Sunday, April 30, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - The End

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Just as Z is the end of this challenge, let's talk about the end of your story. Make sure you take a good look at the end and whether it will make your readers happy. Endings, like beginnings can be tricky to write.

Depending on your story, the end could mean very different things. For the most part though, is your ending fulfilling? Have you made the time the reader has invested in this story worthwhile? Does it offer enough closure? Not every story has a happy ending, but it does need to have an impact.

Does it need an epilogue? Is everything clear enough? Are the subplots are wrapped up? Do you need to give secondary characters closure as well? How much closure do the main characters need? Is the ending dragging on because you don't want to let go of the story or ending too abruptly?

We all know how some genre's end: the mystery is solved, the couple in the romance get married. Others can be bittersweet, tragic or happily every after or at least happy enough for now. However your story ends, make sure it ends.

You're writing a series or a sequel? Great, but end the damned novel. It doesn't have to completely wrap up with no lose ends, but it does need to have a solid point of resolution for the plot at hand. Otherwise, it will end up in my donation pile after putting dent in my wall, and I certainly won't buy the next book to find out what happens after that little To be continued text, the ellipse or whatever cliffhanger sentence the book doesn't end with.

End the story in way that makes the reader feel something (other than anger about how it didn't really end) and they will be more likely to look for more of your work. This is an important place to note the reactions of your beta readers. If they were happy, others will likely be too.

I've enjoyed spending April with you. I hope to see you around throughout the rest of the year. Congratulations on surviving the month!

What are your feelings regarding books that don't really end?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - You Need Other Eyes

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

You can't do this editing thing all by yourself. Ok, you can, but please don't.

As I've said before this month, you know your story. It came from your head. Of course you know it. You know what everyone looks like, where they are, and why the doing whatever you made them do. But have you conveyed all that in a way your readers will understand?

The only way you'll know, is letting someone else read it. And I don't mean by publishing it. That's easy to do these days, but that doesn't mean you should.

Find a two or three or handful of other people you trust to tell you truth. They don't need to be brutal about it, but you do need them to be honest. This could be some friends that do a lot of reading, a friend or co-worker's parent that was an English teacher, a college student with some sort of English major, or better yet, a local writer's group or online critique group. There's no one more willing to pick apart your words than other writers.

What do you do when you do get that feedback you were looking for (through the hands over your eyes)? You read through it. Don't rush off to change anything major. Sure, fix the typos and obvious grammatical errors. Fix the things you totally agree with. Because the words "Holy crap, how did I miss that?" will very likely come from your lips at least once, if not several times.

Now, the other stuff, the things that may require you to make major changes:
  • Do they feel right for your story/voice/plot/genre?
  • Did more than one person point out the same area as a problem?
  • Do you respect that person's opinion/knowledge enough to trust that they are possibly right?

Whatever you decide, remember that the opinions of readers vary widely. The thing someone hates, might be the exact same thing another reader loves (true story, many more times than once). Give suggestions due thought (nothing beats sleeping on them a night or two for clarity) and change what feels right to you. You are the author. These are suggestions.

On the other hand, there may stuff that makes you never talk to them again/quit writing forever/want to throw things/run off and write an angry response over. Don't do any of that. Just think about it, and for the love of all that's holy, don't say anything but a polite, "Thank you for your help".
Give that stuff a few days to settle into your mind and then go through what they said again with some criteria in mind.
  • Where they just being cruel for the hell of it or, more likely, helpful but maybe phrased more boldly than you're used to?
  • Does this person read/write your genre and is what they suggest inline with that?
  • Is this person more experienced than you was perhaps frustrated that you don't know what POV is or that your dialogue punctuation was all wrong, or that you didn't bother to fix any typos?

Most people, even other writers who like to beat up your words, are doing so to be helpful. Take a step back, use what advice speaks to you and say thank you for the rest. All of this is good practice for working with a paid editor, either one you contract or from your publisher.

Do you prefer beta readers, critique groups, or friends to read for you?

Friday, April 28, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - The Story of Xander

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

The tale of Xander: Not everything that gets cut is a lost causeYes, you caught me, I'm using Xander for another year, but he's appropriate to the conversation, so bear with me.

Just because you have to cut a scene, a thing, a character, chapter, beginning, prologue, etc, doesn't mean it's gone forever. We've already covered keeping that sacred 'fall back' first draft, but really, everything you write is a learning experience. You're getting better, stretching your mind and creativity, perhaps trying something new. That new thing just might not have a place in this particular story.

So what to do with all that stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor?

Well, those ugly scenes, toss those. In re-writing them, you've already learned why they didn't work and how to fix/prevent them in future stories.

Characters? Keep them in a file. You never know when you might need to revive one and toss them back into play. That's where Xander comes in. He was cut when two characters were combined to create the same character development experience for the MC. When it came time to write Chain of Grey, the sequel to Trust, I found a spot for him, altered a bit, but he was happily back in action.

Stuff, like bits of technology, magic spells, races, entire scenes, songs, history of your world, etc, maybe they'd fit somewhere else, like a short story based in the same world, a sequel, or blog posts when you're ready to market your soon-to-be published book. Maybe they'll spark another story entirely and launch you into your next project.

Or maybe those bits are just a learning experience. No words are wasted words. Unless you're really drunk. Then literally, yes.

Do you recycle some discarded words or toss them all away?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - What my process looks like

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

After nearly a month of posts on editing, I figured I should share What my process looks like.

(If I haven't visited you lately, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just running behind. I will get there.)

Your process should be whatever works best for you. Here's how I roll.

1. Finish the first draft.
2. Read the messy draft on the screen and highlight the especially crappy parts in red. Fix the obvious typos and formatting errors because they greatly distract me when doing full reads.
3. Let the draft sit for a couple days while I work on something else or take a little time off of writing - which I'm not really, my mind is mulling over what to do about those red bits.
4. Sit down and conquer the stuff in red - those are the ugly scenes, the parts where the voice needs adjusting to match the one at the end that I likely wrote months or a year(s) later, filler scenes, missing transitions, major timeline issues, anything blatantly sucks.
5. Then I take a deep breath, get my notebook and pen and read through the second draft. Jot down everything else that jumps out at me that needs fixing, while also noting character/setting details and the timeline.
6. Fix those things I noted and make sure the details match up throughout.
7. Take a break and work on something else - usually a critique of someone else's novel or read a book or three.
8. With sort of fresh eyes, read through the whole thing again, filling out that after-the-fact outline we talked about as I go. This outline is also what I use later to make my synopsis for submissions and back cover blurbs. Yay dual purpose!
9. Take a close look at that outline and fix any pacing and plot problems that became clear. Add to the setting and character descriptions as necessary - keeping in mind any word count constraints.
10. Send it off to one or more other people to read (or my critique group) and work something else writing related to keep my mind off whatever red-ink-covered feedback they are surely compiling.
11. Take a bracing drink and start fixing all the obvious things the reader(s) pointed out and ponder the suggestions I might not readily agree with.
12. If there were a lot of major changes overall, or important scenes /character actions that were altered, I may send off the whole thing or sections to a few more sets of eyeballs for another round of please-beat-up-my-story to verify I've properly adjusted those parts.
13. Run the whole darn thing through Grammarly to catch wrong or missing punctuation, missing words, wrong words and a host of other little word issues. Don't believe everything it tells you, but it's a good tool, regardless.
14. Print out the story and have my computer read it to me, making notes of typos (OMG, they still exist), phrasing and flow problem areas, missing/wrong words, and anything else that bland pseudo-human voice reveals.
15. Fix all that, then close the damned file and swear not to look at it until it goes to print because I'm so sick of it. *
16. Have a celebratory drink and go to bed...where you dream up your next story and the process starts all over.

*laugh insanely because you know, deep inside, you'll be getting feedback from an editor who will insist you go through much of this process all over again. Oh, and they'll still find typos.

How long does this process take? That totally depends on the novel and the speed at which your critique partners/beta readers get back to you. For The Last God, having gone through this process several times now:
November - January - write the complete crappy draft.
Spend most of February and March on steps 2-4
At the end of March, I sent it off to a beta reader.
Mid April I fixed the issues they pointed out and sent it off to three trusted critique partners I know will rip into the story with gusto.
Meanwhile, I'm keeping my mind off their impending feedback by blogging A to Z. Conveniently timed, wouldn't you say? Like I planned this...

Do you use any spiffy editing programs that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Voice

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

The Voice of your story can make up for a host of downfalls. Take the time to get to know what your voice is, what makes the way your tell your story different. It might be the word choice, phrasing, sentence structures, certain themes, how your characters talk or any number of other things. Make sure whatever your doing fits the mood of the story itself while still being you.

For instance, you might favor short punchy sentences or longer, eloquent ones.  Do you use a lot of big words, slang, or easy middle-of-the-road words? You may have more detailed descriptions. Maybe you're fond of lots of subplots. There might be scant character description or you have a minimalist approach to writing overall.

If you write a series, you'll want to make sure the character's voice remains consistent in each book, even though you might write them six months or a year apart.

Take a close look at the voice of your main character(s) at the beginning of the story, the middle, and the end. Do they sound like the same person. Yes, they've probably grown and changed a little, but they are still the same general person.

This is also true for those stories you start and then they sit on your hard drive for six years before you pick them back up and finish them. Odds are you'll need to do some character voice adjustments to make the beginning and end voices match up.

Same goes for your own voice in the case of that old story newly finished. We grow as writers over time. Hopefully we're learning things along they way, tweaking our style, picking up little things from books we're reading. Thy way you told a story, your author voice, six years ago, probably isn't the same one you have now.

I've read many a story that I had issues with, but I enjoyed the voice enough to keep reading to the end. Make sure you take the time to polish yours.

Have you read a story based solely on a great voice?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A ot Z: Editing Fiction - Ugly Bits

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Maybe you're awesome, but the rest of us have first drafts with Ugly bits. You know that scene, the one that bridges two other scenes you really enjoyed writing? The one you sort of rushed through, telling yourself that you'd fix it later? Guess what...that time is now.

I often find these ugly scenes a pain in the ass to deal with. I didn't want to write them the first time and I'm really not in the mindset to rewrite them after the first draft is done. The smoothing and shaping part of editing, I don't mind at all. Sinking back into the story enough to pick up where one scene left off and making the pile of crap I filled the next scene with workable? Ugh.

Well you can't leave that wordy trash pile there, you've got to clean it up. That might mean buckling down and doing the thing I mentioned that I hate doing (such as when I/you may have half-assed your way through the entire middle of a novel or other similarly large swath of words). Or, my much preferred and suggested method, sitting back and figuring out why you hated writing that scene so much the first time around. Because, just maybe (and most likely), you were going about it the wrong way and that's why it didn't click.

  • Now that you know the whole story, is there a better way to go from scene A to scene C?
  • Can something more interesting happen?
  • What about changing things up to better showcase character development , growth or an aspect of your character you really enjoy writing about?
  • Can you switch the POV and come at it from a different perspective?
  • Do we really need scene B or would adding a paragraph at the end of A and the beginning of C to show the transition work just as well?

The trick is to not leave any of those ugly bits in, because even if your beta readers let you get away with them, readers who don't know you will likely be less tolerant. When the writer doesn't like a scene, its often easy to tell when reading.

Do you have a filler scene horror story to share?

Monday, April 24, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction: Timeline and Tags

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Double check your Timeline. We all like to think we know our story backwards and forwards. The problem is, the odds that we sat down and wrote the whole story in one day are pretty slim. If you're like me, you get interrupted by pretty much everything - the dogs, the kids, the husband, phone, unexpected visitors, work, the repair person...

Not only is it easy to forget what time of day it is in a scene that might span a couple days of writing, but somewhere between the beginning and the end, it's entirely possible that either two previously unrelated characters are doing something that doesn't line up later on when they come together or a secondary character is left stranded somewhere in time. The backstory of main characters might be off kilter with character developing scenes happening later. Did she run away at eight years old, but later on, she turns up on the street at twelve?

The easiest way to avoid this is to plot everything out and stick exactly to your plan. Not one of those people? Yeah, me either.

The rest of us may want to take some notes as we go along in our edits, jotting down ages and dates of important events or when those things are mentioned in the story and actually create a literal timeline to make sure everything corresponds.

You might think an editor will do this for you, and if they're super awesome, they might. However, your best bet, is to make sure your story is correct and possible before sending it off so you know it's right. After all, it is your story.

As a bonus, I'm also going to put in a word about dialogue tags, because they deserve editing attention too.  

• Use the simple: Said. It works. You may be tempted, but don't screw with it. This is one word it's fine to use a lot as it disappears from sight. A few deviations for flavor now and then are fine, but should be used sparingly, as should adverbs associated with them. I once read a book where one character "said quietly" almost every line of dialogue. It drove me nuts.

• Instead of those telling adverbs and constantly relying on tags, use action beats to help flesh out the setting, add visuals to a conversation, and express emotions.
Timmy slammed one of his blocks on the table. "I don't want to go to bed."
Jane scowled and her hands formed into fists. "I think you'd better apologize for that."

• Tags and beats can go before or after the dialogue, whichever works best for the flow.

• Avoid adding too many tags or beats, they can bog down a conversation. For example, if it's a longer conversation between two people, using a tag/ every third line to keep us on track of who is talking works just fine.

• Use beats and small doses of narrative to avoid talking heads. Conversations with no description can read like a monotone phone conversation.

• As you edit make sure it's clear who is talking, and try to make the dialogue sound natural for that particular character - they probably don't all phrase sentences the same or perhaps some use different words for things (think lords and peasants). It's easy for the voices in your head to all start sounding the same halfway through your novel.

What is the most distracting dialogue tag you've seen in a book?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Setting

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Fleshing out your Setting helps engage readers. No one likes a scene taking place in a white room filled with nothing. Well, unless that's really where your characters happen to be. Showing us the world they live in helps make the story feel more real. 

Some writers get this just right during the first draft. If this is you, you're a magical unicorn and the rest of us are in awe of you.

The rest of us tend of all into two camps. Those, like me, who write bare bones, and those who describe everything in detail. So, as you're reading along in edit mode, ask yourself, what exactly about this particular setting is important? Those are the details you should convey, preferably though the eyes of your character or their interactions with the setting itself.

Is there a particular smell to the room? Such as a smoke-filled bar.

What are they touching and how do they react to it? Their arms stick to the unwashed wooden bar.

What details do they spot and how are they important to that particular character? Maybe the shadows in the unlit bathroom hallway provide a handy place to stab someone.

Sounds provide yet another avenue for description. Your character may hate the throbbing techno music.

What about anything they are tasting? Let's hope no one is licking the bar, because that's utterly gross, but they may be enjoying a drink or a bowl of pretzels.

If the detail you've so carefully described isn't important to setting the scene or shows us something about the character, then we probably don't need to devote words to it. Filling the story with dense paragraphs of description can kill the pacing or cause readers to skim, thereby possibly missing the important details that were buried inside all that.

There have been a couple writers I've worked with that have basked in the history of the world they've created, sharing tourist-like details about buildings and places throughout the story. Maybe those are of great interest to some readers. Maybe not. Honestly, that's the kind of thing I skim or skip completely. Ask yourself what type of readers you are looking to attract and what readers expect from the genre you're writing. Those details might become part of that first draft archive that only you, the author, truly appreciate. Consider that those cut details might, instead, make an interesting series of blog posts when you're ready to publish.

How do you stack up on first draft setting description: too little, too much, or just right?

Friday, April 21, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Read It Out Loud

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Reading out loud is one of the best way to catch errors. This may seem awkward if you aren't a reading out loud person or don't have a private spot to go hang out and talk to yourself, but there are ways around it.

When you read in your head your eyes will often skip over errors, especially if you wrote the words. You know what you meant. You've read these words probably half a dozen (or likely a lot more) times and you know the story. You may even find yourself skimming along to get to that favorite scene. None of these are helpful in catching missing or wrong words, repeated words, awkward phrasing, and choppy or massive run on sentences.

You can catch all this and more by reading out loud! (I feel an infomercial coming on.)

Will it help catch everything? No, but it's a big step toward the polishing for submissions or self-publishing. I wait to do this step until I'm done incorporating feedback from beta/critique and have moved past tweaking. So around the last step before submissions, a paid editor and/or preparing to self publish.

I find it works best to get out of whatever program I wrote in and work from a printed copy. Cheap like me and hate wasting paper? Print it in a small font, single spaced, two sheets to page an use the back side too. No one is going to see this but you. As long as you have room to highlight errors or scribble notes in the margins, that's really all you need.

Now, you could read this printed copy yourself, making note as you go. Maybe that will work for you just fine. I've tried it. I find I still fall into the problem of knowing what I mean rather than listening to the words I'm saying.

What works wonders for me is having someone else read it, specifically my computer. It can't skip anything and all the flaws in phrasing and sentence flow are abundantly clear in that computer voice. I currently use Word with the Windows Narrator to read for me, but any program that will read for you works. I put in my earbuds and sit at my desk (one of the few times I leave my comfy chair for writing) with my printed copy and have at it.

This may seem like a long process, but it really does catch so much more than eyeballs alone. I highly recommend taking the time and effort to listen to your own book.

Have you tried this and if so, did you find it helpful?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Quit Tweaking

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Quit tweaking words and get on with it! You may find all this feedback and fixation on making the story just right gets to you after awhile. Each word starts attracting scrutiny. Is this really the right word? Should I delete every instance of "very"?

My roadblock usually hits around the time I'm doing a final pass before sending the story off for critique/beta reading. That point where I've been fixing little things here and there for a couple weeks and I'm beginning to notice when doing find (Because I do a lot of editing that way when hunting down sections in a full novel .doc) that I've used certain words multiple times. Now, I know this doesn't seem like a major issue. Of course words are used more than once in a 80-120K word novel. But when you look for the word "push" and come up with five instances of characters pushing hands through their hair, you begin to doubt yourself and consider that just maybe you had that action on the mind more than you thought. Incidentally, this is also how I discovered that in one book everyone jumped up from their chairs instead of simply standing and a lot of other little nitpicky fixations.

So yes, some tweaking is a good thing, but when you find that you can't stop going over the first paragraph of chapter one to get it juuuuuust right, it might be beneficial to take a break, send it to those other eyes and get another opinion. You can't move forward if you keep picking at it. And its hard to publish anything without moving on.

This also applies to the another issue I've seen a lot of writers (including myself with one book) fall into early in the process. That part where you do get feedback and everyone hates your opening chapter(s). And then, instead of moving on to find the point in the book where readers do start connecting so you know how to fix it, you pull everything, and spend months re-writing those opening chapters over. And over. And then send them off only to find that they're still not perfect. So you pull them again. The next thing you know, you've wasted six months on three chapters and your readers are so sick of the many incarnations of the opening, its like pulling teeth to entice them to read the rest of the book.

Just write the damn thing the best you can, clean it up the best you can, and send the whole thing off to trusted eyeballs. See what they have to say about the overall piece before sinking your time and energy into a major rewrite. That feedback will help direct your efforts rather than banging your head on the desk while you second guess yourself into hating your own novel.

Do you get hung up on tweaking the little things?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Point of View

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

If I haven't returned your visit in the past couple days, its because I've been busy finishing up another round of edits on The Last God so I can get it out to my lovely critique partners to rip apart while I finish out this blog challenge. Thank you for your patience. I should be back to my regular rounds today.

POV is yet another thing to keep your eye on. There are several aspects to watch for.

If you have multiple point of view characters there are multiple ways to go about it. Most commonly, switching characters at a scene break or chapter. Romance likes to flit back and forth with little to no signaling. I prefer chapters, myself, but whatever you do, be consistent.

Don't get caught head hopping. One of my major pet peeves is happily reading along in (first or third) Mary's head and then suddenly having reader whiplash when we're thrown into Susan's head in the middle of a conversation because the author really wanted to share Susan's side too. Pick which character gets the most bang for the buck with the scene and stay in their head.

Depending on the whether you are in third, first, or omniscient, you will need to keep a close watch on what details should or shouldn't be included. Are we deep enough into the character? Are we sharing thoughts? Are the five senses used to fully immerse the reader? This is where telling and showing can make a big difference in the reader experience. Does the character know things we don't, or conversely, do we know things the character doesn't and is either thing what you intend?

Do you have a preference for stories with a single point of view or multiple?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - OMG This Is Crap

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Omg, this is crap. There comes a point in editing when this thought will probably enter your mind. For me, it's usually during the first pass when I'm discovering the plot holes, adverb nests, that corny filler scene that I breezed through late one night after a few drinks, and that long chapter where everything is dialogue. 

Take a deep breath.

You got the story written. That's a big accomplishment. Now we're here, knowing there are issues, and we're doing to fix them.

Admitting there are issues is the first step. That feeling of writing "The End" can be pretty intense.  All the words. They're so pretty! The first draft is done!

Enjoy that moment. Take a day or a week off.

There, now it's time to face reality. You have editing to do. Your story will be better, stronger, sleeker after you're done.

Depending on your stamina, an editing pass might take a couple days or just as long as it took to write the damn thing. Set a goal and do your best to keep it.

I find working one chapter at time makes those early passes more tolerable. Take notes of the bigger issues you'll need to conquer while you're fixing the smaller things, especially if those issues require tweaking or additions in chapters you're not currently editing. This will help keep you focused on getting this one part done rather than skipping around. Because let me tell you, that can turn into a depressing "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" adventure. There's no surer way to be overwhelmed by all the crap, than to visit the highlight reel by taking a speed reading trip through your novel. Not to mention, skipping around can cause continuity nightmares. Don't be tempted. It's not worth it.

Remember, it's not crap. It's a first draft. It's a starting point to something that could, with some time and effort, be pretty darn awesome.

How much downtime to you prefer to take between finishing the first draft and starting to edit?

Monday, April 17, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Names

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

What's in a Name? Easy answer: some letters. Yet, they can be a pain in the ass to come up with. One of the characters in The Last God has had his name changed three times during the first draft. Find/Replace, I love you.

As you're wandering through your novel, take a look at the names you've chosen. Are they different enough from one another that it's clear who is who? While John and Johan having fast paced duel might be fun to watch, it could be difficult to follow when reading.

If you're in your own world or in a specific region, do the names work together to form an impression of the society you're working with? For example, you probably don't want Ma'touac and Tim sitting around the communal fire.

Names that have special meaning might take a little explanation, but try not to go overboard into backstory/info dump territory. Sure, you spent three bleary-eyed days pouring through name lists on the internet, seeking out meanings in six languages before settling on just the right one, but is that information pertinent to the story or one of those author quirks that you should revel in behind the scenes?

When you decided that everything on this new planet needed its own name, right down to the potatoes, you might have gone to far. Renaming a few things for flavor works wonderfully to set the scene, but I don't want to constantly refer to the hundred page decoder glossary at the back of the book. In fact, I'd be thrilled if there was no glossary at all. Verify that the things you've named are described adequately so the reader will know what they are in context.

Since I brought up the wonders of Find/Replace, let us pause a moment for a cautionary tale.

Example one: Years ago I changed a MC's last name. No big deal. Except for some funky reason, when I sent the full MS off to the publisher, whatever program they used to convert the .doc to what they wanted to read it in, removed every single instance of that last name. That made for some really weird reading. This was a very odd error, as I'd used the F/R on many other elements in that story over the years. Why it picked that main thing to throw a fit over, I may never know.

Example two: You're feeling confident that using F/R to do the simple switch of Lex to Logan is no big deal. You don't need to monitor every replace, right? Just do them all and be done with it. Yes, well... All is groovy until you start to edit and come across frankenwords like "Her fair comploganion." No sir, not good.

And last, but the most frequent offender: Can anyone else pronounce that combination of letters? I'm sure Xyifnl is a really smart and talented girl that I should be cheering for, but I can honestly tell you she's been nicknamed X in my head for the entire book.

What's your name pet peeve?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A to Z: Motivations

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Are your characters properly Motivated? Do their actions make sense to someone not inside their head?

One of the things I like to do best when I'm editing/reading/critiquing/whatever term makes you happy for someone else, is ask why. Why does a character have to do whatever it is that the author has deemed they must do? Does it fit with their character? Does it make sense?

This might mean the stakes need to be increased or more conflict is necessary to drive the character to a specific action. Maybe they're doing an action that entirely illogical but would make complete sense with more set up earlier in the story. Do we need a little backstory or introspection to clarify the why?

To much why can be a sign of a weak plot. Again, not that the story is bad or the idea sucks, but perhaps everything that needs to be there to make the character's motivation a strong one, isn't all on the page yet. I've been guilty a time or three of sending a story off to critique partners before I've gotten all the necessary words out of my head and onto the page. Sometimes, dammit, we're just really excited to send it off for feedback. Which typically leads to the story limping back covered in red ink and then it sits in the corner, staring glumly at the floor for a few days. Poor thing.

Things to consider:
Is this character under enough pressure to have to make this terrible/major choice?
Does event A, B and C add up to a logical reason why the character acts this way?
Is the character taking an active role in what happens to him/her?

You definitely have some work to do if: The character is acting erratically because...
they had a bad dream or a bad feeling with no further elaboration
for because I am the writer and I said so. Don't question me!
they just felt like doing something different that day
the prophecy said it would happen like this

Enough about character motivations, what motivates you to write?

Friday, April 14, 2017

A to Z: Letting go

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Part of editing is learning to Let go.

You've been with your novel for months, sometimes years. Characters have become your friends. You love to spend time in the world you've created. You hear their voices in your head and wandered the setting in your dreams. 

And now you have to rip into those pretty perfect words.  I hope you still have those tissues handy. 

Before you start, save a copy of your file. That's the one to edit. All your sparkly awesome words are now saved for posterity. A safety net in case you totally hate what editing is going to do to your wonderful story. 

Here's the thing though, its going to make your story better. However, knowing those words are all still there just as I originally intended to be frees up my brain to dig in and do what I know must be done. To be honest, I've never reverted back to that original file, and in some cases, I cringe to even skim through it. But it's there.

Once you've done all your passes, conquered the big plot issues, made sure your characters are properly motivated, nitpicked your sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, seen through to the ugly where you thought there was only sparkle, it's time to let go even more. It's time to send your newly chiseled masterpiece off to other eyeballs. 

The owners of those eyeballs (if they are good, honest beta readers and/or critique partners) will tell you about all the rough patches that still need fixing. Do you have to listen to every word? No. Should you take them into consideration, at least generally? Yes. After all, you shared your word baby with them for a reason.     

After this nerve-wracking process, its time for a polish pass and then the next step, a step back from your pretty words as you send them off into either a paid editor, submissions, or whatever avenue you're self publishing with. Somewhere around here, we have to let go for good and move on to the next project.

We create the first drafts of our story for ourselves. It may always be your favorite version of the story, perhaps with darling tidbits that only you will ever enjoy, but in the process of letting go, the story will be stronger and appeal to an audience wider than one.

Editing can be a major process but it creates a stronger story. Do you find it painful or do you enjoy it?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A to Z: Killing The Darlings

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

That painful post in which we discuss Killing our darlings. Grab your tissues and a comfort beverage. We're going to relive some trauma.

If you have written a short story and edited it, you're familiar with chopping off a favorite sentence or two. Maybe it was a witty or touching line of dialogue, or a clever description. You mourned the loss with a sigh or a sniff.

Novels tend to have a lot more trauma simply because there are a lot more words involved. If you've written for a while, like, say, you're on your third or seventh novel, there will likely be a lot less darling killing going on. Once you've experienced the trauma, you'll work hard to avoid it. Even us pantsers will do everything possible to avoid it, including a bit of planning, even if it's all in our heads.

I once wrote a novel (my first) and spend years making it wonderful (a bloated mess) because I was learning (a lot) and didn't want to let it go. And so I give you (after much learning and wonderful and patient critique partners), a look into my own first editing trauma.

You're happily reading along during an editing pass when you suddenly realize the Barthromians, a race of people you've enjoyed working into your masterful sci-fi novel over several revisions, who have been with you for years while working on this novel, need to be deleted. Cruelly wiped from existence! Ripped from the very pages of your novel! All because your MC can avoid that interaction completely and accomplish the same character development in a lot less words using a different race also in the story.  Not to mention, you may or may not have named them something that sounds like bathroom as a joke. We're done there, right? No.

That romantic evening with the fancy dance party where everyone is dressed up was fun to write, but totally doesn't fit in with the rest of the story once it's all put together. But dammit, it was fun to write and makes you feel all fuzzy inside! How special. Hand me the chainsaw.

The special weapon that makes your MC super dangerous also makes them a bit too powerful to be believable - but there's a whole backstory to how she got it and she uses it in three fights and...and... Yeah, suck it up. It needs to go.

But what about that cool space ship design you spent days on? No.

The guy who the MC violently and graphically kills in a jealous fit of rage? If he's going to be the PROtagonist, no.

The early version of the MC who shared a name with a character in a cartoon you liked as a kid? No.

Okay, can I keep the third ex partner of the MC? We spent a lot of time on him and there's that whole backstory! We get the point from the fact she already has two ex partners. Axe him.

But I can keep MC's best friend, right? She needs friends. We need a workable word count. No.

I let the cool weapon go. Can she keep her special power cybernetic eyes? For the same reason, no.

Fine. But I'm keeping the spiffy new body armor. No, you're not. Gone.

You get the idea. These are some of the many things I've cut from one novel. And I talk to myself a lot in person and in blog posts. It's totally normal. *nods reassuringly*

This is where I offer consolation and suggest starting each major editing pass with a new document because it makes losing these people, places, and things you've spend so much time on, less painful. They're not gone, but they're not cluttering up your finished piece either. And you never know, there might come a time when that very thing will come in handy in another story. Repurposing darlings
is another coping skill when you have major losses. Blogging about my discarded darlings was also good therapy.

If you want more examples of darlings I've had to cut, visit the Victims of the Knife posts. Some have been lucky enough to come back. We'll visit one such lucky guy on X day.

Have you had to kill any darlings lately?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A to Z: Jargon

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Beyond keeping your story straight and characters likable, you've got to know your own Jargon.  If you're writing a story based in the real world, this would fall under doing your research and knowing what you're talking about. If you've made up your own world, well, you should probably also know what you're talking about.

Make sure you keep special words for technology, races, planets, gizmos and magical things straight. They need to be spelled the same, capitalized or not, italicized or not, used correctly by whomever is using them and possibly in a different manner by characters who don't. Write down the rules for the thing-which-you-have-created so that you, as the Creator of Worlds, make sure those things follow those rules and don't become McGuffins, plot holes, or any other point of weakness.

The things that you create should have purpose and meaning to the plot or character. Don't create or use spiffy words for the sake of tossing them around. If you're going to pull in some technical jargon the reader has to Google to follow the story, it better be worthwhile in the grand scope of things.

Have you spent days/weeks/months creating the most detailed galaxy and know everything about all seven plants and their collective fifteen moons, the nearby asteroid belt, and the two stars that keep it all habitable? That's great, but if your story only involves one of those worlds and has a legitimate reason to mention maybe two others but we never go there, we probably don't need the chapter of world building it would take to share all of that. Stick to what is necessary for the story. Adding a little more for flavor is fine, but don't drag down the pace.

 I once created a bunch of spiffy items with rules and special words, only to realize I could get by with two of them for flavor and the rest weren't necessary to the story at all, fun as they were to create and awesome as they might be in my own mind. That epiphany led to a lot of hack and slash editing. As writers we love to create things, but we also must learn when to cut them. (Tune in tomorrow for more on that.)

Today's post breaks down to a simple: Know thy shit and use it wisely.

Have you created something nifty only to cut it later?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A to Z: Introductions

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Introducing your story to a reader starts at the beginning.  There are four beginnings we're going to touch on today, but we'll start with the obvious: The beginning of the story.

When editing, you want to make sure your story is starting at the actual beginning of the story. This point will depend on your genre and your voice, but generally this isn't where your character is waking up or taking in the picturesque scenery. It's where something is happening.

When writing that first draft, we start where we think the story starts, but that doesn't mean we were correct. Take a good look at the whole story now that its finished and make sure its the closest to that something moment.

The something can seem like a delicate balancing point. I don't mean where someone is suddenly on fire or a car crash / gun fight / bar brawl, but the point where the thing that launches your character into the story happens. Something interesting. It doesn't have to be huge with fireworks and flashing lights, but make it catchy. Make us want to know more about the character, situation, or world around them.

Next up: the beginning of your chapters. If you're switching POV with each chapter, make it clear which head we're in in the opening sentences so we're not floundering. While I enjoy a good mystery, whose head I'm now in isn't one of them. Make it clear if we've jumped to a new setting or advanced a significant amount of time from the previous chapter. And again, we should start with something interesting happening.

Now we're going to get nitpicky, take a look the beginning of your paragraphs. Do three in a row start with the same person's name or word? Time for some rewriting.

Maximum picky level: start looking at the beginning of your sentences. Last week I picked up a book where every sentence in the long opening paragraph began with "He". You would be correct if you guessed that I put that book right back on the shelf. Also watch for starting a sentence with the same word that ended the last one. It's distracting when reading.

Have any story introductions that drove you nuts or a favorite to share?

Monday, April 10, 2017

A to Z: Holes in the plot

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Nothing ruins a good story like plot Holes.  You're busy writing a scene and thinking ahead to the next and the next after that. Perhaps you're consulting a carefully planned outline, or you're going off a rough idea in your head. Maybe, like I often am, you're pulling words from the ether, wondering where the hell your story is headed. In any of those cases, it's easy to get ahead of yourself and miss resolving or explaining something along the way.

As a certified pantser, my preferred method of combating plot holes is two-fold. I don't have an outline to start with, but after the first draft, it's time to make one. Going through each scene from chapter one to the end and writing down what happens, how it's resolved and the motivations of your characters along the way is a great way to make sure you've filled in those holes before the story moves on to other eyes.

Even then, you've probably still missed a few things.

It's hard to believe that is possible, knowing the story you've spent months/years with like your best friend, but yeah, it happens. Why? Because you've spent too much time with your best story friend to see the flaws.

Step two of the plot hole filling process: shipping your best story friend off to a pair of fresh eyeballs who are bold enough to tell you what is missing. Meaning, probably not your mom or your actual best friend. This is something that would be caught in a developmental edit, but if you're hoping for a publisher, it would be in your favor to catch this stuff before your story goes into submissions or it may never make it into an editor's hands.

What's the biggest plot hole you've discovered either in your own work or a book you've read?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A to Z: Good Guys

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

We covered the bad guys, but what about the Good Guys? And yes, I'm going to acknowledge that we've met our requirement for G and go forward calling them protagonists to save what little sanity I have.

You know your protagonist well. They've been speaking in your head for months/years. You know they're favorite color, that they have a secret craving for salty foods, and prefer comfortable clothes over fashion. But you may not have noticed that they shrug all the time and say half their dialogue with a smile. That they have paragraphs of dialogue lines and everyone else is relegated to three word responses. We seem to know every detail of what they are wearing but everyone else is just a talking head. You may be showing a smidge of favoritism to your protagonist and may need to take a pass or two to spread the love to your other characters.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may know your protagonist so well, that you're not taking the time to share some of those endearing facts with the rest of us. This can make your protagonist hard to like as they ram their way through the plot "because I'm telling you they're super awesome!". We need to be shown what kind of person they are throughout the story, especially in the opening chapters where we should be getting attached to them.

Some things that make a protagonist relatable - a.k.a things you can do to make readers not hate your protagonist (because I don't know about you, but I've read a few books where I'm cheering for the antagonist to win by chapter three).
  • Give them a flaw or three
  • Let them doubt themselves now and then
  • Let them make mistakes
  • On occasion, have them say what's on their mind rather than just think what they should say.
  • Make sure they are taking an active role in accomplishing their goal rather than relying on others
  • Give them one thing they are good at, even if its just being in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Don't be afraid to make them a bit quirky, funny, odd, sad...anything that makes them feel real.
What is your favorite character quirk or thing that you like to know about a protagonist?

Friday, April 7, 2017

A to Z: Check Your Facts

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Checking your Facts is yet another step of the editing process. Beyond doing research, if your story requires it, I'm talking about making sure one and one equal two all the way through your novel. This pass is best to do after you've had some time away from your piece so you can visit it with fresh eyes.

Six guys walk into the bar, but only five are involved in the brawl you write once they get inside.

Her name is Sara at the beginning of the novel, but Sarah by the end.

It was morning when they left the city. Eight hours have passed on our adventures and now we're sitting down to a tasty lunch and no one is overly hungry.

A space ship attaches to another and attacks. It is defeated. The war goes on. Are we flying around with that thing still attached?

Your character was grievously injured, but in the next scene they are fine. It's a miracle!

Your character sleeps naked. They get up suddenly from bed to deal with a situation, and no one says anything...or maybe you should give them a second to get dressed.

There are a myriad of these little details throughout a story that need to be looked over. Does everyone's hair/skin/eyes remain the same color? Do they magically change clothes during scenes? Did that important thing in the pocket of their coat, suddenly appear in the pocket of their pants when they needed it?

Is your spiffy technology accessed by a hand print on a panel in scene six or scan like in scene twenty-two?

Sometimes (very often) we get engrossed in writing and forget to keep track of these things. Which is why it's important to pay attention to them during your editing passes. Take notes. I have a notebook for just such a purpose while I'm editing, jotting down any names, facts and numbers that seem important as I read so that I can verify them throughout.

Now that you've seen some of my goofs, what's the biggest/funniest thing you've overlooked while writing?

I'd love to visit your blog and see what you're up to with the A to Z Challenge. Please be sure to leave a link with your comment.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A to Z: Extra Words

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Extra words, one of the many steps to the editing process. Sometimes it's trimming them, sometimes its adding them. Let's look at both.

In the case of a restricted work count, you may need to do some trimming to conform to guidelines. This happens most often with short stories...or novels that have inflated to 300K for no good reason. Don't laugh. It's a true story. Let's just say I'm really good at cutting words at this point in life.

You may have crutch words that can simply be cut because they serve no real purpose. Some common words to take a judgmental look at:
up/down - as in sitting down (sat), standing up (stood), etc.

Perhaps, upon reading your story for the twentieth pass, you come to the sudden realization that Chuck's enduring habit of hunching his shoulders when he's uncertain has gotten out of control and when you do a search for the word "hunch" it pops up thirty nine times. You might want to cut a few of those. Also a true story, though from a story I was reading for someone else.

As you skim over your words, you may begin to notice a few words or phrases that pop up and become distracting because you had them on the mind when writing and used them way more than necessary. Each story tends to have a couple of these. For example, I recently discovered that in one of my books, no one could just simply get out of a chair. They jumped out of them. Because: action!

What about adding words? Sometimes the story is sparse, and you may need to beef up description so you don't have talking heads in a void or your setting is all of two words, like "a bar". This is one of my problems. I got so used to cutting words, that sometimes I go too far and I have to rely on critique partners to tell me where my bare bones are exposed.

What words have you overused?

I'd love to visit your blog and see what you're up to with the A to Z Challenge. Please be sure to leave a link with your comment.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A to Z: Developmental Edits & April IWSG

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

A Developmental edit is likely the first type of edit you'll get back from your editor if you're going through a publisher. This edit will focus on the broader areas of plot, character, motivations and making sure everything is adequately described. That last one being where most of the comments come in on my stuff.

This is by far my favorite stage of editing, both on the giving and receiving end. This is the time to address all those questions you have in your head as you read. Why is the character doing this? What does this room actually look like? How can this thing happen when X and Y don't line up?

As the writer, you think you have this all covered. Everything makes sense to you. You can see the setting clearly in your head. You know the characters like your best friends. Your critique partners have probably read this story a couple times. Their eyes may have caught some of these issues on the first pass, but there are always more. More areas where the story can be fleshed out, or, in some cases, trimmed up.

For me, the dev edit is where the magic happens. When all the little story holes get pretty plugs, those bits that niggled at you, that maybe you weren't quite sure if they worked, get solidified and clarified and you either can confirm that new eyeballs see what is in your head, or fix it so that they can. This is where all your notes and discarded scenes get their last chance and maybe making it into the story. Sometimes I cut something in my own edits, seeing that it's slowing the story down or just doesn't fit in, but those new eyes ask a question that relates to what I removed. I still have that information. I just need to find the right place and way to work it back in.

Do you dread getting edits back on your work or enjoy the process?

Hey, it's also the first Wednesday of the month! You know what that means...
it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

This month's question is: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Other than providing a links to my published books, which are right over there along the left if you're interested <=== , no, I haven't really gone that route. Not that I wouldn't do that, because all the increased traffic is a wonderful boost, but the timing just hasn't worked out for me. I was happy enough to mesh the beta reading period for The Last God and A to Z, leaving me not entangled in edits while trying to engage in all the commenting and visiting that A to Z is about.

Since we are on the topic, if anyone is interested in doing letting me do a guest post on your blog to help promote either of my new books when they are ready to release in the upcoming months, please let me know in the comments (or my email is on the contact page) and we'll connect. The Last God is a sci-fi romance and Trust is science fiction. Conversely if you have anything new (that falls under speculative fiction) coming out soon, I welcome guest posts here as well.

I hope you're enjoying A to Z, and for those of you promoting your books this month, may you have many sales!

I'd love to visit your blog and see what you're up to with the A to Z Challenge. Please be sure to leave a link with your comment.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A to Z: Character Arcs

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Character arcs can be vital to making your story end in a satisfying manner. Yes, it's important that the antagonist or main point of conflict is overcome, but how did it change your protagonist?

I once wrote a novel where the poor main character suffers terribly, yet manages to defeat the antagonists by the end of the story. It should all be good, right? Sadly, no. I found the story elicited a resounding 'meh' from those that read it. The problem: The character never changed. He was the same guy at the beginning, beset by trying circumstances, who then has to make connections with several shady folks, suffers some injury and emotional trauma, but then comes out on top, generally the same guy. He didn't grow.

So it was back to the drawing board...or keyboard as it were. Time to dig deeper into the character, to make him more active in his journey, not just physically, but emotionally, so that at the end, he had changed, for better or worse.

As you read over the story you're editing, give some thought not only to the plot arc, but also the characters. Are they changed? Do they grow? Did they learn something important about themselves? Are they adequately challenged to create a solid conflict and satisfying resolution?

What's your favorite way to put characters through the wringer to elicit change?

I'd love to visit your blog and see what you're up to with the A to Z Challenge. Please be sure to leave a link with your comment.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A to Z: Bad Guys

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Bad Guys

Yes, if we're being official we'd call them Antagonists, but we covered A.

We agonize over our protagonist, making sure readers like them, that they have good motivations, and that their character arc is sound. Don't neglect to do the same for you bad guys (This is killing me, can we just call them antagonists and pretend we're going with B? Yes, I think we can.)

Having a well rounded antagonist can really set the story apart and make your protagonist shine even brighter. There is definitely something to having a worthy opponent. One of my favorite conundrums is realizing that the antagonist has a valid point and motivation, but is only in the wrong because we're steered toward cheering for the protagonist. Seeing both sides of the conflict makes for a rich story.

Take the time to get to know your antagonist and give them a solid soap box to stand on while they set forth in their quest for world domination. Your story will thank you for it.

Have you ever read a story and found yourself liking the antagonist more than the protagonist?