Showing posts with label #amediting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #amediting. Show all posts

Saturday, January 4

10 Ways to Develop Your Writer’s Voice

10 Ways to Develop Your Writer’s Voice

How to Develop Your Writer’s Voice

How would you go about developing your distinct voice?  And what is voice, exactly?[1] Obviously the way Stephen King tells a story, his use of language, is different from the way, say, Isaac Asimov told a story. And both of these are different from the way Margaret Atwood writes. For example:

Margaret Atwood

“On the eastern horizon there’s a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow. Strange how that colour still seems tender. The offshore towers stand out in dark silhouette against it, rising improbably out of the pink and pale blue of the lagoon. The shrieks of the birds that nest out there and the distant ocean grinding against the ersatz reefs of rusted car parts and jumbled bricks and assorted rubble sound almost like holiday traffic.” (Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake)

Stephen King

“Halston thought the old man in the wheelchair looked sick, terrified, and ready to die. He had experience in seeing such things. Death was Halston's business; he had brought it to eighteen men and six women in his career as an independent hitter. He knew the death look.

“The house - mansion, actually - was cold and quiet. The only sounds were the low snap of the fire on the big stone hearth and the low whine of the November wind outside.” (Stephen King, The Cat from Hell)

Isaac Asimov

“He [Gaal] had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars. Travel through ordinary space could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light (a bit of scientific knowledge that belonged among the items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), and that would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Through hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time.” (Isaac Asimov, Foundation)

I wanted to also give you a sample of Neil Gaiman’s work -- the first section of Neverwhere -- but that would have made this post too long! But, hopefully, from these three samples you can extrapolate what I mean by a writer’s voice.

Developing Your Writer's Voice

Of course I’m just gesturing toward the idea of a writer’s voice. You need to read many stories by the same author to be able to hear that author’s voice. Similarly, to understand what different SORTS of voices are possible it helps to read dozens, hundreds, thousands of books by various authors. And it helps enormously if your reading is eclectic, don’t just draw from one genre and don’t just read fiction.

For example, in the excerpt I gave from Stephen King’s short, The Cat from Hell (one of my favorites), he has a particular voice and he’s (of course) speaking through a specific narrator. King’s voice will change slightly from story to story in part because each will likely have a different narrator. That said, after you’ve read a few of Stephen King’s stories you get a sense of what-stays-the-same even across books.

Okay, so that’s what I have to say about a writer’s voice. Now I want to get to the real meat of this article: how to bring out the best in YOUR writer’s voice.

Let’s face it, some writer’s voices are more interesting, exciting, irreverent, funny, and so on, than others. Sometimes I would like to try and make MY writer’s voice more exciting. So … what could I do to kick things up a notch?

Chuck Wendig’s Voice

I’m writing this post because of Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terribleminds. I love this blog! CW has good advice for writers (except the part about eating bees) and I enjoy his strong writing style.

(BTW, Chuck Wendig’s blog, every inch of it, is NSFW because of adult language. You’ve been warned! Here’s the link: Terribleminds)

Okay? Onward!

10 ways to a bolder voice

Our keyboards have a delete button for a reason.

If you attempt to make a sentence better by trying out one of the techniques, below, and the sentence is so hideous it hurts your eyes, just delete it!

But, who knows? You might create something playfully creative, something that will make your readers laugh, something you wouldn’t have otherwise attempted. I think it’s valuable to try something new-ish or slightly uncomfortable (and, yes, I’m talking to myself right now!).

What I’m going to do is look at a few excerpts from Chuck Wendig’s work and then I’ll attempt to puzzle out what Chuck Wendig did to make me really like that bit of writing. (By the way, I’ve left links at the end of this article to every single article I quote from.)

Quotation 1

“Oh, and I still get bad reviews. I still get rejected. Writing is hard. Easier for me than many. But still hard. And publishing is harder. Publishing can be 'passing pumpkin seeds through your urethra' hard. It can be 'pushing a rock up a hill until the rock rolls back down onto you and then vultures eat your fingermeats but now it’s time to push the rock again, dummy' hard.” (Chuck Wendig, Writing Advice is Bull****)

Okay, so, here are a few things I noticed in this passage:

1. Take it over the top.

Take something innocuous, a nothingburger of a sentence or idea, and double-down on it. Then triple down. (“pushing a rock up a hill …”)

2. Be bold. Be honest.

To say that I’m shy would be like saying statues don’t move a lot. It’s true but something of an understatement. Writing requires boldness. Fearlessness. Honesty. (And pen names. Pen names are good!)

CW writes: “... I still get bad reviews.” This is honest. No one likes getting bad reviews, much less announcing the fact that one’s work has received bad reviews. But I think that truth, all sorts of truth (personal, moral, scientific, and so on), is crucial to good writing.

BTW, there is, occasionally, a price to pay for boldness and honesty. I think Chuck Wendig is insanely talented and brave, but I need to include this link to show that, while these qualities can be great for creating bingeable prose, bad things can happen.

3. Punch your reader in the face (Metaphorically!!)

As we’ve seen, CW writes: “Publishing can be ‘passing pumpkin seeds through your urethra’ hard.” This metaphor is in-your-face. It’s kinda uncomfortable. A little … gross? But that’s the point! CW’s writing isn’t tame. And it isn’t expected. I guess that’s another way of saying it’s creative. He ruthlessly mashes ideas that have nothing to do with each other together to create something new, interesting and -- if you actually did it -- possibly criminal!

Quotation 2

Chuck Wendig writes:

“What I mean is this: the things I say at this blog and in my writing books is just advice. It’s not right. It’s also not automatically wrong. It’s just advice. It’s like if you ask me about sneakers and I’m like, “I wear these sneakers called Hoka One Ones, and they’re really great.” They are a real sneaker. I actually own and wear and love them. They’re great for me. It’s true. It’s like walking on air. It’s improved my running. They’ve ended my plantar fasciitis and also ended other associated running pains. And they might be great for some of you. For others? You might f****** hate them. But these shoes are what I know and so I will recommend them if you ask. Hell, even if you don’t ask.” (Chuck Wendig, Writing Advice is Bull****)

I could have paired that quotation down, but I didn’t because it’s true and helpful.

4. Talk directly to your reader.

Notice that here, CW is talking right to the reader. He set up a mini-scene. The Reader has asked him a question about sneakers and he’s replying. And the reply makes a clear point in an entertaining way. I’ve noticed that this -- conversing with The Reader -- is a characteristic of CW’s blog posts. That is, he easily drifts into and out of using dialogue to communicate with The Reader. (Stephen King does this as well, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

ALSO, notice that when CW writes, “Publishing can be ‘passing pumpkin seeds through your urethra’ hard” he is talking to you, Dear Reader. Well, not really. I think he’s talking to a hypothetical reader. Most people write with some one person in mind, either real or imagined.

But still. When a flesh-and-blood person like yourself reads this, it feels more immediate, more personal.

Maybe I’m reading more into this than I should, but I think sometimes using dialogue is … Well, I think it’s understood that the writer is NOT talking to YOU per se, the writer is talking to a reader (Dear Reader) … when this happens I have in mind some one person who could be either real or imaginary. But still, it’s a little bit like you and I -- reader and writer -- are sharing a moment together. (But not in a weird way! Hopefully.)

Intimacy encourages interest.

Quotation 3

“But I present you with this to consider:

“I do not much care for Tolkien’s work.

“No, no, put down that broken beer bottle. Relax. I recognize that I’m the outlier there …” (Chuck Wendig, An Oubliette Of Unconventional Writing Advice)

5. Poke your reader.

This builds on my point, above, about talking directly to Your Reader to create more of a sense of intimacy.

Good writing evokes emotions in your reader. When I read CW’s writing, above, I smiled. I have to admit my first reaction when I read “I do not much care for Tolkien’s work” was, “What! That can’t be true,” but then I read on and instead of being grumpy with CW I smiled. Which is good! In general, if you can make your readers smile, you’re doing something right.

I don't want to take us too far afield, but I've noticed that many of the people I enjoy talking with at cocktail parties open with a good natured poke, something that evokes mild tension/conflict. For example, I walk everywhere and as I walk I listen to podcasts. My friends will often poke me about wearing ugly headphones (they truly are hideous but the sound is amazing). That poke, that friendly jab, sparkes friendly verbal sparring.

Of course readers can't poke you back, but I think that injecting mild tension into your prose can make it more readable. Conflict is king.

Quotation 4

“Junk can be wonderful. Have you ever been to a junkyard? An old-timey one with appliances and cars and secret treasures buried throughout? Have you ever eaten a cookie, or had ice cream? They’re junk, too. Ever seen a kid play with an empty box? An empty box is junk. But what they do with it — I mean, it’s a pirate ship, a boat, it’s knight armor, it’s an action figure base. Some junk is just trash, admittedly. But some junk is artful. Masterful. Just because it’s old — or cobbled together from various pieces — doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it junk.” (Chuck Wendig, The Rise Of Skywalker)

6. Ask Your Reader questions.

In the above quotation from his post, “The Rise of Skywalker …,” Chuck Wendig is talking to The Reader and he’s asking questions. “Have you ever seen a junkyard? An old-timey one …”, “Have you ever eaten a cookie, or had ice cream?” (And, yes, this is a good use of parallelism, but I’m trying not to get sidetracked!)

When I’m asked a question I perk up and pay attention. Now, of course, Chuck Wendig doesn’t know me, has never met me much less asked ME a question in real life. But, as someone who has read the above he kind of has. That is, as I read he is sharing his ideas with me -- and everyone else!

Remember the Holodeck on Star Trek? That's how I think our brains work. (See what I did there? lol) In the Holodeck you don't just see images, you're IN another reality. It is immersive.

We don’t just view ideas like images, we engage with them. They are us, we are them. Now that doesn’t mean that every time you think of pain you are in pain (that would be awful!) but if someone asks a question, even if it’s not directly to you, it's a bit like someone throwing a softball at you. Your hand automatically comes up and grabs it. (It's a little bit like saying, "Don't think of a white bear." You just did! Right? You can't read that sentence without, in some way, engaging with the idea of a white bear.)

Similarly, if someone asks 'you' a question, it engages you on another level. At least, that's what I think! Please let me know if you disagree.

7. Be vivid.

Staying with the same quotation from “The Rise of Skywalker …,” it is almost like Chuck Wendig is plucking images from his mind and popping them into ours. Take the sentences: “Have you ever been to a junkyard? An old-timey one with appliances and cars and secret treasures buried throughout?”

That’s vivid! You can SEE it. You can grasp that idea. Then, when you’ve both got (more-or-less) the same idea in mind, he can talk to you (The Reader) about it. It feels like you’re having something like a real conversation with the writer. (And no, I’m not encouraging readers to transition into stalkers!)

(BTW, Stephen King talks about this weird idea-sharing thing in his book On Writing. The chapter heading is “What Writing Is.” (For those who have already read the book, it’s where King talks about the white rabbit.))

Note: I thought about including this as a separate point but thought that might be dangerous. Here's what I want to say: If you have more-or-less mastered the basics of grammar, then don't get hung up on always writing grammatically correct prose. Before your manuscript goes out into the world, have a competent editor look it over, but when you're writing -- especially if it is informal writing -- don't be afraid of sentence fragments if you think one will help you to vividly communicate an idea or feeling. For example in the above quotation CW writes: "But some junk is artful. Masterful." And it works. (THAT's the ultimate criterion: Does it work?)

Quotation 5

(a.) “I see this meme every so often.

(b.) “‘You can’t teach writing.”

(c.) “That is a hot, heaping hunk of horseshit and you should get shut of that malodorous idea.

(d.) “Anybody who puts this idea forward is high-as-f*** from huffing their own crap vapors, because here’s what they’re basically saying to you:

(e.) “‘I’m a writer/artist/creative person and I’m this way by dint of my birth — I was just born naturally talented, a*******! — and it can’t be taught so if you’re not born with it as I most graciously was, then you’re pretty much f***** and f*** you trying to learn anything about it and f*** anybody who tries to teach it and you might as well give up now, you talentless, tasteless, cardboard hack. Now kiss the ring, little worm.’

(f.) “Writing is a thing we learn. Which means it is a thing people teach.” (Chuck Wendig, A Short Rant on the You Can’t Teach Writing Meme)

8. Vary the length of sentences.

There’s a lot to unpack in the above quotation. It is an excellent example of how to inspire emotion in readers, and I’m going to get to that in a moment.

Right now I’d like to focus on how Chuck Wendig varies the length of sentences. Really good writers (from what I can tell) tend to vary the length of their sentences. They will have one, two, three (etc.) long sentences in a row and then pepper the page with a few short ones that condense or funnel the energy of the text. The short sentences bring the point home -- pow! Like the knockout punch of a boxer.

In Quotation 4, look at paragraph (e.). That paragraph has only two sentences. The first is LONG and it is packed with inflammatory language. Then the second, much shorter sentence, drives the point home (‘Now kiss the ring, little worm’).

Of course, CW isn’t saying this, he’s saying that people who feel like this are insufferable, but through his use of language he does a very good job of inspiring The Reader to intensely dislike them. And inspiring strong emotions in our readers is a BIG part of writing.

9. Over the top insults.

As I just said, I love the way Chuck Wendig ended the dialogue: Now kiss the ring, little worm. That is so outrageous it makes me laugh. It’s effective!

This gives me ideas for my own work. If you create a bully and you would like The Reader to want your protagonist to give the bully a black eye, then give the bully a speech that ends like this.

Chuck Wendig is very good at creating emotional hooks -- even in non-fiction!

10. Swear words are emotional.

Okay, I feel like there’s an elephant in the room, so let’s discuss this. Chuck Wendig swears a lot and, by their very nature, swear words are emotional.

Many people (most people?) feel that swear words are naughty. For some people, the very act of reading a swear word can feel transgressive -- forbidden. And every interesting thing ever (e.g., the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter novels) is forbidden. Or … well, at least MOST are.

I don’t use swear words in my own work because, for me, that would be like trying to learn to juggle while using dynamite. For Chuck Wendig, it works. I love his blog posts and I try to learn from them.

You have your own style, something that is expressive of who you are as a person. And, as you continue to read and write you will change and so, naturally, will your style. And that’s very cool.

Thanks for reading! (If you are Chuck Wendig then … Thank you! I hope you’re not upset that I examined your non-fiction writing in this way. I’m a huge fan. 😀 I would be interested in your feedback, if you have any.)

In Closing ...

Many times I’ve tried to puzzle out how I could write with a bit more boldness, a bit more flare, a bit more color. That’s why I began writing this post. So I’d love to know what you think. Do you have a tip or three you could share about how to improve a writer's voice?

What I'm doing/reading:

Right now I'm not reading any fiction. Later today I'm going to study two blog posts (this one and this one) and work on a YouTube script (about something totally unrelated). BUT I should read more fiction. Does anyone have a book they could recommend?


The following links lead to articles by Chuck Wendig and can be found on his fabulous NSFW blog, Terribleminds.

The Rise Of Skywalker, And How Star Wars Is Junk.

Writing Advice Is Bullshit.

An Oubliette Of Unconventional Writing Advice.

Tips On Horking Up Your Novel’s Zero Draft.

A Very Good List Of Vital Writing Advice — Do Not Ignore!

A Short Rant On The “You Can’t Teach Writing” Meme.

Become a Friend of the Blog

If you would like to support my blog ...

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I usually recommend novels, but a friend of mine told me it was very useful for him. I read it and I think, if you're going through couple trouble -- or even if you're not! -- it's a good read. Here is an excerpt:

"The 5 Love Languages is as practical as it is insightful. Updated to reflect the complexities of relationships today, this new edition reveals intrinsic truths and applies relevant, actionable wisdom in ways that work."

Twitter: @woodwardkaren
YouTube: Karen Woodward


1. What is a writer’s voice?

I was going to talk about the difference between a writer’s voice and a writer’s style by giving their definitions. But I’m not going to do that. First, I don’t think the difference between them is important to the points I’m making. Second, understanding the difference between these two notions wouldn’t help anyone understand what a writer’s voice is.

Chuck Wendig and Stephen King each have a strong voice, and they are two of my favorite authors. As you read the quotations, above, you’ll be able to FEEL the between their voices. I think that a writer’s voice is more felt/experienced than thought about/understood. It has more to do with the heart than the head.

Monday, October 24

6 Scenes Any Love Story Must Have

6 Scenes Any Love Story Must Have

What follows is a general structure for any love story. I can't claim credit for this. I’ve begun listening to the Story Grid, a podcast put together by editor Shawn Coyne and book marketer Tim Grahl.

You all know how interested I am in Story Structure. Well! The other day Shawn Coyne went over the basic structure of a love story. What follows has been taken from these two podcast episodes:

The Most Important Genre
How to Write a Great Love Story

Some of the examples, below, are mine and I do, occasionally, draw from my own knowledge of romance books. But the structure itself (unless indicated otherwise) is all Shawn Coyne's.

What Is A Love Story?

For our purposes, a love story is a romance combined with the possibility of physical intimacy. In a love story, "The protagonist pursues or runs away from an intimate bond with another human being." (The Story Grid)

The object of the protagonist's desire: an intimate relationship.

Kinds of Love Stories

There are three kinds of love stories: obsession stories, courtship stories and intimacy stories.

Obsession Story

Obsession stories are driven by issues revolving around desire.

Question: Will Jan and Adam’s twisted passion for each other lead to ruin?

Obsession stories generally have tragic endings.

At the beginning of the story the lovers despise each other but are also profoundly attracted to each other.

At the end of the story one or both of the lovers are dead.

Courtship Story

Courtship stories are driven by issues revolving around commitment. The overwhelming majority of love stories fall into this category.

Question: Will Jan and Adam commit to each other?

Courtship stories have happy endings.

At the beginning of the story Jan and Adam may or may not be dating, but (this is the important point) they haven’t made any sort of commitment to each other.

At the end of the story the lovers have committed to each other and their relationship.

There are two kinds of courtship stories: romantic comedies and dramas.

Intimacy Story

Intimacy stories are driven by issues revolving around truthfulness and faithfulness.

Question: Will Jan and Adam remain faithful to each other?

Judging from my own experience reading romances, I believe Intimacy Stories generally, though not always, have happy endings.

Six Scenes Any Love Story Must Have

In what follows I use a three act story structure. If you would like to read more about this sort of story structure I’ve written an article: A Story Structure in Three Acts.

1. Lovers meet.

This is just what it sounds like. The two main characters meet for the first time.

Before Jan and Adam meet the reader needs to have a good feeling for who the character is. So, for instance, if we are experiencing this story through Jan’s point of view, we would want to know what her main desire is (apart from finding someone to love!) as well as the obstacle to her fulfilling this desire. It would also be nice to know her biggest strength as well as at least one weakness.

Character creation is more complex than that, but I think readers need to have a hint, know at least these things, before Jan meets Adam. That said, readers don’t have to know all this about Adam before they meet, they can learn about him as Jan herself does.

Structure: In many of the stories I’ve read, the lovers first meeting is often the Inciting Incident.

2. Confession of love.

On The Big Bang Theory, when Leonard told Penny he loved her, she broke up with him. She wasn’t ready for commitment; at least, not with him.

In some of the romance books I’ve read the event that breaks the lovers apart isn’t a confession of love.  Instead it is (what is perceived as) an inherent incompatibility.

For example, imagine Jan is a university student and Adam is a lonely billionaire. Adam’s friend, Martha, discovers Adam and Jan are lovers and, jealous, she lies to Jan about Adam. Jan naively believes Martha and breaks up with Adam.

Structure: In many of the stories I’ve read, the confession of love occurs at the end of the first act.

3. First kiss.

It doesn’t have to be a kiss! In most of the romance books I’ve read the couple takes their relationship to the next level at the Midpoint. For some couples this might mean handholding, or a kiss, for others it could mean physical intimacy.

Structure: the First Kiss event occurs at the Midpoint.

4. Lovers breakup.

Forces the lovers have no control over push them apart. This breakup seems final.

One of Adam’s friends, Skyler, is killed and suspicion falls on Adam. Adam believes Jan is the killer and Jan believes Adam is. Adam doesn’t turn Jan in but decides he can’t have a cold-blooded murderer as the mother of his children and so breaks up with Jan.

Structure: This event occurs at the All Hope is Lost point about three quarters of the way through the second act.

5. Proof of love scene.

Even though Jan realizes she has lost Adam, that there’s no longer any hope they could be together, she sacrifices something for him so that he can get what he cares about the most, so that he can fulfill his desire.

Jan thinks Adam is the killer and Adam thinks Jan is. Jan goes to the police and confesses to a crime she didn’t commit in order to set Adam free. Adam has a family, he has a future. She doesn’t.

Structure: The Proof of Love scene happens about half-way through the third act.

6. Lovers reunite.

The lovers uncover the lies told to them as well as the lies they've told themselves. Since this was what was keeping them apart, they reunite happier and more committed than ever.

Adam discovers Sue couldn’t possibly have done the crime and realizes she confessed to spare him. He rushes to Sue and begs her to take him back. She does. The End.

Structure: This occurs at the Climax.

Necessary Characters

a. The Rival

There needs to be a rival for the protagonist’s romantic intentions.

b. Helpers vs Harmers

As the name suggests, helpers are characters who help the relationship grow stronger. Harmers are characters who act to break the couple apart. Note that a character can want the couple stay together but, because they always say and do the wrong thing, they’re really a harmer.

c. External Need

The External Need acts as an engine, an impetus, that brings the two characters together.

For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Jane and her sisters must marry before her father dies because, on his death, the house and income associated with it will go to a cousin. As a result the girls are set on marrying well.

In my Jan and Adam example, it could be that Jan is Canadian and the only way she can stay in the US is to find someone to marry. One fellow is keen to wed her but she doesn’t like him at all. The other, more standoffish, candidate is Adam.

d. Secrets Must Be Held

For example, one of the lovers is a crown prince while the other is a scullery maid. Their affair must remain secret because the scandal of it all would topple the monarchy.

In my Sue and Adam example, Sue doesn’t tell Adam she didn’t kill Skyler, and Adam doesn’t tell Sue, because they want to protect each other.

Also, often, one or both of the lovers will lie to themselves.

e. Rituals

There are all sorts of rituals. People who have been together for years have a shared history. They’re always saying things like, “Do you remember that time when ...” and the other person will remember. It’s a kind of ritual. Shared intimacies that only that couple knows about.

But it’s more than that. It’s a way these two people behave together. A shared memory, a shared experience, a shared way of being.

f. Moral Weight

The lovers become better people over the course of the story.

The lovers have pronounced flaws at the beginning. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth was prejudiced and Darcy was prideful. At the end of the story Elizabeth was less prejudiced and Darcy was less prideful.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try, every post, to pick a book or audiobook I personally have loved and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes, I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar, at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored that you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I would like to share a link to Shawn Coyne’s book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know. If you swing toward the plotter end of the plotter/pantser continuum, then you’ll love this book. I’m about halfway through it and wish I’d had this information when I first started out. It would have saved me a lot of time.

That’s it! What do you think of this way of structuring love stories? Do you do something similar? Either way, please share! I love talking to other writers and discovering how they do things.

Friday, May 10

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

This is a wonderful, must-read, article for anyone who has had trouble proofreading their own work: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Anna Lewis writes:
No matter how many times you’ve read through your work, it’s amazing how often errors can sneak through to the final stages. The problem: You’re so familiar with the text that you see what you think you have written rather than what you actually wrote.

That happens to me all the time. So, what can we do to catch all those pesky mistakes?

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Prose

1. Put your writing aside for as long as you can stand.

Stephen King says this, Chuck Wendig says this. Everyone I've ever read about writing says this. And, from my experience, it does help a lot. In the case of a book try to put it aside for at least a month, though I think a month and a half is better.

2. Know your weaknesses.

Every writer has weaknesses. Some of us are horrible spellers, some of us repeat phrases or overuse words. Some of us make certain kinds of grammatical errors. If you know what you're likely to do you can make a point of looking especially for that. (And, if you're getting a friend to go over your manuscript, you could mention your weaknesses to them as well.)

3. Read your work out loud.

Anna writes:
If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eyes may have missed. Alternatively, you can use text-to-speech software.
Reading one's work aloud is great, a must-do, but I think listening to someone (or something) read the text is useful as well. I do both.

4. Try proofreading backwards.

The first time I heard this advice I thought it was nuts, but the person who gave it to me was a professional and highly sought after proofreader so I tried it. It works! But it is time consuming. Anna suggests using this method for areas such as the cover text.

5. Keep style and usage handbooks readily available and use them!

Excellent advice. I like using digital copies because they're easier to search.

6. Watch out for contractions, apostrophes and homonyms.

7. Run a spell check.

But don't rely on the spell check. You need human eyes on your manuscript as well.

8. Highlight all punctuation marks so you can evaluate each one for accuracy.

9. Proofread a printed version of your work.

I'm like this, I can more easily catch errors in a printed copy than I can by reading from the screen. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone. Perhaps folks who grew up reading from screens won't have this bias.

10. Get someone else to proofread your manuscript.

No matter what you do it'll be harder for you to see what you've actually written as opposed to what you'd intended to write. Trading with writer friends--I'll proofread your manuscript if you proofread mine--can help.

Of course the best solution, and by far the easiest, is to find a good proofreader and pay them to work on your manuscript.

I've paraphrased a good deal of Anna Lewis' article, I'd encourage you to read it in the original: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Do you have a tip for catching errors in a manuscript?

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Smashing Sub-Genres
- Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice

Photo credit: "My Brush With Death" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, March 10

Chuck Wendig's Editing Plan: Edit A Novel In Four Months

Chuck Wendig's Plan To Edit A Novel In Four Months

I wrote about Chuck's post before, but only about the first couple of paragraphs because what he wrote there blew my mind: Editing is writing.

If you're looking at the screen blankly thinking, "Yeah. So?" then I applaud you. That held me back for a long time.


Of course writing new words matters, but here's how I look at it. It's not new words per day that matters, it's new words per year. I can't sell three novels and miscellaneous short stories a year if I don't write 250,000 or so words in a year.

Write and edit.

Okay. Enough said. Moving on.

Writing vs Storytelling

These are the twin pillars of writing and, yes, the analogy of pillars breaks down because unlike the Grecian pillars I imagined when I wrote the above, writing and storytelling intermingle like rum on a Bundt cake.

As Chuck Wendig mentions, writing is "technical and objective" while storytelling is "far more subjective and instinct-driven".

For instance, I had a friend in my university days who--though he couldn't write an essay to save his life--could spin funny, absurd and altogether spellbinding tales. I worried about him, though, since the majority of his stories began with, "I was out at the bar the other night". It was his version of "Once upon a time".

My storytelling friend had an innate understanding, in intuitive grasp, of the elements of story. But, since we're writers, that's only half the picture.

Writing problems

Here's what I mean by writing problems: an unreflective disregard of grammar. For instance, comma confusion, talking about the barber's convention rather than the barbers' convention. And so on.

Of course many of the greats spurned grammatical conventions regularly, but they knew them. Either explicitly or, like storytelling for my friend, it was in their bones. Their prose satisfied the ultimate grammatical directive: Be clear.

Garbled language can't help anyone express a thought. For instance, using "bakers" when you mean "baker's"--a mistake I know I've made a time or three (thank all-things-good for copy editors!)--never makes prose clearer.

Storytelling problems

Storytelling, on the other hand, is more about the flow and structure of a story. For instance, when you read about Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet or Michael Hauge's Screenplay Structure, or--something I've been writing about lately--the stages of the monomyth, we're in the realm of storytelling.

Get The Story First Then Write It

Before you pick up your pen to write a novel it helps (the writing will be faster and less angst-fraught) to have a good grasp of the story.

Think of it this way. When I open my mouth to say something I like to know, beforehand, exactly what I want to say. When I don't, things can get messy, and I suspect that's not just true for me.

Draft Zero

But life's not always like that. I find that, just like I'm not always 100% sure exactly what I'm going to say, I don't always know what story I want to write when I sit down to write it. (For instance, someone once asked me whether I thought it was a good idea for writers to keep a pet. It was an interesting question but one I don't have a settled view on; still, it was interesting to discuss it. To, as we sometimes say, "hash it out".)

Perhaps I'll have an idea, an image or two, a premise. Perhaps I'll have a vague idea how it all ends. Then I'll put my butt in a chair and write.

The first draft will probably be only 2/3 or even 1/2 the length of the book, but that's okay. These are my initial ideas. They're still growing, changing. The story is evolving.

After that initial draft (or, as Kim Neville says, draft zero) I'll have a much better idea of what my story is. I'll know how it begins (although this will probably change over the next few drafts), I'll know how it ends (this also will likely change but not as radically) as well as all the story points in between.

Detailed outline

Now I can sit down again, rip the whole thing apart, and write (hopefully) a good, clean, draft. One that, when finished, I can send out to my beta readers.

My first draft (or zero draft) is all about grabbing the story out of thin air--birthing the ideas on paper (and WOW, is that messy).

Then I do a good, detailed, outline of what I have, rearranging things as needed. Sometimes I end up scrapping much of the first/zero draft, but that's okay. It's main purpose is to birth the story.

The next draft

The second draft is more about writing. Now I know, more-or-less, what the story is. Sure things can still change, but not as much. Now I know exactly where I'm headed and how I'm going to get there. I've got my roadmap.

Before I send my baby out to my beta readers I give her a bath, dress her up and try to teach her some manners. That means checking the spelling, the grammar and reading my manuscript aloud.

Chuck Wendig's post is chalked full of great advise, I heartily recommend it. One of the best things about it are all the links he shares to his previous posts on editing.

Chuck Wendig's Editing Plan

This is the thing I've been meaning to get to, that the build up was really for. Chuck's handy-dandy editing plan. (cue trumpets)

You have just finished the first draft of your novel; perhaps you followed Chuck Wendig's plan for how to write a novel in a year. Here's what you do:

1. Edit 5 days a week.
2. For each of those 5 days, edit 5 pages.

That's it. You can do more than that. Chances are you'll have to junk parts of it and re-write others but the goal is to edit 5 pages a day.

Chuck estimates that, if you hold to this plan, it will take 3 to 4 months to edit an 80,000 word manuscript.

All together, this writing-editing plan will get you a finished novel in about a year and a half. If you stick to it!

Not bad. Not bad at all.
What do you think of Chuck Wendig's plan for completing a novel in a year and a half? Would you try this?

Other links you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence
- Stephen King Talks About Doctor Sleep, Winnebagos & A Movie Prequel To The Shining
- Handy Guides To Avoiding Mistakes In Grammar
- Writing Resources

Photo credit: "Home Base" by flossyflotsam under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, March 8

Handy Guides To Avoiding Mistakes In Grammar

Handy Guides To Avoiding Mistakes In Grammar

I don't usually blog about grammar--I'll leave that to the professionals--but today I came across these guides that I thought were well written and easy to understand.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

The first guide to grammar is called Avoiding Common Grammar Mistakes and was written for students at George Mason University. Here is a sample:
Comma splices
A comma splice is where a comma is used to join two independent clauses which should be separated by a period. An independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence. Do not simply use a comma everywhere a reader would pause.

Subject/pronoun disagreement
There are two types of subject/pronoun disagreement, shifts in number and shifts in person.
Shifts in number
This phrase means the shifting between singular and plural in the same sentence. Be consistent.

Shifts in person
This error occurs when the person shifts within the sentence from first to second person, from second to third person, etc.
"Its" is the possessive form of "it." "It's" is the contraction of "it is." They are not interchangeable.
.  .  .  .
Dropped commas around clauses
Place commas around words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence. Do not use commas around restrictive clauses, which provide essential information about the subject of the sentence.
Interrupting clause
This clause or phrase interrupts a sentence, such as "however." Place a comma on either side of the interrupting clause.

Restrictive clause
This clause or phrase provides essential information about the subject of the sentence. Without this clause or phrase, the meaning of the sentence changes.

Non-restrictive clause
This clause or phrase modifies the subject of the sentence but does not change the meaning of the sentence if left out.
Here are a few examples of restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.

Grammatical, Mechanical & Stylistic Problems And How To Fix Them

This handy-dandy guide to English grammar was compiled by Professor David Beach:
Use "who" when it can be replaced by a subject proper noun, and "whom" when it can be replaced by an object proper noun.
John kissed Mary. John = subject, Mary = object Whom did John kiss? Who kissed Mary?

Dmitri gave the book to Phyllis. To whom did Dmitri give the book? Who gave the book to Phyllis?

I've been testing out Grammarly and I'm curious whether any of you have used the program. If so, did you find it useful?

What was the most useful grammar tip you've ever received?

Other articles you might like:

- Beware Alibi Publishing, John Scalzi Warns: "This is the worst book contract I have ever encountered"
- Amanda Palmer's TED Talk: The Art Of Asking
- Stephen King Board On Jeopardy Tonight (March 5, 2013)

Photo credit: "jack johnson:while we wait (sleep through the static)" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.