You’re Ready for One Last Go Over of Your Novel

You’ve finished the writing, the rewriting, the editing and the polishing. What’s next?

You’ve been through your manuscript front to back and back to front and weeded out and added in.

You’ve straightened out your characters and tightened the plot and you’ve proofed for every conceivable error you’ve ever read about.

Both protagonist and antagonist get what they deserve and what they’ve earned and what your readers will love.

You’ve got conflict and chapter-ending hooks and emotion-evoking phrases.

You’ve got an opening that delights, a middle without sag, and an ending that satisfies.

You’ve got ups and downs and breathing space and breathless action. You’ve included emotional responses for characters that are guaranteed to touch the reader as well.

The number of modifiers—both adverbs and adjectives—doesn’t overwhelm.

Dialogue is strong. Setting is clear and works for the story. Characters are unique. Style is consistent.

Your favorite unusual sentence construction. The unusual gets noticed. Don’t overplay those touches that stand out.

Your favorite words. We all have them, and they sneak in despite our desire to keep them out. Can you cut one or two more instances of each?

The overuse of character names, especially in dialogue. People just don’t call each other by name when they talk to them.

The opening line and opening page. Do they accomplish all that they can? Does the opening set up the story arc, get the plot rolling, introduce your protagonist, introduce tone and/or setting?

The ending. Does it address the story opening and the character’s problem? Does it finish the several hundred pages that come before it? Is the last line a memorable one?

Do you find any words that don’t fit?

If you’ve changed a character’s name, make sure you’ve not left any instances of the former name.

Space holders. If you use space holders for unsure elements—asterisks, blank lines, hash tags—be sure you’ve filled in the blanks and be sure to remove them.

Words used too often. They might not even be favorite words, but their use and overuse can weaken your scenes. However, remember not to include so many synonyms that it aggravates the reader.

That one scene that niggles at you, the one that still doesn’t seem quite perfect.  Yes, make the time for one more try to fix it. If it bothers you, it’s going to bother the reader.

Chapter breaks. Make sure chapters begin on new pages. Make sure chapter numbers are sequential.

Manuscript format. Before submitting, format your manuscript in the proper format. Don’t forget page numbers and the correct info for the headers. Check for consistency with scene breaks—have you used asterisks or hash marks or simple line spacing?

Spelling. Remember you can’t depend on spell checker, but run your story through spellchecker one last time, especially. If you make any changes during this go round.as a final step in your cleanup. And repeat as many times as necessary if you continue to make changes.

This is not an editing checklist, but a helpful last step before you submit your manuscript whoever you choose for your next step.

When Is It Time to Let Your Story Go?

These suggestions are not meant as a tool for procrastination: please don’t hesitate to submit when your story is ready. Do what’s necessary for making both story and manuscript error-free and then let the story go. Start your next project or complete another story you’ve begun. Put an end to this one.

Trust me as someone who has been through it many times. A few errors are likely to slip through even with your best proofreading. However, as a writing aficionado, you want to do your best with this final draft. A few simple errors will not be what keeps your story from being accepted or if you are a self-publisher, may keep readers from reading your next book. Submit your manuscripts when you get to the point where you just can’t edit any longer.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Most writers know about when to use a period, a question mark, and exclamation point. Be sure that every sentence has one of those three at the end.  Back on April 29ths post, we went over how to punctuate dialogue. I am not going to go over that again here, but you should probably review that now as well. In addition, go through and make sure you didn’t miss any of your quotation marks. Like the previous forms of punctuation, commas, semi-colons, colons, apostrophes, and dashes indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. Experienced writers know that these marks are not interchangeable.

Once you’re sure that every sentence ends properly and every piece of dialogue is properly punctuated, let’s move onto commas.

Commas

Use a comma after an expression

Of course, you may use my pen.

Add a comma when a participle phrase is used

Carefully watching what she was doing, she poured the liquid into the cylinder.

Include a comma when an adverb clause is used

After we go to town, we need to put away the groceries.

Use a comma to separate parts of a date

Her birthday was Thursday, June 27, 2002.

Use a comma when two complete sentences are combined. (Remember to use a conjunction so you don’t end up with a run-on sentence.

He went to see his mother, and she waited in the car.

Use a comma when setting off quoted words

“She seemed embarrassed,” he said.

Semi-Colons

In most modern fiction, semi-colons should be edited out.

Colons

Use a colon to introduce an item or a series of items. Do not capitalize the first item after the colon (unless it’s a proper noun)

A capital letter generally does not introduce a word, phrase, or incomplete sentence following a colon.

Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.

When listing items one by one, one per line, following a colon, capitalization and ending punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases preceded by letters, numbers, or bullet points. If each point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end the sentence with appropriate ending punctuation. Otherwise, there are no hard and fast rules, except be consistent.

A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence. (Not recommended in modern fiction either. Instead, separate the sentences with a period or a comma and a conjunction)

Capitalize the first word of a complete or full-sentence quotation that follows a colon.

Capitalize the first word after a colon if the information following the colon requires two or more complete sentences.

If a quotation contains two or more sentences, many writers and editors introduce it with a colon rather than a comma.

For extended quotations introduced by a colon, some style manuals say to indent one-half inch on both the left and right margins; others say to indent only on the left margin. Quotation marks are not used.

Apostrophes

The apostrophe has two main jobs in English: to mark contractions and to indicate possession.

Never use an apostrophe to designate plurals.

Use apostrophes to form contractions, where two or more words are combined to form one, with letters omitted. Words most frequently affected by contractions are verbs and pronouns. For example, in the contractions “I’m” the apostrophe replaced the a in I am. The same goes for the word doesn’t where the apostrophe replaces the o in not like don’t in place of do not. The apostrophe is placed where the letters are removed.

Use an apostrophe plus -s to show the possessive form of a singular noun, even if that singular noun already ends in -s.

Some style guides (including the “Associated Press Stylebook” but not “The Chicago Manual of Style”) recommend using only an apostrophe after singular proper names ending in -s

To form the possessive of a plural noun that already ends in -s, simply add an apostrophe.

When two or more nouns possess the same thing, add an apostrophe plus -s to the last noun listed.

Don’t Use an Apostrophe With Possessive Pronouns including its, yours, hers his, ours, and theirs.

Add an apostrophe plus -s to form the possessive of some indefinite pronouns including anyone’s, somebody’s and one’s.

Dashes

Words and phrases between dashes are not generally part of the subject.

Dashes replace otherwise mandatory punctuation, such as the commas after Iowa and 2013 in the following examples:

Without dash: The man from Ames, Iowa, arrived.

With dash: The man—he was from Ames, Iowa—arrived.

Without dash: The May 1, 2013, edition of the Ames Sentinel arrived in June.

With dash: The Ames Sentinel—dated May 1, 2013—arrived in June.

Some writers and publishers prefer spaces around dashes.

Example: Joe — and his trusty mutt — was always welcome.

Be sure to include how you handle these forms of punctuation in your own personal style guide and be sure to be consistent in how you apply them in your novel.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


This week we are identifying and replacing spelling errors. Now is a good time to run a spell check to see find words that are spelled wrong or you have written using British spellings rather than American spellings (or visa versa if you’re aiming to sell to British audiences). You wouldn’t want to insult your reader (or publisher!) with the wrong gray or grey. Now’s a good time to run your spellcheck over your manuscript before going onto the next steps.

Check for the Consistent Name Spellings

A common error that pops up in the proofreading stage is the incorrect spelling of names. Be sure you’re not the author who spells the person’s name at the beginning one way and another way in the middle. Go back and review names to make sure they are correct and consistent across the whole document.

No one wants to be that person who spells the name of a place or famous person incorrectly. When in doubt, do a google search on how the name is actually spelled. If you find such an error, use find and replace feature on your word processing program to replace your spelling with the correct one.

Be consistent with contractions

Check with your style guide on whether to use contractions. In academic writing, words like “it’s” or “can’t” are spelled out fully as “it is” or “cannot.” Some people feel the contracted style is too informal for some kinds of writing. This is usually not a problem with a novel, but you might want to go back and look at your dialogue again and have your characters who are more formal not using contractions and those who are using them.

Words that Sound the Same But are Spelled Differently

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. These words include principal/principle, right/write, and currant/current. When we’re writing, it’s easy for our fingers to spit out one when we mean the other. This is often such a major issue with many people that I have devoted the entire next blog post to this subject.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.  

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Here we will practice applying one of the most basic and yet also most troublesome rules of grammar: in the present tense, a verb must agree in number with its subject. Put simply, this means that we have to remember to add an -s to the verb if its subject is singular and not to add an -s if the subject is plural. It’s really not a hard principle to follow as long as we can identify the subject and verb in a sentence. Let’s have a look at how this basic rule works.

Compare the verbs (in bold) in the two sentences below:

Sadie washes and Mary dries the dishes.

My sisters wash the dishes.  

Both verbs describe a present or ongoing action (in other words, they are in the present tense), but the first verb ends in -es and the second one doesn’t.  In the first sentence, we need to add an -es to the verbs (washes and dries) because the subjects (Sadie and Mary)) are singular. We omit the final -es from the verb (wash) in the second sentence because there the subject (sisters) is plural. Remember, though, that this rule applies only to verbs in the present tense.

Here are four tips to help you apply the principle that a verb must agree in number with its subject:

  1. Add an -s to the verb if the subject is a singular noun: a word that names one person, place, or thing.
  2. Add an -s to the verb if the subject is any one of the third-person singular pronouns: he, she, it, this, that.
  3. Do not add an -s to the verb if the subject is the pronoun I, you, we, or they.
  4. Do not add an -s to the verb if two subjects are joined by and.

So, is it really that simple to make subjects and verbs agree? Well, not always. For one thing, our speech habits sometimes interfere with our ability to apply the principle of agreement. If we have a habit of dropping the final -s from words when we talk, we need to be particularly careful not to leave off the -s when we write. However, if we are writing dialogue where the character drops that “s”, (to indicate his lack of education), it would be appropriate.

Tips for Adding that S

We have to keep a certain spelling rule in mind when adding -s to a verb that ends in the letter -y: in most cases, we need to change the y to ie before adding the s. For example, the verb carry becomes carries, try becomes tries, and hurry becomes hurries. Are there exceptions? Of course. If the letter before the final -y is a vowel (that is, the letters  a, e, i, o, or u), we simply keep the y and add -s. Say becomes says, and enjoy becomes enjoys.

Now have at it. Make sure that every subject and verb are in agreement. Next week we will handle spelling issues.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Now we are in the heart of proofreading. You’ve found missing words.  You’ve found double words, now its time to improve your sentences by eliminating overused words.

You probably have a number of words that you personally overuse, so you should probably add this to your personal style guide. Until you develop your own list, here is a list of words to use cautiously.

List of Overused Words

While it would be awkward to avoid these words all the time, you should take care to substitute more interesting words whenever appropriate.

Adverbs

Adverbs can often be substituted with more accurate verbs.

 Awfully

Really

Very

Almost any word that ends in “ly”

Adjectives

Just as adverbs can be replaced by more appropriate verbs, boring adjectives can be replaced with adjectives that are more descriptive or you can describe your subject using better “show not tell” description. Here are a few adjectives to consider replacing.

amazing

awesome

bad

beautiful

big

fine

good

great

happy

interesting

look

nice

quite

said

so

well

Other- This word appeared over five million times in a day across Grammarly.

Try these alternatives: alternative times, further suggestions, different opinions.

More

New

Good- using good as an adjective is just good enough. Next time you qualify something as “good,” think about how good it is. You could be referring to something that’s slightly better than something else, something that’s suitable, or something that’s really good. Chances are, there’s a word to suit each situation.

Try these alternatives: excellent solution, decent option, worthy substitute.

Best- Similar to “good,” “best” isn’t the only way to provide a superlative.

Many-“Many” may seem like a go-to option when referring to an indeterminate group of things. However, if you have an idea of the volume, try to be as exact as possible. Try one of these alternatives to express a vague number: a multitude of ideas, a handful of times, numerous occasions, thousands of data points

Great-although “great” is a stronger word than “good,” it still doesn’t describe anything. Allow your characters to use grea but not by much. If you’re already expressing enthusiasm for something, set it apart.

Try these alternatives: awesome ideas, fantastic opportunity, wonderful work.

Able

You may not think of “able” as an oft-used adjective, but this word appears whenever someone  “is able” to complete a task. Next time you, use another phrase.

look, looked, looking (one of the most common verbs used for sight)

there (stood there, sat there)

over (walked over, ran over)

felt, heard, saw, watched, thought (you don’t always need to report that a character is doing these things)

Words/phrases that add nothing and might in fact dilute a scene.

at this time

at [in] this moment

in my opinion

any three-word phrase at the end of a sentence (search for prepositional phrases you use often)

try and [verb] (use try to rather than try and)

for example

suddenly

hopefully

already

just

there is, there are, there were (especially to start sentences and open paragraphs)

oh, well, and oh well (especially in dialogue)

Substitute With Synonyms

Using the same word too many times can seem somewhat redundant to the reader. Here are synonyms for the 96 most commonly used words in English

Amazing — incredible, unbelievable, improbable, fabulous, wonderful, fantastic, astonishing, astounding, extraordinary

Anger — enrage, infuriate, arouse, nettle, exasperate, inflame, madden

Angry — mad, furious, enraged, excited, wrathful, indignant, exasperated, aroused, inflamed

Answer — reply, respond, retort, acknowledge

Ask– — question, inquire of, seek information from, put a question to, demand, request, expect, inquire, query, interrogate, examine, quiz

Awful — dreadful, terrible, abominable, bad, poor, unpleasant

Bad — evil, immoral, wicked, corrupt, sinful, depraved, rotten, contaminated, spoiled, tainted, harmful, injurious, unfavorable, defective, inferior, imperfect, substandard, faulty, improper, inappropriate, unsuitable, disagreeable, unpleasant, cross, nasty, unfriendly, irascible, horrible, atrocious, outrageous, scandalous, infamous, wrong, noxious, sinister, putrid, snide, deplorable, dismal, gross, heinous, nefarious, base, obnoxious, detestable, despicable, contemptible, foul, rank, ghastly, execrable

Beautiful — pretty, lovely, handsome, attractive, gorgeous, dazzling, splendid, magnificent, comely, fair, ravishing, graceful, elegant, fine, exquisite, aesthetic, pleasing, shapely, delicate, stunning, glorious, heavenly, resplendent, radiant, glowing, blooming, sparkling

Begin — start, open, launch, initiate, commence, inaugurate, originate

Big — enormous, huge, immense, gigantic, vast, colossal, gargantuan, large, sizable, grand, great, tall, substantial, mammoth, astronomical, ample, broad, expansive, spacious, stout, tremendous, titanic, mountainous

Brave — courageous, fearless, dauntless, intrepid, plucky, daring, heroic, valorous, audacious, bold, gallant, valiant, doughty, mettlesome

Break — fracture, rupture, shatter, smash, wreck, crash, demolish, atomize

Bright — shining, shiny, gleaming, brilliant, sparkling, shimmering, radiant, vivid, colorful, lustrous, luminous, incandescent, intelligent, knowing, quick-witted, smart, intellectual

Calm — quiet, peaceful, still, tranquil, mild, serene, smooth, composed, collected, unruffled, level-headed, unexcited, detached, aloof

Come — approach, advance, near, arrive, reach

Cool — chilly, cold, frosty, wintry, icy, frigid

Crooked — bent, twisted, curved, hooked, zigzag

Cry — shout, yell, yowl, scream, roar, bellow, weep, wail, sob, bawl

Cut — gash, slash, prick, nick, sever, slice, carve, cleave, slit, chop, crop, lop, reduce

Dangerous — perilous, hazardous, risky, uncertain, unsafe

Dark — shadowy, unlit, murky, gloomy, dim, dusky, shaded, sunless, black, dismal, sad

Decide — determine, settle, choose, resolve

Definite — certain, sure, positive, determined, clear, distinct, obvious

Delicious — savory, delectable, appetizing, luscious, scrumptious, palatable, delightful, enjoyable, toothsome, exquisite

Describe — portray, characterize, picture, narrate, relate, recount, represent, report, record

Destroy — ruin, demolish, raze, waste, kill, slay, end, extinguish

Difference — disagreement, inequity, contrast, dissimilarity, incompatibility

Do — execute, enact, carry out, finish, conclude, effect, accomplish, achieve, attain

Dull — boring, tiring„ tiresome, uninteresting, slow, dumb, stupid, unimaginative, lifeless, dead, insensible, tedious, wearisome, listless, expressionless, plain, monotonous, humdrum, dreary

Eager — keen, fervent, enthusiastic, involved, interested, alive to

End — stop, finish, terminate, conclude, close, halt, cessation, discontinuance

Enjoy — appreciate, delight in, be pleased, indulge in, luxuriate in, bask in, relish, devour, savor, like

Explain — elaborate, clarify, define, interpret, justify, account for

Fair — just, impartial, unbiased, objective, unprejudiced, honest

Fall — drop, descend, plunge, topple, tumble

False — fake, fraudulent, counterfeit, spurious, untrue, unfounded, erroneous, deceptive, groundless, fallacious

Famous — well-known, renowned, celebrated, famed, eminent, illustrious, distinguished, noted, notorious

Fast — quick, rapid, speedy, fleet, hasty, snappy, mercurial, swiftly, rapidly, quickly, snappily, speedily, lickety-split, posthaste, hastily, expeditiously, like a flash

Fat — stout, corpulent, fleshy, beefy, paunchy, plump, full, rotund, tubby, pudgy, chubby, chunky, burly, bulky, elephantine

Fear — fright, dread, terror, alarm, dismay, anxiety, scare, awe, horror, panic, apprehension

Fly — soar, hover, flit, wing, flee, waft, glide, coast, skim, sail, cruise

Funny — humorous, amusing, droll, comic, comical, laughable, silly

Get — acquire, obtain, secure, procure, gain, fetch, find, score, accumulate, win, earn, rep, catch, net, bag, derive, collect, gather, glean, pick up, accept, come by, regain, salvage

Go — recede, depart, fade, disappear, move, travel, proceed

Good — excellent, fine, superior, wonderful, marvelous, qualified, suited, suitable, apt, proper, capable, generous, kindly, friendly, gracious, obliging, pleasant, agreeable, pleasurable, satisfactory, well-behaved, obedient, honorable, reliable, trustworthy, safe, favorable, profitable, advantageous, righteous, expedient, helpful, valid, genuine, ample, salubrious, estimable, beneficial, splendid, great, noble, worthy, first-rate, top-notch, grand, sterling, superb, respectable, edifying

Great — noteworthy, worthy, distinguished, remarkable, grand, considerable, powerful, much, mighty

Gross — improper, rude, coarse, indecent, crude, vulgar, outrageous, extreme, grievous, shameful, uncouth, obscene, low

Happy — pleased, contented, satisfied, delighted, elated, joyful, cheerful, ecstatic, jubilant, gay, tickled, gratified, glad, blissful, overjoyed

Hate — despise, loathe, detest, abhor, disfavor, dislike, disapprove, abominate

Have — hold, possess, own, contain, acquire, gain, maintain, believe, bear, beget, occupy, absorb, fill, enjoy

Help — aid, assist, support, encourage, back, wait on, attend, serve, relieve, succor, benefit, befriend, abet

Hide — conceal, cover, mask, cloak, camouflage, screen, shroud, veil

Hurry — rush, run, speed, race, hasten, urge, accelerate, bustle

Hurt — damage, harm, injure, wound, distress, afflict, pain

Idea — thought, concept, conception, notion, understanding, opinion, plan, view, belief

Important — necessary, vital, critical, indispensable, valuable, essential, significant, primary, principal, considerable, famous, distinguished, notable, well-known

Interesting — fascinating, engaging, sharp, keen, bright, intelligent, animated, spirited, attractive, inviting, intriguing, provocative, though-provoking, challenging, inspiring, involving, moving, titillating, tantalizing, exciting, entertaining, piquant, lively, racy, spicy, engrossing, absorbing, consuming, gripping, arresting, enthralling, spellbinding, curious, captivating, enchanting, bewitching, appealing

Keep — hold, retain, withhold, preserve, maintain, sustain, support

Kill — slay, execute, assassinate, murder, destroy, cancel, abolish

Lazy — indolent, slothful, idle, inactive, sluggish

Little — tiny, small, diminutive, shrimp, runt, miniature, puny, exiguous, dinky, cramped, limited, itsy-bitsy, microscopic, slight, petite, minute

Look — gaze, see, glance, watch, survey, study, seek, search for, peek, peep, glimpse, stare, contemplate, examine, gape, ogle, scrutinize, inspect, leer, behold, observe, view, witness, perceive, spy, sight, discover, notice, recognize, peer, eye, gawk, peruse, explore

Love — like, admire, esteem, fancy, care for, cherish, adore, treasure, worship, appreciate, savor

Make — create, originate, invent, beget, form, construct, design, fabricate, manufacture, produce, build, develop, do, effect, execute, compose, perform, accomplish, earn, gain, obtain, acquire, get

Mark — label, tag, price, ticket, impress, effect, trace, imprint, stamp, brand, sign, note, heed, notice, designate

Mischievous — prankish, playful, naughty, roguish, waggish, impish, sportive

Move — plod, go, creep, crawl, inch, poke, drag, toddle, shuffle, trot, dawdle, walk, traipse, mosey, jog, plug, trudge, slump, lumber, trail, lag, run, sprint, trip, bound, hotfoot, high-tail, streak, stride, tear, breeze, whisk, rush, dash, dart, bolt, fling, scamper, scurry, skedaddle, scoot, scuttle, scramble, race, chase, hasten, hurry, hump, gallop, lope, accelerate, stir, budge, travel, wander, roam, journey, trek, ride, spin, slip, glide, slide, slither, coast, flow, sail, saunter, hobble, amble, stagger, paddle, slouch, prance, straggle, meander, perambulate, waddle, wobble, pace, swagger, promenade, lunge

Moody — temperamental, changeable, short-tempered, glum, morose, sullen, mopish, irritable, testy, peevish, fretful, spiteful, sulky, touchy

Neat — clean, orderly, tidy, trim, dapper, natty, smart, elegant, well-organized, super, desirable, spruce, shipshape, well-kept, shapely

New — fresh, unique, original, unusual, novel, modern, current, recent

Old — feeble, frail, ancient, weak, aged, used, worn, dilapidated, ragged, faded, broken-down, former, old-fashioned, outmoded, passe, veteran, mature, venerable, primitive, traditional, archaic, conventional, customary, stale, musty, obsolete, extinct

Part — portion, share, piece, allotment, section, fraction, fragment

Place — space, area, spot, plot, region, location, situation, position, residence, dwelling, set, site, station, status, state

Plan — plot, scheme, design, draw, map, diagram, procedure, arrangement, intention, device, contrivance, method, way, blueprint

Popular — well-liked, approved, accepted, favorite, celebrated, common, current

Predicament — quandary, dilemma, pickle, problem, plight, spot, scrape, jam

Put — place, set, attach, establish, assign, keep, save, set aside, effect, achieve, do, build

Quiet — silent, still, soundless, mute, tranquil, peaceful, calm, restful

Right — correct, accurate, factual, true, good, just, honest, upright, lawful, moral, proper, suitable, apt, legal, fair

Run — race, speed, hurry, hasten, sprint, dash, rush, escape, elope, flee

Say/Tell — inform, notify, advise, relate, recount, narrate, explain, reveal, disclose, divulge, declare, command, order, bid, enlighten, instruct, insist, teach, train, direct, issue, remark, converse, speak, affirm, suppose, utter, negate, express, verbalize, voice, articulate, pronounce, deliver, convey, impart, assert, state, allege, mutter, mumble, whisper, sigh, exclaim, yell, sing, yelp, snarl, hiss, grunt, snort, roar, bellow, thunder, boom, scream, shriek, screech, squawk, whine, philosophize, stammer, stutter, lisp, drawl, jabber, protest, announce, swear, vow, content, assure, deny, dispute

Scared — afraid, frightened, alarmed, terrified, panicked, fearful, unnerved, insecure, timid, shy, skittish, jumpy, disquieted, worried, vexed, troubled, disturbed, horrified, terrorized, shocked, petrified, haunted, timorous, shrinking, tremulous, stupefied, paralyzed, stunned, apprehensive

Show — display, exhibit, present, note, point to, indicate, explain, reveal, prove, demonstrate, expose

Slow — unhurried, gradual, leisurely, late, behind, tedious, slack

Stop — cease, halt, stay, pause, discontinue, conclude, end, finish, quit

Story — tale, myth, legend, fable, yarn, account, narrative, chronicle, epic, sage, anecdote, record, memoir

Strange — odd, peculiar, unusual, unfamiliar, uncommon, queer, weird, outlandish, curious, unique, exclusive, irregular

Take — hold, catch, seize, grasp, win, capture, acquire, pick, choose, select, prefer, remove, steal, lift, rob, engage, bewitch, purchase, buy, retract, recall, assume, occupy, consume

Tell — disclose, reveal, show, expose, uncover, relate, narrate, inform, advise, explain, divulge, declare, command, order, bid, recount, repeat

Think — judge, deem, assume, believe, consider, contemplate, reflect, mediate

Trouble — distress, anguish, anxiety, worry, wretchedness, pain, danger, peril, disaster, grief, misfortune, difficulty, concern, pains, inconvenience, exertion, effort

True — accurate, right, proper, precise, exact, valid, genuine, real, actual, trusty, steady, loyal, dependable, sincere, staunch

Ugly — hideous, frightful, frightening, shocking, horrible, unpleasant, monstrous, terrifying, gross, grisly, ghastly, horrid, unsightly, plain, homely, evil, repulsive, repugnant, gruesome

Unhappy — miserable, uncomfortable, wretched, heart-broken, unfortunate, poor, downhearted, sorrowful, depressed, dejected, melancholy, glum, gloomy, dismal, discouraged, sad

Use — employ, utilize, exhaust, spend, expend, consume, exercise

Wrong — incorrect, inaccurate, mistaken, erroneous, improper, unsuitable

Don’t Overdo the Synonyms

The objective for using synonyms is to keep your reader from thinking about how you’re writing rather than what you’re writing. Just as using the same word over and over again can seem like a redundancy, Using substituting synonyms can draw your reader to the fact that you as the author are using synonyms of the same word. There are cases when you will want to use synonyms, but not always. For instance, instead of using a synonym for the word “said”, a better technique than “substituting with a synonym? would be using Deep POV which we delve into in a previous blog post.

What other techniques can you identify that would help you with editing out overused words?

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One of the things that I often have had difficulty with when editing a novel has been that I have forgotten to include small but critical words or, just as bad, I write a word twice. This often happened when I was in a hurry to write what was in my head and then later when I was editing that same passage, I missed that I had forgotten to write the word. Instead, I read the passage as though the word was actually there. Most of the time, I would totally miss the word even after numerous drafts. However, my editor caught them right away. (This is one reason that every writer should have an editor edit the book before publication).

For instance, I might write a sentence like this:

Melissa road bare on her horse through the woods.

What I meant to say:

Melissa rode bareback on her horse through the woods.

I hate leaving editing to my editor, so I have determined to find way fix this kind of error before my editor ever sees it.

Ways to find those Missing Words When Proofreading

  1. Read your book starting with the last paragraph and read each subsequent paragraph until you have read your book back to the front.
  2. Read each paragraph of your book out loud.
  3. Take frequent breaks. You miss more when your eyes are fatigued.
  4. Focus on what you’re doing. Don’t allow distractions to get in the way of proper editing.
  5. The more you edit, the better you become.

Eliminating Double Words

I know why it happens. You’re writing along and you get distracted. When you come back to writing, you start where you left off and you don’t know it, but you’ve doubled up on your words.

The easiest way to find double words is by using grammar checker software. You shouldn’t depend on a grammar checker for every grammar error any more than you should trust a spellchecker for fixing every spelling error, but for finding double words, using a grammar checker is very affective.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

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Last week we discussed how to write great paragraphs, now let’s fix the problem of run-on sentences. What exactly is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses are joined together without an appropriate punctuation or connecting word. In other words, trying to join two complete sentences with just a comma. A definite amateur mistake. The good news is, fixing run-on sentences is among the easiest proofreading skills to master.

How to Fix Run-On Sentences

There are five different ways to fix run-on sentences.

  1. Separate the run-on into two or more sentences.
  2. Add a semi-colon between the clauses.
  3. Add a comma, then a conjunction after the first independent clause.
  4. Add a subordinating conjunction to one of the clauses.
  5. Change the second clause to a phrase starting with an __ing word.

Now that you know what a run-on sentence is and know how to fix it, it’s time to search out and destroy those run-on sentences!

If you have a novel that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

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During the past two weeks we discussed overall aspects of proofreading, this week we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. We’re editing paragraphs. We all know that a paragraph is not just a random group of sentences but is a group of sentences organized around a central topic. Paragraph writing focuses on a single idea. A well-written paragraph takes its readers on a clear path.

A basic paragraph structure usually consists of five sentences: the topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. Of course, not all of your paragraphs will be basic paragraphs, but knowing how to expertly edit a basic paragraph will help you edit every paragraph in your novel.   

Determine Your Paragraph’s Why

Before you can begin writing, you need to know what you are writing about. First look at the purpose of your paragraph. Is it description? Does it describe action? Is it a transitional paragraph?

Next, develop your topic sentence or in other words, determine your one main controlling idea.  

Now, after stating your topic sentence, provide information to prove illustrate, clarify your point. What are some examples you can use to support your point? What information can you provide to clarify your thoughts? What specific data, experiences, factual or descriptive information do you need to include in the paragraph. Equally important is what to leave out.

Writing a Great Paragraph

The four elemental essentials for writing a great paragraph are: unity, order, coherence, and completeness.

Unity

 Unity in a paragraph begins with the topic sentence. Every paragraph has one single, controlling idea that is expressed in its topic sentence, which is typically the first sentence of the paragraph. A paragraph is unified around this main idea, with the supporting sentences providing detail and discussion. In order to write a good topic sentence, think about your theme and all the points you want to make. Decide which point drives the rest, and then write it as your topic sentence.

Sometimes, you’ll need to add transitional or introductory phrases like: for example, for instance, first, second, or last can help guide the reader from the previous paragraph into this one.

Order

Order refers to the way you organize your supporting sentences. Whether you choose chronological order, order of importance, or another logical presentation of detail, a solid paragraph always has a definite organization. In a well-ordered paragraph, the reader follows along easily, aided by the pattern you’ve established. Order helps the reader grasp your meaning and avoid confusion.

Coherence

Coherence is the quality that makes your writing understandable. Sentences within a paragraph need to connect to each other and work together as a whole. One of the best ways to achieve coherency is to use transition words. These words create bridges from one sentence to the next. You can use transition words that show order (first, second, third); spatial relationships (above, below) or logic (furthermore, in addition, in fact). Also, in writing a paragraph, using a consistent verb tense and point of view are important ingredients for coherency.

Does your paragraph add meaning to your novel? Have you given the reader enough information to see and understand your characters’ point of view? Is the information in this paragraph relevant, meaningful, or interesting? 

Completeness

Completeness means a paragraph is well-developed. If all sentences clearly and sufficiently support the main idea, then your paragraph is complete. If there are not enough sentences or enough information to prove your thesis, then the paragraph is incomplete. Usually three supporting sentences, in addition to a topic sentence and concluding sentence, are needed for a paragraph to be complete. The concluding sentence or last sentence of the paragraph should summarize your main idea by reinforcing your topic sentence.

The last step in good paragraph writing is proofreading and revision. Look over your work at least one more time. Read your paragraph out loud to make sure it makes sense. Also, ask yourself these questions:  • Does my paragraph answer the prompt and support what I am trying to say in this chapter and this scene? • Does it make sense?

Now that you have edited one paragraph, go to the next and then the next until your paragraphs flow into one beautiful story.

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As you proofread your manuscript, there are several things you can do to make your process easier. Here are a few commonly recommended tips:

Print a copy of the novel and mark it up.

Having a hard copy in front of you allows you to work with your draft on something other than your laptop or desktop screen. You’ll want your printout to be double-spaced so you have plenty of room to make edits.

Be consistent in your marks.

A question mark might indeed convey the appropriate emotion when you find passages that don’t make sense, or where the pacing drags, or where there’s a glaring plot hole or a character who seems to act out of character. But a question mark doesn’t really help you recognize one problem from the next when looking back over your notes. Be specific and consistent in your marginalia, coming up with a clear method for identifying and distinguishing types of problems you encounter. You’ll of course want to keep a legend of some sort to help you keep the marks straight. Or, you might want to include these in the master document you make below.

Make a style guide.

Create your own proofreading checklist on Microsoft word or google docs or some other word processing program and follow these guidelines every time you proofread your writing. Keep a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make and then refer to that list each time you proofread.

Publishers always create a style guide in which they make clear the stylistic, structural, and occasionally substantive needs for the project. You might want to make a master guide of your own, divided into different word spellings (like there their and they’re) that many people have difficulty distinguishing between.

If you don’t feel confident creating your own style guide, there are lots of great style handbooks that can help clear up questions, such as whether a certain word is capitalized, or if you need to hyphenate a specific phrase or adjective.

Developing your own stylebook can enhance your database of writing knowledge!

Keep track of problems as they occur to you.

If you realize some problem or inconsistency in the novel, though it’s not part of the proofreading process,  you’re currently working on, don’t file it away in your head and promise to come back later; find an appropriate place on your style guide to note the problem immediately, while you still recognize and understand what the problem is.

Keep a sharp mind during this proofing stages and keep a good attitude. Revision shouldn’t be considered drudge work or punishment for writing a novel. It is an opportunity to see your work in a new way. Remember that by now you have rewritten this draft several times and that your vision of the story has been sharpened and is getting closer to the perfect volume you wanted to create from the beginning.

Give it a rest.

If time allows, set your text aside for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember the perfect paper you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.

  • Look for one type of problem at a time.

Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation.

  • Read your text aloud.

Or better yet, ask a friend or colleague to read it aloud. You may hear a problem (a faulty verb ending, for example, or a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.

  • Use a spellchecker.

The spellchecker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and many other common slip ups–but it’s certainly not goof-proof.

  • Trust your dictionary.

Your spellchecker can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary (or our Glossary of Commonly Confused Words).

  • Read your text backward. Another way to catch spelling errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.
  • Watch for punctuation!
  •  Look for repetition

A common mistake that new authors make is repetition with a certain word or phrase. So watch for repeated word use, and utilize a thesaurus to find other means to relate what you have to say as needed.

Keep an eye on the big picture

When it comes to editing, be consistent!

Watch for errors that can pop up throughout the book, such as a different tense or style that may seem jarring and out of place if it contradicts with the rest of your writing style. Add this to your personal style book!Above all else, ask for help!

You don’t have to go it alone! Ask a teacher, utilize high level and strategic coaching, or enlist the help of a partner publisher.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

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Here it is, August, and together we have gone a long way down the editing process. If you have come this far with me, you have worked through the major aspects of content editing. You have looked at the macro-editing stage. You have looked at the story as a complete project. We have looked at the story scene by scene. Today, we turn a corner into the micro-proofreading stage. In this stage, we break things down into individual paragraphs and sentences and word choices. In this stage you will begin to do the following:

  1. Cut down on long sentences.
  2. Check your commas with that and which When used as a descriptor, the word “which” takes a comma. But the word “that” doesn’t. For example: “We went to the house that collapsed yesterday” or “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.” Confused about when to use “that” vs. “which?
  3. Avoid using “ing” words like I was starting to. . . .
  4. Don’t be too formal, use contractions
  5. Eliminate there is and there are at the beginning of sentence.
  6. Refer to people with who not that
  7. Use stronger verbs “Make” is sometimes used in the same way as “start to,” in place of what could be a stronger verb.
  8. Eliminate very and really and other ly adverbs. Replace with stronger verbs.
  9. Replace “thing” with a better word
  10. Avoid using “that”
  11. Don’t use “start to”
  12. Cut “in order to”
  13. Reduce prepositions
  14. Remove redundancies
  15. Replace ornate words with simple ones
  16. Remove extra punctuation

Now, before you continue, pat yourself on your back. You’re just a few weeks away from having a completed manuscript!

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

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Kelp for Gardening

A number of years ago I was reading about gardening and I learned about using kelp in the garden. The article that I read said that kelp offered all the nutrients available in seawater and all of the nutrients needed for life and in a form that is readily available.  

I started sprinkling kelp around the garden. One thing I discovered right away was that when I sprinkled the kelp at the bottom of my tomato planting holes, I had no problems with blossom end rot that year. In the years that I didn’t use the kelp, my tomatoes did suffer from the ailment.

Kelp for Livestock

I decided to do some research about kelp and learned that kelp wasn’t just good for my garden, but also for my animals. I learned that a number of farmers are free choice feeding their livestock and chickens dried kelp with good results.

Here in southern Missouri much of the health of the soil is locked and unavailable to animals. When kelp is offered to the animals, it contributes to animal health.

Kelp for Me

 I learned that taking kelp myself helped me get those same nutrients. Kelp is one of the main ingredients in sushi. Even if I didn’t like the taste of kelp or suchi, I could still use kelp as a supplement. I just put some into a gel capsule and washed the capsule down with water. Then I learned I could buy kelp in tablet form or add the kelp to some water, swallow the mixture then chase it with the apple or orange juice that I am having for breakfast.

I noticed that when I used kelp, I had fewer aches and pains. Arthritis diminished. I had more strength and energy.

Disclaimer

Now I am not a doctor nor am I a veterinarian. I am telling you what I have learned from my personal experience. Kelp improves my life and the life around me.

Help from Kelp

For more information about how using kelp improves health, read my book: Help from Kelp. Get Your Copy Today


How does your garden grow?

I think that I would grow vegetables even if there weren’t good reasons for growing them. I love gardening.

The only thing that I like better than writing about vegetable gardening is the act of gardening itself. I absolutely love gardening! I love the faith that I have that when I put the seeds in the ground. I love the excitement of seeing those green first leaves as they push through the soil. I love watching that first flush of growth as the little plants sprint to see which one will grow the fastest. I love watching blossoms appear and am even more excited when the first fruits start to form. Those first fruits seem to take the longest to ripen, but then every ounce of energy goes into the fruits and what seemed to take weeks for the first fruit takes a matter of hours for fruit that comes on later. Finally the day comes when I can pick what’s ripened. I love it when I can use what I pick for that evening’s meal, or I can put it up in freezer or with the canner.

However, not only do I love the process of gardening, but I love the fact that there are some very practical reasons for growing a garden. Here’s a few reasons you might consider.

Food Security

By learning to do food gardening, you become less dependent on the grocery store. The next economic downturn could mean a loss of your job. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your food system is more secure because you have a garden that you can fresh vegetables? A long-term crisis could take 10 years or more to recover. You need to eat during this time. When you grow your own food with your health in mind, use water catchment, recycle home and yard wastes by composting, and save your own seed, you develop a sustainable food source that can get you through that rough patch.

Aquaponics systems are interesting, but not always practical and can be quite expensive and require special skills to set up. Starting a traditional vegetable garden just requires a few hand tools. A shovel, a rake, a hoe, a watering can and a place to start a compost pile is all you need to convert a small spot in your yard into food production.

In addition, aquaponics systems need electricity in order to function. In case of an EMP or even a short-term blackout caused from grid overload or ice damage to the electrical system, all your plants and fish will die. Unless you have a home electrical plant such as solar or a gas generator, this system is not sustainable.  

 A food stockpile can be expensive and hard to rotate and maintain as it grows. It isn’t a bad idea to have some food storage stockpiled, but space is limited and once it is gone, it’s gone. You never store as much as you think you have. What seems like a lot of food during times of plenty ends up being far less when you need to use it.

Food Safety

By raising your own garden, you know more about where your food came from and how it was handled. There have been numerous recalls on fruits, vegetables, meats, and processed foods where salmonella and e-coli have been blamed for illnesses and deaths from consuming those foods. Most of the time, these illnesses are caused either by animal waste from CAFOs (a potential subject for another future article) or from workers who didn’t properly keep their hands washed. When you raise your own garden, you have control over the sanitary conditions upon which they are raised.

In addition, many crops are grown using GMOs in which the primary reason for creating the GMO is for allowing the use of the herbicide glyphosate (brand name-Roundup) in the fields where the crops are grown. Recently 2 billion dollars has been set aside for individuals who have contracted Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma because there is a strong probability that glyphosate causes this type of cancer. In addition, this chemical kills earthworms, and other healthful flora and fauna in fields. These organisms help create the symbiosis required for the plants to absorb the nutrients into the plants that we eat.

Food Quality

The nutrient density of food has decreased anywhere from 15 to 65 percent in the past 65 years. The reasons for this have a lot to do with the way that our food is grown. In many cases the same crop has been grown on the same land for years. The farmers add nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to the soil and the plants will grow and produce a crop, but since the farmers are not adding micronutrients, the plants lack the nutritional value. When you grow your own food using homemade compost created from household and yard wastes and adding other organic amendments, you’re not just feeding the plants, but you’re feeding the soil as well.

Even plowing itself has been linked to the decrease in food quality. When a field is plowed and it rains, nutrients are washed downstream. Exposed soil is also subject to other aspects of weather. Exposed soil is subject to rapid change in the weather. Plants planted in exposed soil are more likely to succumb to frost and heat alike. When growing your own garden, you can avoid these pitfalls when you mulch your garden or even use gardening methods like the Ruth Stout method, Lasagna Gardening, and Back to Eden Gardening to name a few of the most common.  

Food for Thought

When you grow your own food organically, you can become part of the ecosystem rather than an enemy of it. You start recycling yard wastes and household food wastes back into your garden through composting. You learn that it’s not about feeding plants, but about feeding the soil.

The more you learn about growing your own food in a responsible way, the more you’ll learn about how what you do affects the world around you. You’ll lower your carbon footprint because tankers and trucks won’t need to haul food from where it’s grown to where you live. You’ll feel a connection to nature. You’ll see yourself as doing something positive for the environment.

Food Connoisseur

You’ll learn that home grown food really does taste better. When was the last time you ate a fresh ripe tomato right off the vine or sweet corn picked at the peak of sweetness and cooked within minutes of picking? It is an experience no human being should miss.

Where Do You Start?

Start where you are right now, doing what you know how to do and then research what you know you don’t know. I am writing this in the middle of the summer, but It doesn’t matter what time of year you are reading this. You can start your garden at any time and in any place. Matter of fact, right now I have the seeds that I will use for my fall garden that I am currently growing on my patio. I have had gardens all my life and I have learned that even if I don’t have a yard, I can start growing plants in an apartment or on a balcony.

Make a list of what you know about growing your own food and then start researching what you still need to know. One resource I suggest is my book Simply Vegetable Gardening. To learn more about this book, Click Here.


The other day I was writing and wrote Thursday, June 27, 2002. As I looked at it, I wondered what day of the week that date actually was, so I googled it. Sure enough, it was actually a Thursday.

There are numerous factors I have to consider when writing and using facts, especially historical fiction like I do in The Locket Saga. When I was writing A Coward’s Solace, I had access to information concerning what the weather was on a specific day. Several times, I needed to know if a certain machine had been invented yet. If I were writing about a specific place, I need to be able to see that place in my mind’s eye and see it in a way that someone who actually been there would see it. In addition, if I were a native of that place, I would need to see it like a local sees it. If I am a native of Paris, I would see The Arch De Triumph differently than a tourist would.

The research you do in the third draft phase of your book is this kind of subtle research that you ignored or missed during earlier editing phases.

 Don’t think that you can just get by with a little general research. Even if you are giving a fictionalized version of a personal memoir, you’ll need to do a little research even a little at this stage.

Relying on Your Own Experience

Research can be a simple as going over your own notes or reviewing your own memories. Some of your own readers might have had a similar experience to one that your character had in the book. If you’re off the slightest bit, your reader could lose interest in your story. This one last micro-bit of research might be exactly what it takes to keep your story authentic to the discriminating reader.

Call a Friend

Make a phone call. Do a quick Google search. Go to the library and look over that reference book one more time. Go to a museum. Look for the smallest detail that supports your story’s authenticity.

Did you mention a movie or play in your story? Include part of a scene in your novel. Don’t remember specifics? Watch it on YouTube. Need to describe a specific skill? Watch YouTube videos where the subjects are performing that that skill. What several people doing the same thing and write what you see.

Add levels of texture to your scenes. Picture that skill by using all of your senses. What does it taste like, smell like, feel like? The other day a friend of mine was wondering what burning peat smelled like so he bought peat incense and determined that it smelled like burning leaves.

How Much To Include

Just because you do the research, doesn’t mean that you have to include all the material. Just as you don’t include everything from your character sketches, don’t bore your readers with all of your research. Include only what makes the scene appear real, no more.

Your made-up world, even if it is fantasy, must seem real. Science fiction and fantasy must be identifiable as being like real life. Even though our invented tales didn’t really happen, we must utilize a framework of real-life facts.

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Use these techniques to speed up or slow down time.

Pacing

Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story. Pacing can also be used to show characters aging and the effects of time on story events.

Pacing differs with the specific needs of a story. A far-reaching epic will often be told at a leisurely pace, though it will speed up from time to time during the most intense events. A short story or adventure novel might quickly jump into action and deliver drama.

Pacing is part structural choices and part word choices and uses a variety of devices to control how fast the story unfolds. When driving a manual transmission car, you choose the most effective gear needed for driving uphill, maneuvering city streets, or cruising down a freeway. Similarly, when pacing your story, you need to choose the devices that move each scene along at the right speed.

Seven Literary Devices for Pacing Your Story

You need speed in the opening, middle, and climax of your story. Sure, you’ll take a breather from time to time, especially to pause for significance and to express characters’ emotions, but those times will usually appear just before or after a joyride at lightning speed.

There are lots of tools to hasten your story. Some are better suited for micro-pacing—that is, line by line—and some are better suited for macro-pacing—pacing the story as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at each device.

ACTION

 Action scenes are where you “show” what happens in a story, and, when written in short- and medium-length sentences, they move the story along. Action scenes contain few distractions, little description, and limited transitions. Omit or limit character thoughts, especially in the midst of danger or crisis, since during a crisis people focus solely on survival. To create poignancy, forgo long, descriptive passages and choose a few details that serve as emotionally charged props instead.

CLIFF HANGERS

When a scene or chapter is left hanging, the pace picks up because the reader be anxious to discover what happens next. Readers both love and hate uncertainty, and you are responsible to deliver plenty of unfinished actions, unfilled needs, and interruptions. At the end of a scene or chapter, you want your characters in the middle of a conversation, prepared to end the scene with a revelation, facing a threat, or discovering some other challenge.

DIALOGUE

Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating and invigorates any scene. This type of dialogue is pared down and abbreviated. It volleys back and forth with tension. Reactions, descriptions, and attributions are kept to a minimum. With these conversations, your characters never discuss or ponder. Instead, they argue, confront, or engage in a struggle.

PROLONGING OUTCOMES

Suspense and tension are created when you prolong outcomes. It may seem counterintuitive to prolong an event. You would think that it would slow down the story, however,  this technique actually increases the speed. The reader wants to know, has to discover is your character get rescued from the blizzard. Will the train will arrive before the village resorts to cannibalism?  Will the FBI will solve the case before the terrorist follows through on his destruction?  

SCENE CUTS

Also called a jump cut, this is probably the most common ways to pass time quickly in a story. In this technique, a scene cut moves the story to a new location and assumes the reader can follow without an explanation of the location change. The purpose is to accelerate the story, and the characters in the new scene don’t necessarily need to be the characters in the previous scene.

A SERIES OF EVENTS IN RAPID SUCCESSION

Another means of speeding up your story is to create events that happen one right after another. Such events are presented with minimal or no transitions, and definitely no interspection by the characters. The narrative rapidly leaps from scene to scene and place to place.

SHORT SCENES AND CHAPTERS

Short segments are easily digested and end quickly. Since they portray a complete action, the reader passes through them quickly, as opposed to being bogged down by complex actions and descriptions.

SUMMARY

Instead of a play-by-play approach, another technique is to tell readers what has already happened. Because scenes are immediate and sensory, they require many words to depict. Summary is a way of trimming your word count and reserving scenes for the major events. You can also summarize whole eras, descriptions, and backstories. Summaries work well when time passes but there is little to report, when an action is repeated or when a significant amount of time has passed.

WORD CHOICE AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Words you use are the subtlest tools of pacing. Embed concrete words (like prodigy and iceberg), active voice (with potent verbs like zigzag and plunder), and sensory information into your text. Break up any long, involved paragraphs.

Fragmented, short sentences, and paragraphs quicken the pace. Crisp, punchy verbs, especially those with onomatopoeia (crash, lunge, sweep, scatter, slurp, rattle) also add to a quick pace. Invest in verbs that enliven descriptions, build action scenes and prolong suspense.

Harsh consonant sounds such as those in words like claws, crash, kill, quake, and nag can push the reader ahead. Words with unpleasant associations can also ratchet up the speed: hiss, grunt, slither, smarmy, venomous, slaver, and wince. Energetic, active language is especially appropriate for building action scenes and suspense, and for setting up drama and conflict.

A fast pace means trimming unnecessary words from every sentence. Eliminate prepositional phrases that you don’t need: Trade passive verbs for active one.

If you’re looking to improve how fast or slow your novel moves, learn to utilize all of these literary devices to help you manipulate time

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

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The Locket Saga is currently the only fiction series by Cygnet Brown.

I can’t remember when I first started writing my historical fiction series The Locket Saga. I think I was living in Pennsylvania when I first started writing Soldiers Don’t Cry. It wasn’t that I first started writing back then because I had been writing fiction since I was about 12 years old.

You might ask, “But isn’t When God Turned His Head the first book in the series?”

I am glad you asked. Yes, When God Turned His Head is the first book in the series, but Soldiers was the first book that I started in the series. The book started as a dream. I dreamed that a young woman and young man were sitting on a puncheon log bench in front of a log wall. She was sitting on one end and he was sitting on the other. He said to her that they had met each other when they were children. Then I awoke and knew that there was a story there.

When God Turned His Head came about while I was writing Soldiers. There’s a scene where Elizabeth and Rachel are talking about their parents and that they had been indentured servants. That made me wonder what happened to their parents? It was around that time when I learned of the John Codman murder.  I decided to make the story part of The Locket Saga. Once I had written the story, I wrote the prologue to Soldiers.

At the same time, I started the first chapter of Book 3 of the Locket Saga: A Coward’s Solace where I brought back a character from When God Turned His Head who was supposedly dead.

(If you look back at the prologue of Soldiers, you’ll know who actually survived although it is not obvious at the time.

Sailing under the Black Flag also came out of Soldiers Don’t Cry, The Locket Saga Continues when I decided that I wanted to know what happened withthe impetuous Jonathan Mayford who sails the seven seas for an American privateer. The story ends just after the end of the American Revolution.

At the end of Book 3 of The Locket Saga: A Coward’s Solace, the characters go to the then frontier town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Book 5 of The Locket Saga: In the Shadow of the Mill Pond picks up a decade and a half after the end of Sailing Under the Black Flag. In this book, the Thorton, McCray, and Mayford families are in the middle of a feud between the United States government and the frontier corn farmers on the western frontier. In addition, a man is murdered leading Lacey Mayford into a search for the truth that will free Matthew Thorton from being hung by vigilantes.

Book 6 of the Locket Saga: The Anvil picks up with Robert McCray in love with a young aristocrat and the Thorton and McCray families going up the Allegheny River and French Creek to build their homes in what would be Concord Township in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

This last book actually represents what the McCray family faced when they came to Northwestern Pennsylvania around 1800. I have particular interest in this family as they were my own ancestors. I am a descendent of Robert the Younger who told the family story. I, of course, have taken a lot of literary license in the events of the novel, but I believe I have written a book that captures the character of the people who settled there.

Is This the End of the Series?

Will this be the last book in the series? I doubt it. I still have first drafts and subsequent drafts of the series that I want to share, but I have recently been drawn in other directions. (More on that as plans get more structured.)

So, tell me. Have you read any of The Locket Saga? Which book was your favorite? Who’s your favorite character?


Kill a line, kill a scene, kill a character. Whatever it takes to improve your novel.

As writers, you have may already heard of the phrase ‘kill your darlings,’ and you may even already be well-versed with its meaning.

However, some writers may not have come across this piece of advice, and it is one that has been handed out to writers for many, many generations so I’ll catch up those who don’t know. William Faulkner, an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi,  originated the phrase ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings.’

What does “Kill Your Darlings” Mean? 

In writing, to killing one’s darlings means getting rid of the things you love the most. That line in your book that you think makes it seem unique and powerful and strange, that scene that you feel really expresses the essence of what your work is about, the accent that you have given your main character that you believe really helps your readers see into their soul…

Yes, those are your darlings.

So why do we have to get rid of them?

Don’t go too overboard with “killing your darlings”. Do it wisely and sparingly.  If you were to hit ‘delete’ on all the best bits of your book, the chances are you’ll end up with gaping holes in your story and, actually, some of the best bits should almost certainly stay.

However, you do need to let go of aspects your writing you are holding onto selfishly. In other words, those aspects of your work that are more about you and less about the story. Those words, side plots, characters or turns of phrase that you personally love but, actually, if you are being truthful, don’t really advance your story in any way.

You might, for example, have thought of a killer line that just perfectly sums up an emotion or scene, it might have come to you in the middle of the night and you might have written it down with such excitement you couldn’t wait to get it into your story the next day.

However, when you tried there just wasn’t a place for it, you wanted to make it fit, but it didn’t. It couldn’t work.

Don’t force something no matter how much you love it. If it is not meant to be in your current story simply save it for the next one, and then let it go.  It takes real maturity for you as an author to let them go.

Kill off Loveable Characters

The same goes for characters who are not going anywhere, ones who don’t belong, or ones who you love fiercely and are so proud of creating. However, these have no part to play in your story.

You find yourself giving them too much attention and neglecting your other characters or bending the plot to fit their way of thinking and point of view.

Killing off characters that you know your reader will love can be a dramatic and useful strategy too. This device is used by Agatha Christie, who often kills off well-liked characters in her novels, because the reader doesn’t expect it. It is surprising and heart-breaking, it makes us invest even more in the story. I did this in the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry with characters that the readers loved from When God Turned His Head. They didn’t belong in Soldiers, and their demise furthered the plots of later books in the series as well. It was a win-win for everyone in The Locket Saga except, of course, those characters.

Place Story before Ego

Can you do it? Of course, you can. It creates personal growth for you as a writer. It takes effort and self-discipline to kill your darlings. But remember, you are not writing your book for you. In fact, it has very little to do with you at all.

Anything that distracts or takes away from your story needs to be shut down. Your aim is to keep your readers immersed and engaged in the world you have created, so don’t let anything divert you or them from this goal.

The sooner you become a ruthless writer and identify and kill your darlings, the easier and more painless it will become.

You don’t have to get rid of them completely. Just take them out and put them somewhere else, in a notebook or a file of ideas – then you never know when one of them might just flourish back to life. Pat yourself on the back for unselfishly putting the story before your ego.

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I don’t know if a writer exists who hasn’t heard the phrase “show it, don’t tell it!” Just in case one exists, I will tell you that it means that it is important to let the characters do the doing rather than allowing the narrator to tell what happens. One of the principle ways that we can show rather than tell is to write our scenes using active rather than passive voice.

The difference between Active Voice and Passive Voice

In English grammar, verbs have five properties: voice, mood, tense, person, and number; here, we are concerned with voice. The two grammatical voices are active and passive.

Active voice basically refers to a sentence that has a subject that acts upon its verb. We’ll explain this in a minute.

Passive voice, on the other hand, means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action. You may have learned that the passive voice is weak and incorrect, but it isn’t that simple as we will see later in this article. When used correctly and in moderation, the passive voice is fine. However, you’ll do well to eliminate most of the passive voice in your novel.  

Identifying Active Voice

When the subject of a sentence performs the verb’s action, we say that the sentence is in the active voice. Sentences in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. Here is an example:

The cat ate her food.

This sentence has a basic active voice construction: subject, verb, and (sometimes) an object. The subject “cat” performs the action described by at. The subject performs the action described by closed. The subjects are always doing. They take action.

What is Passive Voice?

A sentence is in the passive voice, on the other hand, when the subject is acted on by the verb. The passive voice is always constructed with a conjugated form of to be plus the verb’s past participle. Doing this usually generates a preposition as well. That sounds much more complicated than it is, because passivity is actually quite easy to detect. For these next examples of passive voice, we will transform the three active sentences above to illustrate the difference.

“The cat played with the yarn.” is active voice, but “The food was eaten by the cat.” is passive voice.

The active sentence consists of the subject, the verb and the object. The passive sentence consists of the object plus a form of to be plus the past participle of the verb and a preposition in each of these cases “by” Making the sentence passive flipped the structure and necessitated the preposition “by”.

Which Is Better? Active Voice or Passive Voice?

There is no question that using the active voice conveys the stronger, clearer tone. Here’s some good advice: don’t use the passive voice just because you think it sounds more sophisticated than the active voice.

However, times do exist when the passive voice is preferred. For instance, Their car was hit by a train. That sentence construction is helpful because their car is the focus of the writing, not the train.

A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of your sentences in the active voice. This is especially true action-packed novels.

Tips to Recognize the Passive Voice

Sometimes a sentence in passive voice doesn’t necessarily sound “wrong” or wordy. Sometimes passive voice is the best choice. However, consider writing in active voice whenever possible.

Recognizing Passive Voice

To recognize that a sentence is in passive voice, watch out for these keywords:

A

Are

Be

Being

By

Has been

Have been

Is

Was

Were

Will be

How to Change Voice from Passive to Active

To change passive voice to active voice, you need to recognize the sentence’s subject and then rewrite the sentence, so the subject is performing the action.

Let’s use the following example to understand how to change passive voice to active voice:

The repairs were made by the best carpenter in town.

We can recognize that this sentence is in passive voice because the passive keyword “was” is used. Also, it’s not initially clear who or what the sentence is about.

To change the sentence from passive to active:

Step 1: Identify the subject of the sentence – who is doing an action? The payment is not doing the action, so it can’t be the subject. The only person or thing doing an action here is everyone. Everyone paid. So, everyone is the subject of the sentence.

Step 2- Rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action. This sentence could be rewritten to active voice as follows:

The best carpenter in town made the repairs.

This rewrite makes it immediately clear to the reader who is doing what. The subject is doing the action.

When Using Passive Voice May Be the Better Choice

In most cases, writing sentences in passive voice is discouraged, because it can obscure the subject of the sentence and confuse the reader. It also creates a wordy and awkward sentence structure.

As suggested above, use passive voice when a paragraph actually flows better using passive voice rather than active voice. However, if you can express the same idea using an active verb, you should do so. In the same token, don’t mix active and passive structures in the same sentence. If one clause is in the passive voice, the other, too, should also be in the passive voice. Once you learn how to change passive voice to active voice, it’s one less thing you’ll have to edit. However, there are cases when passive voice is preferred.

The passive voice is used when we want to draw attention to the person or thing that was affected by the action of the subject.

For instance, if someone were to ask, “Who killed that bear?” The answer would be “That bear was killed by Robert.”

Here the focus is on a specific bear.

In addition, the passive voice is also preferred in cases where the doer is not important.

The log homes were built around 1800.

Here the focus is on the log homes and not on the person(s) who built them, and therefore we prefer the passive voice.

Practice Changing Passive to Active Voice

Although passive voice is occasionally useful and sometimes preferred because it offers a deflection from knowing the subject of the sentence, passive-voice verbs put the emphasis on the recipient of the action, not the doer of the action. This kind of deflection can sometimes be useful, but strong sentences require active constructions. Passive-voice sentences are also wordier than more concise active voice versions. Therefore, unless you have a specific reason for using passive voice, always convert such verb constructions into active ones.

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At this point, you have written and rewritten your novel at least three times. You should be able to read your novel should readable and without any obvious glitches, but it would still behoove you to read your manuscript at this time to see how well the entire story reads.

You should find that you have scenes showing realistic locations with well-developed characters who show great action have relevant dialogue. However, a read through at this point will allow you to find some areas within the story line that doesn’t exactly fit.

These sorts of errors might not be found when you’re working scene by scene, but I wanted to mention that various problems can be found simply by reading the book through. These errors are not technical in nature, but rather come from other content problems that you may have, so far, missed in the editing process.

Is Your Timing Right?

You may be juggling POV characters in different locations. If these characters need to get to the same location, have you allowed for the time for this to occur. Checking timing is important. When your characters are dealing movement, between scenes, timing has to be possible.

Can things happen the way you claim they happened for your characters?

Is your Factual Information Accurate?

If you’re writing historical fiction, or including technical information as part of your story line, is your factual information correct? Often a google search is all you need to verify that your historical or technical information is correct.

Are there any details that your reader is unlikely to understand you can better define? For instance, in Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, Elizabeth used a peel. In the book I showed through Elizabeth’s actions that this tool was used to slide under bread and used it pull the bread out of the oven.

Are your characters and Settings Consistent?

Examine the interactions between the characters. Is there any place where one of the characters seem out of character? Are each of the character’s attributes consistent (or changes readily explained) throughout the story?  

Are character attributes consistent throughout your story? Are location details consistent? You don’t want to say that in chapter two a character has blue eyes and then in chapter eight, that same character has green eyes. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to say that a given location was treeless and then later say that same location was covered with trees. In the same token, you wouldn’t want to say that a house has two bedrooms early in the story and then later say that three characters each had a separate room in the same house.

POV Revisited

Look for scenes that you may have missed earlier that are out of character’s POV and fix them. Look for areas of magical thinking where a character seems to know exactly what another character is thinking. Use body language or some other sensory form gives the character’s thoughts more credibility.

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What is Line Editing?

Line editing is a stage in the editing process in which a manuscript is edited for tone, style, and consistency. This stage of editing is extremely important for documents of all types and lengths, and a good line editing is a crucial in the manuscript editing process. Here are a few dos and don’ts to line editing.

DO Take another read through. If you find any minor (hopefully not major) discrepancies in your manuscript fix these before moving on in line editing.

DO before looking at lines, review and analyze your key scenes. Does each scene carry the aspect of the story that it is supposed to carry? If not, what does it still need?

DO, if you find discrepancies during line editing, fix those before continuing the line editing.

DO Look through other that may appear wooden but are necessary to the story. Is this scene really necessary?  Use the same treatment as you used for the key scenes. Have we seen aspects of this scene before?  Is this entire scene redundant or is it just certain elements of the scene? Unless we are doing a reprise technique where we purposely use certain elements for impact, eliminate redundant scenes, passages, and aspects of conversations that you may have missed previously.

DO evaluate transitions between scenes. Are they adequate? Are they too wordy?

DO read each paragraph out loud. Does the paragraph flow naturally?

DO insure that each character remains in character throughout the book.

DO eliminate words or sentences that are extraneous or overused

DO edit scenes where the action is confusing or the author’s meaning is unclear due to bad transitions

DO eliminate redundancies of  information repeated in different ways

DO unify tonal shifts and rewrite unnatural phrasing

DO eliminate or rewrite passages that don’t read well due to bland language use

DO create changes that can be made to improve the pacing of a passage

DO evaluate words or phrases to determine if they are the best words to use. Reassess and clarify if a better word can enhance your meaning.

DO take frequent breaks when doing line editing. If you have a deadline, work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. For better efficiency, every two hours take a thirty-minute break. I personally get so much more done when I take frequent breaks by using the breaks for personal care and housework.

DO try to work on line editing at least a little every day rather than trying to block out large periods.

DO editing from front of manuscript to the back and do it in order to avoid missing any parts of the manuscript.

DON’T let run-on sentences remain in the manuscript, edit them.

DON’T give a pass to dialogue or paragraphs that can be tightened

DON’T leave in confusing narrative digressions

DON’T line edit too early in the writing process, you’ll just be wasting your time.

DON’T skip this part of the process and leave it for an editor to do. You’ll have a much better book (and your next one will be better as well) if do your own line editing.  

DON’T try to do too much at one sitting. You’ll produce better copy if you are rested.

DON’T procrastinate this step, the end of the tunnel is in sight! Don’t stop now!

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By the time you get to writing your third draft, your attention is drawn to writing individual scenes
When it comes to writing the third draft, focus comes to working on individual scenes.

You have read through your manuscript and scrutinized your dialogue, so what’s next. It’s time to edit the most important building block in the story. What is the most important building block of the story?

No, its not descriptions nor is it the reporting of events that these building blocks.

You could argue that it was characters, or the plot that are the basic building blocks, but it is not. Yes, they are important, but I think of those are more like the clay and mortar of the novel.

Scenes are the building block of the story. They are the energy of the story. They are about events that occur in a specific place.

Scenes are a Moment in Time

Scenes are where your characters are in a specific time, a specific locale and where they are doing things that move the story forward toward the next scene and the next act. 

In this edit, you’re making sure that each scene does exactly what the previous statement says. Nothing more, nothing less. Anything that doesn’t fit that description must be eliminated as fluff. Does the description of the paintings on the wall add to the tone of the scene or is it just filler? Does describing the weather foretell of what’s to come in the scene. (Like describing a small cloud on the horizon eventually becoming a storm). Get to the point, show up what is happening to our characters. Paint us a picture of what is happening to them. Can you picture your scene like a scene from a movie? If not, try it. Write what you see in action terms. Look at your next scene. Analyze and correct that scene and connect it to the previous one with narrative.

Yes, thinking can be a scene and so can dialogue, and remember you don’t want your characters just to be talking heads. They have to be doing things too, like a woman kissing a man, cleaning the house, and fighting a storm.

Give your readers scenes they can see, touch, hear and wonder over. Write for the senses and emotions and to mull over. Make those locations come alive. Remember that people see, move, smell, taste, and touch  their surroundings.

Break Up Monologues  

If you’re going to use a scene with a lot of thought or dialogue where either one person is thinking without interaction with someone else or multiple characters speaking back and forth, make sure the reader knows the who, where, and when of the scene. Don’t write from the aspect of a talking or thinking head for two pages. Interrupt that thought with reminders that put us in a place. Remind us why you are showing us why the character is having these thoughts, and then go back to those thoughts.

 Don’t give us only talking heads, existing independently of all else (I know, this has been discussed before, but, at this point, be sure that every one of these have been handled.)

 If you choose to throw in back story, first show us where the character is, and what brought about these deep thoughts of the past. Does the character walk around randomly thinking of the past? Does he pick up something that relates to what he’s saying? Unless your character is naturally crazy, go for something that sets him off. And don’t forget to let us know what’s happening while the character is off remembering. Ground the character—and the reader—in a place and then do your thing with deep thoughts. Include reminders of place, passage of time, and events happening while the characters talk. For instance, you could show someone smoking and the cigarette getting shorter and the speaker taking a puff.

Show Characters Interacting with Their Environment

Use description in scenes, but don’t just create descriptions. Your characters need to be interacting with their location, with other characters, and their own demons.

 Rewrite narrated scenes. Make the story events real. Force the reader to live those events with the characters, to feel their emotions, their pain and their shock!

Be sure that each scene is written from a single POV character who is experiencing this scene. If you’re using deep POV, make sure that your character’s thoughts are not betraying him.

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working on the third draft

When Michelangelo was asked how he was able to create such a beautiful statue when he created his Statue of David, he told him that David was already there in the rock. All he did was cut away what wasn’t part of the statue. If you have worked hard to get your second draft to the best place that you could, your book is now the point where it too is like the statue. Everything is there. All you have to do is cut away what isn’t part of your story.

In your second draft, your novel should have expanded it beyond the anticipated word count. In your third draft, it is time to start cutting out what doesn’t belong in your book and tightening your prose.

Before beginning the third draft, read through your manuscript, focusing in on what needs to be eliminated.

Cut the Chitchat

I believe that the easiest place to start editing what doesn’t belong is in your manuscript’s dialogue. It is also one of the elements that demand ruthless scrutiny. I know we have gone through this before when we were working on the second draft, but going through your dialogue again now will  

The importance of editing dialogue cannot be overstated. It is the primary interaction methods between characters. Dialogue drives attitude, enables and motivates conflict, mirrors personal development, and so much more. If you tend to be heavy on the dialogue like most people, you’ll need to ruthlessly edit your dialogue.

Remember that every piece of dialogue needs to serve the story. Every conversation must move the story forward. Look for stretches of dialogue that don’t serve the story and delete them. For instance, a conversation of a family eating dinner and setting up the sense of normality before your inciting incident occurs might seem a good idea, but does it really?

If your characters are just making chitchat that is not relevant to your story, you’d do better to remove the conversation all together or at least review it. Is it possible to re-work this dialogue so it also speaks to deeper issues? Perhaps you could use the scene to foreshadow future events or help develop a better understanding of either the protagonist or the antagonist. 

Characters Shouldn’t Always Say What They Are Thinking

Another common problem with dialogue is that when we talk in real life, we rarely say what we are really thinking. What we say rarely connects directly with our thoughts. Instead, we allude, suggest, try to persuade and negotiate, often to clumsy effect, when talking. There’s a difference there between negotiation and deceit, but we don’t tend to spill all the fine details of our thoughts or intentions.

Imagine a scene where three characters are being chased by a bear. They run across a creek and toward a large oak.

As they go, one character grabs a limb. She quickly formulates a plan in her mind.

Does she:

1. Yell. “Quick, grab my arm.”

or

2. does she shout “Here! Take my arm! I’ll pull you up after me and we can get away from that bear.”

The first option feels more natural. There’s no time for explanation. It also doesn’t give the reader further information about what the plan is once our trio reaches the alley. This character may indeed know exactly what she plans to do next, but the reader shouldn’t have this information. It’s better keep the actions in the moment and out of the character’s head.

Introducing body language is an ideal way to avoid the trap of overusing adverbs in your dialogue tags – telling the reader that someone says something “angrily” or “despondently.”

People aren’t just talking heads, so make sure to address their body language along with the words they say, and you’ll paint a much more vivid and involving picture for your reader. Body language is also useful if you find yourself editing stretches of dialogue that feel too long. The interactions and information within the dialogue may be essential to the story – and perfectly well written in terms of the inter-character chatter – but it just runs on for too long in one big block. However, as stated in an earlier post, don’t overdo the body language. Knowing when you are using enough is part of the reason that writing fiction is considered an art.

But beyond the mouth, remember to tap into the thoughts of the character.  Avoid giving too much exposition, in other words, telling, not showing.

Now is a good time to read your dialogue aloud to see if it flows natually. If you stumble over words, or everything feels too robotic—rewrite. It also helps to get into character when you’re reading your dialogue – taking on the affectations and attitude of each character to see if it too is natural. This way, you can also easily tell if your characters clearly have their own voices and aren’t blending together – or, worse, failing to differentiate themselves from your narrative voice.

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In fiction, pacing refers to how quickly or how slowly the action of the story unfolds. Pacing is important because it helps to keep the reader interested and maintains a desired atmosphere and tone of your story. A suspense thriller shouldn’t move at a crawl, just as a romance move too quickly. In an earlier post, I discussed some of the aspects of pacing as it relates to dialogue, this time we are discussing other techniques used to speed up or slow down pace.

As you write your novel, you will need to plan the rise and fall of your novel’s plot and action. Taking time to outline your novel can help with pacing because you can see at a glance where there is concentrated actions or events and where movement should be slower. Sometimes your action might be too slow, and you need to speed it up at other times, you might need to spread out the face-paced moments of peril and adventure and include a few pages where the reader and characters can catch their breath (and possibly add a little humor).

The Act You’re in Determines Your Scene’s Pace

Your novel pacing should be determined by the type of Scene you’ve constructed. In addition, certain things will be happening in your novel at specific times or acts. For instance, if you are using the three-act structure, there is an opening, middle and end to the story. In first act, you’ll introduce readers to the main conflict and main characters. The second act is where you develop that conflict and help the reader understand why it came about and how it is affecting your characters. The Third act brings the conflict to a head and brings resolution.

Each of these sections of your novel will have different pacing. The first act usually doesn’t dawdle and take its time hooking the reader into the story. In the second act you can push and pull pacing more. If in the first act your protagonist (main character) is struggling with a desire to fall in love, the middle act can show him slowly giving in to (or overcoming) this urge. There can be moments of calm and moments of high tension.

In the third act, though, the pace usually increases as tension builds. The cracks have started to show in your main character’s personal life – he can no longer keep her love for the other person a secret. The stakes increase and the reader wants to know how it will all end.

To make the pace move at the correct speed in each of these larger structural units, think about the purpose of each act. If you want to grip the reader, use conflicts and move your characters from scene to scene creating a sense of momentum. However, if you want to give the reader some respite before the major climax, you can slow your story pacing and lessen the conflict and tension for a while.

Hone Your Pacing Skills

Hone your book’s pacing by reading the thrillers and spy novels. Even if they aren’t your preferred genre, read bestsellers who have mastered pacing. This will help you to understand how to make your plot ebb and flow engrossingly.

Make notes as you read on pace. Note elements such as:

  • Any time reference in the book
  • The number of pages in each chapter
  • Why you think short chapters are short and what effect they have on momentum.

Sentence Structure—A Simple Strategy to Speed up and Slow Down Pace

Use sentence structure to manipulate your novel’s pacing. Pacing in writing is affected by sentence length. Think about it. You’re reading this faster. There are fewer words. The sentences are simpler. When you want the reader to feel events are coming to an important climax, shorter sentences can be effective.

Shorter sentences keep the pace moving by not losing action in lengthy sentences and detailed descriptions. Of course, you could also keep your writing descriptive until the conversation starts and then alter the pace, to create sudden tension. These are the choices you will need to make regarding sentence structure: Where will the story start to move? Where will characters sit back and admire the scenery? How will you bring it all together into one cohesive story?

Slow your story’s pace with focus shifts and put detail into longer chapters.

Vary Pace

Seldom does a novel hurtle along without the occasional strategic pause that allows your characters and your readers to gather their wits. There are several ways to slow down your story in strategic places. You can reduce the pace of a story by shifting focus to a secondary subplot for a while to take the heat off your main story line. One way to do this is by writing longer chapters and by being more generous with extra descriptive details. Also, you might want to have fewer things happen per location or scene.

A great novel has some scenes that hurtle along while others dawdle and meander. It has balance. Some genres have more of the hurtling (such as thrillers) while others more of the dawdling (many character-driven dramas and romances). Whatever type of novel you’re working on, getting pacing in writing right will keep readers entertained and committed to finishing your book.

Pacing Techniques

Pacing manipulates time. The elements of time delineated in your story or screenplay include the time of day or period; scene versus summary; flashback; and foreshadowing. The novel’s elements of time tell us when the story is being told as compared to when the events of the story took place. What is that distance? When does the story begin? When does it end? What narrative strategies do you convey to convey that sense of time?

As we’ve said in previous posts, scenes are the building blocks of all fiction. In order to have a crisis moment, scenes indicate a moment in time and are not summarized. A summary covers a longer period of time in a shorter passage. A scene covers a short period of time in a longer passage. What could take only a few seconds in real time might be covered in paragraphs, even pages, depending upon the writer and the event.

Instead of summarizing a scene, try to picture them in your head as though they were happening on a movie screen. Sometimes, when you are writing a first draft, you might summarize an event, but the scene is how you dramatize the action. You must learn to balance the scenes and use the exposition gracefully.

As I have said in other posts, every scene should have some form of conflict, even if it is just in the mind of the POV character. Just as in a story you have conflict, crisis and resolution, each scene should have a similar shape. Move your story forward using scenes that specific important behavior of your characters. Transitions of time or location that is secondary to the plot can be expressed in a narrative bridge that summarizes otherwise boring events. (If your character is taking a train trip across the country, but no significant events occur in that train trip, simply go to the next event by saying something like, ‘Nancy took a train to her destination and met her friends at a local café.”

Summarize secondary Dialogue

Dialogue that is secondary can similarly be summarized. So, if you find dialogue that expresses information that is fairly routine or not too interesting, you should summarize it. For instance if your character is sharing information that was shared before, but want the receiving character’s reaction (and it is significant to the story) you can write something like, ‘Joe told Julie about his pay raise. Julie could now start planning their wedding.’

 For example, to avoid boring dialogue when exchanging greetings. Simply say they exchanged greetings.

Challenging Pacing Techniques

If there is a scene that you are having trouble with, especially one that provides a turning point in the story, focus in on that scene. Could it use action, not necessarily physical action, but movement, change? Expand that scene and explore the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. Dramatize and see how the balance of power in the scene changes.

Setting incorporates place, but you also have to consider the time of the year, the time of day and how you reveal this information without being too obvious. This information is not always essential but depends upon your story. Basically, you’re ‘establishing shot’.  Just remember to be consistent and to make the timing logical. It might be boring to mention ‘in the morning,’ but you could use other words to show time of day. However, don’t skip this time element altogether since it adds facts about the characters and their surroundings. If a family is having supper, then we know the time of day. If a character is wearing shorts, this establishes the time of year.

Handling Flashbacks

Flashbacks provide emphasis and balance within a novel. It’s possible they may be used to enrich the narrative, and you might want to rearrange the chronology of your story during your editing process using this technique.

A flashback is a narrative passage that takes us back into the past of when the story is set.  I personally usually write the first draft in chronological order, including everything in order that they occurred for the character, but often, I cut out earlier scenes put them in flashback to create a better flow of events in the story.

A flashback slows down the pace of the story. The flashback reveals something about the character that we didn’t know before that explains things by showing not telling. You should use it when the character is going into a situation that varies from the behavior that we have come to expect from him or her. However, you need to be sure that the flashback you have selected tells us something relevant to the story. There’s nothing worse than slowing down the action with a flashback that doesn’t contribute to the story.

You might use a flashback if, in the present of the story, the character has an unexpected reaction to an event (like Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes) , and you want to provide an explanation for their behavior.

Beware of using flashbacks as a way to avoid conflict you want to emphasize tension and anxiety in your novel, not limit it.   

A question that is always asked is about how to construct a flashback. The mechanics of the flashback technique can be difficult to manipulate and may create cumbersome verb constructions. To prevent this, keep the transition into the flashback as simple as possible. If you are writing the story in the past tense, you can begin the flashback in past perfect. You can use ‘had’ plus the verb a couple of times. Then you can switch to the simple past.

You don’t always have to use a flashback to include past events in your story. Instead of flashback, you might use dialogue, narration or some detail to give the required information. Also, remember the power of inference. There may be more going on in the background of a character than you reveal in the actual prose. Be economical with your words. Imply what you can about the character or situation without being obvious. Flashback reveals information at the right time, but it may not be part of the central action. Flashback is an effective technique to show the reader more about character and theme.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is another technique that plays with narrative time and slow down the forward movement of the action. It is not actual conflict, but the promise of conflict. The technique of foreshadowing promises that things go from bad to worse. One way to foreshadow is to place something early in the book that makes a conflict or resolution seem realistic at the end. A question comes up later in the story that can be answered later. Foreshadowing can be used to get the reader through a section of a narrative. For example, you could create suspense by something that will happen:

For instance, what happened in the massacre at the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, not only impacts the end of Soldiers, but it also creates a foreshadowing the entire premise of A Coward’s Solace. Because of this event, those other two events make sense to the reader.  If the story questions are strong, then your reader will stay interested in the narrative.

Of course, you need to use this technique judiciously. You can employ the minor characters to foreshadow the actions of the major characters, for example. If you make a promise by foreshadowing, then make sure to fulfill the promise; otherwise, the reader will tell you about it in their reviews!

With foreshadowing, it might be better to err on the obvious side because if your attempts are too subtle, there will be no shadows to see.

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What is Deep POV?

Deep Point of View (Deep POV) is a style of writing that encourages readers to experience the story through a single character’s perspective at a time, making the events of the story more personal and compelling. This technique is a popular one in modern genre fiction, as it mimics the experience viewers have when watching many of their favorite films.

It cuts the narrative tags of “said” and other words that replace “said” that jerk a reader out of the character’s head. By using deep POV, the reader steps right into the character’s shoes. For strong, emotional writing, Deep POV is a skill that every novelist should learn and conquer. Although it can be difficult at first, it is so important, that I have written an entire post just on this skill.

Deep POV eliminates narrative tags that remind the reader that they are not the hero or heroine of the story. Deep POV adds depth of emotion while stuff is happening, rather than apart from it in patches. This makes the passage more interesting and weaves emotion through the scene right through the action and dialogue. It draws the reader in by  providing that emotional punch that takes your story from a manuscript to a riveting tale by drawing the character into the story’s emotions.  Deep POV, with all its jam-packed emotion, grabs your reader with hard-hitting emotional punch! In this way, our writing takes on a life of its own.

With Deep POV you can utilize any tense and grammatical person (e.g. first-person, third-person, etc.), making this technique fairly adaptable to your style and your story’s needs. What defines a certain type of storytelling as being written in Deep POV is its subjective nature, distinct character voice, and limited marks of authorship.

Deep POV gives a third person POV a first person POV feel.  With Deep POV, you weave in sights, scents and sounds while the characters dialogue. You get inside the POV character’s head.  You show action and dialogue while at the same time you learn the POV character’s emotional response to what is going on.

How to Master Deep POV

To do deep POV right, we have to leave narrative tags behind. Tags like “he said, she screamed/whispered/wondered/thought/cried” which without Deep POV are necessary evils and drag the reader out of the story reminding them that it is just a story. Sometimes they must be used for clarity, but rarely in deep POV. This works equally for comedy as suspense or straight romance or any genre. It automatically cuts down on adverbs. Deep POV involves using signature actions to identify characters, using only one person’s thought, but never saying “he thought”. Weaving emotion right through dialogue and action is the key to this emotional punch.

In order to get your reader to be able to identify with your character, you have to first identify with the your characters. I have found a fun way to do this. I interview my Interview my characters not only to separate myself from the character, but also so that I can identify with that character.  

Become Your POV Character

As time goes on, I become my POV character! Role-playing is a fantastic method to give real, true emotional depth to my characters. I do this all the time. Sometimes I’ll take a scene and look at it from inside every character’s head. I create soundtracks and signature of smells for my book, so that I feel I am in their world. I close my eyes and put myself right into the world where they are. I try lines for specific scenes and feel the emotion. I’ll then back up and look at the scene from just the viewpoint of POV character and have that character look at each of the other characters and notice how each of the other characters is reacting to the scene unfolding. Everything then is only what the POV character sees and feels during that scene in relation to what the other characters are saying and doing.

I have a new novel coming out later this year called The Tower of Babel. It is a departure from the Locket Saga because it is a contemporary suspense mystery. To set this scene up, our POV character is at a party where she learns that the man she is working with is friends with the family whose child she surrogated. She doesn’t want the man she works with to know about it.

Have you ever read a book in which you felt one with the point-of-view character? That’s what can easily happen when you are reading a book written in Deep POV.

From the very first page, the author drops you in the protagonist’s shoes, encouraging you to see their world and experience their journey through their eyes. It’s novels like these that are often so easy to consume, and deep POV makes many of them tick.

Parameters of Deep POV

Once you’ve taken the time to develop your characters, it is time to go even deeper into POV. Here are a few key parameters to keep in mind.

  1. Limit your character’s knowledge
  2. Cut filter words
  3. Limit dialogue and thought tags
  4. Show Don’t Tell
  5. Become your POV character
  6. Avoid passive voice
  7. Avoid character thought explanations
  8. Handle hide your POV character’s thoughts carefully
  9. Avoid having the POV character asking questions in his internal dialogue.
  10. Avoid having POV characters filling the reader in on story facts.

In most contemporary fiction, characters don’t speak to readers. They don’t acknowledge that they’re even there. If you want readers lost in your fictional world, you don’t want to do anything that reminds them they’re reading fiction. Once characters acknowledge readers, readers become distracted by story structure. The reader is no longer a participant but revert to being an audience. The reader sees more than the events of the story, he sees the framework and the individual pieces and loses the fictional flow.

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Time to Edit Your Novel

During the past several weeks in my blogs about editing novels, I have been about dialogue and this week I am continuing on this theme. This week we’re going over an important aspect of dialogue that actually relates to every aspect of the novel and that is, it must be interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. I know I have mentioned this before, but this is so important, I have designated an entire post to this subject.

Why Are We Having This Conversation?

When writing a conversation between characters, it is important that these conversations draw your readers along through the story and move the story forward. Every conversation in your novel must have a point that draws the story forward or that conversation should be eliminated from the story. When editing your dialogue, be conscious of what you want to achieve. What information o you want to pass to the reader. Do you want to get the reader get to know one or more of your character better? Knowing dialogue’s purpose beforehand allows you to direct your conversation.

Be sure that your dialogue sounds like real people talking. Ask yourself as you edit, “Does it sound like a real conversation or does it sound contrived.

Determine the correct topic for the conversation. What goals do you want the conversation to accomplish? Determine if this is the right place in the story to have this conversation or would it be better to have it earlier or later in the book.

If two people are just getting to know one another in the story, try to find things that they have in common interest that the reader would also find interesting. Discovering common likes and dislikes opens up a bond between two people. It harnesses the human touch to one’s relationship.

Maintaining Reader Interest During Monologues

Keep the theme of the conversation interesting to the reader. If you find that a conversation between characters is getting boring, cut. If you find that your reader is likely to skip over a portion of dialogue, delete it. (that goes for any portion of your novel. If it isn’t moving the story forward or keeping the reader engaged, cut it.)

Create Empathy in Your Reader for your characters, especially the POV character. Create a conversation where the reader will put him or herself in the shoes of the people in the conversation.

To help avoid what appears to be a monopoly, have your characters listening to and validating the other person thereby creating a dialogue. Rather than leaving one long passage, break it up with another character’s reaction to what the other character is saying.

Clarity, Please!

Allow your characters to show action and use their senses between sections of dialogue. If the one character misunderstands the other, allow the character to be misunderstood and make the conversation seem real. In addition, you can have characters ask for clarification to show the character’s interest in the topic. This also shows if the character is paying attention. If not, show it in the dialogue.

By creating dialogue that is realistic, your reader will better identify with what is being said and will create a better reading experience.

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As writers, we should be ever evolving in our craft. This is why it is helpful to hear what others have to say about the editing process because it helps us develop better writing skills. Sometimes we hear advice that seems logical, but then we realize that maybe we need to take that advice with a grain of salt. Here are some strategies that defy some of the rules we’ve been told about writing dialogue.

Should Our Characters Always Stay on Topic?

We have been told that “dialogue should stay on topic”. However, in real life we talk in spurts and in incoherent mumbles, grunts, and murmurs while we try to form our thoughts. We stumble on our words and correct ourselves. We pause and reflect. We backtrack. We circle around in tangents. If our character is to seem realistic, our character’s dialogue needs to do the same.

These reveal character traits and priorities. If dialogue is too focused and direct, it’ll sound predictable and flat. Readers want to see the motivations, the quirks, the uniqueness our characters. These add texture when our characters speak.

When one character asks another character a question that the other character doesn’t want to answer, a great technique for showing that the character doesn’t want to answer the question is by having the character interrupt, change the subject and attempt to stay on their own course even though the conversation has taken a different course. Conversations overlap to reveal the characters’ attitudes.

At times you’ll want your dialogue to be layered with meaning to show character goals of, social context of the conversation and the scene’s subtext. Subtext and innuendo bring depth to triviality so sometimes it is important to include trivial things to the conversation. What the reader is witnessing is not what lies at the heart of the scene.

Scenes with romantic tension will often have dialogue in which the characters banter or engage in small talk. But in those instances, it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that matters most. Identify the core tension of the scene, then plumb subtext and use apparent triviality to your advantage in dialogue. Of course, not every scene will need subtext, but when you want to emphasize the emotional, subtext is necessary.

Dialogue digressions can also be useful. You can use them to insert red herrings, foreshadow important events, reveal clues about what motivates your characters, or add new dramatic elements to the story line.

Use Dialogue in the Context of What Each Character Trying to Accomplish in this Scene?

Another Mistake often made in dialogue comes from the advice to “dialogue as you would actually speak.

Although in real life people speak primarily to give information, in fiction a conversation is not simply a way for something to be expressed. In writing, rather than asking yourself, “What does this character need to say?” ask, “What does this character need to accomplish in this scene?”

Create mutually exclusive goals for each character in the scene to create tension which affects how the conversation will play out. When determining your character’s response to stimuli, remember that his agenda toward the other person will trump the topic of conversation.

Give each character an agenda. The speaker might be trying to impress the other person, entertain her, seduce her or punish her. Whatever it is, the goal—whether stated explicitly or not—shapes everything that’s said.

Often you can move the story forward more effectively by having the characters respond in a way that implies an answer, showing that they’re reading between the lines of what was said or have questions of their own.

“SAID” and other Dialogue Tags

It’s true that you’ll want to avoid cluttering your story with obtrusive speaker attributions. They can and will become a distraction. Readers will stop being present in the story and will start looking for your next synonym for “said”.  They will realize that you own a thesaurus and know how to use it, but they don’t want to learn new words, they just want to hear your story.

On the other hand, “said” can become tiresome when it appears repeatedly on the same page. And, when used improperly, it can be proof that you are a novice writer.

“Kayla said” does not equal “said Kayla.”

To hear how your dialogue reads, try inserting the pronoun instead of the character’s name. For example:

“That’s an awesome boat,” Mark said.

“That’s an awesome boat,” he said.

Both of those statements make sense. But look at what happens when you write it the other way:

“That’s an awesome boat,” said Mark.

“That’s an awesome car,” said he.

If you wouldn’t write “said he” then don’t write “said Bob.” Stick with placing the speaker’s name before the verb unless there’s an overwhelming contextual reason not to.

Don’t use attributions simply to indicate who’s speaking. Use them to create pauses reflected in actual speech, to characterize, and even to orchestrate the pace and movement of the scene.

Additionally, speaker attributions can be used to maintain or diminish status. Compare the two following sentences.

“Come here,” he said. “Now.”

“Come here now,” he said.

The placement of the speaker attribution in the first example creates a pause that emphasizes the last word and raises the dominance of the speaker.

You Don’t Always Have to Avoid Long Speeches

Sometimes allowing a character to have her say reveals more about her than forcing her to speak in sound bites ever could.

When deciding whether to let a character launch into a diatribe, consider if she’s trying to get her say in before anyone else can interrupt. Also, take into account the buildup of tension that precedes the speech. Like a garden hose, the more pressure, the more dramatic the release.

Must Your Dialogue to be Grammatically Correct?

Always be willing to break conventions when it’s in the service of the story and the reader. Getting the story right is more important than being grammatically correct.

In dialogue, sentence fragments sound more realistic to readers than complete sentences do. Cut semicolons from dialogue. Cut semicolons from any fiction. If you find them, it’s usually because you’re trying to include complex sentences that wouldn’t sound natural. Choose commas and periods instead.

Are Talking Heads Always a Bad Thing?

Just as dialogue should reveal the intention of the characters, so should the actions that they take while they’re speaking. When we read that a character folded his arms, we’ll naturally wonder why he’s doing that. What is it meant to convey about his attitude or emotional response to what’s happening? Don’t confuse your readers by inserting needless movement. Rather, include action only as long as it adds to the scene or enriches it. If the action doesn’t convey anything essential, drop it.

It is sometimes okay that the reader doesn’t see what the character is doing when speaking. If you find your character brushing his nose or repositioning his chair or crossing his legs and so forth for no other reason than to provide a respite from the dialogue, recast the scene.

Keep Characters’ Speech Consistent?

When I am at work, I talk differently to other teachers than do with students. When I am talking with elementary children, I speak with them differently than I speak with high school students. In addition, I treat my daughter differently than I treat my husband or sons. A character should not respond the same to every other character exactly the same.

Dialogue needs to be honest for each character in that situation. Don’t try to make your characters consistent in the sense of always sounding the same, but rather allow them to remain in character within each unique social context.

If one of my characters responses exactly the same to every other character, I need to consider rewriting. Each character’s history with  other characters affect the character’s tone, word choice, grammar, sentence structure, use of idioms, everything. Even his posture is likely to have changed.

So, if a character is highly educated and every time she speaks she’s using impressive words, it gets old. The character will seem one-dimensional. In addition, if she’s from the south and says “You’all all the time, she will become cllched.

Few people are always blunt, always angry, always helpful. We speak differently in different situations. Mood, goals, state of mind fluctuate. This ties in with character believability. Remember: status, context, intention.

Yes, we’ve gone over all of this before, but it really does improve your novel when you give characters a goal, a history and an attitude toward the other people in the conversation. And always strive for honest, believable responses rather than scripted ones. Don’t be afraid to play with your conversations within your scenes. The more human you can make your characters, the more your reader will identify with them.

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When Your dialogue starts to look like a monologue, it is probably time to edit!

Dialogue is not only a useful tool, it’s an important component of effective storytelling. The time that you invest in editing and polishing will pay generous dividends.

Dialogue lets you reveal character, advance the plot, establish the setting, and deliver a theme, all at the same time. Well-written dialogue is a fast and easy read. Make sure you fix these problems in your dialogue.

Beware of Wooden dialogue

It’s important to read dialogue aloud while editing it, because the words you put into your character’s mouths need to sound natural and spontaneous coming back out. At the same time, unlike real people who often stammer and repeat themselves when conversing, fictional characters are expected to “talk edited.” Avoid these mistakes that make the dialogue sound stiff and rehearsed.

First, avoid Radio talk. In old radio dramas, scriptwriters peppered the actors’ dialogue with narrative details to help the listeners picture each scene more clearly.

“Marshall, why are you have that gun pointed at me?”

Therefore, as you go through your manuscript, remove or revise speeches where a character is doubling as narrator.

Second, avoid unnecessary naming. Unless there is a good reason for doing so, including the name of the person being addressed can also make dialogue sound wooden.

“Way to go, Andrew.”

As you read through scenes of dialogue, be alert to excessive or unnecessary naming and trim it out.

Eliminate Insignificant dialogue

Real life conversations often begin with exchanges such as: “How have you been? Nice weather we’re having.” We use small talk as a way to dispel initial discomfort, or to ‘sound out’ the other person before raising more sensitive or important topics.

As you edit your manuscript, consider whether there is any true dramatic purpose for your characters to engage in small talk (to betray nervousness, for example). If the line is insignificant, remove it and let the speakers get right to the point.

Also, look for speeches that recap things already known to every character as well as the reader in the scene. If the speaker has nothing new to say (or ask, or reveal) about the past event being recalled, then the reference as it stands is insignificant to the story. Either put it to work moving things forward or delete it.

Delete Repetitive dialogue

Speeches of dialogue need to be edited as rigorously as any other part of a story, especially when it comes to ‘trimming the fat’ by getting rid of unnecessary repetition. Read each speech aloud; repeated words and idea echoes will pop out at you. For example: “He was elected unanimously. Everybody voted for him.” (The second sentence is an echo and can be deleted.)

Sometimes entire scenes are repeated in dialogue, by a character who has experienced an event in an earlier part of the story and proceeds to describe it in detail to another character later on. If the scene has already been shown to the reader and this revisiting of it reveals nothing new about either the speaker or the listener, then the narrator can sum it up in a sentence: “He told Rachel what had happened at the party.”

Dress-up Naked dialogue

In every real-life conversation, there is an underlying subtext communicated by unspoken clues. Each speaker’s state of mind and trustworthiness are revealed by such things as the speaker’s posture, physical actions, facial expressions, and tone of voice. In order to bring a written scene of dialogue to life, you need to envision and communicate a subtext for it that the reader can picture in his or her mind.

While some spoken lines contain their own subtext, others do not. So, as you edit your manuscript, look for ‘naked’ speeches in need of one or more:

Descriptive tags (she said, he insisted, they chorused), to help the reader keep track of who is talking and reveal a character’s manner of speaking when the words alone don’t imply it. (“I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

A speaker’s actions, when they contradict or reinforce the spoken words, or when they help the reader to picture the scene more easily.

A speaker’s thoughts, when the speaker is the point of view character and the information helps to deepen the reader’s understanding of the character or the scene. (This wasn’t an ice cream parlor – it was a dental office! “I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

 Undressing Overdressed Dialogue

Tags or speaking verbs describe a character’s voice, and because they tend to chop up a scene of dialogue, they should be used sparingly, primarily when there is likely to be confusion about which speaker is saying what, or how the words sound coming out. When editing your manuscript, look for tags that can be removed without diminishing the effectiveness of the scene. Look also for tags that describe actions rather than voices. Compare the following examples:

“But why do I feel so miserable?” she scowled unhappily.

Jenny scowled. “But why do I feel so miserable?” she demanded.

Three Rules for Editing Dialogue Punctuation

Although we will be discussing other aspects of punctuation later in the series, we’ll deal with dialogue punctuation here. There is a right and a wrong way to punctuate dialogue. Here are three important things to remember about dialogue punctuation.

1. Insert double quote marks around the beginning and ending of the spoken portions within your story.

“That television program is the worst I have seen in years.”

There are double quote marks at the beginning of this dialogue and at the end of this dialogue. If your font has straight quote marks, be sure to keep them consistent. Nothing like inconsistency on something so small as quotation marks that sadly ruin a great reading experience!

2. Place the comma on the inside of the quote mark, before the dialogue tag. This error is very common in manuscripts.

“She’s a good time girl, all right,” Dad said and looked up from his daughter’s grade card.

3. Watch for inconsistent structure in dialogue. You might have beautiful dialogue, but the structure is messed up. When you have action beats and dialogue beats around a segment of dialogue, it can be tricky to know how to organize it.

“I think you’re crazy.” Susan shook her head. “You’ll never get away with that.”

But what if you want to include a dialogue tag instead of an action beat? Try this:

Maddie wasn’t sure how long she had been unconscious, but Deke’s tone made it sound as though it had been a long time. “How long was I out?” she called.

The question mark goes inside the quote mark, followed by a lowercased pronoun and a comma after the dialogue tag and the exposition of how the character’s voice sounded. Please do not capitalize the pronoun after the character speaks. You want to keep good form.

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A scene is more than just the background of your novel. A scene is everything that happens in the reader’s mind as it relates to your novel.

Two Basic Scene Types

Scene writing is the most integral, and obvious part of any story, but it is also overlooked and the least understood part of storytelling. First, type of scene is the scene proper. The second type is called the sequel.

Scene Building Blocks

Each scene follows a specific structure. At its heart, the arc of the scene is the same as that of the larger story structure exhibited over the course of the book: 1. Beginning which is the Hook. 2. The middle which is where the scene develops and finally there is the end or the climax of the scene.

What is the Scene’s goal?

Possible scene goals are endless, but very specific to your story. Your character can want anything in any given scene, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot. Everything else needs to be cut and either discarded or put elsewhere in the novel where it becomes an integral part of that scene. What information do you want passed on in this scene? How can you best pass that information on? As we learned last week, that information is given in the form of narrative (or internal dialogue, action, or dialogue).

Scene Conflict Options

In the scene proper, conflict keeps your story moving forward. “No conflict, no story” because without conflict, the story comes to an end. When the character’s initial goal is stymied by conflict, it causes the character to react with a new goal, which is stymied by further conflict, which causes that person to again modify his or her goal until the goal is reached and the story ends.

Options for Disasters in a Scene

The disaster is the payoff at the end of the scene. This is what readers have been waiting for—often, with a delicious sense of dread. It answers that question: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Or later in the story in might be to answer the question “How was he going to get out of that one?”

Scene Variations

You’ve already probably seen some successful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, that don’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Your scene might be something as simple as a transition scene where narrative is used to describe that time or location changed. Your scenes might not be action or dialogue, but rather it is internal dialogue which is our second main form of scene which is the sequel.

Sequel Building Blocks

The sequel—the second half of the Scene—sometimes gets shortchanged. But it is every bit as important, since it allows characters to process the events of the scene and figure out their next move.

In a sequel, a character or characters ponder what has just happened and to plan how to deal with this new information.

Options for Sequel Reactions

At the heart of every sequel is the narrating character’s reaction to the preceding scene’s disaster. This is where the author gets the opportunity to dig around inside his character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what he’s really made of.

Sometimes the sequel reaction is not just the reaction of the protagonist, but the reaction of everyone involved and their decision on how to move forward as a group.

Sequel Dilemmas Options

Once your character’s first emotional response to the previous scene’s disaster has passed, he will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what he’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left him in quite a pickle. It was a catastrophic declaration. The character or characters now respond with, “What do I (we) do now?”

Sequel Decisions Options

The most instinctive of all the sequel’s building blocks is the decision. This third and final piece of the sequel grows out of the character’s dilemma and leads right into the next scene’s goal. The decision is the little cattle prod on your story’s backside that keeps it moving.

Variations on the Sequel

Sequels, even more than scenes, offer all kinds of flexibility. To help you realize the possibilities of the sequel, let’s take a look at some of the common variations.

The key to getting a sequel is in the emotions that are portrayed in the sequel. In the sequel, you’re expressing how what happened in the scene affected the POV character. You can do this in several different ways. You can do it through description and narration. For instance, you could tell the reader that the POV character was elated by the event. You can do it through an internal monologue with the POV character telling you that he feels sad and hopeless, or you could do through dramatization like the POV character showing anger by punching a wall. Finally, you can show how the person is feeling by giving away the tone of how he’s feeling by using elements of the setting and weather. For instance, a strong sequel might be shown after a fire that burns down the POV character’s home, as the fire trucks are pulling away, it begins to rain and the POV character is soaked to the skin with someone else coming up to him and putting a blanket around his shoulders and leading him out of the rain.

At first, scene development can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions. However, once authors grasp scene structure, the whole approach to storytelling becomes clearer and more refined and easier to navigate.

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To get a scene right, it takes a balance in narrative, character interspection, action, and dialogue.

Want to write the best novel ever? Wouldn’t you love to write a book that a reader couldn’t put down?

Part of the skill needed for this to happen is to have a compelling story, but another part of it involves balancing these three elements of fiction: dialogue, narrative, POV character introspection, and action.   

This is an intuitive process, and you probably didn’t think about how you wove these elements when you were writing that first draft, however, now that you’ve nailed your plot, your characters, and your scenes, you’re ready to zero in on these three elements as well. To do this, move inside your characters. Now, during the revision process, when reading back through the story, you can better identify with dialogue, narrative or action that overtakes the scene.

The perfectly balanced scene has a perfect pitch, like a well-balanced stringed quartet and you are the musical director.

Balance Novel Elements like a Stringed Quartet

Dialogue is like a first chair violinist who carries the melody of a musical piece. The dialogue should always be the main emphasis in a scene, however, dialogue should never be the only focus of a scene. Just as the second chair violinist, the celloist, and bass player adds depth to a scene, so also can narrative, introspection, and action.

Just as a musical score sometimes has one of the instruments do a solo portion, if you want to highlight a particular character trait in your viewpoint character or focus on something specific that the characters are talking about, you don’t want the scene cluttered, the reader distracted, or the pace slowed by action or narrative. When someone is telling you a story, the setting, the other people around you, everything just kind of fades away, and you’re intent only on what the other person is saying. You cut away action and narrative and leave only your characters’ spoken words.

If an author weaves action and narrative throughout the dialogue, slows the pace of the novel down, however, if you keep the dialogue primary to fast-paced scene of dialogue. If a scene is just dialogue, we get the full impact how life expresses itself in his life. When you isolate a character’s dialogue, if the reader is paying attention, he’ll become privy to the character’s personality and motives in a way that’s not possible in the woven scene just because there’s too much going on.

Scene Pacing

Pacing is probably the most common fiction element to address when considering how to weave dialogue, narrative and action. If you’re creating a fast-paced conflict scene between two or more people, you might do well to consider only dialogue, at least for parts of it. In this case, use action to create movement, and use narrative and introspection only when catching your breath.

The passage would be very effective without a bunch of narrative bogging down the moment. The dialogue should demonstrate a character’s feelings toward another person. Dialogue can take the protagonist pages to tell us something in narrative, whereas a scene of dialogue can quickly show us through that character’s own words said out loud. Narrative explains, and dialogue blurts out.

Similar reasoning applies when writing scenes with only narrative, character introspection, or only action. You want to focus on something in your character’s mind or describe something that would only sound contrived in dialogue, so you use straight narrative.

If the action needs to drive the scene forward because it’s intense and emotional, your characters just wouldn’t be talking during this time.

Sometimes, as in real life, there’s just nothing to say at the moment. Always, let your characters lead the story along.

Adjusting Pace

Blending dialogue, action and narrative requires finding your story’s rhythm. As you write our scenes, to help you determine what you need to do in your rewrites, consider answering these questions about your story.

Ask yourself:

Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)

Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)

Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative to break it up.)

Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds (use narrative).

Do I need to get out of my character’s head because a conversation would be more effective? (Use dialogue.)

Does this scene have too much dialogue? Narrative? Action? (Insert more of the deficient elements.)

Do my characters provide too many artificially created background details as they talk? (Use narrative.)

Revealing Character Motive

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements reveal character motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives. Understanding a character’s motive is to understand the character.

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Over the past several weeks, we have discussed how to move the story along through transitional means of scenes and chapters. This week, we’re going start looking at what goes into each scene. We’ll assess each scene and build them to appear realistic and draw the reader into story.

Imagine the story is part of a scene of a play. You have well developed characters in the wings ready to act out the story lines that you have ready for them. However, the stage is still bare, and the props have not yet been gathered. The characters also do not have their scripts. By the end of this month, your characters will have all of these.

This week our focus will be on the setting so get out your paint brushes and get ready to develop your story’s backdrop.

Setting

Setting is the place of story and answers the questions where and when. Writers and readers expect a story to take place somewhere and at some time.  Setting includes locations (indoors and outdoors), cities or countries or planets, era or age, time of day, and cultural milieu.

Since you have written the first draft and have developed your book this far, you have, at least, a general idea of the details of your setting. Setting is a necessity, but it doesn’t affect readers the way plot and character do, and readers aren’t drawn into the novel because of the story’s setting. However, setting does effect mood and event possibilities and character temperament. Change the novel’s setting and you create a new story.

Setting influences character type, word choice, pace, tone, even genre. Setting enhances story by enfolding plot and character in a place where they fit, where their strengths can best be highlighted. Setting helps characters and events shine, it gives them a backdrop that allows them to show what best fits the story and hide what doesn’t belong.

Writers can use setting to bolster their weak areas—bring depth to a plot-first story by introducing a setting that heightens the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Setting can be used as a jumping off place for a dramatic action scene.

Scenes

Scenes in plays are similar to scenes in novels. If you write a short section in which something significant happens in a single setting, then it is a scene. The scene directly affects what happens later. “What happens later” is the sequel. Here is a good article on how to write perfect scenes.

Action launches tend to energize the reader’s physical senses. To create an action launch:

1. GET STRAIGHT TO THE ACTION. Don’t drag your feet here. “Jimmy jumped off the cliff” rather than “Jimmy stared at the water, imagining how cold it would feel when he jumped.”

2. HOOK THE READER WITH BIG OR SURPRISING ACTIONS. An outburst, car crash, violent heart attack or public fight at the launch of a scene allows for more possibilities within it.

3. BE SURE THAT THE ACTION IS TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. Don’t have a shy character choose to become suddenly uninhibited at the launch of a scene. Do have a bossy character belittle another character in a way that creates conflict.

4. ACT FIRST, THINK LATER. If a character is going to think in your action opening, let the action come first, as in, “Elizabeth slapped the Prince. When his face turned pink, horror filled her. What have I done? she thought.”

5. SAVE TIME BY BEGINNING WITH SUMMARY. Sometimes actions will simply take up more time and space in the scene than you would like. A scene beginning needs to move fairly quickly and, on occasion, summary will get the reader there faster.

6. COMMUNICATE NECESSARY INFORMATION TO THE READER BEFORE THE ACTION KICKS IN. Sometimes information needs to be imparted simply in order to set action in motion later in the scene. Opening sentences such as, “My mother was dead before I arrived,” “The war had begun” and, “The storm left half of the city underwater,” could easily lead to action.

7. REVEAL A CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS OR INTENTIONS THAT CANNOT BE SHOWN THROUGH ACTION. Coma victims, elderly characters, small children and other characters sometimes cannot speak or act for physical, mental or emotional reasons; therefore the scene may need to launch with narration to let the reader know what they think and feel.

8. ENGAGE WITH SPECIFIC VISUAL DETAILS. If your character is deserted on an island, the reader needs to know the lay of the land. Any fruit trees in sight? What color sand? Are there rocks, shelter or wild, roaming beasts?

9. USE SCENERY TO SET THE TONE OF THE SCENE. Say your scene opens in a jungle where your character is going to face danger; you can describe the scenery in language that conveys darkness, fear and mystery.

10. REFLECT A CHARACTER’S FEELINGS THROUGH SETTING. Say you have a sad character walking through a residential neighborhood. The descriptions of the homes can reflect that sadness—houses can be in disrepair, with rotting wood and untended yards. You can use weather in the same way. A bright, powerfully sunny day can reflect a mood of great cheer in a character.

Scene launches happen so quickly and are so soon forgotten that it’s easy to rush through them, figuring it doesn’t really matter how you get it started. Don’t fall prey to that thinking. Take your time with each scene launch. Craft it as carefully and strategically as you would any other aspect of your scene. Remember that a scene launch is an invitation to the reader, beckoning him to come further along with you. Make your invitation as alluring as possible.

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If there is one area where I am apt to be a member of the grammar police, it would be in the area of homophones. I hate it when a writer uses there when they really should be using they’re or their.

One homophone that we recently disagreed about at work was pore and pour. Most of us thought that “we poured over material” as we studied. However, one person argued that we should have used the word “pored”. We looked it up on google and I found four sources that said the word was pored, not poured. We pour milk over our cereal, but this word has nothing to do with studying. Here are numerous homophones to check and determined that you have used the correct word.

The Most Common Problematic Homophones

Too, two, to;

there, their, they’re; 

where, wear, ware,

its it’s;

accept, except  

principle/principal

write/right

current/currant

allowed/aloud

desert/dessert

bear/bare

cite/site/sight

forward/foreword

groan/grown

here/hear

idle/idol

no, know

joule/jewel

lie/lye

morning/mourning

neigh/nay

owed/ode

quartz/quarts

reign/rein/rain

seen/scene

vial/vile

week/weak

yolk/yoke

If you have any question about the proper usage of these words, be sure to google them to discover how each word would be used in a sentence.

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If you’re any kind of writer, you probably noticed that I failed to capitalize the key words in the title of this post. I actually did this on purpose. The titles of books, songs, newspapers, and works of art should all be capitalized. In fact, titles, no matter what the content, should always have their keywords capitalized.  In additional to capitalizing titles of content, what other ways should you capitalize?  

The First Word of a Sentence

This should be a no brainer, but you should always capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence, no matter what the word is. Take, for example, the following sentences: “The weather was beautiful. It was sunny all day.” Even though the and it aren’t proper nouns, they’re capitalized here because they’re the first words in their sentences.

The I Pronoun

Whereas “you” and “me” are usually lowercase, the pronoun I should always be capitalized, regardless of where it appears in a sentence.

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the special noun or name used for a specific person, place, company, or other thing. Proper nouns should always be capitalized.

People’s names are proper nouns, and therefore should be capitalized. The first letter of someone’s first, middle, and last name is always capitalized, as in John William Smith.

Other proper nouns include countries, cities, and sometimes regions.

Landmarks and monuments also start their proper names with capital letters.

The names of companies and organizations should also be capitalized, such as Nike and Stanford University. There are some exceptions: Sometimes a company may choose not to use a capital letter at the beginning of its name or product as a stylistic choice. Examples include eBay and the iPhone.

You should not however capitalize words that indicate a specific place, but it is not the official title. For instance, if you’re referring to a specific department, like “the department” “the company” “the chamber”.

Titles

Titles, like Mr., Mrs., and Dr., should be capitalized. When addressing someone with their professional title, you should use a capital letter at the beginning. Similarly, you should capitalize job titles when they come before a person’s name, as in “General Manager Sheila Davis will be at the meeting.” Also use a capital letter when you’re directly addressing a person by their title.

Words that indicate family relationships should also be capitalized when used as titles in front of a person’s name. However, if you’re just talking about relationships with no names involved, the titles shouldn’t be capitalized. For example, you’d capitalize “Uncle Marvin and Grandpa James will be at the picnic,” but you wouldn’t capitalize them in a sentence like “My aunt and my sister will be at the picnic.” You should capitalize the names of family titles when they’re used in place of proper names.

However, when you are referring to words other than the family and are not talking directly to the person, don’t capitalize like when you are talking to “the boss” or “the president”.  

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG

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