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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.

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


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. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


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. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


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


Now, while you’re still viewing your novel for content, read your novel through one more time and look at it through the eyes of your ideal reader.

Your Ideal Reader

Everything you do regarding your content writing from now on should be related to how your ideal reader will view what you have written. I know that I have skimmed over the concept of writing for your ideal reader to this point, but if you haven’t done it already, you’ll need to get a better idea of who your ideal reader is.

How do you know who your ideal reader is? What is that person’s demographics? You want to know as much about your ideal reader as possible. I believe that it is a good idea to create a character that resembles that ideal reader. Begin with the novel’s genre. Who reads this genre?

For instance, if your book is heavy on the romance, your audience is probably mostly female. If your genre is historical, a huge percentage of your audience is probably older readers who are into learning more about their own roots. If your novel is science fiction, you’re probably dealing with a geeky group of individuals. If you’re dealing with the apocalypse, you’re looking at an audience who might be into conspiracy theories.

Does your ideal reader live in an urban area, the suburbs, or in a rural setting?

The more detailed your ideal reader character becomes, the better you’ll be able to focus on writing for that reader. It is a mistake to think that you’re writing for everyone, because that means that you are writing for no one.

Editing Conversation for Your Ideal Reader

Take another fresh look at your dialogue. Look especially at how your characters’ conversations flow. Are you using dialect? If so, try to look at your writing from your ideal reader’s viewpoint. Do the conversations make your readers stop to decipher your writing? If so, it says more about you than it does about the character, so this needs editing.  

Editing Description for Your Ideal Reader

How do you know when your descriptions are too heavy? One of the easiest ways to know that it is time to cut down a descriptive passage is to look at your passage from the eyes of your ideal reader. Would you as your ideal reader read this passage or would you skip over it? If you would skip over it, then delete it. However, if some of that description is necessary for your story line, cut out what isn’t necessary and keep the necessary part. You don’t want your reader to have to go back and read a boring passage of description just to find that missing necessary piece buried in a descriptive abyss. 

Another issue that may come up that you need to address would be if your ideal reader understands your specific references. For instance, you might have to explain what something is. This is especially common for me when writing history. For instance, in Soldiers Don’t Cry, in the scene where we meet the seventeen-year-old Elizabeth, she is working in the kitchen using a peel. I casually defined what a peel was in the conversation that a peel was the flat, long-handled tool she slipped under the loaf of bread that she was removing from the oven. In Sailing Under the Black Flag, I defined nautical terms giving the reader some insight into the sailing experience.

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


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.

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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