Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

For years, I worked in the legal field, so when I went to work as a pastor's secretary, and he asked me to draft a letter, you can imagine the letters would need a different "tone." On occasion, the pastor would return a letter and ask me to soften it. Why? Because a letter drafted from a law office would be much more businesslike than a letter from a person's pastor.

About right now, you’re asking what the above has to do with self-editing a manuscript. My answer: tone. Several factors can determine the tone of your work:

Genre: In a thriller, the tone has to be quick, decisive, always building conflict until the moment when the hero saves what he’s out to save. The tone matches the hero’s efforts. On the other hand, historical romances are going to be slower. The dialogue is often relaxed (though there could be deep subtext going on). Much more detail will be given to description. Characters in historical novels most likely lived in a simpler time. The tone of the novel should reflect that lifestyle.

Pacing: Very much a part of the tone is pacing, and it can be used to create conflict or to give the reader a release. In romantic suspense novels, the pace may at times be slow (but never too slow), especially as the author builds the conflict into the story. As the hero or heroine finds himself or herself fighting a known or unknown enemy or situation, the action will definitely pick up. In a mystery, the pacing is often slow. The author builds the case around the detective, introducing the mystery to be solved and dropping clues. Again, however, there will be scenes where the action should be quick and decisive, but with both these genres, great care should be given to draw out the suspense.

Character: Young adult novels are, of course, written primarily for teenagers and young adults. You will find the characters in this genre must connect with someone of that age. And surprisingly, the ones that connect the best with a younger generation will also resonate with the older reader. Character is important in young adult novels. Even issue-oriented fiction for this age range is stronger when the characters are witty—whether they know it or not—and true to that age group. Jump to the other end of the spectrum: women’s fiction has a specific audience—women between the ages of twenty and one-hundred. These are often serious, issue-oriented fiction. Again, witty characters are great for women’s fiction. Those characters provide levity to the plot, but the humor isn’t going to be the same. Have a thirty-something woman act like a teenager, and the author will lose her reader in the genre of women's fiction.

Tone is the balance of pacing and character within the genre of your choice. This is not to say that an historical romance cannot have humor or that a thriller can’t have romance. However, an author should be very careful that the tone of their story stay true to the genre.

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.   

An art museum
A corsage

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

I’m not a fan of the word edgy when it refers to Christian fiction.

Why does the term bother me?

Edgy is a subjective word. What is edgy for some writers is over the edge for some. I find that for some authors edgy means they should push the limit. Well, yes and no. How far can a writer push the limits before she falls off the ledge into what would, under no circumstances, be considered material in a Christian market?

That is a question I pondered as I worked on a workshop I taught last summer. Today, I thought I’d provide you with the two lists that explains what edgy fiction does and does not contain.

Let’s start with the negative first. What is it that a Christian should preclude from her manuscript, even if she is working toward an edgy feel:

An edgy Christian novel should not include:
  1. Gratuitous anything;
  2. Scenes and actions that overshadow the story’s message;
  3. Offensive words or phrases, even substitute words that leave the real words or act in the minds of the reader.
  4. Offensive language toward any group, people, or individual (a disclaimer on this one is a bigoted villain. However, this villain should clearly be defined as a villain and very much in opposition of the truth); and
  5. A story that provides incorrect theology.

On the other hand, in order to make a novel edgy, an author may want to try to write:
  1. Thought-provoking stories that do not leave readers’ minds in the gutter;
  2. Dialogue and action loaded with conflict that does not leave readers’ minds in the gutter;
  3. A plot line that shows the state of fallen men and women but does not leave readers’ minds in the gutter.
  4. A story that contradicts the world’s theology and pulls readers’ minds from the gutter.

Think about it. How can an author change the world if her book uses the world’s methods to tell her story? 

Happy editing.

A Novella Approach

March 2010
I was a bit disappointed
when Yesterday's Promise
was contracted as an e-Book.
It's just under PBG's required
length for a print book.
Novellas are a new thing for me, as a writer. I’ve read many through the years, usually in anthologies such as the Barbour Christmas collections. But it never occurred to me to write one myself until I was contracted by White Rose Publishing, and I have discovered that I truly enjoy writing these shorter works.

That said, please don’t misunderstand: I did not say they’re easier to write. They’re not.

What they are is less difficult to plot. At less than half the length of a full-length novel, these stories simply don’t have room for an excess of sub-plots and cliffhangers. However, it can become quite a challenge to fit all the elements necessary to the storyline into 20,000 words—or less, depending on the project. So the novella becomes an exercise in brevity—a challenge to find ways of saying a thing less wordily, but with equal impact.

“Why should I write a novella, when I can write a novel that’ll actually go to print?”

December 2010
Admit it, that’s what you’re thinking. I know you are, because that’s what I used to think…and I’m not all that different from everyone else. (At least, I’d like to think I’m not.) Getting a book into print seems somehow more like legitimate publication than having an e-Book contract. Books are real…you can hold them in your hand, and folks can buy them—you can sign those babies!

But a very wise woman who happens to know a great deal about publishing convinced me that these shorter stories have their place in the industry and that they can be a boon to an author’s career. She may not even remember the conversation, but I do.

I probably won’t be able to quote her word-for-word, ‘cause my memory’s not that good. I left the half-century mark behind a few years ago, so I hope Nicola Martinez won’t come back with, “I never said any such thing.”

April 2011
If I'd been on my toes,
and clued in to the benefit
of novellas, I might
 have avoided the long
gap without a release
between this book and
the next one...
Here’s what I remember her saying: “I’ve seen a direct correlation between authors who consistently have good sales and the ones who write novellas for release in between their full-length novels.”

I’ve thought about those words a lot. And I’ve come up with a few reasons for that “correlation.” Just my opinion, but that’s what this blog is for, right?

1.         The author’s name remains out there in the public eye, so readers don’t forget a writer they like in between books.

Let’s face it…the length of time between contracts for full-length novels can be daunting. And that’s not even counting the wait between “the call” and seeing the book in print. I was averaging a book every couple of years up until Solomon’s Gate. That’s long enough for a reader to forget they ever read a book with my name on the cover.

2.         The author continues to write.

The temptation to rest in between books is almost irresistible…but a bad idea. Having shorter projects in between keeps the imagination active and the writing skills honed.

March 2012
3.         The author takes home more of the book sales profit.
‘Nuff said.

4.         E-publishing is the wave of the future. Why not get in on the ground floor?

Although it still has a ways to go as far as convincing the public to embrace it, e-reading has gained considerable ground in recent years. Almost everyone owns an e-Reader of some kind. Which says to me that e-Books are becoming recognized as “real” books. Readers are learning to appreciate the ease of purchase (order, pay, and be reading within a couple of minutes—and all from the comfort of their recliner); compact storage (yes, I love bookshelves, but they’re never big enough for an avid reader, which means books overflow into every area of the house); ease of transport (ever tried to pack ten Summer reads into a suitcase small enough to fit overhead in a jetliner’s coach class seating—along with all your clothes and toiletries?); and cost-effectiveness of e-Books.

4.         They’re fun to write.

And who needs any better reason than that?

by Delia Latham

Thursday's Tips: Why Critique Groups Help

Editors will tell you they see plenty of strong first three chapters. It’s after that that the writing may tend to become less engaging, less publishable. Writers spend a lot of energy perfecting and layering those first three chapters. Those chapters become contest entries. They are sent along in proposals. They have to shine, to demonstrate the writer’s strengths. But chapter four and so on cannot hide forever. Sooner or later, an editor will see those later pages. Will they engage editors and readers?

Here’s one way to ensure they do: participate in a critique group.

Here are some benefits of being part of a critique group:

** Objective perspective: Your fellow writers offer informed critiques on your projects. They’ve been writing themselves, they’ve studied the craft and committed to the pursuit of wordsmithing. Therefore, they have a lot to offer, especially when our own objectivity suffers due to all the saturated time we’ve spent staring at our own words.

** Economical help: Normally, critique group members exchange chapters with each other. You don’t have to pay for their input, or rather, you pay in kind. You offer your informed opinion and receive the same. You’d have to pay an editor by the hour (or by the page) for the service your crit partners provide, and you get more than one opinion if you’re in a group. That’s economical!

** Accountability: Your crit partners know you (over time). They know your writing weaknesses and can help you address them. And you also begin to learn the types of writing they won’t accept. One of my long-time crit partners will not accept words like: turn, walk, and look. She believes there are stronger verbs we can use instead. Do you think I can turn off (oops!) her voice as I’m writing? No. Especially if I know she’ll see that chapter. I do everything I can to avoid using those words. Ah, accountability. Makes us better writers.

** Forced concentrated time: Knowing I’m going to meet with my critique group forces me to face the weaknesses of my chapter in preparation. By instinct, and with sudden motivation, I know when something isn’t working. That’s when I pray and God usually shows me what’s missing as I continue rewriting. (So grateful for that. Try it. See what He’ll do for you too.) I know if a scene reads boring to me, my crit partners will call me on it. So, I labor over it. I force myself to face facts. That’s not to say I don’t miss things, or that I won’t still need their help. Crit partners are great for brainstorming. But it means I can’t be lazy. I must focus singularly on each chapter and make it shine, make it work. Anticipating they’ll see it motivates me.

** Fellowship. Just knowing you’re not in the writing journey alone, that there are others out there who can relate so very well, helps, encourages.

I highly recommend joining a critique group, or if you have one, bringing work to critique every time you meet, if at all possible. Your writing will be better for it. And you’ll be a blessing as well.

What other areas have you found where critique groups have helped make your writing stronger?

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Numbers cause a lot of difficulty for self-editors. They appear in a variety of jumbled forms within manuscripts as if the author is unclear of the rules. The confusion is most likely derived from the fact that technical writing and creative writing have different procedures. Today, we'll look at ten basic rules concerning numbers that will aid an author in the editing process.

1.  Numbers that begin a sentence are always spelled out.

2.  Numbers one through one hundred are spelled out. Also, hyphens are used for numerals such as twenty-two and eighty-nine, etc.

3.  Whole numbers followed by hundred, thousand, or hundred thousand are also spelled out. Example: thirty thousand by 37,155.

4.  When using whole numbers within millions, billions, or trillions, follow rule number two given above. Example: 220 million but three billion.

5.  Percentages are usually written as numerals, with one exception: If the numeral begins the sentence, it is written out.

6.  With regard to dates: the month is spelled out, the day and year are numerical. If a sentence begins with a year, the year is spelled out. For example: Twenty sixteen will be a very interesting year.

7.  Centuries are spelled out and are not capitalized.

8.  Decades can either be spelled out or expressed numerically. For example: the nineties or the 1990s (note if the decade is not clear, it is best to place it in numerals. As in this example, the nineties could refer to the 1890s). Note that when using numerals there is no apostrophe following the number unless the decade possesses something. For example: 1990s or 1990's tribulation.

9.  Times of Day: There are a few rules to remember when writing time:
     A.  When using o'clock, the time is always spelled out.
     B.  Even, half, and quarter hours are also spelled out.
     C.  Exact times are written numerically. Please note that these exact times include the ante meridiem (a.m.) and post meridiem (p.m.) For example: 3:00 p.m. or 5:10 a.m. **Style note: check your publisher or targeted publisher's style guides. Some publishers such as Pelican Book Group prefer to use AM or PM, which is a variance from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS). If you do not include the AM or PM, however, the time is written out. For example: three forty (note the absence of the hyphen).
     D.  Numbers should never be used when referring to noon or midnight. For example: noon/midnight not 12:00 AM or 12:00 PM.

10.  Interstate and Street Numbers:  Interstate numbers are always written as numerals. Street numbers and addresses follow rule number two given above.

These rules are just a few to be utilized for numerals in fiction. The CMoS, currently in its 16th edition, is the source that most publishing houses follow. While expensive, the CMoS is a valuable tool for any author. It is also available and much easier to use online. Publishers sometimes differ with the CMoS, and that is a good reason to ask for the company's style guide.

Happy editing.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

A friend wrote me recently, and she commented on a book she was reading. She indicated the book was difficult to get through because the author didn’t understand RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain.

When an author explains the dialogue or actions of his character rather than writing strong action and dialogue that needs no explanation, and when he strays from a strong point of view, he ends up talking down to his audience. The authors of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers compare RUE to a playwright running on stage in the middle of a scene to explain what is happening.

That would be annoying, wouldn’t it?

So let’s look at an example of an author running onto the page to explain the scene:

“Mary,” Tim stood with his mouth open as Mary walked down the stairs, “you look beautiful tonight,” he said in awe. He knew she would be self-conscious in his sister’s hand-me-downs. Sarah had said she'd given the dress to Mary.
Mary looked to the floor, unable to meet his gaze. “Thank you,” she said, hoping if he recognized the dress as the one his sister had given him, that he wouldn't make fun of her.
Tim held out his hand. The little lines on his face crinkled when he smiled. “Shall we go,” he said expectantly.
She took his hand in hers. “I can’t wait,” she said breathlessly. Obviously, he didn’t recognize the dress.

Do you see the author on the page, explaining every little detail, weakening the story with adverbs and excessive explanation, and switching points of view, telling the reader effectively, “I don’t think you’re smart enough to understand, so I’m going to tell you what’s going on here.”?

Resisting the urge to explain requires the author to work a little harder to establish point of view and to show rather than to tell what is happening in order to provide a clearer picture for the reader. The concept also calls for the author to give the reader credit for being able to follow the story.

So, how would our short little scene unfold if we operated under the admonition to RUE:

“Mary,” Tim could barely keep his mouth from hanging open. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “You look beautiful.”
She was always stunning, but tonight with her hair tied back and curls escaping to frame her oval face, her beauty would rival any woman at the Cumberland Opera Fundraiser. Anyone who said that money could buy beauty had no idea of the true meaning of the word.
Mary’s gaze fell to the floor. “Thank you, Tim.”
Tim smiled and held out his hand. “Shall we go? I can’t wait to show off the most beautiful woman in town.”
Mary fingered a soft curl, and the rose color of her cheeks accentuated her lovely features. “Yes, I'm ready.” She ran her hands down the front of her gown as she looked up at him.
Tim winked and slipped his arm around her waist. He led her outside to the car and opened her door for her.
Mary sat inside, her hands folded in her lap.
Tim leaned forward and kissed her. “Don’t worry, Mary. You own this dress. It looks more beautiful on you than it ever could my sister.”
Mary smiled.
Tim shut the door softly and hummed as he strolled around the car. Yes, sir, he would marry this girl one day. She was as frugal as she was beautiful.

The point-of-view character in this scene is Tim. Everything the reader experiences is through what Tim does, sees, thinks, and hears. Tightening point of view is one way to paint a clearer picture for your audience.

Allowing the audience to experience the scene with the character requires the author to work a little harder to show not only action, but thought and dialogue.

When self-editing, authors should look for telling signs of author intrusion and explanation. Focus on eliminating adverbs and dialogue tags that try to explain what the dialogue should show. If the dialogue, action, or thought isn’t strong enough, punch it up a notch.

Examine the point of view. How close is the reader to experiencing the story through the eyes of the main character for that scene? Look for telling phrases like he knew, he saw, he realized, he thought and eliminate as many as possible. Often it is as simple as leaving off the phrase and changing the tense of the sentence. Other times, it might mean rewriting the entire sentence to show how the main character knows, sees, realizes or thinks.

And always remember to RUE.

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 bowed psaltry
A Renn Faire
A hot air balloon ride