Friday, August 27, 2010

Shout Out to the Support Team

The act of writing is thought of as a solitary occupation. You sit alone, at your computer, day after day, night after night with only your imagination and your words to keep you company. And it is, in a sense, but most of us wouldn't even be able to get there if it weren't for our support teams backing us up and pushing us to do our work.

My support team is my husband. He's my first reader. He's the one who listens patiently while I bounce new ideas off of him. He's the one who keeps the house in order when I can't. Tomorrow is his birthday, and in between my day job, getting my manuscript in shape for submission and helping one of my friends with her wedding, I have no time. No cake. One present that is going to show up late. No card....and he's okay with that.

I'm lucky. I know it. I probably don't tell him that enough, so today is a shout out to him, my support team. And if you have someone like that in your life, take time today to thank that person (or persons) and let them know how much their help means to you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Queries, Queries, Queries

There have been a lot of posts this week about queries: request rates, how to write them, how not to write them. I can't see that I would have anything to add, as I didn't get a 75% request rate like this guy. But this girl thinks that's pretty unrealistic, and I agree.

Ignore the numbers (unless they're zero) and write the best damn book you can and an even better query letter. Need some help?

Nathan Bransford - How to Write a Query Letter
Writer Beware - How to Write a Query Letter

Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gawking Characters

What is a gawking character? I always picture the old cartoon shows. When Bugs Bunny encountered the hot, female robot bunny trap set by Elmer Fudd, his eyes would pop out of his head, the outline of a heart would beat through his chest and his tongue would drop to his knees. But if you want a more technical (and not, in my opinion, as sassy) definition:

A "gawking character" is a narrator who tells the reader what happens in a scene instead of letting the reader experience the action directly. This is called narrator intrusion, and it robs the reader of the full experience, thus distancing him from the story. Inspiration for Writer's, Inc.

A gawking character can ruin a story and is an easy thing to spot. Just look for the words: hear, see, feel, taste and all other variations. Not to say they can never be used, but using them sparingly will boost the quality of your writing. (And do a lot more show, a lot less tell.)

Example of a very bad gawking character:
Jimmy heard the wail of the train whistle as the engine pulled away from the station. He saw Margaret, sitting in the third car next to the window, her broad-rimmed wicker hat with the rose on the front pressed to the glass. Jimmy hated that hat, almost as much as he hated Margaret. He should have been glad she was leaving, yet for some reason, when he could no longer see that stupid hat, he felt sad. He tasted the bitterness of regret on the back of his tongue.

Jimmy managed see, hear, feel and taste all in one short paragraph. No Jimmy, no!

Jimmy's Rewrite:
The train whistle wailed as the engine pulled away from the station. Margaret was on that train, in the third car next to the window, her broad-rimmed wicker hat with the rose on the front pressed to the glass. Jimmy hated that hat, almost as much as he hated Margaret. He should have been glad she was leaving, yet for some reason, when the stupid hat disappeared from view, a weight dropped in his chest. The bitterness of regret washed over his tongue.

Neither one of these excerpts is a work of art, but which one of the two do you think paints a better picture?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

(Not So) Quick Editing Tips

Even when my book was getting rejected, I heard the same things over and over again.
"Because of the quality of your writing."
"It's good, but not right for me."
"This isn't right for me, but I would love to take a look at future works."

A rejection is still a rejection. It hurts, but these hurt a bit less because they all agreed that it was good. It certainly didn't start that way. My first draft was only slightly better than atrocious. A LOT of editing went into it, but these tips below were the first steps to making it good.

That and Just
I tend to use these words quite a bit, and find them in other unpublished works too. Most of the time, they are unnecessary, but we use them so frequently in conversation, they fall from our mouths into our WIP.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt that bunched up along her thigh.

Do we need it? No.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt bunched up along her thigh.

The sentence is more concise without it. You can do a simple word search and look for "that" and "just". Take them out and reread the sentence. If it still makes sense, leave it out.

On a side note: I do leave these words in dialogue pieces. Since we use them in speech, they add realism to the conversation.

Smirk, Laugh, Smile, Nod, etc.
Kate Schafer Testerman posted a blog entry with a note from an editor "...smirking is less common in the world than it appears to be from reading manuscripts." It is a common pitfall of newbie writers.

Search your manuscript for any of these meaningless actions. When you find one, delete it, or if you need to pause, try to replace it with something more original, like "He drummed his fingers on the table." To me, that provides a better picture of boredom than "He yawned."

Along this same vein are "shooting glances", which Mary of discussed recently as well.

A lot of writers, editors, agents say to get rid of these. For me, yes and no. Pick up HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT and read one page. How many adverbs did you find? Now reread the page and pass over the sentences with adverbs. Did the scene change? Did you feeling you get from the scene change?

I think adverbs have their place, and they really need to be looked at on an individual basis. In our literary arsenal, the adverbs are the grenades. You can still use them, but sparingly, or you'll blow the whole thing up.

He said, She said
I am notorious for this. In my first draft ,every single piece of dialogue has a "he said" or "she said" after it. (I think this may be a surviving remnant from my Arizona Valley Girl days). If there are only two people in the room, you maybe only need it once or twice in the entire conversation. It will be up to your discretion, and your writing buddies will be a good resource. Remove as many as you think you can and ask your critique partners to make note of any conversations that were confusing.

Sentence Structure
"She walked..." "She drove..." "She went..." She. She. She. Identify the paragraphs with the same sentence beginnings and change them. This is honestly the best editing tip I can provide. Because when you start changing these sentences, you think. And when you think, you come up with something far better than before.

She walked to the store.

The cold wind cut through the seams of her jacket as she walked to the store.

Overused Words
In addition to "that" and "just", we all have our personal catch words. We know what they are, and maybe we tell ourselves we don't use them that much. But we do. Search for your words and count them. You might be surprised to find you used the same word over 300 times in your WIP. (or maybe you aren't).

Whatever your words are, change as many as you can. And again, this is a great exercise for adjusting sentence structure. If you can't find a suitable replacement, rework the sentence so the word isn't necessary.

Side note: If you use the thesaurus, be sure to select a word you know. I have a rule when I play Scrabble. If you make a word on the board, you better be able to use it in a sentence. The same goes for your manuscript. If you've never used the word in your life, don't start now.

Do you have any editing tips you follow? Please share them, and if you've already posted them on your blog, send me the link.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Okay...Now What

You wrote a masterpiece, you queried the hell out of it, you managed to snag your dream agent. Your dreams of literary stardom are coming true! Soon your name will be right up there with J.K Rowling's, Dan Brown's and Stephenie Meyer's...right? Wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but not right now.

My novel was on draft four or five before I even let my husband look at it. After he put in his two cents (or more) I made a new draft. Then I submitted a segment to my writer's group, had a manuscript mart session at the Grub Street conference, and made more edits. From my first batch of requests, I got a letter asking for changes. I made those. Now, that I have signed with her, guess what? I made more edits, and although I am new to the process, I would wager there are more to come.

What kinds of changes is she asking for?

1. More world development.
My novel is set in an imagined world, and of course I know everything about it. I made it. If it jumped out of my head and became a real place, I would know where to get the best pizza and the biggest discount on shoes. I would know how to get from point A to point B without directions. I could give you a complete history of the place and tell you exactly who would be coming around the corner at 10:15 am on Saturday.

My readers do not know this. Nor do they need too unless these details are pertinent to the story. But they do need to know enough so they could at least find pizza, even if it isn't the best pizza. As world builders, it is easy to forget that everyone doesn't have GPS into your head, so you need to show them the way.

2. More relationship development
We know in fiction, people fall in love at first sight, run away and elope after three days and live happily ever after. Regardless of how little time it takes our characters to find true love, there still needs to be a reason for it. Why do they connect? What makes them so perfect for each other? (And it has to be more than a hot ass)

3. More character description
I'll admit. I am not a fan of going on and on about every physical detail of my characters. In fact, Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency posted today about not going overboard with description. Well, I go underboard (is that even a word?) She flipped her chocolate brown hair over her shoulder...etc. I just can't bring myself to do it more than a few times. However, in my fight against physical description, my agent envisioned blank faces for half of my characters. That's not good either. So I put in a little more, trying to sneak it in subtlely without having anyone look in a mirror (by the way, don't do that).

3. Cut the Crap
I received my marked up manuscript, thankfully, with more things to add rather than take away... but oh, when I scrolled through the document and saw rows and rows of red lines, sometimes cutting entire paragraphs or pages it was like my wrists had been slashed and my own blood had poured onto my beautifully crafted prose. So many a night had been spent hand-picking each word so the end result would be perfect, and in a moment - they were gone.

What did I do? All I could do. I cut them. I pressed backspace and held down until all of the red lines were gone. I read through the section again, and found the words were completely unnecessary. In one case, cutting the segment made a chapter beginning more compelling. I was excited to read my book again (and folks, I've read it at least a dozen times).

What comes next? How the hell should I know? I'm blogging this as I go through the process, so I'll let you know when I find out.