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Category Archives: Editing

Stepping into POV

20130208-163533.jpgThanks for continuing to follow us through our February workshops. A special thanks to those of you who have been brave enough to share your work with us. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity offer up some of the things we’ve learned over the years, but also the chance to learn from you. If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter to win a 25 page critique from Month9Books editor, our very own Courtney Koshel.

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller

Today I’d like to talk about point-of-view, something that has always been highly important to me and something that has evolved in my writing over the years. For those of you who have read my stories, you know I like to dig my heels deeply into my characters’ hearts, set up camp, and then invite you in for a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best seat in the house.

There are three common points-of-view used in fiction: 1st person, 3rd person limited, and 3rd person omniscient. Two things usually dictate which one you choose: your writing style or your story. For me, first person is a choice I’ll make 9 times out of 10 because that’s how I connect to my characters and that’s what shapes the tone of my story. It’s a stylistic thing.

For others, it may vary from story to story. For instance, fantasy is often written in 3rd person because of the vast amount of world building that needs to be done, while Young Adult is commonly 1st person to create the familiar emotional intensity of adolescence in the reader. I’ll let you Google the many articles out there about which one is right for you, but no matter your choice, there are some common tips that mean the difference between watching the story play out on a mental screen and stepping into the character’s shoes.

Eliminating Filter Words

Courtney already gave us a wonderful post on filter words and in it she says, “They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character.” There’s no better way to say it so I’ll leave it at that and encourage you to check out her post again for a list of common filter words.

Sensory Details

Including the five senses is essential in each scene yet it often gets overlooked. I think we’re so used to experiencing the world through them, we take for granted that without them I wouldn’t be able to feel the warm blanket over my legs right now; I wouldn’t hear the space heater running beside the couch; I couldn’t see the screen in front of me to type this, or taste the remnants of the Granny Smith apple I ate a few minutes ago. I could have simply said I’m typing this on my iPad in my living room but don’t the use of my senses create a much clearer picture?

Character Thoughts and Feelings

In any given moment, a person has an emotional reaction or thought about what is happening around them, or what happened earlier in the day or week or month. They have feelings about what other people say or do, or what might happen in the future. It is a rare moment when we aren’t reacting to our surroundings. Bring your character to life by giving us a glimpse into his or her mind and heart with internal monologue, skillfully included using the POV of your choice. Make us feel it too.

There are many ways to put readers behind the eyes of your characters but these are just a few. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and a novel is a cross-country trek. Bring us along.

In the comments, I would love to see a few paragraphs of your work-in-progress where you might need a little help with implementing these techniques. The ladies and I here to support you and speaking from experience, nothing helps your grow in your craft more than trial and error with an encouraging group or writing friends. 🙂

Photo by Newtown grafitti

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Performance Pressure and the Diamond in the Manuscript

20130125-172029.jpgHave you ever finished writing a manuscript, and after months of blood, sweat, and tears, you realize that even after all that work, your story doesn’t look at all like you imagined it in your head? In fact, after a second glance, you’re sure a toddler temporarily overtook your brain and scribbled 400 pages of crayon doodles? Of course you have…you’re a writer. You’ve probably felt that way about everything you’ve ever written…like I have.

Up until this point in my writing “career,” that hasn’t mattered much. Mostly my readers have been friends and writing groups. I post fiction online too but even in that venue, readers are generally pretty forgiving. Not so with publishing industry professionals. There is very little room for mistakes and if you make them, they better be small. Tiny. Miniscule. Talk about pressure.

Getting in the (Publishing) Game

Over the next couple of weeks I’m preparing for my first writing contest ever. I’m talking the big deal with two rounds, multiple judges, announcement of the finalists at the next conference, and the final round judged by editors of major publishing houses. Yeah…that kind of scary.

It’s an exciting adventure to be sure, a thrill to imagine where it could lead. The final judge for my category is an editor at Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Never before has every word, every period, and every character of my manuscript been under such scrutiny. Sometimes the anxiety to get it all right leaves me panic stricken. I only get one chance to put my best work in front of this woman who could potentially be my gateway into the holy land.

Previously, I’ve never had a reason to get this far into the process of editing. I guess I always imagined entering the chaos of the publishing world as something that would happen way down the road. Like, way down. I’ve taken my time, learning more about this, fiddling with that, but after five years of writing, getting critiqued, editing, and dreaming, it’s time to dive in, sink or swim. So despite my fear, I’m going through the first 20 pages of my manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve re-understood my characters, re-worked motivations, re-invented the details, and rewritten this novel so many times that I have more loose ends than the hem of grandma’s skirt.

Upping the Ante

Before I started this final-for-now edit, I had a long brainstorming session with my writing partners and nailed down what was working and what wasn’t, for better or worse. The time for flip-flopping has come and gone. And now, with that focus in mind, I’m sifting out the dirt and looking for the gems. And you know what? They are there. Actually, never before have they shined brighter. And I don’t think anything less than the pressure to perform at my best would have gotten me here.

I’m the ultimate perfectionist at heart, especially when it comes to my writing. I think every artist is that way. But putting myself in this position has taught me that I know more than I ever realized about who I am as a writer, what I want to bring to this ever expanding sea of literature, what my writing voice sounds like, what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, and what process works best for me. The deadline and the stakes have forced me to stopped questioning myself and realize the truths that were already there, clouded by the uncertainty an unlimited time frame allows.

Get Out There

Do it. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think you’re ready. Guess what–just like getting married and having kids–you’re never going to be ready. You learn as you go. Underneath all those scribbles is your story, and as soon as you trust yourself enough to find it, you will. Make the decision. Raise the stakes. And watch yourself rise to the occasion.

What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Or, what deadlines are you working toward? What steps have you taken that have forced you to grow as a writer?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

 

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How to Cure the Sagging Middle

Subplots. There. That was easy. Oh, you want to hear the whole explanation? Fair enough.

For those of you who read my personal blog, you know the obstacles I overcame to win National Novel Writing Month this year. For those of you who don’t, it was an insane combination of two kids under 3, out of town guests, and several emotional breakdowns. Yet, I would call this year’s NaNoWriMo the most successful yet and not just because I overcame those obstacles, but also because I regularly hit word counts I’ve never accomplished before while fighting through that “sagging middle.” How did I do it?

The Power of Subplots

The problem with most of my outlines (and all of my first drafts) is that I have only a few scenes planned when I start writing. I know the major plot points and the first act is always crystal clear. But after that, things get fuzzy and I have a hard time getting from Point B to Point C, which means I’m clueless as to how I’ll ever get to Point D. Usually I do it with a bunch of random scenes like dinners–lots of them–and my characters doing dishes (you can’t have one without the other, right?). But then I get to the end of that outline or draft and realize there are a lot of boring scenes I’m not interested in writing (or rewriting), which means there’s no way anyone is going to be interested in reading them.

It took me a while to figure out why I was flailing and then it hit me–I’m not digging deep enough. Not digging deep enough into the story, into the character’s lives, into their friend’s and family’s lives. I was only thinking of the main plot. But if you’re writing a full-length novel, your main character is about more that just that single conflict. Just like you, he or she is juggling relationships, family, friends, work, personal goals, and more.

Breaking It Down

I’ll use my novel as an example.

The main plot/conflict is between my main character and her failing relationship.
But my main character also has issues with the expectations her mom still has for her.
And her father, who she hasn’t had a conversation with in seventeen years.
And then there’s the damage her career is doing to her personal life, no matter how much she loves it, as she reaches a crossroads in her professional life.
And her closest friends are getting divorced.

And to think–when I first thought of this novel, I only had the main plot in mind.

So think of it this way: My novel has about 60 scenes. Since my main conflict is the most important, let’s say it fills half the scenes–30. These scenes include things like the issues my heroine and hero have that are keeping them apart, the one major issue that is the catalyst for their growth, the scenes my main character spends trying to come to terms with it, the scenes in which they take turns trying to fix it, and the scenes where they’re sure it’s over. My MC’s career is also important so we’ll say that’s 10 more scenes. Then, take the other 20 scenes and divide them by the 4 remaining conflicts and we have 5 scenes each.

Now we’ll do the math. And remember, this is just a rough idea just to illustrate my point, not a concrete outline.

Act 1
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 1
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 2
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 3
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Some subplots won’t require 5 scenes, while some will require more. Sometimes you’ll have two or more conflicts within a single scene. But try to come up with at least 5 situations to put your character in which will show the story arc for each subplot. For instance, the conflict my MC has with her father would go like this: them not speaking, revealing why, show the misunderstanding, exacerbate the misunderstanding, and then resolve the conflict. Once you have similar snapshots in mind, sprinkle them throughout your novel, weaving them with the other plots, and you’ll never be short on scenes to write.

A Well of Scene Ideas

It may not always be clear at the beginning of your novel which conflicts your character will battle (mine don’t usually make themselves known until after the first draft) but if you’re having hard time coming up with them, start by thinking of your own. If your life was a novel, what would your plots and subplots be? And then, go from there. Because your characters are just people too (for most of you).

What techniques have you used to get through Act II?

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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Characters, Craft, Editing, Plot, Revision, Writing

 

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My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!

 

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Help!

008NaNoWriMo is done for another year. How did you all do? I didn’t participate, but had fun watching the updates fly by. Congratulations to all the winners!!

This is going to be a short post this week, because I need feedback – from you. I’ve asked the other Hugs and Chocolate writers if this is something they’d be interested in doing and the majority of the response has been extremely positive and exciting. I’m going to list a few questions and would look forward to reading your answers. We’ll discuss them and see what we can do to best help you.

Now that NaNo is over, we know you’ve got a ton of words, but it may not be ready for publication. However, we also know that it’s December, which means it’s crazy busy with Christmas and New Year’s coming up and you probably don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing this month. So…

1. If the Hugs and Chocolate writers were to offer workshops and critiques via the website, would you be interested in participating?

2. What subjects would you like to see covered? Revisions and editing are difficult. Some of us have done them or are doing them as I write this. What, in particular, would you like to know more about?

3. We were thinking of offering a critique workshop also. Would you be willing to submit the first 500 words of your story in a comment and have it critiqued? Or perhaps your one sentence description? Tell us what you need and how we can best help you.

4. Are you in need of a critique partner? Perhaps, via comments, you can find someone else who’s looking.

5. Timing. Because December is so busy for everyone, when would you like to see this happen? We want to create a community that helps you succeed and we’re looking for feedback about what our readers want and need.

 

 
18 Comments

Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Critique, Editing, Feedback, First Lines, NaNoWriMo, Revision

 

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Common Comma Issues

A lot of people seemed to like my post on how to use past perfect tense, so I wanted to continue today with another grammar rundown. I’m going to go through some common comma issues I see in manuscripts. I know we are getting into the weeds a little with grammar, but it’s amazing how some small tweaks to your manuscript will help sentence structure, story understanding, and an overall better reading experience for your reader. Misplacing or misusing a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence, so yeah, they’re pretty important.

Comma Splice: Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet). A comma splice is when a comma without a conjunction joins two separate sentences. A comma splice is incorrect. There are a few ways to correct a comma splice. One way is to use a semicolon to connect the two clauses without using a conjunction. You can also break the sentence into two separate sentences.

Examples that are all correct:

  • My favorite book releases soon, and I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon; I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon. I am so excited.

Serial Comma: Use commas to separate words and groups of words with a series of three or more.

Examples:

  • This book has awesome dialogue, plot, and characterization.
  • Sebastian, Biggie, and Loki are my four legged babies.

Using commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun: This is a big one all writers should pay attention to. Use a comma to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be careful not to add a comma before the final adjective and the noun or between non-coordinate adjectives. Here’s a helpful hint: if the word and can be inserted between the two adjectives, use a comma. If you can swap the adjectives around and they still make sense, use a comma. A coordinate adjective separately modifies the noun that follows it. Cumulative adjectives do not modify the noun that directly follows it.

Examples:

  • This is a strong, funny manuscript.
  • He wrapped me in an amazing power hug.  *You do not use a comma here because they are non-coordinate, and you can’t say, “He wrapped me in an amazing and power hug.

Comma to separate essential phrases and clauses: An essential phrase or clause is used to modify the noun. It also adds critical information to the sentence. You do not set essential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • The people who work in publishing are awesome.

A nonessential phrase or clause adds extra information to the sentence. The phrase or clause can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. You should always set nonessential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • Hugs and Chocolate, an awesome blog, is a great community. *Hugs and Chocolate is named, so the description is nonessential.

I could go on and on. There is so much information out there, but this is a good start. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer them in the comments.

 

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How Reading is Important to Writing

Before my regular post today, I want to take a minute to thank Karen S. Elliot for visiting our blog last week, as well as everyone who participated in the contest to win a sample of her services. A winner was chosen at random on Random.org. From all of us, we extend our congratulations to Darlene Foster! Karen will contact you to claim your prize!

In On Writing Stephen King said, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Clearly, Stephen King wasn’t nursing a baby twice a night and taking a toddler to the ER for stitches. These days, our responsibilities are endless. Most days, I don’t have the luxury for both reading and writing, and for a girl who has dreams of publishing one day, the writing has to get done.

Even so, I have been reading a lot more lately and I’m glad for that. I’ve discovered some incredible authors, many of which are in the genre I write, so not only does it help me relax after a long day, I feel like I’m learning a lot from those who have already successfully done what I hope to do one day. So I understand what King is trying to say. Reading is the quickest way to teach us how a story should be told.

A Lesson in Writing

For instance, last week I finished reading the book The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel-O’Neal. (If you like Women’s Fiction, this is a must read.) It was one of those books I never wanted to end because I was so entranced with her writing style and the characters and the story. I felt completely comfortable in her world and I wanted to wrap myself up in it for just a little while longer.

Facing reality, I started working on my novel again. After reading the work of a clearly seasoned author, I was jarred because in my head my story had that same smooth tone, that same mature voice, the same character development, but somewhere on the journey from my mind to my fingers it had gotten lost in translation. Clearly, Barbara has a few more books under her belt than I do so this was a great opportunity to learn something.

Troubleshooting time.

Concerns: I was still getting comments that my main character was immature. She often felt snarky when she was supposed to be kind. I didn’t feel as rooted in the story as I would have liked. The beautiful setting in my head wasn’t landing on the page. In general, something wasn’t quite connecting.

So, what was it about The Goddesses that connected the reader (me) to the character? What could I implement in my own novel to bring it to life the way it is in my head?

Are you seeing the red flashing light I finally did? Point-of-View!

Up until recently, I used to always write in 1st person, but after reading lots of books in my genre, it seemed like everyone else wrote in 3rd person. For a while, I liked it too because it kept me from getting too wordy. But after a while, it kept me from saying much at all so that most of the time, it was impossible to know how my character was reacting and what had happened to her in the past to make her react that way. The Goddesses is written in 1st person and it gave a sense of being the character instead of just watching her. The story is also written in present tense–something I had never tried and I thought might help me sort out the past perfect tense I kept stumbling on.

Over the last week, I picked up chapter one (again!) and started from scratch, taking the same scene, but changing the POV, tense, and adding in thoughts, background, and opinions of my character. Going over this chapter again for about the tenth time in the last few months almost killed me, but I was happy about the new feel and I sent it off to my writing partners tired but satisfied.

And they were floored by the improvement. Mission accomplished.

Lessons You May Not Know You’ve Learned

It isn’t always easy to make time for reading when writing is so time consuming, but books are the blueprints for building a great story–especially a publishable story. And in this case, I think it saved mine.

Here are some other thoughts about how reading helps you become a better writer:

  • Do you ever read a book and about 50 pages in, think, it feels like it’s about time for a plot point? That’s because years of reading has taught our subconscious mind the natural beats of a story.
  • Do you ever use a word while you’re writing that you didn’t know you knew, or if you’re using it correctly, only to look it up and find out you are? That’s because reading expands our vocabulary every time we pick up a book by a new author who writes with words we’ve never heard before. Context clues implants these new words in our minds, almost without our knowledge.
  • Do you ever finish a book and feel that fluttering in your chest, that excitement? That’s because reading is what made all of us want to be storytellers in the first place. Reading books in your genre reminds you of what inspired you to write this story.

What books do you feel you’ve learned from? What are you reading now?

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