October 2009 Archives

I don't know what inspiration

I don't know what inspiration is, but when it comes, I hope it finds me working.

 Picasso

The dictionary is the only

The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish almost anything if you’re willing to pay the price.

Vince Lombardi

A novelist: a person who

A novelist: a person who sits in a small room and talks to a computer about the intimate lives of people who don't exist.

Katherine Kingsley

Everyone is different and that

Everyone is different and that means that everyone is going to need to write a story in a different way. You have to discover how you need to do it. There is no easy way. You can only discover how to by doing it.

Diana Wynne Jones

Self-Editing Tips

Need ideas on how to edit your own manuscript? Here are some ideas to try. First, let your chapter or manuscript sit for a couple weeks, so you can see it afresh. Read it aloud.

Do you . . .

. . . stumble? It may mean your sentence or word choice is awkward. Or if written in verse, that your rhyme is forced or your meter is off.

. . . hear the difference between how your characters speak? If not, try this--highlight all of each character's dialogue in individual colors, then using the color key, read through a single character's words. Does his speech sound consistent? Can you tell who is speaking without taglines? Do each of your characters sound realistic? Aren't lecturing? Sound age appropriate?

. . . see the setting? It may not need to be highly detailed, but especially in novels, the reader needs to know where the character is. (i.e. a child playing in a parking lot, or an abandoned lot, gives quite a different picture than a child playing on a playground, or at the video arcade.)

. . . use all five senses? Sight and hearing are pretty easy, but don't forget to use taste, touch, and smell.

. . . feel emotion? If not, perhaps your characters aren't quite alive yet. Show us what she is feeling, to help us feel it, too.

. . . doubt whether something is working or not? If in doubt, work it out! Don't ignore those troublesome spots. Check with other writers if not sure why it isn't working.

Check for . . .

. . . passive writing. Your biggest clue is use of ing. i.e. She was standing becomes the more active She stood.

. . . excessive adverbs. Are you overusing "ly" words? Instead of using a weak verb and an adverb to modify it, replace both with an active verb. (i.e. I walked quickly to I raced or I sprinted or I scurried.)

. . . weak adjectives. Use adjectives that really make a difference. (i.e. white snow tells a reader almost nothing, because snow is usually white. However, dirty snow or packed snow or yellow snow each create a different picture.) Don't forget you can use similes and metaphors occasionally, too.

. . . specific nouns. Don't be vague and you may not need to use adjectives with your nouns. (i.e. instead of He fed his pet, try He fed his dog or He fed his Great Dane. See how getting more specific, gives a clearer picture?)

. . . overuse of prepositional phrases, especially those beginning with "as." Actions can be shown one at a time and are often clearer, than trying to show two actions at once. (i.e. As Benny walked to school, he saw . . . could become On the way to school Benny saw . . . or Benny had almost reached school when he saw . . .)

. . . overuse of flashbacks. Flashbacks pull the reader out of the present action. Use sparingly. Consider telling the story in chronological order and see if that improves the flow of your story.

. . . heavy sections of black text. Reader's like some white space. This can be provided by using dialogue, shorter paragraphs mixed in with long ones. Breaking up narration with action. Eliminating unnecessary description.

. . . scenes that don't move the story forward. Sometimes we write too many details, when instead we need a brief summary as a transition between scenes. (An example would be the details of what a character had for breakfast, who with, and how long it took, when this really is just filler between the important idea he had when he woke up and his action to use the idea after breakfast. When Lee woke up, he knew what he had to do. After breakfast, he raced next door . . .) Ask yourself the following questions:


  • Does this add to the story?

  • Am I getting to the main point here?

  • Will the reader care about this?

  • How does this make my main character appear?

. . . clear transitions. These can be brief (i.e. the next morning), but the main purpose is to show we're not in the same place and/or time.

. . . a strong beginning. Did you start with the moment that is different? Did you start with action, not background info? Does your reader soon know what the main character's problem is?

. . . a satisfactory ending. Does your story come full circle? Is the problem presented early on resolved? (Doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending or all questions answered.) Did your character change and grow? Did your antagonist get what he deserves? Was this relationship/problem resolved at the right time?

. . . varied sentence structure. Don't always use noun verb subject order. (i.e. Dolly washed her hair and sat down to do her homework could be changed to After washing her hair, Dolly sat down to do her homework.)

. . . varied sentence length.
Short sentences create more tension. Longer ones, a more relaxed feel. You can even have sentence fragments where the subject and verb are understood, not stated or use them for emphasis, i.e. CRASH!

. . . correct spelling and grammar.
You did use your computer spell check, right? And rechecked after editing? And checked visually? Spell check can't catch "their" instead of "there," but it can catch many words. Your grammar checker can help where spell check doesn't. It is not an infallible tool--it especially was not aimed at fiction--but if pops up, make sure you understand the "rule" it says you are breaking.

. . . correct punctuation
. A great favorite resource is Errors in English and How to Correct Them by Shaw. It helps with word usage and grammar, too. If you have someone in your critique group, who readily spots grammar and punctuation mistakes, ask them to read over your manuscript.

Weed Out Weasel Words
They are those words that just slip their way into your manuscript. Often they are used again, and again, and again. The examples below may or may not be a problem for you, or you may have others to add to this list.

really
finally
just
very
so
then
next
seems, seemed
began
that

Agent Rachelle Gardner has an even longer list on her blog at http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/.

Or because of your subject matter, you may use the same word over and over. Find other ways to say it.

Tighten
One well-published author, Peg Kehret, looks at each page and tries to eliminate 3 words per page. Pretend you have a word count limit per chapter or scene. When forced to reduce text to make word count, you often see unnecessary words or sentences.

Repeat as Needed
Make your changes, again let the manuscript set for a time. Sometimes it helps to print it out in a different size font. Reread it and see if more changes are necessary. Repeat as many times as needed. When satisfied that is as good as you can make it, take it to a critique group or do a manuscript exchange. After the critique, you'll probably be making more additions, deletions, and corrections.

Pay Attention to Comments
Pay attention to critiquers' comments that you receive frequently, i.e. show don't tell. If you have good critiquers, this is an indication you have a weakness in that area. Do your best to not hear that comment again by educating yourself to spot it yourself. If you don't understand what they mean, find out!

If you consistently get personal rejections that comment on one problem, that problem may cross into other manuscripts as well. Learn as much as you can about strengthening your skills in your problem area.

Character Growth - Red Glass & Mexican WhiteBoy

I recently read two award-winning books which give some insight into the Hispanic culture. Both were very good and in both the main character grew and changed.

redGlass3.jpgRed Glass (Delacorte, 2007) by Laura Resau features Sophie, who is afraid of everything. She and her family have taken in her great aunt, Dika, a refugee from Bosnia, and Pablo, a 6 year old Mexican boy, whose parents die trying to cross into America. Dika meets Mr. Lorenzo and becomes friends. Mr. Lorenzo, his son, Angel, Dika, and Sophie travel to Mexico to take Pablo to his village to see if he wants to be with his family there and for Angel to find his lost mother. The story is powerful and memorable and Sophie learns what is important to fear and what is not.

Laura has another book coming out this month. Read more at her website: http://www.lauraresau.com/.

mexicanwhiteboy.jpgMexican WhiteBoy (Delacorte, 2008) by Matt de la Pena has a character with several dilemmas. First, Danny is white to the Mexicans and Mexican to the whites. He lives with his mom and step-dad in San Diego, but goes to spend the summer with his Mexican uncle's family. People in National City don't understand why he can't speak Spanish. Secondly, Danny's great at baseball, especially pitching, but at his private school in San Diego, he can't keep control over the ball. In National City he becomes friends with Uno who has a Mexican mother and a black father. The two help each other figure out what is going on in their lives. Warning: This book does have language that may be offensive, however, it does fit the culture.

Matt also has a new book coming out this month. Check it out at his website: http://www.mattdelapena.com/index.html.

I really like books where the characters are not only lovable, but that they stick with me long after I finish the last page. These two books did that for me.

lastinvisibleboy.jpgThe Last Invisible Boy (Atheneum, 2008) by Evan Kuhlman is an illustrated novel. 12-year-old Finn Garrett believes he is disappearing from the grief of his father's death--not that he'll tell you what happened to his dad. But as he says, "This book...It's a runaway bus so anything can happen." Expect funny and sad moments. Definitely worth the read. Go to Evan's website, http://evankuhlman.com/ to watch the cool book trailer of The Last Invisible Boy.

I must check out his other book, Wolf Boy, too.


swallows early.jpgThe Year the Swallows Came Early (The Bowen Press*, 2009) by Kathryn Fitzmaurice "Things that look just right come undone quicker than the last day of summer," says 11 year old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson, who loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school when she is older. She and her friend Frankie have to deal with a number of things that go wrong one eventful summer--the year the swallows came early.

Watch an introduction by this debut author at her website: http://www.kathrynfitzmaurice.com. And Kathryn's book was recently put on the California Collections list for Middle Schoolers!

*Imprint of HarperCollins