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.

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.

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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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Why You Should Edit As You Go (The Self-Editing Guide Part 3)

Ask the question in a writing group, and almost everyone will tell you not to worry about grammar or structure or even sentence flow as you write—to instead just get the story out on paper. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, but you can always go back and fix what you’ve written later. While that may be true to some extent—it is always better to have something to work with rather than stare at a blank page all day trying to figure out the best way to word that first sentence—that doesn’t mean all knowledge of grammar and the rules of the English language go out the window. In this article, I’ll be listing a few reasons why you SHOULD edit as you go, and why it’s what’s worked for me every time and has made the editing process much, much simpler.

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One of the most important reasons that editing as I go is not only helpful but necessary is the fact that it saves so much time in the long run. I always make it a point, each day I get out my WIP, to start by reading the previous scene. This helps put my mind back in the world of elementals and shadow-wielders, and it helps me keep things consistent from scene to scene. But it also helps me catch any mistakes I’d made the night before. With fresh eyes, I’m much more likely to look at it with condemnation—with an editor’s eye versus a writer’s. If I ignore these mistakes and just keep writing, telling myself I will catch them all next month when I go back for the editing phase, I may not catch the same mistakes I could catch today. And if I wait and edit it all at once, it’s going to take a lot longer and quite a few more rounds of editing before I stop finding errors every time I read through it.

Editing an entire manuscript is tedious and often-times intimidating when you’re a new writer. If the whole thing is littered with errors, the idea can bog you down and make you feel like your writing is worthless. There are so many great stories that never see the light of day, and one thing I am always hearing in various writing groups I’m a part of is that when new writers go back and read what they’ve written, they think it’s awful and want to scrap it and start over. The idea of editing all that—something they probably spent months writing—is too much for them. They don’t feel like it’s possible or worth the time to polish it into something they can be proud of. That’s why rereading and polishing short pieces as you go can ease your work-load tremendously and help reduce the chance of abandoning ship later.

power-of-words-by-antonio-litterio-creative-commons-attribution-share-alike-3-0

One thing I also often hear when people ask if they should bother themselves with editing as they go: “that’s what editors are for”. Imagine you hired a maid to clean your house top to bottom for a party you were throwing. She’s one of the best. She comes with glowing recommendations. Her prices are reasonable. But because you knew a maid would clean up after you, you left dishes all over the counters, you spilled cereal all over the floor, you let your kid destroy the living room, and you didn’t bother to clean any of it because you knew the maid was coming and she would handle it all. After all, she’s great at what she does—you’re paying her for that very job.

But she’s human, and she has to adhere to the rules of time and the limitations of exhaustion just like everyone else. She spends all her time cleaning up the little messes that you left out of carelessness and never gets to the big stuff. She works overtime to get the job done as she had promised, but the day ends and the party starts. While it may be decent—she managed to clean up all the glaring distractions, put away all the toys, do the dishes, and wipe the counters—you hear some of the guests note that things could have been nicer. You hear them point out things she missed.

As an editor, I’ll be the first to tell you that while we love to catch errors and play a crucial part in making your story the best version of itself, we can’t work on the big problems you hired us for if we’re too busy editing all the little errors you knowingly left for us. Editors are often underpaid and we usually work overtime, going over your story again and again to catch everything we can and point out developmental issues, character inconsistencies, etc. But if you have a certain timeline you need the work delivered by, it will be difficult to catch everything if it’s a complete mess when we receive it.

This brings me to my next reason for editing as you go: protecting the integrity of the story. If you respect the story you’re writing, why let it start out as a sloppy mess and stay that way for most of its infancy? Don’t get overwhelmed with perfectionism, but definitely respect your story enough to fix the spelling error you caught as you skimmed over a passage. My main point is: don’t stop yourself from fixing something you see because others have convinced you that you’ll never get that rough draft written if you get distracted by all the errors. They’re right to an extent. Definitely don’t let the mistakes discourage you. Everyone makes them. Even editors need to edit over and over again, whether it’s their own project or someone else’s.

I just received feedback from an author of a novel I recently edited, and even though he was extremely impressed by how I edited and said I changed his opinion of editors forever, he still mentioned that they found errors I missed. His next statement was that you can never get something completely error-free. That reminded me of something else an old friend once said to me when I first told him I wanted to be a writer. He said, “Writing is never perfect.” It can’t be. No matter what you do, how you write it, there’s always a better way it could have been written. There’s always an error you missed or someone else who could have done it better. Writing is subjective. So always remember to do the best you can for your story and give it the quality it deserves, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes either. As with most things in life, a healthy balance is always the right answer.


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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Interested in checking out the novel mentioned in the article? Click the link below.

http://amzn.to/2EeEoJI

To Prologue or not to Prologue (The Self-Editing Guide Part 2)

So here we are at the beginning of our story. Our fingers are on the keys, our pen is twirling in circles over the page (or our thumbs are alternating between various letters and the delete key on our touchscreen) as we try to figure out the best way to start. It only seems natural to start as close to the beginning as possible, right? We can spend the first few pages explaining the main character’s past and bringing our readers up to speed, and then we can see where that takes us. That would be the logical way to go, wouldn’t it? Well, unless your story is a high fantasy containing a completely new world that defies the laws of nature, a rich history that directly impacts the main story, or the main character has a past that cannot be easily explained, you’re probably better off going a different route.

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Prologues have a strong history of being the foundation for many successful and memorable works. Most of the classics contained a prologue, and to this day high fantasy novels usually require them to help the reader understand the new world they are venturing into. Sometimes, prologues are necessary and beneficial. Other times, not so much.

One question we should be asking ourselves is: As a reader, would we want to prep for a story before we were allowed to actually start it? Or would we rather dive right in and have things shown to us between the many adventures? As a confessed prologue-skipper of my youth, I would choose the latter. A story is meant to be engaging and fun, and you’re less likely to pull your readers in with a history lesson before they’ve had a chance to figure out what your novel is about. And if they’re reading the sample from Amazon, they’re unlikely to follow through with a purchase if they can’t grasp some basic understanding of the main plot.

Try, instead, to imagine a situation you would likely find your main character in and start the story there. This is much easier if you’ve already done your due diligence in developing your characters and plot. You should be able to imagine your character and how they would react in any given situation. It’s better if you jump right into the action. Begin as close as possible to the initial problem that sets everything in motion–you might even choose to start with that scene if it isn’t too confusing–and you will find your readers more likely to follow through with purchasing after reading the sample.

If this doesn’t come easy, if after trying and failing you still find your fingers only yearn to write that prologue, go ahead. Write it. Once you’re finished, you’ll likely have a much broader understanding of your plot, and a starting scene should flow freely from your fingertips (or thumbs).

Nothing in life is definite, and not every bit of advice applies to every situation, but if you can reel your readers in with action, you always should. Showing rather than telling pulls the reader into your world, and continuing to dish out in-depth, engaging scenes offers no chance (or desire) for escape, even long after your story has been told.


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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Why Word Count Doesn’t Make a Story (The Self-Editing Guide Part 1)

As a new writer, the first mistake most of us compulsively—and even subconsciously—make, is manipulate our sentences to increase word count. We go out of our way to phrase things in complex ways to fill the pages and meet that imaginary minimum word count requirement—the one we only discovered by Googling the phrase “how long should a novel be?” So we throw in a few prepositions, explain every single task our character completes, and describe every minor scene down to the last button on the grey, tufted, linen couch.

Sure, this little trick worked wonders back in the day when we pulled all-nighters to finish those seven-page essays or research papers due the next morning, but only when the assignment was an immediate “F” if the word requirement was not met. Otherwise, your teacher or professor might have noted that your paper was wordy or superfluous—a comment I received during a critique of my first edition of The Vanquished.

 

This eye-opening critique pushed me to recognize my mistakes and release a polished version that lacked distracting, scene-pausing descriptions, interactions or inner thoughts with the main character that hardly amounted to anything, and sentences that read a little clunky (binge-watching the entire series of Downton Abbey while writing the rough draft isn’t such a great idea when your inner voice isn’t yet developed). Since then, however, I’ve noticed many authors repeating the same mistakes as they try to get their novel as thick as possible.

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As you’re writing your story—be it a short story or full-length novel—ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Fluff—Is what I’m writing important to the development, or does it exist simply to fluff up my story and make it appear longer and more complex? Does this scene propel the story forward, or does it slow the pace, distract from the plot, and leave the reader confused in the end?

For example: If you have repeated, similar scenes of meaningless, every day conversation between two characters and the scenes start and end with nothing else happening, it’s probably fluff. Try removing it and see if you miss it.

  1. Over Prepping—Are the sentences too wordy? Over prepping is when you use an unnecessary amount of transition words in your narrative—like of, that, after, on, to—leaving your sentences complex and the story slow moving. Prepositions are a necessary part of the story. Too few prepositions can be just as bad and look as amateurish as too many. So do not use the find and replace feature in word to remove more despised ones like of or that—any seasoned reader will know exactly what you did and probably roll their eyes. However, be modest when using them. Reread the sentences while removing one preposition at a time and see if it reads smoother. If so, you can probably go without it.
  2. Over Specifying—Another mistake we make as new writers is try and cover all our bases to keep the reader from being confused during the story. We worry that we aren’t being clear enough, and in turn we specify that the character opened the door of the house, then walked through the door, then closed the door of the house. See how specific that is? There is no way the reader won’t know to imagine the character doing everything that was just stated. But is it necessary? This is where we learn to do something new: trust our readers. We all have varying degrees of imagination, and we all know what it looks like to enter a house. You could easily state that he/she opened the door and went inside, and the reader would never claim you left a hole or that they didn’t know whether the door was open or closed. If it wouldn’t confuse you, it probably won’t confuse ninety-percent of your readers.
  3. Overt Descriptions—How many times have you skimmed over paragraphs of description just to get to the action? I know I have countless times. When I decided I wanted to start writing full time, I actually spent a few years just reading novels word for word, forcing myself to read through the boring parts that I had never taken the time for when I was younger. I was ecstatic when I finally connected with other writers and learned I wasn’t the only one to dislike scene-pausing descriptions. Chunks of description slow down the pace and distract from the immediate action or conversation taking place. Be careful where and how you use it to keep your readers engaged in your story. If whatever you’re describing doesn’t really contribute, you can probably get away with only a sentence or two. If it’s a main character or special object, take enough time explaining it so your reader knows it’s important, but don’t forget to keep it interesting. You want your reader invested in your story, not muddling through it just to get to the end.

To put it simply: word count does not make a story—and that’s great news for us. Once we stop trying to come up with ways to increase our word count—planning sentences out in our heads that sound more intelligent complicated than how we would normally speak, adding scenes that contribute nothing to the story in way of character or plot development, and looking up pictures and technical names of grey, tufted, linen couches that only exist for the character to shove a zombie into, we get the ultimate freedom of focusing on the best part—the story. And if you’re having fun writing it, I can guarantee your reader will have fun reading it.


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.