It’s important when editing your work to detect inconsistencies in word use. As I am revising my backlist titles, I am coming across several of these instances. One way that you can help avoid them in the future is to create a style sheet. Sometimes your publisher does this for you. Or you can note down observations yourself to make sure you follow through during the editing phase.
Here are some examples of items to note:
Two words or single word – town house or townhouse; coffeemaker or coffee maker, nightstand or night stand? If you have different publishers, each one will have their own preferences. But if the editing is up to you, choose one way to list your word(s) and stick to it. Don’t know which one is correct? Look it up in your favorite grammar text. And if both are commonly used, choose the one that suits you and use that one on a consistent basis. Wine types – Chardonnay or chardonnay? I’ve seen this done both ways. Whichever you do, be consistent for all wine varietals. Character names – Chris or Christine? Jan or Janice? In my recent book that I’m editing, I noticed that sometimes I referred to a character by her full first name and at other times by her nickname. This can be confusing for the reader. We’re reading about Jan through several chapters, and then there’s a Janice who shows up. Who’s that? Best to stick with one rendition, unless you happen to be giving the person’s full first and last name together, like in an introduction. Terms of endearment – hon, sweetheart, or babe, as used by a particular character If your guy is always calling the ladies “babe” then don’t have him switch suddenly to another word. It’s part of his characterization to use that one term. Foreign words – chutzpah or chutzpah? Decide if you are going to italicize the foreign word or not, and then be consistent throughout the story. Hyphenated words – hard-boiled eggs or hard boiled eggs; fund-raiser or fundraiser? Again, this can be a publisher choice. If not, look it up to see what’s correct or make your own decision about the hyphen. Whatever your word choices, be consistent as you edit your work. Keeping a style sheet will help you remember which word to use.
When editing your fiction manuscript, one thing you must watch out for are word repetitions. This might be a favorite word you overuse, or it might be a specific word or phrase that you use twice in one paragraph. You want to clean these up so they don’t pull your reader out of the story. Here are a couple of examples: Perish by Pedicure The sergeant smirked, as though he knew all her secrets. “And then?” “Then she called to tell me about the job opening. I offered to put her up at my house, so we could visit while she was here.” “So she arrived on…?” “Friday. I drove directly to the convention hotel so we could check in. That’s when I met Christine Parks for the first time. She brought down the rest of the staff for a preliminary meeting so we could go over the schedule.” “How was her demeanor on this occasion?” “Very much in charge.” Chris wore flashy clothes to attract attention, Marla wanted to add, but she bit her lower lip instead. “Did her behavior seem off-kilter in any manner?” “Not really, and she appeared to be perfectly healthy,” Marla said, anticipating his next question.
<><><> In this passage, note how many times I use the word SO. It is a favorite word of mine in conversation, too. Currently, I’m revising my backlist titles. This book had already been through several rounds of edits at my former publishing house and through my own multiple read-throughs at the time. How come I picked up on this now? Maybe because I’m more aware of this word’s overuse. Whatever the reason, it popped out at me this time.
<><><> Easter Hair Hunt (Work in Progress) “This Fabergé egg belongs in that spot.” Lacey pointed a shaky finger at the case. “Someone must have stolen it and substituted a plastic pink Easter egg in its place.” Marla saw what she meant. Her stomach sank as she realized the significance. Somebody had taken the valuable Fabergé egg and substituted a fake one in its place.
<><><> A software program that will help you pick up on word repetitions is Smart-Edit. Otherwise, you can do a search and find if you’re aware of your foibles in this regard. If not, a close edit of your manuscript may turn them up.
<><><> GIVEAWAY Enter Now to win a Samsung Galaxy Tablet in Booklovers Bench anniversary giveaway.
As your series grows in the number of books, it becomes critically important to keep track of your timelines. This came home to me recently when writing my latest work, tentatively titled Easter Hair Hunt. Hairstylist Marla Vail’s stepdaughter Brianna will be leaving for college soon. I wrote that she was a senior in high school but then realized I’d better check to make sure. The story takes place in March. The last one, Trimmed to Death, took place in October. Brianna was only in the eleventh grade in that story. She wouldn’t have graduated yet. Whoops. I went back and made her a junior for the current WIP. So what sorts of things do you need to keep track of from book to book? Here’s a handy list: Character Ages Character Birthdays Grades for any school-age children Notes on secondary characters regarding their current status Dates for Holidays For Easter Hair Hunt, I determined the holiday would take place in late March. I set Passover a week later. But was this plausible? I looked up dates on the Internet and found this: Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25. Easter is March 23 in 2008 but then Passover is April 20 Easter is March 27 in 2016 but then Passover is April 23 Easter is March 31 in 2024 but then Passover is April 23 I picked one of these dates for Easter in my story and had to remove Passover since it didn’t come until a month later. Marla attends the egg hunt on a Saturday. She celebrates Easter with her interfaith family on Sunday. Monday is her day off, and that’s when she begins her snooping into the latest murder mystery. So for each individual book, you also need to know these factors: Month your story takes place Days of the week for each chapter or scene. Using one of those free calendars you get in the mail might be helpful. Special events you mention in the story that will be coming up, such as a bridal shower for one of Marla’s friends. Here’s an example of my timeline notes forTrimmed to Death: Date: OCTOBER Marla is 38 (BD Feb.). Royal Oaks, her housing development in southwest Palm Haven, is four years old. Dalton is 46 (BD Nov.) Brianna is 16, is in 11th grade as of Sept., and has her driver’s license (BD March). She takes acting classes to help with public speaking, belongs to the drama club and debate team at school. She’s aiming for college in Boston. Mentions a boy named Jason in Trimmed. Jason has an older brother who plays in a band. Tally’s baby Luke is 14 months. (BD Aug. 3). Tally is 38 (BD Aug. 28) Arnie, deli owner and Marla’s friend, is 42. Married to Jill. Robyn, Marla’s neighbor and salon receptionist, is 36 (BD is August) Nicole, a hairstylist at Marla’s salon, spends weekends at her boyfriend Kevin’s place. His parents and siblings live in Miami. Nicole meets them in Trimmed and then Kevin takes her to the Bahamas before Thanksgiving (Nov). What you want to do with each installment is add to this list and then copy and paste it to your next book’s files. It’s easy to get lost unless you keep detailed notes regarding these timelines. You could say the same for family trees. Figuring out who is related to whom gets even more confusing if you don’t draw a diagram or make notes. For the writers out there, what else do you include on these timeline lists? <><><> CLICK TO TWEET
While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.
In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself. The Problem Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there. In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled. As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled. What is being done about it? The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo. What can you do? Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one. <><><> TRIMMED TO DEATH Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, she discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included! Get your copy here: Amazon Print: https://amzn.to/2xXmY57 Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2Kb7oIK Apple Books: https://apple.co/2xWHSRP BN Nook: http://bit.ly/2sH9vcH BN Print: http://bit.ly/2lEUhkB Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death GIVEAWAYS Enter Here Dec. 1 – 15 to win a signed hardcover of Peril by Ponytail along with a DVD of “Author’s Anonymous” and a bag of microwave popcorn. Two Runners-up get either a signed paperback of Shear Murder or Hanging by a Hair. Enter Here Dec. 1 – 18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions. Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions. Why is someone stealing valuable objects? The thief needs money. What for? Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?) Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?) To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money Greed (he’s not getting paid enough) To hide financial losses Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate? Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty. Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players. So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy? What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time? Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity. The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally? Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder. If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book. For more on this topic, see my previous posts on Writing the Mystery CLICK TO TWEET NEWSLETTER I am sending out a newsletter on Tuesday to celebrate my new book release. This will have bonus materials for subscribers only, so sign up now at https://nancyjcohen.com/newsletter/ GIVEAWAY Sept. 17 – 26 Women Sleuth Mysteries Enter Hereto win 30+ Women Sleuth Mysteries, including my book HAIR BRAINED, along with a new eReader. And you get FREE reads just for entering!
This past weekend, writing coach Joyce Sweeney gave a workshop on The Plot Clock at the August meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. You can sign up for a webinar on this topic at her website: http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/. Here’s what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation. Start with this question before you begin plotting: What will happen to your protagonist so he has to change and transform? In a mystery, how will the murder challenge your main character? Act One of this four-act structure includes the Inciting Event. The person who doesn’t want to change meets an event that will cause him to transform. At this stage, he is reluctant to get involved. He fights against the inevitable until something compelling happens that he can’t avoid. This is called the Binding Point. Act Two finds the hero entering the special world of the story. In a mystery, this is when the sleuth commits to solving the crime. But the protagonist hasn’t changed yet and makes mistakes. Things go badly for him. As a writer, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character? He keeps losing ground and struggles to carry on until he reaches a Low Point. This happens in the middle of the book. In Act Three, the hero determines to improve and fight on. By doing the right thing, he gains ground. He may have followed the wrong path and has changed direction. Now he is on the proper trail. But we still need to escalate tension. As the protagonist gets closer to identifying the murderer, the bad guy reacts. More deaths may occur. Attempts on the hero’s life might threaten him. The sleuth is doing better at solving the crime, but the killer is now on to him. For every action the hero makes, the villain makes a countermove. The Turning Point comes out of left field and moves us into Act Four. Nobody could have anticipated this plot twist. It derails the main character so that he questions his purpose and wants to quit, or “turn away.” Here you must raise the stakes so he can’t quit. He rallies and “turns back” to solve the mystery. The Climax comes close to the end. You should be layering in the explanations about the suspects’ motives so the Denouement is short and doesn’t drag on. For more details, visit Joyce’s site at http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/ GIVEAWAY Enter Here Aug 9 – 23 to win a signed advance reading copy of TRIMMED TO DEATH
Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block. “I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”
It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple. “You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?” I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.
What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project. Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate: · Pick your project. · Set your writing goals. · Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside. · Begin on your daily writing quota. · Keep writing until you finish the first draft. Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted. Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time. GIVEAWAY Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklovers Bench.
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.
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.
“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.
p. 274: spice cake mix is not capitalized
p. 275: Yellow Cake Mix is capitalized
Choose one or the other for consistency
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
Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
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.
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.