti-hero in your story, give him a reason for his anti-social behavior. He has to be redeemable or sympathetic in some way.

Motivate your characters with clear goals. If they don’t care what’s happening, why should your reader? Make sure your character’s goals are obvious up front. Why is this important to him? What is he doing to make it happen? What’s stopping him? What stakes are involved?

Invest your characters with attitude to give them a distinctive personality.
NO: I’m fine, thanks. YES: You really wanna know? OR: It’s none of your business, dude.

Keep description within the viewpoint of your character
. Similes and metaphors should be within her 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 new paragraph with a space break when you switch heads.

Avoid flashbacks and backstory. This is probably the most common mistake of newbie writers. Leave the past in the past unless it’s important for your current story. Keep the action moving forward. Drop in backstory into dialogue or relate it in brief thoughts during action scenes. Less is better. There’s nothing faster that will disengage your reader and kill the pacing than long passages of backstory or flashbacks suddenly inserted into the middle of a scene.

Show, don’t tell.
Show me your character’s emotions. Don’t tell me about them, or I won’t be engaged as a reader. NO: She felt afraid. YES: Ice gripped her heart. NO: He was angry. YES: He slammed his fist into the door. Physical reactions and nonverbal clues indicate emotions. Without these, you’ve written a cardboard character who I can’t relate to as a reader. Also, don’t have the hero only perform action stunts and hold terse dialogues. Show me how he reacts internally. Introspection is important to helping us relate to him, although paragraph after paragraph of angst can get tiring. Just don’t leave it out or I won’t get a feel for him as a person.

Dialogue should have a purpose. Conversations should advance the plot or reveal character. Know going into a scene what you mean to reveal. If your characters are aimlessly yakking about their love lives or what they’re cooking for dinner, cut the conversation. Don’t ramble. Have a snappy conversation filled with innuendos and hidden meanings. And remember to include your protagonist’s emotional reactions. Also, don’t overuse dialects. Sprinkle in some foreign or slang terms to give the flavor without making sentences hard to pronounce.

Beware of talking heads.
Lines of dialogue need to be broken up by character tags, such as sensory descriptions or action. Remember to include emotional reactions and introspection so we can see what’s preying on your character’s mind.

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. Use action as an identifier and bring in the five senses whenever possible. NO: “I suppose you’re right,” she said. YES: “I agree.” Her nape prickled as though Grace’s words had prophetic power.

Avoid long paragraphs of exposition. Show us the scene unfolding from the character’s viewpoint. Otherwise, do these passages really need to be there? Make the reader feel what your hero feels. Don’t just tell us what’s going on.

Tighten your sentence structure by replacing phrases with precise words. NO: the light of the boat YES: the boat’s light NO: He ran down by the terrace and out toward the lake. YES: He sped past the terrace toward the lake.

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.

Dangling Participles. Learn by example: 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.

Gerunds. 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.

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. Also avoid unnecessary phrases such as she realized, she figured, he decided, he watched, he thought.

Be realistic about meal and work hours.

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.

Avoid negatives. NO: He would not wait any longer if she didn’t appear. YES: He’d leave if she failed to show up.

Delete redundancies. NO: sat down YES: sat NO: He thought to himself YES: He thought. BETTER: eliminate he thought if you’re in his viewpoint.

Check for repetitions: Most of us subconsciously overuse a favorite word. Be alert for these when you read through your manuscript. (I just counted how many times I use the word “just” here, and it’s 9 times. I’m guilty!) 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.

Eliminate the word “that” where not needed.

Remove qualifiers that weaken your prose, 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.

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.

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 and usage: their or they’re; it’s or its; lay or lie; you’re or your. This is fundamental, and there is no excuse for getting these wrong.

Use descriptive detail only when it enhances your story. Too much description can slow pacing and lose the reader’s interest. However, whenever you describe a scene, remember to use the five senses. If you want to engage the reader, include specific sensory details.

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 (and he’s Japanese, so this fits the frame of reference).

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.

And speaking of strong endings, this concludes my self-editing tips. It helps if you put aside your work for several weeks after completing the initial draft. Coming back to it with a fresh perspective will allow you to catch things that might otherwise slip by. Working off a hard copy and reading dialogue aloud are other techniques to use. You want to polish your manuscript until it figuratively sparkles and then move on to the next story.

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When Are Revisions Done?

Newbie writers often ask, how do you know when to stop revising and send in the work? There’s no easy answer as each of us goes through our own self-editing process. Revisions are never done. Every time you read through your work, more things pop up to fix. So when should you quit? When the story is as good as you can make it for now, and you’ll plotz if you have to go through it one more time. But all is not lost. You’ll get another chance to make corrections and tweak your phrasing during the editing phase.

Finishing your manuscript and doing second or third drafts is only part of the equation. Once your story is finished for good, you need to go back to your synopsis. Why? The story probably branched out in new directions since you began, and you need to update this important marketing tool.

You should also check through the submission guidelines and format your work accordingly. Different publishers prefer different fonts and line spacing. So get it right before you submit anything.

Check your front and back end materials to make sure everything is there. Besides the title page, in the front may go any endorsements you’ve gathered, dedications and acknowledgements, world building details like maps or casts of characters. At the end go your biography, author’s note if any, and any bonus materials like recipes in a culinary cozy. Again, see if your publisher requires anything else.

Once you have accomplished all these tasks, then you are ready to submit. Does the publisher want you to attach any ancillary materials, like cover art sheets or permissions or cover copy blurbs? This may come before or after a sale. Be certain you have these forms filled out.

Then write your cover letter and send the submission.

Here’s a quick checklist:

· Proofread your final draft for timeline consistency, character continuity, repetitions, word choices, spelling.
· Verify any research as necessary.
· Check all loose ends to make sure you’ve solved them by the story’s finale. You may want to review your plotting notes to see if you have left anything out.
· If a series, include a hook for the next story.
· Write a reader discussion guide during your final draft.
· Jot down blog topics for your blog tour.
· Rewrite your synopsis to match the finished story.
· Format your manuscript according to publisher guidelines.
· Prepare requested ancillary materials to attach with your submission.
· Submit your work and cross your fingers.

I am in this phase now which is why I’m not blogging too often, posting on FB, etc. Getting the book done amidst the holiday frenzy is taking my total concentration. I’ve gone through the manuscript, so now I have to format it to the publisher’s guidelines and fill out the required forms. Then I’ll send my baby out into the world.

Is there anything you would add to this checklist?

Pardon Me, But I Misspoke (Or Miswrote)

Pardon Me, But I Misspoke (Or Miswrote…Whatever!)

By Joanna Campbell Slan

“In cases of legitimate rape…”      JSlanBook

By now, you’re probably sick of hearing that phrase by Todd Akin, the State Representative from Missouri who’s running for Senator. As many commentators observed, “Exactly what constitutes ‘legitimate’ rape? How does that differ from any other kind of rape?”

Just one little misbegotten adjective and kaboom! A career goes up in smoke. It can hardly seem fair. But it happens. At the very least, a misplaced word or phrase can both misleading and occasionally hilarious. For example, there’s the classic: “The girl jumped into the swimming pool with the red hair.”

I’ve never seen a swimming pool with red hair. Have you?

Or the sign on the bus in Decatur, Illinois. The letter “L” had fallen off the sign and wasn’t replaced. Riders in that city availed themselves of the “Decatur Pubic Transit System.”

Those of us who write for a living are not impervious to silly mistakes. In fact, the sheer number of words we plop down practically guarantees we’ll create more than our share of guffaws.

One author friend complained about her new editor. “That woman is driving me nuts! She keeps circling what she calls ‘redundancies.’ When I wrote, ‘She clapped her hands,’ that stupid editor said, ‘What else would she clap?’”

Frankly, I think the editor had a point. Unless you’re penning a book about Flipper, the trained porpoise, your protagonist can only clap her hands, so why mention her appendages at all?

On occasion, dear Brutus, the fault actually starts with our fingers. The fourth and pink fingers are notoriously weaker than their counterparts. The position of frequently used letters on the keyboard can confound even the most seasoned writer. Here’s a list of words often misspelled as a result of ergonomic challenges: http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/demons.html All I can say is, thank goodness for the self-correcting function. Otherwise, I would be stuck with “t-e-h” rather than “t-h-e.”

Sometimes we commit mental slip ups. I recently inserted the word “intact” while referencing an “intake” form. I also confess to writing “meddle” instead of “mettle,” as in “testing one’s mettle.” (Boy, is my face red as I admit that!)

Since I’m from the South, I also fall victim to “Southernisms,” phrases I’ve misheard or misunderstood since childhood. Thus, “widder woman” is a mispronunciation of the redundancy “widow woman.” And “conniption fit” is another doubly unnecessary phrase, because anyone who has a “conniption” has by definition had a “fit.” Whereas the oft lamented “a hard row to tow” was actually not what it seemed at all! What people intended to say was, “A hard row to hoe.” Who knew?

Beyond all these goofs, there lurks another type of problem: woeful ignorance. No matter how hard you work to perfect your writing, mistakes will happen. Especially when there’s research involved. Let’s face it, you can’t know what you don’t know! That explains why I erred by putting a “mockingbird” in England while writing my new book, Death of a Schoolgirl. You see, I lived in England for a year and I could have sworn on a stack of Bibles that while I was there I had heard the song of a mockingbird. Turns out, I must have been wrong.

After a sharp-eyed reader spotted my mistake, I confessed my error to a friend. She winked at me and said, “Oh, no, Joanna. I’m sure you were right. It must have been one of those rare imported American birds, don’t you think?”

Hmm. I bet it was. In fact, I’m sure of it!

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DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL  (The Jane Eyre Chronicles)

Jane can’t help but fret when a letter arrives from Adèle Varens—Rochester’s ward, currently at boarding school—warning that the girl’s life is in jeopardy. Although it means leaving her young son and invalid husband, and despite never having been to a city of any size, Jane feels strongly compelled to go to London to ensure Adèle’s safety. But almost from the beginning, Jane’s travels don’t go as planned—she is knocked about and robbed, and no one believes that the plain, unassuming Jane could indeed be the wife of a gentleman; even the school superintendent takes her for an errant new teacher. But most shocking to Jane is the discovery that Adèle’s schoolmate has recently passed away under very suspicious circumstances, yet no one appears overly concerned. Taking advantage of the situation, Jane decides to pose as the missing instructor—and soon uncovers several unsavory secrets, which may very well make her the killer’s next target…

BUY at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/ckgs2cn or Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-of-a-schoolgirl-joanna-campbell-slan/1104878528?ean=9780425247747

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Joanna Campbell SlanJoanna Campbell Slan is the author of more than twenty books. (Maybe. She’s worse at counting than she is at identifying birds.) Her most recent work—Death of a Schoolgirl—features Jane Eyre as an amateur detective. Visit Joanna at http://www.JoannaSlan.com or on Facebook http://tinyurl.com/JCSlan