October 2017 Archives

Heres one thing Ive learnt

Here's one thing I've learnt about writing books. Don't assume that because you're moving slowly you're not making progress.
Haley Chewins

Overwriting - Take Two

chaos-227971_1280.jpgHave you ever read a piece that explains every detail down to the smallest minutia? Where you find yourself skimming or skipping ahead to the action? I've seen movies that spend too long on backstory or unimportant details, too. Both make me want to say, "get on with the story!" What you're reading/seeing is overwriting.

It can be like this picture which is so cluttered, you're not sure where to focus. Readers like white space on the page.

So how do you avoid overwriting? Watch out for the following:

Excessive adjectives and adverbs. Use stronger nouns and stronger verbs and many of these descriptive words become unnecessary.

Filler words usually don't add to the story and can become especially annoying. Sometimes this happens when a writer is trying to make dialogue "just like the real thing." No one wants to read a recording of a conversation with the falters, sidetracks, filler words, and repetition for enjoyment.

Explaining too much. Technical, historical, and political descriptions can bog down writing. In an effort to be accurate, we can over explain.

In dialogue, if it looks like a lecture versus a conversation, it's probably overwritten.

In an action scene, repeated details often slow down the action. If the description directly impacts the character, go for it. Otherwise, don't. Say we have a person in a boat in a storm. Repeatedly describing the clouds above them or the specifications of the boat doesn't take the reader far. However, we do want to know the wave flings them against the rail. The pain when a rib cracks. The gasping for air the moment the water recedes. The taste of salt. The roar of the wind.

Mary Kole says this about overwriting, "Basically, it's a sense that the prose (and the writer behind it) is trying too hard to get their point across or impress the reader." This can be telling the reader the same thing over and over and over, which makes me want to say, "I got it the first time." Or it can be lots of big words that are simply too fancy. It can also include convoluted sentence structure that gets the reader lost. This kind of writing is often called "purple prose."

In this post, "Avoid Overwriting - Subtle is More Sophisticated," Jodie Renner mentions "extreme reactions and over-the-top emotions" as overwriting. That makes me think of Anne of Green Gables and her teacher chewing her out for all her exclamation points. :-)

When I'm editing/critiquing a manuscript and see overwriting, I find myself writing "too much" or "tighten." A writer may be modeling their prose on older styles of writing, but we need to remember the modern audience usually wants something that moves more quickly.


The Literary Lab has some fun examples of overwriting on this blog post.

Good books dont give up

Good books don't give up all their secrets at once.
Stephen King

The Someday Suitcase

someday_suitcase.jpgThe Someday Suitcase (Katherine Tegan Books, 2017) by Corey Ann Haydu is a touching story of friendship and loss.

Clover and Danny are like two sides of a coin. The pair are always together. They laugh and have good times; they help each other with their strengths. When in fifth grade science class, Clover learns about symbiosis, she's sure that's the perfect description for her and Danny. When Danny gets sick with a mysterious illness, only Clover can make him feel better. Clover's sure she's the one that will find a cure for him, too, but no one believes her as Danny gets weaker and weaker.

And, yes, the snow globe on the front of the book has a special significance.

I look forward to seeing what awards this book wins.

Corey Ann writes for teens and children--check out her books here. She shares her teenage diaries here on the blog "What My Former Self Can Tell Me Now."

The First Last Day

TheFirstLastDayLg.jpgThe First Last Day (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, 2016) by Dorian Cirrone is an interesting take on the idea of not wanting summer to end. Who hasn't wanted that as a kid? Plus, there's a do over aspect. It's also a good read about friendship and choices.

Twelve-year-old Haleigh and Kevin have had a great time this summer at the Jersey shore. Tomorrow his mom is coming to get Kevin to take him home and Haleigh has to go home and get ready for another new school. When Haleigh finds a mysterious set of paints in her backpack and paints a picture of their last day, she wakes up to their last day again. And again, and again. What will she do about the time loop?

This book reminds me of the movie Groundhog's Day, except I can't remember why the time loop happened in the movie. And this story brings up some interesting issues that the movie didn't. The book has been translated into Finnish and has won a 2017 Florida Book Awards Gold Medal.

Dorian writes for kids and teens. Read about all her books here. And you really should read the longer version of her bio here--I bet it will make you smile.

Become emotionally involved If you

Become emotionally involved. If you don't care about your characters, your readers won't either.
Judy Blume

The Seventh Bride

seventhbride.jpgThe Seventh Bride (47North, 2015) by T. Kingfisher is one of those scary books softened by humor so as not to be too scary.

Fifteen-year-old Rhea is the miller's daughter and she's angry. She's engaged--not that she minds the idea in general--in the distant future. And being engaged to a Lord is a good thing, isn't it? But something just seems a little, off. But she has to marry him, otherwise her whole family will suffer. Peasants don't reject nobles.

This book is written for adults, but with a teen main character, it's very relatable to teens, too.

T. Kingfisher's bio makes me laugh. I've read books from her alter ego Ursula Vernon, as well.


problemwithforever.jpgThe PROBLEM with FOREVER (Harlequin TEEN, 2016) by Jennifer L. Armentrout is a wow of a book! I couldn't stop reading. It's compelling, sad, sweet, scary, and good. It's also a 2017 RITA Award Winner.

Mallory Dodge is taking the scary step out of homeschooling with her adoptive family to be a senior year at a high school. Since her years in foster care conditioned her to be silent, it's going to be very difficult for her to talk to other kids, to speak up in class, to deal with all the noise, and to prove to herself that she's changed.

Mallory often doesn't say a lot out loud, but as readers we get an inside look at what's going on in her head.

Jennifer L. Armentrout is one prolific writer as well as being a NYT bestselling author. On her website I found 22 other YA novels--most are part of different series. She also writes New Adult and Adult. You might want to take a look at the bio of this amazing gal.

Red Queen

Red_Queen_book_cover.jpgRed Queen (HarperTeen, 2015) by Victoria Aveyard takes us into an interesting and unfair world of those born with silver blood, privilege, and powers, and those with red blood who mostly have hardship.

A Red, Mare Barrows, like her older brothers did, is headed to fight in the Silver's war when she turns eighteen. The only way she can help her family now is by pick pocketing, whereas her younger sister Gisa has a talent with sewing and even works for the Silvers. When Mare's best friend Kilgorn only has a week until conscription, she's determined to find a way to help him escape. Her search leads her on a path that changes her whole life.

There are surprises, death, betrayal, loyalty, romance, sorrow, and more. Mare is definitely a heroine to care for.

This book is the first in a series that includes some novellas. Read the details here. Meanwhile, I'm off to order the second book. Oh, and by the way, the series is currently being translated into 37 languages!

Victoria Aveyard is a NYT bestselling author. Read more about her here.

Good descriptions never occur in

Good descriptions never occur in a vacuum; they are subject to the moods and emotions of the characters...
Peter Selgin

The Reader (Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold)

The Reader
(Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold) (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016) by Traci Chee is a compelling fantasy told in multiple viewpoints and with stories within the story.

And isn't that a lovely cover?

Here's a brief overview:

Sefia has a precious item that someone is trying to find. She and Auntie Nin have been on the run for six years after Sefia's father was murdered and now Nin has been taken. Sefia is determined to find her. On her own she risks looking at the rectangular object she carries and is disappointed to see that is only paper with scribbles. Through hard study she finally deciphers a line of the squiggles: "This is a book." After she realizes book is the name of the rectangle object, it hits her that everything she sees might have a sign too. Knowing the book has answers to the death of her father and where Nin is, Sefia teaches herself to read it. The cover of the book has a symbol which Sefia uses as a map on her dangerous journey.

We have glimpses into other viewpoints, Lon and Tanin, but it takes a while before we understand how they are connected to Sefia.

I feel inadequate describing the magic of this story. It's unusual, mysterious, heartbreaking, wonderful.

I'm really looking forward to The Speaker, book 2.TheSpeaker.jpg

The Reader is author Traci Chee's debut book and has become a NY Times bestseller. You can read all the starred reviews here and see the covers of the five translations.

Traci's bio is here with links to a number of interviews.


We see the word recreating and usually think "kicking back" or doing something for the enjoyment of it, as in recreation, and that's true.

But, what if we pronounce the word re-creating?

Re-creating could be a "big picture" look at a novel. Sometimes, we honestly know a manuscript we've written isn't working. Sometimes, it's our critique group, agent, or an editor who points out big problems. Either way, re-creating can include slashing scenes/chapters, or creating brand new ones. We might need to re-create our character, who is either too flawed or not flawed enough, or not likable enough. We might have to re-create plot, or fix the tension or chronology in the story. It might take starting the story in a different place or at a different time. We may be restoring the story to fit the bright shiny vision we first had. Re-creating might change the whole story into a different shape. It may feel like going backwards. But if the end result is a better story, it's worth it. I love this quote: "Don't hold onto a mistake just because it took a long time to make." -Lucy Ruth Cummins

Once the overall story is working well, then we can move on to scene by scene revisions. With this step, we might be strengthening our characters, going deeper into their emotions and motives. Perhaps we're adding in sensory details that ground the reader or removing unnecessary description. Is a conversation compelling or is there trite dialogue that needs to be cut? Is everything in a scene necessary? If not, take it out.

Next is revising individual paragraphs and line by line editing. We refresh tired words, overused phrases, and check the pacing of our sentences. It might include tightening. Our goal is to make the words stronger, clearer, and more compelling. Here's a great quote I found on twitter: "I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it." -Janet Flanner

We may not do our revising in such separate steps, but however it's done, it's necessary. I like what Linda W. Jackson says, "First drafts are paper plates. After many revisions, they become fine china." Now that's quite the re-creation!

Recently I was recreating, as on vacation, where I got to add another state to my list of those visited. Which reminds me that sometimes it's time to visit a new project--not just return to those we've written before, or those in progress. In that case we are re-creating the story from our mind onto the page or screen. (At least if you're like me, they're always different in my imagination than what ends up in actual words.)

Sometimes, we're re-creating ourselves as we try something new. I remember hearing Kirby Larson talk about taking a poetry class while working on a novel. That something new helped her write her Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky.

And back to the usual definition of recreating. We do all need time away from our writing so that we can come back refreshed and ready to go.

When your writer self feels

When your writer self feels down and can't seem to get going, picture the journey and not the pothole.
Jan Fields