WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

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The Fantasy Genre

 

According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage, www.marcykennedy.com.

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.

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Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.

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Resources:

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/cliffsnotes/subjects/literature/what-is-fantasy-fiction

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/745687-i-love-the-word-fantasy-but-i-love-it-for

http://marcykennedy.com/2014/04/crash-course-fantasy-sub-genres/

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Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

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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. 

Author Lorah Jaiyn and Editor Emma T. Gitani Podcast on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk

Author Lorah Jaiyn and Emma Gitani from “Rhetoric Askew” called in to discuss Lorah’s newly published book, “Whisper of an Angel”.

From the “Rhetoric Askew” website:

“Sometimes second chances start with four paws. In the small town of Marshall Glen, Sofia retreats from life following the death of her husband. Six-year-old Kady lives in foster care and hasn’t spoken since a house fire stole her family. After she saves Kady’s dog from drowning, Sofia attempts to stay locked away, but learns that— …even though she’s given up, her heart wants to—try again. When Kady runs away from her foster home, Sofia meets the cop in charge of the search, Brandon—her first love. Sparks fly even as she struggles with her conscience. Is she being unfair to her husband’s memory? When random acts of vandalism turn to attempted kidnapping, Brandon helps keep Kady safe. As the danger deepens, how far will Sofia go to save a child?”

To learn more about Lorah Jaiyn and to order her books, please visit the following websites: https://rhetoricaskew.wordpress.com/articles-2/

https://www.amazon.com/Whisper-Angel-Marshall-Glen-Story-ebook/dp/B078SDDRB9/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516283465&sr=8-1&keywords=Lorah+Jaiyn

Emma T. Gitanni is the Creative Development Director of Rhetoric Askew Publishing

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Interview with Romance Author Parris Afton Bonds on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk

Host Paul Reeves and Parris Afton Bonds, award-winning author of more than forty published novels, discuss the impact she has had on the romance genre. As one of three best-selling authors of romantic fiction, she is the co-founder of and first vice president of Romance Writers of America, as well as, co-founder of Southwest Writers Workshop.

The Parris Award was established in her name by the Southwest Writers Workshop to honor a published writer who has given outstandingly of time and talent to other writers.  Prestigious recipients of the Parris Award include Tony Hillerman and the Pulitzer nominee Norman Zollinger.

Click here to listen:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2018-01-16T04_01_23-08_00

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk airs live shows on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 am EST. (Repeated at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm EST)

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If you are interested in arranging an interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show on IMPACT RADIO USA, please private message Deborah Ratliff on Facebook.

 

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Paul Reeves’s FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.w.reeves.1

Parris Afton Bonds website: http://parrisaftonbonds.com

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.

Facebook

Twitter

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Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Guest Dr. Josh Duchan, author of “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man”

Host Paul Reeves of Impact Radio USA’s Dr. Paul’s Family Talk program interviews author Josh Duchan about his newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man.

Click here to listen:  https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2017-06-19T13_52_33-07_00

Dr. Joshua S. Duchan, professor of Music at Wayne State University. Dr. Duchan’s newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man was released last week and it sold out on the first day! (NOTE: Check for hard copy availability. Kindle downloads are available now).

From the Rowman and Littlefield website:

“Despite his tremendous success, Billy Joel’s gifts as a composer and commentator on American life are long overdue for a thorough investigation. In Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man, music historian Joshua S. Duchan looks at the career and music of this remarkable singer-songwriter, exploring the unique ways Joel channels and transforms the cultural life of a changing America over four decades into bestselling song after song and album after album.

(https://rowman.com/Page/RowmanLittlefield)

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If you are interested in arranging an interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show on IMPACT RADIO USA, please private message Deborah Ratliff on Facebook.

Happy New Year from Writers Unite!

A new year, a new start, always exciting!  All those New Year’s resolutions we make and sometimes keep!

If one of your resolutions was to begin to write or finish that short story or poem or novel, then join us at Writers Unite! on the web or on Facebook. Forty thousand plus members of Writers Unite! interact, discuss, mentor, and hone their writing skills on our Facebook site. We can help you keep at least one of your resolutions!

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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.

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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.

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WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Eight: Grammar

 

 “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” 


― B.R. Myers

 

When I was in elementary school, I cheated. I cheated when I was forced to participate in spelling bees. A pastime it seemed my teachers thought was the most fun a student could have. I didn’t. And no, I did not write words on my palms or sneak a peek at the teacher’s word list. I purposely misspelled words that I knew how to spell so I could stop playing.

Spelling was never fun. Science was fun. Spelling was tedious, science was exciting. The quicker we got through the English lesson, the quicker I could do a science experiment.

I managed to get by with my little scheme for a while but never try to outwit a teacher, it rarely works. She caught on, and I had to play without missing words she knew I could spell.

The truth is I did well in English and literature, but my focus was elsewhere, my loves in school were science and chorus. Consequently, my knowledge and skills in grammar arrived by rote, not by interest. I should have been wiser.

Grammar is the foundation of communication. Without proper grammar, our thoughts cannot be expressed except as incoherent ramblings or incorrect meaning. I learned the hard way that grammar mattered in all aspects of life.

As a college freshman majoring in a science discipline, I took my first exam in Microbiology 101, my major. I was certain I had done well, plus there were ten bonus points. When I arrived at the class lab the day following the test, the lab instructor informed me that my professor wanted to see me.

Entering Dr. Weaver’s cramped, dark office crowded with antique scientific equipment, I was petrified. Maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought. He motioned for me to sit and then handed me my exam. I had gotten a score of 103. Relief washed over me, then concern. What had I gotten incorrect? I knew the material.

Dr. Weaver noticed my confusion and smiled, a rare thing for him to do. He told me that I had done very well, but he wanted to discuss what I had not done well. Spelling. He had circled a few scientific words but told me he did not count off for spelling those words during the first semester, everyone misspelled names of bacteria. I misspelled seven common words, and he took a point off for each one.

He explained that while I had an excellent grasp of the subject matter, I needed to understand that how I presented my thoughts would influence how people perceived my credibility. Words matter, and the grammar used to structure those words matter too.

Let’s look at one of the classic examples of how grammar affects the meaning of sentences.

“Let’s eat grandpa” vs. “Let’s eat, grandpa.”

I doubt anyone doesn’t see the issues with the lack of a comma in the first sentence. The reasons for proper grammar are obvious.

 

General Reasons to Practice Good Grammar

In general, proper grammar is essential to communication, which, as stated earlier, is vital to all facets of life. The above example concerning grandpa shows how we emphasize ideas conveys meaning. For our thoughts to be understood, they must be conveyed with clarity and precision.

In business or social situations, first impressions are important. We are often warned ‘not to judge a book by its cover,’ an idiom that cautions us not to judge people by their appearance when first meeting them. First impressions no matter how hard we strive to be unbiased do matter. Whether the first time someone meets you is in person or via the written word, how you communicate with them is a sign of your intellect and education.

Proper communication also provides credibility, crucial as you build a career or a personal relationship.

 

Grammar for the Writer

Ask writers for their pet peeves about grammar and the list is endless. Confused words, dangling participles, incorrect verb tenses, their vs. they’re vs. there are among the errors cited. Yet, ask these same writers if grammar is important when writing and the results can be confusing. The answer is often no.

One of the components of writing is referred to as the writer’s voice. According to the website Pub(lishing) Crawl, “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine.”

This definition is why there are conflicts over how writers perceive grammar. We develop a unique manner of presenting our work. The voice we present to the world is ours and ours alone and at times, to impart our personalities we may break the rules. We may write a sentence of a single word or offer a fragment of a sentence for emphasis. Poetic license allows us to depart from convention.

A bit of liberty in writing complete sentences for emphasis is one thing, but we have discussed that grammar increases clarity of meaning and raises our credibility. These two concepts, one writing correctly and the other taking poetic license, seem diametrically opposed yet remain an issue of contention among writers.

My opinion is that dialogue can be written as people talk, in slang, in sentence fragments, keeping grammar deviations to a minimum. The narrative of a story, however, should follow proper grammar.

As important as these general reasons for using good grammar are there are specific reasons for writers to understand the value of communication.

  • The ‘experts’ who offer writing advice suggest that we write our first draft without concern about grammar or sentence structure. We should write to get the story out. Errors can be corrected on subsequent edits. I disagree. I think we should make a habit of using correct grammar from the beginning. The editing process is difficult enough without adding to issues that can be dealt with as you write.
  • You will be offering your manuscript for review by beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. The novice writer with little experience needs to establish credibility. Sending a manuscript for evaluation with punctuation and spelling errors and poorly constructed sentences will not instill the confidence necessary to be taken seriously. That is not to say that any writer, regardless of experience, should submit a badly written manuscript at any time. They should not.
  • Many of us write simply for the pleasure of writing. The art of weaving words into a story brings a great deal of satisfaction. I suspect, however, that we also write for the pleasure of others. If we want our readers to become engrossed in our stories, root for our heroes, then give them a well-written book. If it isn’t well-written, it will be left unread.
  • The last reason to practice good grammar, respect for yourself. Writing a novel is not an easy task, but if you make an effort to create a well-written and well-crafted novel the results will be worth the time.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

― Dorothy Parker

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Resources:

http://ask.dailygrammar.com/Why-is-grammar-important.html

www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/06/24/literary-voice-developing-it-and-defining-it/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/grammar

 

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