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E is for Editing

One of the things I’ve really had impressed upon me during the past several years is the importance of and need for editing in our writing. And not just our own editing but someone else, who knows what to look for.

As the writer of a story, we often see what we meant to write instead of what we really wrote. We don’t see the little mistakes that other eyes, unfamiliar with the story, will see. Plus, many of us aren’t great with commas, proper grammar, and such. Having someone who is, go over our work is one step that never should be overlooked.

When you send your story to a publisher, the first impression they get is often typos and bad grammar. This is not a good thing. You want to send them the best piece of work you possibly can and paying for a professional edit is one of the best decisions you can make.

Working with an editor is a great way to learn your craft too.

Got any great editor stories? How about sharing in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Blogging A-Z

 

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D is for Dialogue & Details

D

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”

 Elmore Leonard

I love this quote. And while I’m not 100% in agreement, I do believe dialogue is a very important part of any story. However, if not done right, dialogue can be confusing. For example, the talking head dialogue.

“What do you think?”

“I’m not sure, What do you think?”

“Well, it should be okay.”

“It should be, I guess.”

Not only do we not know who’s talking, we don’t have a clue what they are talking about. This is the reason we add tags and beats.

“What do you think?” Joe stared at the bald spot on the back of the man’s head..

“Well, it should be okay.” Pete stood behind the man seated in the barber’s chair.

Here, the beat has added some of the missing information to the reader. You can check out my “B” post for more on beats and tags.

Another thing to avoid in dialogue is having everyone speak the same. None of us sound the same and neither should your characters. Give them different vocal quirks, accents, or favorite words.

“let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences”

Sylvia Plath

Someone once said “The devil is in the details.” and for a writer, details are often hard to balance. Especially since times and writing styles change. I remember reading Zane Grey when I was younger and loving them. I tried to read his work about a year ago and found myself skipping over pages of description and detail. But, on the other hand, I’ve read some books where I was left wondering about too much.

So what’s a writer to do?  This is where balance comes in. I once read somewhere that if we add three descriptive details about an item, place, or person, that would be about right.  You can always add more in as you write your story.  You don’t want your reader skimming over your work, they might miss something great.

Critique groups and beta readers are also a good judge of whether you’ve added too much detail. Remember, your reader is smart and likes to imagine the story and that means adding in some details on their own.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Blogging A-Z, Misc.

 

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C is for Characters with Character

“Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.”

Abraham Lincoln

One of the most important aspects of any story is the characters that are involved. Characters that are alive and are true individuals instead of stiff, cardboard cutouts that could be swapped from one story to another. Characters that readers care about, come to love, and think about after the book is read.  Thing is, those kinds of characters are hard to do.

So, what makes a reader fall in love with your characters?

Likeability – The reader has to like your characters.  Even the bad guys. There needs to be a quality about them that the character can like. Does your bad guy serve as a crossing guard for the local school between his crimes? Or maybe he has a thing for rescuing stray cats.

Emotions – Characters that show no emotion, who don’t seem to care about the world around them, aren’t very likeable, or realistic. No, the reader doesn’t want a character that goes overboard with their emotions but let your characters enjoy life, let them sorrow, or laugh.

Quirks – Great characters have quirks. It makes them different from others. One of my favorite characters has an obsession with chocolate. I can definitely relate to that.  But what about a librarian that hates books? How interesting could that be?

Personality – Real characters also have personality. They are outgoing or shy, they are solemn or bubbly. When creating your characters, think about their personality.

Lastly, great characters have character. By this I mean, they stand up for what they believe in, they do the right thing even if for the wrong reason, they struggle and overcome or don’t. Even bad guys have character. They believe they are the hero in their stories and act accordingly.

So, when bringing a character to life, think about what makes that character special. Give them real flaws and emotions. Give them personalities and quirks.  But most of all, give them character.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Blogging A-Z

 

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B is for Brainstorming and Beats vs Tags

“Writing is thinking on paper.”

William Zinsser

I love brainstorming ideas. Especially with another writer friend. In fact, many times when I get stumped with an idea and am not quite sure how to go forward, I turn to a writer friend and discuss the “what ifs” of the idea. Naturally, not all the ideas put forth will work but often, there is the spark of an idea that blooms into just what I need. Critique groups are a great place to toss ideas . Also, if you have writer friends on Facebook or other social media places, you can send messages back and forth.

But what if you don’t have a critique group or writer friends you feel comfy discussing your ideas? Or, what if you need help now and your friends are busy? Email.  That’s right, email. Open up your email and write a letter to whoever you think would be a help. Heck, pick your favorite author and tell him/her your story issue and all the details. Naturally, you can’t sent it to that famous author but I know for me, I usually figure out my problem before the end of the letter and don’t even need to send it.

Often, when writing  a story I know the beginning and the end but am not sure just what happens in the middle. This is when I do what I call “backwards brainstorming.” I start at the end and ask just what has to happen right before what I do know, to make it happen. When I figure that out, I repeat the process.  It sounds odd, but it really does work.

Do you have a favorite method of brainstorming? How about sharing in the comments…

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”

 Elmore Leonard

First, so we’re on the same page, let’s define beats and tags.

Beats are used to give info in dialogue. They often take the form of the character who is speaking doing something.

For example: “I really don’t think you should be here.” Don wiped his brow with a dirty rag.

Tags are things like said or asked.

Example:

“I really don’t think you should be here,” Don said.

Personally, I like beats. It’s so much easier to get information to the reader when you use beats. Sure it can be done using tags. “I really don’t think you should be here,” Don said. He wiped his brow with a dirty rag. This it totally correct.  But, when writing a short story, every word counts and you want to write as tight as possible. Using the beat, the sentence is 16 words. With the tag and adding the info, it’s 18 words. That may not seem like a lot, but when you have a word count that must be adhered to, you must write as tight as possible and using beats helps.  Just think, if you have 20 lines of dialogue, you might have 40 words that are tags. Those forty words can often best be used to tell the story.

Now, I’m not saying it always right to use a beat. Tags definitely have their place. Just be sure when you use them, that they are the best words for that place.

And going back to yesterday’s post on adverbs. Here’s an example of using a tag and adverb vs using a beat.

“You get back here!” Joe said angrily.   You just told us Joe is angry.

“You get back here!” Joe slammed his fist on the desk.  Here, the reader sees Joe is angry and what he does when he’s ticked off.

And yes, this is longer than the previous version, but the reader gets a better mental image of what’s going on. And, if you add something that describes the desk, he gets a picture of the setting.

“You get back here!: Joe slammed his fist on the rickety desk.”

He is part of the story instead of just being told about it. And, when the reader is part of the story, that’s a good thing.

What about you? Which do you favor, tags or beats?

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Blogging A-Z

 

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Writing the Short Story A is for Antagonists and Adverbs

“He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skills. Our antagonist is our helper.”

Edmund Burke

Simply put, the antagonist is the bad guy in our story.  But the antagonist isn’t always a person. It can be an animal, the weather, or even friends and family. The antagonist is what or whoever stands between what the hero wants or needs. It makes the hero dig down, deep inside, and see just what he, or she, is made of.

The thing about antagonists though, they been to be just as tough and smart as the hero. He has to be just as determined. A bad guy that doesn’t challenge the hero isn’t going to keep the reader’s attention. Remember, we want our reader to bond with our hero and struggle with him.  If we have a wimpy antagonist, it’s no fun for the reader.

I once read something to the effect that the bad guy believes he’s the hero in the story. He believes whatever he’s doing is right and for the good. So, when you are crafting your antagonist, whether it’s a person or thing, be sure to challenge your hero. Push him to his limits and have him struggle to overcome.

You’ll be glad you did.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Stephen King

I’m not so sure Mr. King is correct, but I’m not going to argue with him either. I will say that most times adverbs are not needed. Someone once said “Adverbs are the lazy writer’s friends.” and while I’d not go that far, I’d say they were friends of the beginning writer. Before we go on, just what is an adverb?

An adverb is a word that describes the verb. You can usually spot an adverb by its ‘ly’ attached to its end.  Some common adverbs are loudly, quietly, softly, quickly, hurriedly, lately, rapidly, fortunately, badly, carefully, and so many others. Naturally there are adverbs without a ‘ly’ such as fast, always, never, sometimes, and even here or there.

And while there are times when adverbs are needed, many times, especially in beginner writers, they are used wrong. For example:

The girl ran quickly.  Well, if she’s running, she’s probably going fast.  Why not show us?

The girl raced. The girl sprinted. The girl scurried.  Each of these words shows us a different action from the girl and gives the reader a better picture.

Another one I’ve often seen is  something like this.  The man yelled loudly.  Of course, he did. Yells by nature are loud. Or, “She whispered quietly’”  Again, quietly isn’t needed because is she’s whispering, it’s quiet.

By getting rid of adverbs, we strengthen our writing. And give our readers a better reading experience.

Tomorrow – Beats vs Tags

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Blogging A-Z

 

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Blogging A-Z 2014

I’m so excited about April this year. There’s several reasons for all this excitement such as…

Dragons of Jade releases on the first. I love this story. I absolutely love the cover my publisher created. Let me show you again. :-)

Dragons of Jade Cover

You can click on the picture and be taken to Amazon to get your copy if you don’t have one yet. Or, comment and we’ll connect. I’d love to send you an autographed copy.

Next reason, I’ll be at the Longview Library’s Celebrate Authors Festival the first weekend of April. If you are nearby, come say hello. There’s several workshops, a luncheon, and book signings.

The following week, I’ll be with White Bird Publications in San Antonio, Texas for the Texas Library Association Conference.  I just looked at their page and James Patterson along with Henry Winkler will be there!

But another reason I’m excited for April is the Blogging A-Z event that happens each April.

A-Z Badge

I just looked and there are a little over 1,900 bloggers signed up for this year’s event. How cool is it to be apart of something so huge!  Now that I finally figured out my theme for the month, it’s even more exciting. I mean, it’s after 4 a.m. and I’m sitting her planning posts. And just what is that theme you ask?  Well, I hope you’re asking cause I’m going to tell you.  Writing the Short Story A-Z.

Larry Niven said, “You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.”

I so believe this to be true. When I first started writing seriously, trying to learn the craft, I wrote short stories.  I learned so much from the time spent with short stories and still love to write them now. I’ll be sharing insights that have helped my work be published in many short story markets such as Mouth Full of Bullets, Crimson Daggar, Long Story Short, Wax Romantic, Mysterical-e, and Golden Visions, along with several other places that no longer exist.

Not only have I had quite a few short stories published, I’ve had a story tie for first place in a contest here. You can read the story along with the judge’s comments. The judge is an agent, by the way.  Reading Writer is no longer online so I can’t send you there, but they held quarterly contests that often received over 400 entries. I only entered 6 or 8 times but each time, I made it in the top ten and what I called a tie for second. The editor picked her 1 favorite and then 9 runners up.

It’s been a bit since I submitted any short stories since I’ve focused on novels lately but I have one in the works that’s really good.

So… I hope you follow along on this short story journey.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Blogging A-Z

 

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Mad as a Wet Hen

wet-hen2

Today’s the last day of March 2014.  Can you believe how fast time is flying. Next thing you know, it will be Halloween. Seems Mom was right when she said time would fly by as you get older.

Here’s another interesting idiom. And I’m not so sure it really is accurate. I mean, I’ve seen wet hens before and they weren’t angry. Maybe it has something to do with the origins of the saying. Again, I’m not so sure on this but it’s cute.

Seems like when hens get into the “I’m gonna hatch me some eggs” mindset, it takes a lot to get ‘em out of it. Even if you gather all the eggs.

So, what you do is dunk her in a bucket of water. Now, it takes several times for this to change her mind and apparently after the third or fourth dunking she gets seriously ticked off. But at least she goes back to laying instead of sitting around.

So, while Mad as a Hatter tends to mean crazy, Mad as a Wet Hen mends very angry. Don’t you just love March Madness!

Picture by Linda Silvestri.

 

April will be Blogging from A to Z so stop by each day and see what new stuff is here.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2014 in March Madness, Misc.

 

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