Monday, July 3, 2017

The Things We Say

A popular post from April 2008

by Julie Wight
Everyone says writing should mirror real life, I am here to say, okay. But not mirror exactly. It has to resemble real life, but you don’t want an exact replica. Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was: "life, with the dull parts taken out."

Keep this in mind when revising dialogue. Think of two teenagers having a conversation “Did you hear about Jane?”
“Oh I know. What a sitch huh?”
“Yeah, crazy.”
“Totally.”

We have no idea what these girls just said. Teenagers speak in tongues sometimes, and readers, even teenage readers aren’t going to put up with pages of this circular sort of dialogue. You do not want to mimic this language unless you’re intentionally mocking it.

Something else to avoid is sounding stiff and stilted in your writing with dialogue. People don’t speak properly when talking to one another. They slur their words together. We don’t say “you will.” We say “you’ll.” In conversations, there are umm’s and errrr’s, and while now and again that works perfect in dialogue, if you do it too much your readers are going to skip whole passages to try to get back into the meat of your story or worse, they’ll put your book down.

Be careful with your dialogue. Mimic reality while making sure to shave out the unnecessary.

Don’t info dump in dialogue. I’ve seen it happen where someone will have two characters having a conversation for the sole purpose of cluing in the reader. It goes something like this, “As you know, Bob, the facility was shut down due to an outbreak of purple spots.”

Here we have two issues. First, in reality we don’t use names all the time.
“Mary would you like some cake?”
“Why Yes, Joe. I’d love some cake.”
“I thought you might, Mary.”

Does that sound like a normal conversation? Not a chance.

Second issue with the first example. Bob already knows the facility was shut down due to the purple spots epidemic so they wouldn’t really be having this conversation. Do not use dialogue to info dump.

Some really fast tips are:
Dialogue tags--Do not veer too far away from he said/she said. If you are always adding clever replacements, they call attention to themselves. He cried . . . She spouted . . . They queried . . . He growled . . . She stuttered.

Using he said or she said is invisible to the reader. The others draw attention to themselves in a negative way.

On the same lines be careful about adverb usage. He said excitedly, she said dejectedly, he cried angrily, she whispered sexily. That gets really irritating really fast. It looks amateurish and you will be embarrassed if your book ever makes it to print (trust me on this one).

Weave conversation naturally with action and a dash of exposition (remember, I said DASH!). Break up the dialogue with action and internal thought.
An example:

“I came to say I’m sorry.” He bent down and rubbed his hands in the dirt
for a minute to clean them off. Hap preferred dirt to tomatoes any
day.

She turned to him, her pulsating hazel eyes glowered. If she’d had the
superpower of heat vision, he’d have been nothing but a pile of ash. “What
exactly are you sorry for?” she asked.

What? Was this a quiz? Wasn’t it enough to apologize without having to
consider the details? He shrugged. It was the best answer he had. The fewer
words, the faster he could get back and figure what Tolvan meant by an’ icy
trust.’

“I’m asking,” she said, while climbing down from the boulder. “I’m asking
because I want to know if you’re sorry for making fun of my magic trick, or for
my application qualifications, or if you’re sorry you made me look stupid in
front of your grandfather, who might have given me a job if you hadn’t been
there slapping buzzers on my hand.”

Hap blinked and scratched his hand through his hair. “Um . . . I’m sorry
for all that.” He almost said he was only sorry for the buzzer, but felt pretty
certain she expected him to be sorry for all of the above. Girls were funny that way.


By breaking up the dialogue, you create a scene that moves along.

Think about the things you say and the things you hold back. Think about emotions involved in your situations so your dialogue can reflect those emotions. Our conversations reveal so much about us. Make your conversations reveal your characters.

In summary:
  • Don't info dump
  • don't get repetitious with name usage
  • use adverbs sparingly
  • use said instead of clever dialogue tag replacements.
  • utilize action and internal thought along with your dialogue to break it up and make it flow.

Friday, June 30, 2017

WD Revision Lesson #5


A popular post from April 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

The fifth lesson in revision as per Jordan Rosenfeld's article, Revision for the Faint of Heart, is to purge those non-necessities. The steps leading to this place have gotten you very familiar with your weaknesses, have allowed you to look at your manuscript as a whole and not it's time to, as Stephen King says, "Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heard, kill your darlings."

Darlings are not characters--though they could be--but in my mind I picture a dour old woman of eccentric means petting a horrible dog in her lap that bites everyone but her. And as you pull your hand back from yet another attempt to get into the monster's good graces, she pets it again and says in a tone lighter and kinder than she ever uses in addressing another human "Oh, darling , are you alright?" And you know in an instant she's not talking about you or your punctured flesh, she's asking if somehow her precious canine has hurt itself in it's attack upon you. Do not be that woman! Do not cherish a flea-infested nightmare simply because you've grown attached to it. Consider the other people that will come across it and how they will feel when they're walking into the ER for their rabies shot.

Here are some examples:
*Adverbs, similes, cliches--or in other words, lazy words. Rather than using 'sadly' show us a drooping shoulder, a stifled tear, a quick turning away in dispair. Rather than using cliches like "a turtle coming out of it's shell" show her pulling herself to her full height and breaking into a smile that draws attention from every person in that room because they've never seen her with so much confidence. This goes along with showing rather than telling, and it doesn't work in every instance and ever scene, but look for those times they can be fixed, lazy words replaced with energetic ones

*Overt explanations and back story. I call this spoonfeeding, where you are just scooping up information and plopping it on their tongue. It sounds like "You see, when she was a child everyone thought she was fat and ugly, and now as an adult she can't see herself as anything different." You could tell that in such a different way and give it life-- "Even though she knew she was no longer that awkward child, with more size than shape, and even though she knew that at times she had been beautiful, all she could think about was that she was only one donut, one chocolate shake, one raspberry torte away from being that child again--the girl who got stuck on the jungle gym, the one that could never keep up and finally stopped trying, hiding in the bushes at recess to escape the taunts of her thiner counterparts." Though I recommend you don't do it one horribly run on sentence as I did, I hope you get the point :-)

*Scenes unnecessary to the plot. I call these 'author moments' when you get toward the end of a scene and think "The only reason this is here is because the author wants it here" and I believe we all have those scenes. Ones that for one reason or another speak to us, but don't speak to the story. If you can rewrite it and work in a plot point, go for it, but if there is no way around it accept that it's a pause button and junk it.
-Remember that too much emotion can spoil a great scene. Even if you tend to be on the melodramatic side of life, ask yourself if it's reasonable. When I edit other peoples work I'll underline these sentences and write "Too Much" or "Really?" to draw the authors attention to the fact that I'm not buying it. Keep it real.

*Verbal diarrhea--when your characters are just talking too dang much. We've all read this, and we've likely all been annoyed with it--it's one of the reasons, in my opionin, that books that are made up of a collection of letters are hard to read, nothing happens. I don't mean that the letters, or the dialogue, isn't necessary, but let your characters pause and glance out a window. Let them rub a hand across their forehead or order another drink. Don't let paragraphs of talking go on and on--you'll lose your reader.

This is the point in which you are transitioning from 'what do I want to write' into 'what will other people read' and you have to be very objective about this. It's not easy--I promise you it isn't--but to create your best work you have to keep your reader in mind and realize that some dogs are just plain mean. If it can't be trained, it's best not seen amid polite company.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Editing: It's not over 'til it's over

A popular post from April 2008

by Heather Moore

Part of the writing journey is, of course, rewriting

Many new writers are surprised to learn that a book goes through a number of drafts or revisions before it's even accepted for publication. Of course there's a point in time when you need to stop revising and start submitting.

On average, I have my manuscript reviewed/edited by 5-7 people before submitting to a publisher. My publisher will send my manuscript to three readers, who in turn write up evaluations that outline the strengths and weaknesses and suggest whether or not the manuscript is publishable.

IF the evaluations are favorable overall, the publisher will officially "accept" the book. Then the publisher sends me the three evalutations (sometimes they are quite long: 10-13 pages), and I go through each comment and use the advice to make my manuscript stronger. I don't agree with all comments, but I try to explain to my editor why I don't want to change something.

Then, I'm assigned an editor, who goes through my new revision and gives his/her comments. I edit from the editor's comments. This is when the edits "really" count and a writer has to weigh each suggestion or correction with care. It's not the time to brush off a suggestion with "Sally from my critique group just doesn't get me . . . so I'll ignore her character motivation comment . . ."

But even after submitting the next revision . . . it's still not over. A disk changer will implement my fixes, and any approved fixes by the editor, and sometimes the disk changer will come back with comments. THEN the manuscript is typeset and goes to two copyeditors. The copyeditors are mainly proofing, but they may also find an inconsistency that needs to be fixed.

Through this process, the author is reading each new version, checking for errors that can creep up through the typeset or the disk-changer process.

So, by the time the book is sent the press, I don't want to ever see it again. Yes, I'm excited to hold the book in my hands and to gaze at the cover when it hits shelves. But open it and read it? No.

My excitement comes from getting good reviews, hearing comments from readers, and knowing that all of the hard work was worth it. And of course, undying gratitude for all of the "editors" who helped me on the path.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Playing with Tense

A popular post from April 2008

by Annette Lyon

Don't. Unless you know what you're doing. Really.

In some of my editing work recently, I've come across an interesting trend among aspiring writers: a huge number of them seem to think that writing in first-person present tense makes their work better or sound more literary or intellectual.

The truth is that it's the author's voice, word choice, pacing, description, and so much more that make them sound good, literary, or intellectual.

If the author has the skill to pull off both first person and present tense, it's a nice layer of icing. But it's not the cake.

Worse, when done poorly, first-person present tense can turn into a real mess, like a lopsided cake with crumbs in the icing and entire chunks missing.

Most fiction, even with first-person point of view, is written in the simple past tense:

I walked, I ate, we drove.

There's a lot of excellent first-person present tense fiction out there:

I walk, I eat, I drive.

In other words, the piece feels like it's happening right now as you read it.

One of my personal favorite books written in first-person present is Lolly Winston's Good Grief. It's a fantastic book, one that's funny, poignant, and abounding in excellent writing all around. In a discussion with some friends recently, one pointed out that it was written in present-tense, and another friend, who counts that book as one of her favorites, had to go pull it off her shelf to check. Sure enough, it was present tense. Huh. She hadn't noticed.

And that's how it should be. The nifty tools you use as a writer shouldn't be out there flashing in the reader's face. They should be used for a reason, and that reason needs to be more than, "It'll make me look good." Because chances are, it won't.

Present tense can provide a different style and feel to your work than past tense. It can make the story feel more immediate. And it does have its place. One of the pieces I edited did it very well—and really needed to be in present tense because of the structure, tone, and events of the piece. But most of the others that used it would have been better off with plain old past tense.

Those pieces felt like awkward toddlers trying to get their feet under them as they try to use first-present present, as if they're declaring, "Look at me! I'm a writer! I really am!" Instead, they should have analyzed why they wanted to use present tense—what effect were they trying to create, and will present tense help them get there? In the vast majority of cases, the answer was unclear at best and a resounding, "NO" at worst.

One major problem that creeps in with trying to write this way is accidentally falling into the wrong tense.

For example, if a writer includes a brief flashback into the past, it's all well and good, if they're now using past tense. You can't stay in present tense for a flashback. Doing so confuses the timeline for the reader.

("Wait. Isn't this a memory? Then why does it say it's happening now?")

Similarly, when you come back from the flashback, be sure to stay in the present tense. It's easy for a writer to accidentally slip into past tense (we're all more familiar with it, after all) and then go back to present tense, but it's very hard on a reader to keep everything straight. The back-and-forth reads clunky and amateurish.

And a lot of times, a story can be told more effectively in the simple past tense. It's a voice most readers are very familiar and comfortable with. A present tense version might call attention to itself . . . in a bad way.

If you do decide to use first-person, present tense, fine. But be sure you can handle it. It's one more plate to keep in the air, and if you let that one fall, it's going to make a huge crash.

The great news: you don't need present tense to be a great writer. In fact, I recommend not using it at all unless and until you have a great handle on all those other plates you need to keep in the air. (Things like plot, characterization, pacing, point of view, dialogue and more . . . that's a lot of plates.)

Don't assume that this is a plate you need to sound good. Some of the best writers in history never gave it a passing glance. Using it well doesn't mean you're extraordinary.

But if you do eventually decide to pick it up, don't do it until you know precisely why it might make your piece more effective and you know—really know—how to juggle it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Advice from the Experts

A popular post from March 2008

by Heather Moore

This past weekend I attended the LDStorymakers Writers Conference. The name may be deceiving because national publishing was discussed even more than LDS publishing. We had two special guests I'd like to highlight.

Jamie Weiss Chilton: Agent with Andrea Brown Literary. Since I was her "host" I had a lot of time to pick her brain. Probably one of the most significant things she told me was that she doesn't read queries/cover letters first. She doesn't think an author should spend hours and hours working on the perfect cover letter--because it will be your story that sells her. When she receives a submission she sets the cover/query aside and starts reading the first pages of the book. If she falls in love with the story and the writing, then she'll finally read the cover letter to find out more about the author.

Timothy Travaglini: Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam & Sons. He said that his publisher is one of the few big publishers that accept unagented submissions. He said that one of the most important things that we can do is read a lot and know our craft. Also, it's important to submit to the right editor or the right imprint. There are so many imprints under one publishing house that it saves you time and the editor time to research and know which one accepts your type of work. He also recommended approaching a junior editor over a senior editor--the junior editors are actively seeking new clients. He recommended (for childrens writers) to attend the one-on-one conference: Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature At this conference each attendee is assigned to a junior editor for mentoring purposes. Mr. Travaglini also said to spell his name right.

In the next weeks, I'll continue to blog about more tidbits learned from the great presenters at the conference.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

WD Revision Lesson #4


A popular post from April 2008

Yeah, so I haven't posted in, oh, six weeks. I realized this morning that if I hadn't missed so many weeks we'd be done with this article by now. But, hey, I like to drag out the lovin.

So here we are with point #4 from Jordan Rosenfeld in Writer's Digest February 2008 edition.

In this point, Rosenfeld tells us to highlight what she calls "High Voltage" passages in our manuscript. These are particularly well written portions of our story that make us smile, that give us the tingle, the moment of "Dang, that is awesome!" They are the sentences, paragraphs, and even whole scenes that make us proud to have been the one to have written them.

Once you've identified these portions, figure out what it is that makes them so "Poppin" (my kids will be so embarrassed I used that word). Is it the actual event that's taking place? Is it a particularly well-done description? Is the cadence nice? Does the variety of sentence lengths pack the punch? Basically, what is it that makes it so snappy, that caught your attention.

This is cerebral work--really dissecting it in your mind, or on paper, so that you can diagnose the specifics that make it so dang brilliant. Then, once you've figured it out and cemented it in your brain, look for other places in your book where you can apply those discovered elements.

What you've done here is you've found a strength. A lot of writing, and learning to write well, is done through finding our faults and weaknesses. A lot of revision orbits around the same thing--what's broken. This is the opportunity for you to find the sparkle, the shine, the glimmer and figure out how to broaden it to more of your work. It's an exercise in positive affirmation and polishing your skills. Don't deny yourself the chance to see the greatness of your creation. And consider making a separate folder or document where you save these gems. You never know when you'll need that inspiration of knowing you done good kid!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sunsets are Fatal

A popular post from April 2008

by Heather Moore

In Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (Chapter 6), he warns us not to BEGIN our book with a lengthy description.

When you start describing a pretty sunset, a dark, leafy forest, or a calm blue ocean, the action of the story stops. So you want to make sure that you don’t BEGIN your book with a lengthy description. When you begin a book, you want to start with dialog, action or thought (internal dialog).

Also, watch for cliché descriptions. There are isolated circumstances when lengthy descriptions work. But until you get published, you need to follow the rules and make yourself competitive against the thousands of other writers out there. In fact, in writers and publishing circles, according the Bickham, cliché descriptions have become a hallmark of poor fiction writing—a red flag that signals the “beginning writer”. i.e. “the rosy fingers of dawn”.

Why? Bickham notes: Fiction is movement. Description is static. In other words, to describe something in detail means that you have to . . . stop . . . describe it . . . then move onto the action again.

Ask yourself this question. When you are reading a book, what do YOU skim over? Have you ever “skimmed” over descriptions to get to “what is happening next”?

It's important to find a good balance with description. Of course, you still need description, but you don’t need a page describing the desert terrain, or even a paragraph. Description must be worked in carefully in small doses.

Description isn't just about describing sunsets, landscape, details of a house . . . Description can also include writing about every single thought and every single action a character has. The seasoned writer will describe a little (tell), and demonstrate a lot (show).

Over the past decade or two, readers have changed. Readers today want you to move your story forward, not stand around picking apart the scenery or discussing every little movement.

From Bickham's book (15), I've modified his speed tracker idea below. If your story is moving too slowly, look at the form of writing you are using most, and speed it up with a higher “mph.” Or if it’s moving too fast, you can slow it down.

10 mph: Exposition—slowest of all.
1. Straight log of factual information—biographical, forensic, sociological, etc.

25 mph: Description
1. Some is necessary, but monitor it carefully.

40 mph: Narrative
1. Characters are in the story “now” and their actions, etc are presented moment by moment with nothing left out.
2. Similar to a stage play and what most of your story should be in. Moves swiftly.

55 mph: Dialogue
1. Talking, very little action or interior thought
2. Can be very quick, like a tennis match, when the characters are talking in short bursts

70 mph: Dramatic Summary
1. Summarizing. i.e. by Bickham: “A car chase or argument that might require six pages of narrative might be condensed into a single light-speed paragraph.”
2. Moves the story forward in leaps and bound.

Our ultimate goal as a writer is to keep the story moving. Don't let the description slow you down!