Tag Archives: Editing

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:

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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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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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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.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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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.

The Writer as Editor

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I recently asked myself a question: can a writer be a good editor?

My answer was a resounding ‘yes’ as I believe writing and editing go hand in hand.

So, how do you approach editing as a writer?

First, don’t beat yourself up or call yourself ten grades of idiot just because you need to edit your work. No one, and I repeat, no one writes a perfect first draft. The best work is written and rewritten and edited to within an inch of its’ life. The amount of work can vary at times but in the end, there’s always room for improvement.

Second, take your time when editing. I start off with a read-through and edit whatever I catch on that first pass, which are usually missing words and overly-wordy structures. In this first pass I see what I want to do with the piece and where I need to go with it.

Third, if you want to make sure your work flows well, read it out loud. And when you read it out loud, focus on reading every word and making sure it doesn’t get tangled up when you read it. Because if I can’t read it out loud without getting my tongue tangled up in a knot, a reader will have the same problem when reading it.

A good piece of writing flows well not only with the words themselves and how they are put together, but how well you convey what you’re trying to write about in the first place. For example, we know this piece is about editing but what if I went off on a tangent about how poor writing still gets published? That would be an opinion about what I feel is a lack of editing, but it’s not what I want to talk about here. So, finding those off-topic tangents and editing them out is another form of editing that you must work at, too.

So, how do you know when something is ready to publish or share? For me, it’s when I don’t make any changes after countless read-throughs. But it’s also about listening to my intuition and reaching the point where I know I’ve done the best I can. Because sooner or later, your work must go out into the big, bad world on its’ own. The most you can do is prepare your writing with the best editing you can do, and make sure your work stays true to yourself.

Michele Sayre