All posts by Jessica V. Fisette

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled--albeit flawed--characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

Make Every Word Count (Short Stories 101)

Our first anthology, Realm of Magic, will be published soon and that means our second anthology (genre romance) isn’t far behind. Submissions close in just a couple of weeks, and I know some of you are sweating over your word count right now, trying to get it down below that 5,000 mark. If you’ve submitted one major story already, you may even be trying to get it down below that 3,000 mark to qualify. It’s not easy to cut things out of your story, and most people don’t want to delete entire scenes that may be crucial to the plot. You may not be able to remove chunks to make it follow our guidelines, but there’s another thing you can try instead.

Make Every Word Count

One thing I’ve noticed through selecting and editing the submissions: some writers manage to jam-pack a whole lot into a small word count, while others spend a lengthy amount of time on only a couple scenes. If those scenes are where your story takes place, so be it. But if you find yourself having to cut your story down to just a couple scenes for it to qualify, you may want to look at removing filler words and condensing sentences before you throw an entire setting away.

Simple is best. You need to make every word count in a short story. If one sentence kind of explains what’s happening but the second sentence clarifies it, delete the first sentence. Edit the second to make sure its meaning is clear and can stand alone. Here’s an example from the novel I’m working on right now (Reigning Fire—The Aldurian Chronicles Book 3). I’m always going through and removing redundant sentences like this:

“Shut up!” I released the leukos I’d been absorbing. It exploded from my core, hitting him in full force.

It’s a fantasy novel, so ignore the weird words.

These two sentences are repetitive. I can merge them together to keep the intended meaning.

“Shut up!” Leukos exploded from my core, hitting him in full force. 

I could rework that to make it even tighter—and I will later—but I wanted to give you a simple example of how to clear out redundant sentences and shorten your word count.

Another way to shorten word count is to cut out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. When you’re setting a scene or describing a character, get to the point and then move on to the action. Less is more. Use one or two informative helper words versus three or four that don’t really offer anything to the story. Don’t neglect description altogether, but make sure you use words to your advantage here. Many times a bigger word can replace a few small words. That saves your word count for harder to describe situations or scenes that are a bit more complex.

I’m not saying grab your thesaurus and replace every small phrase you can find with a word your reader would have to look up to understand, but be mindful as you’re writing to consider concise ways of expressing yourself.

Prepositions also tend to fill the pages in a story. Training yourself to look for and remove the ones that aren’t needed can give you more room to develop your characters or plot down the road.

Always skip the dull parts. A short story should be well-paced. There is little room for messing around, so if you can develop your characters without having to slow the plot, you’re going to have a much more powerful story in the end.

As you’re editing your story and trying to cut down that word count, go into it with the mindset of making every word count and it will be much easier to let go of parts that might offer poetic prose but offer nothing in way of character or plot progression.

However, something more important to keep in mind: clarity trumps brevity. Your sentences need to be clear before they are concise. You can’t cut out vital information for the sake of staying under that word limit. Get creative. Find a way to clarify your story without spending a long time explaining it.

And remember, for the Writers Unite! Anthologies Series, you have a 5,000 word allowance for your first story with no minimum requirement! We have received stories that range from 200-5,000 words so far, with some poems being a bit under that range. We’ve had some great stories come in through the submissions portal, and eagerly await YOUR submission.

But you have to be a Writers Unite! member to contribute.

Join the Facebook group Writers Unite! here to get the details on submitting to our current anthology: Writers Unite! Facebook Group


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Make Us Cry (How to Write a Love Story We’ll Never Forget)

With our second anthology in the making, I decided it would be a good idea to take a moment to discuss what constitutes a powerful story in our eyes. There have been so many great submissions already. I can say with certainty that our Romance anthology will be a strong and worthy sequel to our Fantasy Anthology, Realm of Magic, releasing August 1st.

Make Every Word Count-2

But if you’re not familiar with romance stories, or you’re not sure how to write your story to be a memorable favorite of the judges, let me explain the things that are gripping us so far.

We want passion. It’s romance, after all, and we are expecting to feel . . . a lot. Many have made us cry so far, some through happiness, some through sadness. Some have made us sit on the edges of our seats while we worried if the characters would find their way back to each other. These stories are powerful, and we won’t forget them any time soon.

I can’t help but consider a quote from one of the most passionate love stories I know. large

When it comes to romance, this about covers it. Take us on an adventure. Up the intensity. Add danger. Make us care about the characters. Make us feel the love between them. Let that love consume us. Make us cry.

It could be the rich history between two lovers, the intense connection they share after only moments together, or the numerous obstacles between them, but something has to pull us in and make us want to find out what happens next.

It could be the final moments between a couple as one says goodbye to his terminally ill lover.

Make those last words epic.

Or the shock and relief that floods over the protagonist as her husband walks through the doors of their home, proving he wasn’t in the fatal accident, after all.

Make their reunion put all other reunions to shame. Nothing past this moment matters to your characters. And the same should go for us.

Pick a heart-wrenching scenario, and play it to the hilt. Upping the stakes in this genre can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a useful tool in pulling your readers in and making them feel the intensity of the moment. If you don’t feel it, chances are neither will we, and neither will your future readers.

Is your story a happier one between two characters just starting to fall in love? That’s great. Intensify those feelings between them until we’re convinced they’re soul mates. If the love is real, your story will also be real.

Awesome job to the authors who have made us laugh, cry, panic, or smile. We can’t wait to read more, and we are excited to see this second anthology come to fruition.

Questions about our WU! Anthology and how to submit? Comment below.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Consistency is Key (The Self-Editing Guide Part 10)

Consistency is Key. We’ve all heard this bit of sage advice at least once in our lives—probably more—but you might be wondering how it pertains to writing, or even self-editing, for that matter. Fortunately, these wise words can be applied to many aspects of life, including the art of creating worlds.

You want your readers to trust you. You want them to believe your words and accept your world while they are immersed in it. Otherwise, they may not experience it the way you hope they will. There has to be a touch of reality in your creation, regardless of the genre (even fantasy and science-fiction worlds will probably have some sort of explanation for why things work the way they do). One way to instill that believability, is by keeping your story consistent. Even the most cunning and intriguing lies start to unravel when the teller doesn’t keep to his original story. When people find holes in your story, they start to feel disconnected and duped.

Here are a few things to consider and look for when reading over your novel for consistency:

DESCRIPTION: When describing your world or its inhabitants, it’s important to keep notes so you can remember the details when referring to them again later. Your readers get a visual when reading about your character stumbling through a giant academy that was once an ancient castle, and if later you describe the structure, its materials, or even its history differently, you run the risk of putting your reader off and giving the impression that you threw the story together with little consideration for the mechanics of it all.

The same can be said for describing your character as having red hair and a button nose in one scene, and then later mentioning her raven black locks with a long, pointy nose in another without having any significant or bizarre events that would explain such a transformation. And as Deb, our fellow Writers Unite! admin, has said once or twice, no description is still a description. If you don’t describe your main character in the first scene or two, your reader will fill in the blanks in their heads. So it might do more harm than good to suddenly take the time in the middle of the story to describe him or her because the reader might disconnect from the character. They’d imagined him or her one way for hours, but now you’re telling them the character looks another way. Be consistent. Make descriptions early on and stick to them. That way, your reader can get lost in the world you’ve built for them.

CHARACTER PERSONALITY: Your characters’ personalities are part of what drives the story forward and creates tension for your readers. The characters should come alive in the readers’ minds and feel like a real person. One way to destroy any chance of that happening is to be inconsistent with their personalities. If one moment Jane Doe reacts peacefully and calm to a rather serious situation, and then in another she panics and has to be counseled, the readers are going to wonder why her personality has changed so much with no significant events to explain the transition. You can’t let plot decide how your characters react to something. You can’t decide that the female protagonist needs to be swooned by the male protagonist so she should act weak and needy when he’s around or available to swoop in and save her, but then have her be a total badass when he’s not—all because you want her to end up falling for him in the end. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither should your stories. Decide early on how your characters will handle tragedy, and stick to that. Whatever you throw their way, consider their reaction, depending on their level of tolerance, their limits on stress, their overall development, and then have them respond accordingly.

PLOT: The number one thing many readers will notice is a hole in your story. Plot holes are sometimes difficult to catch, and often times, I read books where the author left one or two and I’m forced to ignore it and continue reading if I want to enjoy the book. But I also know as a writer that they’ve probably combed through that book three or four times fixing the plot holes they did find, and this finished product is what we are left with after most were taken out.

Sadly, many readers aren’t so forgiving when they find a plot hole. Some even look for them for pure entertainment—and with good reason. Have you ever looked up your favorite television series online to see what others were saying about the latest episode and stumbled across a fresh list of plot holes just published on a fan site? And as you read through, did it change your opinion of the episode? Things you hadn’t even noticed were inconsistent, now stood out like neon signs. One rule the writers had set in stone in season one was now being trampled on in season three. That is how a reader feels when they become immersed in your world, and then your story starts to unravel and contradict itself. This is a result of poor planning on the writer’s part, and it can be avoided.

Even if you prefer to write without outlining your story first, which is perfectly acceptable, you need to at least write a short synopsis of how a few things work in your world. It can be a short story, it can be a paragraph of pure telling, it can be anything you want. But you need to organize the thoughts spinning around in your head before you can get it all out on paper. It takes most of us days, weeks, and even months to get it all written, and by then it isn’t so fresh in your mind. Some vital things may get lost by the time you get to that point if you don’t have something to refer to. And when you’re done writing your story, you need to comb through it with an editor’s eye, searching for any inconsistencies.

Event Dates, Times, Etc.: This may seem insignificant, but it is one of the little things that stand out the most when a reader is experiencing your world for the first time. Take your story seriously. Create a world with consistent time, and make sure the hours pass at a realistic rate. If you’re writing a science-fiction or fantasy novel and time passes differently in your world, let your reader know. But make sure you stick to that new law of nature and make it believable. If you have a huge event coming up in three days’ time, don’t write only one days’ worth of plot and then have day three pop up out of nowhere. You have to follow your own rules before you can expect your reader to accept them.

One of the most important aspects of successful storytelling is consistency. The best way to make sure your story is just that, is to write a solid background—whether in paragraph or list form, whether you draw your characters or find pictures to describe on Google, find a point of reference and return to it when needed. Follow this advice, and I can guarantee your story will be much more enjoyable.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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The Garlic Plight: Less is More (The Self-Editing Guide Part 9)

Imagine you are making your favorite dish for someone really special. There’s this certain ingredient called for in the recipe (let’s say garlic) that just sets off the meal. You’ve received lots of praise when adding this particular ingredient, and you just know it’s what will win your friend over when he takes that first bite. So you add a dash or two as usual, but that’s not enough. This person is really special, and you want to make sure he can taste the special ingredient. So you keep dashing in the flavor until you’re certain it will stand out above everything else. He will have no choice but to notice it and be impressed now.

However, when he takes that first bite, his eyes bulge and his face twists as he chews. He nods with fervor and gives the thumbs up, but something is off. Is he simply excited over how delicious it is? Surprised, even? He grabs his water and gulps it down before looking at you and asking what you put in it. It’s clear by his expression and timid voice he’s nervous about something. Finally, he admits there’s just this one flavor overriding everything else, and it would be delicious if it wasn’t so strong.

You’re deflated. You tried so hard to impress your friend, but instead of letting the garlic accent the meal, you let it take over and failed tremendously. So, what do you do? You probably vow to avoid adding garlic to any recipe in the future and clean your fridge of the horrid stuff, but is that really the right choice? Had you neglected to add garlic at all, your friend would have eaten a bland meal devoid of the one thing your previous subjects all praised. Would he have finished it? Probably. Would he have remembered it? Probably not.

The Garlic Plight

The key in this scenario is to always remember one three-letter phrase that keeps beautiful or delicious add-ons in check: less is more.

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve noticed how often people bash adverbs. I never even considered writing an article about them because of this bit of advice I usually come across daily:

“Cut all adverbs.”

“Adverbs weaken your narrative.”

“Adverbs are for the amateur writer trying to impress and wow the reader.”

These are all true to some extent. Too many adverbs do weaken your narrative. New writers do go overboard with adverbs because they think it’s a good way to impress the reader. Adverbs do wow the reader.

Yes, I said that. Adverbs wow the reader. Why else do you think they’re so overused now? Much like the analogy of too much garlic, we discovered what works and we went overboard with it. We want to be the best, right? So we do whatever it takes to stand out from other writers. We think, for a moment, that we can add more beautiful adverbs than anyone else and be remembered for our moving prose. But that’s not how it works.

Adverb inclusion is not the key to moving prose—or maybe it is, it’s a matter of opinion just like the garlic—but that doesn’t mean the reader wants to see nothing but adverbs. An adverb is more like a trump card you use when the narrative calls for it. A trump card is not to be used often, and you should exhaust all other outlets before you resort to wasting it. An adverb is your ace in the hole when you want to write something worth remembering . . . something worth quoting.

Here are two examples of times when adverbs were used effectively:

  1. “When we force something to fit where it doesn’t belong, it breaks. When surrounded by people who can’t appreciate our beauty, humans essentially do the same.” —Kayla Krantz
  2. “The heavy ache in my chest suggested that I was simply trying, and failing, to trade one heartbreak for another. While I still waited for my mind to accept the good news and relinquish all the pain it no longer had reason to feel, my stubborn heart tightened its grip on the past, refusing to forget. It happily lapped up this new betrayal, these freshly severed ties to another I’d loved with such devotion. I never would have imagined that in gaining what I thought I’d wanted most, I would lose something of equal importance, finding myself right back where I had begun.” —Jessica V. Fisette

This is my opinion, and as you can see, one of the quotes are written by yours truly. However, Kayla Krantz’s quote has stuck with me for two reasons.

Number one: It’s true. There’s no doubt the reality of these words resonate within me and will continue to do so for days to come.

Number two: That adverb cannot be removed.

Every time I think back to this quote, I think of the adverb. The editor in me tries so hard to remove it, but it doesn’t read the same. And the writer/poet in me smiles because I can’t take it out. Without that adverb, the entire quote loses something—it loses a huge part of what makes it memorable.

I had planned to write an article on why adverbs are bad, but I have to admit this quote changed my mind. Then, I remembered an ad I created a while back for my upcoming release featuring the second quote, and again, tried to reread the quote without simply and happily. The intended meaning/effect is lost.

But one thing I have to point out is how much Kayla and I both try to avoid overusing adverbs. The reason the quotes aren’t filled with five adverbs to every verb is because we KNOW less is more. The adverbs that made the cut were carefully selected and strategically placed. There was a time I would have added multiple adverbs to that quote, and considering how old it is and how many times I’ve edited it, there were probably a few more that met an untimely demise as I honed my skills as a writer.

So remember, less is more. Don’t purposely choose a weak verb so you can spice it up with an adverb. Don’t run to the thesaurus so you can find all the different ways to exchange sprinted for speedily, hastily, carelessly ran or any other combination of a weak verb with multiple adverbs chasing after it. Sprinted is always more exciting than ran, no matter how many pretty helpers you tack on. But don’t neglect them altogether. Adding a strategic amount of adverbs to your narrative can help it feel well-rounded and read smoother.

How do you handle adverbs? Are you a fan of using them to achieve poetic prose, or does the very sight make your editor’s eye twitch? We’re interested in hearing your take on the topic in the comments!


FIRST QUOTE FROM KAYLA KRANTZ’S RITUALS OF THE NIGHT SERIES:

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SECOND QUOTE FROM THE ALDURIAN CHRONICLES:

Trilogy


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Reflections (Guest Article by Mark Mackey)

To start this off, in 2009, I had no intention of writing books. I was more interested in trying to forge a career in screenwriting.

I made a short, silent film—a task in itself. I had to search down actors/actresses for it and started off with other students—most of whom said not a chance. This led to using the school’s, I think, casting manager—I don’t really remember her exact title anymore—to get local professional actresses/actor (two women, one male) for it.

By far the easiest aspect of this, the rehearsals, which always took place in the front lobby of the school. Hardest, filming—silent film cameras were used.

The reason behind this, the school had this thing in which they wanted the students to start off creating films the old-fashioned way before moving on to more high-tech digital cameras and sound.

After its completion, time was spent in a darkened classroom slicing the video apart, editing out the unusable parts, and using a specialized tape to put it all together in order to make it comprehensible (it was filmed the old-fashioned way on film strips). Often times, more than not, I had to ask the other students in there for assistance, which they had no difficulty providing.

One last problem with this—aside from getting it put onto DVD’s to provide copies to the actresses/actor—was Walgreens and the use of their camera department. Frustrating it was, they had this policy in which they refused to do it over copyright issues, and it took a while to get this resolved.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time rambling on about this specific experience, only to say I finished the film to personal satisfaction.

In 2010, after writing a screenplay based on a vampire character I came up with a couple of years earlier for a class, Genres in Screenwriting (Vampires), I came up with the idea of changing it into a novel, which is now Maureen: A Vampire Tale (Special Edition). Back then (in 2010), vampires didn’t seem as tired as they are now, but I could be wrong about this.

During this time, I became aware of the whole concept of self-publishing and decided on exploring this route, since querying screenplay agents/companies didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Neither were the few screenplay contests I entered—even though I won a couple.

This was rough going in the beginning, as the paperbacks of Maureen continuously kept being rejected by Createspace due to incorrect format.

Another difficulty I saw with this, the print kept being way too small to read.

Yet a second problem, which popped up during and still does, covers. Often times, I’d get a message which stated, “the cover is unacceptable and needs to be corrected,” and caused nothing but a frustrated headache for me and probably the independent cover artist who had to waste their time in making the corrections to work.

After a long while of suffering horrible frustration over this, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, as Createspace finally pointed out the solution to this problem. The way they said to handle it, use one of their pre-made templates. Problem solved, and I published Maureen twice now, since both the old, first version, and the newer, final version are both available on Amazon, and I think maybe other places.

Up until a few years ago, I used to think writing really long books was such a smart idea.  Not so anymore. The specific reason I discovered this, reading it word by word isn’t such an easy task. The truth of the matter is, it’s downright frustrating and time-consuming.

Let’s talk about another problem I see with writing, the whole concept of NANO month/camp NANO. When I first tried this out, I came out on top, but then the wins kept piling up. Eventually, this sort of got out of control and I kept asking myself: should I do the next one? Yet I continued to do it—each time since ending up with the same results. I keep telling myself this will be the last one yet I continue on to do other monthly word writing challenges as well. I don’t know, maybe I’ll sit the next NANO out.

As a final thought to this, I suppose one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to publish any of the NANO projects has to do with something which has come to my attention over the past couple years. Book piracy. I discovered I’m not immune to this while searching out my name for some information.

 

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don’ts (The Self-Editing Guide Part 8)

Dialogue is an important thing in story-telling. How your character interacts with their friends, family, and even complete strangers tells a lot about his or her personality and conveys information that might not be revealed otherwise. How you describe that dialogue has a huge impact on your audience’s experience while reading your novel. So should you replace your dialogue tags with descriptive words and throw in a few adverbs? Not exactly. If you want to truly immerse your readers in your story, you’re better off doing the exact opposite.

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don'ts

I like to write in deep point-of-view, which means my goal is to make the words fall away. I don’t just want the readers to see the story unfold before their eyes, I want them to become part of the story. I want them to be in the middle of the action, not just watching from the sidelines. I want them to become the main character—to fight the battle and feel the pain as the sword goes in. So when I’m writing dialogue, any reminders that my audience is reading a story has to go.

Dialogue tags might be one of the most redundant aspects of writing. You add quotations around the spoken passage, and then you end it with he said or something similar to state who is speaking. But there are better ways to clarify this. Here are a couple examples of using a dialogue tag and how to get away with removing it.

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked. 

How are you feeling today?” Sarah stepped closer and pressed her hand to my forehead. 

The first one is a classic example of a dialogue tag. The second one removes the uneccessary phrase, clarifies who is speaking by the action that takes place, and shows the characters interacting in other ways as well. The second part of sentence two eliminates the need for tagging and that’s a good thing. Since it is a classic example, anything remotely close to she said or he asked tends to get skimmed over by readers. They’ve seen it more than enough in other novels. In this way, you’re still offering valuable content to your audience while keeping them from being confused on who is speaking.

Some people like to include both in their writing:

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked, stepping closer and pressing her hand to my forehead.

But this is even more redundant, since it can be reworded like the second example where the action alone states who is speaking. And, as we covered in the last article, -ING verbs slow down the narrative. If this is supposed to be a fast-paced scene, you’re going to want to drop those -ING verbs and keep the sentences direct and to the point.

So, again, it’s best to just use an action tag to clarify who is speaking. However, if the characters are speaking for a long period of time, you won’t be able to come up with an action for every line—and you shouldn’t try. You need to let the characters’ words take the spotlight in this scenario. That means most times the dialogue needs to stand alone. If there are only two people speaking, then character one will speak first, then character two, and then it starts over. In this case, you can go a few lines without reiterating who is speaking. The reader will have no problem keeping up, as long as it isn’t too drastic of a gap. A brief action tag after a few exchanges can keep the reader on track and immersed in your story. However, if they have to go back to the beginning of the conversation and start over just to figure out who is speaking toward the end, you’ve lost the intended effect. So don’t go overboard. As I often say, a healthy balance is key.

Another issue I see often is when writers choose to use dialogue tags and they use them incorrectly.

“That was funny,” Sarah laughed.

This is actually an action tag formatted wrong. NOT a dialogue tag. However, it is set up as if laugh is replacing said. That means Sarah is laughing out the phrase, “That was funny.” This happens often with various words such as laughed, sighed, yawned, coughed, cried, etc. This is the correct way to write it:

“That was funny.” Sarah laughed. 

In this example, Sarah speaks, and then she laughs. Makes sense, right? Often times it’s written in an even less plausible way:

“That was funny,” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

There is no doubt about it—this is an action tag. NOT a dialogue tag. You can’t roll your eyes into a series of words—that I’m aware of—so this sentence needs to be reworded as this:

“That was funny.” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

The difference is in whether you separate the text with a comma or a period. Keep this in mind when reading over your work and train yourself to take notice how you write your dialogue. The change in meaning can be tremendous, and it’s best to know exactly what effect your writing has on readers when you’re trying to write convincing dialogue. Incorporate these tips into your story and you will have a better chance at immersing your readers and creating realistic character interactions.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Leaning on -ING Verbs (The Self-Editing Guide Part 7)

Humans are wonderful multi-taskers. We can walk while we talk, eat while we read, and even plan out our upcoming work-in-progress while we perform our daily chores. In some cases, we can even do more than two things at once. Aren’t we breathing while we do these things? Our faces are likely holding an expression that reflects our mood. Our hearts are beating. These are things that are almost always done (unless you’re writing about vampires and there is no heartbeat or breath to take) in conjunction with other things. However, there are some things that simply cannot be done at the same time as other things. You can’t walk while you skip, you can’t yell while you gulp down water, and you certainly can’t stand up while you cross a room. That is why it is harmful to depend on -ING verbs too much when writing.

Leaning on -ING Verbs

An -ING verb used after a comma usually indicates that something is happening at the same time as another thing.

I stood up, walking across the room and opening the door.

Wait, what? The sentence is saying that the -ING verbs walking and opening are happening at the same time the first part of the sentence is happening. So the author is saying the character stood up while walking across the room and opening the door. Is that plausible? No. But you wouldn’t believe how often I come across it both in books I’m editing and books I’m reviewing.

Using -ING is widely believed to soften the narrative a bit, to add a touch of poetic prose to the story. Many authors strive to have a healthy dose of poetic prose in their story, so this mistake is often made with good intentions. However, to engage your readers, your story must have a touch of reality as well. If they’re rolling their eyes, their next step is throwing your book across the room. And in this case, they may even roll their eyes while chucking your book—because that’s somewhat logical if they don’t give a hoot what it knocks over in the process.

Instead, only utilize -ING verbs to indicate an action is happening at the same time as another if it’s something the character can actually accomplish. Otherwise, you can use the phrase and then to connect the two fragments if you don’t want to leave them as two choppy sentences.

I stood up, and then I walked across the room and opened the door. 

In this situation, the character has now accomplished three tasks and no one scrunched their eyebrows or imagined the character doing all three things at once. If you really want to keep the -ING verbs, you can even try this:

I stood up before walking across the room and opening the door.

No commas, and everything works. This is completely okay. However, if you are writing an action scene where your character is in a dire situation, you can set the pace by removing -ING and keeping the text simple, direct, and to the point. This may lose you a few prose points, but if it’s a serious situation, your readers probably aren’t worried about imagery and they likely won’t demand a soft pattern of words. They want to know what happens to the character. They want to be engrossed in the story. Any accidental slowing-down of the narrative during a fast-paced action scene can throw off the pace and lose the effect—as I’ve mentioned in previous articles. Save the soft, flowy narrative for the moments after the action. That gives your readers a breather to recoop after what you put them through.

Most times, I get caught up in writing and I end up finding that I slipped a few illogical ones in there without realizing. It’s a nasty habit I try and fail to break. I, too, want soft, flowy prose in my stories. However, when self-editing, I scan the text for those -ING verbs and I reread the sentence without them. If it sounds bolder and more direct without them, then that’s the way I want to go and I rework the sentence until walking becomes walked, opening becomes opened, and so on.

You won’t want to change every single -ING verb you find, and that’s okay. You also need a healthy dose of balance in your story. But you need to be mindful of this when editing so you can spot the phrases that don’t make sense and fix them. And don’t get discouraged if you find more than you expected. As Earnest Hemingway reminds us:

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Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Spoon-Feeding Your Readers (The Self-Editing Guide Part 6)

When reading a story, we use our imagination to “see” the scene unfold. It is almost as if we are blind and the writer is offering up their eyes for us to look through. But imagine losing your sight at say fifteen. You’ve had so many experiences with this lost sense, so many memories, that you recognize a closing door at just the click of the latch. You know someone is crying or fighting allergies at a mere sniffle. The softer the sound, the more likely they’re trying to conceal it from you. That is why if someone was sitting beside you describing a scene as it unfolded around you, you wouldn’t need them to list every detail. Only the things that can’t be understood without sight would need to be explained. It is almost the same when writing a scene for your readers.

To Prologue or Not to Prologue-2

When you sit down to write out a scene, keep in mind that your readers are not coming into this unprepared. This isn’t the first book they’ve ever read; it’s not the first bit of life they have ever experienced. Your readers are starting your book with a vast amount of past encounters to use as prompts for the information you will put in front of them. Quite rarely have I ever had a reader say I confused them by not listing that the character grabbed the door handle, turned it, pushed the door open, slipped inside, turned around, pushed the door to until it clicked, and then let go of the handle. Haven’t we all opened and closed doors at some point during our lives? You probably do it a few times on a daily basis.  Offering a bit of description to make a scene richer is okay, but overcompensating in fear of losing your readers will only leave them rolling their eyes and wondering if you think they need you to hold their hands through it all.

Instead, focus on what matters. Describe what the reader might not be used to seeing or what they can’t infer on their own. More than likely they’ll be skimming over the stuff I just listed anyway, and you really don’t want your readers to skim even once in your story. You want to make every word count in one way or another. I used to be afraid I would lose my readers if I didn’t list every step in my character’s task, but I had to learn to trust them. A rule of thumb is if it’s boring to you, it’s boring to your readers. So always refer to that when deciding whether to push through writing a scene that feels more endearing than entertaining.

Another aspect of this is emotion. When you show another character’s emotion through the main character’s senses—as in a stray tear, a cleared throat, an almost unnoticed sniffle—you don’t have to follow up with a detailed paragraph. You don’t even have to explain why the character is feeling the way he or she is. If it isn’t an opinion from the main character, you shouldn’t be adding that kind of info anyway (Remember, whether in first or third person POV, you’re looking through the main character’s eyes. Including an outside perspective the main character doesn’t share would be illogical).

Instead, show the emotion, show the reason behind it—if it’s to be revealed at that point in the story—and then move on. Don’t bog your readers down by coming up with new and creative ways to tell them the character is upset. They are readers, and they are human. That means they are used to imagining and experiencing similar scenes and will know what is happening by the first sentence or so.

This is also one of those mistakes that can tremendously slow down a fight scene and leave readers feeling like things are happening in slow motion. You don’t want your reader skimming over a major battle just to get to the outcome. The final battle should be more than satisfying. It should be full of action and relevant detail that pull the reader in, making them eager to turn the page—but only after reading each word.

Now that isn’t to say you should skip over the movements during a fight. This might be the one time you should show every step. The reader needs to visualize how the character gets from point A to point B, and considering they’ve probably never fought against an undead alien or superhuman, they can’t imagine the moves or magic your character will use against him without you walking them through it. List these things or it will feel rushed and unrealistic. However, stopping the scene to add paragraphs of narrative while the character seems to slip into some unshakable reverie will only pause the scene, pull your readers out of the action, and leave them wondering when things will ever move forward. Try showing the character’s emotions instead of having her speculate the internal battle she’s experiencing.

If you want to write a book your readers can’t put down, learn to trust them. This will help keep your action scenes engaging and your emotional ones moving. It will propel your story forward at a healthy pace and keep your readers from feeling like you’ve repeated yourself because you felt they needed things broken down. In this case, less is more.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

The Perils of Passive Voice (The Self-Editing Guide Part 5)

“I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers’ torts majestic, I guess it does.” —Stephen King’s On Writing

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Stephen King states it perfectly. How many times have you, as a reader, felt intrigued by an instruction manual or legal document? Do you begin, with enthusiasm, the terms of service before selecting “I agree”? Or do you skim over them and only refer to the visuals when assembling the item? If you said yes to the latter, keep reading. If you said yes to the former, well, I’m not sure what to do with you. You probably have a bright future in the legal field, so there’s that. For all the normal people, however, in this article, I’ll be addressing the topic of passive voice and how to avoid it in your own writing.

With passive voice, something is being done to the subject. With active voice, the subject is doing something.

The dog was picked up by Timmy.

We’ll start with an example for those who are hearing about this for the first time. This sentence is a prime example of passive voice. Notice how timid and bland it reads. Let’s reword it.

Timmy picked up the dog.

This sentence is an example of active voice. It’s direct and confident. The writer sounds sure of himself and nothing is left unsaid.

In the first sentence, notice how you could write it as The dog was picked up. and leave off the last two words. With passive voice, the sentence will either end with by [noun] or it will make perfect sense to add that phrase to the end of it. So as you’re editing your manuscript, try adding by [whatever noun you choose] to the end of each sentence. If it makes sense, you’re using passive voice and need to reword it. Also, look for the word was when proofreading your manuscript. It’s another indicator that you’re using passive voice.

The lake was dried up by too much sun and lack of rain. —Passive

Too much sun and lack of rain dried up the lake. —Active

Starting to see a pattern here? Good. Again, was is present in the first sentence and it ends with by too much sun and lack of rain. The second sentence is simple and reads much more smoothly without those tell-tale signs.

Always choose active when you can. Readers want excitement and boldness from you, especially during an action scene. I can’t count how many times I have read or edited a novel where it felt more like things were happening in slow motion—like the bullets were literally flying at a snail’s pace—all because the author made this and a couple other mistakes (we’ll discuss those in another article). You want those action scenes to be a rush for your readers. You want those bullets to whizz by, and you want your main character to jump into action. Unless you’re actually going for the slow-motion effect you see in movies, you definitely don’t want your readers to visualize it that way. And even then, there are other techniques you should utilize to express to your audience the intensity of the situation. No one should be falling asleep while reading your novel. And if you stick to active voice, no one will.

There are other things I believe weaken your narrative and slow down the action, but I’ll get to them in future articles. And sure, there are times for passive voice—like when you don’t know who is doing something to the subject. You can’t necessarily name the person, place, or thing if you haven’t yet identified it. You’ll find this more often in mystery novels or a scene where the reader doesn’t yet have all the facts. As always, use your own judgment. Quoting one of my recently posted memes on writing: “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 


King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2000. pp. 122- 4.

Starting Over with Grammar (The Self-Editing Guide Part 4)

Last week, a fellow writer asked me an important question: “What do you suggest as a good resource when editing your novel?” Well, that’s not verbatim, but pretty much. This question made me recall how I felt when just starting to consider “becoming a writer” and beginning that first (serious) novel with the intent to self-publish. I had no confidence. It didn’t matter the good grades I’d gotten in college or how there were little-to-no red marks on my reports when I got them back. I still couldn’t quite recall all the rules I’d learned in elementary about grammar and punctuation. I knew even then that good or bad grammar would either make or break my writing career. I knew things had to be as close to perfect as possible or people would roll their eyes and drop the book I’d worked so hard on, never to be picked up again.

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So before I allowed myself to begin that first paragraph, I decided to start over from the beginning. I found a cheap class online over grammar and punctuation, and I devoted every morning to watching the videos and learning the basics. As if I were hearing these rules for the first time, I wrote everything down. Detailed notes would help me once I’d finished the class and could not go back to reference. Just reconfirming what I already knew and refreshing things I had almost forgotten helped build my confidence tremendously. Something I’d put off for years because I felt I didn’t have enough experience and wasn’t yet qualified now seemed like a possibility for the near future. But I didn’t stop there, and you shouldn’t either. Fast forward three years, and I’ve learned a few of the best tricks to make writing with proper grammar and punctuation go from a foreign language to something you can do in your sleep.

Number One: Get your hands on a seventh-grade English textbook. This may seem silly or you may feel like I’m insulting you—don’t think that—but seventh-grade is the perfect level for you to begin writing your novel. All the basic rules and then some have been covered, and most of it is a review of things learned in the previous grades. So it makes for the perfect, condensed guide if you wish to start from the beginning. Read it from cover to cover. Seriously. Just spend a bit of time going over all the rules and refresh your memory on basic sentence structure, the verb-noun relationship, the Oxford comma, etc. This will help you begin your rough draft at a higher level, and the editing process that comes later will be much simpler. You’ll also want to keep the book on your desk or close by to reference when editing. I suggest you look in old bookstores or resell shops—even a few yard sales might have something you could use as a refresher and save you a few bucks. However, if you would like to save yourself the hassle of searching high and low for one, Amazon always has a range of books on the subject.

Here’s my pick (it won’t break the bank, and it even has a Kindle version): Mastering Grammar (Practice Makes Perfect Series)

Number Two: Join some writing groups with workshops. Writers Unite! offers weekly workshop-type posts that cover many different tips on writing. Many of them cover popular and controversial topics such as when to use “that” and when to cut it out. These are subjects you may not see in an English textbook, but getting such things right is just as important as knowing when to put a comma (hint, hint: It’s not every time you pause mid-sentence). Just search “Workshop” in the group and they should all come up. Many times Deb encourages other members to comment their own tips and tricks or teach a lesson over a grammar pet peeve they have. It’s great to connect with more experienced authors and learn from them what they probably had to learn the hard way. You should join as many beneficial groups you find and soak up all the knowledge they have to offer, but Writers Unite! is definitely one of my favorites when it comes to showing new authors the way.

Join here: Writers Unite!

Number Three: I’m about to sell you on something, but you should keep reading anyway. If you’re new to the writing community, you may not know anything about the different manuals of style. This bit of knowledge is crucial if you plan to query an agent or expect your self-published book to look professional enough to hold its own against traditionally published books. And if you’re an editor, this becomes your go-to guide for the final word on everything you THINK you know. The Chicago Manual of Style is the style publishing companies follow, and they expect your manual to be formatted under the guidelines specified if you submit to them. However, the guide is so much more than how to properly format your novel. It’s about 2.5 to 3 inches thick and covers every question you could possibly have—including all the ones you haven’t yet imagined asking. I used it during a recent editing gig and it was a lifesaver. It earned a spot on my desk from then on. The latest edition is on sale, so right now might be a good time to invest in your writing career by buying this guide.

Get it on Amazon here: The Chicago Manual of Style: 17th Edition

These three are my favorite tips when authors ask me how to improve their grammar and edit effectively. Have any other resources to share? Feel free to comment below with what has worked for you.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below.

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