Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

Today, I just wanted to bring to you what I think is a really, really good idea. It was something that came to me as I was thinking on the things that constitute a good, precise, well-written, tight sentence. This is something I believe every writer, like, you know, a writer who writes anything needs to know about.

By this time, I believe the point has been drilled home. Writing tight sentences requires two skills: 1) the ability to cut words that aren't needed; and 2) an ability to construct precise sentences by using the "smartest" words possible.

Let's look at the problems in our first paragraph that will leave a reader shaking his head:

Weasel Words:

Every writer has them. Sometimes these words are ones we often use in speech, and they do not translate well into written prose.

A few weasel words authors should add to an editing checklist are: very, really, that, thing/things, I mean, and like. This list is not comprehensive. Individually, weasel words are those the author tends to pepper through a manuscript. Sometimes,they aren't needed. Other times, they're obscure words that come to a writer's mind, and they are used too often while the author is working on a segment of their manuscript. The bottom line is writers need to edit for weaseling (and yes, weaseling has made the dictionary as a verb, which means to use weasel words.)

A caution on weasel words: On occasion, a word will be deemed a weasel word, and the reaction is to cut each instance of it from a writer's manuscript. Once in a while, that is needed in a sentence or a character's vernacular is such that weasel words are an important part of their dialogue. Examine each circumstance carefully.

Vague Construction of Sentences:

A clue that an author is writing vaguely (and some might say lazily) is the over use of certain words or phrases such as: it was and there was, and thing or things. For example: It was very hot and things were melting quickly.

An author could say that in context a reader can assume the author is talking about the weather and generally things melt when it's hot. However, a better example would be: The burner was hot, and the solid mass of ice melted quickly.

The weather might be hot, and things outside may have melted, but that wasn't the author's intent. Even with the sentence in context, authors should practice precise writing and never assume the reader will follow the author's train of thought.

A Ton of Descriptive, Flowery, Majestic Adjectives:

Adjectives are descriptive. They take an otherwise bland sentence and give it flavor. However, their overuse (such as in the subtitle) will tire the reader. Here's another example: The haunted, ghostly tour included the old rickety, dilapidated cabin looming before us in the dense, mossy, green forest.

Whew! I'm exhausted writing the sentence, which would be better written: The ghost tour included the dilapidated cabin looming before us in the dense forest.

Note: I chose the verb looming in order to allow the word dense to stand as an appropriate adjective that sets a scary picture. Writing tight sentences does mean choosing the best words.

Writer and educator Brander Matthews once said, "To be clear is the first duty of a writer; to charm and to please are graces to be acquired later." Acquiring those graces requires an author look carefully for overused words in his or her manuscript.

Happy editing.

Found in the Woods

When my editor, Jamie West, and I were working on the manuscript she reminded me of a wonderful passage in Job 12:7-10. Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
I think of these verses often when I am outdoors or when I talk to others about the wolf I named Lakota in Found in the Woods.

Rather than a fun read like the other Frivolities books, Found in the Woods is edgy with elements of suspense

Beth Phillips returns to Platteville, Nebraska in order to begin a new life and to hide from her abusive ex-husband. The secluded cabin offers a chance to stay hidden and to draw closer to God, but Beth quickly discovers she is not alone in the woods. She befriends a curious, displaced wolf, but instead of fearing the animal Beth finds comfort in his company.

When field biologist, Aiden Holt, follows up on reported wolf sightings, he finds the animal and Beth Phillips. With emotional baggage of his own, Aiden usually prefers animals to people, but Beth's passion to keep the wolf draws Aiden in. Experience tells him the wolf needs relocation. His heart tells him he needs Beth Phillips. He camps nearby to capture the wolf, but can he capture Beth's heart, too? 

Two souls, each lost in their own way, are brought together by one of God's beautiful creations. Will the Lord's path to their destiny be found in the woods?


Beth’s insides had been fluttery and nervous ever since her fingers grazed Aiden’s back. Had he felt it, too? That zing was still there. She’d folded her hands between her knees, trying to get rid of the tingle, but the connection remained.

It didn’t help that she had imagined being held by him.

Even though the Lord fulfilled her deepest longings, she still yearned for a human touch, the assurance she could be wanted for the right reasons.

She jumped up from her chair, as antsy as Aiden for something to do. She’d been tempted by too many men. Didn’t want to go there. He was a decent enough guy, but too much was as stake for her to be so attracted.
Attraction. Could that be the reason he was restless?

“Would you mind bringing in a couple logs?” She didn’t give him the chance to answer. She yanked his coat off the chair and turned, arms outstretched. Aiden was so close in the small room, leaning forward and invading her space, that her knuckles hit him in the sternum. Awareness of his body heat, his nearness, awakened her nerve endings.

He bent nearer still. She smelled the chocolate on his breath. He pulled her towards him until only her hands fisted in the folds of his coat separated them.

In slow motion, he lowered his head. Only his strong arm supporting her back kept her from falling. She raised her face degree by degree, trying to concentrate on his sparkling, multi-colored brown eyes. But then she saw only his lips as he drew closer. His smell came close to intoxicating her. She was a goner. Aiden tasted as good as he smelled, earthy. Like fresh new leaves, wood, straight-from-the-trees outdoors, and a little smoky from her own fire.

Meeting his lips was as familiar as a recurring dream, yet as frightening as a nightmare.

His arms pulled her to him. The coat sighed to the floor.

She felt her hands encircle his neck as though they had a mind of their own. In Aiden’s arms, Beth felt as fragile as a sapling fighting for survival during the spring storm.

He pulled back. Had he felt what she did at their explosive connection?

She kept her eyes closed, and concentrated on savoring the moment as she felt his warm breath on her face.

The reality of being in Aiden’s arms was an exaggeration of any white-knight fantasy. His arms again obliterated the outside world.

Her whole body jolted at the intensity of their next kiss. The pressure of his lips deepened and swept her away. Sanity eventually returned. Beth turned her head and pushed on his shoulders. Did he react the way she had, with spots and flashes behind her eyelids? Would she reveal too much of those fireworks when she opened her eyes? She didn’t want him to view her as vulnerable.

“I’ve tried to imagine how you would taste.” He reached for her hands and lowered them in his. “You are the real deal, Ms. Beth Phillips.”

No. I’m all mixed up.

Lord, why would you bring someone like Aiden into my life when I’ve had such a weakness for men in the past?

That old looking-for-love-in-all-the-wrong-places phrase hit her full force. Now that she was a Christian, she had no business becoming interested in a man who, by all indications, didn’t share her faith. She took two giant steps backward, until she felt a camp chair against her leg.

But space between them meant nothing. Aiden had slid under her defenses and rattled her solitary foundation.

“I’ll help keep your wolf safe,” he rasped as he bent to retrieve his coat. “Keep your Lakota safe.”

His pronouncement rocked her to the marrow.

As his promise to help the wolf sank in, her mouth remained open. Before she could formulate a response, he shut the door behind him.


Thursday's Tips: Key Elements of Point of View

Point of view (POV) is a challenging element in fiction writing. The fact that trends change both complicates this and urges writers to continue to study the craft of writing, while staying current on what’s being published. 

Following are some essentials of POV that may help you in your writing: 

~ Decide how many point-of-view characters (POVCs) you are going to have in your book. Romances usually require only the hero's and the heroine’s POVs. This way we can experience them falling in love from both perspectives. If you’re writing a romantic suspense, you might also include the villain. Women’s fiction novels might only include the heroine’s POV, and you might choose first person (I/me language), rather than third person (he/she language). Some novels have an ensemble cast, if you will, of multiple characters’ POVs. If you choose to do that, be sure to keep every voice specific so that readers don’t get lost. I will say that as a reader (not necessarily as an editor) I’ve seen this done well and I’ve seen it done poorly, meaning I was lost. As you’re deciding how many POVCs to include in your book, be strategic. Think about it ahead of time. Please do not include extraneous characters who don’t have high stakes in the story. 

~ Choose a POV character for each scene. Preferably the person with the most to lose in that particular scene, because then you can milk the conflict and tension (and yes, they are often two different things). Once you’ve chosen a POVC (point-of-view character) for a given scene, remain in that person’s head the entire scene. No headhopping over to another person’s perspective.

~ Only show us what that person can see or know. Think of POV like this: your POVC is the camera for the movie you’re playing—a camera with feelings and introspection and senses. So, during their scene, show us what they feel, what they know, what they can guess, and/or what they experience with their senses. It’s natural for people to make assumptions about why others do what they do, but it must be obvious that your character is assuming. For example, if Fred is the POVC for a given scene, he can’t know why Sidney slammed the door. Fred can guess it had to do with their argument. But you mustn’t write, “Sidney slammed the door in anger.” Better would be to use: “Sidney slammed the door.” Readers will understand what’s happening. Another key under this point is to not leave readers in the dark about elements the POVC would know, whether it’s the environment around him/her, or the character’s names around him/her, or specific secrets. Stringing readers along on secrets (though it is possible if skillfully done) will not endear readers to you. Yes, keep secrets, but do it skillfully. Make it believable why the POVC isn’t sharing the information. Only keep one secret (and be strategic about it), not a slew of them. If we’re in her/his head, we should know what s/he knows.

~ Put yourself in your POVC’s head. This is the best way to remain in purist POV. Limit yourself to just that person’s experience, even though, you as the author, know everything (generally speaking) about the story, the other characters, what’s coming next, etc. 

~ Do not use omniscient POV. As I alluded to, you’re the author. You know what the characters may not know. You are overseeing their world and putting them into place, creating your story, and moving them around for your purposes. But, readers will engage better with a story if they are allowed to remain in one person’s POV during a scene. That’s why purist POV is so important. This technique allows readers to really engage, to deeply sympathize with characters, and to keep track of what’s happening better. Omniscient POV (sometimes doubles as author intrusion) is when the author brings in a sort of wide angle on the scene before zeroing in on the POVC for that scene, like an old-fashioned narrator. But, as I alluded to with trends earlier, this is no longer what readers are expecting. The narrator for any given scene is that scene’s point-of-view character. If that character doesn’t know something, it doesn’t get shared. This is limiting, yes, but key in current publishing trends. 

~ Author intrusion defined: when the author includes something that is perhaps pertinent to the setting, but isn’t coming through the POVC’s perspective. So, you as the author know how high Pike’s Peak is, but the character is new to the area and wouldn’t know it. Don’t include it in narration/introspection. There are ways around this, but be wary of including what might read as brochure copy. Again, be strategic. Does the height of Pike’s Peak matter to the story? If not, don’t share it, even though you know it. Again, it’s a kind of purposeful limitation, but it’s necessary for the sake of the story and your readers. 

~ Do not use what I call “collective POV,” or “group think.” The narration should never switch to what a group of characters thinks at any given moment. Be specific and strategic with your POVC and remain completely in his/her head.

There are exceptions to these rules. Some genres will permit more point-of-view infractions than others. And there are a lot more factors where point of view is concerned than what I’ve listed above. I encourage you to read current novels in your genre as well as non-fiction books on point of view.

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still. Corrie Ten Boom uttered those words. They are words that have been a great inspiration in times of trouble. Sometimes writers may get stuck or blocked or feel that they're in a pit so deep they can't get out. God's love is deeper still.

Ask why do you write? Is it necessary? If so, that's how the Apostle Paul felt in Philippians 3:1 To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not wearisome, but to you it is necessary. 

So if your struggling today remember Proverbs 3:3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thine heart.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

The editing process does not stop when an author is satisfied with his manuscript. When preparing to submit a piece for consideration by a publisher, great care should be taken to ensure that the submission guidelines are followed very closely.

Some items to check include the following:

Word Count: Each publisher has a very good reason for its maximum word count. No matter how well written a novel, submitting a 100,000 word story to a publisher whose maximum word count is 80,000 means one of two things: 1) the author cannot follow instructions; or 2) the author does not care for the rules. Either way, the author does not make a good impression.

What Genre Does the Publisher Print? Pelican Book Group has three imprints, White Rose Publishing, Harbourlight Books, and Watershed Books. Each imprint has specifics about the genres represented by those imprints. An author should not only check the submission guidelines carefully. He should also have an idea of the style the publisher seeks. This requires reading the books printed by that publisher.

Are There Situations the Publisher Will Not Allow in Its Novels: Each publisher has an idea of what will offend its readers. Some of these issues vary from publisher to publisher, so it is always a prudent idea for an author to look carefully at the "Thou shalt nots" in the publishing guidelines before submitting.

The Nitty Gritty: Careful attention to grammar and punctuation is often overlooked in a query letter or a proposal when these items are generally the editor's first impression of the author.

Recently, a New York Times bestselling author told me that she does not worry about punctuation and grammar. She leaves those up to her editor. An author with a proven record of millions of copies sold might be able to get away with this, but no matter how well known, how successful a writer, a knowledge of punctuation and grammar exhibited in a submission is often a factor in acceptance. A well-polished manuscript's correct punctuation and grammar are sometimes overlooked because with those errors out of the way, the story will get the most attention. Rest assured, though, that a manuscript filled with grammatical errors and incorrect punctuation, will always garner the editor's attention. And as an aside, I'm currently reading a book by the bestselling author mentioned above, and the lack of attention to grammar and punctuation shows the editor's lack of attention to detail, and this reflects poorly upon the author.

When preparing your manuscript for submission, don't forget to self-edit the proposal down to the smallest detail.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term.  It means writing what the publisher wants.  Can you do it?  In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements.  The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view.    

A rocking chair
A playful puppy
A pair of black patent leather high heels

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

Once upon a time in a kingdom faraway, King Colon met Queen Comma and they wed. A child was born to this couple--a hybrid child, Princess Semicolon. Everyone hated this baby that was neither like Queen Comma nor King Colon. The lords and ladies of Grammarland wanted to hide her away.

“I have a purpose.” Princess Semicolon said. “When the Coordinating Conjunctions, the FANBOYs, aren’t present, I can take Mother's place and join two independent clauses. When Queen Comma is overused, I can provide clarity.” 

King Colon was pleased to see that the Knights of the Conjunctive Adverb wished to stand by his special daughter; and to this very day, Sir However, Sir Therefore, Sir Nevertheless, Sir Moreover, Sir Furthermore, and Sir Subsequently stand behind their honored Princess Semicolon.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all punctuation is created equal.

Thursday's Tips: Description Without Author Intrusion

You can learn a lot by reading a brochure. How deep is the Grand Canyon? How high is Mount Hood? Tourists appreciate being wowed by those facts, don’t they? Same is true of visiting a museum and reading the plaques as you go. 

But fiction readers not only don’t need all those facts, they frankly don’t want to see them in their fiction.

Reader expectations

When a fiction reader picks up a book (or opens an e-book file on their e-reader), they’re looking for a good story. Something to make them think, laugh, or cry, something to help them escape. They’re not looking for the minutest details on the largest snake in Eastern Texas.


Adjectives used to be the greatest part of speech writers could use. When I was in school, we were taught to use them freely to spice up our description. But now, the trend is to “write tight.” Writers are encouraged to remove adjectives. To choose strong nouns and verbs to convey their story. So, description is especially challenging to pen. Another current trend as we “write tight” is to stick to the action and avoid lengthy descriptions. Trouble is, in order to ground readers in our storyworld, we need some description.

Some good tips for including description without intruding:

~ I find the most promising method of including description is to use one or two lines that connect with readers. Something readers will relate with and hopefully feel for themselves. So, rather than use “brochure copy” (too many details that read like dry facts), pick out an element or two that is relatable for readers and include those items. Mention something universal, like how the sun hits the ancient building, or the water sparkles in shades of periwinkle and turquoise. Take your reader there without telling them the old cathedral was built in 1721 as the residence of some reigning monarch whose first-born daughter wore purple on every third new moon. See the difference?

~ Ask yourself: is this important to the story? Does it help ground my reader? Will this fact matter later in the story? Here’s a soul-searching question: am I including this to show how much I know about a certain topic? If so, that’s called author intrusion and makes for rather bland reading. Plus, I believe readers can discern the author’s ego coming through and that can turn readers off.

~ The details you do choose to share must be details your main character (MC) would know, if they’re presented via introspection. Otherwise, you’re crossing into author intrusion again.

~ Use dialogue to communicate the imperative information your MC would not know. This helps deal with info that must be included, but sounds very fact-based (and thus dry), because somehow dialogue smoothes away the “brochure” element. Mostly. Use this method with caution. Always ask yourself if the information is pertinent to the story itself (see tip above).

~ Sprinkle the facts in. Don’t dump them all at once. That’s known as an “info dump” and will likely result in a rewrite once your critique partner or editor sees it. 

What are some other ways you’ve included description without slipping into author intrusion?

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term.  It means writing what the publisher wants.  Can you do it?  In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements.  The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view.    

A twenty-something young woman
A hayride 
A lost wallet