Easy Editing Trick

I think for new writers, especially those that have just completed their first book, one of the most daunting challenges facing them can be the revision process. I remember after I completed my first novel I had two very distinct emotions.

Tremendous joy, "I completed my first book!"

And utter dread, "How on earth am I ever going to shape these 100,000 words into not only a readable but enjoyable story?"

Now, as I work on the edits for my fifth novel, I can say that my entire process for approaching a work of fiction has completely changed over the last fourteen years. From the onset I approach a story differently, there's more intention, more planning, more careful consideration about where my story is going and who I want my characters to be--how I want them to change. That's not to say that there isn't a tremendous amount of discovery that also happens while I'm crafting, but I have definitely turned into a plotter. Every writer is different, this is absolutely true, but for me planning the book out before I even get started has proved enormously valuable when it comes time to tackle the big picture revision once I’m finished.

However, there is one thing about my writing process that has never changed—a pesky problem that no amount of planning and plotting can solve. When I’m writing that first draft, the highly detailed portions of my brain seem to be taking a backseat. What do I mean by this? I've discovered that, when it comes to writing fiction, there's two parts of my brain. One side is creating story and imagining scenes as I'm writing them. It feels slightly like not being completely present in the here and now. It is a very similar experience to what happens when I read other people's books or when I watch a movie. I am seeing the action happen, I am sharing the dialogue in my head. I am imagining the setting my characters are in and I am I'm transcribing that world for the reader.

The other side of my brain, barely awake when imagining the story, is in charge of sentence and word level mistakes. This is probably different for everyone, but when I'm in the story mode my brain simply doesn’t recognize details like the difference between there, their, and they’re.

So over the last fourteen years I have taught myself to produce a more manageable end product by planning first off, but I've also developed a few tricks to help me catch some of my most obvious and repeated word and sentence level mistakes.

One of the simplest tricks I have to eradicate an enormous number of errors littering my manuscripts utilizes the word find feature on my word-processing program. All the silly mistakes I make, whether it’s because two words look very much alike, I’m not zeroed in on correct usage in the moment, or I have a bad tendency to overuse particular words and phrases—this feature helps me hunt them down.

Here's my list of my most frequent repeat offenders.

just, through, though, although, thought, there, their, they’re, were, where, an, a, further, farther, awhile, a while, all right, alright, nodded, really, shook, stupid, smug, sighed, laid, lay, lie, suddenly, and people rolling their lips between their teeth

It's likely that your repeat offenders are not the same as mine, our brains function and dysfunction in completely unique and different ways from each other but hopefully this list is one you can use to get started creating your own personalized list of searchable mistakes.

I should also add for new writers, maybe in the throes of tackling their first revision ever, this little trick in no way encapsulates all of the editing and revision that will be required to take your first novel to that next level regardless of whether you’re self-publishing or are submitting it to agents and editors. Searching repeat offender words is simple but it still takes many hours to go through an entire manuscript. It’s not something you're going to be able to crack out in an hour.

And for anyone who may be curious, my other big mistake involves comma use. Sigh. Sadly, I've yet to come up with an easy way to detect and quickly fix all of those—sorry.

In the meantime I suspect my comma problem will continue to help my editor put her children through college.

 

But What About Editing?

Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.
Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.

Pros and Cons of Automated Editing—a Discussion of AutoCrit

In the continuing saga of preparing a book for Kindle Scout, let’s talk about editing for self-publishing. This could also apply to editing for submissions, since you need to have your book in squeaky-clean shape before you start submitting to publishers (I know a good number of people who don’t believe this, but that’s for another post…).

If you’re like me, the idea of getting a book in solid shape for self-pub is a bit intimidating. I edit for other people on the side, but I have very little faith in myself to find my own mistakes. I know my manuscripts generally go to the editor far cleaner than many of the manuscripts I edit for other publishers, but there are still mistakes—typos, weirdness generated by Dragon Dictate when I use it, and of course the dreaded continuity issues.

Ideally, before you self-pub a book, you should send it to a professional editor. This can get pricey, though—I’m not sure I could afford myself as an editor right now, and my rates are really low. Nathan Lowell beat me to the punch in talking about using beta readers to crowdsource your editing in his article Bootstrap Your Book. The methods he discusses here are very useful and effective. If you’re lucky, you maybe have a proofer or editor on your list from a publisher you’ve worked with before who might be willing to give your manuscript a gander for a low cost. My group of proofers includes a fellow author I’ve edited for years as well as a proofer/editor from one of my publishers. It pays to make friends in this industry… Bartering can work, too—if you feel confident about your abilities to find typos or point out continuity issues, work out a trade with another author. Or offer large quantities of chocolate.

In any case, since Nathan covered the bases of crowdsourced editing, I’m going to talk about another low-cost approach—automated editing. Wait, wait—don’t run off. I have Important Things to Say.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Grammarly, which is a site where you can upload your manuscript and have it spit out a number of different grammar issues regarding your manuscript. I haven’t used this site, but I’ve used AutoCrit, which I believe is similar. I’m going to discuss my experiences, what automated editing can and can’t do, how it’s helped me, and why it might be worth looking into.

I stumbled across AutoCrit by accident. I’d gotten a sponsored email from Writer’s Digest with a free offer for a short video course on creating dialogue. I have a tendency to grab and hoard free things (SHINY! SHINY! FREE!), so I grabbed the course. I didn’t notice at the time, but it was from the AutoCrit website. They started sending me emails offering me a GREAT DEAL on a year-long membership to their site. After deleting several of these, I finally thought okay, wait. I’ve got a manuscript I need to get cleaned up. Let’s go sign up for the 7-day free trial and see what this puppy can do.

So I did that. I then uploaded Call Me Zhenya—all 93,000 words—onto the site and let AutoCrit do its magic. It generated about ten reports, which I then downloaded and looked over.

There are, of course, limits to what this kind of editor can do. It’s best to ignore a lot of the advice it produces, much like it’s best to ignore most of the green squiggly lines MS Word automatically generates to tell you you’ve committed a grammar infraction.

HOWEVER.

The reports I got from AutoCrit found a good number of things I had obviously missed on the forty quadrillion editing runs I’d done on my own. The report on “ly” adverbs was particularly enlightening (My name is Katriena and I am an adverb-aholic). It also found some typos I’d missed and put my horrible word repetition habit into stark relief. (Seriously? 1600 repetitions of “quietly?” Good grief, woman!)

I wasn’t quite as on board with the reports that supposedly showed me show vs. tell writing. The parameters they used didn’t seem realistic to me, as they were mostly keyed to certain verb tenses. The passive verbs report seemed equally arbitrary. I do, however, feel like the time I spent going through the reports and sifting out repeated words, typos, and adverbs was well spent. I also took the plunge and bought the discounted year’s subscription. It seemed like a reasonable price, though I probably would have balked at a full-price subscription.

Overall, I thought it proved to be a good addition to my self-pub repertoire, since it found a good many things a proofreader would have marked up. That means I can send a much cleaner version to the actual humans who read the story later, and that can only be a good thing.

For those who might be curious, the reports AutoCrit provides are:

  • Adverbs in Dialogue Tags
  • Adverbs Overall
  • Clichés
  • Generic Descriptions
  • Passive Verbs
  • Redundancies
  • Sentence Starters
  • Show vs. Tell Indicators
  • Unnecessary Filler Words

You can run these one at a time or all in one fell swoop. You can also decide whether to get a high-level report or a detailed report that shows you exactly where all the noted transgressions are located in the manuscript. This can be in a list form, or highlighted on a copy of your manuscript. You can upload a few pages, a chapter, or the whole manuscript for evaluation.

The Good of the Whole

I’ve been gardening for about ten years. In the beginning I started with easy plants, varieties that thrive in the Rocky Mountain climate without much effort. But I wanted more. So, I kept adding things. Species that are more difficult to grow, but better fulfill my vision for my garden. Every year there is some color or height of plant my garden seems to need.

But I only have so much space and my garden is getting terribly crowded. Something has to come out before I add anything more. It’s a tough decision. How do you uproot a plant that is lovely and thriving to replace it with something else? It’s seems so harsh.

2016_Gillgannon_gardenWhat will it be? Which plant gets to live and which plant gets weeded out? I consider color. I love purple, but a good share of my garden blooms in that hue: dame’s rocket and columbines, hardy geraniums and delphiniums. With all that purple, the lavender haze of cat mint and sage seem like too much. These are some of the first perennials I planted and they’ve gotten huge, three and four feet wide. I prop them up with low fencing, trying to keep them under control. But something has to give.

I make my decision. It will be the sage. I will dig them out. Not to die, but to pass on to my friend who lives in the prairie/mountain landscape west of town. She has a whole hill to cover with tough, durable species.

Why the sage, and not the cat mint? Well, my cats, non-ironically, like the cat mint, and spend quite a bit of time rolling around on it early in the season. Later, the cat mint will attract bees by the dozen, until the plants come alive with swarming pollinators: honeybees, bumble bees and the occasional swallowtail butterfly.

Writing can be like gardening. (You were wondering when I would finally mention writing, weren’t you?) It’s difficult to pull up and discard a whole subplot. But sometimes the story gets too crowded, and you have to think long and hard about what drives the book. What is its essence? Are there scenes that seem repetitious? They may be tight and functional in and of themselves, but do they make the book better?

I write like I garden, randomly adding things, following a plot-line or story arc to see where it goes. But sometimes it gets too rambling, and I know I have to cut. I have to make my decision the way I do when gardening. What fulfills my vision? What can I do to make my garden/book better? What can I take out and not really miss?

Words, sentences, plotlines. They’re alive, blooming, full of possibilities. So hard to dig them up and discard them. But I have to remember the whole garden. The book. The story. That’s what other people see. What they read.

A bit wrenching, but it has to be done. There. Gone with a click of the mouse.

Already, the story flows better. Seems more cohesive and somehow more real. I’ve done the right thing and dug out those extra words that were getting in the way of the beautiful whole.

Halfway and Unfinished

I was talking with a writer the other day. Those writers. You know the type. Shifty-eyed. Distracted. Stinking of gin and desperation. A nervous laugh and a hair-trigger sense of despair. Yes. A writer.

She was working on her first novel, and times were bad.

Why were times bad?

Because she was about halfway through the book. Now, being halfway is a good thing, right? It’s better than being on page zero.

That damn page zero. It taunts me.

But the problem is, she has been learning craft along the way, and every time she learns something she applies it to the book, which means she is constantly re-writing the first half of the book.

Which means if she keeps this up, she will never, ever finish because she is trapped in the miasma of her novel, stuck in edits and applying everything she is learning.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am iffy on the idea we can edit ourselves into a perfect book. There’s a popular idea that if we only edit a book enough, we can craft a perfect sculptured thing of Davidian beauty that will sell millions.

Maybe.

I’ve seen books written by half-witted alcoholic troll-like creatures reach the heights of Amazon. And I’ve seen lovingly crafted books of true beauty languish in the dungeons of obscurity.

Editing is necessary to a certain extent. But do you know what I think is more important than editing? Vision.

When I sit down to write a novel, I have a vision of the story in my head, and generally the vision is the climax of the book, when the hero is pushed to the limits, and things are bleak, and the villain is invincible! And still, somehow, the hero wins.

If I don’t have the epicness of the climax in my mind, I don’t write the book. And yeah, the climax might change, but generally it doesn’t. I know the book I want to write.

I have vision.

Can editing help me reach that vision? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve spent months editing a book to realize my first draft was better. I’ve been given dodgy advice to “improve” my book when really it was striking at the heart of my vision.

My advice to all writers is to write, every day, as much as you can. If it’s only three sentences, that counts. Write, every day, and follow the vision. Yes, you’ll be hit by craft stuff and editing stuff, but the vision should remain.

So vision is more important than editing. What is more important than vision?

Finishing.

I had an Icelandic friend who give some really good advice when I first started writing. He told me to finish the book, then go back and edit. Stop going to classes, stop reading up on craft, stop listening to the experts, and finish the book.

Then, during edits, you can apply what you have learned. But only for so long. There are no perfect books. Good enough is generally good enough.

Then again, there are no rules.

I heard a story about a guy who attended the same writer conference, year after year, for decades. He worked on the same book for decades. Everyone laughed at him for decades. Until his book hit, and when it hit, it took off.

There are no rules.

Except for one.

If you don’t finish the book, no one will ever be able to read it.

Guest Post by Piper Bayard: Little Darlings Anonymous

I’m Piper Bayard, and I’m a Little Darling Addict.

Hi, Piper. Welcome.

Thank you. It was hard to come here today, so I knew I needed this meeting.

I’m back at Step One. I am powerless over my imaginary friends, and my manuscript has become unmanageable.

My editor called and asked me for my draft. I told her, “It’s not ready.” The truth is that I’m not ready. I’m not ready to part with my Little Darlings.

We know what they are. They are 68 out of 75 main characters. They are detailed scenes designed to show off our expertise. They are the cool one liners we saw on Twitter and worked into our dialogue, even though our characters would never talk like that.

*sniff* *reaches for tissue*

And they are the entire scenes and sections of our manuscripts that we love most, but that serve nothing to move the plot . . . Our Little Darlings. Our babies.

While writing is an art, publishing is a business. We give birth to our babies, but most of us don’t try to sell them on Amazon. That’s reserved for the products of our business.

And so I come here to these rooms to stay honest. I know that I owe it to my readers and to myself to rise above my ego and let the editing begin.

Thank you for your support.

 

12 Steps of Little Darlings Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our imaginary friends, and that our Works In Progress had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that an Editor greater than ourselves could restore our prose to sanity.
  3. We made the decision to turn our will and our manuscripts over to our Editors, whoever we understand them to be.
  4. We made a searching and fearless critical inventory of all of our Little Darlings.
  5. We admitted to our Editors, to ourselves, and to our beta readers the exact nature of our self-indulgences.
  6. We became entirely ready to have our Editors remove all the Little Darlings from our Works In Progress.
  7. We humbly asked our Editors to mercilessly slaughter all of our Little Darlings when we had not the strength.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had subjected to our original manuscripts and became willing to make amends to all of them who had not hung themselves by page fifty.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause them to injure themselves or others at the mere memory of our manuscripts.
  10. We continued to undergo edits, and, when our Editors sniffed out Little Darlings, promptly submitted them for termination.
  11. We sought through study and daily word count to improve our conscious contact with our plots, as we understood them, seeking only the knowledge to distinguish between Little Darlings and actual elements of our stories.
  12. Having had a literary awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other Little Darling Addicts, and to practice these principles in all of our written endeavors.

 


The Writers Serenity Prayer

Grant me the 
serenity to accept that things have got to change;

The courage to 
change the things I can;

And a good Editor to help me know the difference.

 

 

41eqKpv+-kL._UY200_Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She's also a belly dancer from way back and a former hospice volunteer. She is currently the managing editor of Social In Worldwide, Inc., and pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels when she isn't shooting, baking cookies, or chauffeuring her children.

 

Working with an Editor … by Mathiya Adams

Mathiya AdamsI am very fortunate to have an editor with whom I have a great working relationship. I had first approached my editor when I was trying to publish a sword and sorcery fantasy book under another pen name. I had been following this editor's blog (Tara Maya's Tales on http://bestfantasynovel.com) for some time and thought she would be sympathetic to my desires to get published. She read over my story, told me she liked it, agreed to publish it, but warned me that she did not expect it to sell very well. I asked her what was wrong with the book, and she said "Nothing. The problem is, it's only one book. Readers of this genre like to have a series of books."

I tried another series of books, under a different pen name. She reviewed them, politely told me they were nice stories, but had major structural defects. I thought that was kind of cruel, so I fought back, as any good writer would. "What kind of defects?" She started to list them. First, my stories did not fit any clearly defined genre. What difference did that make? A lot, she explained. Having a clearly defined genre, even a mixed or a new one, makes it possible to market the book. She asked me to search Amazon and find books similar to mine. I tried, and failed. Unfortunately, she was right, and the series has never gotten very far.

The Avid Angler by Mathiya AdamsFinally, about a year and a half ago, I sent her the first of a new series of stories, this time about an ex-cop who becomes a hot dog vendor, and then ends up solving crimes. Tara Maya said she was not familiar with the cozy mystery genre, or even the mystery genre, but she would do some research and get back to me.

Research for an editor like Tara Maya consists of reading a hundred books in the genre, making extensive notes about their structure, characters, themes, conflicts—everything that makes the genre distinctive. She finally got back to me and said my book had possibilities. Did I have more than one written?

Yes, I did, and I began to send them to her.

That's when I found out what working with an editor really means.

Over the next six months, as we went over book after book, my editor helped me refine my plot structure, introduced me to new tools to help organize my story, manage the flow of events so that the story built up to a climax and ended with a satisfactory resolution. She forced me to confront my characters, understand their motivations a lot more clearly, and make them behave in a more consistent manner. She challenged scenes I had ("Do you know how deep the South Platte River is there? Is it deep enough to break someone's fall? Most readers won't know, but what about the one or two who live within a thousand feet of that location? When you combine fiction with reality, the reality better be believable!") That meant I now had to go on auto excursions around Denver to check out the scenes in my book. "Your readers don't believe in Magic, Mattie. They believe in police procedures, wits, and courage. When you write, always think of your reader. Will they believe your story?"

There were a lot of times when I resented her criticisms. It's easy to point out problems, I thought, it's a lot more work to fix them. But that's all part of the writing process.

So, here is a summary of what I've learned about working with an editor:

1.  Communicate regularly with your editor. She is your ally, not your adversary.
2.  Listen to what she says. You may be the writer, but she often knows what's selling and what's not selling. If you want to sell books, she can help.
3.  She is not always right. If you feel what you've done is the best thing for your story, explain your logic, give her an understanding of where your story is going. If you can convince her, fine. Otherwise, review point 2.
4.  Keep your commitments. Yours is not the only book she is handling, in all probability. Editors are more likely to respond to the authors who meet their deadlines, follow-through on a timely basis, and help them get the book ready for publishing.
5.  No matter how much you think you can go it alone, don’t do it. Get an editor. An editor, plus your talent, just might make you a successful author.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mathiya Adams grew up on the East Coast (Massachusetts and New York), moving to California in her early teens. She's always been interested in writing, first trying her hand at science fiction, then dabbling into mysteries and adventure stories. Mathiya tried to study writing in college, but became discouraged when her application to a writer's course at UCLA was turned down because "you don't show any real talent." A stint in Peace Corps over in India whetted her appetite for the strange and exotic, and once again she took up writing. This time she tried her hand at sword and sorcery, and while she had lots of ideas for subsequent books, real life—work, children, family—always seemed to provide ample excuses not to persevere.

After Mathiya's retirement, she dived into the writing life head first, coming up with dozens of story ideas she wanted to pursue. Some of them were actually good ideas and she thinks they might actually see the light of day. But one series in particular caught her interest. It was a story about a hot dog vendor, one of those people you sort of ignore except to buy a hot dog from them. What kind of life could they possibly lead? When Mathiya asked that question, the answer hit her. The hot dog vendor secretly was a phenomenal detective who only solved crimes that the police couldn't handle. That was the birth of the Hot Dog Detective series.

Now her days are filled with exploring Denver, checking out the locales frequented by Mark MacFarland and his associates; recounting the exploits of MacFarland; and occasionally attempting to write a blog to help other aspiring authors.

You can learn more about Mathiya's novel at her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

That Fleeting Magic

By Colleen Oakes

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It happened last night, in the middle of a long day of writing, editing and brain-storming.  My writing buddy  and I had hunkered down for a five hour session of hammering out the problems in our respective novels. Seriously, it's such a perfect working relationship that it's a little scary.  This is how we do it: first, the good - then, the bad, which takes about five times longer than the good.  Peter's voice needs work. Damien needs feelings.  Comments range from "I LITERALLY hate your mountain range" to "I don't like or respect sexy aliens" Back and forth and back and forth it went.

At the end of our session, I was struggling with the ending of my current novel. It's a very complicated climax, with a lot of specific plot devices that have to happen just at the right time, in the right order and getting that order just right is terribly tripping me up at the moment.  I'm nowhere near the end, but I need to have my ducks in a row to proceed from this point on. I've arrived at a place in the story where I need to know origin stories - and the endgame.

So, we were at Udi's eating delicious pizza and humus when it happened.  At that point we had spent about 5 hours dissecting and editing and I was running over the plot for my novel out loud, in my head, and chasing down every thread that occurred.  To me sometimes, the best way to figure out where a story is going is just to push it down every possible dark alleyway and see what comes out. I was missing something from the climax.  I knew that something KEY was missing.  So we were running over scenarios, one by one and then I had it. A sliver of an idea.  A tiny sliver, a slip of a thing, a whisper of something big.

We discussed it.  Then, our voices rose, and started overlapping. We followed the string into the dark alley and kept following it. We started getting excited and then, we were yelling and high fiving and I'm pretty sure the table behind us thought we were totally drunk seeing how we were talking magic and pirates and musical instruments.

It was a moment, just a moment of pure creation.

Afterwards, even on the drive home as I recapped it minute by minute to my VERY lucky husband, I was still buzzing, my skin feeling like it was on fire, my brain alive and awake and flooded with adrenaline.  When you write with that kind of inspirational heat that is as rare as an eclipse, the story flows out of you like water, the best kind of drowning.

Sometimes people ask me why I write.  Most of the time, it's because I like sipping on a hot beverage and simultaneously trying not to bang my head against a keyboard. But when it's magic like this, it's a job that is so much more than a job. It's creating a living and breathing thing that can surprise, delight and frustrate you.  Honestly, it's a lot like parenting.

And when that inspirational lightning strikes, and your story falls into place like an elaborate puzzle, it's one of the best moments that a writer can have.

It might only happen once or twice a book, but when it does, it's pure, unfiltered ecstasy.

Magic.

I HATE MY BOOK!

By Kevin Paul Tracy

As you grow up you become more aware of a developing ability to hold multiple emotions at a time on any given subject, sometimes quite contradictory. For example, anyone who is married can attest to how it is possible to both loathe and love that same person at the same time. I'm a big James Carville fan even though I detest almost everything he stands for. I think Tom Cruise is a giant flake, but I'll go see any movie he's in because he's a very engaging actor.

So when I say, "I hate my book!" other writers understand this is a transient state - I don't in fact hate my book, but during the rewrite and editing process, I do! I loved it when I was writing it, and even during the first read-through and edit, I'm thinking, "Damn, this is pert'near genius!" But after the fourth and fifth read-through and edit, you wish you weren't the author if only so you could take the author by the throat and throttle him for putting out such drek!

Cap'n Crunch Cereal

It happens the same way with Cap'n Crunch cereal, to which I am, sadly, addicted. So I buy the big economy-sized box. Then, next Saturday morning I get up excited, pull up the last episode of Person of Interest on the DVR, pour myself a giant bowl of Crunch Berries, and sit down to a meal fit for a king.

Sidebar: Does anyone remember Cap'n Crunch's arch-nemesis, the pirate Cap'n LaFoote? He had a cereal of his own as well, a cinnamon something or other. No? Not surprising, it wasn't very good.

About two-thirds into my precious bowl of cereal the orange pieces are getting soggy and the berries are sticking to my teeth and I'm wishing I hadn't poured myself such a big bowl. I'm sick of Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries and don't care if I never see another bowl again. And yet, three or four weeks later, there I am, buying another box and getting all excited for the next Saturday morning!

You don't, in fact, hate your book as you enter the fifth read-through. You're just burned out on it. Compounded by the fact that with each read-through you keep finding more that needs fixing, and it's getting a little redundant and monotonous, especially if many edits are the same mistake repeated over and over again. You're frustrated and you're a little down on your own skill as a writer.

Well, let me clue you in on something I recently learned myself. There's nothing wrong with taking a break. I know, you want to get it done and over with and off to the printers. But when you're burned out like this, you make mistakes and miss things, which is why it seems like you keep finding the same errors over and again. Taking a break gives you a chance to recharge the batteries. Catch up on your own reading, attend a few critique group meetings, remind yourself what it was that inspired you to write to begin with.

Most critical, though, however long your break, get back to it. You'll find yourself much less stressed and frustrated, you'll find yourself making much fewer errors, and you might even fall in love with your book all over again!


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

How to Grow a Novel

By Barbara Graham

Graham_MurderBySunlightProbably because I’m in the midst of trying to get my garden to produce something other than really healthy weeds, and my next book is in the formative stage, the comparison between gardening and writing a novel seemed ideal.

After all, they both start with high hopes and big plans. Each beginning I think—this will be the garden/book that won’t have “issues” like weeds, blight or repetitive phrases. The characters will be fascinating and the tomatoes won’t have blossom end rot.

Before beginning such a fabulous project, there is some studying involved. I peruse the seed catalogs and gather ideas for the best vegetables for the sunny end of the garden. Can they grow in our short season? For the book, what will the story line be and because I write mysteries, who should I kill this time? The first book in my mystery series, Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt was inspired by a headline in the newspaper. It simply read, “man found dead in car.” No snakes, no other tie to the storyline. I began playing with the scenario. Why would a man be dead in his car? Any number reasons. You pick one of your own and write that book.

So, we plant a seed and soon there is a sprout. The seedlings go into the garden on the recommended date but I like to cover the tender sprouts. I often use plastic milk bottles without lids and the bottoms cut out. They form individual greenhouses. Also too tender for early exposure, ideas and characters being developed now should avoid the early critique situations. Let them get some roots and a good strong stem before hearing from the critics. Something fabulous could wither and die from early exposure to the world.

Pull the weeds and throw on some fertilizer. Add more words, maybe create a world with murderous garden gnomes. This is the waiting game. Slog through the pages adding on. Fix the dialogue. Protect it from outside intruders like deer stomping the tender leaves with their sharp hooves, making a mess, it is your world to save.

The garden is planted, out of human control, except for watering and constant weeding. Heavens, some weeds are taller than the desired plants. Every first draft of the next book, I find myself wondering “who wrote this mess?” Is that a weed or something worth keeping? Sometimes in the early stages, they look the same. There is much work to be done. Peering at the vegetation, you see emerging baby carrot tops. They look like fine parsley but sharing the same spot is some nasty broadleaf weed. The weed must be carefully extricated without killing the carrot. It is the garden equivalent of excising the wrong word in a sentence, a writers’ weed destroying the intended meaning.

Is anything worth keeping? Yes. Throw some more fertilizer in there, use better words. Plants and story are both improving at last. The plot has only a couple of small holes now, easily mended, and your hero is worthy of the name. There are small, dark green tomatoes on a plant. Green peppers on another. The potatoes plants are tall and covered with small purple flowers. There are jewels in the dirt.

One more rewrite. A walk through the garden again. The ripening tomatoes are even more gorgeous than expected. Maybe you should enter them in the county fair. Let the judges see what a real tomato smells like. As for the novel, a few more rewrites, queries and maybe a contract, all yours for the picking.

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Barbara Graham began making up stories in the third grade instead of learning to multiply and divide. A native Texan, she later lived in Denver, New Orleans and East Tennessee. Inspiration for Silersville (home of her imaginary friends) comes from her Tennessee period. An unrepentant quilting addict, she lives in Wyoming with her long suffering husband and the spoiled dog. Her motto is “Every book needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt.”

Her most recent book, Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt is book five in her Quilted Mystery series featuring Tennessee Sheriff Tony Abernathy and his quiltmaker wife, Theo. Visit Barbara at her website.

Barbara is giving away one copy of Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt to a lucky U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Friday, September 12. The winner will be selected using random.org and the name posted here on Saturday.

Crush the Crutches

By Mark Stevens

Do you have “crutch” words?

Words you inject into your prose without thinking?

I mean, they are such great freaking words that you when you ask a reader to plow through your latest incredible best-selling novel, she comes back and says:

“Well, not bad. But did you know you used the word ethereal 187 times?”

Or (fill in the blank for your go-to word)?

Me?

Guilty as charged. I’ve got a few. They change from one piece of writing to the next.

They are words my inner brain fell in love with, most likely, decades ago.

I pull them out of the dust-covered brain cells that are my word filing system and I drop into the prose without really thinking.

(Question: Why can’t my ability-to-edit brain see the heavy repetition of my crutch words? When I read manuscripts by other writers, their crutch words jump out at me like something from Sharknado. “Did you mean to use the color ‘salmon’ on page four and page 196?”)

Which brings me to Visual Thesaurus. (http://www.visualthesaurus.com/)

Stevens_Visual ThesaurusIf you are looking, occasionally, for that little spark to kick a sentence or a paragraph in the butt—a way to give your writing voice a little inspiration—check it out.

It’s a word lover’s daily jolt of caffeine.

First, take your crutch word and enter it in the search engine. VT will give you a visual rendering of the universe in which your word lives—all its relatives, close and distant.

If you want to tweak your favorite plum word in one direction, you click on that word within the sphere (Do mean “hot” as blistering or “hot” as spicy?) Suddenly, you are charging down another path looking for the right word.

Plus, VT has daily columns about word derivations and interesting takes on word usage. A recent column looked at “anxious” versus “eager.” Knowing the difference is the kind of distinction that might give your prose more accuracy.

If you subscribe ($25 per year), you get a daily ‘word of the day’ in your email and lots of nifty/nerdy info to go with it.

As I write this, today’s word is ‘theurgy.’ (“Magic performed with the help of one—or more.”) Recent words were cheroot, caliphate and hypernym. As Visual Thesaurus says: Dog, for example, is a hypernym for dachshund, Chihuahua, and poodle. Some folks call 'em generic terms or superordinates.

In fact, Visual Thesaurus will help you avoid hypernyms (and your damn crutches) and be as precise and fresh as possible.

Every day.

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Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014