When self-editing, pacing must be examined two-fold. One is the overall flow of the story. Do events occur logically throughout the novel so that the reader can comprehend the story and establish a relationship with the novel's characters.
The areas to examine when looking at the overal pace of the novel are:
The number of characters sharing center stage. Do they all have a purpose? Can the reader distinguish each one clearly, has the stage been set for the point-of-view character to dominate the scene? If so, what information is necessary for the scene, and what information would be better left for later in the story?
Is the story moving logically forward? Are the scenes like building blocks, leading the reader from one connected event to another? If not, what stands in the reader's way? Is back story bringing your scene to a screeching halt, taking the reader back in time while the author dumps paragraphs of information into the scene? Is unnecessary dialogue taking away from the importance of the scene?
Another type of back story that hurts pacing is recent back story. This occurs when the scene opens with the character explaining what just happened. It is better to show what just happened--that is, if it is important to the story at all.
Along with the overall pacing of a novel, the writer should review each scene for proper pacing. For instance, if our hero, Trevor, is in the ocean and sharks are swimming at him from every direction, this isn't the time to think of Mary Lou back home cooking his favorite meal and pondering how life would be different if he hadn't gone out into the middle of the Atlantic with Crazy Uncle Joe and his antiquated sailboat. No. To the contrary. The pace would be rapid fire. Trevor would be planning and making good his escape. And there would be no fifteen word sentences used. The faster the action, the shorter the sentences.
Likewise, if our hero is in the hospital recuperating from his ordeal with the sharks, Mary Lou may be by his side. This isn't the time for rapid-fire movement or a series of short sentences. Mary Lou would move at a slower pace, remembering times with Trevor and how he often sacrificed to make her quirky family feel loved. Well, no more of that. She needs Trevor alive, and that will mean keeping him away from Crazy Uncle Joe.
Different scenes call for different pacing, but all manuscripts need to be examined to assure that the overall pace of the story keeps the reader interested and following along.
Until next week,
A broken down car
A mystery woman
Last time we talked about story question and how that informs your ending. There are other things that need consideration where the ending of your story is concerned.
For starters (sorry, we’re talking about the ending here), what about threads? Please tie up at least a few of those threads. This helps satisfy readers. Don’t worry about tidying up everything. Readers know life goes on and questions are a part of life. But answer the biggies. Here's a good rule of thumb: if you make a big deal out of something in the story, show us how it turns out. I once read a book (unrelated to Pelican Book Group) where the heroine was really, really afraid of something she'd have to face. Then, she faced it and we never heard how it went. Please don't do that to your readers. If it's important enough to build tension around, show us the resolution.
Secondly, time things carefully. You don’t want the climax of the story to be too far from the ending. If it is, the ending will drag. If, in a romance, you have the H/h (hero and heroine) get together, but then you drag out a bunch of other threads, you’ll have an anticlimactic story ending. I’ve read published books like this. Rather dull to finish. I might be curious about those final threads, but if you’ve left five to tidy up, I lose interest rather quickly. I end the story feeling annoyed rather than jubilant from that great high point of your story. Instead, consider tying some of them up before the hero and heroine get together.
So, the key for knowing your ending is knowing your:
• Genre—this informs the story question as well as the climax of the story. Decide which genre you’re in and be faithful to it.
• Threads—verify which ones are key to tie up, and timing is everything. Prioritize and time their resolution well.
• Story Question—when you’ve answered it, your story is over. You can imply an HEA (happily-ever-after ending) in a romance by ending the story without a wedding. Now, some houses require a wedding, but here at White Rose, we just want an HEA ending. You don’t have to continue the story to give us a wedding. We don’t even require an engagement. Readers just want to know these two are going to be together.
• Character arc—this is key for reader satisfaction as well. Show us how the character is different at the end than s/he was at the beginning. This arc is key in romance as well as women’s fiction novels. If you’re writing a novella or novelette, don’t worry about having your character make a sweeping change. But some change is necessary, some growth.
A couple nights ago, my husband and I watched a movie. The story question was: would the rebellious teenager get his act together? When that question was answered, the story ended. He'd been changed, and the change had been tested. He was a different person. Once the audience was assured of this, the story was over.
What about your story? Have you answered the story question? Does your protag pass the test to show his/her change? How's that ending coming?
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified."—Isaiah 61:3.
There really isn’t anything beautiful about ashes. Anyone who has ever cleaned an oven, grill, campfire site...or forgotten to open the fireplace flue...can attest to the fact that ashes make a big mess. They tend to stick around. We’ve seen the ash that rains on towns from volcanoes and the smudged faces of firemen after fighting a blaze. The tiny little particles are so fine it is a nearly impossible task to get rid of all the ash—all the grime and dirt. In Isaiah 61:3 ashes are equated with mourning and the spirit of heaviness. It is a very profound comparison, mourning has some many facets and pieces it’s hard to let it go, and depression can cover a person’s heart and inner being just like the ashes after a house fire so that only tiny and unrecognizable remnants of what once stood remain.
God will wipe all that away. He’s offered beauty for ashes, the oil of joy, and garment of praise. Very appropriately in this verse is the combination of ashes and oil—together they make soap.
On this Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, may you exchange your ashes for beauty.
A swan on a pond
A secret wish
A set of china
Pertinent facts such as unusual spelling for names, eye color, hair color, distinguishing marks, likes, dislikes, even specific speech patterns can be noted in a check list under information regarding each character.
When writing a character with a different dialect, certain phrases may be used by an author. A style sheet makes it simple for a writer to note specific wording or spelling which will be utilized throughout the novel.
Whether the setting of a novel is fictional or real, a style sheet is a great place to note particulars concerning geographic oddities or the description of a town. Detail can also be given to specific rooms, especially if the setting is important to the plot or if the setting is a plot device in itself.
On occasion, story timelines can become bothersome. A style sheet noting important dates and time frames puts the information at a writer's fingertips.
Back story information:
Not all back story ends up in a novel, but on occasion, it is important to have it written down in a style sheet in the event the information becomes necessary for the author to include.
A style sheet is a perfect place for an author to place research. Whether the notes are set a part on a separate area of the spreadsheet or placed under other topics such as geographic information, etc., they become readly accessible.
The uses for a style sheet are as varied as the authors who use them. If you'd like to share what you include in your style sheet, we'd love to hear from you.
Until next week,
During the week of Valentine's Day, thoughts often turn to love. ♥
This week my pastor's message made me ponder how we express love on Valentine's Day and throughout the year. Often we receive or give flowers as an expression of love, but flowers die, roses fade...so really that's not the best representation of love--something dead and dying, wilted and withered, dried and fading. So what is the perfect love, the one that we should emulate--write about? The love God showed toward us.
- O Love that wilt not let me go,I rest my weary soul in thee;I give thee back the life I owe,That in thine ocean depths its flowMay richer, fuller be.
- O light that foll’west all my way,I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;My heart restores its borrowed ray,That in thy sunshine’s blaze its dayMay brighter, fairer be.
- O Joy that seekest me through pain,I cannot close my heart to thee;I trace the rainbow through the rain,And feel the promise is not vain,That morn shall tearless be.
- O Cross that liftest up my head,I dare not ask to fly from thee;I lay in dust life’s glory dead,And from the ground there blossoms redLife that shall endless be.George Mattheson
A new identity
An old girlfriend
Survivor Lanae Petersen finds a moving love letter in an antique and seeks to discover the writer. Sage Diamond is holding on to the memory of his deceased wife. The last thing he needs is a tenacious woman who threatens to uncover his family secret.
While I was writing Moselle’s Insurance (the first novel in the Frivolities series), I determined that Moselle’s mother Geneva (Rainn on My Parade), and her aunt Lanae, deserved their own happily-ever-after. That idea was reinforced by writer friends who loved all three characters. The series is centered around Frivolities, a kooky shop in fictitious Platteville, Nebraska, created by Geneva and Lanae.
Blurb: Diagnosed with a chronic, debilitating illness, Lanae Petersen vows to pursue life to its fullest. When she discovers mysterious love letters hidden within an antique desk, she begins a quest to discover who the young lovers were. Little does she realize that in trying to bring closure to their lives, hers will be turned upside-down.
After the death of his wife, cowboy Sage Diamond wants to be left alone on his acreage in peace and anonymity. When Lanae approaches him with letters to a family member, she not only threatens to expose his family secrets, but also stirs something inside him that he neither expects, nor welcomes. Sage fights his attraction, determined not to fall for a woman whose health is so fragile. Can Sage trust God's guiding hand, or will his fear of losing another love crush his chance for a future with Lanae?
Excerpt: The sky was clear and enormous where it met the horizon. The whinny of horses carried up from a pasture on the other side of the barn. The acreage represented everything she loved about being outside the city limits. Expanse, horses, a sprinkling of trees in the distance…God’s country.
When she caught sight of the cowboy, the vision was complete.
She sighed. Home. How crazy. She felt like she’d come home.
The cowboy rounded the corner of the wood-sided barn that she guessed to be sixty feet long. He loped in the loose way of a man comfortable on the back of a horse.
And she enjoyed every step as he approached.
He even tipped the brim of his hat. “Mornin’. You Lanae?”
Wow was the only thing she could think to say. But she kept it to herself.
Her mouth went dry.
His nose was bent, just off to the right of center. He had a full bottom lip, thinner upper, all accented by what she supposed was a year-round tan. Myriad facial lines gave testimony to a life lived outdoors.
She cleared her throat, mustered up some moisture for her vocal chords in order to answer, “That I am.”
When he drew close enough, Lanae was dumbfounded at the impact of his eyes. They were an unbelievable piercing blue with a hint of lavender.
“Did you have any trouble finding the place?” Sage spoke in an unhurried manner.
Lanae wondered if he felt rushed about anything. She started to open the door.
“You always leave your car running?” A hint of amusement tugged at his mouth.
Oops. She turned the key. Great first impression.
He held the door.
Still caught in the lavender blue of his eyes, shadowed now from his hat, Lanae swallowed what felt like the chaff of an August hayfield.
No more singles ads for me.
Frivolities #3, available 2-24-2012 at
- Know your genre.
- Know your story question and write it out to refer to as you go. It’ll keep you on track as you write and essentially advance your characters toward the answer.
- Make the story question obvious in the first scene so readers know the “goal” of the story.
- Know how your story ends.
- Once you’ve answered the story question, end the story. The story’s over.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters,that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
Often when we write there’s this flamboyant start, but as we continue, we start losing something, some sparkle. That’s the time stop look at what’s wrong, find that dead weight and prune. Nurture the roots keep them healthy--and stories will stay healthy. When times of drought come, for example when you work with a critique group. Even in the drought your story will then flourish and you'll reach that ultimate goal, yielding fruit.
The layout of a style sheet can be as varied as the authors who use them. They can be created in a processing program such as Word or on a spreadsheet. Some creative writers could find other formats, but the simplier the better.
One great use of a style sheet is to keep track of the many confusing bits of grammar, spelling, and punctuation writers come across. A list of easily confused words is a great tool when self-editing.
Today, let's take a look at some of those words a writer might wish to add to his personal style sheet.
Affect: With one exception (when used as a psychology term), affect is always a verb.
Effect: This word is a noun, which means result or a verb, which means to bring about.
Among: Use this word when referring to more than two people.
Between: Use this word when referring to two people.
Apart/A part: These two are easy to remember if you think of them as meaning the opposite of what they appear.
Apart: This means separation as in: They were pulled apart.
A part: This means a union as in: The were a part of the union.
A while: We use two words when it is a noun meaning a period of time.
Awhile: We use one word when using an adverb meaning for a period of time.
Actually, there is no useage for back seat.Backseat is the noun while back-seat is used as an adjective describing a noun: My mother is a back-seat driver.
Ensure: This means to assure or secure.
Insure: This means to guard, protect, safeguard, or to shield.
Farther: This word is used when meaning a measurable distance or space.
Further: This word is used when indicating greater in quantity, time, or degree.
Good night is spelled as two words except when used as an adjective describing a noun as in: The stuffed animal the girl clutched was her good-night bear.
It's: This is the contraction for it is.
Its: This is the possessive form of the word, as in: The door opened on its own.
Its': There is no such usage.
Sneak: Of course, this is the present tense form of the word.
Sneaked: This is the correct past tense.
Snuck: A socially accepted form of the word, but actually incorrect.
Feel free to share some additional words that might end up on your style sheet. Examples like these are truly something writers should collect and add to their style sheet for easy identification when self-editing. Until next week, Happy editing.
A child’s playhouse
On my way to church Sunday, I remembered an "incident." When my youngest son was about two and a half years old his daycare teacher told me he was not listening. As a consequence, he'd been in time out several times during the day. On the way home I questioned him about his behavior. “Why aren’t you listening?”
And he answered. “I’m listening, I’m just not obeying.”
While I had always thought of that as a humorous story, Sunday it took on a new meaning. I began to think how often I might listen to God—but not obey.
It brought to mind I Samuel 15:22 “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” I realized listening without obeying is like a sacrifice not offered. How often had I heard His voice but didn’t follow through. And how many Spritual “time outs” had I experienced because of my stubborn will?
I pray 2012 will be a time where I do what God wants and from this day forward I pray I’ll both listen and obey.